Stand Up Fantasy Readers

I came out of the literature closet when I made the decision to find a way to have my Wycaan Master series published. My ego prevented me from using a pseudonym and I knew it was time to let the world know.

At first I kind of tagged a mumbled line into my elevator pitch: I write social justice-themed novels and also dabble in some fantasmmmm (imagine a hand rising in front of my mouth).

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I was mortified when my boss’s wife turned to me one day and said her husband had told her I’m really into epic fantasy. I focused all my superhero strength on the ground opening up and swallowing me. Thankfully such talents are woefully non-existent because boss’s wife revealed with pride how she totally loves the genre and began reeling off her favorite authors and series. Then boss’s super-cool wife promptly sat on the stairs with my then 12-year-old son and talked for a half hour of their shared genre. He was beaming when I asked him how their conversation went.

I discovered that, as I assumed more confidence in sharing that I write in two genres, people began to share their love for epic fantasy. I found that there were plenty of fantasy nerds (Big Bang Theory, anyone?) but there are also many very cool people.

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As I begin to frequent the forums, I discover people who are deep-thinkers, who follow and critically analyze plots, world building, and character development. In fact, having participated in a fair share of workshops, read how-to writing books, and listened to countless authors, I have found these threads to be as profound and educational as any.

Fantasy readers are connoisseurs in the true sense of the word – a person who is especially competent to pass critical judgments in an art, particularly one of the fine arts, or in matters of taste (dictionary.com).

Last week I quoted from a comment on a long You Tube thread (I was listening to the Hobbit soundtrack) full of comments, disagreements, and debate. The author is RobbieBjork17: “Holy Crap that was one_ of the most educated conversations I’ve ever read on youtube…. shoulda known it was going to be Tolkien Fans ;).”

He (or she) knew something I didn’t. But then what can you expect from a genre led by two British Oxford professors!

Now I wear my genre on the side of my car and when I pick up commuters every morning at the casual car pool and they ask me about the car magnet, I reply: “I am an author. I write in two genres: social justice themed novels and YA epic fantasy.”

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And I say the last part without mumbling.

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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.  

I Need A Hero: Can You Kill Too Many Good Guys?

I’m reading (or rather listening to) a best-selling fantasy series. Each book is thick and extensive. The world-building is impressive, the multiple plots intertwine seamlessly, and the characters are deep and plentiful. 

imgresThis series has made my oft-challenging commute almost enjoyable and several times I have sat in the car outside my house waiting for a chapter to end. I dream about these characters and imagine myself alongside them.

 I am about two-thirds through the third book and happy to know that there are at least two more waiting in the wings. If I intersperse each book with something different, I can easily keep my commute comfortable until well into the summer.

But, and here is the reason I have not revealed the author or series, twice this week, as I was merrily driving home from work, a number of the good guys were put to the sword (or otherwise dispatched). Now, this is not the first time that our well-respected author has killed off heroes/heroines. He does it with drama, dignity and a huge amount of skill. He has left me in tears or sitting stunned at my driving wheel (hopefully while stationary) on a number of occasions.

But suddenly, I feel adrift. Each time one of my heroes dies, another emerges to take his (or her) place. These characters are usually in the background and, figuratively speaking, step up to the plate. And once more, our intrepid commuter is as happy as those drivers who gloat as they pass all the stationary cars while in the carpool lane.

imgres-4One of the fascinating aspects of this author’s craft is that most of his characters are not totally good or totally bad. It is challenging but possible to remain interested, even invested in some of the more fiendish without rooting for them. And there are plenty of characters with the potential to be heroes who fail or turn to the dark side (not a hint to the series).

But, suddenly, I am bereft of a hero: one who is fueled by noble principles, by a cause, and who is…well, heroic.

I find myself questioning my considerable investment in the series, the immense time I am spending on it, and even walk to my car with a certain level of tension and resignation. I am no longer sure with whom to stand when I dream and fantasize about the outcome. 

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And so I must pose the question: Can you kill too many of the good guys and still engage all your audience? What say you, sir/milady?

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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.  

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