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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Happy Hobbit Day

Today’s the day!  According to the scholars and the blissfully lost, both Bilbo Baggins and his nephew, Frodo, celebrate their birthdays on this very day. So, we do too!

Turns out, why waste such joy on one day a year? So the powers that be have declared a 7-day holiday: Tolkien Week. For the next seven days, I plan to share one of the ridiculously numerous posts I have written about the Great Master over the years.

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I would apologize to anyone who thinks this is an overload. While you are right, I cannot truly offer contrition since I don’t feel any. Feel free to skip or indulge!

The Professor, with his pipe and tweed, has often been considered a stuffy academic, but there is certainly a soft and humorous side.  Here is a cute story.

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Thank you to everyone who is buying up copies of the first five Wycaan Master books, all currently 99 cents to celebrate the final book which is less than a month away!

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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.

 Find out more about the author at his newly relaunched website: alonshalev.com.

 

 

 

 

Will My Stories Be My Legacy?

This post is dedicated to a dear friend and poet, Al Levinson, who just passed away after a long struggle with cancer, refusing to compromise on his retirement dream as he traveled around America in his old RV. Al was a constant source of encouragement and support for many, myself included. His belief in my vision provided a consistent source of strength when my proverbial quill went dry or my doubts threatened to drown me.

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I wonder if the ‘Old Professor’ looks down from his study in the skies as people continue to fall in love with Middle Earth, with his elves and dwarves, his noble humans, and of course, his brave and lovable hobbits. What does he think as he puffs on his pipe and stares from the heavens at the people who annually watch his trilogy of Lord of the Rings, and who attend conventions to argue nuances of hobbit genealogy? Is he baffled that the quartet of geniuses from The Big Bang Theory is so in awe of him? (I just watched, perhaps for the sixth time, the episode with the ring … excuse me – The Ring).
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I recently met a young man who is, I think 11 or 12 years old. He has read the first three novels of the Wycaan Master series, and his first question was when Sacrificial Flame would be released. He then proceeded to tell me what he thought should be in the book, sharing stunning detail from the first trilogy. I probably sounded like a bumbling fool to him and his mother, but in truth, I was reeling from the astounding grasp this young man has on the geography of Odessiya, of the culture of each race (he knew in his mind exactly what a pictorian looks like – I don’t), and the trials and tribulations they have gone through, including so many minor threads.

The fusion of my family’s summer ritual to watch the Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit, the passing of my friend Al, me turning fifty, and hearing this young man’s enthusiasm, awakened in me a desire to create a legacy, not only as a conscientious soul mate and father, a decent human being, and a good friend to all, but absurdly, that my characters will not go to the grave with me.

Perhaps it is a symptom of my acknowledgement of my own finiteness, having just turned fifty this summer, but there has emerged a powerful aspect of my writing: that I am creating something that will outlive me, and perhaps in the eyes of future generations, define me. Will my stories become my legacy?

Professor Tolkien might, at best, be bemused at the desire of grown men and women to dress up as Arwen and Legalos, Bilbo and Gollum at every excuse, or while he might scratch his head when we vigorously argue the merits of including a (formally nonexistent) female character being invented for The Hobbit movie. But I wonder does his chest swell up with pride when his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, proudly hold his books and tell their friends that “Tolkien was my grandfather”?

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I can’t speak for the ‘old professor’, but I hope one day to peer down through the clouds and see my grown sons, sitting around the camp fire with their offspring as we do each summer, telling the stories of Seanchai and Shayth, Mharina and Senzia. As their children yawn, struggling to stay awake, and beg for just one more chapter, my sons will close the book and say: “Let me tell you about the storyteller. He was your grandfather and I helped him write these stories…”

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Rest in peace, Al. We are many who were touched by your kindness and will carry your inspiring torch forward for future generations. I hope that, as you look down from the heavens, you see this as your legacy.

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Al Levinson RIP

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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+

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.

 

The Gods of Fantasy

Pass a summer evening in a quaint English pub, mid 20th century, perhaps in the old town of Oxford. Caress a pint and listening to a few graying professors discuss semantics, philosophy, and the ancient languages long forgotten outside the sheltered walls of academia. What else can one possibly ask for? 

imgres-1Imagine these tweed-clad, pipe-smoking academics, hatching more than another challenging semester to try the greatest minds of this fair isle. Each is a king in the making or, more accurately, a kingmaker. For they direct more than the destiny of kings and noble houses. They raise kingdoms and conquer lands. They build great dynasties, bring whole species back from the mists of extinction, and set those of noble birth and principle to stand against evil.

