How Fantastical is Fantasy?

I mentioned previously that I am reading Sometimes The Magic Works by Terry Brooks. On Page 27 of this little book of great lessons, he writes how, as he struggled with his writing, he began to realize that he could not write the book in this world. “Everything I wrote had to remind readers of what they already knew, yet makes them take a second look at whether or not what they believed was really true.

 terry-brooks-150x150

I’ve been thinking about this sentence a lot. The difference between epic fantasy and magical realism (think Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin) is that the former transpires in a totally different world, whereas magical realism takes place in this world, but has elements of the unexplained – magic.

While the Wycaan Master series takes place in Odessiya, a mythical world, I kept it relatively easy to imagine, because I do not want the reader to struggle with my world building. Rather, I want them to focus on the characters and the plot, while still portraying a beautiful world.

Christopher Paolini does a wonderful job describing his land of Alagaesia, in stunning detail. He suggests his success in doing this is based on his love for the wild as he grew up in Montana. But again, his world is very easy to believe. When my family is on a road trip and are confronted by a beautiful vista, we point and declare: Alagaesia!

images 

I hope I have succeeded in portraying Odessiya as a beautiful land: full of great mountain ranges, deserts, forests, lakes and coast. I thoroughly enjoyed describing the ice worlds in the north and the forest of the Shanrea, but I never strayed from environments you can associate with on trips or the National Geographic channel.

When I sent Seanchai to the Elves of the West, I wanted to describe a rich world of mighty trees. Living in Northern California, I am in constant awe of the redwoods. My fictional bloodwoods are a tribute to these majestic giants and the name is meant to offer just enough to fill the reader with the images of redwoods. I wanted to offer an exotic setting with a connection to something known to the reader with just enough to be different.

 images-1

The age of a dozen pages of descriptions that J.R.R. Tolkien got away with no longer survives the red pen of the 21st Century editor. The publishers, facing rising costs of resources are loath to publish thick tomes, and the millennial reader does not have the patience to read several pages describing a small forest. My eldest son admitted to skipping descriptions after he had a clear picture in his mind and I am not completely unsure that I didn’t do this when I read Lord of the Rings back in the previous century.

That being said, the fantasy writer is challenged to offer opportunities for the reader to suspend belief as Brooks suggests. In his own prequels to the Shannara series, he sends us through post-apocalyptic California with humans and mutations. But the mutants are a result of the catastrophe that has all but destroyed the world. It is, tragically, not hard to take that leap of imagination, which again happens when he skillfully weaves in his elves.

Perhaps no one deserves more praise that he who blazed the trail and created a hobbit. There had never been a hobbit before Tolkien and yet it seems so familiar. Even ‘second breakfast’ and the family relations that Bilbo et al gets so worked up about, makes sense.

 images-2

The skill of the fantasy author is to create a world that the reader does not have to work hard to imagine and then to create something imaginative that allows us, because we have built trust between writer and reader, to suspend rational belief and embrace.

It is a subtle yet powerful tool that offers a rich layer to the world of epic fantasy. It is why readers flock to Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore and Christopher Paolini, and why those of us who walk in their shadows continue to cultivate our craft and build words, races and situations that are believably unbelievable.

Have a great week, everyone.

Elfwriter

——————————————————————————————————

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+

Advertisements

Best Advice Ever – If You Can Quit…

There is a legendary quote that is circulating the twitterverse and bloggersphere from epic fantasy giant, R. A. Salvatore. When asked to offer one piece of advice to aspiring writers, he said:

If you can quit, you should do so. If you can’t quit, you are a writer.”

I accidentally came across the interview with the quote. The interview is by Brian Stern (thank you, sir) and the first 20 minutes in particular are, in my humble opinion, amazing. Here are the first 12 minutes. Hey, it’s Sunday! Take a break, make yourself a coffee, pour a glass of wine (or both, no one is watching) and give yourself at least 12 minutes for the first third.

Okay, I couldn’t resist. Here is the second 12 minutes.

It is amazing how Bob (may I call you Bob? I feel we’re pretty close after these interviews and having read about eight of your books) just becomes more enthusiastic with his characters as the series progresses. It feels like he truly pours all of himself into each book. What he wrote about his brother is simply stunning.

Something that I find fascinating is how he is challenged to find time to read and make his way through a series. He speaks about how authors influence each other and I think there is something very important here. I do feel that Salvatore, Terry Brooks, and more recently George R.R. Martin have had an influence on me. But I am not sure this is a bad thing.

Why not learn from the masters? Even if you are already a member of the elite fantasy A-list like Salvatore, are we not all trying to constantly improve?

Finally, here is the third and final part of the interview. There is a great part about the author’s interactions with his readers, something I discussed last week.

I know I only asked you for 12 minutes and gave you 36 minutes. I would apologize, but I don’t think actually feel sorry for doing this. Yeah, it’s 36 minutes you will never get back, but just maybe it will help and inspire you. Perhaps you just couldn’t quit!

