Tolkien, Ever The Historian – Happy Thanksgiving

Just a fun note and an opportunity to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. I so appreciate you all taking the time to read my blog posts and offer your feedback and comments.

We epic fantasy aficionados are more than just fans. We are our own little family. Thank you for being a part of mine.

Happy Thanksgiving, 

Alon the 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).

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Meet Terry Brooks

There is still something magical for avid readers to learn about the authors of their favorite books. Even in the age of Internet and ebooks, there is something that draws us to author signings and the opportunity to meet them in person. We stand in line, hugging our copies of their books and wait patiently (sometimes longer than at a polling station) for a minute of his/her attention and their name scribbled in the book.

I have read at least 10 books in Terry Brook’s Shanara series. I have also read and treasure his book on writing: Sometimes The Magic Works. The part I love most from this incredibly useful book, by the way, is the autobiographical part.

The following interview is about 30 minutes long, divided into three parts. Terry touches on his life, his writing and the craft. There is something here for everyone because this is a not only a wonderfully talented author, but a modest, down-to-earth man.

My best part (not a serious spoiler) is how he talks about his fans: with love, respect and appreciation. Do you understand why I am so keen on this guy?

Terry Brooks Talks with Peter Orullian -Part 1 of 3

Terry Brooks Talks with Peter Orullian – Part 2 of 3

Terry Brooks Talks with Peter Orullian – Part 3 of 3

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written three epic fantasy novels and the first, At The Walls Of Galbrieth, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, is due out in January 2013 by Tourmaline Books. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Genre Conventions .v. Originality

“But this is how it’s done in epic fantasy,” I whine to my writer’s group. “It’s part of the convention.”

We are a bonded group, anxious to support each other and so I receive sympathetic smiles and diplomatic silence. The silence screams in my ears. I know they are right. If I have to fall back on a sentence like that, I am in trouble. Or am I?

How important is originality?

Utter originality is, of course, out of the question.” – Ezra Pound

Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” – Voltaire

I feel better already.

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” – Herman Melville.

Ouch!

Elves are tall, thin, have pointed ears, and excellent hearing. They look good in green, and shoot bow and arrows with exceptional accuracy.  Dwarves are short, rotund, live underground, mine and play around with axes. This is so because J.R.R. Tolkien put the epic in epic fantasy with his Middle Earth series’. Are the rest of us thus condemned to be mere recyclers of his work? Maybe. But I am not convinced how this is different from any other genre: romance has the same images and general plot arc. So does suspense and horror. And don’t get me started on dystopian thrillers.

So why do we so enthusiastically embrace conventions in a genre? It might be because some themes are simply timeless. I’m thinking Beowulf (maybe written in the eighth century) and The Odyssey (sixteen centuries before that!). Tolkien would concede that he was not the first, but when something works, you build your own version of it, and sometimes your version is good enough to capture the imagination of a very loyal readership. But it is not just enjoyment. It is pure escapism to a world we can get excited about, to values we can admire or fear (or both). It is also something familiar, something soothing. 

And yet when we embark on a new epic fantasy series, or try the work of a new author, we are seeking both something familiar and something original. What makes each author since Tolkien distinct is some aspect of his / her work. The relationship between Eragon and Saphira (his dragon), made Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series special. I have just started reading The Weight of Blood by David Dalglish (check out his cool book covers by Peter Ortiz) which is about two brothers (okay) who are not just orcs (hmmm), but half-orcs (ahhh). I was caught on page one. Dalglish has written a variance on the convention. So did R.A. Salvatore when he introduced Drizzt – a dark elf whose race were the opposite from the stereotypical elves. Five novels on, I am still intrigued. Daniel Arenson came up with his own original approach to dragons in the Song of Dragons series. 

Before I end, let me say how much I admire those who come up with something original – Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson – they capture us all and we devour their new approaches. But those who seek to ride their coattails are not so successful and I think this is very telling.

It says that while the fantasy readership will embrace a clever, well-written, new concept, that very concept might not establish itself beyond one brilliant author. Epic fantasy, however, with its elves, dragons and swords, continues to stand the test of time. This is not because our readership is lazy. Instead they demand depth – world building, characters, and a plot that offers a twist on a well-tested theme. They continue to surprise us with the familiar.

It’s a great genre to be a part of.

 Good Writing,

Alon 

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written three epic fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Don’t Let The Fairies Bully You!

I have mentioned before that fantasy can be a vehicle for social commentary and so I enjoyed coming across this blog post from Melanie Hatfield. It will reveal to you why I never leave the house without my hip flask and some single-malt! Ms. Hatfield’s debut novel: “Kingdom of the Snark: The Quest for the Sword” has just been released on Amazon and Smashwords.

And so with her permission: What To Do If You’re Being Bullied By Fairies – Melanie Hatfield :

I haven’t blogged much about my debut novel, but now I am at a point where I can admit (or should I say confess) that my first eBook, a fantasy/comedy titled Kingdom of the Snark:  The Quest for the Sword, will be online by July.  In my book, my heroine is bullied by fairies and I realized:  What should we do if we find ourselves picked on by those mischievous pixies?  Have no fear, for I have listed some helpful tips below.

