In Awe of George R.R. Martin & his Peer

I wrote this post last month but realized that, with the entire GoT community enthralled with Season 8 on HBO, it might not be a great time to exalt a book by the creator. Neither is it the first time I have written about Martin, either in awe or frustration.

I had not read what the book was about when I started to listen to the audio version of Fire and Blood. My initial reaction was that this was a bust, a clumsy attempt to get GoT fanatics to spend more money.

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This book is fictional history and presented exactly as one would expect when reading about the Roman Empire or the kings and queens of England. It is one person narrating about events, sprinkled with the occasional legend or rumor. But there is no dialogue and a very different angle on character development than what one expects in a novel.

And yet I was intrigued. I listened through the long and intricate history, getting excited when the origins of such things as how the Iron Throne and even King’s Landing came about. When I began to see a link forming between what was being read (and absolute kudos to the incredible narration by Simon Vance) and what I know is coming in ASOIAS, my excitement rose. I listened twice to the chapter about Bravos.

When I sat to write this post, my goal was to exult the world-building vision of George R.R. Martin. Who could possibly get away writing fiction without dialogue? Who would dare try? I came up with only a single comparable and the epiphany shocked me.

There is only one other author who could possibly have pulled this off, a certain Oxford professor for whom an incredible movie was just released and largely ignored (I think – did you watch it?).

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I have always considered Tolkien to be a one-off, an author such as we have never seen in terms of such comprehensive world building, and will never see again. Now, despite my frustration with Mr. Martin for allowing the TV series to get ahead of the books, and the general pace of his production (go ahead George – kill off my favorite character!), I bestow upon him the right to stand alongside The Professor in the pantheon of my legendary authors.

George Martin to kill Tyrion

I know this is a strange referral, but an anonymous reviewer on the Amazon page wrote exactly what I want to articulate. He or she refers to themselves as DM and their review is the first of 897 entitled The History Tolkien Longed To Publish (DM – if you read this, please reach out – I would love to properly attribute your excellent review).

Essentially, when he wrote The Silmarillion saga, Tolkien was attempting to provide us with the depth of the world he had built, something only hinted about in The Hobbit or LOTR. Whether he achieved this or not, I will leave to the Tolkien scholars to debate.

All I know is, as I reflect on the world I created in the Wycaan Master series, and now the Kingfisher Saga, I follow in the footsteps of giants … two giants who continue to motivate me to raise my own level of what we authors call The Craft.

Finally, in response to the Starbucks scandal (see 1st image) below, I loved this response (2nd image) of how the coffee order was likely made. Hopefully, I leave you with a laugh, and use as an excuse to boast that my eldest son is now officially a barista at Peet’s and, in my totally unbiased opinion as a proud father, rocking it!

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Good Writing,

Alon Shalev / elfwriter

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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 published by Tourmaline Books.

More at http://www.alon-shalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Galbrieth cover.5th.anniversary

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An Author on Vacation

I just came across something I retweeted a year ago from Novelicious (@noveliciouss), who shares lovely pictures and photos with inspirational messages, often about the writing process. She is well worth the follow. Her quote this time was:

Blog Photo vacation tweet

The reason it struck me now is because I am sort of on vacation. I am visiting my 94-year-young dad in England and I am also about three-quarters through a first draft of a new medieval fantasy novel.

Similar to when at home, I rise early to write, exploit the time my dad snoozes in his chair, and then continue after he goes to sleep at night. I have other plans for my downtime: work out, read three novels I bought for the trip (and one non-fiction), write a few blog posts for my much-neglected blog, prepare to solicit a few agents for the Kingfisher series, and read up on buying a house and related financial topics for which I have books and articles queued.

The only thing on this list that I have done is to work out in the morning before writing. Otherwise (and I guess this blog post as well), I feel compelled to write and write and write. When I go out with my dad, I spend the time thinking of the next chapter (or the last) and wondering if he would notice if I whip out my laptop and disappear.

