Last Week I Disappeared

It wasn’t my fault, any storyteller will understand. The problem is the 99% of the population (the readers and, in particular, those who have to live with the writer) when s/he becomes possessed.

You see there was a great battle, insurmountable odds, a powerful foe – not my fault that it happened on a weekend.

My emerging protagonist faced a terrible choice, needed to test her principles and ­– yes, I know it is a big religious festival, one of the most important days of the year for our family.

How would he cope with her death? How would he face the future without her and how would that change him? – Ah, grandparents, an aunt and cousin. Did you just arrive? Three hours ago…oops.

Writing the 1st novel - a family effort!

“Hey Dad – this is a FAMILY vacation!”

Usually the wife understands and can ground herself with a self-indulgent, if thoroughly deserving roll of the eyes. The kids think it is perfectly normal, or blatantly funny neither of which stops them from making fun of me.

I once sat engrossed at my desk (my back is to the front door), turned around and there were five kids, only one was mine, standing staring at me. The play date was at our house and five parents had dropped their kids off safe in the knowledge that a responsible parent was watching over them…yes, my wife was in the house. However, I think I learned how an exotic animal in the zoo feels, the children gawking and pointing. I’m surprised no one offered to feed me a peanut…probably worried about allergies.

At height of a battle, I once wrote five thousand words in one day. Apparently, I managed to snap at each member of my family who had the audacity to disturb me by asking for such trivial things as food, help with homework, to drive a child to a play date I had previously agreed to do. 

The scary part is that I have absolutely no knowledge of those interactions. Why would I? I was in the middle of a battle and you can’t just step out to make scrambled eggs. Imagine Eragon in the middle of a great fight needing a time out to dragonpool a group of offspring to soccer practice. I guess now we know why so few fantasy heroes have kids…and why so many parents write about fantasy heroes!

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What preceded the carpool?

Apparently, I don’t even have to be writing to disappear. It happens on road trips (I wish to thank the other driver’s consideration in avoiding me, by the way – I am not sure this can happen in the city). It happens on a coffee date with Mrs. Elfwriter and inevitably on a hike into the redwoods.

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Before I began writing At The Walls Of Galbrieth and the Wycaan Master series, I wrote a Pagan novel (A Gardener’s Tale) and two social justice-themed books (The Accidental Activist and Unwanted Heroes). While I became thoroughly invested in all my characters and the challenges they faced, I don’t recall that I disappeared. Still, I’m not sure how much I do remember when this sort of thing happens.

Still, I am relieved to know that I am not alone. Terry Brooks admits he is not all hereDad’s gone away again…although he admits that most of those close to him think he is weird.

I do suspect this is easier to explain when you are an A-list author like Terry Brooks. I think he is most likely to be fondly considered eccentric. For the rest of us, unfortunately, we are the ones people think are truly weird.

It’s a good thing that we are totally unaware when they stare and snigger. It’s a good thing we disappear…

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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).

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Finding Mythical Places Everywhere

A while ago, I wrote a post about meeting elves in coffee shops. The point was that…well you can read the point for yourself, but there is more along these lines.

I grew up in England with real castles, stately homes, wattle and daub cottages, and signs of a more ancient, Pagan culture everywhere. I was not writing fantasy back then but imagine I would find a lot of inspiration there. Two weeks sitting in a castle in Wales writing – is that a business expense?

Meditation

My eldest at Conway Castle, Wales, several years ago. He sat there for hours, transfixed in a world of his own.

But we actually don’t have to travel too far. I attended a conference in the heart of Washington ‘DC Chinatown. I stepped outside the meeting room on the 7th floor  for some fresh air and stared at this:

Ruins by Hillel SIC

Today, I was at the Ferry Building in San Francisco and noticed Old Glory flying at half-mast in respect of the victims of the Boston Marathon attack. The sky was a rich blue and the flag and tower looked glorious. I could imagine Seanchai and friends arriving on a boat (do you pay the toll riding over the Bay Bridge on horseback? Do three horses and riders make a posse or qualify for the casual car pool?).

Interestingly, I crossed the Embarcadero between the Ferry Building and Bay Bridge and saw a restaurant with gargoyles and (what looked to me) a sign that could have been written in Medieval lettering. It could have been a tavern or pub for thirsty travelers before they put five Peet’s Coffee and nine Starbucks in the mile-square Financial District.

