Dragons But Not Unicorns?

So there I was minding my own business, having merrily written 40,0000 words of a Magical Realism (“low fantasy –a sub-genre of fantasy fiction involving “nonrational happenings that are without causality or rationality because they occur in the rational world where such things are not supposed to occur.” – Brian Stableford – The A to Z of Fantasy Literature – I had to look it up a while ago).

I was quite happy imagining a Game of Thrones type book (I know, very different from the Wycaan Master series) and then one of my characters has to make an innocent quip: “Dragons don’t exist, do they?”

Before I could press save and turn off the laptop, before I could say – well, burn me to a cinder – there he (or she) was flying around, flapping those great wings, swinging that long spiked tail

“There goes my genre shift,” I thought as the next chapter appeared on my screen.

Now I was baptized in the fires of Smaug (actually I’m Jewish but Smaug as a Mohel performing a circumcision is frankly too disturbing), my sons flew in their imagination on the backs of Saphira and Christopher Paolini’s other dragons.

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But there is something about dragons that has kept them alive in our culture that is fascinating. The Chinese have a historic connection that goes back to, well it makes you wonder. In my homeland, Sir George had to slay one to become the patron saint of the Brits, and the dragon is possibly the most common and, dare I say, respected mythical animal in the fantasy genre.

So what is wrong with unicorns, for example? Why have they not become as popular? They can fight, heal, and even create powerful wands (which J.K. Rowlings wizard am I talking about?), but they have not caught our imagination like dragons.

Laying myself at the mercy of Google, I discovered that the dragon myth grew separately in China, Europe, and even the Americas and Australia. The Aussies have a number of animals including the Goanna that lend themselves to the myth. The Nile crocodiles were apparently much bigger than the one we know today and walked in an elevated gait. Whales and dinosaurs also add to the potential creation of the myth.

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But perhaps the most fascinating theory is suggested on the Smithsonian blog. I couldn’t find the author to attribute  – my apologies – but these are his/her words:

In his book An Instinct for Dragons, anthropologist David E. Jones argues that belief in dragons is so widespread among ancient cultures because evolution embedded an innate fear of predators in the human mind. Just as monkeys have been shown to exhibit a fear of snakes and large cats, Jones hypothesizes that the trait of fearing large predators—such as pythons, birds of prey and elephants—has been selected for in hominids. In more recent times, he argues, these universal fears have been frequently combined in folklore and created the myth of the dragon.

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Whatever created it, the myth of the dragon has deepened with the growth in popularity of the genre. Eragon’s relationship with Saphira and the history in the Inheritance Series is far more complex than Tolkien’s Smaug, or those Harry Potter had to deal with. George R.R. Martin skirts around the existence of dragons in his early books. His description of the crypts of Winterfell, and later when Aria is in the bowels of the capital, are almost a reverent tribute to these once majestic beasts.

It is a relationship that has captured the imagination of a generation. My sons, for whom Paolini was so influential, have devoured many books with dragons, without any sign of tiring. For them and others, I found this interesting artistic reflection of the sizes of the various dragons that Paolini creates – Enjoy.

Have a great week.

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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).

 

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!

Summer 2015 Reading Book 6

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).

The Paolini Empire Reawakens

It was confirmed over the summer: Christopher Paolini is writing a new Inheritance novel. I somehow missed the news while a depressing Presidential election held my limited attention. I’m not sure why: there is more depth in 50 pages of one of his novels than this issue-lite election. Let’s be honest – which of the three would you prefer?

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The four-book trilogy (every fan remembers the thrill at some point in the middle of the third book when they realized it wasn’t going to end and another 800 pages of Eragon would have to be written) provided a magically bonding experience for my family, along the lines of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and others.

My sons and I devoured every book: pouring over every word, listening to the audio versions on vacation, and watching the (only!!!!) movie. And yes, as loyal fans, we loved the movie even if it was not the greatest.

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When Paolini released Brisingr, my then 10-year-old son stood defiantly at the front of the line in our local Borders, falling asleep on his feet literally as the clock approached midnight. I will never forget the lady who was working there, encouraging him to stay awake and hang on. At exactly midnight, she put a copy that she had hidden under the counter into his hands and whispered that he should buy that very copy. It was the only book in the store that Christopher Paolini had personally signed. Five minutes later, my son was fast asleep in the car clutching his autographed copy by his hero who was barely ten years older than him.