What @noveliciouss wrote about writers on vacation is so true, but I am not complaining. I fantasize that I would like downtime: to lie by a pool, walk along the beach, or pursue a number of hobbies that I will one day get deep into (when I retire, I think) – fly fishing, archery, birdwatching, yoga ­– but I never do.

I am a writer. I write.

On a recent road trip, I wrote about what happens when I have to get an idea down on paper (or computer) It is so true.  Where is the next rest stop?

Last scene from Kf3 driving from Portland 1

I have three novels from the Kingfisher series ready (and looking for an agent). I promised myself I would write only one and see what traction this new genre held. But the beginning of the second book beckoned. I had this idea. I could feel the characters calling me. And after Book 2 was written, well then the tale simply demanded closure and I had the climax formulating in my mind as I weaved all still-living main characters into one place. So what’s a poor author to do? Finish the series and then look for an agent.

I did exactly that, except I didn’t. While reading to my writers group, someone mentioned an elderly character that she especially loved and, well I blame the character not my fellow writer, because she (the character) gave me this idea and…

So here I am, 90k into a new book, a new but, connected, series, and I am on vacation, and…okay, @noveliciouss, you’re right, as you knew perfectly well, all along.

Good Writing,

Alon Shalev / elfwriter

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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 published by Tourmaline Books.

More at http://www.alon-shalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Galbrieth cover.5th.anniversary

Knights of the Golden Arches

Research is important for the authenticity of a novel, right? But with six epic fantasy novels published and having written about half a million words in 3.75 manuscripts of a medieval fantasy series, it was a bit embarrassing to get so blatantly caught out.

While my Kingfisher series (looking for an agent, btw) is based on a fantasy land, it looks, feels and sounds like England. Born into a craftsman family in London (at the north end of the Underground’s Northern Line – does that give me “The North Remembers” bragging rights? – I figure I’m allowed. I can wield the olde language better than a lance, and read out loud to my writers group in the olde tongue (or at least the olde accent).

There I was reading about my characters digging into a feast of lamb stew and potatoes, when someone piped up that potatoes didn’t exist in England or indeed Europe until after the discovery of the new world. I protested. “What about Ireland?” I mumbled . I should have known better, arguing with a historian who writes excellent gold rush novels and has us salivating every time his heroes stop to eat.Lovington_Church_and_Chips_-_geograph.org.uk_-_710665

Now, having written for most of the six-hour flight to Toronto and hearing my connection is delayed, I thought to burn some time doing actual research. So here it is:

The peasants ate cabbage, beans, eggs, oats and brown bread. Occasionally, there was cheese, bacon and chickens. If you lived near water, fish would feature prominently, whether freshwater or sea. The fish could be dried, salted or smoked, which enabled them to be kept for the winter or for trips.

 They might have milk from sheep and goats, but cows were not popular because the milk went off quickly. Herbs, roots, nuts, and edible flowers garnished the plate.

suckling-pig-feast-average-medieval-diet

Actually, not the plate. They didn’t use them. Many carried their own bowls and spoons, and often used a loaf of bread with the middle torn out – a trencher. Nor did they use cutlery or artificial sweeteners. Honey was plentiful and used to sweeten and to make medicinal herbal concoctions drinkable.

The wealthy apparently did not eat their greens, having more access to livestock and the bounties of hunting – pheasants and deer, for example. Interestingly, they used spices heavily to create thick, rich sauces. They also refined flour making white bread a delicacy.

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Ale and beer were available to all, but wine was only for the upper classes, as it was imported from Italy, Spain, and France

There are actually a plethora of websites that give far more detail, including this excellent oneBut the most entertaining by far was this 2-minute video from Mama Natural. Well worth it!

Oh well. Guess I will have to scrap my sequel – Knights of the Golden Arches! – They were going to take over the world through real estate acquisition, cut down the ancient forests for grazing, pay their serfs  minimum wage, and destroy their enemies by encouraging them to become obese and have high cholesterol.

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Admit it, you were hooked!

Good Writing,

Elfwriter!

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls Of Galbrieth (ebook currently at 99c) and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books and available in KU. Sign up for more information about Alon Shalev at his author website.

