Happy Hobbit Day 2017

I’m sure you had this one in your calendar, right? According to wise scholars and the blissfully lost, both Bilbo Baggins and his nephew, Frodo, celebrate their birthdays on this very day. So, we should too!

I’m not too big on birthdays now that I am a grown up and somewhat jaded middle-aged adult. The conversation is so often forced as are the smiles. We try to put aside our personal stress and the terrible things happening in the world, but they hover there in the empty plastic wine glass and  the ominous pin on your mobile with a news update.

Still, we turn up and play the game. We do it because we love the people in the room, we share a common history and know these people have stepped into the breach to help us and would again without the slightest hesitation. 

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My relationship to Bilbo and Frodo is not quite like this, but I do feel a strong loyalty to a certain, pipe-smoking, tweed-wearing professor, who gave me hours of fun and anxiety as I plowed through his amazing tomes and, after he passed away, the visual creations on the big screens.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a big influence on my writing. His work encouraged me to take my time and allow the reader to get close to the character of the Wycaan Master series. I know from the emotional reaction of readers, when key figures die or do stupid things, that I have succeeded in this, and I doff my hat to the old professor.

He allows me to spend time building a world that is both magical and vivid, to set out on long journeys, to feel overawed by the evil in the world, but to keep moving forward, nonetheless. 

But he has shown me other values that extend beyond the written page. The value of struggling against evil is apparent and more important than ever. We believe that Tolkien was inspired to write The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings from his horrendous experiences in World War One. Here is a lovely interview with his grandson, Simon Tolkien. 

While this is an important trait, I would prefer to focus on another theme: that of friendship. It permeates throughout the Fellowship and these characters are tested beyond anything most of us will ever experience. I have known the camaraderie of soldiers on a combat unit. Though three decades have passed since we served, the group have got together via WhatsApp. There is something profoundly comforting in seeing the threads and conversations.

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As we celebrate friendship and this special day for our favorite hobbits, I would like to thank you for your friendship and loyalty. While we have never ventured near Mordor together, I do appreciate those who downloaded a free copy of Kingfisher: Slave to Honor. Please read or flip through the novel and leave a review. This is how the publisher decides whether to pick up the novel and publish it. 

In case you were too busy on your own quest, here is a blog post I wrote about the fascinating process – The New Publishing Model.
Thank you for being a part of my own author’s quest. Happy Hobbit Day,

Alon

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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 novels in the Wycaan Master series, all released by Tourmaline Books. More information about Alon and his novels can be found here.

Download a free copy of Alon’s new medieval fantasy novel as a publisher gauges interest and reader feedback.

 

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A Book For My Birthday – Exciting Announcement!

Today is my birthday and I plan to celebrate. Not that I have too much desire now I’ve crossed the half century to acknowledge my growing maturity, or lack thereof. Let’s face it, what can you expect from a guy who loves writing stories about elves and dwarves, swords and magic?

But I do have cause to celebrate beyond the spreading gray hair. As I hope you noticed, Book 5 of the Wycaan Master series never came out in the spring, mainly because I forgot to stop writing and was 10,000 words into Book 6 before the folks at Tourmaline Books noticed. Apparently in the publishing world, where writer’s block is prevalent and distraction hovers around every corner, you never tell an author to stop writing when s/he is in the zone.

So by the end of 2014 we had two manuscripts, one unpolished and the other barely decipherable. But it is worth celebrating. Then we worked on a title. I had this great idea that resonated with absolutely no one and after much list making, brainstorming, and head banging on desks, we have one.

My fearless book cover artist (and fantasy author), William J. Kenney then came up with a beautiful book cover, based upon my ideas. This was soon ditched and a new direction taken. But it is ready to roll out. There are also ISBN and LCCN numbers, but I’ll save you the tension of waiting. So…..drumroll please:

Presenting: From Ashes They Rose

Publication Date: September 1. 2015.

Book 5 Cover FINAL

Finally, if you would like to help celebrate my birthday, here are two gifts I would really appreciate:

  1. Buy one of the Wycaan Master novels listed below (perhaps the winner of the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA) and gift it out to someone who will appreciate it.
  2. Write an honest review on Amazon for any of the books linked below. Want me to choose? The First Decree and Ashbar need more reviews.

