Dragons But Not Unicorns?

So there I was minding my own business, having merrily written 40,0000 words of a Magical Realism (“low fantasy –a sub-genre of fantasy fiction involving “nonrational happenings that are without causality or rationality because they occur in the rational world where such things are not supposed to occur.” – Brian Stableford – The A to Z of Fantasy Literature – I had to look it up a while ago).

I was quite happy imagining a Game of Thrones type book (I know, very different from the Wycaan Master series) and then one of my characters has to make an innocent quip: “Dragons don’t exist, do they?”

Before I could press save and turn off the laptop, before I could say – well, burn me to a cinder – there he (or she) was flying around, flapping those great wings, swinging that long spiked tail

“There goes my genre shift,” I thought as the next chapter appeared on my screen.

Now I was baptized in the fires of Smaug (actually I’m Jewish but Smaug as a Mohel performing a circumcision is frankly too disturbing), my sons flew in their imagination on the backs of Saphira and Christopher Paolini’s other dragons.

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But there is something about dragons that has kept them alive in our culture that is fascinating. The Chinese have a historic connection that goes back to, well it makes you wonder. In my homeland, Sir George had to slay one to become the patron saint of the Brits, and the dragon is possibly the most common and, dare I say, respected mythical animal in the fantasy genre.

So what is wrong with unicorns, for example? Why have they not become as popular? They can fight, heal, and even create powerful wands (which J.K. Rowlings wizard am I talking about?), but they have not caught our imagination like dragons.

Laying myself at the mercy of Google, I discovered that the dragon myth grew separately in China, Europe, and even the Americas and Australia. The Aussies have a number of animals including the Goanna that lend themselves to the myth. The Nile crocodiles were apparently much bigger than the one we know today and walked in an elevated gait. Whales and dinosaurs also add to the potential creation of the myth.

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But perhaps the most fascinating theory is suggested on the Smithsonian blog. I couldn’t find the author to attribute  – my apologies – but these are his/her words:

In his book An Instinct for Dragons, anthropologist David E. Jones argues that belief in dragons is so widespread among ancient cultures because evolution embedded an innate fear of predators in the human mind. Just as monkeys have been shown to exhibit a fear of snakes and large cats, Jones hypothesizes that the trait of fearing large predators—such as pythons, birds of prey and elephants—has been selected for in hominids. In more recent times, he argues, these universal fears have been frequently combined in folklore and created the myth of the dragon.

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Whatever created it, the myth of the dragon has deepened with the growth in popularity of the genre. Eragon’s relationship with Saphira and the history in the Inheritance Series is far more complex than Tolkien’s Smaug, or those Harry Potter had to deal with. George R.R. Martin skirts around the existence of dragons in his early books. His description of the crypts of Winterfell, and later when Aria is in the bowels of the capital, are almost a reverent tribute to these once majestic beasts.

It is a relationship that has captured the imagination of a generation. My sons, for whom Paolini was so influential, have devoured many books with dragons, without any sign of tiring. For them and others, I found this interesting artistic reflection of the sizes of the various dragons that Paolini creates – Enjoy.

Have a great week.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

A Son’s Journey Begins…

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

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Not my usual elfwriter blog post, but…

In a few precious months, my oldest son will graduate high school and leave home. Sure, I could tell you with pride that he will participate in a social justice gap year program prior to going to university, but for the moment, I am just stuck on the idea that he is leaving home. A car advert – father watches son drive very nice car away from the home to… – had me in tears on an airplane.

My son recently read a book that intrigued him and he could not put down. Then he asked if I would buy him a hardcover copy that he could take with him, perhaps share with friends, or reread when he feels the need.

In case you are wondering, the book is called Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart by Dr. James Doty, and this got me thinking. All his life I have tried to instill a desire in my son to read. Of course, the more I pushed, the more he rebelled … just like when his darn father was as a kid. But there were times when we bonded over books.