Galbrieth cover.5th.anniversary

What If Humans Were Real – repost

Over the three days of November 17 -19, Amazon.com have decided to promote the 2013 Winner of the Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. The novel will be offered FREE in ebook form.

This is a wonderful opportunity for me and I request that, to support my sales rank and me, you download the book and invites your friends to do the same. Feel free to gift it on (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, anyone?).

To celebrate this and also the milestone of 100 blog posts on elfwriter.com, I wish to offer 10 of my favorite posts over the next three days. I hope you enjoy and, please, take a moment to download for FREE At The Walls Of Galbrieth and spread the word.

Thank you,

Alon

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What if elves were real? There are those in the south of England who believe that elves exist. I heard this when researching for A Gardener’s Tale. When a twitter friend shared with me that he had heard of this in the north of England, it made me wonder…

I rubbed the points of my ears as I waited for Harwin who was always late. I checked my watch. We would have to walk fast to reach the bookstore before the famous author began his reading. 

“Sorry, I’m late,” Harwin said as he jogged up.

We set off, hands in pockets. There was no point in chastising Harwin – it simply didn’t help.

“I’m looking forward to this,” Harwin said. “I loved ‘Lady of the Earings’. The way that professor describes these mythical humans, I really began to feel they exist.” 

I nodded, too winded to comment. The professor was a strange chap, lecturing at an elite university on ancient elven languages. They say he even invented an entire human language – as if all humans would speak the same language. Still he was a master of the epic fantasy genre.

We entered the bookstore, which was full and grabbed the last two empty seats.

Harwin leaned in. “I hear that in this book he is planning on sending the humans on a new quest, that their world is threatened by some strange energy – ‘oil’ – which is expensive, polluting and they go to war over it because there isn’t much.”

“That’s a bit of a stretch,” I replied. “His humans are too smart to do that. Besides, they have the sun, the wind, and the waves of the ocean just like us. Why would they use this oil?”

Harwin smiled. “You look rather irate. Are you starting to believe in these humans too?”

“Don’t be daft, Harwin. That’s the beauty of epic fantasy. You get so into the story that you begin to believe the characters might actually be real. Next thing, you’ll be swearing you saw someone with round ears.”

We both laughed. That would be a sight.  The room hushed. The professor stood at the podium, about to speak. He opened his new book…and the world of the humans became real as he read…

I could almost see their round ears and even imagine their oil.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, offered by Amazon.com  for FREE on November 17-19. The sequel, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 are all released by Tourmaline Books. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Finding Mythical Places Everywhere

A while ago, I wrote a post about meeting elves in coffee shops. The point was that…well you can read the point for yourself, but there is more along these lines.

I grew up in England with real castles, stately homes, wattle and daub cottages, and signs of a more ancient, Pagan culture everywhere. I was not writing fantasy back then but imagine I would find a lot of inspiration there. Two weeks sitting in a castle in Wales writing – is that a business expense?

Meditation

My eldest at Conway Castle, Wales, several years ago. He sat there for hours, transfixed in a world of his own.

But we actually don’t have to travel too far. I attended a conference in the heart of Washington ‘DC Chinatown. I stepped outside the meeting room on the 7th floor  for some fresh air and stared at this:

Ruins by Hillel SIC

Today, I was at the Ferry Building in San Francisco and noticed Old Glory flying at half-mast in respect of the victims of the Boston Marathon attack. The sky was a rich blue and the flag and tower looked glorious. I could imagine Seanchai and friends arriving on a boat (do you pay the toll riding over the Bay Bridge on horseback? Do three horses and riders make a posse or qualify for the casual car pool?).

Interestingly, I crossed the Embarcadero between the Ferry Building and Bay Bridge and saw a restaurant with gargoyles and (what looked to me) a sign that could have been written in Medieval lettering. It could have been a tavern or pub for thirsty travelers before they put five Peet’s Coffee and nine Starbucks in the mile-square Financial District.

