I’ve Never Been In A Dwarf’s Cavern

I must confess: I’ve written almost 300,000 words of epic fantasy (three books) and never seen a dwarf’s cavern, an elf’s tree city, or a troll’s rock cairn. Now this might lose me credibility with readers, but after being complimented for my world-building by an editor at an established publishing house, I was asked from where I derive my inspiration for world-building from a fellow writer who is struggling with this important aspect.

My non-fantasy novels, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale, were both situated in my native England, and my upcoming novel, Unwanted Heroes, is based here in San Francisco. I’m not sure if I chose these surroundings as much as absorbed what is around me into my stories. It is, I guess, what allows me to see elves in coffee shops.

I think the process is the same for me when I build my fantasy worlds. I am blessed to live surrounded by the natural beauty of California and its surrounding states, it is important to not only admire the majesty of the area but see it through the eyes of your protagonists. Three examples come to mind.

I have shared how my journey into the world of fantasy was prompted by my eldest son (then 11-years-old) complaining that I shouldn’t be writing while on vacation. I challenged him to write something with me and make it a family activity (the desperate games we play…) and there under the watchful eyes of the redwoods, we began our journey. 

It was easy to see our young heroes seeing these noble trees and the vines that hang in the forest where we were camping. They were ambushed as they passed a rock enclave, almost hidden by moss, that was a five minute bike ride from our tents.

On Monday, I will travel to an annual professional conference in St. Louis, where we have met for the past two years as well. To give us a break from the intensity of the conference, the organizers arranged a trip to a children’s museum. The incredibly creative designers had thought to fill their vast basement with caves and caverns.

While my colleagues snuck off to a nearby bar, I walked through these caverns imagining what it was like to live as a dwarf underground. I’m not sure what my biggest mistake was: missing out on a social mixer or admitting to my colleagues why I had declined their offer.

Finally, this year we traveled to Crater Lake in Oregon. Jutting out from the deep blue waters is an island called Magicians Island.  The audio visual told us that the name came because it reminded the explorer of a wizard’s hat. I sat on the ridge overlooking the island, saw the steep grey rocks, the windswept trees, and the ospreys flying overhead.

Book 4 has a base from which to begin…

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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 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).

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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.

 

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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 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).