A Son’s Journey Begins…

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

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Not my usual elfwriter blog post, but…

In a few precious months, my oldest son will graduate high school and leave home. Sure, I could tell you with pride that he will participate in a social justice gap year program prior to going to university, but for the moment, I am just stuck on the idea that he is leaving home. A car advert – father watches son drive very nice car away from the home to… – had me in tears on an airplane.

My son recently read a book that intrigued him and he could not put down. Then he asked if I would buy him a hardcover copy that he could take with him, perhaps share with friends, or reread when he feels the need.

In case you are wondering, the book is called Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart by Dr. James Doty, and this got me thinking. All his life I have tried to instill a desire in my son to read. Of course, the more I pushed, the more he rebelled … just like when his darn father was as a kid. But there were times when we bonded over books.

I remember Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series, as we stood in line at midnight in Borders waiting for the next book, and the delight when the bookseller, seeing him literally falling asleep on his feet as he swayed and leaned against me, snuck the only autographed copy into his hands. He sleepily declared he would stay up all night reading it, before falling asleep in the car and then in his bed, tightly hugging the book.

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My son holding his autographed copy.

Then there were the Harry Potter series, a rite-of-passage for many parents and children. I am thrilled that we were a family during this exciting moment in time.

And, of course, there was his crucial role in the writing of the Wycaan Master series. He was the inspiration that led me to write the series and for six summers he listened and offered sound feedback around the campfire in the ancient redwood forests.

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Writing the 1st novel – a family effort!

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

But his request is not about the books that were, but the books that are and will be. So I am asking for your help: what are the books that influenced and guided you when you left your parents’ home?

Here are a few from my time at college that I am thinking of including:

  1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Persig.
  2. The Tao of Poo – Benjamin Hoff
  3. Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach.
  4. Iron John – Robert Bly.

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I am particularly interested in books for a young man, but am happy to corollate a list that is more specific for young women as well. Please share the books that influenced you when you were that age in the comments below.

Thank you,

An Apprehensive Father.

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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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Writers Hate Writing. Really?

I guess it used to be hard to write a novel, scribbling across the parchment with your quill, fretting every time you make a mistake, blotting the ink… Even a young 50-year-old like me wonders how he ever typed college papers … remember Tippex anyone (I believe it was called White Out here in the colonies)?

So now everyone’s a writer. I get it. But what I don’t understand is the complaining about writing. I opened a Writer’s Digest this weekend, an old one from the end of 2012, and it was full of articles on Writer’s Block, discipline, and how we need to force ourselves to write.

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In the space of 24 hours, I was interviewed by a high school student who kept asking about writer’s block, discipline, and how I maintain my focus; then I was invited to speak at a workshop on Writer’s Block.

In the aforementioned issue of Writer’s Digest, there are articles and a hilarious graph (way to go Zachery Petit) on doing everything but writing. One article is about overcoming writer’s block without willpower, another has you spending an hour or so writing and the rest of the day doing all kinds of wonderful “author” things like visiting bookstores and doing field research. There is an article about extreme measures authors took to keep their “butt in the seat,” including Frank Burrows who would chain himself to a chair and drink lots of Tab (a soda that is pretty torturous in itself) so that his bladder was bursting, I assume.

William Styron is quoted as saying: “I certainly don’t enjoy writing. I get a fine warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it: Writing is hell.”

The author of the article continues: “I get it. I get why writers hate writing.”

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I don’t! I really don’t! If you don’t enjoy writing don’t do it. There are things we all have to do: taxes, flossing, cleaning the bathroom, but not writing. Sure there are hard times: when the plot doesn’t work, or when your heroine does something out-of-character, but to hate writing?

I LOVE writing. I can’t wait to fire up my laptop and pound the keys. When I am not writing, I become frustrated and (according to my family) pretty darn annoying. I LOVE the thrill of the unknown plot twist. I CRAVE the company of my characters, and I RIDE the adrenaline rush of the scenes unfolding under my fingertips.

When a beloved character fails or dies, I cry. When battle is joined, I apparently mumble and wince out loud as people are wounded or killed. I have never learned how to type properly (touch typing?), but my fingers fly across the keyboard as I get increasingly excited. Sure there are many squiggly red and green lines, but I can worry about that later.

