Depth of Character

THERE ARE NO SPOILERS HERE:

A while ago I read the first two books in The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. I remember planning to write a blog post then on the author’s use of character, but somehow other topics rose to my attention. I am now three-quarters through the third, and just as enthralled.

Joe Abercrombie

Sometimes when I’m really enjoying a book, I’ll read a sentence or paragraph and just wonder: how can someone’s head be wired in such a way that they’d come up with that? Joe Abercrombie epitomizes this ability to keep it unique.

But it is his characters that amaze me. It is impossible to identify one protagonist – there are several. The danger in doing this is that each must be compelling or else the reader will flip through a section to return to the more favored characters. This does not happen with Abercrombie – each protagonist is capable of holding his or her own space. Their voices are completely different, backed by their own personal flaws and challenges. If you are looking for character tropes, this is simply not the place. If you want the perfect hero, look elsewhere. But perhaps because of their flaws, we can connect with them. For a medieval fantasy novel, or any similar sub genre, this is a brave move, but Abercrombie does it perfectly.

Characters Acerombie

Even minor characters manage to claim their unique places. All the Named Ones are memorable, one of Glokta’s muscle men has an incredible vocabulary, and there are so many more. It is to Abercrombie’s credit, that there are simply no throwaway characters. That is a testament of hard work. 

Another brave move is to break the rules. A member of the Berkeley Writers Group wrote a piece in which she includes considerable internal monologue, italicized to make it clear who is speaking. Her editor suggested cutting it as this is not conventional, But when she read this second version to the group, we lamented the intimacy we had with the character and the author feared the protagonist had lost her voice. 

Joe Abercrombie Quote

Abercrombie does this brilliantly with Glokta and his internal dialogue. If he just used it to show the character’s emotions, one could say there are other ways to achieve this – body language for example, but Abercrombie offers much more.

The best example is when he is trying to share the rumors of an imminent invasion and compares brilliantly his bosses’ leadership to a ship that sinks in a storm, interlacing the internal monologue to match the self-interested, derisive comments of his superior.

In addition, Abercrombie has the ability to offer such succinct lines that convey so much. There are a few examples here. 

Abercrombie Quote 2

What compelled me to write this blog post – I don’t usually review other authors – is the thrill I feel when I read someone who is expanding the craft. We often refer to the way we write as the craft (I think Stephen King was the man who introduced this to me) and we all look to improve the nuts and bolts of our work. When you take your own craft seriously, you look at the masters with awe and try to learn from them. 

In pass blogs I have mentioned such authors as Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Christopher Paolini, Terry Pratchett, as the masters of our genre. From my perspective, Joe Abercrombie can unapologetically take his place at the table.

Finally, thank you to those who are helping my new medieval fantasy manuscript, Kingfisher: Slave to Honor find a publisher by downloading a free copy. The publisher is interested, but I need you now to read  it (they are measuring how many pages you turn and whether you leave a review. It is very exciting and I thank you for your support.

Kingfisher Cover

Warmly,

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. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions – all ebooks are 99c each for August. 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

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

 

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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).

My Birthday Wish

Today is my birthday. I am 21 again (for the 32nd time but who is counting) and I welcome a birthday gift from you:

  1. If you have never bought one of my novels, please consider doing so (links below) and leave a review.
  1. If you have read one or more, please leave a review on Amazon.com and Goodreads, particularly for Books 3 and 5.

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It helps the author:

Book reviews are incredibly important for authors and the promotion of our books. It is deeply refreshing that, even in the age of the always-present screen, people seek the opinion of their friends and peers when it comes to choosing a novel.

No one outside the industry truly understands the bookseller’s algorithms (I wonder whether the booksellers do themselves), but there is a consensus that reviews play a positive role and this leads to more exposure and higher rankings.

These algorithms also influence the important linking between novels. Further down a book’s page, you will see something along the lines of “If you liked this book, you might also be interested in….” It is a huge bump for a rising author to be linked to one of the bestsellers and I have experienced this bump myself.

Reviews have a vital impact in Goodreads (now the largest book club in the world – 25 million readers in 2014) where they help an author get discussed on review sites, blogging groups, and discussion lists. It is also important to note that reviews from Goodreads are often syndicated and this can be a huge step for an author (ask E.L. James who wrote this obscure book 50 Shades of Grey that was reviewed by a group on Goodreads and…)

By the way, when you do write and read reviews on books, please take a few seconds to ‘Like’ the other reviews you agree with. This also gets bundled up in the algorithms.

If you are an author or an aspiring one, leaving reviews helps you improve how you judge a novel helping you avoid some of the many writing pitfalls. It creates goodwill among other authors and can provide legitimacy to their platform.

Writing thoughtful reviews also influence others to do likewise and a snowball effect is not uncommon. By writing a review, you might encourage others to do so.

