Depth of Character

THERE ARE NO SPOILERS HERE:

A while ago I read the first two books in The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. I remember planning to write a blog post then on the author’s use of character, but somehow other topics rose to my attention. I am now three-quarters through the third, and just as enthralled.

Joe Abercrombie

Sometimes when I’m really enjoying a book, I’ll read a sentence or paragraph and just wonder: how can someone’s head be wired in such a way that they’d come up with that? Joe Abercrombie epitomizes this ability to keep it unique.

But it is his characters that amaze me. It is impossible to identify one protagonist – there are several. The danger in doing this is that each must be compelling or else the reader will flip through a section to return to the more favored characters. This does not happen with Abercrombie – each protagonist is capable of holding his or her own space. Their voices are completely different, backed by their own personal flaws and challenges. If you are looking for character tropes, this is simply not the place. If you want the perfect hero, look elsewhere. But perhaps because of their flaws, we can connect with them. For a medieval fantasy novel, or any similar sub genre, this is a brave move, but Abercrombie does it perfectly.

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Even minor characters manage to claim their unique places. All the Named Ones are memorable, one of Glokta’s muscle men has an incredible vocabulary, and there are so many more. It is to Abercrombie’s credit, that there are simply no throwaway characters. That is a testament of hard work. 

Another brave move is to break the rules. A member of the Berkeley Writers Group wrote a piece in which she includes considerable internal monologue, italicized to make it clear who is speaking. Her editor suggested cutting it as this is not conventional, But when she read this second version to the group, we lamented the intimacy we had with the character and the author feared the protagonist had lost her voice. 

Joe Abercrombie Quote

Abercrombie does this brilliantly with Glokta and his internal dialogue. If he just used it to show the character’s emotions, one could say there are other ways to achieve this – body language for example, but Abercrombie offers much more.

The best example is when he is trying to share the rumors of an imminent invasion and compares brilliantly his bosses’ leadership to a ship that sinks in a storm, interlacing the internal monologue to match the self-interested, derisive comments of his superior.

In addition, Abercrombie has the ability to offer such succinct lines that convey so much. There are a few examples here. 

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What compelled me to write this blog post – I don’t usually review other authors – is the thrill I feel when I read someone who is expanding the craft. We often refer to the way we write as the craft (I think Stephen King was the man who introduced this to me) and we all look to improve the nuts and bolts of our work. When you take your own craft seriously, you look at the masters with awe and try to learn from them. 

In pass blogs I have mentioned such authors as Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Christopher Paolini, Terry Pratchett, as the masters of our genre. From my perspective, Joe Abercrombie can unapologetically take his place at the table.

Finally, thank you to those who are helping my new medieval fantasy manuscript, Kingfisher: Slave to Honor find a publisher by downloading a free copy. The publisher is interested, but I need you now to read  it (they are measuring how many pages you turn and whether you leave a review. It is very exciting and I thank you for your support.

Kingfisher Cover

Warmly,

Alon
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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 – all ebooks are 99c each for August. For all other eReaders, please click here.

Download a #FREE copy of Alon’s latest novel, Kingfisher: Slave to Honor, as publisher gauges interest – http://bit.ly/2sq72DG

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

 

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Learning from the Great Author

Day 5 of Tolkien Week – and we are still going strong!  Even though the old professor is no longer teaching at Oxford, his work is there for those of us who want to learn the craft to glean some insights.

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This blog post was an attempt to share with fellow writers what I feel I have learned from Tolkien – Crumbs of the Great Master. Check it out and feel free to add to the list. Let’s make this a communal round. Cheers!

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and four other novels all released by Tourmaline Books and currently all ebooks are at 99 cents each to celebrate his latest, the sixth in the series, which will be released on October 15, 2016.

More about the author at alonshalev.com.

Can I Have Your Autograph, Dead Author?

You probably know the story: Robert Jordan wrote 12 amazing epic fantasy books – Wheel of Time series – and outlined three more that he was unable to complete before he passed away in 2007 (for those of you purists counting, I have included New Spring as one of the series, though it was written out-of-sequence). His wife persuaded Brandon Sanderson, already a respected novelist in his own right, to finish the series for her husband.

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I learned about this from an interview with Mr. Sanderson, which was both compelling and offered with wonderful humility – if you can find the interview, please leave the link in the comments. The whole idea of writing someone else’s book is stunning to me – no disrespect meant to ghost writers – I think this is different.

So A Memory of Light comes out in 2013 to great aplomb. It is the end of an era, a wonderful legacy by a rising hero to a master etc. etc. We fantasy readers get very emotional when the great stories actually transcend the page.

I’m sure you can imagine my joy when I pick up a book in a used bookstore and discover not only Mr. Sanderson’s autograph but also Mr. Jordan’s. I instagramed, showed my kids and began writing this blog post. How exciting to imagine both men sat together at this historical moment in epic fantasy history and autographed the very book I now possess.