My point is that writing fantasy is as much a state of mind. When I am actually writing a story (as opposed to editing or marketing), which is about 4-5 months of the year, I notice these things as though they are only around for this time of the year.

Tunnel

Picnic at our local park. Younger son discovered this tunnel. We sat in here and discussed how to use it in the book I was writing at the time.

It is why I see elves in coffee shops and get invited underground by hospitable dwarves. It enriches the already beautiful vistas, forests and rivers of Northern California where I explore. It is what makes my kids and I respond when we see a beautiful natural scene by exclaiming: Alagaesia! (You can blame Christopher Paolini for this. I hope he’s touched).

It is why Terry Brooks claims that ‘Sometimes The Magic Works.

Have a mystical weekend.

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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 At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Judging A Book By Its Cover

The last few weeks have been spent communicating with a very talented book cover designer, William J. Kenney, who has designed the book cover for At The Walls Of Galbrieth. I am quite amazed how someone who has never met me or understands how my brain works (disclaimer: not that knowing me will guarantee that either), can interpret my jumbled explanations into a cover, far better than anything I could imagine.

I might be bias here, but I think epic fantasy book covers (and also sci-fi) must answer to higher standards. My social justice-themed novel, The Accidental Activist, is based on a photograph that I took in San Francisco’s financial district. The cover artist did an amazing job, but it is still based upon something real.

Claudia McKinney, the artist who designed Amanda Hockings’ book covers, designed the cover to A Gardener’s Tale. The different concept from the first edition is amazing and, I believe, a big help in raising my sales levels. My publisher told her that he wanted to stress the strong Pagan theme and earth spirituality running through, she came up with a number of excellent options.

Designing book covers for a series is an additional challenge and, given that there are three, maybe four books in the Wycaan Master series, I now feel I have clear picture of how I imagine William will develop each cover. What I find interesting is that it doesn’t always have to be intricate. Christopher Paolini’s covers are not detailed, but still instantly recognizable. As each new cover was announced, my sons and I shared a collective gasp of anticipation.

 The question I want to pose here is what constitutes a good epic fantasy cover? There are some covers that I just sit and gaze in wonder, often several times when I pick up the book to commence reading. So, please also share your favorite fantasy book covers. Let’s make a Top Ten: over to you… 

Next week – the official unveiling of the book cover: At The Walls of Galbrieth – Wycaan Master Book 1.

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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, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, is due out in January 2013 by Tourmaline Press. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

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).

Earth Magic – A Gardener’s Tale

It is with great excitement that A Gardener’s Tale, my first novel written over 10 years ago, has been picked up by Three Clover Press. It received a professional edit and new cover, and is leaner if not meaner, but certainly tighter and lighter (sorry, I enjoyed that).

My publisher generously commissioned Claudia McKinney, who designed Amanda Hocking’s book covers, to design a new cover. I love it! Befitting the new e-book economics, A Gardener’s Tale is on sale for $2.99.

A Gardener’s Tale – new cover

While this is not a fantasy novel, there is a profound theme running through of the power of the earth. Here is the pitch:

The garden has seen it all – the cruel events of a thousand years of the struggle between the Pagan religions and Christianity in rural England. A Gardener’s Tale follows two years in the lives of a village and the stranger who comes into their community. As the villagers fear for the breakdown of their community, they discover an ancient path that brings them together.

A Gardener’s Tale  tells of an English aristocratic family now tragically dispersed and of a village community falling apart. Birth, love, death and rebirth remain its never-ending cycle, which includes the magic of nature, the purity of love and the power of true friendship in the hands of a gardener who can harness them all.

I am very proud to have received the following critique from Vivianne Crowley, a Pagan High Priestess, who was recognized as one of the leaders of the Wicca movement in Britain. Vivianne actually grew up near the New Forest in England where this story takes place.

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.

Thank you to Lloyd Lofthouse at Three Clover Press for his patient support, to Claudia for an amazing book cover, and Zorica Gojkovic for her hard work editing this edition.

Let me know what you think of the cover and the book. I love receiving feedback.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).