In Awe of George R.R. Martin & his Peer

I wrote this post last month but realized that, with the entire GoT community enthralled with Season 8 on HBO, it might not be a great time to exalt a book by the creator. Neither is it the first time I have written about Martin, either in awe or frustration.

I had not read what the book was about when I started to listen to the audio version of Fire and Blood. My initial reaction was that this was a bust, a clumsy attempt to get GoT fanatics to spend more money.

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This book is fictional history and presented exactly as one would expect when reading about the Roman Empire or the kings and queens of England. It is one person narrating about events, sprinkled with the occasional legend or rumor. But there is no dialogue and a very different angle on character development than what one expects in a novel.

And yet I was intrigued. I listened through the long and intricate history, getting excited when the origins of such things as how the Iron Throne and even King’s Landing came about. When I began to see a link forming between what was being read (and absolute kudos to the incredible narration by Simon Vance) and what I know is coming in ASOIAS, my excitement rose. I listened twice to the chapter about Bravos.

When I sat to write this post, my goal was to exult the world-building vision of George R.R. Martin. Who could possibly get away writing fiction without dialogue? Who would dare try? I came up with only a single comparable and the epiphany shocked me.

There is only one other author who could possibly have pulled this off, a certain Oxford professor for whom an incredible movie was just released and largely ignored (I think – did you watch it?).

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I have always considered Tolkien to be a one-off, an author such as we have never seen in terms of such comprehensive world building, and will never see again. Now, despite my frustration with Mr. Martin for allowing the TV series to get ahead of the books, and the general pace of his production (go ahead George – kill off my favorite character!), I bestow upon him the right to stand alongside The Professor in the pantheon of my legendary authors.

George Martin to kill Tyrion

I know this is a strange referral, but an anonymous reviewer on the Amazon page wrote exactly what I want to articulate. He or she refers to themselves as DM and their review is the first of 897 entitled The History Tolkien Longed To Publish (DM – if you read this, please reach out – I would love to properly attribute your excellent review).

Essentially, when he wrote The Silmarillion saga, Tolkien was attempting to provide us with the depth of the world he had built, something only hinted about in The Hobbit or LOTR. Whether he achieved this or not, I will leave to the Tolkien scholars to debate.

All I know is, as I reflect on the world I created in the Wycaan Master series, and now the Kingfisher Saga, I follow in the footsteps of giants … two giants who continue to motivate me to raise my own level of what we authors call The Craft.

Finally, in response to the Starbucks scandal (see 1st image) below, I loved this response (2nd image) of how the coffee order was likely made. Hopefully, I leave you with a laugh, and use as an excuse to boast that my eldest son is now officially a barista at Peet’s and, in my totally unbiased opinion as a proud father, rocking it!

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Good Writing,

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 published by Tourmaline Books.

More at http://www.alon-shalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Galbrieth cover.5th.anniversary

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Sacrificial Flame Released!

This weekend sees the release of Sacrificial Flame, the fourth Wycaan Master novel, available in paperback and Kindle. One would think that when your seventh book comes out, the thrill lessens. You never forget your first time, right (I know, but bear with me)! I wonder how Henry VIII felt at his sixth wedding?

Sacrificial Flame Cover Hi Res

I have written in the past about that special moment and it remains one of the most reblogged and retweeted elfwriter blog posts. But it was true when I wrote it and it is just as true now. The thrill of holding the book, and of seeing its’ gradual uploading onto Amazon, is simply palpable.

Sacrificial Flame is different from the novels of the first trilogy. It is darker, more complex, and I realize that I am aiming my novels at my own kids (my most important target audience) and they are growing up. We wrote the first when my eldest was 10 years old. Now he is a teenager who shaves and thinks about his appearance and the interactions around him. He and I talk about politics, drugs, and money (among other lighter topics).

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As I write this, I am reading the first draft of Book 5 every night to my sons. It remains the highlight of my summer and I thrive on their reactions, appreciate their feedback, and treasure the ensuing conversations.

