When Authors Reach For Immortality

Recently, I listened to an interview with the famous Israeli author, Amos Oz, a literary icon I grew up admiring. Now, well into his 70’s, he is as vibrant and inspirational as ever. There was something he said in the interview that resonated with me. He claimed to have made up a number of words that he used throughout his books. He was stoked one day when, while in conversation with a cab driver who did not recognize his passenger, the man used one of Amos Oz’s words. Oz suggested that his modest contribution to the Israeli language was his own brush with immortality.

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If this is so, I am quite proud of my own. When reading the manuscript of my first YA epic fantasy novel, At The Walls of Galbrieth, which won the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA, to the Berkeley Writer’s Group, the female members of the group took exception to the term she-elf to delineate my female elves from males.

And so, after much discussion and debate, she-elves asserted themselves as elfes, and even saw the former term as an insult throughout the Wycaan Master series. Fast forward three years, and a newer member of the group while presenting his YA epic fantasy novel, used the same word, believing it part of the genre. I was, and remain, chuffed every time he uses the word.

images-6A friend from your writer’s group, is certainly a far cry from a random taxi driver (though no Israeli cabbie is ever random – you have to take a cab in Israel to appreciate them) of course. But I am hardly comparable to Amos Oz, an author widely expected to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

And so I offer elfe to the epic fantasy world, along with calhei (elf children) and ahdahr (elf father). Last week, I mentioned that, while I have sent the manuscript of Book 4 to the editor, I am struggling with a title. The protagonist is a female, so I guess at least I have one word worked out!

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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+

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Epic Fantasy, Epic Tattoos

I take my tattoos pretty seriously and see them as a rite-of-passage. I have three, each celebrating a landmark event. I got the first when Ms. Elfwriter and I got married and the other two when my sons were each born. I often joke that the reason there will not be a third child is that I can’t afford the tattoo. I actually did plan another tattoo to celebrate the Wycaan Master series, but I haven’t done it yet.

I have often wondered about incorporating my love for body art into my books. I have this association, when it comes to fantasy, of tattoos and the bad guys. If they are essentially used to signify evil, I take issue.

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Having just discovered the Iron Druid series, I have found at least one author who has delved more than a cursory skin deep level (couldn’t resist).

Hearne’s protagonist is a Druid who draws power from the earth … through his tattoo. Hearne describes the tattoo beautifully as it moves from the soles of his feet to cover all the energy points on his body. In Book 1, we even learn something of the significance and the process. Note to Mr. Hearne – we, the readers, would love to learn more of this.

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Credit to another writer – Paul Goat Allen – who wrote a blog post that asked what is your favorite literature image that you can imagine making into a tattoo.

But, as an author of Young Adult fantasy, is it okay to romanticize or elevate the art of tattoos? Certain religions forbid it – I will not be allowed to be buried in a Jewish cemetery since I have defiled my body, which was created in G-d’s image.

Putting aside any desire for my ashes to be thrown from the Golden Gate Bridge (there is probably a law against that as well – but hey, I’ve already apparently pissed off YAWEH) – there are many parents who, I am sure, do not want their children getting a tattoo on the whim of a fictional character.

My own sons, justifiably proud that I bear a tattoo of each of them, have already told me of the various images they plan to emblaze on their bodies. I promised that when they are 18, if they still want them, I will take them to get their first tattoos (to add proportion, I have also promised to buy their first round when they turn 21 – good parenting, I am told, is all about consistency). I do, however, also point out the painful process, which helps to somewhat quell their impatience.

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And yet tattoos do have a rich, spiritual past. If fantasy authors are trying to illustrate such a fantastical bygone age, why should we shirk from a bit of body art? I am trying to imagine a conversation with a concerned parent.

“Look, Mr. Shalev, I really appreciate that you have written several books that my son is enjoying more than endless video games, but really! He now wants a tattoo. Do you have to keep harping on about it? It is so crude.”

“Crude?”

“Yes. All those needles and blood.”

“Have you told your son about this process?”

“Goddess no. He would have nightmares, poor little tyke.”

“Has he told you about the fighting in my books, slaying good and bad guys with swords and bows?”

“Oh yes. He wants to take up archery, the sweetie. At least it will get him out of the house, I say.”

“Great. By the way: what’s his favorite video game?”