Even house elves got bullied!

1)  Ignore them.
Conventional wisdom tells us to talk about our problems with those who cause us grief. This does not apply to fairies. If you tell them how their actions make you feel, they will not only continue to mock you, but will tell all of their fairy friends so they can join in and pile on the humiliation.  If fairies taunt you, it is best to keep your mouth shut and wander in the opposite direction.  It is important to avoid eye contact at all cost, least they cast a spell and make you dance (clothing optional).

2)  Sing them a song.
If ignoring them doesn’t work, you can distract the fairies with a song. Fairies love a tune as much as the next traveler.  If you have a harp, strike a few cords and see if they’ll jam with you.  Before long, maybe they’ll forget that they were hassling you in the first place, or at least like you enough to allow you to journey past them without further hindrance.

3)  Carry anti-magic devices.
When the fairies use their magic against you (and they will), counter their dust with crystals, a rainbow grenade, or other anti-magic device to render them helpless.  Buyer beware:  Never purchase such weapons from a seller you do not know.  There are many merchants in the world who take advantage of fairy victims with bogus devices.

4)  Give them a taste of ale.  
Fairies have never been known to hold their liquor, although they love to try. It only takes a thimble to get them into a drunken state of unconsciousness.  While they’re sleeping it off, you can tip-toe away.

5)  If all else fails, fight fire with fire…literally.
Fairies burn easily.  Sic your pet dragon on them.

Do you have any tips on how to handle fairies?  Are you a fairy and think you’re just misunderstood? Tell us about it in the comment box!

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“Kingdom of the Snark: The Quest for the Sword”  is now available at Amazon and Smashwords.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

The Art of World-Building

When the hobbit walked through Mirkwood, we all walked with him. We knew exactly how the trees looked, how the wind moved their branches, what the ground felt like as one fur-soled foot pressed down. We could smell the rotting leaves and…We were there as the master welcomed us into Middle Earth, his world. We were his honored guests and when we returned to this world, we felt a sense of loss.

No one, in my humble and uneducated opinion, has ever created a world in the rich way of J.R.R. Tolkien, and perhaps no one ever will. There are some among our younger readers who skip or skim the long descriptions. Do I need to know what every tree in the forest looks like?

And yet these same young people marveled over the world of Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar. I am closing in on finishing the third of the Wycaan Master novels and will then begin another edit of the first book before passing it on to more professional hands.

One of the aspects that I want to focus on is how well have I described the land in which the story transpires. There is a lot of traveling and many different climates and natural wonders, as well as villages and cities, which are described. When I wrote the first book, it was in close collaboration with my then 11-year-old son. I was very conscious of maintaining a fast pace. The second and third books were more my own work, with my son reading and giving me feedback. I believe these two novels involved considerably more world-building.

Why do we need to show such detail in epic fantasy? It seems obvious for the Sci-fi writers to put so much emphasis on creating worlds and I understand why those who write in modern earth need not focus so much because we can see the world we live in. 

Do you enjoy the detail of a new world or are you content to receive hints and imagine it for yourself? How important is world-building to you becoming a loyal reader of a fantasy series? Finally, if you write fantasy yourself, do you have any best practices or tips? Do share in the comments below.

Appreciate your feedback. Have a great weekend and a happy 4th.

Alon 

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Breaking Through The Amazon Breakthrough – Quarter Finals

This has been a great week for me professionally. I am concluding a meaningful and moving week with 20 students from our SF Hillel Jewish Student Center, volunteering to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. I have written on this at Left Coast Voices.

It is a totally immersive experience and I have been intensely focused on my students and the New Orleans community. So it is perhaps understandable that I was shocked to receive the electronic reminder that the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award’s results for the Quarter Finals had been released.

I am immensely proud to advance to the final 250. Wycaan Master has been a tremendous ride since I began writing the novel with my then 11-year-old. He was the first to receive the phone call and the news.

Over the next month the manuscript will be read by Publisher Weekly reviewers. They will grade it and the top 50 move into the semifinals. It is quite a thrilling prospect. So far, over the past year, dozens of goodhearted individuals have read and offered feedback. These people, members of the Berkeley Writers Circle, have been amazing and I have no doubt that Wycaan Master is a much better book because of their input. But they are not professionals and I am rather awed that people from such an established magazine are perusing my novel.

Interesting and exciting times.

 

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first has been entered into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

 

 

Amazon Breakthrough Round 2

On Thursday, Amazon announced those novels which have made their way through  to the 2nd round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA). As I wrote in an earlier post, this is the writers lottery, with the winner receiving a $15,000 advance and, most importantly, a contract with Viking Press/Penguin Books.

From 5,000 YA entries, we are down to 1,000. The last round was judged on the 300 word pitch, something that is incredibly difficult to write.

The next round will be judged on the first 5,000 words of the novel and we will hear  who moves into the Quarter Finals on March 20.

It’s a long wait, but a great time to dream.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first has been entered into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).