Doing It For The Kids

Since the US elections, living in the People’s Republic of Berkeley and working for a Human Rights organization, life feels very intense. Conversations are heavy and the TV follows Rachel Maddow and her colleagues. This is not lost on my teenager kids and their friends.

It has been a tough political coming-of-age as my sons avidly watched the primaries, election and inauguration, seeing the emergence of a political entity that is the opposite of the values we have shared with them. They have friends who are people of color, female, and LGBT.

I told a friend that I am considering leaving the epic fantasy world and returning to social justice-themed novels such as The Accidental Activist and Unwanted Heroes, which I wrote a decade ago. One is about the abuse perpetrated by multinational corporations and the other about war veterans and their struggle. I have another completed draft that is gathering dust about gay rights. Her response surprised me.

She said that young people deserve the escape route that my books offer, that I sending powerful messages about the value of friendship, the abuse and responsibility of leadership, and about racism and tolerance.

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I am driven to share my values and beliefs with my children and their friends. Working with millennials for almost a decade, I felt privileged to have the opportunity to be a role model and challenge students to questions their values and those around them. For years after Hurricane Katrina, I took students to New Orleans, not just to help rebuild, but to bear witness to the stories of those who were racially discriminated against.

But my children, and many young readers of the Wycaan Master series, deserve an opportunity to grow up and enjoy their childhood, teenage and college years. I am not suggesting they should be oblivious to, or shielded from, what is happening. But they need outlets to balance this.

Opening a book, getting invested in a series, can be memorable and powerful experience. It offers readers of all ages, a chance to soar to a different land, to make friends and cheer on characters who take risks and face great challenges, a chance to dream.

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It is not just the children and young adults. I should not feel bad that I spend a portion of my time watching sport and reading fiction myself. We all need to become involved and aware – this is the greatest lesson from this election cycle and an imperative going forward – but we all need to seek balance in our lives.

So, as you look at your schedule for the coming week, why not reserve time for a hot bath, a glass of wine, and a good novel?

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).

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Interview With An Elf

This post has been sponsored by Tourmaline Books:  Award-winning epic fantasy ebook, At The Walls Of Galbrieth @ $0.99  only until Sunday – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-fS  – It Was 99 Cents!

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INTERVIEW WITH AN ELF

Interviewer: I would like to introduce Chamerak, an elf who appears in At The Walls Of Galbrieth, the first Wycaan Master novel by Alon Shalev.  Welcome, sir, and thank you for agreeing to the interview.

Chamerak: My pleasure. It is an honor to represent my people to receptive humans,

Interviewer: Receptive? Can you explain?

Chamerak: Once, long before you and I were born, a council that had representation from all the four races ruled the land of Odessiya. Eventually, humans broke from this coalition when they were discovered to have large colonies of slaves mining rich lands beyond our boundaries.

Most of those who were slaves then were dwarves, and the dwarves here insisted they stop. Slavery was not tolerated in Odessiya. There were the rich and the poor, to be sure, but every individual, regardless of race, had inherent rights.

Interviewer: What happened?

Chamerak: As well as large colonies of slaves, these humans had built huge armies too. There was a series of battles, culminating in one great battle. That was our most tragic moment.

The elven leaders had tried to broker between the humans and dwarves, though we were clearly on the side of the latter. Still, we had helped to find a diplomatic solution as we had for centuries since the great council had begun.

We spread our leaders too thinly and when the battles joined, our people were massacred. The humans won a decisive battle, the powers of the Emperor and his cronies were revealed. The dwarves, what were left of them, disappeared deep underground, and my people became a slave nation.

Interviewer: Literally slaves?

Chamerak: Yes. Those in the cities lived under total servitude. Others found refuge living in remoter villages, where they paid for their restricted freedom with crushing taxes that prevented them ever moving above the strain of poverty. Humans often came to have sport ­­– there were those who collected our pointed ears as trophies – or take if they wanted food or worse.

Interviewer: And all humans were like this?

Chamerak: Generally, yes. After a few generations, it became normal for them. They knew little else and were indoctrinated from birth to look down on us as an inferior race. But there were a few who were not like that.

In At The Walls Of Galbrieth, you will meet Uncle. He led a band of elves into the great forests, to live as freeborn and help other elves escape. Not long after I joined his band, we captured some humans. They did not fight us, but neither did they cower. We took them prisoners and a strange dynamic happened.

As we interrogated them, they began to ask us questions. At first, we thought it was a ruse to discover our secrets: where we hid, who our leadership was, and things like this. But they were different and we made a discovery that filled us with hope. Uncle, in his wisdom, was the first to realize this. I must admit: I wanted to execute them on the spot for just having round ears. I was young then and my life had been hard, though no different from those around me,

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Interviewer: What did this Uncle discover?

Chamerak: That not all humans were bad. That in the same way they had stereotyped us as stupid, inferior, lazy, unhygienic, etc., we too had stereotyped them as one type of human: violent, power-hungry, racist, you know.

Interviewer: What happened next?

Chamerak: Uncle invited them to join us. We kept them in a separate camp for a long time. But eventually, as trust grew between us, we became one band. Word spread of our mixed group and others sought us out. Other groups formed, including some who were committed to teaching rather than fighting.

Gradually, the old stories were told and there was an awakening of an older conscious. It is, I believe, what brought the Wycaans back into our histories, and what facilitated the coming of the Wycaan Master.

Interviewer: I have heard a lot of rumors about him. What can you tell me about­–

Chamerak: These are early days and it is better not to reveal too much. Wycaans are not just elves, but can be from any race. They can be male or female. You have made assumptions.

Interviewer: My apologies.

Chamerak: Assumptions are dangerous thoughts. They are what brought us to the racist society we live in. But there is hope.

Interviewer: How?

Chamerak: As long as the stories are being told, the narrative is being formed. It will be challenged and evolve and, hopefully, change for the better. It is the power of the books.

Interviewer: Rather fantastical, no?

Chamerak: Epically so.

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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 First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release 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).

Fantasy and Females

I realize that a title like this might give the wrong idea. This blog is about epic (or high) fantasy fiction – imagine Lord of the Rings. If you want to leave this post right now, I will understand.

I have mentioned that I am working with an agent preparing Wycaan Master/At the Walls of Galbrieth (I know I haven’t settled on a title). He sees his role as helping me differentiate my work from the other 499 epic fantasy submissions sitting on the acquisition’ editor’s desk.

With more than two-thirds of the publishing world of the female persuasion and given that so much of literature (and music, and movies, and business, and politics…) is focused on men, there is an understandable desire to see more female-focused stories and stronger female characters.

I baulked at the idea of changing my protagonist’s gender and have gone through the manuscript strengthening the secondary character who is female. She was never a doormat character, swooning after the hero, but a strong, independent individual with an attitude and a high level of skill at fighting.

Now I am considering changing one of the other main characters into a female, someone with authority and power. There are examples out there. I am currently listening to the audio book of Terry Brook’s Voyage of the Jerle Shannara. The first book has our antagonist being a woman  (the Ilse Witch).

Why have authors of epic fantasy created main characters who are male? Given that it is not a new phenomenon that women are the vast majority of readers, I feel that I am missing something.

Any ideas?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).