How Fantastical is Fantasy?

I mentioned previously that I am reading Sometimes The Magic Works by Terry Brooks. On Page 27 of this little book of great lessons, he writes how, as he struggled with his writing, he began to realize that he could not write the book in this world. “Everything I wrote had to remind readers of what they already knew, yet makes them take a second look at whether or not what they believed was really true.

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I’ve been thinking about this sentence a lot. The difference between epic fantasy and magical realism (think Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin) is that the former transpires in a totally different world, whereas magical realism takes place in this world, but has elements of the unexplained – magic.

While the Wycaan Master series takes place in Odessiya, a mythical world, I kept it relatively easy to imagine, because I do not want the reader to struggle with my world building. Rather, I want them to focus on the characters and the plot, while still portraying a beautiful world.

Christopher Paolini does a wonderful job describing his land of Alagaesia, in stunning detail. He suggests his success in doing this is based on his love for the wild as he grew up in Montana. But again, his world is very easy to believe. When my family is on a road trip and are confronted by a beautiful vista, we point and declare: Alagaesia!

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I hope I have succeeded in portraying Odessiya as a beautiful land: full of great mountain ranges, deserts, forests, lakes and coast. I thoroughly enjoyed describing the ice worlds in the north and the forest of the Shanrea, but I never strayed from environments you can associate with on trips or the National Geographic channel.

When I sent Seanchai to the Elves of the West, I wanted to describe a rich world of mighty trees. Living in Northern California, I am in constant awe of the redwoods. My fictional bloodwoods are a tribute to these majestic giants and the name is meant to offer just enough to fill the reader with the images of redwoods. I wanted to offer an exotic setting with a connection to something known to the reader with just enough to be different.

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The age of a dozen pages of descriptions that J.R.R. Tolkien got away with no longer survives the red pen of the 21st Century editor. The publishers, facing rising costs of resources are loath to publish thick tomes, and the millennial reader does not have the patience to read several pages describing a small forest. My eldest son admitted to skipping descriptions after he had a clear picture in his mind and I am not completely unsure that I didn’t do this when I read Lord of the Rings back in the previous century.

That being said, the fantasy writer is challenged to offer opportunities for the reader to suspend belief as Brooks suggests. In his own prequels to the Shannara series, he sends us through post-apocalyptic California with humans and mutations. But the mutants are a result of the catastrophe that has all but destroyed the world. It is, tragically, not hard to take that leap of imagination, which again happens when he skillfully weaves in his elves.

Perhaps no one deserves more praise that he who blazed the trail and created a hobbit. There had never been a hobbit before Tolkien and yet it seems so familiar. Even ‘second breakfast’ and the family relations that Bilbo et al gets so worked up about, makes sense.

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The skill of the fantasy author is to create a world that the reader does not have to work hard to imagine and then to create something imaginative that allows us, because we have built trust between writer and reader, to suspend rational belief and embrace.

It is a subtle yet powerful tool that offers a rich layer to the world of epic fantasy. It is why readers flock to Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore and Christopher Paolini, and why those of us who walk in their shadows continue to cultivate our craft and build words, races and situations that are believably unbelievable.

Have a great week, everyone.

Elfwriter

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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. 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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The Fellowship Of The Book – 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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All our protagonists had them – a fellowship of loyal followers and friends, ready to put their lives on the line, to draw their swords in defense of the hero/ine, and to go off on dangerous missions or to pass on an important message.

hobbits in pub

What would we do without them? How would our characters cope bereft of true companionship? I have mentioned in the past the lure of universal values to the conventions of epic fantasy. We long to lose ourselves in some far off land, discover mythical creatures, embark on a noble quest.

Granted, but we also seek values that are part of our everyday aspirations: justice, truth, love, riches … and friendship.

Why am I writing about this? Last week, I somewhat frivolously criticized George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series. I learned two things from the experience:

1) Mess with a great epic fantasy author if you want to boost the hits to your blog.

