Sir Terry Pratchett RIP – a woefully inadequate tribute

Sir Terry Pratchett died this week. I have struggled to find something to write – funny but not irreverent. In the end I wrote this short and rather inadequate tribute to a genius who has given me and so many such pleasure for decades. One of my best friends even found his future wife on a Discworld Convention organizing committee.

Christopher Priest, from the Guardian, describes one of Sir Terry’s characters – Death: “Death has a booming, unamused voice (always in capitals, never in quotation marks), and is the permanent straight man in the comic chaos around him. He goes about his morbid business on a horse called Binky, whose hooves throw up sparks on every street cobble. Death is a skeleton, with eyes like two tiny blue stars set deep within the sockets. He wears a black cloak, carries a scythe and, at the end of a day’s work, loves to murder a curry.”

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I called up DEATH last night. “Did you have to take him so soon? He had more to live, more to write.”

I DO NOT MAKE THE CHOICES he replied, his tone powerful and metallic, even on Skype.

“He was a great man, a wonderful author,” I said. “He gave me years of pleasure.”

THROUGH HIS STORIES?

“Yes,” I said. “He made me laugh. At the end of a long day or week, to curl up on the couch and be able to laugh, was…was magical.”

THESE STORIES ARE IN HIS BOOKS, NO?

“Yes,” I reply, annoyed that he is not relating to my grief. It’s not like DEATH never sees it in his line of work.

THEN THEY ARE STILL WILL YOU AND WILL ALWAYS BE AS LONG AS YOU HAVE TREES AND INTERNETS

“You use the Internet?”

DEATH stared at me and frowned. WHERE I LIVE THERE ARE NOT MANY SERVERS. ONLY ALBERT.

“But the world needs writers like Terry.”

 I REMEMBER WHEN ALL THIS WILL BE AGAIN.” 

“He was a knight,” I said.

Again, DEATH frowned. WHERE I COME FROM THE NIGHT HAS NO STARS.

I smiled. “I bet he was chuffed to see you.”

HE SAID I GAVE HIM QUITE A START.

“Yes? Then you ‘gave him quite a stop.”

HEY. THOSE ARE STILL MY LINES.

I rubbed my chin. “What happens to the characters of a series when the author dies?”

A STORY LIVES AS LONG AS IT IS BEING READ. MAKE SURE YOUR SONS READ DISCWORLD AND THE CHARACTERS REMAIN ALIVE.

“He was a special man.”

THE ONLY ONE TO GIVE ME A REFERENCE.

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I guess this is my way to say Thank You to a maverick genius, who wrote the jokes without caring if people would laugh; who wrote about controversy without preaching; and who taught us to strive for a better life without ever teaching.

Thanks for the laughs, the tears, and the wings that swept a generation up with your imagination. Thanks for being such an undemanding companion for much of my life.

Rest In Peace, Sir Terry Pratchett. 

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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 Decreeand 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+

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Where is the Moral Line in YA Fiction?

Since I wrote Wycaan Master with my (then) 11-year-old son, I assumed that our story fitted the Young Adult genre. It is a coming-of-age novel, so I never gave it much thought. There is no clear sex or profanity, though race is a big issue in the first book.

Since I have become absorbed in the fantasy genre, I have begun to wonder where the line is drawn. As I continue to write the second and third books in the series, intimacy has developed between characters, sometimes direct and at other times implied. There has been plenty of violence and references to overindulgence in alcohol. Colleagues at my writers group have questioned whether I should be including these themes.

As I began to research this, I found a number of excellent sources regarding YA fiction in general. Heather Dunlevy-Scheerer has written an interesting article about the historical development of YA literature.

She lays out several characteristics that she took from someone called Niday (I couldn’t find a clear reference).

(1) a teenage (or young adult) protagonist

(2) first-person perspective

(3) adult characters in the background

(4) a limited number of characters

(5) a compressed time span and familiar setting

(6) current slang

(7) detailed descriptions of appearance and dress

(8) positive resolution

(9) few, if any, subplots

(10) an approximate length of 125 to 250 pages.

From a brief skimming of the Internet, it seems that the common thread in YA fiction is an adolescent, rather than an adult or child, protagonist. However, the subject matter and story lines of leading YA literature are relevant to the challenges of youth, and more edgier novels include themes such as identity, sexuality, science fiction, depression, suicide, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, money issues, race, familial struggles, and bullying.

April Dawn Wells suggests seventeen common traits of young adult novels. These include: “friendship, getting into trouble, interest in the opposite sex, money, divorce, single parents, remarriage, problems with parents, grandparents, younger siblings, concern over grades/school, popularity, puberty, race, death, neighborhood, and job/working.

There are a number of YA novels currently in print that are on the edgier sides, dealing with peer pressure, drugs, gangs, crime, violence, sexuality, incest, oral sex, and female/male rape.

The obvious criticism of these novels is that they encourage destructive or immoral behavior or at least bring them into the adolescent’s mind at too early an age. Countering this is the fact that teens will be better equipped to deal with real-life difficult situations and social issues because they have role models in the protagonists they have followed.

Where is the line drawn in amount and nature of such issues between appropriateness and inappropriateness in young-adult fiction? How can we keep literature as a relevant medium when the exposure of TV, computer games and Internet is almost not monitored and easily accessible? None of these mediums, in my opinion, can offer the depth of thought and emotion that a good book provides.

Now more than ever, YA literature needs to stay relevant. Maybe the adults (including parents of teens like myself) have to accept that we might be more uncomfortable with this than our children.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two 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).