Chicken or Egg: Book or Movie?

There is a story going round of a young man who enters his grandfather’s study. The room is a homage to the epic fantasy world in which he writes. There are helmets on shelves, swords on wall, and hundreds of books. The boy peruses the books and exclaims:

“Grandpa! You have so many books, but you are missing two of the most famous.”

“Oh? Which ones?”

“Tolkien’s The Hobbit.” When he sees his grandfather’s confused expression, he continues. “Look you only have one book. There should be three.”

The epic fantasy/magical realism world, received two big pieces of news this week: The first Shannara episode was aired and George R.R. Martin announced that he would not have the next Game of Thrones book, Winds of Winter, out before HBO releases the TV series.

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Fans of Terry Brooks (is there any fantasy reader who is not?) were ecstatic that the waiting was over. I worked that night and then waited 48 hours to watch it with my 12-year-old son. After all it was a coming-of-age thing, like a coronation – I’m that kinda father. I sat there for two hours, desperately not stopping the program to tell him some spoiler or … well, some spoiler! It was just as hard for him to watch having never read the books.

There is such a difference between watching a movie after you have read the book and the opposite. Call me old-fashioned, but it is simply not the same reading the book after watching the movie. There is so much texture in the books that the movie (hopefully) intensifies. But the depth of a book cannot, and there should be no expectation, be conveyed in a two-hour movie.

Which brings me to George R.R. Martin. Last time he announced that a book (Book 5) was not ready when it should have been, fans got really angry and, bravely hidden behind their computer screens, quite abusive. 

Now I don’t want to risk the wrath of Mr. Martin. After all, my favorite Game of Throne character is still alive at the time I’m writing this post and Mr. Martin holds all the power. It is not worth the risk. Neither do I want Neil Gaiman is tell me off and exhort me not to treat Mr. Martin like my bitch.

I would have no choice but to respond to Mr. Gaiman that Mr. Martin could do a lot worse than have me spoil him like I do my female Labrador. But I have seen Neil Gaiman speak. He is funny, smart, sincere, and he was very supportive of Terry Pratchett in the twilight of the latter’s life. He is also considerably bigger than me.

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Let me state up front. I am a big fan of George R. R. Martin, have read all his GoT books, and many articles and interviews. I love his work despite the sadness and despair he has caused me along with so many of his characters. As a humble author, I admire his craft, technique and vision.

But I do question his work ethic and organization. Everyone writes differently and Mr. Martin’s books are longer, more convoluted and evolved than mine. They also sell considerably more, have been made into HBO’s TV series and sprouted models, replica weapons and jewelry.

I hold down a full-time job that demands above and beyond a 9-5 day commitment. I still write a 100,000-word novel in less than a year. Actually, I write the shitty first draft in about 100 days, arriving in my office 1-2 hours before work, staying an hour or so afterwards, carving out large parts of the weekend, and neglecting my patient wife and children … and the dog!

So I do have a beef with Mr. Martin not finishing The Winds of Winter in five years. I understand his desire for perfection and I deeply admire his detail and research. But really four years? Now, it is not like he has done nothing in the meanwhile. He wrote (and I loved) A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.  

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I am currently on my final round of edits before I send Wycaan Master Book 6 to the editors. I loved writing the book and set about it with all the vigor I poured into the first five. But in the ensuing rounds of edits and rewrites, I began to feel a desire to finish the series, to look ahead at the dozen or so next projects that hover in my mind. Still, I am singularly focused on completing Book 6 and getting it into my readers hands as promised. This is not a one-way relationship. Even the A-list authors are nothing without their fans. Respect is a two-way thing.

However, I think my biggest problem is not Mr. Martin’s drive for perfection or whatever is holding him back. I might ordinarily enjoy the tension and anticipation waiting for the next book release. It is the idea that the TV series preceding the book, will have a huge influence on how I experience the book, and perhaps on how the author writes it. Could an exceptional scene or twist on TV not influence what Mr. Martin writes?

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I hear some of you say: Then don’t watch the movie, Shalev. I can hear Neil Gaiman extorting me to take long walks with my bitch. They are all, of course, right, and totally wrong.

What Game of Thrones fan, five books and fifty episodes in, is going to wait one day?! Rest assured, I will be on the couch watching HBO on Day 1 of series 5, with my faithful dog by my side, Mr. Gaiman!

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My Khaleesi – she’ll watch every episode, Mr. Gaiman.