But then if you cannot quit…read his books. Next time you go into a bookstore (yeah, they still exist), check out his amazing book covers. They are quite simply works of art. Amazing.

——————————————————————————————————

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. 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+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They Grow Up So Fast

One day they are suckling at the nipple of your opening chapters and then, before you know it, your little manuscript is all grown up and running out the door, into the critical embrace of the editor. 

It was the same for your eldest, Book 1, and also for Book 2 and Book 3, but you are never as prepared for this moment as you think. You smile to yourself through welling tears, remembering its first word: Prologue.

You relish the memory, but must return to the present. What do you say, what wisdom can you impart as they turn to face you one more time? Look upon it well. It will never return the same. The time you never think will happen is upon you.

images-3“Go,” you say, your voice cracking. “Be careful. Stay true to your plot, to the storyline I passed on to you. Look after your characters for they are your family now. Oh, and always track changes. And don’t forget to save every few minutes. Always back up at the end of the day and floss before you go to sleep.”

For a fleeting moment the young manuscript stares up at you, revealing its understanding of the gravity of this sacred moment. Wordlessly, it asks if this is the right time.

You stroke its spine, muss its pages and sigh. “She’s a good editor. She cares about you and she will make you a better manuscript. You will feel lighter, tighter, and ready to face the readers who will pore over your every word.”

girl-hugging-words1

And the manuscript gulps and nods, not because it believes you, but because it trusts you. You brought it into the world, typed its first words, worried over its development and story arc. When it was sick or faltered, you were beside it, cutting and pasting, making the necessary changes so that it could one day fulfill its destiny.

And then it turns to go, now only an attachment. You type in the editor’s email address and click the button you always dreaded: Send.

Now you sit and stare at the blank screen, swallow hard and wonder what to do with your time. You have no choice. Be strong. This is a circle of life thing. Your fingers hover over the keyboard. The computer holds its breath. And then you type:

Book Five: Prologue

images

Dedicated to my editor, Monica Buntin, and all who are brave enough to edit author’s books and lives!

—————————————————————————————————

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. 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.”

images

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.

images-1

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

——————————————————————————————————

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.

T is one tough 7th Grader – Tim O’Mara

Elfwriter’s Introduction:

Tim O’Mara is a hero. He is a public school teacher and a man (rare to have male role models in our schools). Like most of these dedicated, hard-working, under-rewarded, and under-recognized teachers, he cares about his students. I am very inspired by him and very grateful as a father and a citizen to all public school teachers.

But Tim is not just an  NYC public middle-school teacher. He is an author. He wrote an adult mystery series about a public schoolteacher who used to be a cop. O’Mara never was a cop, but his brother is. Raymond Donne Book 1, Sacrifice Fly (2012 Minotaur Books), was nominated by Deadly Pleasures Magazine for the 2013 Best First Novel Barry Award.

O’Mara teaches math and special education in a tony area of Manhattan now, but started his career in 1987 in a disadvantaged section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the setting for the series. The dichotomy of these two worlds is highlighted in Raymond Donne Book 2, Crooked Numbers, released this past week. More at www.timomara.net and on Facebook (TimOMaraAuthor) and Twitter (@TimOMaraAuthor).

Support a teacher – and read a good mystery book.

mail.google

Tim’s Post:

You know the type: hard to reach, easy to annoy, always knows more than the teacher. In this case, me. The kid’s got a wall around him that would make the Chinese envious. But on those rare occasions when he lets me glimpse over that wall, the view is astounding. He can be funny, insightful and a joy to teach.

He mentioned to me last week that he knew I’d written a book, Crooked Numbers. I had given a copy to a friend of his—another of my tougher students—to celebrate a successful session at camp and the birth of his foster mom’s first child. That was pretty much all T said. He knew I wrote a book.

For most of last year, there was a bit of a buzz around school that Mr. O’Mara had published a book and that it was in bookstores and it was even available online and their parents had bought it and liked it. Some kids actually brought copies to school to have me sign, and even though I wrote it with an adult audience in mind, it seemed to strike a chord with many of my middle school students.

If T was impressed, he kept it to himself.

Just last week, T stepped into it again. He earned himself a one-day suspension for creative use of a belt and ended up spending the day in the principal’s office. Shortly after school ended that day, my boss came to me in the Teacher Center. It turns out that during a conversation with the principal, it came out that T was somewhat impressed with my accomplishment and he was even thinking about going to the reading and signing event for my second book this week.

“Maybe you can work with that,” my boss suggested.

Maybe.

The next day, I brought in a personally inscribed copy of the book. I referenced a conversation I had had with him the day of his suspension:

To T,

This story has a lot to do with the choices people make—including the author.

