Letting Go: The Relationship Between Author and Character

It was always going to feel strange: the excitement of a new novel being launched together with the knowledge that this is the end of the Wycaan Master series. But somehow, it feels even more surreal than I had anticipated.

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My knee accident and operation along with the subsequent rehab was obviously never anticipated, and I thank all of you for your wonderful healing wishes. I am an active, sports-loving man, and have no idea how to sit around and wait for seven pieces of my knee bone (patella) to slowly reconnect. In desperation, my wonderful staff at AJWS bought me a two months’ subscription to Netflix and had to explain to me what binge watching is and why it is especially okay in my situation.

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Still it is hard not to feel guilty if I’m not working hard for those who pay me a salary or if I am not busy writing a next novel, editing the latest manuscript, and in this case, promoting the launch of Calhei No More which is next Tuesday.

Next Tuesday! At The Walls of Galbrieth was written in 2010. Seanchai, Rhoddan, Ilana, Sellia and Shayth have been in my life for six years now. I have laughed with them, cried, feared for their future, and between us, got quite annoyed at some of their decisions.

I watched an episode of Westworld yesterday (cable, not Netflix), in which a character said being a parent is about knowing when to let go. I’m dealing with this as a parent of teenage boys – I would rather they remain young enough to snuggle in our tent in a redwood forest as I read another manuscript to and for them – but now I realize I need to step back as well with the Wycaan Master characters.

Westworld, without giving anything away (and I have barely began to watch), is about artificial intelligence. A theme park has been created and people pay to interact with the very real robots (hosts), but the really fascinating part is the relationships that seem to surface between the team who created, maintain, and upgrade the hosts, and the robots themselves.

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It seems impossible not to get attached to the characters of a book much less a series where you created the character and have helped it evolve and grow. When I killed off a major character early in the series I cried. I didn’t, at the time, think it particularly strange to shed a few tears, but crying each of the 20+ times I edited and rewrote the scene and subsequent consequences borders on the traumatic…for me, the author (many of you made it very clear how you felt too…!).

I believe the relationship between character and creator is sacred in as much as it is unique. Those of you with a more religious perspective might connect this to the Creator and humanity, which brings us to the question: is being an author a vain attempt to play at being a deity? Let’s leave that for another time.

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But I never expected to care and agonise so much for the characters I created throughout the series, and it feels as though I’m failing as a father when Calhei No More launches next week, when I finally let go of my creative offspring and close the last page.

Whatever my feelings, Calhei No More will be released and you can pre-order the e-book here. The page for the paperback will be here, but I’m not sure when it goes live (usually a few days before launch to iron out any issues). Pre-ordering will bring attention on Launch Day and tempt Amazon.com to help promote more – so it is a big help to me.

Thank you again for all your good wishes and for your support of the Wycaan Master series. Do remember, I love hearing feedback and really appreciate any reviews you can write on Amazon for any of the novels.

Until November 15… For better or worse, it all ends on the Plains of Shindellia. See you there.

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. For all other eReaders, please click here.

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

 

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The Empowering Stereotypical Female Protagonist

 Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the sappy male hero, the protagonist who is can be brave without being too macho and who is in touch with his values and feelings. The post generated considerable discussion and debate, and since I am in the appreciating mood, thank you for your feedback.

But it also got me thinking about my female protagonists. With well over 70% of readers apparently girls and women, it would seem daft to ignore them. In truth, my inspiration for strong female characters comes from less altruistic motives. I am blessed to have been surrounded with strong women all my life, none more so than Mrs. Elfwriter, who continues after two decades together, to amaze me with her strength, vision and principles. I have come through a tough summer and she has been my rock throughout.

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Yesterday, a dear friend told me that it would have been his and his deceased wife’s 25th wedding anniversary, had she not succumbed to cancer a few years ago. My mind reeled back to her struggle, to the elegance with which she continued, right up to the end, to be a source of strength and inspiration, to her family and friends.

These thoughts are relevant to my female protagonists because I realize that I am creating similar (albeit female) stereotypes of common heroes and heroines. Ilana, Sellia, Mhari, Pyre and Mharina are all brave warriors. Fearsome with bow or sword, they might seek to solve a conflict without resorting to violence (as Seanchai did, to be fair), but nonetheless are not females you would want to pick a bar fight with (not that you are that kind of person, of course).

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When I began this post, a couple of days ago, I had hoped to pat myself on the back for my strong female characters. In Sacrificial Flame there is almost an absence of strong males (unless they are evil antagonists). In Book 5 (sorry for the tease) there emerged two males who are not warrior-types. As I begin writing Book 6, I realize that I have not given them much space in my initial plan. I will address this. Likewise, I have not given thought to the non-warrior, strong female protagonist.

Do any strong female protagonists who are not warrior-type come to mind from your reading of epic fantasy? Is it even compelling to have female who is not beautiful, thin, brave, and wicked with sword or bow? Would love to hear.

