The Power Of The Bow – repost

Over the three days of November 17 -19, Amazon.com have decided to promote the 2013 Winner of the Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. The novel will be offered FREE in ebook form.

This is a wonderful opportunity for me and I request that, to support my sales rank and me, you download the book and invites your friends to do the same. Feel free to gift it on (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, anyone?).

To celebrate this and also the milestone of 100 blog posts on elfwriter.com, I wish to offer 10 of my favorite posts over the next three days. I hope you enjoy and, please, take a moment to download for FREE At The Walls Of Galbrieth and spread the word.

Thank you,

Alon

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There is a children’s movie just come out, Brave, with the heroine sporting a bow and arrow. Katnis, from the Hunger Games, was lethal with one. Legolas was extremely handsome even in the midst of a desperate fight for Helm’s Deep and never missed when he let fly.

It seems that a bow and arrow are integral ingredients in fantasy, even when the setting is modern enough for guns and technology. Bows were, of course, around before fantasy. Who can forget Robin Hood in the archery contest splitting his opponent’s arrow, which had pieced the center of the bull’s-eye? Classic.

And then there are the Samurai with their beautiful longbow, the Yumi. They didn’t just shoot it with their distinctive technique, but held a philosophical discipline, kyūjutsu, akin to Tai Chi and other spiritual martial arts.

Even after the bow became outdated as an effective weapon it remained a form of training for its warrior code value. The yumi was also fired from horseback because of its asymmetric shape and this practice evolved into a Shinto ceremony known as yabusame. At the risk of sounding trite, there is a beautiful scene in The Last Samurai, with the yumi being explained and fired.

In the West we have also been drawn to the spiritual values of the bow. Eugen Herrigel’s classic, Zen in the Art of Archery, is still a classic fifty years after he wrote it. My 13-year-old has become obsessed with archery. He made his own bow and learned how to shoot it from a teacher. He takes classes at camp and has spent over a year saving up to buy a ‘real’ bow. When I wrote two scenes in the third Wycaan Master book, he provided me with a lot of excellent and rich information. 

I’m still struggling with why the bow is so captivating. For some reason, I am not questioning the sword in the same way. Use of the sword is elegant, noble and also has numerous philosophies and katot (martial art form), but there is something that sets the bow apart and keeps us coming back for more.

Any ideas? Would love to hear in the comments below.  

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, offered by Amazon.com  for FREE on November 17-19. The sequel, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 are all released by Tourmaline Books. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

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Genre Conventions .v. Originality

“But this is how it’s done in epic fantasy,” I whine to my writer’s group. “It’s part of the convention.”

We are a bonded group, anxious to support each other and so I receive sympathetic smiles and diplomatic silence. The silence screams in my ears. I know they are right. If I have to fall back on a sentence like that, I am in trouble. Or am I?

How important is originality?

Utter originality is, of course, out of the question.” – Ezra Pound

Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” – Voltaire

I feel better already.

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” – Herman Melville.

Ouch!

Elves are tall, thin, have pointed ears, and excellent hearing. They look good in green, and shoot bow and arrows with exceptional accuracy.  Dwarves are short, rotund, live underground, mine and play around with axes. This is so because J.R.R. Tolkien put the epic in epic fantasy with his Middle Earth series’. Are the rest of us thus condemned to be mere recyclers of his work? Maybe. But I am not convinced how this is different from any other genre: romance has the same images and general plot arc. So does suspense and horror. And don’t get me started on dystopian thrillers.

So why do we so enthusiastically embrace conventions in a genre? It might be because some themes are simply timeless. I’m thinking Beowulf (maybe written in the eighth century) and The Odyssey (sixteen centuries before that!). Tolkien would concede that he was not the first, but when something works, you build your own version of it, and sometimes your version is good enough to capture the imagination of a very loyal readership. But it is not just enjoyment. It is pure escapism to a world we can get excited about, to values we can admire or fear (or both). It is also something familiar, something soothing. 

And yet when we embark on a new epic fantasy series, or try the work of a new author, we are seeking both something familiar and something original. What makes each author since Tolkien distinct is some aspect of his / her work. The relationship between Eragon and Saphira (his dragon), made Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series special. I have just started reading The Weight of Blood by David Dalglish (check out his cool book covers by Peter Ortiz) which is about two brothers (okay) who are not just orcs (hmmm), but half-orcs (ahhh). I was caught on page one. Dalglish has written a variance on the convention. So did R.A. Salvatore when he introduced Drizzt – a dark elf whose race were the opposite from the stereotypical elves. Five novels on, I am still intrigued. Daniel Arenson came up with his own original approach to dragons in the Song of Dragons series. 

Before I end, let me say how much I admire those who come up with something original – Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson – they capture us all and we devour their new approaches. But those who seek to ride their coattails are not so successful and I think this is very telling.