Thank you for being such great friends and supporters. And to the man in Texas who wrote to complain that Book 5 is late, I say … Thank you for caring. You made my day!

Happy Birthday to me. I  have a new novel placed on the 90-day publication track and it ain’t as fattening as birthday cake!!
Alon

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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. 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+

The Magic of Story

The man brought a smile to my face. He wore a gray suit; a red power tie, shiny black shoes and he made his way through the streets of San Francisco’s Financial District this early Thursday morning. I really should not have followed him, but I needed the walk before starting my day… and I needed to know what captivated him.

 

Not quite as cool as this guy, but you get the idea!

Not quite as cool as this guy, but you get the idea!

You see, the man was oblivious to where he was walking, who he passed, or who sat in the plethora of breakfast venues, already deep in crucial meetings. He was in a world of his own.

Well not exactly his own, I discovered. To be exact, he was in a world that Stephen King had created. The man, dressed ready for another day where millions of dollars might pass from one pocket to another, destined by the scribble of his signature or click of his mouse, could not tear himself away from the grip of the novel he read as he walked.

And that, my friends is the magic. That is why we write: not just to tell the story that must be told, but also to transfer our readers to a world we created. Most writers, I believe, know the adrenaline rush of being sucked into their own story.

When I wrote the climatic chapters of Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, I wrote 10,000 words almost without a break. My long-suffering better half recalls how my lips moved and scattered, broken sentences leaving my mouth. I remember nothing but the urge to pound the keyboard. It could have been smoking as armies clashed, heroes died, and evil was vanquished (or not – read the book J).

I love watching my sons read my novels, but I have never yet seen an adult totally absorbed as the businessman was this morning. I have a fond memory of a mother telling me that she can’t pry her son from Sacrificial Flame and, while cute, he is not doing his homework.

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I apologized as sincerely as I could muster. I’ve no doubt she saw through my pathetically concealed smug expression. I once saw a woman reading another of my books, The Accidental Activist, on the train – that was thrilling.

But I want to see a person, walking the streets, trying to wrench him/herself from the clutches of one of my novels, to apologetically insert the bookmark, close the book, and count down the hours until the commute home and the opportunity to return to Seanchai and the land of Odessiya.

I want to be Stephen King, even if just for a morning walk in the Financial District. I want to see one of my novels cast its magic on some unsuspecting reader.

Then I will be a Craft Master like Stephen King.

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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).

I Met My Protagonist At Starbucks

Okay, he wasn’t exactly Seanchai (his ears were predictably round, and he wielded a briefcase and pen, rather than elegant Win Dow swords and a blood-wood bow and magical arrows), and in truth, it wasn’t Starbucks, but a locally-owned independent coffee shop with a lot of attitude.

But in my humble defense, I met a young man who totally encapsulated everything I imagined in Seanchai, my Wycaan Master and protagonist of the same-named series. He had a distinct look about him that suggested you could trust him with your innermost secrets while knowing he possessed the ability to take you down without breaking a sweat.

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When he spoke, his voice was soft but carried authority. He operated as the calm in the storm while others flurried around him, achieving much less and having nowhere near as much responsibility as him.

As others joined us, they tensed their assertiveness, told funny jokes, and claimed great victories. He listened magnanimously, happy to back up any exaggerated story. And though, over exquisitely crafted lattes and frappes, each took center stage, still he remained the fulcrum for all.

I was fascinated. Surely this young man could effortlessly vanquish evil Emperors, emancipate a race, and inspire a society to join together with his unique magic. Failing that, I would settle for eradicating hunger, declaring world peace, and inspiring my soccer team to win the English Premier League.

And this got me thinking. Am I yet to meet Sellia, Ilana, Mhari, Rhoddan or Shayth in the Financial District of San Francisco? The truth is, I realized, I have taken traits from many of my friends and acquaintances. There is one with naturally spiky hair who runs his hand through it like Shayth, especially when agitated, causing it to stand even more erect. I have a friend who is constantly trying to placate others and encourage them to do the right moral thing, often teaching (or preaching – depends who you ask), just as Ilana does, drawing all the time strength from her life-partner. But I don’t think I ever met Seanchai … until Starbucks.