I remember Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series, as we stood in line at midnight in Borders waiting for the next book, and the delight when the bookseller, seeing him literally falling asleep on his feet as he swayed and leaned against me, snuck the only autographed copy into his hands. He sleepily declared he would stay up all night reading it, before falling asleep in the car and then in his bed, tightly hugging the book.

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My son holding his autographed copy.

Then there were the Harry Potter series, a rite-of-passage for many parents and children. I am thrilled that we were a family during this exciting moment in time.

And, of course, there was his crucial role in the writing of the Wycaan Master series. He was the inspiration that led me to write the series and for six summers he listened and offered sound feedback around the campfire in the ancient redwood forests.

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Writing the 1st novel – a family effort!

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Reading Book 6 in the summer of 2015. End of an era.

But his request is not about the books that were, but the books that are and will be. So I am asking for your help: what are the books that influenced and guided you when you left your parents’ home?

Here are a few from my time at college that I am thinking of including:

  1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Persig.
  2. The Tao of Poo – Benjamin Hoff
  3. Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach.
  4. Iron John – Robert Bly.

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I am particularly interested in books for a young man, but am happy to corollate a list that is more specific for young women as well. Please share the books that influenced you when you were that age in the comments below.

Thank you,

An Apprehensive Father.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Churning Out Novels

I thought I wrote fast. I tell people I can write a 100,000 word novel – a first draft – in four months, writing for an hour before work, an hour or two later in the day, and a few solid hours on the weekend. I only thought this was fast because people told me so. Other writers spent a year, two or more, to get similar output.

So I was a little surprised when I started to follow a podcast by three authors, all in the sci-fi and fantasy world. These three, along with the different guests they interview each week, publish 4-6 books a year, often keeping different series’ and even different genres going.

So I did some digging. There are many writers out there who are churning out a 50-80K novel each month … and I mean from Chapter 1 through The End and into editing (I assume), book cover design, and placements.

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Wow!

I am emotionally exhausted when I finish a novel and only once (between Books 5 and 6) did I have any desire to continue straight into writing the next of the series. Editing, sure. Marketing, okay. But the idea of churning out another 100K?

I am trying to work out what it takes to do this and, as I listened more to these authors, and even got to question a couple, I think I get it.

1. Outsourcing – these people do nothing for the production process. Everything is outsourced and they do not play a part in the process. This makes total sense except when there is no investment in the process, when the author really doesn’t care about the end product. As one author said: “My book covers are more or less the same. Only the title and book number changes. The cover artist knows what to do.”

2. Editing – when my editor returns a manuscript, there are changes suggested in almost every paragraph. I am expected to go through these comments and decide what to do. True, I accept 95% of the suggestions, but sometimes the editor writes that a scene is not clear, a conversation does not make sense, or a description is repetitive. In this case, I need to rewrite. Sometimes, the editor suggests I delete something. If I am attached to what is written, I might rewrite it much shorter or insert elsewhere (oops – don’t tell my editor!).

images-63. Strict genre adherence – in order that some writers can keep pace with production, they keep the plot tight and similar – the same highs and lows. The protagonist acts as he (usually a he) is expected, the bad guy too, and often the women are…well, behaving in what is expected of women in that genre. Now there is nothing wrong here. If it ain’t broke, why fix? Who needs a bad guy you sympathize with, a woman who kicks the crap out of someone or simply  falls in love with the bad guy and not the hero? Real life is already too complicated. There are no twists in the plot and I expect that somewhere there is a story arc written that is faithfully adhered to. No time to spend experimenting. Take no risks with the loyal readership.

4. Investment in the characters – this is something I find hard to understand. I have never understood how people can write a stand-alone novel, and walk away. I feel so close to all my characters – I worry about them, fear for them, get angry when they screw up (and especially when they have the audacity to blame me). Long after the novel is finished, I think about them, and yes, I mourn the ones I kill off.