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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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A Damning Tribute to George R.R. Martin

This tribute is a rewrite of a previous post written in honor of the launch tonight of HBO’s fifth series.

Dear Mr. Martin,

Let me begin by saying I’m a big fan. I’ve read all five books and, if that isn’t proof enough, I can’t wait for Book 6 (hint, hint). I have sung your praises on my humble elfwriter blog and keep your photo under my pillow (I don’t – but I want to make sure I still have your attention).

It’s like this, sir. One day when I grow up (I’m only 50-teen) I want to be a bestselling epic fantasy author like you. My fifth book comes out in the fall and I have sold more books as you’ve killed noble characters (I think!).

I spend a lot of time hanging out with other writers: online and (I know this is rare) actually in person. Everyone tells me to “observe the rules,” “don’t break the conventions,” and, my favorite, “Tolkien was one-of-a-kind. You wouldn’t get away with that.”

But you, sir, break all the rules, tippexed (anyone?) over the conventions. One friend suggested you only get away with it because you’re already famous, have a huge following, and probably don’t care anymore what anyone outside of the Seven Kingdoms thinks.

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So here is my list of 10 things you have done wrong:

1. Your books are too long. I keep getting told that 90K is way beyond the commitment that most readers are willing to invest today. But then why do I enjoy your tomes (and Christopher Paolini, and J.K Rowlings, and some unknown ancient language, Oxford professor) and feel a sense of loss when they are finished?

2. Your books are too slow. People want action, action, action. Instant gratification …debate in 140 characters or less. Have a car chase or blow up a bridge – well, you get my point.

3. Your books are too detailed. You mean I need to think? Concentrate? Invest? I hear you keep flow charts in your office – can we peek? How about a deal with Cliff Notes or an app that you can enter a character, your book and page number and get an update. Dude – I totally expect a commission on the app idea.

4. Your characters are too flawed (especially the good ones). If I’m not seeing Ryan Gosling or Kristen Stewart then it simply won’t do. If I want real people, I would put my book down and hit the pub.

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5. Your characters are too dead. I actually wrote a blog post about this (I Need A Hero), keeping the book and you anonymous so as not to spoil it. Guess what? Everyone knew who I was talking about.

6. You drop some characters for hundreds of pages – are you tempting me to skip pages, sir? Just so as not to spoil this for any readers on Books 1-4, you know what I mean when I connect this to Book 4//5.

7. You miss out key scenes – battles in particular – and subtly let us know they have happened. I know it is incredibly difficult to write battles and only the best can pull it off, but well sir, you are one of the best.

8. You have too many minor characters. I hope you are keeping track of them because, to be honest, I am developing a habit of scratching my head whenever someone resurfaces 1-2,000 pages later.

9. You care more for the old gods and the new than the critics.

10. Your books are too addictive. I can’t stop…

You broke all the rules, sir. Congratulations! I can’t wait for the first episode of Book Five tonight … not to mention Book 6 …Oops! Are there any Starks left?

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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+

Deeper than a Joke

There is a joke going round the Internet:

A teenager visits his uncle and is impressed to see the older man’s den is decked out with epic fantasy memorabilia. There are boxed figures of elves and dwarves, swords on walls, a couple of helmets and more. The boy walks along a wall lined with complete book collections of every greatest series.

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He abruptly stops. “Uncle, you have so many books from every famous author, but you are missing books from the biggest of them all?”

His uncle looked up surprised. “Tolkien?” he said. “Of course I have them all.”

“No,” his nephew persisted. “You only have the first Hobbit book. There are three.”

Now to be clear: I love the Peter Jackson movies, every one of them, and can’t wait to go this week to the final Hobbit movie. I have just lovingly brought my eldest son and wife up to date on the fourth series of Game of Thrones, the TV series, even though they both languish in reading Book 1. I am one of the 15,000 who signed the famous petition demanding a third Sword of Truth series from ABC and, just between us, mourn that Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series never spawned more than one movie.

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Having said this, I do wonder whether we are nurturing a generation who are defining epic fantasy based upon the movie, rather than the book. When we watched the final episode of the fourth Game of Thrones series, something happened that was hinted about throughout the books (please no spoilers in the comments). Yet both my wife and son were perplexed, because the movies/TV series is never going to be able to capture the intricacies and subtleties.

This week, we became a three-eReader family. It was a big decision, but an acceptance of the times. If I want my sons to read books, I need to bring them in a medium they expect – on screens.