Sip your beer, mull over the words, much of which you might not understand. Dwarves, elves, of course: but hobbits? Marsh-wiggles? Listen as the professors strategize great battles, masterfully marshalling unicorns, dragons, giants, minotaurs and proud ents. 

You slowly realize that you sit among the Gods, the creators of Middle Earth and Narnia, who hold court on Tuesdays at midday in a local public house. Perhaps it is The Eagle and Child, or The Lamb and Flag across the street. They read each other’s work and offer critique as writer’s groups have for centuries and continue to do so today.

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I may never have understood much or been accepted into such an elite. They would have torn my work to shreds on grounds of philological shallowness (I had it checked – it’s not contagious), criticized me for imprudently suggesting that a 100,000 word novel can serve as more than merely an introduction.

They would have demanded richer world-building – take twenty pages to describe a forest, I dare you – unyielding heroes, and infallible plots. They would have challenged the age-old legends dressed up in fictional costumes, and raised an eyebrow at some of the language or innuendos.

Most likely, I would never have dared reveal my stories to the old professors of Oxford, to the most famous writing group in history. I would never have been more than a fly on the wall at a meeting of The Inklings, but would have returned week after week to sit at the feet of the Gods and hear their banter.

For here the Gods gave birth to great worlds and left them as a legacy to us and to our children, long after they departed this world. Every Wednesday night, I sit around a table in a coffee shop in Berkeley, sharing work with other aspiring authors and wonder: do the Gods look down upon us from Writers Heaven?

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Do they tut and shake their heads at our adverb addiction, our unwillingness to kill our darlings? Or do they even now move pieces around the literary chessboard. Protect the king! Advance the knights! Who, I wonder, are the pawns?

As we write a new book, a new chapter, do we not imagine the Gods walk among us?  Do they peer over our shoulders at our swanky writing machines, judging every word we write, every world we build? 

The Gods once sat in an old English pub. Now they stand behind us in coffee shops and at kitchen tables, urging us on, watching us walk the path they forged, taking on the quest they started.

For the Gods still walk among us and inside of us. The stories have been told but must be told again in different ways to a different generation. We sign these books in our own names, but humbly acknowledge those who molded us in their image as storytellers.

And now they are the flys on the wall and we who pound the keyboards. Take a moment, draw another pint, and raise your glass:

To the Gods of Fantasy!

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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.

 

Did Tolkien Ever Rap?

Okay, I’m sure I’m not alone still in Hobbit land, trying to remain cocooned in Middle Earth magic for twelve months until the next movie ain’t gonna to be easy. But there are some things that will help us on our way. I don’t know who produced this, but I suspect it wasn’t a certain pipe-loving Oxford Professor.

Thank you to those who have contacted me about At The Walls Of Galbrieth. I set myself a goal to have five reviews posted by mid-January.If you read the book, please take a few minutes to post a review at Amazon.com. I really appreciate the help. Clocks ticking…

Have a great weekend,

Elfwriter

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

What’s With The Pipe?

When you write epic fantasy, you have the privilege sit before a blank page (well screen nowadays). You make up all the rules. If you want these creatures to have different colored skin, pointed ears, horns, or magic, go for it. If you want to have unicorns, dragons, or any creature you make up, it is your right.

So what’s with the pipe? I know, Tolkien smoked, but he strode around Oxford in tweed, talking languages no one else remembers. In fact, there are a lot of characteristics about the master that we can adopt.

I think the secret lies with those who puff. I used to smoke a pipe for several years, seeing it as a compromise, a halfway house between smoking cigarettes and not. I loved my pipe. I craved the taste, loved the touch of the warm bowl, and enjoyed packing the pipe correctly, even cleaning it. All day, I looked forward to that time when I could put my feet up and puff the worries of the world away. 

I succeeded in giving up cigarettes for the pipe, but giving up the pipe proved tougher than I could imagine. This is not an article about smoking cessation, but even eight years later, if someone passed by me with his briar, or even is sitting a hundred feet away (given the correct wind), I will smell it, yearn for it, crave it for the rest of the day …  maybe for the rest of my life.

Perhaps this is why we continue to give our characters an opportunity that we are denying ourselves. Are we being foolish? Indulgent? 

I recently read a scene to my writer’s group in which, shortly after a bloody fight, the characters (those who survived) sat down and puffed their pipes. A colleague questioned me having my characters smoking in a YA novel. 

Fair point, I thought, until I realized that she had not objected to me exposing my tender, young readers to battle, killing, blood and gore.

I guess that one man’s poison is…well poison is poison. I shall have to sit and think about this. Now where’s my pi–.

Why do you think pipe smoking is a mainstay in fantasy novels?

Good reading.

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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).