Flights of Fantasy: Grounded in Reality

At a book event in the summer, I was asked who I would most like to meet. I think my audience expected me to say J. R, R. Tolkien, Terry Brooks, or any one of a dozen fantasy authors that I look up to in awe. I admitted I would like to meet them all, but if I only have one choice, I would not choose an epic fantasy author.

If I could meet only one person from my Heroes/Heroines list, it would be Malala Yousafzai. I wrote a blog post a while back about her – She is Malala and I am Crying – so I will not write here why she is such an amazing woman. I have the honor of serving and meeting incredibly brave people who risk everything for a better world. There are also people in positions of privilege who leverage their resources to create a better world – I would love to meet Melinda and Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, for example.

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We as fantasy readers and authors have the privilege to live in two worlds, the real and the world created by the author we are reading, or the world we have built as authors. As fun as the latter is, we have an obligation not to ignore the former.

A reader told me last month how much she enjoyed my social justice themed novels: The Accidental Activist and Unwanted Heroes. She said that perhaps in this political environment, I should be focusing on that genre rather than my elves and dwarves.

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I know this person and am sure she did not intend to rebuke me, but it did strike a cord. I work in the human rights environment and writing fantasy has offered a balance to the intensity of the day job that consumes so much of my waking hours. Even if the six-figure book deal and movie rights landed in my lap tomorrow, I do not think I would want to turn my back on the inspirational grantee-partners I advocate for every day.

It is a tough balance to maintain, but I think we all need to find it or we risk getting burnt out. I hope we all find a way to make this a better world for ourselves, our children and all people in the world. But to maintain momentum, we each need our escape: family, walking the dog, a good book, TV, the gym.

Many  find it in the company of elves and dwarves, It was intentional that I included issues of power, gender and racial discrimination, addiction, violence and other issues, that are sprinkled throughout the Wycaan Master series. I was writing these books for my sons as they grew into young men and always wanted them aware of a society’s flaws.

Summer 2015 Reading Book 6

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

I do not feel I need to explain why I write fantasy in this troubled world, though this blog post is evidence that apparently I do. I feel comfortable with a foot in each world, balancing myself to deal with the challenges and uncertainties of two precarious worlds.

I wish you good balance too.

Alon / 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 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).

Download a FREE copy of Alon’s latest novel, Kingfisher: Slave to Honor, as publisher gauges interest – http://bit.ly/2sq72DG. Help secure a book contract by reading and leaving a review. 

 

 

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A Painful Letter to Those Who Download Pirated Novels

Dear Fans,

Yes, it seems strange to open such a letter with this salutation, but I can only conclude that if you are tempted to illegally download one of my books for free from any of an alarming number of websites now offering such a dishonorable service, then you must enjoy my novels.

I’m going to divide you into one of two groups. Please bear with me.

  • If you truly cannot afford the $2.99 for most of my novels, then please go ahead. While volunteering at (I think) Project Homeless Connect, I talked with a boy (I think he was 11 or 12 years old) who said he loved that the service offered books to take, but he wished there was more about elves and dwarves. I went and gave him a copy of At The Walls Of Galbrieth and would have given him the whole series if I had brought copies in my backpack. My then 8-year-old once begged me to give a homeless man (a poet we discovered) a copy of The Accidental Activist, after they had a wonderful conversation and the man had told him how much he enjoyed reading and writing.

 

  • If you can afford to buy my books, and I believe most of you can, I am not going to lecture you. I just want you to know that I poured years into each book, that I drove myself to write the highest quality possible, relentlessly edited and nurtured each book into existence. Just because someone is offering you something for free, doesn’t mean you should take it. That goes for music, movies and novels. Like so many artists, I am not wealthy. I am Mr. Average-American who works hard to put food on his family’s table and wonder if he will ever be able to retire. I am probably no different from you.

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So next time you see the advert for a free copy of someone’s novel, please take a moment to consider before you click and download. Go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble, Apple (ibooks), Smashwords, or wherever you purchase a novel and consider the 99c – $2.99 that will show respect for those who toiled to produce that work, those who keep producing the stories you enjoy.

