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.

Sac Flame 2

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).

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The Sappy (Male) Hero

As I mentioned last week, I am work-shopping a magical realism novel to my fearless writer’s group. I was worried how they would react to the more graphic violence and the explicit sex that is a far cry from the YA epic fantasy novels I have shared over the past few years.

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Song of Battlefield by Norry at Epilogue

But this week, a couple of the participants surprised me. They suggested that perhaps my protagonist is too in touch with his feelings, that he is too sappy in his budding relationship with the sassy, but attractive Brynn.

The protagonist, the Kingfisher, has experienced many traumas, including the destruction of his country and family, for which he feels responsible. This looming sense of failure follows him as he begins to tread a similar path in Cassia, while searching for his sons, who have been sold into slavery.

“How is it,” one of my readers asked, “that one minute he can be ruthless and violent with his enemies, and then so tender with those close to him?”

“How can he,” another asks, “be so traumatized, yet so self-aware?”

I am puzzled by this, not least because if the Kingfisher was female, I suspect we would not be asking such questions. It feels (on a totally different level of awareness, I know) similar to hearing political pundits wonder whether Hillary Clinton can function both as President of the United States and as a grandmother. No one asks this of her male predecessors. Apparently one can be a President and grandfather, though judging by some of their performances, I am left wondering…

I work hard to present my characters as multi-dimensional. This summer, I began the indoctrination of my family (not the protesting youngest) with Game of Thrones. Mrs. Bloggs (she should actually be addressed now as Dr. Bloggs) pointed out that there is only one (royal) character in George R.R. Martin’s thousand-character cast, who it is easy to thoroughly hate. No spoilers, however!

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I have written previously of my admiration of Martin’s ability to make us care for his characters while blatantly exposing us to their flaws.

Most people in real life are both good and bad. It is the endless struggle wherein we strive to make ourselves better human beings (or not), and we are, by and large, inconsistent. There are days when we are heroes and others we are embarrassed about.

Fantasy is all about showing the reality of human behavior in a different concept, fiction allowing us to bend the story to suit our plot. Nonetheless, fantasy (and most genres of fiction) stand and fall on the reader’s ability to connect: with the plot, characters, and conflict.

I lived for two decades in a country where all eighteen year olds are conscripted and many serve in combat units and see real action. It never ceased to surprise me to discover that a gentle father was an officer in an elite unit, or that a mild-mannered man was a sniper, holding life and death between his sights. I see it in other people’s expressions when I talk of my own experiences.

Perhaps the issue that my readers are experiencing with the Kingfisher, is that we are hearing him speak and think in the first person. We are literally inside his head and this might be why so many feel his introspection is so jarring. We feel his pain, his rage, his love, and his conflict.

Most men can hide their fears in the privacy of their bedrooms, their cars, or their empty bottles. We don’t need, or are expected, to express our inner emotions and vulnerabilities, in public. And if we do, perhaps we are scorned for being sappy and in touch with ourselves.

Perhaps this is why we need fiction: to show the human side of half the world’s population, when the world is not ready to see it in reality.

Sacrificial Flame – Update on Book Launch

The review copy arrived this week. Unfortunately there was an error of placement of the book cover and there is at least another week’s delay. I understand why Tourmaline Books we so vague with their: out this summer. I just hope they aren’t aware that in Berkeley our summers can go on until the end of October! 

Sacrificial Flame Cover Hi Res

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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+

 

When Authors Reach For Immortality

Recently, I listened to an interview with the famous Israeli author, Amos Oz, a literary icon I grew up admiring. Now, well into his 70’s, he is as vibrant and inspirational as ever. There was something he said in the interview that resonated with me. He claimed to have made up a number of words that he used throughout his books. He was stoked one day when, while in conversation with a cab driver who did not recognize his passenger, the man used one of Amos Oz’s words. Oz suggested that his modest contribution to the Israeli language was his own brush with immortality.

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If this is so, I am quite proud of my own. When reading the manuscript of my first YA epic fantasy novel, At The Walls of Galbrieth, which won the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA, to the Berkeley Writer’s Group, the female members of the group took exception to the term she-elf to delineate my female elves from males.