My Wycaan Master series, which, I assume, is read mostly by young adults, continues to sell far more ebooks rather than tree books. My eldest is excited to see the Maze Runner movie, having loved reading the books. That is, I feel, how it should be.

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But I also know that a new generation of Tolkien troopers, Goodkind groupies, and Dashner disciples, will grow up basing their experiences on the movies…and I can’t help feeling there is something missing.

Have a great week – enjoy the final Hobbit movie.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The 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 Takeaways From George RR Martin

Isabel Berwick had lunch with Game of Thrones author, George RR Martin, and wrote this great article for the Financial Times. This post is not meant to replace it, but here are a few takeaways that stood out to me, for those of us who love and write epic fantasy. Please do read her article. It is very interesting, but be warned – it will make you hungry!

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1) During their lunch,  George RR Martin sees a map in Ms. Berwick’s “giant slab of breaded chicken.” He points to different parts and explains: “There are various little inlets where cities could be.”

I have seen elves in coffee shops and magical tunnels in my local park. These magical worlds are not hidden from us, they are right in front of our eyes.

2) Having famous fans of your works helps. Apparently, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg held a Game of Thrones-themed barbecue which made the news.

3) Martin didn’t have much as a child as his family struggled to keep financially afloat, but the seeds were sown – he was “the kid with his nose in a book.” Stephen King speaks of the need to be constantly reading – in your genre and outside.

 4) There are explicit sexual scenes in Game of Thrones (though I don’t remember much from the book apart from one scene – I have only read the first so far). This caught my attention because I use sex in my social-justice themed novels. Both A Gardener’s Tale and The Accidental Activist has vivid sex scenes. I believe these can reveal so much about a character, but I suspect HBO saw the fact that people like sex on their screens was reason enough.

5) It is okay to fail with a few books. Martin expected his breakthrough would come with his fourth book, Armageddon Rag, about a rock band. He concedes that: “it was the worst-selling of all my novels and essentially destroyed my career as a novelist at the time.” The most important lesson from this is DON’T GIVE UP!

6). When asked about his world-building, Martin, despite his success, is quick to give credit to J.R.R. Tolkien: “There were thousands of years of fantasy before Tolkien but the way it is shaped as a modern commercial publishing genre and the fantasy books that have been written in the past half century have all been influenced by Tolkien. So it still sort of defines the playing field.”

Martin has shown us that Tolkien’s legacy continues. People want to immerse into a rich world and are ready to read deep and vivid descriptions. 

7) Leave your own mark. Martin feels that his strong women, just as politically contriving and sexually adept, send a strong message that the female character needs to be as strong and vivid as the males.

I also think the way he perceives a hero is unique. John Smith and Tyrion Lannister are as close as I got to a hero (Edard Stark cuts a more typical Man For All Seasons-type hero). But they are clearly flawed and tainted enough to only just stand out from the rest. I admire this aspect of Martin – I am not aware who else succeeds in doing this.

8) Martin believes that maps are very important. I have talked about them in this blog before, but he confirms the necessity. It was important enough, he notes, to be at the beginning of each HBO episode. 

 9) The reader is willing to cope with many characters. This means the writer needs to stay extremely organized. Martin has over 1,000 characters in his series and his plots are both complex and spread over years. 

There are many ways to keep track of plots and characters. I think methodology is a very individual choice and will touch on this in a later blog. What is certain is that the passionate reader will remember what happened several years ago and not forgive you the error.

10) Martin, the successful author is traveling around the world.  I am sure it is very interesting and gratifying, but you can tell a writer when he says: “These trips are fun but they do interfere with my writing.”

Write. Write. Write. This is a busy period for me at the work which puts the food on the table. Anticipating this, I am mainly editing and blogging. The next book will wait for a quieter part of the year. But man, am I cranky!  

Finally, I just loved this quote. It requires no comment.

“When I am writing best, I really am lost in my world. I lose track of the outside world. I have a difficult time balancing between my real world and the artificial world. When the writing is going really well, whole days and weeks go by and I suddenly realise I have all these unpaid bills and, my God, I haven’t unpacked, and the suitcase has been sitting there for three weeks.” 

If you’ve been there you know it. If you haven’t, I hope you soon discover it. Terry Brooks says that this is when the magic happens. Here’s to those magical moments: and many more books from the world of Westoros.

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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).