Dragons But Not Unicorns?

So there I was minding my own business, having merrily written 40,0000 words of a Magical Realism (“low fantasy –a sub-genre of fantasy fiction involving “nonrational happenings that are without causality or rationality because they occur in the rational world where such things are not supposed to occur.” – Brian Stableford – The A to Z of Fantasy Literature – I had to look it up a while ago).

I was quite happy imagining a Game of Thrones type book (I know, very different from the Wycaan Master series) and then one of my characters has to make an innocent quip: “Dragons don’t exist, do they?”

Before I could press save and turn off the laptop, before I could say – well, burn me to a cinder – there he (or she) was flying around, flapping those great wings, swinging that long spiked tail

“There goes my genre shift,” I thought as the next chapter appeared on my screen.

Now I was baptized in the fires of Smaug (actually I’m Jewish but Smaug as a Mohel performing a circumcision is frankly too disturbing), my sons flew in their imagination on the backs of Saphira and Christopher Paolini’s other dragons.

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But there is something about dragons that has kept them alive in our culture that is fascinating. The Chinese have a historic connection that goes back to, well it makes you wonder. In my homeland, Sir George had to slay one to become the patron saint of the Brits, and the dragon is possibly the most common and, dare I say, respected mythical animal in the fantasy genre.

So what is wrong with unicorns, for example? Why have they not become as popular? They can fight, heal, and even create powerful wands (which J.K. Rowlings wizard am I talking about?), but they have not caught our imagination like dragons.

Laying myself at the mercy of Google, I discovered that the dragon myth grew separately in China, Europe, and even the Americas and Australia. The Aussies have a number of animals including the Goanna that lend themselves to the myth. The Nile crocodiles were apparently much bigger than the one we know today and walked in an elevated gait. Whales and dinosaurs also add to the potential creation of the myth.

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But perhaps the most fascinating theory is suggested on the Smithsonian blog. I couldn’t find the author to attribute  – my apologies – but these are his/her words:

In his book An Instinct for Dragons, anthropologist David E. Jones argues that belief in dragons is so widespread among ancient cultures because evolution embedded an innate fear of predators in the human mind. Just as monkeys have been shown to exhibit a fear of snakes and large cats, Jones hypothesizes that the trait of fearing large predators—such as pythons, birds of prey and elephants—has been selected for in hominids. In more recent times, he argues, these universal fears have been frequently combined in folklore and created the myth of the dragon.

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Whatever created it, the myth of the dragon has deepened with the growth in popularity of the genre. Eragon’s relationship with Saphira and the history in the Inheritance Series is far more complex than Tolkien’s Smaug, or those Harry Potter had to deal with. George R.R. Martin skirts around the existence of dragons in his early books. His description of the crypts of Winterfell, and later when Aria is in the bowels of the capital, are almost a reverent tribute to these once majestic beasts.

It is a relationship that has captured the imagination of a generation. My sons, for whom Paolini was so influential, have devoured many books with dragons, without any sign of tiring. For them and others, I found this interesting artistic reflection of the sizes of the various dragons that Paolini creates – Enjoy.

Have a great week.

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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. 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).

 

The Paolini Empire Reawakens

It was confirmed over the summer: Christopher Paolini is writing a new Inheritance novel. I somehow missed the news while a depressing Presidential election held my limited attention. I’m not sure why: there is more depth in 50 pages of one of his novels than this issue-lite election. Let’s be honest – which of the three would you prefer?

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The four-book trilogy (every fan remembers the thrill at some point in the middle of the third book when they realized it wasn’t going to end and another 800 pages of Eragon would have to be written) provided a magically bonding experience for my family, along the lines of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and others.

My sons and I devoured every book: pouring over every word, listening to the audio versions on vacation, and watching the (only!!!!) movie. And yes, as loyal fans, we loved the movie even if it was not the greatest.

