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.

Pele w:Eragon

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.

The Fatherly Figure in Fantasy

As a warm up for reading this blog, please  say the following five times as quickly as possible: The Fatherly Figure in Fantasy.

I shared some thoughts on Left Coast Voices regarding Father’s Day this Sunday. But it occurred to me that the father figures in epic fantasy gets a tough time. Here is a brief overview of a few of our beloved characters and their fathers (I acknowledge that I am encompassing a wide definition of the genre for this post. Purists – please excuse me this once).

WARNING: There might be spoilers here, so I am giving the name of the character first and won’t be offended if you skip that part.

1. Luke Skywalker:

I know this is sci-fi and not fantasy, but we have all hung there with Luke as his father, who had just chopped off his arm, now looms over him with a lightsaber. What a time to discover your father! As if it is not enough that your uncle and aunt who brought you up were murdered, now you discover your father is a metallic mass-murderer.

Suggestion: Do not buy Dad a lightsaber. It is the first step to the Dark Side and he already has plenty of power tools he never uses.

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2. Tyrion Lannister:

So your father abused you and openly hated and insulted you. As if you don’t have enough to contend with two older, beautiful siblings, who are bonking, or the fact that you were born stunted and are accused of killing your mother as she gave birth to you. Not hard to understand why A Lannister Always Pays His Debts!

Suggestion: Don’t give your father a ‘quarrel’ even if he deserves it.

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 3. Eragon:

Also grew up never knowing his true father and then, like Luke Skywalker, finds his uncle, who was like a father to him, is murdered in his stead. Of course, no sooner does he discover who his father really is, than he has to bury him, and take considerable blame for brave father’s death.

Suggestion: Giving your old man your dragon/porche just before he dies is classy, but do check your insurance policy first.

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4. Drizzt Do’Urden:

Gotta give the dark elf considerable credit. He grew up in the Drow city of Menzoberranzan. where all males were merely fighters and concubines. Of course his mother and sisters abused him and tried to kill him, and by the time he discovered who his father really was, well…I don’t think he even got to bury him.

Suggestion: a bit stumped here. When your father gave you a genetic sense of justice, enough to turn you against your mother and sisters, what can you really reciprocate with? 

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Artist – Noche

5. Frodo Baggins:

I admit, I had to look this up and cannot guarantee my sources. Frodo’s father was Drogo and we don’t know much about him other than he went and drowned in a boating accident. Hobbits should know not to participate in such dangerous and adventurous pastimes as boating. At least, Frodo had a nice secure upbringing with his first cousin once removed (and not his uncle as even dear Bilbo often referred to himself). It was not as though Bilbo passed on any artifact that was incredibly dangerous and held the fate of the entire Middle Earth!

Suggestion: Stay away from the jewelry!!!

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In epic fantasy we gravitate to protagonists who are the underdogs, who overcome adversary, and make great personal sacrifice. But we also seem to be sending out a message to our young readers that the absent/weak/villain father is the norm.

It must not be so. Every young man deserves a father who is a role model, imperfect and flawed as we may be, but a father who will teach him to fish, nock an arrow, believe in a just society, and to be a good human being…or elf…dwarf etc.

I’m sure if we were to meet Luke, Eragon, Tyrion, Drizzt or Frodo in a pub, they would all agree that they wished they had fathers they could truly appreciate and learn from.

Perhaps being the best father you can is the greatest quest any of us can embark on. It may not save Middle Earth or Menzoberranzan, but it will make our world a better place to live in.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

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).

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).

 

Fantasy as a Vehicle for Social Justice

I believe passionately that writers of fiction  can ply their craft to help effect positive social change and offer a platform for values and principles. The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale both reflect this and I have a series of books focusing on social issues in the US (all based on San Francisco) beginning with Unwanted Heroes which will be released by Three Clover Press in the spring and highlight the way we treat war veterans and the homeless.

I was delighted when Kaitlyn Cole from Online Universities shared a list that their faculty had put together entitled: 50 Best Novels For Political Junkies.

Kaitlyn wrote: “True story: Some of the best political novels aren’t explicitly about politics. Yes, some of the books on this list deal directly with governments and politicians, with laws and the ways they’re made or abused, and with the peril and promise inherent in every governing body. But some of them use adventure, parable, or satire to subtly explore our political system with a depth that wouldn’t be possible any other way.”

Great point and relevant to those of us who write political fiction. But how about fantasy? Is there room to use our elves and dwarves to promote social injustices or causes? 

Over the last two summers I was blessed with the amazing experience of writing two fantasy novels together with my 11-year-old son. While I have read a few fantasy novels, I had no idea about the “rules” of the genre.

Writing with my son, however, compelled me to include moral issues such as racism, dictatorship and freedom, as well as the values of friendship and freedom. I was writing for my son and there are plenty of swords, quests, elves, dwarves etc., but as I watched him read and listened to his feedback, I waited for his comments about such issues and derived huge satisfaction when he brought up issues.

In setting my goals for an exercise at Author Salon, I wrote:

“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.”

My lack of knowledge regarding fantasy leads me to ask the question: Can fantasy offer a vehicle to discuss political and social injustice? I would love to hear your answers fantasy-fans.

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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).

The Power of Paolini

Anyone reading this blog is probably very aware that this week Christopher Paolini released the fourth book in the Inheritance Trilogy (sorry Christopher – even though we are all thrilled that there are another 800 pages of Eragon, we all remember the moment somewhere in the third book when we realized it was not going to end there).

The Final One

Our copy of Inheritance will arrive in the next couple of days and my 12-year-old will devour it, before passing it on to me, hopefully in time for the Thanksgiving vacation. It has been a wonderful bonding experience. Whether it is Harry Potter or Eragon (or most likely both) who are responsible for his leap in reading ability and desire is immaterial, I am eternally grateful to Paolini and J.K. Rowling.

My son and I spent endless hours reading the books, listening to the audio version, watching the (only!!!!) movie, and discussing how it will end in Brisingr, the third and not final book of the trilogy, and then Inheritance.

When Paolini released Brisingr, my then 10-year-old stood defiantly at the front of the line in our local Borders, falling asleep on his feet literally as the clock approached midnight. I remember 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.

The autograph & the fan.

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.

Paolini has proved a number of important points:
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.

Two years later, my son and I wrote our first 90,000-word fantasy novel. The seeds were sown in the land of Alagaesia, on the wings of dragons, and in the art of an incredibly talented young man.

The Master

As the excitement has grown for my eldest son and I as the release date for Inheritance neared, my youngest son,  who is eight-years-old, has quietly read more than 250 pages of Eragon.  

So Christopher, if by any chance you ever read this: Thank you, as a reader, a fan, and a father.

The Trilogy!

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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 alonshalev.com and on Twitter (#elfwriter).