Sex or Swords?

I recently finished reading an epic fantasy novel by an author who is perhaps a year ahead of me. He is a couple of novels deeper into his series and seems to have a similar, but not bigger, social platform. 

But his books are selling impressively and I enjoyed reading his work, but there was nothing in the quality of the plot, writing, etc. that suggested why he is outselling me.

There are a lot of things in common between our novels. They are both character driven and, though there is a clear plot arc, you really stay engaged because you are rooting for the characters. There is plenty of action and moral dilemmas. If and when I write a review, and I definitely will because this is so important to the author (hinting here!), I realize that it would be similar to many of the reviews I have received for At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The First Decree.

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But there are two fundamental differences, perhaps three.

1) His novels are meant only for adults.

2) There is a fair amount of sex.

There is also considerable swearing, but I don’t think someone buys a book because of the swearing. It might deter a few people, but not act as motivator.

These differences lead me to wonder about whether young adults are reading ebooks – which remains the most popular with all struggling authors – and I will examine this next week.

But for now, I want to focus on sex. Let me be honest. I’m very fond of sex and I enjoy reading and writing about it. In my non-fantasy novels, there are probably two graphic sex scenes in each. I believe that the way my characters deal with sex, before, during and after, reveals far more than any long description can ever hope to achieve.

All three books ­– A Gardener’s Tale, The Accidental Activist, and Unwanted Heroes – have garnered criticism from a few reviewers who were upset or disturbed by what they read, but there are many others who mention it positively. There was nothing 50 Shades, or anything violent or forced in these scenes and, in truth, I remain proud of them, even when I know my mother and mother-in-law have read them!

A Gardener's Tale  - new cover

However, what is the place of sex in epic fantasy? The book in question has two sex scenes and neither are particularly graphic or explicit. Throughout the novel there are sexual references but little more than men’s comments or a woman’s thoughts. Both scenes were written well and felt part of the story. Both added to the richness of the characters.

 I have wondered about Game of Thrones, in particular because my 14-year-old is interested in reading and watching the series. I have no doubt that George R.R. Martin wrote what he understood to be sexual mores of that period and I agree that it probably happened as he described, but the sex was clearly not a turn on for me (neither was it for most of Martin’s characters come to think of it).

Much of the sex were men exploiting their power over women and a few scenes are of women who manipulate men to get something they want through sexual favors or binding the men’s lusts to them. All good stuff, perhaps, but not something I want to share with my teenage son.

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I want him to know about sex as something romantic, a bonding act between two people who love each other. I want him to know that anything that is not two consenting adults pleasuring themselves and each other, is deviant. It might not necessarily be wrong, but that is for him to decide according to his values.

In the Wycaan Master series, I touch on many values and morals. I challenge the young adults who read my books to make choices about race, violence, friendships, loyalty, and enjoy it when I hear my son or his friends comment that they are proud/disappointed/upset/ happy about the actions of a character. I like that they feel guilty, understanding and maybe partly rooting for the bad guys. Nothing is ever black or white.

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But what about sex? There are certain hints in my novels that some things are going on, but it is easily missed if a young adult is not thinking about such topics. To write about sex, even in a tasteful youth-orientated way, would strip my novels of being YA (young adult). I would lose the initial motivation of writing to influence a new generation. 

Is it possible to write in sexual scenes in a YA novel? Most parents do not vet a book, trusting that if it has received recognition as YA then it will not include certain things such as swearing, graphic violence, or sex.

I do not want to step away from the target audience that so intrigues me and I am not sure I am ready to abandon them. However, I am frustrated that there are strict boundaries, frustrated that I could convey so much to my target audience through my young characters having or thinking of sexual encounters. I could convey healthy values associated with sex, values that I want to share with my own sons.

So my question is: Can sex be handled within a YA context? Your thoughts?

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

 

Book Review – Mrythdom: Game of Time – Jasper T. Scott

All The Right Ingredients

There are certain elements that ensure a smooth and entertaining read in the fantasy genre: innovative characters, a plot that moves along, plenty of twists and turns. Jasper Scott manages it all in effortless fashion in Mrythdom: Game of Time.

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I have started a number of fantasy books recently and not been able to finish them. Scott’s characters stayed with me between readings – wondering how they were doing. His world-building is excellent. I didn’t think I would stay with a book that fuses SF and F, but Scott skillfully made it work.

His Meria society offers sexual tension that was enjoyable and tasteful. I had spent the best part of the 1st half wondering whether this might be another series to share with my teen son. The erotic tension was just right for it to be edgy without precluding a YA audience.

imgres-2Scott has set this up as a series. I look forward to the sequel and how Aurelius is going to succeed – if he is going to, that is. Either way, I’m enjoying traveling on the journey with him.

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He is convinced there is a connection. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Sword and Gun Control

Epic Fantasy, among many genres, has the ability to whisk us away from reality and send us into a world of noble quests, ancient swords, and magnificent mythical animals. It also has the ability to offer wisdom for the world we live in and I have written about this before.

