Kingfisher – Chapter 1

Below is the opening chapter to Kingfisher: Slave to Honor. If it grabs you, please download a FREE copy from Inkitt Publishers and read. Then do me a favor and leave an honest review. You are helping Inkitt decide if they want to invest in my novel and I thank you for helping.

Please note there is profanity in this chapter. It is meant for adult consumption. 

Alon

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Chapter 1

I have unleashed thousands of arrows on the battlefield and in training, but never shot from the swaying deck of a ship. My heavy ash bow creaks in anticipation as I draw back the bowstring. Peering along the arrow’s shaft, the feathered fletching grazing my cheek, I wait to see the whites of the pirates’ eyes. My target is a huge brute of a man waving a curved cutlass and braying for his ship to get close enough to our small stout Argosy trading vessel. I steady my feet. He must never board this ship.

 

“Blessed Lir. They be twice our crew in number,” a man wheezes next to me.

 

There are few fighters among this crew. Most are simple, warm-hearted sailors, and I have become attached to them as we cross the sea to the land of Cassia.

 

“Hold steady,” I say. “They won’t be as many when we cross blades.”

 

“Archers!” cries the captain, her speckled snowy-grey hair similar in color to the sails billowing above us, and her sun-dried skin a testimony to a life spent at sea. “Let the Easterner shoot first. Wait for my order.” Leaning close to my ear, she whispers. “A true aim will buoy my crew’s fragile morale.”

 

I nod. I have selected a dozen targets. “Let them hold their fire until I empty my quiver.”

 

“You won’t have long, my friend.”

 

“I don’t need…”

 

My bowstring sings as I release my first arrow. I do not wait to see the man collapse. Already a second arrow is nocked and released, and my mind enters a realm of detached clarity.

 

The pirate captain barks as he sees me. “The black bastard! Take him do–oooow!”

 

His voice ends in an abrupt squeal as my arrow pierces his throat and our crew cheers. My quiver is empty and the enemy pared down by twelve. I am irritated. I had fourteen arrows.

 

“Now,” I say.

 

“Fire!” the captain roars and a volley of black arrows arches up towards the sleek pirate ship.

 

After several volleys, there is a pregnant lull as the distance between the ships closes. Then the captain unsheathes a stout sword. “Prepare to be boarded. Follow The Six.”

 

The Six are huge men who serve as her loyal, permanent crew. They are all strong and bawdy, and completely devoted to her. I suspected at first that they were the reason why no drafted sailor questioned a woman being captain. But I was being disingenuous. She exudes respect, walking the deck with ease, commanding her crew with a stern, but fair hand. I hold her in high regard.

 

The cabin boy hovers near me and I smell piss. His eyes are wide and his face drips with beady sweat. “It’ll be okay,” I say, the father in me rising, and I pass him my bow and quiver. “Stay below. You have no place in this fight.”

 

He glances at the captain. She nods, but the tilt of her head suggests she does not appreciate someone else giving orders on her ship. I apologize. Taking charge is a deeply ingrained habit for I have led armies and ruled a country under my emperor, my Sun-Above-The-Mountains. But that life is long behind me and I must focus on the fight at hand.

 

There won’t be room to swing a broadsword on this small, and soon to be, chaotic deck. I draw my curved dirk, Throatslitter, embracing the cold ivory hilt. I carry many weapons but this is my favorite and most used. In my other hand is my battle sickle, sharp and hissing with anticipation as I flick it.

 

I see The Six spread across the starboard side of the ship. They appear calm while the men around them drip sweat. I study the pirate ship now looming before us, and plant my feet directly opposite where their crew is extending a gangplank. Our sailors move aside, most relieved to let me through.

 

The boats thud together and there is a cry from the other side. Someone has taken command, as half a dozen men throw grappling irons with ropes and swing across. A pirate scrambles along the gangplank, screaming an indistinguishable war cry. It stops abruptly as he blinks and stares up at me blocking his path to glory and plunder.

 

“Long way from home, yeh black devil,” he shouts, trying to sound defiant, but I detect a quiver in his voice. “Come all this way fer one final swim?”