Book 5 will take a time-out after this reading, left to ferment like a hopeful wine, and then receive a serious edit in the fall, before leaving for the arms of another. Book 6? Maybe now, but more likely in the winter. Whenever it begins, the first rough draft must be ready for next summer’s rite-of-passage.

In the meantime, I wait anxiously for the verdict on Sacrificial Flame. Please let me know what you think, leaving comments on this blog post, on twitter, or most importantly, an honest review on amazon.

Good reading,

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flame, the fourth in the series. 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+

Why Do Adults Gravitate To Young Adult Fiction?

I believe that more adults are reading the epic fantasy Wycaan Master series than young adults. I know there is a fair proportion of teenagers and even pre-teens reading, but judging by the emails, blog comments, and twitter responses, it is predominately adults. This is all despite the books being written for and with my children, which I describe here. It begs the question why are adults drawn to Young Adult (YA) books?

imgresI found this article by Kelly Johnson. In her post, she debunks the following statements (her words):

1. Our culture encourages an unnatural and prolonged adolescence 

2. YA books are escapist since you don’t have to look beneath the surface of them. They are easier to grasp.

3. Adults read YA because they aren’t able to read past a middle school or high school level because adults are getting dumber and dumber.

4. YA books are about hopefulness. Their problems aren’t really problems and they can be fixed. Also there’s always a happy ending, so it’s satisfying and fulfilling to adults. The characters are likable. 

5. Fill in the blank with your own justification here. Some examples may include: YA is all about first experiences; YA is nostalgia for adults; YA is cheaper than adult books and therefore more appealing to the wallet; and so forth.”

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I enjoyed Ms. Johnson’s fiery responses to these statements, but I felt let down when she finished with: “The only justification for why adults read YA books is this: they choose to. That’s it. That’s their reason. Adults read YA books because they as adults choose to do so.

I am disappointed. None of these reasons explain why an adult, working, raising a family, involved in a community, volunteering, following a sports team etc. would be so moved to take a few precious hours each day to sit and read, and then often reach out and engage with the author, fellow readers, come back to buy more books, and enter deep discussions online and at the pub.

Fiction is all about the plot, the characters, and the environment. It is true for John Grisham and Stephen King, and it is true for Terry Brooks, Christopher Paolini, and R.A. Salvatore.

When I read a John Grisham book, I am transported to Mississippi, to another time, and when I close the book at the end of a chapter, I worry about his characters and their choices. It is no different to George R.R. Martin who may kill off a few popular characters in the next chapter if he had a bad day.

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The issue, I think, is how we perceive YA. A young adult book means there is no sex, less violence and no profanity. There are certain boundaries not crossed if we want our youth to read them. But that is all it is. There is nothing here to prevent an adult from enjoying the book, unless you assume we are all sex-starved, violent, expletive-charged individuals, which would be sad, especially if this is how Hollywood and the mass media perceive us.

I am taking a few months break from the fourth Wycaan Master book to write an adult fantasy book.

I have not felt a need to raise the richness of language.

I have not made the characters deeper and more compelling.

I have not sought a more complex plot.

I have not deepened or diluted my world-building.

There are, to be honest, issues dealt with here that may be too dark to share with youth. I share a lot with my teen son, but would hesitate to share certain passages here. Characters deal with fears and obstacles that most of us who have children might not want them to read. There is sex and more graphic violence than in the Wycaan Master series, but that might yet get dialed down.

So what does make adults gravitate to YA novels? The problem is not with the answer. The question is simply wrong.

People read a story because it has a good plot, characters that the reader can bond with, a world that stimulates the imagination. This is the same for adults as it is for YA. YA is written within certain criteria in order to make them a safe space of teens. It certainly does not mean dumbing down or becoming predictable.

The discerning reader will be drawn to a book in their chosen genre simply because it is good: plot, characters, environment and strong writing.

A good novel is a good novel is a good novel…

So this seems like a good time to thank all of you who bought Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 and any of my other novels. I read every blog comment, every tweet, every priceless review on Amazon.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Have a great week.

elfwriter

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. 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+ here.