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).

Guest Post from Elwin Cotman – exciting young author.

Elwin read his previous collection, The Jack Daniels Sessions to our writers group. His new book – Hard Times – is out and his book launch is at Pegasus bookstore in Berkeley later this week. Elwin has a uniques way of writing, but his voice when reading is amazing. Well worth an evening.

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Back to Reality

1To the bearer of the sandbag: slide back two steps for every one you gain, because the levee does not give ground easily.

2Leper steps, needles pricking his calves and thighs.

3His life measured in steps of ten, one after the other, then again.

4Behind the rifle aimed at his cheek: a hairy face plastered with three stripes of black hair and his

5Eyes like the heads of rusted nails, lips drawn back from broken teeth.

6The deputy kept as close to him as a brother, his curses swallowed by the storm.

7Or maybe he had lost his voice and moved his mouth in hateful habit.

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The above excerpt is from “The Revelation of John,” a story in my new collection Hard Times Blues. It deals with the Flood of ’27, when terrible storms devastated the Mississippi delta. Blacks along the Mississippi lost their crops, their livelihoods. They also lost their freedom: black men, like my protagonist, were forced to work the levee in a vain attempt to stop its breaking. Equally as terrifying was the aftermath, when the Army Corps of Engineers abused the blacks who survived. It is a tragic event in US history, and most people I’ve met have never heard of it.

But it is a part of our history. And my genre of choice—fantasy—is the perfect way to explore it.

I write fantasy because it is fun. The inclusion of dragons and elves automatically makes a story more engaging for me. However, my subject matter is often not fun. Even in entertainment, the tragedy of the black experience is inescapable. Nor should it be escaped. It should be dealt with head on so that the world does not forget. The events of Hurricane Katrina becomes especially egregious when people know the same thing happened almost 100 years ago. Past and present are one.

As a kid, I spent my days and nights in Prydain, Narnia, Redwall Abbey, and Krynn. I always felt left out because there were hardly any black characters in these stories. It was when I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved that I saw how fantasy could tell my American story. Here was a horror story, with all the dread and uncertainty that makes good horror. The horror itself stemmed from slavery. The ghost of the dead daughter served to make the story more realistic; a key to learning the degradation of black people.

In my work, I explore historical injustice, police brutality, gentrification. They stem from of a desire to bring these issues to light, but also because they reflect my experience. My world is a multicultural one, and my writing is my truth . . . filtered through dragons and zombies. I once asked Charles de Lint, who some consider the father of urban fantasy, if he ever ran into resistance from publishers for writing black and indigenous characters. His reply was that any publisher who had those reservations wasn’t worth his time.

De Lint is a wonderful fantasist, with stories of fairies and bards that would enchant you. More important, his work is compassionate, addressing the lives of the indigenous, the homeless, the survivors. His writing brings you back to reality.

That’s what fantasy does for me: it brings light to the real world. It also offers the perfect platform for tales of heroism. The Afro-American experience holds numerous stories of rebellion against overwhelming odds. Thanks to fantasy, I have the language to honor this history and heroism.

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Elwin  Michael Cotman is a writer of urban and folkloric fantasy. He blogs at www.lookmanoagent.blogspot.com. Hard Times Blues can be ordered on Amazon,com here.