Airship10But sometimes it is really hard to let go and enter this world – or to return to the one we live in. I needed to write a post for this blog a day or so after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and I couldn’t. What can one possibly write on a blog like this? 

I searched the Internet, found something amusing and pre posted it. It was a cop-out; admittedly perhaps some much-needed comic relief. But I’ve been thinking about this ever since. If epic fantasy is anything more than escapism, then we should have something to say? 

When National Rifle Association VP, Wayne LaPierre, blames violent video games, perhaps to deflect the debate on gun control, we need to ask ourselves whether we as fantasy authors and readers are also glorifying violence. 

The fact we use bows and arrows, axes and swords instead of semi-automatic machine guns doesn’t make it cleaner. I admire (begrudgingly as it is sometimes hard to read) the gruesomeness of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones series. What he describes in his battle scenes are probably the closest we come to the reality of battle. 

imgres-8But I am stuck with the feeling that if we do not write about the darker side, how can we reach for the lighter? For a rainbow to appear, there needs to be a storm. We do have a responsibility not to glorify or keep the violence clean. I am not sure that I achieve this in At The Walls Of Galbrieth and especially not in the huge battles that take place in The First Decree. I am not sure how to even achieve this without excluding the young adults for whom I primarily write. I do not believe my 14-year-old son and his friends, who devour my books, should read A Game of Thrones because of the violence (and also the way he portrays sex).

How can we keep on moving forward after a tragedy? Does it not maybe become even more important not to give up? I’ll leave the last words to a couple of good friends.

FRODO: “What are we holding onto Sam?”

SAM: “That there’s some good in this world Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Frodo and Sam

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Did Tolkien Ever Rap?

Okay, I’m sure I’m not alone still in Hobbit land, trying to remain cocooned in Middle Earth magic for twelve months until the next movie ain’t gonna to be easy. But there are some things that will help us on our way. I don’t know who produced this, but I suspect it wasn’t a certain pipe-loving Oxford Professor.

Thank you to those who have contacted me about At The Walls Of Galbrieth. I set myself a goal to have five reviews posted by mid-January.If you read the book, please take a few minutes to post a review at Amazon.com. I really appreciate the help. Clocks ticking…

Have a great weekend,

Elfwriter

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Words of Truth – Terry Goodkind

“I like to deliver my philosophy at sword-point.” Terry Goodkind.

I was first introduced to Terry Goodkind, courtesy of Legend of the Seeker – his first two books serialized for TV. A handsome everyday hero, beautiful and oft-evil women, a quest, a sword, magic … need I say more?

imgresFor some inexplicable reason, despite solid ratings, the series lasted only two series. If you feel so moved by the injustice, you can join the Save The Seeker movement and show that there is a following for a third season.

I am in the middle of the second book and incredibly impressed with Terry Goodkind. He provides all the ingredients one would expect from a master of epic fantasy. In particular, his world building is so effortless and clear.

One warning: the books are far more gritty than the TV series. I’m not sure I would want my 14-year-old to read them, but having said that, some of the scenes that I am thinking of, are amazingly written. While I loved Legend of the Seeker, it is in no way a replacement for the books. I do wonder, however, having watched Game of Thrones, whether these gritty scenes could appear in a third series and whether this might propel Seeker to the same ratings as Game of Thrones.

imgres-1I confess to being a fan of authors and so went looking for some interviews with Terry Goodkind. The third and fourth interviews provide a great insight to a very unique man. This is a very cool interview.

But it is the first two interviews that really excited me. Last week I made a suggestion that epic fantasy can be a vehicle for imparting social values. In his ‘Confessor’ interviews, Goodkind articulates a similar perspective – and like his books, he is quite inspirational.

Make yourself a cup of coffee, put your feet up, and have a great weekend.

Elfwriter.

‘Confessor’ interviews:

Words of Truth:

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Alon Shalev is the author oAt The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted HeroesThe Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Thank You for a Great Year

This is my last blog post of the year and I am sitting here feeling full of gratitude and pride. It was a year ago that I sat with my family drinking hot chocolate and mochas in a local coffee shop and we each wrote down our goals for the year. 

During the preceding week I had made the decision to spend two years seriously writing an epic fantasy series and building a platform to promote my work. I had written rough drafts of At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The First Decree, and my boys had an expectation that, as in the preceding two summer vacations, I would have a manuscript to read around the campfire in another six months. Now I was ready, for the first time, to lay out a plan.

Twelve months later and I am amazed how everything steadily came together. I feel a bubble of energy and support steadily moving me forward, and I have a lot to be thankful for.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front CoverAt The Walls Of Galbrieth was published by Tourmaline Books in November. After a professional edit, beautiful cover and excellent formatting, both my boys and I feel immense pride as we hold the book in our hands.

The First Decree is nearing publication. The finished manuscript and equally impressive cover is in the hands of the formatters and hopefully less than two months from publication.

Elfwriter – my fantasy blog has been around for a year and has attracted a steady group of equally passionate and committed group of epic fantasy connoisseurs. I love your comments and the highest compliment is when you send a blog post on to friends.

