Rise of the Short Novel

I am a fast writer. I can have a 100k manuscript written in 100 days, but it is, to quote Anne Lamott, ‘a shitty first draft’. I then go through a three-month editing process before seeing to my editor. She then takes two months process with a professional editor, another month or two of rewrites based on her feedback, a final round with the editor, and then a beta reader or two.

A high quality novel takes time. It takes a huge amount of effort and creativity. The process needs to be respected.

The novel now shares the shelf with the novella, the short story and flash fiction. Numerous writers have explained to me the lure and skill in writing any of these shorter forms. There is a need for succinctness in descriptions, plot, and the need to hook the reader immediately. I get it. Not my cup of tea, but I understand that there are other aspects to the craft that appeal to people.

images-7

But there is also the Churn Mill. It is becoming common to meet writers who proudly announce they are writing a novel a month…or week, and that this is an integral part of their business model. The plan is basically to have a long backlist of books: 20, 50, 100… and hope to hook a reader to one book that will infuse them with desire to buy the other 99.

My issue is not with them having a business plan. There is no shame in writing for money. But I am uncomfortable with the way they are treating their readers. It should never be all about the numbers, not if we are considering ourselves artists, and not if ever want to betray our readers.

I wrote about how Terry Brooks appreciates his audience. I saw this week, after Daniel Arenson posted some news on his Facebook page, how he took the trouble to answer his readers’ questions and to thank them. These are authors who, I am sure, know they must bind their readers to them for business reasons, but who genuinely enjoy engaging with the people who invest money and time in their books.

terrybrooks

Terry Brooks

My readers know I love writing full-length novels. The first draft can be up to 120,000 words long and after my editor has worked her magic, the word count hovers just under the 100,00 word mark.

A novel allows the reader to travel to another world, to get to know characters intimately, see how they develop, and build a friendship with them. It allows the reader to escape and live for a while in a fantasy world.

There is something rich and emotionally investing in reading a full-length novel and a series. I can define periods of my life as I traveled through Shannara, Alagaesia, and Middle Earth. They are milestones that illuminate certain times.

I will forever be grateful to Christopher Paolini who wrote his Eragon books at the perfect time for me to share with my sons, a bond we will always have, and that laid the foundation for their companionship through the Wycaan Master series. Whenever we are on the road together and see a beautiful vista, one of us murmurs Alagaesia, and we all nod.

Summer 2015 Reading Book 6

Reading Book 6 in the summer of 2015. End of an era.

Enough said.

Finally, thank you to everyone who participated in the April sale. I appreciate your support and hope you will enjoy the entire series. Please: take a few minutes and leave reviews for the books you read on Amazon or Goodreads. Reviews are critical for the author and I thank you in advance for helping.

Have a good week, everyone.

Alon

——————————————————————————————————

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).

 

 

Advertisements

My Secret

Friday night, a Creative Writing Major asked me what was my ‘secret’. I like this question because I can respond that if I tell them, then it is no longer a secret. The truth is, it is not secret, and neither do I have any claim to originality. You will find these ideas in a dozen books and blogs.

What is important here is that they work for me. We are all different and live in different life circumstances. But I have three recommendations that I believe could resonate with others:

1) Write every day – writing is like working out. Go to the gym or wherever you work out every day and teach your body to expect it. Likewise, when you write every day, your brain settles into a groove and the process (like those bench presses) become more natural.

It helps me to set goals. I do this monthly and they are typed up and next to my desk. Keep them real and attainable.

What do you do when you finish your first novel? Begin to write your second. Have a glass of wine first to celebrate, by all means, but then get back into it.

 

Hit the gym and the keyboards every day.

Hit the gym and the keyboards every day.

2) Put yourself out there as a writer – if you don’t take yourself seriously, no one else will. Go to a writer’s group, a lecture circuit, conference, workshops, wherever there are writers. Become a member of the community. Start to think, act and behave like a writer (I’ll leave the details to you). Last night, at my non-profit’s annual fundraiser, I put my trilogy in the silent auction. Though I never hide my ‘other’ life, it was surprising how many students and donors came up to me and said: “I never knew…”

3) Learn the Craft – I know I have mentioned these books before, but I read annually. One is Stephen King’s On Writing, and the other is Sometimes The Magic Works by Terry Brooks. I believe that anyone who wants to write should read the former, and anyone who wants to be a fantasy writer (or a mensch) should read the second.

1010481704_d12130d5b6

There is more to this point than just reading a How-To. Take an author who you admire and learn their work. Read their books first to enjoy a good story, but then read them again to understand their plot arc, character development, world-building, etc. Analyze what they do well and emulate. I do not mean copy. Take their techniques and blend with your imagination.

You might do well to apply this to how they sell their books. But here I would suggest a word of caution. Do not try to learn marketing from an A-list author. Choose someone who is five years ahead of you and follow them. Don’t come to me if you get a restraining order, I mean follow their online platform and certainly, if they are in town for a book reading or writer’s conference, then go.

A man I have my eye on (and I am referring to his success as an up-and-coming fantasy author) is Daniel Arenson, He has just released a new book – Requiem’s Song – congratulations sir. My youngest has just begun the first Requiem having heard my eldest and myself enthuse about it. He has hardly lifted his head from the book all weekend. 

imgres

If my ‘secret’ doesn’t work for you, find someone else’s. I won’t be offended, I promise. While we are on the topic: Authors – What is your secret” Please share in the responses or consider a guest post here.

