Crumbs of the Great Craft Masters

I want to give credit to Toby Hewson who gave me this idea: What I learned from the Gods of Fantasy? I have learned from many authors, not just the craft masters, but this post will focus on the select few. 

Terry Pratchett taught me about invention of an old theme. He created a world that was fantastical and yet so familiar. His satirical approach to Discworld was always engrossing and we welcomed familiar themes as they surfaced among the new ideas in each new novel.

George RR Martin taught me about depth of character in supporting roles. There is no excuse for making every single character special or unpredictable. It does not have to happen immediately, but when a character steps from the limelight to center stage, we are enthralled, but not totally surprised. This is a huge task for anyone and Martin does it with a thousand characters. I have mentioned before how much I have learned from him. Okay, I have also taken his name in vain, but I am full of respect for him.

George Martin to kill Tyrion

Stephen King taught me about simplicity of language and being accessible to readers. I am too much of a wimp to appreciate his stories, but On Writing is my writing Bible, and required reading…annually.
J.R.R. Tolkien taught me the opposite. It is possible to write elaboration, flowery, delightful fantasy prose. Can you describe a forest in three pages? Y’betcha and they will even make it into a movie or six. Tolkien also taught me the importance of giving my fantasy world a sense of history and leveraging that throughout the saga.

Terry Brooks taught me about having a well-worked story that had no loose ends or unnecessary scenes so the story flows. Brooks also has built a rich history of his world – Shannara – and a genealogy that excites his many followers. Again, his writing is very balanced between plot (action) and character development. He has the ability to give a strong and distinctive voice to each of his main characters.

Terry Goodkind is edgy without going over-the-top. His stories are simpler, but he adds little traits to make his characters familiar to us and a great job bonding us to them.

R.A. Salvatore taught me to create a rich world and non-stereotypical characters. His first Drizzt book takes place underground and is so impressive. I remember being blown away by it. I have not been disappointed going forward.

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There is much we can learn from these masters of our craft, but the most important one is READ, READ, READ.

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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).

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Happy New Year – Request For Help

Dear Friends,
 
With the beautiful lights, the presents, the family gatherings and the never-ending food behind us, I want to take a moment and wish you all a happy new year.
 
I am feeling particularly celebratory because I just wrote those magical words at the end of Wycaan Master Book 6 – THE END. It feels great, an end of an era for me, even as I now have two manuscripts to edit myself before sending each to my illustrious editor – probably just spoilt her new year!
 
As I turn my attention to my marketing strategy for 2015, I have a request. It will cost you $2.99 and 5 minutes of your valuable time. I wish to submit Sacrificial Flame, which I think is my strongest novel in the series to a number of high-profile book review and promotion websites. What is holding me back is that I have not focused on getting reviews. I need 20 reviews for the novel to be accepted for certain programs and I have only accrued eight.
 
Could you find time to craft a short review and put on Amazon? Sacrificial Flame can be found here and can be read before Books 1-3 if you have not read them. It transitions into the next generation and anything dependent upon the previous series will be explained.
Thank you for being such great colleagues and supporters. I look forward to another great year ahead as a thriving writer’s community.
 
Happy New Year,
Alon
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ALON SHALEV
At The Walls Of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1

2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award Winner – YA Category.
 

 

Part 2 – Top Elfwriter Blog Posts 2014 – The Writing Process

I realize I have a few posts written in 2014 more relevant to the writing process that I would like to share. Hope you enjoy. Happy Hols’.

  1. To The Long Suffering Writer’s Spouse – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-nG
  1. Walking Away From A Fantasy Series – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-nT

 Sacrificial Flame Cover Hi Res

  1. They Grow Up So Fast – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-kc
  1. Will My Stories Be My Legacy? http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-n4
  1. I Met My Protagonist At Starbucks – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-nl

 Shayth 05:15:13

  1. The Addiction of Novel Writing – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-nz
  1. Last Week I Disappeared – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-lE
  1. The Pressure To Produce – An Author’s Perspective – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-kT

 The First Decree-hi resolution

  1. When Authors Reach For Immortality – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-kq
  1. Finally, as previously mentioned, in honor of Tourmaline Books’ announcement that all Wycaan Master novels are $0.99 for the holiday period –a post from last year:

It Was 99 Cents…Again – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-lM

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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+

Walking Away From A Fantasy Series

I have heard others talk about the difficulty of finishing writing a series, of tying up loose ends, of sad partings and death, glorious battles and victories. However clear your plot line is, it is difficult to turn your back on characters who have walked with you on the paths of fiction for five or ten years.

When I finished the first draft of Book Five during the summer, the plan had been to edit and rewrite and then send out to my editor by the end of October. What actually happened was that I plunged straight into Book 6 and now, three months later, I am writing the final third of the book: the climax and end of the series. My publisher knows that a February launch date is mere fantasy (excuse the pun), but given that they are more used to authors who get writers block and stop writing, my uncontrollable urge to write is hardly seen as much of a disaster.

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However, I am finding the final third of Book 6 so difficult to write and it is a strange feeling. There are many storylines to tie up and it occurs to me that perhaps it is better to write the sixth book before locking down the fifth.

The conclusion of a series is a huge responsibility and radically different from finishing one novel. There are many reasons why a series is easier than individual standalone stories and many reasons why it is harder.

But beyond anything, and first and foremost is the multiple strands of plot, is the commitment between author and character, and this truly weighs me down. I have written before about killing off characters but even dead they remain part of the story.