And if you have already illegally downloaded a copy of one of my books and feel bad – I FORGIVE YOU. Perhaps consider buying a copy and gifting it to someone, whether it is one of my political novels to a disillusioned non-Trump supporter, or a young adult who loves a coming-of-age novel and would benefit from seeing the strength of true friendship.

Please reblog or send this post on to others to raise awareness of this issue. It is not as important as helping those who have suffered from earthquakes, fire, or ethnic cleansing, but it is another wrong that we can right.

Thank you,

Alon / 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 novels in the Wycaan Master series, all released by Tourmaline Books. More information about Alon and his novels can be found here.

Download a free copy (offered with author’s consent!) of Alon’s new medieval fantasy novel as a publisher gauges interest and reader feedback.

 

 

 

Churning Out Novels

I thought I wrote fast. I tell people I can write a 100,000 word novel – a first draft – in four months, writing for an hour before work, an hour or two later in the day, and a few solid hours on the weekend. I only thought this was fast because people told me so. Other writers spent a year, two or more, to get similar output.

So I was a little surprised when I started to follow a podcast by three authors, all in the sci-fi and fantasy world. These three, along with the different guests they interview each week, publish 4-6 books a year, often keeping different series’ and even different genres going.

So I did some digging. There are many writers out there who are churning out a 50-80K novel each month … and I mean from Chapter 1 through The End and into editing (I assume), book cover design, and placements.

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Wow!

I am emotionally exhausted when I finish a novel and only once (between Books 5 and 6) did I have any desire to continue straight into writing the next of the series. Editing, sure. Marketing, okay. But the idea of churning out another 100K?

I am trying to work out what it takes to do this and, as I listened more to these authors, and even got to question a couple, I think I get it.

1. Outsourcing – these people do nothing for the production process. Everything is outsourced and they do not play a part in the process. This makes total sense except when there is no investment in the process, when the author really doesn’t care about the end product. As one author said: “My book covers are more or less the same. Only the title and book number changes. The cover artist knows what to do.”

2. Editing – when my editor returns a manuscript, there are changes suggested in almost every paragraph. I am expected to go through these comments and decide what to do. True, I accept 95% of the suggestions, but sometimes the editor writes that a scene is not clear, a conversation does not make sense, or a description is repetitive. In this case, I need to rewrite. Sometimes, the editor suggests I delete something. If I am attached to what is written, I might rewrite it much shorter or insert elsewhere (oops – don’t tell my editor!).

images-63. Strict genre adherence – in order that some writers can keep pace with production, they keep the plot tight and similar – the same highs and lows. The protagonist acts as he (usually a he) is expected, the bad guy too, and often the women are…well, behaving in what is expected of women in that genre. Now there is nothing wrong here. If it ain’t broke, why fix? Who needs a bad guy you sympathize with, a woman who kicks the crap out of someone or simply  falls in love with the bad guy and not the hero? Real life is already too complicated. There are no twists in the plot and I expect that somewhere there is a story arc written that is faithfully adhered to. No time to spend experimenting. Take no risks with the loyal readership.

4. Investment in the characters – this is something I find hard to understand. I have never understood how people can write a stand-alone novel, and walk away. I feel so close to all my characters – I worry about them, fear for them, get angry when they screw up (and especially when they have the audacity to blame me). Long after the novel is finished, I think about them, and yes, I mourn the ones I kill off.

Now there is nothing wrong with any of this. There are people who write for the art and people who write for the royalty check and that is just fine. Most of us are somewhere in between. If the quality of the book is enough for the reader to enjoy, to read effortlessly and then crave the author’s next book, then what’s wrong with that? If the genre is popular just the way it is, then this is what the reader wants. And if it sells and so do the rest of the author’s work, then that is a clear sign that what they do is right and recognized by the most important views – the readership.

But sometimes it is tough to accept. In seeking the highest standard of writing, I agonize over a scene, word choice, how a character develops. Sure I can write a first draft in four months, but it takes longer to edit, rewrite, consider feedback, and feel once the book is published, that I have done my absolute best.

I’m trying not to be critical, but the book churn must have its limitations. And, in the end, a book exists forever. If the market is swamped by mediocrity, how will the special books get noticed? Will a generation get turned off novels because they just aren’t as gripping as a video game, a You Tube clip, or an on-demand TV binge?