2) Mess with the followers of a great epic fantasy author at your peril.

images-1

My humble offering garnered 4-5 times the amount of hits of an average blog post (not that any of my posts are average, of course) and I received far more comments, many of which were retweeted and favored on twitter, some, I admit, by myself.

To those who accused me, a humble fantasy author, of being insanely jealous: I accept the charge.

To those who say people who criticize Martin’s long tomes suffer a short attention span, I say – next point.

And so it went on. To be fair, there were many who agreed with my pointed digs, and in the name of credibility, still faithfully open the next book in the series. I myself, despite honorable intentions to take a break having just concluded Book 4, read Sacre Bleu, the latest by one of my favorite authors, Christopher Moore, and having finished it, promptly started Book 5 – A Dance of Dragons.

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What is clear is that, in the same way that we want to align ourselves to great fictional characters, we subconsciously swear fealty to their creators: the authors. I encountered fans of Mr. Martin, as loyal as Frodo’s gardener (well maybe not quite). They were ready to defend him to the hilt – even if they privately knew I was right. It is something very special about the people attracted to the genre.

The skeptical among them would probably accuse me again of jealousy: that I crave one day to have Wycaan Master followers as loyal as them. To my accusers I proudly say: Yeah. Darn right!

Have a great weekend,

Elfwriter

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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+

10 Questions For J.R.R. Tolkien

This blog post was inspired by a Time interview with Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf, the wizard who… if you are following this blog, you already know. It is a fascinating interview given that  J.R.R Tolkien was Catholic and McKellen is gay.

imgresThe interview is:

Timely: the difference between the making of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings is that Peter Jackson now wears shoes.

Funny:  “No one ever ablutes in Middle Earth.” and…

Poignant: When he visits a public school in England

One of the questions asked of McKellen is what would he ask Tolkien if he could meet him. This got me thinking: I have already shared that I think a lot of Tolkien and Oxford, and The Inklings Club.

So, if you are up there in Writer’s Heaven, quaffing on an ale or puffing your pipe, there is a student down on earth trying to emulate your literary work with a few questions.

1. Did you ever get embarrassed or try to hide your fantasy writing from your academic peers?

2. Did World War 1 provide you with the imaginary and emotional background for Lord of the Rings?

3. Why Hobbits? Who is your favorite character in either The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings?

4. If you were writing either LOTR or The Hobbit today, would you change anything? Different ending?

5. What do you think of the movies?

6. Is Peter Jackson out-of-line to make such radical changes to The Hobbit as including a character who is not from the book?

7. Who is your favorite fantasy author?

8. I know the story of how the first line of The Hobbit came to you (the blank academic paper you were grading), but how did you really come to write a fantasy series?

9. Mac or PC?

10. My critique group has room for one more. Would you consider…

imgres-7The reality is that if I ever found myself in front of the Professor, I would probably stammer and blush, and make a complete fool of myself. So help me out, just in case one day…

What questions would you ask the greatest epic fantasy writer of all time?

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth,  the sequel The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, all released by Tourmaline Books. 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).

Cute Tolkien Story

I am indebted for the story in this post to the author, Peter Smalley so I want to first give him a shout-out. “Peter A. Smalley was not so much born as he was the object of a suitably ominous origin story.” If you want to know more, click on the link above or check out his latest book – Emerald City Blues

Remember This Guy?

“I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things.” This is friendship!

 So here is the (true) story.

In March 1956, J.R.R. Tolkien was surprised to receive a letter from a man named Sam Gamgee from Tooting, London. Mr. Gamgee, who had not read Lord of the Rings, was surprised to hear that his name had been used in the story. The Professor responded in a letter of his own.

“Dear Mr. Gamgee,

It was very kind of you to write. You can imagine my astonishment when I saw your signature! I can only say, for your comfort, I hope, that the ‘Sam Gamgee’ of my story is a most heroic character, now widely beloved by many readers, even though his origins are rustic. So that perhaps you will not be displeased at the coincidence of the name of this imaginary character of supposedly many centuries ago being the same as yours.”