It begs the question: are there also people wandering out there in the non-fantasy world, muggles some might call them, who are the real version of our fantasy characters? I believe that the magic of J.K Rowlings’ Harry Potter series, for example, was that we all knew a Harry, a Hermione, and Draco.

There is a soccer player in my beloved Arsenal, who looks exactly the opposite from Legalos, short and dark-haired, yet shares the impressive trait that his hair remains perfectly coiffured throughout a physically demanding soccer match.

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Have you ever met someone who reminded you of a character from a famous fantasy book or one you have just read? Have you met a Seanchai, Ilana, or Shayth? How about Bilbo Baggins or Frodo, Gandalf or Legalos?

And no, you cannot compare everyone in the Senate to Gollum or Emperor Palpatine. Behave yourself!

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 But here is a fun exercise. Which famous person reminds you of an epic fantasy character? Answers in the comments, please.

While I have already given you homework, I do have another request: If you have read one, two or four of my epic fantasy novels (and it can’t only have been my mother who bought all those books), please take a few minutes and leave an honest review on Amazon. It is really important to me.

Have a great week.

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).

How Fantastical is Fantasy?

I mentioned previously that I am reading Sometimes The Magic Works by Terry Brooks. On Page 27 of this little book of great lessons, he writes how, as he struggled with his writing, he began to realize that he could not write the book in this world. “Everything I wrote had to remind readers of what they already knew, yet makes them take a second look at whether or not what they believed was really true.

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I’ve been thinking about this sentence a lot. The difference between epic fantasy and magical realism (think Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin) is that the former transpires in a totally different world, whereas magical realism takes place in this world, but has elements of the unexplained – magic.

While the Wycaan Master series takes place in Odessiya, a mythical world, I kept it relatively easy to imagine, because I do not want the reader to struggle with my world building. Rather, I want them to focus on the characters and the plot, while still portraying a beautiful world.

Christopher Paolini does a wonderful job describing his land of Alagaesia, in stunning detail. He suggests his success in doing this is based on his love for the wild as he grew up in Montana. But again, his world is very easy to believe. When my family is on a road trip and are confronted by a beautiful vista, we point and declare: Alagaesia!

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I hope I have succeeded in portraying Odessiya as a beautiful land: full of great mountain ranges, deserts, forests, lakes and coast. I thoroughly enjoyed describing the ice worlds in the north and the forest of the Shanrea, but I never strayed from environments you can associate with on trips or the National Geographic channel.

When I sent Seanchai to the Elves of the West, I wanted to describe a rich world of mighty trees. Living in Northern California, I am in constant awe of the redwoods. My fictional bloodwoods are a tribute to these majestic giants and the name is meant to offer just enough to fill the reader with the images of redwoods. I wanted to offer an exotic setting with a connection to something known to the reader with just enough to be different.

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The age of a dozen pages of descriptions that J.R.R. Tolkien got away with no longer survives the red pen of the 21st Century editor. The publishers, facing rising costs of resources are loath to publish thick tomes, and the millennial reader does not have the patience to read several pages describing a small forest. My eldest son admitted to skipping descriptions after he had a clear picture in his mind and I am not completely unsure that I didn’t do this when I read Lord of the Rings back in the previous century.

That being said, the fantasy writer is challenged to offer opportunities for the reader to suspend belief as Brooks suggests. In his own prequels to the Shannara series, he sends us through post-apocalyptic California with humans and mutations. But the mutants are a result of the catastrophe that has all but destroyed the world. It is, tragically, not hard to take that leap of imagination, which again happens when he skillfully weaves in his elves.

Perhaps no one deserves more praise that he who blazed the trail and created a hobbit. There had never been a hobbit before Tolkien and yet it seems so familiar. Even ‘second breakfast’ and the family relations that Bilbo et al gets so worked up about, makes sense.

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The skill of the fantasy author is to create a world that the reader does not have to work hard to imagine and then to create something imaginative that allows us, because we have built trust between writer and reader, to suspend rational belief and embrace.

It is a subtle yet powerful tool that offers a rich layer to the world of epic fantasy. It is why readers flock to Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore and Christopher Paolini, and why those of us who walk in their shadows continue to cultivate our craft and build words, races and situations that are believably unbelievable.

Have a great week, everyone.