And so, after much discussion and debate, she-elves asserted themselves as elfes, and even saw the former term as an insult throughout the Wycaan Master series. Fast forward three years, and a newer member of the group while presenting his YA epic fantasy novel, used the same word, believing it part of the genre. I was, and remain, chuffed every time he uses the word.

images-6A friend from your writer’s group, is certainly a far cry from a random taxi driver (though no Israeli cabbie is ever random – you have to take a cab in Israel to appreciate them) of course. But I am hardly comparable to Amos Oz, an author widely expected to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

And so I offer elfe to the epic fantasy world, along with calhei (elf children) and ahdahr (elf father). Last week, I mentioned that, while I have sent the manuscript of Book 4 to the editor, I am struggling with a title. The protagonist is a female, so I guess at least I have one word worked out!

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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+

The Gods Of Fantasy – repost

Over the three days of November 17 -19, Amazon.com have decided to promote the 2013 Winner of the Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. The novel will be offered FREE in ebook form.

This is a wonderful opportunity for me and I request that, to support my sales rank and me, you download the book and invites your friends to do the same. Feel free to gift it on (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, anyone?).

To celebrate this and also the milestone of 100 blog posts on elfwriter.com, I wish to offer 10 of my favorite posts over the next three days. I hope you enjoy and, please, take a moment to download for FREE At The Walls Of Galbrieth and spread the word.

Thank you,

Alon

 =======================================

Pass a summer evening in a quaint English pub, mid 20th century, perhaps in the old town of Oxford. Caress a pint and listening to a few graying professors discuss semantics, philosophy, and the ancient languages long forgotten outside the sheltered walls of academia. What else can one possibly ask for? 

imgres-1

Imagine these tweed-clad, pipe-smoking academics, hatching more than another challenging semester to try the greatest minds of this fair isle. Each is a king in the making or, more accurately, a kingmaker. For they direct more than the destiny of kings and noble houses. They raise kingdoms and conquer lands. They build great dynasties, bring whole species back from the mists of extinction, and set those of noble birth and principle to stand against evil.

Sip your beer, mull over the words, much of which you might not understand. Dwarves, elves, of course: but hobbits? Marsh-wiggles? Listen as the professors strategize great battles, masterfully marshalling unicorns, dragons, giants, minotaurs and proud ents.

You slowly realize that you sit among the Gods, the creators of Middle Earth and Narnia, who hold court on Tuesdays at midday in a local public house. Perhaps it is The Eagle and Child, or The Lamb and Flag across the street. They read each other’s work and offer critique as writer’s groups have for centuries and continue to do so today.

220px-Birdandbaby

I may never have understood much or been accepted into such an elite. They would have torn my work to shreds on grounds of philological shallowness (I had it checked – it’s not contagious), criticized me for imprudently suggesting that a 100,000 word novel can serve as more than merely an introduction.

They would have demanded richer world-building – take twenty pages to describe a forest, I dare you – unyielding heroes, and infallible plots. They would have challenged the age-old legends dressed up in fictional costumes, and raised an eyebrow at some of the language or innuendos.

Most likely, I would never have dared reveal my stories to the old professors of Oxford, to the most famous writing group in history. I would never have been more than a fly on the wall at a meeting of The Inklings, but would have returned week after week to sit at the feet of the Gods and hear their banter.

For here the Gods gave birth to great worlds and left them as a legacy to us and to our children, long after they departed this world. Every Wednesday night, I sit around a table in a coffee shop in Berkeley, sharing work with other aspiring authors and wonder: do the Gods look down upon us from Writers Heaven?

lewis-and-tolkien1

Do they tut and shake their heads at our adverb addiction, our unwillingness to kill our darlings? Or do they even now move pieces around the literary chessboard. Protect the king! Advance the knights! Who, I wonder, are the pawns?

As we write a new book, a new chapter, do we not imagine the Gods walk among us?  Do they peer over our shoulders at our swanky writing machines, judging every word we write, every world we build? 

The Gods once sat in an old English pub. Now they stand behind us in coffee shops and at kitchen tables, urging us on, watching us walk the path they forged, taking on the quest they started.

For the Gods still walk among us and inside of us. The stories have been told but must be told again in different ways to a different generation. We sign these books in our own names, but humbly acknowledge those who molded us in their image as storytellers.