– The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: Letter 184

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Being the gentleman he was, Tolkien also sent him a signed copy of all three volumes of the book. This incident did, however, worry the professor who wrote in his journal:

“For some time I lived in fear of receiving a letter signed ‘S. Gollum’. That would have been more difficult to deal with.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

Oh well, need to fill the void for the next 1,464 hours (at the time of writing) until the second Hobbit movie!

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Finally, thank you to everyone who bought Ashbar – Wycaan Master Bk. 3, which celebrates its 10th day in publication!

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and the sequel The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 is the third in the series, released in October 2013. 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).

The Journey Just Gets Better

It has been quite a week with the release of Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3. I am feeling slightly stunned by the closure of the first trilogy. Like At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The First Decree, Ashbar is a self contained story as well as the third in a series.

Ashbar front cover

There is a lot of closure, though not enough to stop the next trilogy from beginning, and I feel a certain sense of forlorn, perhaps as a parent feels when their children leave the nest.  I know the remedy to this – plunge into writing the next book. As the wise saying goes: “One trilogy closes, another opens.

Thank you to everyone who bought Ashbar over the weekend and enabled it to pick up a credible ranking. Please let me know what you thought of it, once read, and leave a review on Amazon. I am surprised at how important these reviews are in terms of trackable purchasing actions and sales ranks. If you have not yet bought it, please invest the $2.99 this week, to help move it to a higher ranking.

I just want to take a moment and thank the incredible support team behind me.

Monica Buntin is my editor. I send her a jumble of about 100,000 words and she makes sense of them. I once had the audacity to tell her that I was sending a pretty clean manuscript. She had the good manners not to respond to that comment, but that didn’t deter her from cutting about 10% of the book and offering (correct) critique on every page.

Oh well. I learned my lesson. Editors are an eclectic breed and I have written about them before. They need authors or they will have nothing to edit and yet have to, I am sure, tolerate an awful lot of ego. When an author finds a good editor and one who clicks with them, they have a rare asset and would do well to keep them.

William J. Kenny, a fantasy author in his own right, designed the covers for all three of the Wycaan Master books. One day, I would like him to reveal the creative process in depth. For now, I am content to consider it magical. I send him a couple of paragraphs with my ideas and he sends me a crude image. He takes my response and produces such a complete picture. I am really in awe of him. If I could draw anything better than deformed stick people, I would love to give the process a go.

Then there is Jeny Reulo from FastFingers Book Formatting Services,  who designs and formats the interior of the books. Her willingness to make changes and attention to detail is amazing. The interior design of a book, if done well, does not garner any attention, but it is a crucial element in the reader’s experience. The interior designers are often the unsung heroes of the expedition into producing a book.

Finally, a big appreciation for my wife Ariela. I am sure she releases a big sigh of relief on the day that I finish writing a manuscript and probably an even bigger sigh of exasperation when, the following week, I begin writing the next book! My absences, both physical and mental, create a void she needs to fill, and she does it with grace and understanding.

This series began as a fun, family project, deep in a redwood forest. My sons were a part of this strange journey, from the prologue in Chapter 1 of At The Walls Of Galbrieth, to the final climax in Ashbar. Earlier this summer I read them a rough first draft of Book 4, and, four years on, it remains an integral part of what I hope and believe is a powerful journey we will share in our memories forever.

This is how it all began - deep in a redwood forest.

Where it all began – deep in a redwood forest.

It really doesn’t get any better than that. Once again, thank you to all who buy, read and review the Wycaan Master series. Your time is precious, the options of good books to read vast, and I am honored that you choose to open and read my books.

Thank you for sharing in the journey of the Wycaan Masters.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and the sequel The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 is the third in the series, released in October 2013. 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).

Guest Post: My Fantastical African Inspiration – Yurika Kotzé

imgres-2 Yurika Kotzé is a fantasy author and wildlife researcher. She loves history and combines the inspiration she gleans from living in Africa with medieval swords and water nymphs – because, well, why not? Her first novel, The Unsheathed Key is now available as an ebook from Barnes&Noble, Kobo and others. Check out her website for info; or to read an excerpt.