Have a great week everyone.

——————————————————————————————————

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+

Genre Conventions .v. Originality

“But this is how it’s done in epic fantasy,” I whine to my writer’s group. “It’s part of the convention.”

We are a bonded group, anxious to support each other and so I receive sympathetic smiles and diplomatic silence. The silence screams in my ears. I know they are right. If I have to fall back on a sentence like that, I am in trouble. Or am I?

How important is originality?

Utter originality is, of course, out of the question.” – Ezra Pound

Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” – Voltaire

I feel better already.

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” – Herman Melville.

Ouch!

Elves are tall, thin, have pointed ears, and excellent hearing. They look good in green, and shoot bow and arrows with exceptional accuracy.  Dwarves are short, rotund, live underground, mine and play around with axes. This is so because J.R.R. Tolkien put the epic in epic fantasy with his Middle Earth series’. Are the rest of us thus condemned to be mere recyclers of his work? Maybe. But I am not convinced how this is different from any other genre: romance has the same images and general plot arc. So does suspense and horror. And don’t get me started on dystopian thrillers.

So why do we so enthusiastically embrace conventions in a genre? It might be because some themes are simply timeless. I’m thinking Beowulf (maybe written in the eighth century) and The Odyssey (sixteen centuries before that!). Tolkien would concede that he was not the first, but when something works, you build your own version of it, and sometimes your version is good enough to capture the imagination of a very loyal readership. But it is not just enjoyment. It is pure escapism to a world we can get excited about, to values we can admire or fear (or both). It is also something familiar, something soothing. 

And yet when we embark on a new epic fantasy series, or try the work of a new author, we are seeking both something familiar and something original. What makes each author since Tolkien distinct is some aspect of his / her work. The relationship between Eragon and Saphira (his dragon), made Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series special. I have just started reading The Weight of Blood by David Dalglish (check out his cool book covers by Peter Ortiz) which is about two brothers (okay) who are not just orcs (hmmm), but half-orcs (ahhh). I was caught on page one. Dalglish has written a variance on the convention. So did R.A. Salvatore when he introduced Drizzt – a dark elf whose race were the opposite from the stereotypical elves. Five novels on, I am still intrigued. Daniel Arenson came up with his own original approach to dragons in the Song of Dragons series. 

Before I end, let me say how much I admire those who come up with something original – Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson – they capture us all and we devour their new approaches. But those who seek to ride their coattails are not so successful and I think this is very telling.

It says that while the fantasy readership will embrace a clever, well-written, new concept, that very concept might not establish itself beyond one brilliant author. Epic fantasy, however, with its elves, dragons and swords, continues to stand the test of time. This is not because our readership is lazy. Instead they demand depth – world building, characters, and a plot that offers a twist on a well-tested theme. They continue to surprise us with the familiar.

It’s a great genre to be a part of.

 Good Writing,

Alon 

—————————————————————————————————

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).

Turn Write At The Next Junction

Family vacations are always special for my little clan. Once a year, we pack up our considerable collection of camping gear and head to the mountains, lakes and redwoods. Without Internet and electricity, we have no choice but to hike, fish, and enjoy beautiful Northern California and Oregon, and each other. This year there were two highlights. We all followed my eldest’s passion for archery and it has hopefully become a family hobby.

Two years ago. I wrote the first Wycaan Master book together with my eldest son. I have blogged about this previously. Last year, I wrote the second book before we went away and each night, we sat around the campfire or snuggled in my tent as I read to them a few chapters at a time.

This year, we followed suit, reading the third book of the series. Everyday I waited with anticipation to read and treasured their responses. As the books have become more intricate, my youngest (now 9 years old) sometimes had a hard time following and peppered me with questions, often later that night when he was supposed to sleep, or the next day in the middle of another activity.

Now I know that family are not supposed to be considered as impartial critics. In truth, they had a lot of constructive criticism and suggestions, most of which I adopted. But I cannot imagine enjoying the level of engagement that they experienced and expressed from anyone else.

Back in the Bay Area and it is time to make major decisions. There is time as I outsource the books for some professional editing, but I am considering alternative options to publish the series.

A fascinating conversation with a representative at a publishing house with a long history of epic fantasy titles has left me wondering how long to walk the traditional path. She told me that they spent considerable time discussing the option of signing me even though they had previously made a business decision to stop publishing in this genre. It just doesn’t make business sense in the current economic climate, she told me. It has nothing to do with the quality of your work.

I feel a degree of frustration as I have been watching other fantasy authors and their respectable and consistent ranking on Amazon.com. Daniel Arenson, who is the author of the Requiem series and others, announced the following at the end of June:

“100,000 books sold. Bloody hell. You bought 100,000 of these silly books about dragons, swords, and spells. You’re nuts. But THANK YOU, readers. It’s been a crazy ride.”

I have no doubt that Mr. Arenson worked extremely hard to get to this significant landmark. He wrote great books and went out and did it by himself.

I congratulate him…and wonder.

 

——————————————————————————————————

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).