 

I stare back, trying for impassive, and he blinks several times. Everyone watches as he swings his sword in a skewed arc, and I brush it aside with Throatslitter before detaching his neck with my sickle. His head rolls down and I hear it plop into the ocean. Blood fountains from his severed neck but, curiously, his body remains erect. I raise my right leg in a side swing kick and send it crashing down. As my foot returns to the narrow plank, I step forward … and the battle mist descends.

 

It is always this way. Once the fighting commences, my mind detaches. My movements are deeply ingrained from decades of relentless training and I need only focus on the techniques of my adversary.

 

I plow my way through a morass of fighting men, barely distinguishing friend from foe. But most of the pirates have boarded our ship and I return to fight aboard the Argosy. Then two members of The Six flank me and we become an organized wedge swelled by a grateful crew. The remaining pirates retreat to their ship and our men swarm across. I follow, but my battle fury has subsided and my interest is only to minimalize casualties on our side. Blood congeals on my clothes and skin. Not mine, I think, but cannot be sure.

 

I have seen the revenge meted upon the vanquished aggressors in countless battles. Men once cowering lash out at their routed attackers with extreme violence. Bones are broken, limbs slashed, and I turn from the carnage. Bodies are thrown overboard. Only the cook is spared and roughly dragged back to our ship. He had better not burn any food.

 

I lean against the railing near the pirate ship’s bow hearing the occasional clash of steel mingle with curses and pleas that gradually subside. The sun is high in the sky and, as I wipe my face on my sleeve, I sense danger. Turning, I see the contorted face of the first man I had shot, the one who had brayed for blood. His huge figure looms over me. The broken shaft of my arrow still protrudes from his shoulder and there is blood around his lips. He holds the other half of the arrow, waving the splintered edge in my face.

 

“Want your fucking arrow back? So sorry I broke it.” When I do not reply, he continues. “Thought one little needle would prick Big Rufus? Snapped it. Now I’m gonna snap your neck, you black devil.”

 

He begins to lunge, but stops when I do not raise my weapons.

 

“It’s over. You lost,” I say, keeping my voice flat. “There’s no one left fighting. Why die needlessly?”

 

He freezes. I suspect few are equal to him in physical stature and even fewer address him without fear.

 

“I’m not worried about dying. Pirating doesn’t offer itself as a long-term profession.”

 

I frown at his use of vocabulary. “You’re an educated man. I can hear it. Why are you doing this?”

 

He stares at me and one eye twitches. “There comes a point, black man, when you kill enough men, take enough women, that–”

 

“Who were you before this? What happened to you?”

The twitching increases and his chest heaves. He is losing control. “I was once an ambitious officer in a huge fucking army, following orders that haunt me every night. I–”

 

“We’ve walked the same path,” I say, now standing to face him. “It doesn’t need to end like this. We–”

 

“It ends this way! It always does.” Spittle foams at the corners of his mouth. “You can’t escape what ­–” He is staring at my eyes, through them, like he has a window into my head. “You’re haunted too. How do you keep…going?”

 

I glance around noting our crew standing and staring. This is absurd as no one moves to intervene. “I have people to live for. I still have a mission.”

 

“A woman?” He wipes spittle from his mouth with his torn sleeve. “She’s probably fucking some other bastard by now.”

 

“She’s dead. But we have sons and they are slaves. I must find and free them.”

 

He nods. “Yeah, makes sense.” Then there is a wave of relentless twitching and his shaggy head shudders. “Fuck ’em though. Fuck ’em all. You die now.”

 

“You don’t sound like you mean it. You want me to kill you.”

 

“I don’t fucking care either way. Look what I’ve become. It’s all that’s left.”

 

He raises a short-shafted axe and the sun catches it. I spin away and my battle sickle rises to block him. I would like to draw my sword to fight such a strong man, but it is long and I know that Throatslitter and the sickle are more effective in close quarters.

