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+

 

Is The Grass Always Greener?

Between you and me, I’ve always been jealous and somewhat in awe of a dear friend who has a book contract with a major publisher and is a terrific writer. I never resented her achievements because I knew she worked hard to achieve her success, garnering attention through winning writing contests, traveling far and wide to speaker engagements, and generally being the lovely collaborative person that any publisher or agent would love to work with.

Games of Berkeley Question from Asif

So I was a bit shocked when I met up with her for coffee the other day and she told me how frustrated she was with the route she had taken. I have heard many doom-and-gloom writers who are disdainful of the conventional publishing route, but to be honest, I always thought they were bitter because their books hadn’t sold as much as they had dreamed, or they were frustrated at having their considerable talents spurned by agents or publishers.

Hearing about her feeling of inertia and entrapment (my words, not hers) made me appreciate the support and belief that my small-press publishers, (Three Clover Press for the Social Justice novels, and Tourmaline Books for the epic fantasy) despite their limited resources.

But I would be lying if, when I see the beautiful hardcover books of Terry Brooks or R.A Salvatore adorning the shelves of a bookstore, I do not dream of seeing my novels displayed next to theirs, or wonder which actor Peter Jackson will cast to play Seanchai or Ilana.

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 I am currently editing a magical realism manuscript with my writers’ group and have been wondering whether to try and find an agent or offer it to one of the small-presses that already support me. Every time I watch an episode of Game of Thrones or Legend of the Seeker, I decide that I will go that route.

But yesterday’s conversation had me reevaluating. I am not entirely free to initiate a particular marketing strategy and should check in with my publishers. But I always receive their blessings and usually some wise words that help me improve my idea. Most importantly perhaps, when I call, someone answers the phone. They know who I am and personally care about my writing career, not just their bottom line.

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How have you chosen such paths in your writing or career decisions? Would love to hear.

And yes, even though I have been saying for the past month and a half that it is only two weeks until the release of Sacrificial Flame, Wycaan Master Book 4…I wish to leave you with the breaking news… Only two wee– Okay. I have no idea, but I’m holding out for July. When it happens, I will let you (and the whole world) know! Promise!

 

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Good Writing.

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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. 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+

A Year Since My First Book Award

It has been 12 months since I won my first award, the Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA category, and I am still glowing from the rush of seeing my name in print on the awards page.

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I do not subscribe to the solitary writer image. I have facilitated the Berkeley Writers Group for several years, and I am an active member of the California Writer’s Group. I have a cadre of supportive writer friends and feel confident in my trajectory.

The Wycaan Master series is housed with a small publisher, Tourmaline Books, which is always gratifying and who are very supportive. But they acknowledge and encourage me to look for a bigger house.

But there was something very powerful in receiving an award. I have got close before, reaching the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award’s quarterfinal twice. I have spoken a couple of times before packed rooms and have a wonderful relationship with readers through this blog and my @elfwriter twitter feed.

 Games of Berkeley Question from Asif

And yet, to be able to introduce myself as an award-winning author gives instant credibility and I can see this in the reaction of the poor bugger I’ve cornered.

I treasure the reviews I receive on Amazon and the emails and tweets from dedicated readers. I couldn’t help but stare in amazement when I saw a person on the BART (Bay Area train) actually sitting and reading At The Walls Of Galbrieth.

It is important to be recognized to garner the recognition and legitimacy that it gives: for your readers and especially for you the aspiring author.

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 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+

 

Book Cover Revealed

The launch of Sacrificial Flame – Wycaan Master Book 4 is still unclear. This summer sounds about as accurate an answer as I can get. The publishers feel that it needs another round of editing, since when I receive my copy back from the incredible Monica Buntin, I then make changes and rewrite a scene of two. I guess I should be grateful that the publishers strive for as near perfect as possible, but I figure I’m allowed to be a little impatient.

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To pass the time, I am back to writing Book 5 and have passed the 50,000 word mark. Nothing much that I can really share as so much derives from what happens in Book 4.

But I am proud to share the book cover for Sacrificial Flame – Wycaan Master Book 4. The cover artist is once again Mr. William Kenney – and I remain truly in awe of his talent and imagination. As I said once before: “How an artist can take the garbled ideas from a man who can’t draw stick figures without giving them unintentional but severe spinal deformities and produce something like this amazes me.”

This time there was a lot of uncertainty on my part. William suffered me in silence and offered each time an improved version of what I described and expected. Let me know what you think of it. Drumroll please…

Sacrificial Flame Cover Hi Res

Thank you  so much, William. 

For more details on Sacrificial Flame – Wycaan Master Book 4, please click here.

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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+

It was 99 cents…again.

Last year, I whined in a blog post about my publisher’s decision to lower the ebook price of At The Walls Of Galbrieth to 99 cents. It was done last year to promote the release of Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, and will be repeated before the release of Book 4. Next week there will be a cover launch and I am as stoked as ever by the talent of William Kenney, our cover artist (and in awe of his patience with me). Check out his work here. This is a rewrite of the blog post.

Every year before going on our annual vacation, my family sit around the kitchen table for some intense negotiating as we decide which songs from the past year will find their place on the 201x family vacation playlist. The songs with the highest consensus are the first. This year’s number one choice was Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s hilarious and anti-consumerism song – Thrift Shop – it was 99 cents! (the version below is the clean one with lyrics – thank you to Jadey Wadey – if you don’t mind the language, the official video is hilarious).

If I’m honest, I’m one of those people who visits the 99 cents store to buy 2-3 items and spends $15. In my humble defense, I rarely make such a trip.

So the concept of 99 cents shouldn’t faze me. But with Sacrificial Flame – Wycaan Master Book 4 due out in the summer, the powers that be have decided to offer the kindle ebook version of At The Walls Of Galbrieth for 99 cents for the next month or so.Ashbar front cover I objected: the book is already only $2.99 – less than a coffee at Starbucks (or most coffee shops). It took me a year to write and rewrite. I invested in a professional editor, cover artist, and many hours of blood, sweat and tears.

I gave birth to it, sat up all night with it when it got a fever, and saw it take its first steps on Amazon.com. At some point, eyes were rolled. They might have been relieved that I was portraying the necessary signals to become famous – I was acting the cultural prima donna. I changed tracks: it is an award-winning novel, I whined. The response was brutal: it’s all about the sales. And I was reminded that writing for my kids in the ancient Northern California Redwoods is one thing, making a living is quite another. Fantasy1

I do have a question: when you see a book for 99 cents – do you have lower expectations about its contents? Please leave your comments  below or on @elfwriter.

And so: for at least the next month, At The Walls Of Galbrieth will be available in Kindle format for 99 cents. Oh well, it worked for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

Have a good week, everyone.

Alon

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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 – 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+