And now they are the flies on the wall and we who pound the keyboards. Take a moment, draw another pint, and raise your glass:

To the Gods of Fantasy!

 =========================================

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, offered by Amazon.com  for FREE on November 17-19. The sequel, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 are all released by Tourmaline Books. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on  Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

The Magic Is Everywhere – repost

Over the three days of November 17 -19, Amazon.com have decided to promote the 2013 Winner of the Eric Hoffer Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. The novel will be offered FREE in ebook form.

This is a wonderful opportunity for me as an author and I request that you download the book and invites your friends to do the same. Feel free to gift it on (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, anyone?).

To celebrate this and also the milestone of 100 blog posts on elfwriter.com, I wish to offer 10 of my favorite posts over the next three days. I hope you enjoy and, please, take a moment to download for FREE At The Walls Of Galbrieth and spread the word.

Thank you,

Alon

 =======================================

Last weekend, our family headed for the marina, a grassy area on the west point of Berkeley that looks over the San Francisco Bay Area. We have been there many times to fly kites, play soccer, run and bike. 

This time, armed with a blanket and picnic, we were planning on some serious reading. Older son had a book assigned from school, a historical fictional account of many good people dying from a plague back in the 1700’s: perfect depressing material for the summer vacation. Not surprisingly, he hadn’t embraced the intrusion with the enthusiasm he showed for Christopher Paolini’s Eragon or J. K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter.

It was surprisingly windy and we made for some bushes and trees that would deny us the view, but offer shelter. We spread the blanket and I fell into my stadium chair and flicked on my Kindle.

While I waited for it to fire up, I glanced to my left. Between the bushes and the trees was a tunnel, with brush growing up and over so that you could barely see the sky. It was dark inside with the promise of sunlight on the other side. My youngest son, I realized, was staring at it as well. He turned to me.

“What do you think is through there?” he asked, eyes wide open.

“I don’t know,” I replied, the right level of gravity in my voice. “Think you should check it out?”

He nodded, rose and moved into the tunnel. He never came out…

Okay, that is not exactly true. But he stayed in the tunnel and explored beyond. Sometimes he sat and read his book, and other times played, creating his own world. Finally, he called for me to join him.

“The tunnel is safe,” he declared, “but there are dragons on the other side. Be careful.”

I knew that on the other side was a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, San Francisco, and the bay with many sailboats. But as his tiny hand took mine and guided me out the other side, all I saw were the dragons.

Others might have seen a red kite with a long tail, to its left was a blue-green one tearing through the sky in acrobatic maneuvers, but we saw two dragons eying each other. My son announced with authority that they were deciding whether to fight or be friends. Remembering my politically correct role as father, I said I hoped they would be friends. 

But as I watched them and glanced back at the tunnel, it was my imagination that soared. Perhaps a new book is fermenting, or only a scene in the next Wycaan Master. Maybe it will surface next year or in a decade, but it is stored away.

And this moment of magic only happened because I was ready to embrace it, albeit with a little help from a nine-year-old with a rich imagination. But then I have seen elves in coffee shops.  

=========================================

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, offered by Amazon.com  for FREE on November 17-19. The sequel, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 are all released by Tourmaline Books. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

The Gods of Fantasy

Pass a summer evening in a quaint English pub, mid 20th century, perhaps in the old town of Oxford. Caress a pint and listening to a few graying professors discuss semantics, philosophy, and the ancient languages long forgotten outside the sheltered walls of academia. What else can one possibly ask for? 

imgres-1Imagine these tweed-clad, pipe-smoking academics, hatching more than another challenging semester to try the greatest minds of this fair isle. Each is a king in the making or, more accurately, a kingmaker. For they direct more than the destiny of kings and noble houses. They raise kingdoms and conquer lands. They build great dynasties, bring whole species back from the mists of extinction, and set those of noble birth and principle to stand against evil.

Sip your beer, mull over the words, much of which you might not understand. Dwarves, elves, of course: but hobbits? Marsh-wiggles? Listen as the professors strategize great battles, masterfully marshalling unicorns, dragons, giants, minotaurs and proud ents. 

You slowly realize that you sit among the Gods, the creators of Middle Earth and Narnia, who hold court on Tuesdays at midday in a local public house. Perhaps it is The Eagle and Child, or The Lamb and Flag across the street. They read each other’s work and offer critique as writer’s groups have for centuries and continue to do so today.