I hope to finish the first draft of Book 6 by the end of the year. Thirty thousand words in forty-five days with Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday season included is not daunting in terms of output. But this time it feels different and a steeper mountain to climb.

I am wondering if other authors feel the same way? The Professor went on after Lord of the Rings to write two more tomes, though George R.R. Martin seems relieved to soon finish. How do you feel, a reader or writer of series’, when you approach the end of an era?

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Enough pontificating. another 30,000 words to write!

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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+

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).

I Need A Hero: Can You Kill Too Many Good Guys?

I’m reading (or rather listening to) a best-selling fantasy series. Each book is thick and extensive. The world-building is impressive, the multiple plots intertwine seamlessly, and the characters are deep and plentiful. 

imgresThis series has made my oft-challenging commute almost enjoyable and several times I have sat in the car outside my house waiting for a chapter to end. I dream about these characters and imagine myself alongside them.

 I am about two-thirds through the third book and happy to know that there are at least two more waiting in the wings. If I intersperse each book with something different, I can easily keep my commute comfortable until well into the summer.

But, and here is the reason I have not revealed the author or series, twice this week, as I was merrily driving home from work, a number of the good guys were put to the sword (or otherwise dispatched). Now, this is not the first time that our well-respected author has killed off heroes/heroines. He does it with drama, dignity and a huge amount of skill. He has left me in tears or sitting stunned at my driving wheel (hopefully while stationary) on a number of occasions.

But suddenly, I feel adrift. Each time one of my heroes dies, another emerges to take his (or her) place. These characters are usually in the background and, figuratively speaking, step up to the plate. And once more, our intrepid commuter is as happy as those drivers who gloat as they pass all the stationary cars while in the carpool lane.

imgres-4One of the fascinating aspects of this author’s craft is that most of his characters are not totally good or totally bad. It is challenging but possible to remain interested, even invested in some of the more fiendish without rooting for them. And there are plenty of characters with the potential to be heroes who fail or turn to the dark side (not a hint to the series).

But, suddenly, I am bereft of a hero: one who is fueled by noble principles, by a cause, and who is…well, heroic.

I find myself questioning my considerable investment in the series, the immense time I am spending on it, and even walk to my car with a certain level of tension and resignation. I am no longer sure with whom to stand when I dream and fantasize about the outcome. 

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And so I must pose the question: Can you kill too many of the good guys and still engage all your audience? What say you, sir/milady?

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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.  

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Writing An Epic Fantasy Series Is Not Easy

I dropped in on an interview by Franny (not sure if this is her real name) who runs the Mind Reader blog. I have visited a few times – she writes great book reviews. Franny interviewed Meredith Bond, author of Magic In The Storm, (full interview here) and opened with the following question:

“Why is almost every book published now part of a series? Have you noticed this? I don’t think I’ve seen one single stand-alone title (aside from anthologies) in over a year! Is this a good thing? Isn’t it good enough to find books by an author you like without the books having to be tied together in some way?”

Ms. Bond’s answer is thoughtful and worth reading, but she does claim, frivolously I hope, that we authors are “lazy bums.” I took exception to this. Writing a series of books in one world with many recurring characters demands that we show this world in different forms throughout the series. In fact, I draw my own world-building inspiration from nature and I hope I will never stop seeing new lands and areas of natural beauty. When we see a beautiful vista, it is a family joke to say in a breath-taking voice: Alagaesia, a tribute to the beautiful world that Christopher Paolini built.

imgresSimilarly, my characters do not stand still. They grow, and as they age, experience conflict and love from a different perspective, as do we all in the ‘real world’. Terry Brooks is a master of this with his Shannara series.

I would venture to suggest that the onus is even greater with recurring characters because we need to show significant depth in their development. Perhaps it is easier to create a new warrior, hero, heroine, villain etc., in each book, because you can keep them relatively shallow.

Next month, The First Decree, my second Wycaan Master novel, will be released by Tourmaline Books. Since the Xmas holiday break, I have been writing Book 4 (Book 3 is written but not edited) and am about 30,000 words in. My characters are older, wiser, have more to lose, and a greater sense of responsibility.

They are growing up and each developing into the unique, ever-changing individual that they are. I care about them too much. I would never let them languish and become stagnant. What kind of a father would I be (I am, however, in no rush for my real kids to grow up!)?

There are obvious and legitimate reasons to write a series. Every author wants to build a readership and why not create an ongoing relationship between readers and the characters they are rooting for?

Tery Goodkind wrote 12 books in the Sword of Truth series.

Tery Goodkind wrote 12 books in the Sword of Truth series.

I don’t mean to begin a feud with Ms. Bond because of one phrase in an otherwise excellent interview, but it struck a chord. I recently told a friend that I have written a book a year for the last seven years (I am published in two genres), and she responded by saying that it must be easy for me.

It is not. I work very hard at my craft, spend considerable time building the world of Odessiya, and worry about my characters and their destiny. I cry when a main character dies (I can even cry several times as I reread, and reread, and reread) and feel equally exhilarated when they succeed.

The story flows out of me but I put considerable time and effort into it. I wake up early and go to bed late, squeezing in a full-time job and hopefully trying to be an active parent and sharing husband.

When I finish writing a first draft I am exhausted mentally. But I’ll keep coming back for more, just as a marathon runner pushes themselves beyond their limit during a race, but knows s/he will be back running soon.

There is an incredible high when the words flow, exhilaration as a plot unfolds, and pure joy when someone says: “Hey. You’re an author, right? I read your books.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The First Decree-hi resolution

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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.