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When Paolini released Brisingr, my then 10-year-old son stood defiantly at the front of the line in our local Borders, falling asleep on his feet literally as the clock approached midnight. I will never forget the lady who was working there, encouraging him to stay awake and hang on. At exactly midnight, she put a copy that she had hidden under the counter into his hands and whispered that he should buy that very copy. It was the only book in the store that Christopher Paolini had personally signed. Five minutes later, my son was fast asleep in the car clutching his autographed copy by his hero who was barely ten years older than him.

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My son holding his autographed edition at the midnight release… a priceless moment!

I wrote a while back that Paolini must be one of the most underrated authors and shared that he disproved a number of important assumptions:

1. The young generation will read 400-page novels if the material is gripping enough.

2. They will read rich descriptions, convoluted plots, and identify with characters that are deep, vulnerable, and profoundly human (or elf or dwarf).

3.  They will thrive on a high level of language.

4. Tolkien might still be king, but he has good company. Paolini is young. His level of craft is only going to improve and that is an exciting prospect.

I have to admit to selfish disappointment when Paolini decided to stop writing after Book 4 and go to college. He had every right to want that rite-of-passage experience and, as a loyal follower, I had no right to resent him that.

I owe Christopher Paolini a lot.

As my sons and I bonded over the Inheritance series, a seed was sown. We sat together to write our own epic fantasy novel. At The Walls Of Galbrieth went on to win the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA and was a Grand Prize Finalist. Every summer for the next five years, I read the new manuscript to my sons while we camped under redwood trees that could have graced Alagaesia.

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Writing the 1st novel – a family effort!

The uncompromising standards that these fierce young editors applied to our work was harvested from the lessons learned from reading the Inheritance Series.

Now, just a few weeks before the launch of Calhei No More, the sixth and final book in the Wycaan Master series, it feels fitting to acknowledge the seeds were sown in the land of Alagaesia, on the wings of dragons, and in the art of an incredibly talented young man.

Summer 2015 Reading Book 6

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

So Christopher, if by any chance you ever read this: Thank you, as a reader, a fan, and a father. Welcome back! We missed you. Roll on Book 5! ——————————————————————————————————
Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth and four other novels all released by Tourmaline Books and currently all ebooks are at 99 cents each to celebrate his latest, the sixth in the series, which will be released on October 15, 2016.

More about the author at alonshalev.com.

Fathers Get A Bad Rap

It’s true … at least in fantasy. Fathers get a bad rap. Luke Skywalker’s father hacked his arm off and tried to turn him to the dark side. I have to admit there are a few times when my kids were not doing homework that I almost reached for my light saber in frustration.

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Frodo didn’t really know his father, Eragon never knew his, and even my own Seanchai, leaves his father in the first chapter of At The Walls of Galbrieth and has to struggle through six books without parental advise, and then…well, let me know when you get to the fourth book, Sacrificial Flame.

Terry Brooks doesn’t offer much father: son/daughter love with his characters and Beowulf’s wouldn’t let his son tell anyone who his father was. Terry Goodkind might have spared Richard Cypher discovering who his father was and how he was conceived. Fathers are absent from the Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and so on and so forth.

Here’s the mystery: all these books are written by men who, I am pretty sure, have/had sons. I myself would not even have ventured into the world of fantasy if not for a camping trip with my family.

Summer 2015 Reading Book 6

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

Fathers, when they do appear, seem to be burdened by their responsibilities, often traveling to save crown or country, and seem somewhat at a loss how to be a good father. Somehow, this is no longer sounding fantastical. I spend a fair time away from my children, admittedly not slaying dragons or fending off hordes that want to invade my country, but doing work that puts food on the family table, a roof over our heads, and hopefully doing a little good for the world along the way.

Now fantasy is about coming-of-age, about the struggle of young people overcoming challenges as they grow into their full potential. Fair enough. We put our faith in our youth – this is an age old trope – and given how badly we adults have treated this world, each other, and what a mess we have made of society, it is only natural that we channel our optimism into the next generation.