 

He advances and shows considerable agility for his size and the fact he is wounded, wielding the axe from hand to hand. When he sees I can repel him, he draws a second axe. I realize we have moved to the center of the ship and men from our crew make way, watching. It is surreal. No one grabs him or shoots him with an arrow. It feels like a final rite.

 

“Last chance,” I say. “It doesn’t have to end like­–”

 

“FUCK YOU!” he screams. “Fuck you for not being devoured, for not giving in, for surviving.”

 

His next swing, with his right hand, is erratic and instead of blocking him with my left, I shift inside and duck, letting the battle sickle in my right hand grab the axe allowing his own momentum to unbalance him. He staggers and I swing a round kick that sends him flying into the ropes that surround the edge of the ship. He doubles over and grunts. Then the tension from his weight on the ropes springs him back toward me. I crouch, the tip of my knife on the wooden deck, and then, with a cry, jump into the air. Throatslitter slashes up under his chin. Bright red blood spurts up to ignite in the harsh sunlight. He twists round and collapses back onto the rope.

 

I step forward and grab his matted hair, wrenching his head up to look at me. His nose is bloody and broken, and his eyes bulge.

 

“Fuck you,” he says, his voice a whisper, and I nod, accepting it as a sign of respect.

 

“Find peace,” I say as I crouch and link my left foot around both his legs. As I rise, I flick him over the side of the boat and watch his body hit the water and disappear.

 

The men cheer, but I have no enthusiasm for the victory. That man could one day be me. One day very soon.

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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.

Download a #FREE copy of Alon’s latest novel, Kingfisher: Slave to Honor, as publisher gauges interest – http://bit.ly/2sq72DG

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A Birthday Wish

Dear Friends,

Today is my birthday. I guess we still celebrate in our 50’s, right? My birthday didn’t stop me firing up the computer and Keurig at 7.30am and getting in some writing at the quietest part of my day. Guess it’s in my DNA. 

I’m a lucky man. Blessed with a wonderful family, an inspiring job and (healing knee aside) good health. But, if you have a few minutes to to give me a gift, and it’s your time not money I want, here is how you can help me get the publishing contract I am chasing. 

As you know, Inkitt, a publisher, has taken an interest in my latest manuscript – an edgy magical realism novel. They are offering free downloadable copies and I request that you take a minute to click into the website and download a copy today.

Kingfisher: Slave To Honor – Free Novel by Alon Shalev

They have a complex set of algorithms that will help them decide whether to sign me which includes how it takes you to read the novel and they measure what pages you are on. If you get through the book, then a review is critical. Please be honest – I never want someone to write something they don’t believe.

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Thank you for your support. This is a very exciting opportunity for me and a publishing contract would make a mighty fine birthday gift!

The idea of helping struggling artists resonate more these days, so if you still have a bit of time, please help another author realize his/her dreams:

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Thank you, as always for your support,

Alon

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ALON SHALEV
At The Walls Of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1, 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award Winner – YA Category.

Learn more about the Wycaan Master series at http://www.alonshalev.com/

Stuck Between A Forest and a Big Corporation.

Tourmaline Books has agreed to upload the ebook versions of the Wycaan Master series to Smashwords making it available for all tablets and ebook platforms. Up until now, you could only buy the electronic version of the novels through Amazon and read them on a Kindle app.

This decision was made as a concession to me rather than based upon any viable business strategy. Amazon offers a wonderful deal for the publisher and author to go exclusive with them – higher royalties, opportunities for exposure through various marketing campaigns, and, of course, the name of the biggest book store in the world. Varying sources have Amazon dominating over 70% of the book market.

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There is a love/hate relationship between Amazon and the publishing world and there are plenty of articles covering this. Balancing this, as mentioned, Amazon has offered a business model that helps smaller publishers and independent author. One of my fellow writers once said – If you succeed with Amazon then you will think they are great. If you are not succeeding, well, it is nice to have someone to blame.

I have written extensively about my passion for ebooks. It is easier to read for those of us who have acquiesced to reading glasses, easy to carry a library around when traveling, and being instantly able to buy the next book in the series. It also helps those who cannot pay $25 for a hardcover.

