Return of the Writer

It has been over three months since my accident and over three months since I can finally sit at my desk, my leg at an angle that is relatively comfortable. Many people assumed that the time away from work was probably an excellent opportunity to write. It never happened: the drugs, the pain, and the depression, meant I was unable to create. Sure I could tweet and blog, and ensure that we kept the launch of Calhei No More to the rearranged schedule, but I discovered writing apparently needs a certain energy.

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Apparently? You would think that after nine novels (and a couple of others unpublished) I would know that by now, but I don’t. Writing (the creative aspect of penning new material) has always come easy for me and I find time early in the morning, late at night, on the plane, etc. I have always claimed that I can write anywhere and under almost any conditions. Once I am in a rhythm, I can produce 100,000 words in a hundred days – to quote Anne Lamott as a “shitty first draft” – and I will write most of it at my desk, which is in the kitchen shared with three other humans and a dog. I swivel my chair around and, voila, I am at the dinner table, ready to play father/husband/slave to said canine.

I was excited last weekend to sit, for the first time since the accident, without the brace on my leg at my desk. I fondly cleared the accumulated detritus and wiped down the grimy keyboard. Then I sat down and wrote a chapter in about 90 minutes – old style.

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I can’t speak for the quality of the chapter, but even if it all gets cut, the exhilaration of that time was worth it: kind of how one feels after a good gym workout, delivering a great speech or presentation, reaching the top of a summit, or any task that requires muscle or memory retention, constant practice, and focus.

There are no excuses for not writing if you want to become an author and remain relevant. I have always been skeptical of people who need their writing hut in the middle of the forest, smudged for good energy, and the moon in a specific phase, but when I sat at my desk for the first time in three months, it felt good.

Old muses flowed, writing muscles flexed and I became so happy. I cannot yet work out, walk my dog, or play tennis with my boys. That will come with patience and disciplined attention to the physical therapist. But the author in me is an integral part of who I am.

And the author is back!

Happy MLK Day to all. 

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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. Calhei No More is the final novel in the series and was released in November 2016.

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

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Sacrificial Flame Released!

This weekend sees the release of Sacrificial Flame, the fourth Wycaan Master novel, available in paperback and Kindle. One would think that when your seventh book comes out, the thrill lessens. You never forget your first time, right (I know, but bear with me)! I wonder how Henry VIII felt at his sixth wedding?

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I have written in the past about that special moment and it remains one of the most reblogged and retweeted elfwriter blog posts. But it was true when I wrote it and it is just as true now. The thrill of holding the book, and of seeing its’ gradual uploading onto Amazon, is simply palpable.

Sacrificial Flame is different from the novels of the first trilogy. It is darker, more complex, and I realize that I am aiming my novels at my own kids (my most important target audience) and they are growing up. We wrote the first when my eldest was 10 years old. Now he is a teenager who shaves and thinks about his appearance and the interactions around him. He and I talk about politics, drugs, and money (among other lighter topics).

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As I write this, I am reading the first draft of Book 5 every night to my sons. It remains the highlight of my summer and I thrive on their reactions, appreciate their feedback, and treasure the ensuing conversations.

Book 5 will take a time-out after this reading, left to ferment like a hopeful wine, and then receive a serious edit in the fall, before leaving for the arms of another. Book 6? Maybe now, but more likely in the winter. Whenever it begins, the first rough draft must be ready for next summer’s rite-of-passage.

In the meantime, I wait anxiously for the verdict on Sacrificial Flame. Please let me know what you think, leaving comments on this blog post, on twitter, or most importantly, an honest review on amazon.

Good reading,

Alon

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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. 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+

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).