It says that while the fantasy readership will embrace a clever, well-written, new concept, that very concept might not establish itself beyond one brilliant author. Epic fantasy, however, with its elves, dragons and swords, continues to stand the test of time. This is not because our readership is lazy. Instead they demand depth – world building, characters, and a plot that offers a twist on a well-tested theme. They continue to surprise us with the familiar.

It’s a great genre to be a part of.

 Good Writing,

Alon 

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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).

Young Adults and the E-book Revolution

I have entered my Young Adult epic fantasy novel into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. My plan is if I do fall at some point to send submissions to about 20 agents and try to publish in the conventional way.

If this does not succeed, I assumed that I would then join the e-book revolution and hope to create enough splash to be picked up in the footsteps of Amanda Hocking and J.A. Konrath. I have read closely John Locke’s successful business model and would love to try it.

But today something hit me. Do young adults (10-18 year old) – my primary market for my epic fantasy series – read their books on e-Readers?

recently wrote: “The children’s and young adult e-book market faces special challenges not shared by the adult market, new research shows. And teens are slow to adopt e-books, in part because they do not see e-books as a social technology and they think there are too many restrictions on sharing digital titles.”

She reached her conclusion based on two online surveys commissioned by  PubTrack Consumer towards the end of last year who surveyed 1,000 teenagers and 1,000 parents of pre-teens. The details of the survey can be found here –  “Children’s Publishing Goes Digital.”

There are some interesting theories and statistics here. Firstly, youngsters are extremely social and want to share their books with friends and e-book technology is perceived as too restrictive. I thought that perhaps the teens did not have access to comfortable e-book readers. The majority has cell phones, but I am not including this. 60% of those surveyed receive technology from their parents as the latter upgrade.

makes another excellent point It is not just young adults propelling YA books like the Hunger Games trilogy onto e-book bestseller lists:

– 30-44-year-olds constitute 28 % of YA print book sales and 32 % of YA e-book sales. -18-29-year-olds buy the most YA books, purchasing 31% of YA print sales and 35% of YA e-book sales.

Making a decision to invest in the YA fantasy e-book market doesn’t look as attractive as for genres aimed at adults, but this is going to change as more young people receive the necessary devices. Also, the realization that the YA market goes not from 12-18, but 12-44 year olds make for a more encouraging prospect.

A final interesting point is that this age group is more likely to buy a book because of a recommendation on a social network.

Now, please excuse me, this 47-year-old is going to read The Hunger Games, recommended to me by my 13-year-old son.

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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).

What is The Future of Epic Fantasy?

I have mentioned in past posts that I am seeking to differentiate my novel from other epic fantasy series. I am being continually told by those insiders that every descent agent and publisher has five hundred manuscripts on their groaning desks about swords and quests and good .v. evil. Apparently these agents groan whenever an elf is mentioned (especially if s/he is tall, thin, loves nature etc.).

At the Berkeley Writers critique group, visitors often ask: what differentiates this from Lord of the Rings?

All this begs the question: what is the future of epic fantasy?

Is it okay to accept that there are certain conventions that are timeless? Are dwarfs small and stout, brave and ready for a rumble? Is it okay that they are miners and love to live underground?

Gimli - plenty of blades, no razor

Here are 10 basic ingredients that need to be questioned:

1) There is the good guy (or gal) and the bad one. The goods is the underdog, the bad is all-powerful, though hopefully will fall in the end.

2) Magic – the hero/heroine has something special about them that gives them a chance to win.

3) There is a teacher who mentors the hero/heroine.

4) The dwarfs are stereotypical – see above.

5) The elves are tall, beautiful, healers, wicked with the bow and arrows and…

6) Romance

7) Everything takes place in New Zealand-type environment.

8) There is a lot of walking about.

9) Swords, bows and arrows, lots of insignificant people dying.

10) Long novels, preferably in series form, with huge potential for movies.

Journeys that never end...

I have mentioned the high-concept challenge in earlier posts. The idea is to have something that is unique, that separates your fantasy novel from the rest. Enter Harry Potter and Hunger Games. 

And yet, we come back for more. A new novel from Terry Brooks or R.A Salvatore has us salivating. Christopher Paolini’s final book of the Inheritance series was eagerly awaited, and we all know when we are going to see the Hobbit movie even if we haven’t booked our summer vacations or filed our taxes.

When I mentioned the higher concept to a woman who has been reading my manuscript, she baulked. As long as there is a strong plot, a few twists, memorable characters, and a high level of writing, she said, a novel will always stand out from the rest.

The question is: Are the essential epic fantasy novel ingredients timeless? When Tolkien first created Middle Earth, did he set in motion a genre that will endure into the 21st Century?

The Master

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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 has been entered into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).