“Grand Theft Auto. He just loves his little cars.”

“Do you have a problem with that?”

“Of course not. Burt Reynolds starred in the movie you know. Anyway, it’s only a game.”

True, I think. Only a game. This is literature!

And to end with a question in the vein of Paul Goat Allen’s post: What fantasy image, character, or phrase, could you imagine having tattooed onto your body? Answers in the comments, please.

Thank you! 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, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. 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).

Elves, Dwarves and Political Activists

“You can’t be serious!” she exclaimed, wrinkling her nose as though I had just made a pass at her, or uttered a politically incorrect sentiment. “You write about elves and dwarves running from one end of the world to another killing each other and making long speeches? I thought you were a serious writer.”

In honesty, she had not seen me for a few years, and even then, knew me in the context of my more political work environment. To her credit, she recovered and apologized, and I was able to refrain from pouring my drink into her lap. It was, after all, a good scotch.

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Friend or not, intentional or not, it still hurt. I thought I had past this stage, smoothly presenting myself as ‘an author who writes in two genres’. I have practiced my opening line and it is now delivered with confidence.

I am involved in social justice causes. Even in my short eight years living in the US, I have built a fair resume of involvement. I have taken students almost every year to New Orleans, not only to help rebuild a community, physically and emotionally, but to bear witness so that the millennials will not make the mistakes we have. I have been involved in various campaigns here and abroad.  I know my local food bank well. Hey, you never had a black President before I came to the US! 

But yes, I love to lose myself in Middle Earth, Alaegasia, Westeros and, dare I add it to the list: Odessiya. It’s a nice break from the intensive campus environment to deal with stubborn dwarves and idealistic elves. While closeted in an urban concrete jungle, it is relaxing to ride a horse through ancient forests, over great ice plains, and to quaff an ale or puff a pipe (without the health risks) with good friends, all from a computer screen or ebook reader.

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 The San Francisco Bay Area is intensely populated by variety of the human species often identified by salt-and-pepper haired, wrinkled, colorful attire, and provocative bumper stickers. These aging ideologues have rich resumes of demonstrating against wars, civil rights. Watergate, and more recently, more wars, gay rights, and gun control.

While there are many who have fallen by the wayside, succumbing to burnout, those who have maintained their energy to keep demonstrating and fighting for what is right, all seem to have a secret place they go to recharge, relax, and to return energized to make the world a better place to live in. It might be literature, meditation, family, friends, food, nature … it doesn’t matter. As a friend once said: Fixing the world is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Yeah, I write about elves and dwarves doing brave acts and striving for justice and honor. Sure I write about battles and loves, about friendships and magic, about the power of nature and good fighting evil.

It energizes me, often provides clarity and vision. And if I do occasionally wonder what Seanchai or Shayth might do about gun control or why some people are denied the rights and opportunities their neighbors have, well that’s because fantasy is not quite as far-fetched and detached from reality as my shocked friend might think.

God created the world in six day and on the seventh s/he rested…and may well have deservedly read Lord of the Rings.

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Here’s to whatever it takes for each of us to continue the journey we’ve chosen!

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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 @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

 

Teaching LOTR in School

English Teacher and novelist, Roger Colby, proses teaching Tolkien in school. Here he explains in his excellent post. Your thoughts?

Thanks for the feedback to my previous Tolkien posts. Have a great weekend.

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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 Is Hard Work

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is probably one of the most important texts written in the 20th century.  It is also a text that most students can read without much difficulty if given proper time.  Most teachers do not realize that the epic saga can be used to teach most of the Common Core Standards.  I have devised a unit for English teachers to use which is based on a unit I taught a few years ago when I was experimenting with using Advanced Placement style instruction in an at-level classroom.  It will work well for Common Core and will work for a freshman or sophomore class as juniors focus on American literature while seniors focus on British literature.

1.  Unit Thematic Questions – I ask several questions (meant for free-writing sessions) before we begin reading the text: What does power mean to you?  State several types…

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Advise For Writers From The Hunger Games

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie but plan to, you might want to skip this week’s blog post.

I actually posted this on Left Coast Voices but wanted to share this with elfwriter followers as well. There have been a number of articles gleaning lessons from the Hunger Games for their preferred audience. Apparently, everyone is getting protective about having the original idea and the others not giving credit to them. So let’s get that behind us: I had the idea for this post after reading David Berkowitz‘s article for a fundraising magazineThank you, David.