 ————————————————————————————————————-     So there we were, sitting next to the fire on our farm, right on the border of Zimbabwe. We were happily nibbling away at our chops and tossing the bones into the fire, when another sound suddenly rose above the rushing waters of the river. A deep sawing noise.

Steady and rhythmic, it grew in volume and started to move around our campfire, just out of sight. If there had been any doubt, the sour feline smell confirmed it: we were being stalked by a leopard.

Nervously, we jumped up and put our backs to each other. My husband, his friend and I formed a little tripod of comfort as we steadily made our way to the car, eyes peeled for movement. The leopard sawed and barked and growled as it circled us, completely focussed on its prey. My hand finally found the car door’s handle, but it was locked. Laughing nervously, my husband fumbled for the keys as our friend loaded the .375 rifle.

At last, I managed to unlock the car with my shaky hands and the three of us piled into the front seat. We hastily shut the door and finally caught a glimpse of the leopard as he made his way back into the bush. We burst out laughing.

I am proudly South African. Moments like these make me fall in love with this beautiful country. Growing up just outside of the Kruger National Park and later living on an elephant farm, I have had my share of encounters.

images-1Being exposed to raw, unbridled Africa changes you. There is an atmosphere here that can only be understood by those who have experienced it.  It’s the perfect place for any fantasy author to become inspired.

South Africa is the birth-place of Tolkien and his Middle Earth, and there is nothing like hiking the Hogsback Mountains and seeing the world through his eyes. It’s also the perfect place to read The Hobbit. Except when your dog comes running out at you out of nowhere while your head is filled with orcs… I have never screamed so loud.

As a writer, I need to draw upon my surroundings, write what I know; and I am spoiled for choice. ‘Upside-down trees’ (baobabs), magnificent animals, folklore, and mighty rivers… I have been stalked, chased and burnt to shreds by the African sun enough for me to have writing material for years to come.

imgres-1I love this continent.

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Yurika Kotzé is the author of The Unsheathed Key. Check out her website for more information or to read an excerpt.

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The Fellowship of the Book

All our protagonists had them – a fellowship of loyal followers and friends, ready to put their lives on the line, to draw their swords in defense of the hero/ine, and to go off on dangerous missions or to pass on an important message.

hobbits in pub

What would we do without them? How would our characters cope bereft of true companionship? I have mentioned in the past the lure of universal values to the conventions of epic fantasy. We long to lose ourselves in some far off land, discover mythical creatures, embark on a noble quest.

Granted, but we also seek values that are part of our everyday aspirations: justice, truth, love, riches … and friendship.

Why am I writing about this? Last week, I somewhat frivolously criticized George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series. I learned two things from the experience:

1) Mess with a great epic fantasy author if you want to boost the hits to your blog.

2) Mess with the followers of a great epic fantasy author at your peril.

images-1

My humble offering garnered 4-5 times the amount of hits of an average blog post (not that any of my posts are average, of course) and I received far more comments, many of which were retweeted and favored on twitter, some, I admit, by myself.

To those who accused me, a humble fantasy author, of being insanely jealous: I accept the charge.

To those who say people who criticize Martin’s long tomes suffer a short attention span, I say – next point.

And so it went on. To be fair, there were many who agreed with my pointed digs, and in the name of credibility, still faithfully open the next book in the series. I myself, despite honorable intentions to take a break having just concluded Book 4, read Sacre Bleu, the latest by one of my favorite authors, Christopher Moore, and having finished it, promptly started Book 5 – A Dance of Dragons.

imgres-2

What is clear is that, in the same way that we want to align ourselves to great fictional characters, we subconsciously swear fealty to their creators: the authors. I encountered fans of Mr. Martin, as loyal as Frodo’s gardener (well maybe not quite). They were ready to defend him to the hilt – even if they privately knew I was right. It is something very special about the people attracted to the genre.

The skeptical among them would probably accuse me again of jealousy: that I crave one day to have Wycaan Master followers as loyal as them. To my accusers I proudly say: Yeah. Darn right!

Have a great weekend,

Elfwriter

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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.