Elfwriter

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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+

The Great Author Gold Rush

Last week, Amazon announced the dates for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards 2014 (ABNA). This was the signal, across the country, that sent thousands of writers, novelists, and dreamers, scurrying into our offices, corners, coffee shops, and wherever else people of our ilk perch to write their novels.

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Ten thousand will be allowed to enter a novel, an excerpt and a pitch, click on submit, and then lean back to spend three months dreaming of future fame and glory. It is the writer’s lottery ticket and the adrenaline is flowing.

Part of the magic around this competition is that it is the ultimate democratizing of publishing. All who enter receive equal access to the judges, the fans, and the agents who hover on the periphery. No more ambushing agents in expensive Writer Conference bathrooms (yes it happens), no more trips to the post office with unsolicited manuscripts, no more trying to convince a friend who knows someone who knows…

Click on the button and let cyber-nature take its course. If your manuscript is intriguing, your pitch compelling, and your craft sound, you stand as good a chance as the other 9,999 entries. Personally, I prepared my acceptance speech, good for ABNA, Nobel, the Oscars or Oprah!

imagesAnd then there is ABNA Anonymous (not its real name – see Createspace website), a glorious plethora of online forums wherein the hopeful gather to ask questions, hypothesize, vent frustrations, and enjoy a communal glass of wine without needing to drive home.

I have entered two novels that both reached the Quarter Finals, the last 250 contestants.  Whilst the semi finals proved elusive, Unwanted Heroes was picked up by Three Clover Press, and At The Walls Of Galbrieth went on to win the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA.

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A good friend, Francine Howard, also reached the Quarter Finals with Pages of a Tennessee Journal and went on to become an Amazon Encore author, signed up by Amazon’s own publishing house. The link also has a lovely interview with Francine further down the page.

So here’s to another successful year for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and all those who bravely enter. Reaching the final destination would be nice, but the journey is a great ride. Enjoy it!

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a pitch to polish!

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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. 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+

The Magic Is Everywhere – repost

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

This is a wonderful opportunity for me as an author and I request that 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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Last weekend, our family headed for the marina, a grassy area on the west point of Berkeley that looks over the San Francisco Bay Area. We have been there many times to fly kites, play soccer, run and bike. 

This time, armed with a blanket and picnic, we were planning on some serious reading. Older son had a book assigned from school, a historical fictional account of many good people dying from a plague back in the 1700’s: perfect depressing material for the summer vacation. Not surprisingly, he hadn’t embraced the intrusion with the enthusiasm he showed for Christopher Paolini’s Eragon or J. K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter.

It was surprisingly windy and we made for some bushes and trees that would deny us the view, but offer shelter. We spread the blanket and I fell into my stadium chair and flicked on my Kindle.

While I waited for it to fire up, I glanced to my left. Between the bushes and the trees was a tunnel, with brush growing up and over so that you could barely see the sky. It was dark inside with the promise of sunlight on the other side. My youngest son, I realized, was staring at it as well. He turned to me.

“What do you think is through there?” he asked, eyes wide open.

“I don’t know,” I replied, the right level of gravity in my voice. “Think you should check it out?”

He nodded, rose and moved into the tunnel. He never came out…

Okay, that is not exactly true. But he stayed in the tunnel and explored beyond. Sometimes he sat and read his book, and other times played, creating his own world. Finally, he called for me to join him.

“The tunnel is safe,” he declared, “but there are dragons on the other side. Be careful.”

I knew that on the other side was a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, San Francisco, and the bay with many sailboats. But as his tiny hand took mine and guided me out the other side, all I saw were the dragons.

Others might have seen a red kite with a long tail, to its left was a blue-green one tearing through the sky in acrobatic maneuvers, but we saw two dragons eying each other. My son announced with authority that they were deciding whether to fight or be friends. Remembering my politically correct role as father, I said I hoped they would be friends. 

But as I watched them and glanced back at the tunnel, it was my imagination that soared. Perhaps a new book is fermenting, or only a scene in the next Wycaan Master. Maybe it will surface next year or in a decade, but it is stored away.

And this moment of magic only happened because I was ready to embrace it, albeit with a little help from a nine-year-old with a rich imagination. But then I have seen elves in coffee shops.  

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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+