But more than this, it is a decision about humanity’s future on this planet. Hopefully, you believe in climate change, but even those who don’t usually acknowledge that we need lots of trees in order to … well breathe.

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I am not dissing the tree book. I collect signed hardcovers of my favorite authors and these books adorn every corner of our house. For a guy who suffers from dust allergies, this is quite a compromise and I love having them there.

Amazon has been nothing but good for me. It has highlighted my books on several occasions, twice leading to a huge surge in sales. However, I am wary of any monopoly. Having lived for two decades respectively in two small countries, I enjoy that there is plenty of competition in the US, that companies are forced to offer high levels of product and customer service, and that the consumer always has a choice.

I do worry that Amazon has considerable power when you are part of the exclusive program, though I do not subscribe to the many stories that circulate. One of my friends, a member of the California Writer’s Club (CWC) and a successful Amazon author, once said that Amazon has rules, and everyone who signs on, agrees to them. In her opinion, those who break the rules and are discovered are the ones who are bitter, as it is difficult to make your case. I’m not sure if this is different from any other business transaction.

Having said all this, I do love Smashwords. Its founder, Mark Coker, is a Bay Area legend and visionary in the book community, and unselfishly offers himself to speak at book clubs, conferences, writers groups, and CWC events. The link above takes you to articles he has written for The Huffington Post).

The technology is simple (for the low tech individual like me I mean, not the engineers who designed it, I’m sure) – the author/publisher submits a ‘clean’ manuscript, which is put through their “meat grinder” which produces ebooks compatible with all the industry ebook platforms. Given that Smashwords is from the Bay Area, I am sure it produces only gluten-free editions!

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Whether the decision to work with Smashwords will make Tourmaline Books more money or not remains to be seen, but I appreciate their flexibility to allow me to continue to expand my ebook market and make an environmental decision that supports diversity within the market. I deeply appreciate they respect my values.

The future is bright for ebooks. It needs to be. As far as we know, Earth is the only planet with literature.

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For those of you interested in my books and read with eReaders other than Kindle, the Wycaan Master series can be downloaded by clicking on the relevant book title:

At The Walls Of Galbrieth – winner of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award,

The First Decree

Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3

Sacrificial Flame

From Ashes They Rose

Calhei No More.

However you read the Wycaan Master series, I thank you for your readership and fellowship.

Happy 2017,

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 Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. Calhei No More is the final novel in the series and was released in November 2016.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Is The Grass Always Greener?

Between you and me, I’ve always been jealous and somewhat in awe of a dear friend who has a book contract with a major publisher and is a terrific writer. I never resented her achievements because I knew she worked hard to achieve her success, garnering attention through winning writing contests, traveling far and wide to speaker engagements, and generally being the lovely collaborative person that any publisher or agent would love to work with.

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So I was a bit shocked when I met up with her for coffee the other day and she told me how frustrated she was with the route she had taken. I have heard many doom-and-gloom writers who are disdainful of the conventional publishing route, but to be honest, I always thought they were bitter because their books hadn’t sold as much as they had dreamed, or they were frustrated at having their considerable talents spurned by agents or publishers.

Hearing about her feeling of inertia and entrapment (my words, not hers) made me appreciate the support and belief that my small-press publishers, (Three Clover Press for the Social Justice novels, and Tourmaline Books for the epic fantasy) despite their limited resources.

But I would be lying if, when I see the beautiful hardcover books of Terry Brooks or R.A Salvatore adorning the shelves of a bookstore, I do not dream of seeing my novels displayed next to theirs, or wonder which actor Peter Jackson will cast to play Seanchai or Ilana.

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 I am currently editing a magical realism manuscript with my writers’ group and have been wondering whether to try and find an agent or offer it to one of the small-presses that already support me. Every time I watch an episode of Game of Thrones or Legend of the Seeker, I decide that I will go that route.