Almost 20,000 people are following @elfwriter on twitter and the blog. Many retweet or favor a blog post. People often comment with their own experiences or when a post has touched them. I treasure these moments as we build a community together.

I want to thank the Berkeley Writer’s Group who, while most do not read fantasy, nonetheless offered each week advice and guidance. There is so much that can be said about a group who are simply meeting to support each other. I hope I was able to contribute and help them as I received their support.

The First Decree AxeA large part of my success is due to the support of a team of amazing professionals. Monica Buntin is not just an editor, she is a teacher. She will continue to explain some grammatical point until I get it (and that can require quite a bit of patience!). She has the tact and foresight to see flaws in the story and convey them in a way that will push me to correct and tighten.

William Kenney, an accomplished fantasy author in his own right, has designed two masterful book covers. How he takes the jumble of description that I send him and conveys it into a work of art that far exceeds my vision, is beyond me.

Jeny Reulo and the folks at Fast Fingers will not compromise in their commitment to create the perfectly formatted book, whether in e- or tree book format. It is a pleasure to peruse the interior design of my book.

A full circle – and my deepest thanks is to my family who suffer the author who slips into another world, where the quest to free the races of Odessiya often take precedence over the dirty dishes and the laundry whose destiny to be folded and put into drawers often takes longer than training a Wycaan elf!

Finally thank you to all who read my books and blog posts, who retweet and favor, who comment and point out mistakes, who offer guidance and advice, who are part of an extended family, enjoying the ride together.

Looking back over the past year offers a great degree of pride and satisfaction. But the best part is to turn into the wind and see the year that is before us:

* The First Decree will be released in the first third of 2013.

* Ashbar will hopefully be ready in the fall.

* Elfwriter.com will  pass its 100th blog post.

* @elfwriter will advance with 25,000 follower of epic fantasy.

The First Decree-hi resolution

Life is a journey and while we each walk our own paths, our lives are enriched when our we walk together.

To noble quests, elf bows that never miss their mark, a free Odessiya, Wycaan Masters, and most important, to good friendships around the fire, quaffing ale and smoking pipes of healthy pipe weed and telling wonderful stories.

Wishing you a year of health, happiness and friendship. Thank you for being a part of my journey.

Alon Shalev – elfwriter

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

An Unexpected Journey

This weekend, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey comes out. If you are reading this blog, you have probably been counting down along with the Mayans. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so there are no spoilers, but I am incredibly excited. I can’t wait to see it and have no doubt that I will love it, buy the DVD, change my computer’s wall paper and take my kids to eat breakfast at Denny’s…again!

imgres-2But there is something else that has me so stoked for this movie stands on the threshold of something historic: it is the induction of the next generation of epic fantasy readers. Just as Lord of the Rings ignited my generation’s interest, and Christopher Paolini’s Eragon sentenced my own children to a lifetime of reading and vivid imagination, The Hobbit will take a new, unsuspecting generation on an unexpected journey.

My own journey has been somewhat unexpected. Having written a series of well-received social justice-themed novels, I have been introduced to people who are passionate to see and work for a better world. I treasure the opportunities to meet readers at book signings and author meet ups.

DSCN1387As we approached the launch of At The Walls Of Galbrieth, I sought to define my target audience and had a big surprise. To begin with, there were the 100+ who filled out my survey ­– thank you all – and I began to discover a group of passionate and richly imaginative readership.

But here is what excites me. I am meeting a large number of students and teenagers who are die-hard readers of epic fantasy. They eloquently share their love for the creation of a new world, their desire to see everyday folk transform into heroes, and to believe in universal principles such as freedom, good over evil, and the value of friendship.

My social justice-themed novels all contain a common thread: an everyday person goes through a transformational experience which empowers them to pursue justice. Swap the multinational corporation for an evil Emperor, replace the use of social protest with a special bow and arrow, and we have similar themes.

My point is that epic fantasy creeps up on you. This weekend many ingenuous children, teenagers, and parents, are going to see a hyped-up movie and experience a transformation. They may not start yielding a sword and slaying dragons, but they just might embark on an unexpected journey of reading and enter into a world that drives our imagination and defines our social values…

All because in the words of a great wizard: “Hobbits really are amazing creatures.”

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Request For Reviewers

With At The Walls Of Galbrieth published, the next important step is to garner reviews.

I would like to find 10 followers of this blog and send them a kindle ebook in return for a commitment from the reader to post a review on the book’s amazon.com page. I understand that, from an ethical perspective you can write at the end of the review – copy provided by author for review – or words to that effect.

If you are willing to do this, please send me an email to anelfwriter at gmail dot com.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front Cover

Also, if you know of any good forums or book clubs that do epic fantasy reviews, please let me know in the comments. I appreciate your support and all who follow the elfwriter blog.

Alon – elfwriter

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

How’s The Weather In Middle Earth?

I’ve never been a big weather fan but Tamati Coffey receives my Weather Forecaster of the Week. I think you’ll understand why.

Mr. Coffey – I believe Professor Tolkien would be proud.

Hope you all have a great weekend and the weather holds out for you. If it’s raining or snowing where you live, I suggest you replay the above forecast!

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).