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My son holding his autographed edition at the midnight release… a priceless moment!

I wrote a while back that Paolini must be one of the most underrated authors and shared that he disproved a number of important assumptions:

1. The young generation will read 400-page novels if the material is gripping enough.

2. They will read rich descriptions, convoluted plots, and identify with characters that are deep, vulnerable, and profoundly human (or elf or dwarf).

3.  They will thrive on a high level of language.

4. Tolkien might still be king, but he has good company. Paolini is young. His level of craft is only going to improve and that is an exciting prospect.

I have to admit to selfish disappointment when Paolini decided to stop writing after Book 4 and go to college. He had every right to want that rite-of-passage experience and, as a loyal follower, I had no right to resent him that.

I owe Christopher Paolini a lot.

As my sons and I bonded over the Inheritance series, a seed was sown. We sat together to write our own epic fantasy novel. At The Walls Of Galbrieth went on to win the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA and was a Grand Prize Finalist. Every summer for the next five years, I read the new manuscript to my sons while we camped under redwood trees that could have graced Alagaesia.

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Writing the 1st novel – a family effort!

The uncompromising standards that these fierce young editors applied to our work was harvested from the lessons learned from reading the Inheritance Series.

Now, just a few weeks before the launch of Calhei No More, the sixth and final book in the Wycaan Master series, it feels fitting to acknowledge the seeds were sown in the land of Alagaesia, on the wings of dragons, and in the art of an incredibly talented young man.

Summer 2015 Reading Book 6

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

So Christopher, if by any chance you ever read this: Thank you, as a reader, a fan, and a father. Welcome back! We missed you. Roll on Book 5! ——————————————————————————————————
Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth and four other novels all released by Tourmaline Books and currently all ebooks are at 99 cents each to celebrate his latest, the sixth in the series, which will be released on October 15, 2016.

More about the author at alonshalev.com.

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+

 

Fantasy – A Pagan Conspiracy?

First a big Thank You to the 30+ people who filled out my survey – Who Are My Target Audience – I am going to keep tweeting it and hopefully reach my goal of 50 responses (it makes it easy for my mathematically-challenged brain to do percentages).  If you have not had the time, please consider three minutes to answer ten questions by clicking here.

The first time I read that someone was uncomfortable with her children reading YA fantasy because of the Pagan themes running through it, I dismissed the reader as a maverick who is worried she won’t succeed in passing on her religious lifestyle to her children. But I have now seen this a couple of times.

I am sensitive to this. My first published novel, A Gardener’s Tale, follows the yearly cycle of the Pagan religion as it was (and still it) celebrated in rural Britain, and shines light on the struggle of Christianity to crush it.  While the novel was received enthusiastically in the Pagan community (their leader Vivienne Crowley called it “A beautiful and elegiac evocation of a timeless Britain and of a man of the ancient ways of the earth who brings peace and healing where the flames of persecution once burned.”), I incurred the wrath of many religious Jews and Christians.

The Pagan religion is based upon the agrarian cycle and the farmer’s connections to the earth. Being mysterious, the emergence of an earth-based religion, where there was power and magic in the earth and those who stewarded her (yes – her, another topic) were worshiped and studied.

A common theme in many books, mine included, is the source of magic comes from the earth, from nature, through animals and the elements. The Druids, so often mentioned, were a genuine religious order. The witches, millions of whom were burned at the stake as Christianity raised a frenzy of anti-women, anti-anything, were often healers who used herbs and minerals that were gifts from the earth. Even the Jedi Order harnessed an energy, the Force, from everything living around them.

Other common elements include the quest, the holy (magical) props, the connection with and reverence of nature. Most of all, however, is the power of story. All religions and spiritual practices maintain a powerful element of stories, legends, parables, a narrative history (the best selling book of all time, anyone?).

I am skeptical that there is an international conspiracy to revive the Pagan religion through instilling scintillating epic fantasy novels insidiously into the minds of our unsuspecting youth (now you are convinced that I am the High Priest – isn’t this how conspiracy theory works?).