I gave him the book immediately after a particularly positive period with him of one-on-one guidance through a quiz on integers. (Yes, pun intended.) He looked at the inscription and nodded. He didn’t say anything. I said, “You’re welcome,” and went off to do lunch duty.

When I go back to school tomorrow, it will be the first encounter with T since I gave him the book. My fantasy is that he stayed up all weekend reading the book, relating to the characters, and realizing the error of his ways. The reality is the gift of a book—my book—will more than likely not change much of anything. It has taken T thirteen years to build that wall and one present from a teacher is not going to tear it down.

What I’m hoping for is just one little crack.

mail.google-1

——————————————————————————————————

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 Book3, 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).

Everyone Wants To Be An Elf

How many times have you uploaded an article or song on the Internet and then got lost surfing through hundreds of comments underneath? Whether discussing politics, sports, or comparing the lead singers of Nightwish, it gets ugly very quickly. If you need to stock your insult arsenal, You Tube comments is the place to go – but a shot of JW or an anger management course might be more effective, long term…just saying, calm down.

Earlier this week, I played a Gothic music play list (that I can’t find now) while I wrote a new chapter for Book 4 of the Wycaan Master series. I made the mistake of perusing the comments and they were eye opening.

Tens of people (and I did not check all 2,000+ comments) wrote why they would love to be an elf. Just for the record, I believe people were imagining Legalos and not Will Ferrell or any of his fine companions.

 imagesimages

But there they were: some frivolous, but many, well, I believe laced with a genuine desire. They seemed to resonate with something deep inside, something lost.

Some spoke of the physical attributes – tall and thin, healthy (have you ever seen an elf sneeze? – they even die beautifully – yes I’m talking about you, Haldir, at Helm’s Deep, I’m sure you remember), long living, nimble, coordinated… 

images-1

Others mentioned emotional attributes – decisive, confident, calm, intelligent, loyal mates (I plan to research this – I did a quick search for the Rivendale Daily Enquirer but they only distribute in the Western Isles).

And there was also an interesting assortment of comments such as: they could trust their leaders; they were in touch with nature… 

When I began writing the Wycaan Master series, it was clear to my sons and me that we didn’t want to make the elves (most of our protagonists) perfect. They get angry, make wrong decisions, feel abashed at that first kiss, and seem more…well human (ouch!).

In fact, one of the comments that surfaced as I read At The Walls Of Galbrieth to my writer’s group wass that I failed to distinguish them as elves. I struggled to do this without stepping into the familiar stereotypes. As I write Book 4, things have become somewhat darker, with the protagonists facing greater personal challenges. I continue to find it difficult to strike a cord between making my elves special without them losing their genuine, vulnerable side.

Finally, as I write this, I am listening to The Hobbit soundtrack. There is a long thread of comments, disagreements, and debate. But this is the comment that caught my eye:

RobbieBjork17 wrote: “Holy Crap that was one_ of the most educated conversations I’ve ever read on youtube…. shoulda known it was going to be Tolkien Fans ;).”

It made me absurdly proud to feel a part of the Epic Fantasy nation.

images-2

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both 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 on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Quite A Week

It has been quite a week for me. First, thank you to everyone who left such beautiful reviews both on amazon.com and across the pond at amazon.co.uk. In fact, both At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The First Decree are doing well there. I’m not sure what happened, but I received over 300 hits on Wednesday in an hour in the early California light. So whoever sparked it – I thank you too. 

I finished my own edit of Ashbar, Wycaan Master Book. 3, and sent it under the scalpel of the Master Surgeon (or Mistress Editor to be more accurate), Monica Buntin. While I wait, it is an opportunity to get back to writing Book 4. I wrote over 40,000 words during the Xmas break and I can’t wait to hit that keyboard – so much easier than a treadmill. I also left a few characters hanging and I need to apologize to them and let them move on.

I discovered, and I realize that 90% of those who read this blog are about to roll their eyes, that J R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were part of a writers critic group at Oxford. It blew my mind and I scuttled off to find a copy of The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter, who also wrote a great biography of the Professor. More on this when I actually finish his book.

imgres

Finally, The Hobbit came out on DVD and BluRay. In case you have never heard of this movie, Yahoo Movies offered us two delightful caveats.  I particularly loved their chart to differentiate between the races, but their behind-the-scenes video was cool as well.

_ylt=AsAy3VcY8kcvndsOg1BnmyK4AOB_;_ylu=X3oDMTFpOGpyZm1sBG1pdANCbG9nIFBvc3QgQm9keQRwb3MDMgRzZWMDTWVkaWFCbG9nQm9keUFzc2VtYmx5;_ylg=X3oDMTMyZnNiMWtvBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDZmMyZjgyNWQtMmUwNy0zN2NjLTk2OWEtM2IzNTEyMWQ1MzdhBHBzdGNhdANibG9nc3xt

I couldn’t see how to download it, so please accept The Song Of The Misty Mountain in its place.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both 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 on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).