Now there is nothing wrong with any of this. There are people who write for the art and people who write for the royalty check and that is just fine. Most of us are somewhere in between. If the quality of the book is enough for the reader to enjoy, to read effortlessly and then crave the author’s next book, then what’s wrong with that? If the genre is popular just the way it is, then this is what the reader wants. And if it sells and so do the rest of the author’s work, then that is a clear sign that what they do is right and recognized by the most important views – the readership.

But sometimes it is tough to accept. In seeking the highest standard of writing, I agonize over a scene, word choice, how a character develops. Sure I can write a first draft in four months, but it takes longer to edit, rewrite, consider feedback, and feel once the book is published, that I have done my absolute best.

I’m trying not to be critical, but the book churn must have its limitations. And, in the end, a book exists forever. If the market is swamped by mediocrity, how will the special books get noticed? Will a generation get turned off novels because they just aren’t as gripping as a video game, a You Tube clip, or an on-demand TV binge?

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And I can’t help but wonder: what does George R.R. Martin think about this?

EXCITING NEWS: Tourmaline Books are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of March though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Doing It For The Kids

Since the US elections, living in the People’s Republic of Berkeley and working for a Human Rights organization, life feels very intense. Conversations are heavy and the TV follows Rachel Maddow and her colleagues. This is not lost on my teenager kids and their friends.

It has been a tough political coming-of-age as my sons avidly watched the primaries, election and inauguration, seeing the emergence of a political entity that is the opposite of the values we have shared with them. They have friends who are people of color, female, and LGBT.

I told a friend that I am considering leaving the epic fantasy world and returning to social justice-themed novels such as The Accidental Activist and Unwanted Heroes, which I wrote a decade ago. One is about the abuse perpetrated by multinational corporations and the other about war veterans and their struggle. I have another completed draft that is gathering dust about gay rights. Her response surprised me.

She said that young people deserve the escape route that my books offer, that I sending powerful messages about the value of friendship, the abuse and responsibility of leadership, and about racism and tolerance.

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I am driven to share my values and beliefs with my children and their friends. Working with millennials for almost a decade, I felt privileged to have the opportunity to be a role model and challenge students to questions their values and those around them. For years after Hurricane Katrina, I took students to New Orleans, not just to help rebuild, but to bear witness to the stories of those who were racially discriminated against.

But my children, and many young readers of the Wycaan Master series, deserve an opportunity to grow up and enjoy their childhood, teenage and college years. I am not suggesting they should be oblivious to, or shielded from, what is happening. But they need outlets to balance this.

Opening a book, getting invested in a series, can be memorable and powerful experience. It offers readers of all ages, a chance to soar to a different land, to make friends and cheer on characters who take risks and face great challenges, a chance to dream.

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It is not just the children and young adults. I should not feel bad that I spend a portion of my time watching sport and reading fiction myself. We all need to become involved and aware – this is the greatest lesson from this election cycle and an imperative going forward – but we all need to seek balance in our lives.

So, as you look at your schedule for the coming week, why not reserve time for a hot bath, a glass of wine, and a good novel?

Alon @elfwriter.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Happy Birthday, Professor Tolkien.

Today is the old professor’s birthday. He wrote novels that inspired a generation and more to pick up a book and get lost in its tale. He encouraged young people to read in general and learn to love fantasy.

But his work went beyond the pages of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. One of his greatest achievements was to create an entire language, and I have it on good authority, that the elves in particular, really appreciate this. We have seen over the years that people have learned it to a level of writing poetry and …

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.

And how can we end this blog without wishing the professor a happy birthday … in elvish. Thank you to Petri Tikka for this rendition. After checking who is in hearing range, please feel free to sing along.

 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. Calhei No More is the final novel in the series and was released in November 2016.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

 

 

Roll On 2017

Dear Readers,

This is my first blog post of 2017 and I am sitting here feeling full of gratitude and pride. Five years ago, I sat with my family drinking hot chocolate and peppermint mochas in a local coffee shop and we each wrote down our goals for the year. 