My point is that writing fantasy is as much a state of mind. When I am actually writing a story (as opposed to editing or marketing), which is about 4-5 months of the year, I notice these things as though they are only around for this time of the year.

Tunnel

Picnic at our local park. Younger son discovered this tunnel. We sat in here and discussed how to use it in the book I was writing at the time.

It is why I see elves in coffee shops and get invited underground by hospitable dwarves. It enriches the already beautiful vistas, forests and rivers of Northern California where I explore. It is what makes my kids and I respond when we see a beautiful natural scene by exclaiming: Alagaesia! (You can blame Christopher Paolini for this. I hope he’s touched).

It is why Terry Brooks claims that ‘Sometimes The Magic Works.

Have a mystical weekend.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

What If Humans Were Real?

What if elves were real? There are those in the south of England who believe that elves exist. I heard this when researching for A Gardener’s Tale.  When a twitter friend shared with me that he had heard of this in the north of England, it made me wonder…

Delyphin rubbed the points of his ears as he waited for Harwin who was always late. He checked his watch. They would have to walk fast to reach the bookstore before the famous author began his reading. 

“Sorry, I’m late,” Harwin said as he jogged up.

They set off, hands in pockets. There was no point in chastising Harwin – it simply didn’t help.

“I‘m looking forward to this,” Harwin said. “I loved ‘Lady of the Earings’. The way that professor describes these mythical humans, I really begin to feel they exist.” 

I nodded, too winded to comment. The professor was a strange chap, lecturing at an elite university on ancient elven languages. They say he even invented an entire human language – as if all humans would speak the same language. Still he was a master of the epic fantasy genre.

We enter the bookstore, which is full and grab the last two seats.

Harwin leans in. “I hear he is planning on sending the humans on a new quest, that their world is threatened by some strange energy – ‘oyl’ – that is expensive, polluting and they go to war over it because there isn’t much.”

“That’s a bit of a stretch,” I say. “His humans are too smart to do that. Besides, they have the sun, the wind, and the waves of the ocean just like us. Why would they use this oyl?”

Harwin smiled. “You look rather irate. You might start believing in these humans too.”

“Don’t be daft, Harwin. That’s the beauty of epic fantasy. You get so into the story that you begin to believe the characters might actually be real. Next thing, you’ll be swearing you saw someone with round ears.”

We both laugh. That would be a sight.  The room hushes. The professor is about to speak. He opens his new book…and the world of the humans becomes real as he reads…

I can almost see their round ears and their oyl.

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

A Tribute To Editors

No blog post this weekend. 

Yesterday, I received the manuscript to At The Walls of Galbrieth back from my editor. Like many authors, I thought I had sent her a pretty clean story. I had gone over it several times myself, had it scrutinized by the venerable Berkeley Writers Group, and put it through the laundry with softener (I think you get my point).

At first, I was a bit dismayed to see all those little boxes in ‘Track Changes’ fighting each other for space along the right-hand side of my page. But after following and accepting her changes for the first three chapters, I am in awe of what an impact the eye of an independent professional can have, how much s/he can discern, how a few changes can add such clarity.

My last novel, The Accidental Activist, is a social justice-themed novel that fictionalized the McDonalds libel trial in England in the 1990’s. To show how thwarted and depressed my protagonist felt, I had used an English soccer game of my favorite team, Arsenal, as an analogy. My editor had written to me and, while expressing that she did not follow soccer, had researched a bit and thought that I could use an actual game from 2004. She had been right. The game was perfect.

With Tourmaline Press working hard with a gifted cover artist in St. Louis, an ISBN number (or three) assigned to the book, everything is taking shape.

On Friday, I wrote the dedication at the front of the book with tears in my eyes. But that is a story for another time.

This update is just to let you know why there is no blog post this weekend. Here let me click the button…. Okay – posted!

Happy Columbus / Indigenous Peoples Day,

Elfwriter

p.s. – didn’t think pictures of editors would be too exciting – and this is a genre with such great images. So here are some of my favorites.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written three epic fantasy novels and the first, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, is due out in January 2013 by Tourmaline Press. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).