But here on Father’s Day, let’s give credit to the gene pool. These young heroes and heroines must have received the hero gene from someone. No doubt their courageous and wise mothers had something to do with it, but so did we.

So head to the local tavern and raise a mug of mead: to all our fantasy heroes and the fathers who play their part, often against all odds and without an instruction manual (which we don’t read anyhow, being men). And if that spills out from the world of fantasy into the real world, well, so mote it be!

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Happy Father’s Day!  

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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. 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).

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.

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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.

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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

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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. 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).

 

 

Would James Bond Have Destroyed The Ring?

It’s a fascinating question. Well maybe not. I suspect 007 would have been more interested in nibbling Tauriel’s ears and held coiffured competitions with Legalos, but it opens the door to examine the hero in epic fantasy.

The James Bond stereotype – macho, sexy, deadly, fearless – does exist in epic fantasy, but more often than not, plays a supporting role. Consider Aragorn to Frodo, for example. What fascinates me here is that Frodo and his Uncle Bilbo opened the door to the imperfect, oft vulnerable and fearful hero.

And we love them.

Now my mother had a huge crush on James Bond, from Sean Connery onwards, and my father would certainly never fault her good taste, but at some point a new type of hero emerged.
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Why?

The Wycaan Master, Seanchai, began his journey as a simple, frightened village elf, bewildered and lost as he was forced to flee his village. In truth, many other characters pour scorn on him for his ineptitude, indecision, and lack of machismo.

We bind ourselves to him because Seanchai, and Frodo, and Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, all share something in common with us. They are continually faced with adversary, pressure, and a need to confront their fears.

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Most of us dream of being a James Bond, oozing confidence, sexuality, and infallibility, but somehow it appears more unreachable than a fleeing elf, a scared hobbit, or a bewildered dragonrider.

I suppose we might question our grasp on reality when we figure we have more chance defeating the evil all-powerful Sauron or Emperor, than seducing the sexy sidekick, fellow spy, or riding a dragon. But it is not what they do, but how they deal with it. This is where we connect to them and therefore where we root for them.

As I write this blog post, my beloved Golden State Warriors have just done battle with Lebron James for the NBA title. Lebron is touted by many as the hero, despite his incredible lack of humility – we don’t need you to remind us you are the best player on the planet, Lebron. The Warriors, led by a rather humble Step Curry, won because they are a team in a team sport. Sure, Curry is the Most Valuable Player in the league, but he continually credits his teammates, his coach, and shows his love for his family. Curry is my Seanchai, not that I would cast Lebron necessarily as the evil Emperor … unless the Cavs would have won, of course.

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Would James Bond have put the One Ring on his finger and admired how well it complimented his fine, perfectly lithe fingers? Would he have removed it – he did have a thing for gadgets! How about Lebron James? We need heroes. We love our martinis shaken but not stirred, but we still appreciate a good pint of stout at the village tavern, surrounded by our friends. It is what keeps us honest and what keeps epic fantasy relevant.

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We all need a hero.

Finally, thank you to everyone who sent good wishes with the announcement of From Ashes They Rose. I am very excited and will share more details as I receive them. It still feels so special and I hope it always will. And yes, to the gentleman in Texas, you can begin with Sacrificial Flame, but…

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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, Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, and Sacrificial Flame, all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose will be released in September 2015. 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).

Last Week I Disappeared

It wasn’t my fault, any storyteller will understand. The problem is the 99% of the population (the readers and, in particular, those who have to live with the writer) when s/he becomes possessed.

You see there was a great battle, insurmountable odds, a powerful foe – not my fault that it happened on a weekend.

My emerging protagonist faced a terrible choice, needed to test her principles and ­– yes, I know it is a big religious festival, one of the most important days of the year for our family.

How would he cope with her death? How would he face the future without her and how would that change him? – Ah, grandparents, an aunt and cousin. Did you just arrive? Three hours ago…oops.