But yesterday’s conversation had me reevaluating. I am not entirely free to initiate a particular marketing strategy and should check in with my publishers. But I always receive their blessings and usually some wise words that help me improve my idea. Most importantly perhaps, when I call, someone answers the phone. They know who I am and personally care about my writing career, not just their bottom line.

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How have you chosen such paths in your writing or career decisions? Would love to hear.

And yes, even though I have been saying for the past month and a half that it is only two weeks until the release of Sacrificial Flame, Wycaan Master Book 4…I wish to leave you with the breaking news… Only two wee– Okay. I have no idea, but I’m holding out for July. When it happens, I will let you (and the whole world) know! Promise!

 

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Good Writing.

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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+

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).

It was 99 cents!

Every year before going on our annual vacation, my family sit around the kitchen table for some intense negotiating as we decide which songs from the past year will find their place on the 201x family vacation playlist. The songs with the highest consensus are the first. This year’s number one choice was Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s hilarious and anti-consumerism song – Thrift Shop – it was 99 cents! (the version below is the clean one with lyrics – thank you to Jadey Wadey – if you don’t mind the language, the official video is hilarious).

If I’m honest, I’m one of those people who go into the 99 cents store to buy 2-3 items and spends $15. In my humble defense, I rarely make such a trip.

So the concept of 99 cents shouldn’t faze me. But with Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3  due out in one month, the powers that be have decided to offer the kindle ebook version of At The Walls Of Galbrieth for 99 cents for the month of August.

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I objected: the book is already only $2.99 – less than a coffee at Starbucks (or most coffee shops). It took me a year to write and rewrite. I invested in a professional editor, cover artist, and many hours of blood, sweat and tears. I gave birth to it, sat up all night with it when it got a fever, and saw it take its first steps on Amazon.com and Smashwords.

At some point, eyes were rolled. They might have been relieved that the signals were there that I was on the road to becoming famous – I was acting the cultural prima donna.

I changed tracks: it is an award-winning novel, I whined. The response was brutal: it’s all about the sales.

And I was reminded that writing for my kids in the ancient Northern California Redwoods is one thing, making a living was another.

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And so: for the month of August, At The Walls Of Galbrieth will be available in Kindle form for 99 cents. Oh well, it worked for Macklemore.
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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.

Going for the Writer’s Lottery

It is true that you can become a millionaire from winning the lottery and that there are lottery winners every week. But for the aspiring author, winning the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) is akin to that precious and elusive lottery ticket.

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In today’s economic climate, it is a brave publisher who invests in an unknown author. Yes there will always be the J.K. Rowling out there, but they are as rare as, well, a winning lottery ticket. Assuming you are not a celebrity or have a good friend in the industry, it is almost impossible to pick up a literary agent. Then it helps that the agent stays in the business and find a publisher, and then the publisher needs to stay in the business and … well you get the gist.

But once a year, optimism pervades among us writers. ABNA is the mother of all writing competitions. They accept only 10,000 entries (already better odds than the lottery) which then go through a series of rounds until two talented individuals stand alone. Or more significantly stand with the publishing folks at Penguin Group (USA), Amazon.com, and CreateSpace. There is a $15,000 advance along with the publishing contract.

It is an exciting process. As midnight approaches on January 23rd, thousands of optimistic writers will sit poised by our computers, all necessary documents ready to upload. A month later we will all anxiously await the first cut. We look first for our own names and then those of our friends who have also entered.

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For the last two years I have reached the last 250 entries, the Quarter Finals, with The Accidental Activist and Unwanted Heroes, both political fiction. Like any good lottery player, I was already dreaming of my shining literary future. Alas, I went no further and my dreams were put aside in favor of actively seeking an agent and publisher. I did succeed, with The Accidental Activist coming out last year and Unwanted Heroes expected this coming spring.

But this is the first time that I am entering the YA contest with a fantasy manuscript. In the next month I will share my preparations and would appreciate any feedback that can help me hone the best possible entry.

And once again I will be watching the clock tick away to midnight on that fateful day and begin the dream all over again.

I will keep you posted – to the bitter end – but until then, allow me to dream.

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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 will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#elfwriter).