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Here’s the problem: Only as I began to compose this post did I realize that Robert Jordan had been dead for five years when he autographed my copy. It is a strange feeling that his ghost would go to such trouble, and that he could even hold the pen, though personally I still get a kick when a reader asks me to sign their copy of one one of my books – though whether this feeling would follow me into the great writing retreats beyond, who knows?

So how should I feel? It felt such a privilege to own this book and now I’m not sure want to think? Still, I will be better prepared next time I ask a dead author to sign my book.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The 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+

 

 

No Blog Post, But An Announcement!

No blog post this week as I have been busy incorporating the (many) suggestions of my fearless (or fearsome) editor. It never ceases to amaze me how perceptive a good editor is, how they can stay focused through 100,000 words, and be able to not only correct grammar or spelling, but follow plot arcs, different character developments, and so much more.

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Here are two great errors that I really should be too embarrassed to share, but hey, we’re all friends here, right? 

1. One of my characters was very sad and wiped the tears from her ears!

2. Seanchai (my protagonist) left his bow and quiver at the summit of a mountain, snowboarded down to join the battle, and when he entered the fray shot several of the enemy with his bow! Clever guy!

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I wrote a while ago a blog post – A Tribute To Editors ­– and I remain just as in awe today.

Along with the edited manuscript I have received a first sketch of the book cover and an ISBN number. June 12 is my fiftieth birthday – I’m negotiating the launch date for this time, but it might be too close.

It’s beginning to get real and I am so excited. As I blogged a while ago: It Never Gets Old.

Finally…(drumroll)…the title of Book 4 is official:

 Sacrificial Flame – Wycaan Master Book 4

Can’t wait to share it with you. Two months to go!

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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+

 

Big Characters Without Big Boobs

Last week I asked in my blog post, 10 Questions For J.R.R Tolkien, what questions people would like to ask the Professor if they had the opportunity. The answers were great, but one stood out for me.

A person with the twitter username @oneyearnovel (happy to enter your name and website) wrote: “I would ask if he ever considered a woman character who was not beautiful?”

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This got me wondering. When I began looking around for a book cover artist and shared my concept of Mhari, an elfe (the politically correct term for a female elf) and Seanchai’s teacher, I was offered sketches of buxom women with cleavage-revealing armor, muscled (bare) legs etc. You get the picture. I talk about this in an earlier post – Big Boobs and Book Covers. While these images might have sold more copies of At The Walls Of Galbrieth, the pensive, wise face that adorns the cover truly represents the wise, yet world-weary mentor for my protagonist, Seanchai.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front Cover

I don’t in truth know if @oneyearnovel is correct that Tolkien’s females in his books are all beautiful, or if this is Peter Jackson pandering to what he believes his Hollywood audience wants. I have not read Lord of the Rings in years and can’t even recall a female in the Hobbit.

Tolkien students: please enlighten us on this in the comments.

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There are three main female characters who each leave an indelible mark on the first four books of the Wycaan Master series. Sellia is dark, exotic and beautiful, but she is also an excellent warrior and probably fits the stereotype. While I never talk about her breasts, hips etc. (this is YA), she intimidates the younger male elves and has them stuttering. She makes a game of eliciting a blush from Rhoddan or Seanchai.

Ilana is tough, an ideologue, constantly seeking a peaceful solution and offering Seanchai her unwavering support. As a romance blossoms she is viewed for her beauty, but it is seen through the eyes of one who is falling in love with her. Don’t we doting men all think our wives/partners are the most beautiful women in the world? Of course mine really is!

But Ilana is possibly the most popular character among readers, certainly female readers. It is not anything physical about her that binds the reader to her, but her deep principles, cutting sense of humor, and well just about everything else concerning her.

Maugwen is a human, short and pudgy. She is a weak character at first and I never meant to give her a long run. But she grows, matures and becomes a wise friend and strong individual. Readers have told me that she intrigues them and, just between us, she intrigues me.

We don’t make all our male characters handsome and ripped, so why our females? I think @oneyearnovel has a great point. Society expects us to bind ourselves to a pretty woman, and in truth, this goes for good or bad characters, but fiction has a responsibility to not only change with the times, but to be present at the tipping edge of that change.

It is very popular to write a coming-of-age novel. Perhaps it is time for our genre to come of age.

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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).

Epic Fantasy, Epic Tattoos

I take my tattoos pretty seriously and see them as a rite-of-passage. I have three, each celebrating a landmark event. I got the first when Ms. Elfwriter and I got married and the other two when my sons were each born. I often joke that the reason there will not be a third child is that I can’t afford the tattoo. I actually did plan another tattoo to celebrate the Wycaan Master series, but I haven’t done it yet.

I have often wondered about incorporating my love for body art into my books. I have this association, when it comes to fantasy, of tattoos and the bad guys. If they are essentially used to signify evil, I take issue.