However, it is not a huge leap of faith to think that those who put quill to parchment (there is probably an app for this) and write such stories do have aspirations of teaching certain noble morals and principles. I recently wrote in an interview:

“Working on the novel with my (now 12-year-old) son and seeing the potential to share my values and political beliefs while imbibing a profound love for storytelling and reading. I have seen the impact of the Harry Potter series and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series on my son and his friends. I want to help shape the landscape of the next generation’s imagination and maybe even the society they strive to create.”

Now if that is not a declaration to take over the world

Finally, one more plug – if you have a few minutes please fill out my survey – Who Are My Target Audience – and Thank You again to those who already have.

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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 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).

Who is Reading Epic Fantasy?

I’m reading a series of books about marketing my novels. They each prioritize a central marketing principle: Know Your Target Audience.

I realize, being relatively new to the epic fantasy scene that I don’t know who these people are. I have never frequented conventions or even chat groups online. When I go to social occasions, I often ask people what are you reading right now, because sports and politics can only go so far – and real men don’t discuss work or family (as a new immigrant to the US that’s what I was told).

But when I ask the question, people rarely say epic fantasy. During the days of Harry Potter, the Inheritance series, and now The Hunger Games, a man could come out of the library closet because his children were reading them and he was showing himself to be an in-touch father.

So here is my request. If you read epic fantasy, please answer as many of the following questions as you have patience for.

1. How old are you?

2. Are you male or female?

3. Where do you live?

4. Did you finish High School / Bachelors Degree / Masters Degree?

5. What is your profession?

6. Are you active on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, read and comment on blogs?

7. What do you look for in an epic fantasy book?

8. Do you read books on an eReader or as a hardcover/paperback? (if both, please assign a ratio).

9. How many books do you read a month?

10. Who is your favorite epic fantasy author? Why?

One last favor if I may. Please pass this on to friends and family who you think might read epic fantasy and ask them to mention your name as referral. I would like to offer the first 20 people who refer 3 responders to the survey an eBook of either:

The Accidental Activist  or

A Gardener’s Tale

Thank you for your help. I will publish the results if I can get 50 responses.

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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 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).

Writing A Fantasy Series Pt. 1

Christopher Paolini, the young author of the Inheritance Series (Eragon), was featured in The Writer. I was excited as the title was ‘Writing A Hit Series’, and Paolini has created a magnificent world in the 3,000 or so pages of his four novels.

I was disappointed with the interview. The reporter assumed that most of us didn’t know who Paolini is and what he has written. The story focused on a lot of the well-recorded autobiography (that I am sure most of us love) and the decision of the Paolini family to self-publish Eragon and travel around the country selling copies face-to-face.

But there were precious few tidbits regarding writing a series. Paolini structures his stories before he writes them. Fair enough. There are no surprises, we are told, except I wish to point out that Book Three became two books (how do you misplan an additional 700+ pages? – not that I am complaining, Mr. Paolini – you can write several more and I will faithfully buy and read them together with my sons).

My son holding his autographed copy at the midnight release... a priceless moment!

Paolini also stresses the need for a map. He warns that if there is a small mistake in detail between Book One and Four, true fans will notice.

As I continue to put Book Three of the Wycaan Master onto (virtual) parchment, (just passed the 25,000 word mark), I am continually realizing how much I must refer back to keep consistent, whether in language, appearance, or plot.

I love the spontaneity of allowing the plot to unfold. It works for me and it is part of the magic of writing. But I totally understand the value of a structured plan as Paolini suggests.

I keep three lists going: characters, chapter contents, and odds-and-ends. I do not provide much in terms of character appearance and history. I regret this now, as I need to sift through over 200,000 words. Chapter contents are kept brief – 1-2 sentences, but serves to help me refer back relatively quickly. Odd-and-ends is, well, a lot of unresolved issues, detail needed, clan structure and more.

A Great Place to Write Fantasy.

I have no doubt that there is so much more to remember and involved when writing a series. I think when I begin another, I might take more careful notes and listen more to authors like Paolini, Salvatore, and Brooks.

But I also think it is worth it. The depth and richness of a series is an incredible honor to write. More on that aspect next week.

Until then, good writing.

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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 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).