When I finish a novel, the first thing I want to do is celebrate. The second thing is to start the next book. In my own fantasy world, I would just write the novels. Others would edit, market and do all the other ‘stuff’ that authors need to do these days. I just wanna write.

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I don’t mean nothing else. I love my day job and feel I am, as Steve Jobs expressed: ‘helping to put a dent in the world.’ I love my family and am truly blessed to have a soul mate who tolerates me with all my quirks. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

The high school student asked at the end of our interview:” “When do you know you are a writer?” I answered that it’s when you never leave the story, even when you are doing something else. It’s when you crave returning to the computer and when you take immense pride in the story unfolding.

That is my answer. Every author probably has something different to offer and I am sure they are all right. But I hate writing just doesn’t make any sense.

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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+

 

Why Do Adults Gravitate To Young Adult Fiction?

I believe that more adults are reading the epic fantasy Wycaan Master series than young adults. I know there is a fair proportion of teenagers and even pre-teens reading, but judging by the emails, blog comments, and twitter responses, it is predominately adults. This is all despite the books being written for and with my children, which I describe here. It begs the question why are adults drawn to Young Adult (YA) books?

imgresI found this article by Kelly Johnson. In her post, she debunks the following statements (her words):

1. Our culture encourages an unnatural and prolonged adolescence 

2. YA books are escapist since you don’t have to look beneath the surface of them. They are easier to grasp.

3. Adults read YA because they aren’t able to read past a middle school or high school level because adults are getting dumber and dumber.

4. YA books are about hopefulness. Their problems aren’t really problems and they can be fixed. Also there’s always a happy ending, so it’s satisfying and fulfilling to adults. The characters are likable. 

5. Fill in the blank with your own justification here. Some examples may include: YA is all about first experiences; YA is nostalgia for adults; YA is cheaper than adult books and therefore more appealing to the wallet; and so forth.”

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I enjoyed Ms. Johnson’s fiery responses to these statements, but I felt let down when she finished with: “The only justification for why adults read YA books is this: they choose to. That’s it. That’s their reason. Adults read YA books because they as adults choose to do so.

I am disappointed. None of these reasons explain why an adult, working, raising a family, involved in a community, volunteering, following a sports team etc. would be so moved to take a few precious hours each day to sit and read, and then often reach out and engage with the author, fellow readers, come back to buy more books, and enter deep discussions online and at the pub.

Fiction is all about the plot, the characters, and the environment. It is true for John Grisham and Stephen King, and it is true for Terry Brooks, Christopher Paolini, and R.A. Salvatore.

When I read a John Grisham book, I am transported to Mississippi, to another time, and when I close the book at the end of a chapter, I worry about his characters and their choices. It is no different to George R.R. Martin who may kill off a few popular characters in the next chapter if he had a bad day.

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The issue, I think, is how we perceive YA. A young adult book means there is no sex, less violence and no profanity. There are certain boundaries not crossed if we want our youth to read them. But that is all it is. There is nothing here to prevent an adult from enjoying the book, unless you assume we are all sex-starved, violent, expletive-charged individuals, which would be sad, especially if this is how Hollywood and the mass media perceive us.

I am taking a few months break from the fourth Wycaan Master book to write an adult fantasy book.

I have not felt a need to raise the richness of language.

I have not made the characters deeper and more compelling.

I have not sought a more complex plot.

I have not deepened or diluted my world-building.

There are, to be honest, issues dealt with here that may be too dark to share with youth. I share a lot with my teen son, but would hesitate to share certain passages here. Characters deal with fears and obstacles that most of us who have children might not want them to read. There is sex and more graphic violence than in the Wycaan Master series, but that might yet get dialed down.

So what does make adults gravitate to YA novels? The problem is not with the answer. The question is simply wrong.

People read a story because it has a good plot, characters that the reader can bond with, a world that stimulates the imagination. This is the same for adults as it is for YA. YA is written within certain criteria in order to make them a safe space of teens. It certainly does not mean dumbing down or becoming predictable.

The discerning reader will be drawn to a book in their chosen genre simply because it is good: plot, characters, environment and strong writing.

A good novel is a good novel is a good novel…

So this seems like a good time to thank all of you who bought Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 and any of my other novels. I read every blog comment, every tweet, every priceless review on Amazon.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Have a great week.

elfwriter

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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. 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+ here.