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And I can’t help but wonder: what does George R.R. Martin think about this?

EXCITING NEWS: Tourmaline Books are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of March though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship. 

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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).

Happy Birthday, Professor Tolkien.

Today is the old professor’s birthday. He wrote novels that inspired a generation and more to pick up a book and get lost in its tale. He encouraged young people to read in general and learn to love fantasy.

But his work went beyond the pages of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. One of his greatest achievements was to create an entire language, and I have it on good authority, that the elves in particular, really appreciate this. We have seen over the years that people have learned it to a level of writing poetry and …

I’ve never been a big weather fan but Tamati Coffey receives my Weather Forecaster of the Week. I think you’ll understand why.

Mr. Coffey – I believe Professor Tolkien would be proud.

And how can we end this blog without wishing the professor a happy birthday … in elvish. Thank you to Petri Tikka for this rendition. After checking who is in hearing range, please feel free to sing along.

 

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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. Calhei No More is the final novel in the series and was released in November 2016.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

 

 

Today’s the Day! Calhei No More – Released!

It all started six years ago in 2010, a whim to engage my sons on a camping trip in an ancient redwood forest.

At The Walls of Galbrieth won the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award and a rollercoaster journey was set into motion.

It ends today with the launch of Calhei No More, available in paperback and e-book.

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Thank you for joining me on this epic adventure. Please leave reviews on Amazon and keep in touch – you can leave comments here on the elfwriter blog and on twitter @elfwriter, and I always respond on my email is anelfwriter@gmail.com.

It has been fun and sometimes tortuous – characters have a habit of not doing what they are supposed to. Writing has entered my DNA and there are various projects in the pipeline, so please keep following the blog or sign up for my newsletter (4-5/yr) here.

A big thank you to Tourmaline Books for keeping the faith, to my editor Monica Buntin, cover artist William J. Kenney, and the folks at The Fast Fingers who set the internal book matter. We’ve been together a long time and I have only reached this wonderful stage with your help and partnership.

Thank you to everyone for your readership and fellowship, your feedback and enthusiasm, and your willingness to join the Wycaan Masters to create a better world for themselves and their people. Hoping we can do the same for each other – perhaps there is not such a gap between fantasy and reality – and maybe there never should be.

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five more novels in the Wycaan Master Series – all released by Tourmaline Books. Calhei No More, the final book in the series will be released November 15, 2016. It will all end on the Plains of Shindellia.

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+ 

Fantasy Novels That Stood Out 2015

I am a voracious reader. At any time, I am reading one book while static (on the bus, in bed) and listening to a second on audio while walking the dog, working out, or commuting.

One of these books will be fantasy or magical realism. The other is usually non-fiction, perhaps a social justice-themed book or a biography. Here are the ten fantasy or magical realism books that stood out for me. To check out what else I read and the reviews I left, please check out my Goodreads page.

Patrick Rothfuss – Name of the Wind, The Wise Man’s Fear.

My stand out reading experience of the year .I loved both these books. Rothfuss has a unique style and voice. I was totally captivated. The third book is very different and I was less enamored.

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Terry Brooks – Dark Legacy of Shannara

I have not read anything from Terry Brooks in a year. He is my role model and fantasy writer hero. But I think there was a reason that I took a break. Still coming back to his work was so enjoyable – like drinking your mother’s chicken soup after being vegetarian for a year (well, you get the point). Biggest problem is a fear I have harbored for a while – I am now up-to-date and have wait until May 26, 2016 – but who’s counting (124 days at the time of writing!).

Robert Jordan – The First Five Wheel of Time books.

This was the big intro for me this year. Robert Jordan is one of the foremost fantasy writers of the past few decades, but I had not read any of his work. I thoroughly hang my head in shame but I really enjoyed the first two novels and totally entered his world and connected to the main characters. Impulsively, I bought the entire audio set off of eBay on sale. I think I am now about six books through and taking a break, but long series’ are difficult to stay with. As with Terry Brooks’ work, I shall return to it soon.

Kevin Hearne – Hammered.

What can I say? This guy is so cool and his books are hilarious. Beware about laughing out loud. I have in each book. Looking forward to reading more.

George R.R. Martin – A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.