Writing the 1st novel - a family effort!

“Hey Dad – this is a FAMILY vacation!”

Usually the wife understands and can ground herself with a self-indulgent, if thoroughly deserving roll of the eyes. The kids think it is perfectly normal, or blatantly funny neither of which stops them from making fun of me.

I once sat engrossed at my desk (my back is to the front door), turned around and there were five kids, only one was mine, standing staring at me. The play date was at our house and five parents had dropped their kids off safe in the knowledge that a responsible parent was watching over them…yes, my wife was in the house. However, I think I learned how an exotic animal in the zoo feels, the children gawking and pointing. I’m surprised no one offered to feed me a peanut…probably worried about allergies.

At height of a battle, I once wrote five thousand words in one day. Apparently, I managed to snap at each member of my family who had the audacity to disturb me by asking for such trivial things as food, help with homework, to drive a child to a play date I had previously agreed to do. 

The scary part is that I have absolutely no knowledge of those interactions. Why would I? I was in the middle of a battle and you can’t just step out to make scrambled eggs. Imagine Eragon in the middle of a great fight needing a time out to dragonpool a group of offspring to soccer practice. I guess now we know why so few fantasy heroes have kids…and why so many parents write about fantasy heroes!

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What preceded the carpool?

Apparently, I don’t even have to be writing to disappear. It happens on road trips (I wish to thank the other driver’s consideration in avoiding me, by the way – I am not sure this can happen in the city). It happens on a coffee date with Mrs. Elfwriter and inevitably on a hike into the redwoods.

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Before I began writing At The Walls Of Galbrieth and the Wycaan Master series, I wrote a Pagan novel (A Gardener’s Tale) and two social justice-themed books (The Accidental Activist and Unwanted Heroes). While I became thoroughly invested in all my characters and the challenges they faced, I don’t recall that I disappeared. Still, I’m not sure how much I do remember when this sort of thing happens.

Still, I am relieved to know that I am not alone. Terry Brooks admits he is not all hereDad’s gone away again…although he admits that most of those close to him think he is weird.

I do suspect this is easier to explain when you are an A-list author like Terry Brooks. I think he is most likely to be fondly considered eccentric. For the rest of us, unfortunately, we are the ones people think are truly weird.

It’s a good thing that we are totally unaware when they stare and snigger. It’s a good thing we disappear…

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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. 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).

Oops! Just Killed A Friend – 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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Wow! Killing a friend ain’t easy. You think you’re ready for it. You have planned the dramatic demise, executed to perfection, but when it gets right down to it, it is soooo hard.

And when they are lying there dead, with an arrow though their heart, or an axe wound in their head, you think you can just walk away. But what do you still have to do?

Press the Save button.

Haldir – too noble for our times.

Do you get the irony? Your friend lies dead on the page, their blood still wet, and you are totally responsible for it. Sure you didn’t wield the axe, or aim the bow, but you created this person, this character, this hero.

He trusted you, allowed you to move him from one part of the kingdom to the other. He has seen you put him in a tight jam and always something happens to get him out of it in the nick of time. He never complained.

Except this time he is dead. You killed him and now he glares at you from the computer screen.

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Brom – never got over the loss of his dragon.

And you walk around in a daze. What made you do it? Why? For the glory? So that the reader would say: “Wow I never thought he would dare…” And you know you will have to face your writers group next week with this and get flayed. They loyally listened to your manuscript week after week, growing to love your characters, buying into your plot, and now you do this to them!

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He hasn’t gone you know, not really. A knock on the door, a guy at the gym with the same tattoo, a person who accidentally bumps shoulders on the busy train platform. Your eyes meet fleetingly and you look away, guilty, ashamed. How could you have done that?

You killed a good friend, one who let you create them. And now you are going to expect the other characters in the story to trust you? Beware my friend. You never can be sure just how the next chapter will end.

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Destroyed my childhood innocence and I was in my 40’s!

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, 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+