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Have a great week. Read something epic!

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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).

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+

 

All He Had To Say Was Thank You

There is an urban author’s myth of a now famous author in her undiscovered days – was it Janet Evanovich? – who spoke at a bookstore in a mall with pouring rain outside. She knew the audience would be sparse as the mall was empty, and to cheer herself up, she bought a box of chocolates from the store next door. 

Only four people turned up and she made them sit in a circle and gave them each a chocolate. They were silent as she spoke and read, and asked no questions. At the end three got up and left. The fourth thanked her and the author asked, rather desperately, if she wanted to buy a book. The woman laughed and said that all four were homeless, and just thirsted for a little culture so the bookstore allowed them to attend. The author felt compelled to give her a copy of her book and the rest of the chocolates.

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I recently went to a book reading of an author who is struggling to break through, like me. We had met a few times and I have offered advice at various stages. I dutifully spread the word of his book launch to my social and e-circles, attended the reading, and bought a book.

Not many people turned up and even less felt inclined to buy the book. He was disappointed and the bookstore staff was not too excited either. When I asked him to sign my book, he mumbled a weak thank you and scribbled. I don’t think he ever made eye contact with me, and I felt a profound sense of resentment.

This is reality for all but the 200 or so A-listers. The rest of us may have 50 people in attendance or 5. It is hit-or-miss and this is probably a significant reason why adopting an online marketing strategy makes sense.

To celebrate the first Wycaan Master trilogy and the Eric Hoffer Book Award, I held a celebration in my hometown at the iconic Games of Berkeley at the end of last year. There was a strong attendance, but I put a lot of time into advertising and most of those attending had already bought the books. It was not a good return on investment if I look at it through economic eyes alone.

 Games of Berkeley Question from Asif

But I loved doing it. I loved my friends who came and read parts, I loved the Q&A, especially the questions from the younger members of the audience, and most of all, I loved the conversations and the excitement of my readers – yes, for one afternoon they were all mine!

I sincerely hope that those who attended left happy and committed to my series and me. I especially hope that the young people were inspired to continue reading and, who knows, maybe put millennial quill to parchment. 

I have heard many times that my author-hero, Terry Brooks, is an inspiring author to meet. I hear he shares a conversation with everyone bearing books, and that he is a delight to be with. I can believe that after reading this passage in his book, Sometimes The Magic Works. He says that book signings are not about selling books or advancing your career. He say…oh why not just let him say it:

Terry Brooks

Terry Brooks

“It is not in fact about you at all.

Rather, it is about making a connection between readers and books. It is about making readers feel so enthusiastic about books that they cannot wait to come back and buy more – not just copies of your books, but of other authors’ books, as well. It is about generating a feeling of goodwill toward the bookstore and the staff. Mostly, it is about reassuring everyone that they did not waste their time on you. 

How do you accomplish this? …

…Speak to everyone. Make them aware of the fact that you are grateful to be there, anxious to chat, and ready to answer questions if they have any. Never sign a book without looking at and speaking directly to the reader, and then thank them for choosing to take a chance on you.”

I think I have always thanked those who buy my books. To this day, when a stranger tweets me that they just bought one, I feel genuinely touched and honored that they spent their hard-earned money on my books.

Book Signing Games of Berkeley

And I thank them.

Maybe one day, someone will develop an app wherein I can put my hand through the screen and shake theirs as I thank them. Perhaps the 2.0 version will allow us to reach through and hug someone.

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The world would become a better place, for authors, readers and all humankind!

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 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).

 

That Magical Time Of Year – 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

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Once a year, my family goes away camping in the mountains of Northern California or Oregon. All day we fish, hike, swim, explore and then after dinner sit around the campfire or snuggle up in my tent. This is the fourth year that I then open up a folder and read to my boys the completed first draft of the next book in the Wycaan Master series.

My boys listen, interrupt with question, comments and sometimes criticism. The latter is becoming increasingly sophisticated as they not only spot spelling or grammar errors, but when a character goes out of voice, or the plot is inconsistent.

During the day, while out on another activity, one of them might turn around and offer an idea or feedback. My youngest (10 years old) may well tell me what he guesses might happen next. I have told him that he is not allowed to share anything in an unpublished novel with his friends – many of whom are reading the series. He is to arch an eyebrow (Spock would be proud – if he ever felt emotions) and say Maybe. When he offers his predictions, I turn to him and smile, as evilly as I can muster: Maybe.

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It elevates an already wonderful family vacation into the realms of magical and I feel truly blessed that we are building these communal memories together and hope they will stay with us as my boys grow up and walk their own paths.

Together with this is the excitement building for the book launch of Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3. Pages have been added at alonshalev.com and here on the elfwriter blog.

It is turning into an amazing year with The First Decree and Ashbar being published, and, of course winning the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA. I am truly gratified that along the way I am making many new friends through twitter and the blog, and even some face-to-face networking (yes – it really happens!).