220px-Birdandbaby 

I may never have understood much or been accepted into such an elite. They would have torn my work to shreds on grounds of philological shallowness (I had it checked – it’s not contagious), criticized me for imprudently suggesting that a 100,000 word novel can serve as more than merely an introduction.

They would have demanded richer world-building – take twenty pages to describe a forest, I dare you – unyielding heroes, and infallible plots. They would have challenged the age-old legends dressed up in fictional costumes, and raised an eyebrow at some of the language or innuendos.

Most likely, I would never have dared reveal my stories to the old professors of Oxford, to the most famous writing group in history. I would never have been more than a fly on the wall at a meeting of The Inklings, but would have returned week after week to sit at the feet of the Gods and hear their banter.

For here the Gods gave birth to great worlds and left them as a legacy to us and to our children, long after they departed this world. Every Wednesday night, I sit around a table in a coffee shop in Berkeley, sharing work with other aspiring authors and wonder: do the Gods look down upon us from Writers Heaven?

 lewis-and-tolkien1

Do they tut and shake their heads at our adverb addiction, our unwillingness to kill our darlings? Or do they even now move pieces around the literary chessboard. Protect the king! Advance the knights! Who, I wonder, are the pawns?

As we write a new book, a new chapter, do we not imagine the Gods walk among us?  Do they peer over our shoulders at our swanky writing machines, judging every word we write, every world we build? 

The Gods once sat in an old English pub. Now they stand behind us in coffee shops and at kitchen tables, urging us on, watching us walk the path they forged, taking on the quest they started.

For the Gods still walk among us and inside of us. The stories have been told but must be told again in different ways to a different generation. We sign these books in our own names, but humbly acknowledge those who molded us in their image as storytellers.

And now they are the flys on the wall and we who pound the keyboards. Take a moment, draw another pint, and raise your glass:

To the Gods of Fantasy!

—————————————————————————————————–

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.

 

The Magic Is Everywhere

Last weekend, our family headed for the marina, a grassy area on the west point of Berkeley that looks over the San Francisco Bay Area. We have been there many times to fly kites, play soccer, run and bike. 

This time, armed with a blanket and picnic, we were planning on some serious reading. Older son had a book assigned from school, a historical fictional account of many good people dying from a plague back in the 1700’s: perfect depressing material for the summer vacation. Not surprisingly, he hadn’t embraced the intrusion with the enthusiasm he showed for Christopher Paolini’s Eragon or J. K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter. 

It was surprisingly windy and we made for some bushes and trees that would deny us the view, but offer shelter. We spread the blanket and I fell into my stadium chair and flicked on my Kindle.

While I waited for it to fire up, I glanced to my left. Between the bushes and the trees was a tunnel, with brush growing up and over so that you could barely see the sky. It was dark inside with the promise of sunlight on the other side. My youngest son, I realized, was staring at it as well. He turned to me.

“What do you think is through there?” he asked, eyes wide open.

“I don’t know,” I replied, the right level of gravity in my voice. “Think you should check it out?”

He nodded, rose and moved into the tunnel. He never came out…

Okay, that is not exactly true. But he stayed in the tunnel and explored beyond. Sometimes he sat and read his book, and other times played, creating his own world. Finally, he called for me to join him.

“The tunnel is safe,” he declared, “but there are dragons on the other side. Be careful.”

I knew that on the other side was a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, San Francisco, and the bay with many sailboats. But as his tiny hand took mine and guided me out the other side, all I saw were the dragons.

Others might have seen a red kite with a long tail, to its left was a blue-green one tearing through the sky in acrobatic maneuvers, but we saw two dragons eying each other. My son announced with authority that they were deciding whether to fight or be friends. Remembering my politically correct role as father, I said I hoped they would be friends. 

But as I watched them and glanced back at the tunnel, it was my imagination that soared. Perhaps a new book is fermenting, or only a scene in the next Wycaan Master. Maybe it will surface next year or in a decade, but it is stored away.

And this moment of magic only happened because I was ready to embrace it, albeit with a little help from a nine-year-old with a rich imagination. But then I have seen elves in coffee shops.

——————————————————————————————————

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).