Book Signing Games of Berkeley

It helps the reader:

In fact over 85% of Amazon kindle users say that they read the reviews before buying a book. A solid list of book reviews help other readers determine if the book is for them.

I saw on a website recently a mime that said Friends don’t let friends read bad books. It was a way to encourage people to leave reviews and help their peers uncover the golden nuggets that are buried among the mass of books being published today.

Often comments left by thoughtful reviewers covers areas not mentioned in the marketing blurb.

The bottom line is that more reviews lead to more exposure, higher book rankings and more sales. Supporting an author earns quality karma for when you pass to the great library in the sky. Helping them on their birthday, even more so!

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By the way, you do not have to prove you have bought the book to leave reviews on Amazon.com and Goodreads. If you checked it out at the library or received it from a friend, you can still participate.

Leaving or liking a review doesn’t cost anything but a few minutes of your time and it makes a huge difference to the reading and writing community. It will make a huge difference to me.

Thank you for all your support along the way. If you weren’t reading my books, I wouldn’t be so motivated to write them.

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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 four more novels in the Wycaan Master Series – all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose, is the latest in the series. The story continues.

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 Facts of (Publishing) Life.

I really should not be surprised. My publisher has done this to me before. They have taken my award-winning At The Walls Of Galbrieth, the opening book of the Wycaan Master series and, in celebration of the impending release of Book 5, are offering the ebook version for 99 cents.

Book 5 Cover FINAL

Let me rephrase this: the novel I toiled over for two years (twice as long as any other might I add), the novel that I sweated over as I read it to a disbelieving writer’s group (I was already known for three published social-justice themed novels which distinctly lacked any elves or dwarves), and it bears repeating, that novel that won the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award.

I would like to rant that my novel is being sold for the price of a cup of coffee, but I defy you to go find a decent cuppa joe less than three times that amount. It takes a few minutes to create the perfect latte, but a novel…

Now I think my publishers like (more likely tolerate) me because I am not a prima donna. I roll with the punches, the change in book title, cover design, date of publication, and book price … eh usually.

They explained patiently that the excitement generated around a book release that is deep into a series is a great time to get people who have been thinking of starting a new fantasy series to take the first step. It is a strategic marketing tactic they say.

Now I know they are totally right, way smarter than me about such things, but that really doesn’t help. All I see is a book I poured my heart into, a novel that made me cry and cheer, and want to learn archery and swordplay. It is a novel of a young elf, written with the thought how the sons I wrote this for might react. As such, the protagonist, Seanchai, became another son. And so I shared in his fears, frustrations, exhilarations, and his first love.

Now you can share that too…all for the price of, well: help me out Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – It was 99 cents!

But if I could have it my way, it won’t be for long! Have a great week,

Elfwriter – Alon Shalev.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and three more novels in the Wycaan Master Series: The First Decree, Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, and Sacrificial Flame – all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose, the fifth in the series, will be released in September 2015. The story continues.

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+

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.

Games of Berkeley Question from Asif

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!

 

Sacrificial Flame Cover Hi Res

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+

Size – Does It Matter?

So shoot me for false advertising, but I have a dilemma. I shared with you last week in A Tribute to Editors that I have received my manuscript to At The Walls Of Galbrieth back from my editor with lots of cuts and corrections. As I worked my way through, accepting 90% of the changes suggested, I realized that my word count was dropping drastically.

I am about 80% through the novel, which began at 96,000 words and is now down to about 85,000.

Epic fantasy novels are thick tombs, offering the promise to get lost in a mythical world for a month or so. It is not a novel that you can finish in a weekend (unless your weekend is very empty and you are a fast reader).

Even Young Adult books make good doorstops. The Christopher Paolinis’ of this world have proved that teenagers will stick with a long story if it is compelling enough.

So my first question is: Is there a minimum length? When I was shopping the Wycaan Master series, there were publishers who stipulated a word range, often 100,00+. It might be that they expected their editors to attack it with a scalpel, much as my editor did.

My second question regards world building, something we have touched on before at elfwriter. A lot of the scenery description has been edited out. The editor, like many in the writing world, believes that you shouldn’t reveal everything: about a person, room, scenery etc., but allow the reader to create their own image.

Certainly, anyone who has read a book after watching the movie  (or the other way around) can appreciate this.

Tolkien, the master, spent pages describing the forests and the trees. Many of us loved this while others skipped these long descriptions. I wonder whether a young, undiscovered Tolkien would (and please pardon the expression) suffer the long red, sharpie lines through these sections of his work (or the Track Changes equivalent – but that’s not how I think of the old professor).

There is a middle ground. My editor has challenged me to integrate the descriptions within an action scene or as a pivot for a character’s self-reflection. This is a great point and I plan to experiment with this in the future. Do you know of any writers who do a good job of integrating description into the flow of the plot or character development, without it feeling like a ‘description-dump’?

So two questions here: Does size matter? How much description is allowed?

As always, I appreciate your feedback and guidance.

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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).