In this brave new publishing world, an author can only succeed with ‘a little help from his friends’ something Joe Cocker was preaching long before any of us knew that a chat room was a place you could hang out in pajamas or that we would love a tablet that is too large to swallow.

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I appreciate all the retweets, the recommendations and the reviews. My mentor is telling me that I am not accruing enough reviews. Please, if you have read either At The Walls Of Galbrieth or The First Decree, take a few minutes to leave a review. If you are in a Google+ group, a Goodreads group, or on a thread of epic fantasy book aficionados, please make a recommendation to begin the series. I am following a thread on Amazon called Life after Game of Thrones and checking out the authors they suggest.

I really believe that, even in the rich online world, word-of-mouth remains the most effective marketing tool. On Thursday, a friend enthused about this new author he has discovered. I came home, checked him out, and his first book is on my wish list.

To those of you who already advocate for my novels and my path as an author – thank you. My relationship with my boys and the support you give me are what makes my epic fantasy truly magical.

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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+

That Magical Time of Year – Better Than ‘Real’ Fantasy

Once a year, my family goes away camping in the mountains of Northern California or Oregon. All day we fish, hike, swim, explore and then after dinner sit around the campfire or snuggle up in my tent. This is the fourth year that I then open up a folder and read to my boys the completed first draft of the next book in the Wycaan Master series.

My boys listen, interrupt with question, comments and sometimes criticism. The latter is becoming increasingly sophisticated as they not only spot spelling or grammar errors, but when a character goes out of voice, or the plot is inconsistent.

During the day, while out on another activity, one of them might turn around and offer an idea or feedback. My youngest (10 years old) may well tell me what he guesses might happen next. I have told him that he is not allowed to share anything in an unpublished novel with his friends – many of whom are reading the series. He is to arch an eyebrow (Spock would be proud – if he ever felt emotions) and say Maybe. When he offers his predictions, I turn to him and smile, as evilly as I can muster: Maybe.

imgres

It elevates an already wonderful family vacation into the realms of magical and I feel truly blessed that we are building these communal memories together and hope they will stay with us as my boys grow up and walk their own paths.

Together with this is the excitement building for the book launch of Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3. Pages have been added at alonshalev.com and here on the elfwriter blog.

It is turning into an amazing year with The First Decree and Ashbar being published, and, of course winning the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA. I am truly gratified that along the way I am making many new friends through twitter and the blog, and even some face-to-face networking (yes – it really happens!).

In this brave new publishing world, an author can only succeed with ‘a little help from his friends’ something Joe Cocker was preaching long before any of us knew that a chat room was a place you could hang out in pajamas or that we would love a tablet that is too large to swallow.

imgres-2

I appreciate all the retweets, the recommendations and the reviews. My mentor is telling me that I am not accruing enough reviews. Please, if you have read either At The Walls Of Galbrieth or The First Decree, take a few minutes to leave a review. If you are in a Google+ group, a Goodreads group, or on a thread of epic fantasy book aficionados, please make a recommendation to begin the series. I am following a thread on Amazon called Life after Game of Thrones and checking out the authors they suggest.

I really believe that, even in the rich online world, word-of-mouth remains the most effective marketing tool. On Thursday, a friend enthused about this new author he has discovered. I came home, checked him out, and his first book is on my wish list.

To those of you who already advocate for my novels and my path as an author – thank you. My relationship with my boys and the support you give me are what makes my epic fantasy truly magical.

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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.

At The Walls Of Galbrieth – Launched!

A couple of weeks ago, I posted that the imminent release of At The Walls Of Galbrieth was like seeing your child leave home. Well this weekend,  Book 1 of the Wycaan Master series, was busy packing its bags, saying goodbye to its friends, and reminiscing about how its laundry always got done and there was food in the pantry.

Okay, I’m stretching this, but like a parent who constantly peers into their child’s now empty room, I am peeking at Amazon.com, staring in disbelief that my book is finally out there in the big wide world.

But it is there and on Tuesday, the family (the real one) sat around the dinner table and ceremoniously opened the brown cardboard package and held the first paperback copy. My oldest, who deserves a lot of credit for initiating this project, sat and read and reread the dedication to him and scanned the rest of the book. It was rather challenging to get him to relinquish the book so that the rest of us could look.

Just like the child leaving home, it is the end of one stage of life and the beginning of the next. A few days earlier, I received the manuscript for the second book, The First Decree, from my talented editor, Monica Buntin. The next day, I saw the first sketching of that book’s cover by artist, William Kenney. In the past two months, I completed my first serious edit of the third book and I am itching to sink my teeth (or fingers) into writing the fourth. 

This is how it all began – deep in a redwood forest.

I’m glad my wife and I decided on only two children because there are still a lot of books to write and nurture to launch day!

Have a great weekend. If you buy the book, please let me know what you thought. I can’t wait to hear.

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).