For those of you from another planet, “The Hunger Games,” is an amazing high-concept story about a post-apocalyptic society that annually sacrifices twenty-three teenagers as a way of reminding everyone who is in power.

1) Define Your Goals: Set A Few Simple Tasks: It took Katniss (the heroine) a while to decide what she needed to do in order to win (kill the others). Her mentor gave her clear first steps – get away from the Cornucopia, find water and shelter – which in turn gave her confidence and momentum. 

2) Know What You Are Writing: Heroine Katniss is the archer. Her cohort Peeta could pin Hulk Hogan. Figure out what your strengths are and play to them.

 3) Know Your Target Audience And Find Them:  Cinna, is a one of the most enjoyable characters in both book and movie. He is Katniss’ and Peeta’s stylist, responsible for ensuring that the crowd sit up and notice them. Together with Haymitch, their district’s adviser, they come up with a strategy to earn not only the support of the people, but also the all-important sponsors (media outlet or publishers for authors). What is important is that they stick to the strategy and maintain a consistent message.

4) Find Your Own Platform, And Get Comfortable With It: Katniss soon learned that the forest was her friend, using the stealth methods she had honed hunting. Likewise, she was both good and familiar with the bow as her weapon.

As authors, we often join every social media and adopt every tactic, essentially not doing much in any category. Choose a platform – blog, Facebook, etc. and consistently work through it. If you decide to go via bookstores, be consistent and follow up with every bookstore before, during and after an event.

5) Be Generous – There Is Something To Karma: Katniss had endured a tough childhood and carried the obvious scars. She was stubborn, a rebel, and uncooperative with her advisor and most everyone else. But she cared about others and this eventually paid off. Three other tributes saved her life because of this.

We are not competing with other authors. People aren’t choosing between their books and ours. Help others, share your experience, be generous with your time. People remember who stood by them and supported them. They will be there for you.

6) The Rules Change: The organizers freely change the rules in the Huger Games to suit their own goals. There is nothing fair or just, they simply want to achieve their own goals. Be ready to change tactics. If you are only selling books out the back of your car (still works for me!), and not on the Internet, you haven’t been paying attention.

7) Choose and Trust a Mentor: Haymitch, the advisor to Katniss and Peeta, was the only other citizen from their district to survive and win the Hunger Games. As a rude, obnoxious recluse who is also an alcoholic, he doesn’t really inspire.  But he made it and knows his stuff. Find a mentor and stick with them.

 

8) The Odds Are Never In Your Favor: so get over it. There is no guarantees for success.  It is not quite as bad as the Hunger Games where there are no second or third chances. Read a lot. Learn from others’ mistakes, learn from yours, and okay: may the odds be ever in your favor.

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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).

 

Welcome Back Old Friends

It takes about four months for me to write a first draft of a novel. The rest of the year is spent editing the manuscript and promoting the books that I have already published.

I actually enjoy editing and marketing, but there is no rush here to compare to writing a novel. It is extra special, I think, when writing a series. In my political fiction, I have just begun the third in a series, and I have put it aside while I write the third book in the Wycaan Master series.

It is strange to finish a novel in a series and walk away from the characters that I have created. They seem to think they can still follow me around, hang out with me at the gym, intrude when I am trying to write something else, and sit in my car while I am driving.

 Most often, they appear in real people. It might be a comment, a mannerism, or an accent. Sometimes a person will say something and I will stare at them. These poor victims then feel a need to explain themselves because they fear they have just offended me. But really I am thinking that the Wycaan teacher Mhari might have said that, or Ilana would have arched her hip in exactly that way.

The worst part is when I suddenly think of a better way that one of my characters might have said something or dealt with a situation. I am consumed with concern or guilt and chastise myself, like a parent who missed an educational opportunity with a child.

 

But beginning a book is like welcoming old friends back after a long time apart. It is the family gathering once or twice a year. There is so much to catch up with, new stories and challenges, people growing up, flourishing or struggling. It is a fusion of the familiar and the potential.

 It is an amazing journey, and I could not walk it without the characters of my books by my side.

Welcome back, old friends.

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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).