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).

Bookcover Trees copyBookcover Snow copy                                                                         Bookcover Ocean copyAuthor Photo Book 5 copy

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+

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It’s In The Journey

“The problem with your genre,” the man declared with a smirk, “is that the reader always know what’s going to happen in the end. That’s why I never read fantasy.”

I could have asked him how he knew this since he admitted to not reading the genre. I might have questioned whether romance (the most popular fiction genre) or cookbooks (most popular non fiction) are any different. Those recipes never work for me!

Instead, I asked him what it was about epic fantasy that made it popular assuming he was right about the predictable endings. To his credit, he thought a while before answering. “It’s in the journey,” he replied.

I’ve been thinking about this. During my summer vacation, we camped by a river. The locals told me that there were no fish inhabiting it and it was only good for swimming in.

We went down to the river and my sons had a great time with their river rats (inflated tubes) negotiating small rapids.

I got out my fly rod, walked a bit upstream and stood in the middle of the water casting. The river was beautiful and clear, the rocks underneath and protruding were smooth and colorful. Majestic redwoods surrounded us and a noble mountain peak loomed above me. Wisps of fog hugged the tops of the trees and later in the day came almost to the edge of the water.

The author, deftly not catching fish!

I imagined where a wild trout (huge one of course) would hover and allow its prey to float right to it (a feeding pool, I think the experts call it). I cast my fly and watched it float in a wide arc. Being of only limited skill it took me a while to cast to the right distance, but I was very satisfied when I could consistently float my fly into the (imaginary) feeding pool.

A couple walked past arm-in-arm and the man felt compelled to tell me that there were no fish in the river. I nodded and told him I knew. He shrugged, but his partner got it, I think.

“Enjoy yourself,” she said.

I did enjoy myself that afternoon. I enjoyed setting up my fly rod and casting it out. I enjoyed the river, the trees, the mountain, the fog. I felt myself sighing as I released the tension of my real world and let it float away with the river.

Hemingway fly-fished. Tolkien smoked a pipe (I couldn’t find evidence that he fished but he wrote poems about it – see below). I strive to walk in the shadow of Tolkien rather than Hemmingway, but the pipe has long been relinquished. Still I remember the pleasure I got in packing and lighting the pipe, even cleaning it. I still yearn for the smell of the Borkum Riff tobacco all these years later. I miss it more than the smoking for sure. I recall the anticipation of waiting all day for that special time after dinner when I could sit outside my little house and puff away the worries of the day.

Gimli lights up after a hard day of killing.

At the end of one of my fantasy novels is a twist I am very proud of. Those who have read it all tell me that they gasped at that moment. In my writer’s group, while still only on page six of that novel, one of the women guessed the twist.

I never responded, never told her she was right. I want her to enjoy the journey.

Happy fishing everyone, however you cast your rod. I’ll leave you in the hands of the Master:

Fish Riddle

Alive without breath;
as cold as death;
never thirsting, ever drinking;
clad in mail, never clinking.
Drowns on dry land,
thinks an island
is a mountain;
thinks a fountain
is a puff of air.

So sleek, so fair!
What a joy to meet!

We only wish
to catch a fish,

 So juicy-sweet!

                                                      From Lord of the Rings By J.R.R. Tolkien

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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).