I made the commitment to spend serious time 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.

At The Walls Of Galbrieth was published by Tourmaline Books in November 2012 and went on to win the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award. Now, five years later, six beautiful novels adorn the shelf above my writing desk. I admit, I occasionally peek up and wonder if they are real.

They are – because I received such amazing support from readers all over the world, it just never occurred to me to stop. Every review, every email, every comment on my elfwriter blog is immense gratification.

It has been a tough year in many respects. Many wonderful people have died. In fact, the day after Calhei No More was released, my father-in-law passed away. I know he would have taken great pride that I completed the series as promised, but I had no desire to celebrate. An election happened that has left many of us profoundly uneasy. And three months ago, I suffered a bad accident that I have still recovering from.

But I also feel profoundly lucky: a wonderful soul mate, great sons, and incredible friends. I am blessed to work for a human rights organization that strives to protect the rights of some of the most marginalized people in the world and to eradicate poverty in the developing world. It is a demanding job, but one that inspires me and provides a wonderful balance to the escapism of Odessiya, to my elves and dwarves.

The injury to my leg, which should have ironically afforded me more time to write, presented me with the first experience of writers block. It’s behind me, even if I am still on crutches, and I am back to my regular output.

Over the next year, Tourmaline Books will publish the two trilogies on various other platforms. As I write this, the first series is now available on every digital platform through Smashwords. Click on the link for each book.

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The First Decree

Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3.

So what’s next? I am editing another novel, an adult magical realism story that I am very excited about. For more information, please click here

I will continue to reach out to readers. Your comments and feedback are an inspirations for me. My blog – Elfwriter.com – continues to attract 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 75,000 people follow @elfwriter and @alonshalevsf on twitter and 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 offer advice and guidance each week. There is so much that can be said about a group who are simply meeting to support each other and we have done so over 500 times! I hope I was able to contribute and help them as I received their support.

A large part of my success is due to the support of a team of amazing professionals. Monica Buntin is not just an editor, but also a teacher. William Kenney, an accomplished fantasy author in his own right, designed a masterful series of book covers. I am so proud when I set the books out on a table at a conference or speaking engagement.Jeny Reulo and the folks at Fast Fingers will not compromise in their commitment to create the perfectly formatted book. cwc-fremont-book-fair-2015-v3

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 ironed, folded and put away 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.

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

So let’s raise a tankard or goblet 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 healthy pipe weed, and telling wonderful stories.

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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 the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. Calhei No More is the final novel in the series and was released in November 2016.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

Today’s the Day! Calhei No More – Released!

It all started six years ago in 2010, a whim to engage my sons on a camping trip in an ancient redwood forest.

At The Walls of Galbrieth won the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award and a rollercoaster journey was set into motion.

It ends today with the launch of Calhei No More, available in paperback and e-book.

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Thank you for joining me on this epic adventure. Please leave reviews on Amazon and keep in touch – you can leave comments here on the elfwriter blog and on twitter @elfwriter, and I always respond on my email is anelfwriter@gmail.com.

It has been fun and sometimes tortuous – characters have a habit of not doing what they are supposed to. Writing has entered my DNA and there are various projects in the pipeline, so please keep following the blog or sign up for my newsletter (4-5/yr) here.

A big thank you to Tourmaline Books for keeping the faith, to my editor Monica Buntin, cover artist William J. Kenney, and the folks at The Fast Fingers who set the internal book matter. We’ve been together a long time and I have only reached this wonderful stage with your help and partnership.

Thank you to everyone for your readership and fellowship, your feedback and enthusiasm, and your willingness to join the Wycaan Masters to create a better world for themselves and their people. Hoping we can do the same for each other – perhaps there is not such a gap between fantasy and reality – and maybe there never should be.

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five more novels in the Wycaan Master Series – all released by Tourmaline Books. Calhei No More, the final book in the series will be released November 15, 2016. It will all end on the Plains of Shindellia.

Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+