So, I admit it. I give the guy a hard time (not because I am insanely jealous of his talent and fame…oh no! Goodness!), but I have been in serious GoT withdrawal. The TV episodes are good, but the books are a lifestyle. So you can imagine how ecstatic I was to come across this kind of prequel. Kind of because it is a story in its own right that doesn’t, as far as I see, really prepare much for GoT. It takes place a hundred years before and is full of the flavors that make Martin’s writing so special. Well worth it to help tide you over until…

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Lev Grossman – The Magician’s Land

This is the third in the series and as impressive as the first two. I finished this at the beginning of January 2015 and don’t remember much beyond satisfaction and a sense of loss once completed. It is not an easy read, but great tales rarely are.

Hal Emerson – The Prince of Ravens

This is one author you might not have heard of. I picked up the book as a freebie on Amazon’s KDP program and was intrigued by its original world and concept. The protagonist is a troubled young man that we slowly learn to love as he learns to love himself. Great first book by an excellent author.

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Terry Pratchett – A Slip of the Keyboard

This was tough. In truth, I read it as a tribute to the author when he passed away. Discworld was a big part of my life and helped pull me through some of my own darker periods of life. There are some quaint stories and insights into the great man who no longer walks among us. Probably for the hardcore fans more than the casual reader. But for most of us, the world is an emptier place today.

Artist: Paul Kidby

Artist: Paul Kidby

I would like to show my appreciation of Goodreads for the ability to be able to track the books I read and the books that others are reading. I will write more about this in the future, but for now, thank you, Goodreads, for being my virtual bookcase.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and four more novels in the Wycaan Master Series – all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose, is the latest in the series. The story continues.

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 Goodreads.

 

An Author Needs His Hat

“So, what’s with the hat?” The question came from a young man in the back row of the small (but thankfully packed) room.

I had been fielding questions about plot, world-building, characters, building a series, and on being a writer, so this caught me off guard. My bad. It was not the first time I had received such a question. I was reminded of this when a twitter follower graciously allowed me to finish the day with a smile this week, posting that he couldn’t ignore a book written by an author with such a great hat. Thank you, sir.

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So, what is with the hat? I was wearing it when my sons and I wrote those first words deep in a redwood forest in 2010. Sitting at a campsite picnic table, I brandished my snow-white keyboard, doffed my hat and wrote: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit…

Okay, I’m getting carried away. I actually opened At The Walls of Galbrieth with the words: The screams pierced his dreams and… Every summer since, I have read the next manuscript to my sons while camping, and while wearing my hat.

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

Reading Book 6 to my toughest critics in the summer of 2015. End of an era.

Though I feel a great connection between hat and story, none of my characters actually wear a hat in the novels. Maybe I connect to it because I would simply feel too self-conscious walking around the San Francisco Bay Area with a heavy, hooded cloak and staff with the exception perhaps of Halloween.

Ironically, I am not much of a hat-wearer. Traveling to the East Coast in winter warrants a hat, and the same one I wear for camping, sits aloft my head as I fly fish. I am sure the trout take careful note of my headgear since they totally ignore my fly.

But now I have begun to take notice. The professor wore his tweed hat though not in his ancient Oxford study. Sir Terry Pratchett RIP had his splendid black fedora (hope I’m getting the title right). And I have seen other fantasy authors on twitter handles, websites, and Wanted posters.

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Neil Gaiman, in his wonderful tribute to Sir Terry, described their first meeting thus: The author, a former journalist, has a hat, but it’s a small, black leathery cap, not a Proper Author Hat. Not yet.

So here is my Wycaan Master books series by hat. Please feel free to click on each to see which book the photo features on (we used the same for Books 3 + 4).

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Are you a fantasy author with a hat to show? Feel free to leave photo and link to your books in the comments.

Here’s to authors in hats. May our heads be ever covered, our pages full of words, and our minds ever brimming with imagination!

We are now less than two weeks from the release of From Ashes They Rose (October 1.). So please, consider investing $2.99 to preorder the ebook version. Maybe one day you can point out nonchalantly to friends over a deep red Merlot that you helped that best selling author when he was still a struggling writer.

How could I forget...

How could I forget…

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and four more novels in the Wycaan Master Series – all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose, the fifth in the series, will be released October 1, 2015. The story continues.

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+