A Damning Tribute to George R.R. Martin

This tribute is a rewrite of a previous post written in honor of the launch tonight of HBO’s fifth series.

Dear Mr. Martin,

Let me begin by saying I’m a big fan. I’ve read all five books and, if that isn’t proof enough, I can’t wait for Book 6 (hint, hint). I have sung your praises on my humble elfwriter blog and keep your photo under my pillow (I don’t – but I want to make sure I still have your attention).

It’s like this, sir. One day when I grow up (I’m only 50-teen) I want to be a bestselling epic fantasy author like you. My fifth book comes out in the fall and I have sold more books as you’ve killed noble characters (I think!).

I spend a lot of time hanging out with other writers: online and (I know this is rare) actually in person. Everyone tells me to “observe the rules,” “don’t break the conventions,” and, my favorite, “Tolkien was one-of-a-kind. You wouldn’t get away with that.”

But you, sir, break all the rules, tippexed (anyone?) over the conventions. One friend suggested you only get away with it because you’re already famous, have a huge following, and probably don’t care anymore what anyone outside of the Seven Kingdoms thinks.

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So here is my list of 10 things you have done wrong:

1. Your books are too long. I keep getting told that 90K is way beyond the commitment that most readers are willing to invest today. But then why do I enjoy your tomes (and Christopher Paolini, and J.K Rowlings, and some unknown ancient language, Oxford professor) and feel a sense of loss when they are finished?

2. Your books are too slow. People want action, action, action. Instant gratification …debate in 140 characters or less. Have a car chase or blow up a bridge – well, you get my point.

3. Your books are too detailed. You mean I need to think? Concentrate? Invest? I hear you keep flow charts in your office – can we peek? How about a deal with Cliff Notes or an app that you can enter a character, your book and page number and get an update. Dude – I totally expect a commission on the app idea.

4. Your characters are too flawed (especially the good ones). If I’m not seeing Ryan Gosling or Kristen Stewart then it simply won’t do. If I want real people, I would put my book down and hit the pub.

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5. Your characters are too dead. I actually wrote a blog post about this (I Need A Hero), keeping the book and you anonymous so as not to spoil it. Guess what? Everyone knew who I was talking about.

6. You drop some characters for hundreds of pages – are you tempting me to skip pages, sir? Just so as not to spoil this for any readers on Books 1-4, you know what I mean when I connect this to Book 4//5.

7. You miss out key scenes – battles in particular – and subtly let us know they have happened. I know it is incredibly difficult to write battles and only the best can pull it off, but well sir, you are one of the best.

8. You have too many minor characters. I hope you are keeping track of them because, to be honest, I am developing a habit of scratching my head whenever someone resurfaces 1-2,000 pages later.

9. You care more for the old gods and the new than the critics.

10. Your books are too addictive. I can’t stop…

You broke all the rules, sir. Congratulations! I can’t wait for the first episode of Book Five tonight … not to mention Book 6 …Oops! Are there any Starks left?

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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+

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).