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Having just discovered the Iron Druid series, I have found at least one author who has delved more than a cursory skin deep level (couldn’t resist).

Hearne’s protagonist is a Druid who draws power from the earth … through his tattoo. Hearne describes the tattoo beautifully as it moves from the soles of his feet to cover all the energy points on his body. In Book 1, we even learn something of the significance and the process. Note to Mr. Hearne – we, the readers, would love to learn more of this.

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Credit to another writer – Paul Goat Allen – who wrote a blog post that asked what is your favorite literature image that you can imagine making into a tattoo.

But, as an author of Young Adult fantasy, is it okay to romanticize or elevate the art of tattoos? Certain religions forbid it – I will not be allowed to be buried in a Jewish cemetery since I have defiled my body, which was created in G-d’s image.

Putting aside any desire for my ashes to be thrown from the Golden Gate Bridge (there is probably a law against that as well – but hey, I’ve already apparently pissed off YAWEH) – there are many parents who, I am sure, do not want their children getting a tattoo on the whim of a fictional character.

My own sons, justifiably proud that I bear a tattoo of each of them, have already told me of the various images they plan to emblaze on their bodies. I promised that when they are 18, if they still want them, I will take them to get their first tattoos (to add proportion, I have also promised to buy their first round when they turn 21 – good parenting, I am told, is all about consistency). I do, however, also point out the painful process, which helps to somewhat quell their impatience.

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And yet tattoos do have a rich, spiritual past. If fantasy authors are trying to illustrate such a fantastical bygone age, why should we shirk from a bit of body art? I am trying to imagine a conversation with a concerned parent.

“Look, Mr. Shalev, I really appreciate that you have written several books that my son is enjoying more than endless video games, but really! He now wants a tattoo. Do you have to keep harping on about it? It is so crude.”

“Crude?”

“Yes. All those needles and blood.”

“Have you told your son about this process?”

“Goddess no. He would have nightmares, poor little tyke.”

“Has he told you about the fighting in my books, slaying good and bad guys with swords and bows?”

“Oh yes. He wants to take up archery, the sweetie. At least it will get him out of the house, I say.”

“Great. By the way: what’s his favorite video game?”

“Grand Theft Auto. He just loves his little cars.”

“Do you have a problem with that?”

“Of course not. Burt Reynolds starred in the movie you know. Anyway, it’s only a game.”

True, I think. Only a game. This is literature!

And to end with a question in the vein of Paul Goat Allen’s post: What fantasy image, character, or phrase, could you imagine having tattooed onto your body? Answers in the comments, please.

Thank you! 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, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. 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).

Thank You for a Great Year

This is my last blog post of the year and I am sitting here feeling full of gratitude and pride. It was a year ago that I sat with my family drinking hot chocolate and mochas in a local coffee shop and we each wrote down our goals for the year. 

During the preceding week I had made the decision to spend two years seriously 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. Now I was ready, for the first time, to lay out a plan.

Twelve months later and I am amazed how everything steadily came together. I feel a bubble of energy and support steadily moving me forward, and I have a lot to be thankful for.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front CoverAt The Walls Of Galbrieth was published by Tourmaline Books in November. After a professional edit, beautiful cover and excellent formatting, both my boys and I feel immense pride as we hold the book in our hands.

The First Decree is nearing publication. The finished manuscript and equally impressive cover is in the hands of the formatters and hopefully less than two months from publication.

Elfwriter – my fantasy blog has been around for a year and has attracted 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 20,000 people are following @elfwriter on twitter and the blog. 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 offered each week advice and guidance. There is so much that can be said about a group who are simply meeting to support each other. I hope I was able to contribute and help them as I received their support.

The First Decree AxeA large part of my success is due to the support of a team of amazing professionals. Monica Buntin is not just an editor, she is a teacher. She will continue to explain some grammatical point until I get it (and that can require quite a bit of patience!). She has the tact and foresight to see flaws in the story and convey them in a way that will push me to correct and tighten.

William Kenney, an accomplished fantasy author in his own right, has designed two masterful book covers. How he takes the jumble of description that I send him and conveys it into a work of art that far exceeds my vision, is beyond me.

Jeny Reulo and the folks at Fast Fingers will not compromise in their commitment to create the perfectly formatted book, whether in e- or tree book format. It is a pleasure to peruse the interior design of my book.

A full circle – 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 folded and put 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.

Looking back over the past year offers a great degree of pride and satisfaction. But the best part is to turn into the wind and see the year that is before us:

* The First Decree will be released in the first third of 2013.

* Ashbar will hopefully be ready in the fall.

* Elfwriter.com will  pass its 100th blog post.

* @elfwriter will advance with 25,000 follower of epic fantasy.

The First Decree-hi resolution

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

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 pipes of healthy pipe weed and telling wonderful stories.

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 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).