Interview With An Elf

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Wycaan Master 1 Just Front Cover

INTERVIEW WITH AN ELF

Interviewer: I would like to introduce Chamerak, an elf who appears in At The Walls Of Galbrieth, the first Wycaan Master novel by Alon Shalev.  Welcome, sir, and thank you for agreeing to the interview.

Chamerak: My pleasure. It is an honor to represent my people to receptive humans,

Interviewer: Receptive? Can you explain?

Chamerak: Once, long before you and I were born, a council that had representation from all the four races ruled the land of Odessiya. Eventually, humans broke from this coalition when they were discovered to have large colonies of slaves mining rich lands beyond our boundaries.

Most of those who were slaves then were dwarves, and the dwarves here insisted they stop. Slavery was not tolerated in Odessiya. There were the rich and the poor, to be sure, but every individual, regardless of race, had inherent rights.

Interviewer: What happened?

Chamerak: As well as large colonies of slaves, these humans had built huge armies too. There was a series of battles, culminating in one great battle. That was our most tragic moment.

The elven leaders had tried to broker between the humans and dwarves, though we were clearly on the side of the latter. Still, we had helped to find a diplomatic solution as we had for centuries since the great council had begun.

We spread our leaders too thinly and when the battles joined, our people were massacred. The humans won a decisive battle, the powers of the Emperor and his cronies were revealed. The dwarves, what were left of them, disappeared deep underground, and my people became a slave nation.

Interviewer: Literally slaves?

Chamerak: Yes. Those in the cities lived under total servitude. Others found refuge living in remoter villages, where they paid for their restricted freedom with crushing taxes that prevented them ever moving above the strain of poverty. Humans often came to have sport ­­– there were those who collected our pointed ears as trophies – or take if they wanted food or worse.

Interviewer: And all humans were like this?

Chamerak: Generally, yes. After a few generations, it became normal for them. They knew little else and were indoctrinated from birth to look down on us as an inferior race. But there were a few who were not like that.

In At The Walls Of Galbrieth, you will meet Uncle. He led a band of elves into the great forests, to live as freeborn and help other elves escape. Not long after I joined his band, we captured some humans. They did not fight us, but neither did they cower. We took them prisoners and a strange dynamic happened.

As we interrogated them, they began to ask us questions. At first, we thought it was a ruse to discover our secrets: where we hid, who our leadership was, and things like this. But they were different and we made a discovery that filled us with hope. Uncle, in his wisdom, was the first to realize this. I must admit: I wanted to execute them on the spot for just having round ears. I was young then and my life had been hard, though no different from those around me,

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Interviewer: What did this Uncle discover?

Chamerak: That not all humans were bad. That in the same way they had stereotyped us as stupid, inferior, lazy, unhygienic, etc., we too had stereotyped them as one type of human: violent, power-hungry, racist, you know.

Interviewer: What happened next?

Chamerak: Uncle invited them to join us. We kept them in a separate camp for a long time. But eventually, as trust grew between us, we became one band. Word spread of our mixed group and others sought us out. Other groups formed, including some who were committed to teaching rather than fighting.

Gradually, the old stories were told and there was an awakening of an older conscious. It is, I believe, what brought the Wycaans back into our histories, and what facilitated the coming of the Wycaan Master.

Interviewer: I have heard a lot of rumors about him. What can you tell me about­–

Chamerak: These are early days and it is better not to reveal too much. Wycaans are not just elves, but can be from any race. They can be male or female. You have made assumptions.

Interviewer: My apologies.

Chamerak: Assumptions are dangerous thoughts. They are what brought us to the racist society we live in. But there is hope.

Interviewer: How?

Chamerak: As long as the stories are being told, the narrative is being formed. It will be challenged and evolve and, hopefully, change for the better. It is the power of the books.

Interviewer: Rather fantastical, no?

Chamerak: Epically so.

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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).

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Sex or Swords?

I recently finished reading an epic fantasy novel by an author who is perhaps a year ahead of me. He is a couple of novels deeper into his series and seems to have a similar, but not bigger, social platform. 

But his books are selling impressively and I enjoyed reading his work, but there was nothing in the quality of the plot, writing, etc. that suggested why he is outselling me.

There are a lot of things in common between our novels. They are both character driven and, though there is a clear plot arc, you really stay engaged because you are rooting for the characters. There is plenty of action and moral dilemmas. If and when I write a review, and I definitely will because this is so important to the author (hinting here!), I realize that it would be similar to many of the reviews I have received for At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The First Decree.

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But there are two fundamental differences, perhaps three.

1) His novels are meant only for adults.

2) There is a fair amount of sex.

There is also considerable swearing, but I don’t think someone buys a book because of the swearing. It might deter a few people, but not act as motivator.

These differences lead me to wonder about whether young adults are reading ebooks – which remains the most popular with all struggling authors – and I will examine this next week.

But for now, I want to focus on sex. Let me be honest. I’m very fond of sex and I enjoy reading and writing about it. In my non-fantasy novels, there are probably two graphic sex scenes in each. I believe that the way my characters deal with sex, before, during and after, reveals far more than any long description can ever hope to achieve.

All three books ­– A Gardener’s Tale, The Accidental Activist, and Unwanted Heroes – have garnered criticism from a few reviewers who were upset or disturbed by what they read, but there are many others who mention it positively. There was nothing 50 Shades, or anything violent or forced in these scenes and, in truth, I remain proud of them, even when I know my mother and mother-in-law have read them!

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However, what is the place of sex in epic fantasy? The book in question has two sex scenes and neither are particularly graphic or explicit. Throughout the novel there are sexual references but little more than men’s comments or a woman’s thoughts. Both scenes were written well and felt part of the story. Both added to the richness of the characters.

 I have wondered about Game of Thrones, in particular because my 14-year-old is interested in reading and watching the series. I have no doubt that George R.R. Martin wrote what he understood to be sexual mores of that period and I agree that it probably happened as he described, but the sex was clearly not a turn on for me (neither was it for most of Martin’s characters come to think of it).

Much of the sex were men exploiting their power over women and a few scenes are of women who manipulate men to get something they want through sexual favors or binding the men’s lusts to them. All good stuff, perhaps, but not something I want to share with my teenage son.

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I want him to know about sex as something romantic, a bonding act between two people who love each other. I want him to know that anything that is not two consenting adults pleasuring themselves and each other, is deviant. It might not necessarily be wrong, but that is for him to decide according to his values.

In the Wycaan Master series, I touch on many values and morals. I challenge the young adults who read my books to make choices about race, violence, friendships, loyalty, and enjoy it when I hear my son or his friends comment that they are proud/disappointed/upset/ happy about the actions of a character. I like that they feel guilty, understanding and maybe partly rooting for the bad guys. Nothing is ever black or white.

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But what about sex? There are certain hints in my novels that some things are going on, but it is easily missed if a young adult is not thinking about such topics. To write about sex, even in a tasteful youth-orientated way, would strip my novels of being YA (young adult). I would lose the initial motivation of writing to influence a new generation. 

Is it possible to write in sexual scenes in a YA novel? Most parents do not vet a book, trusting that if it has received recognition as YA then it will not include certain things such as swearing, graphic violence, or sex.

I do not want to step away from the target audience that so intrigues me and I am not sure I am ready to abandon them. However, I am frustrated that there are strict boundaries, frustrated that I could convey so much to my target audience through my young characters having or thinking of sexual encounters. I could convey healthy values associated with sex, values that I want to share with my own sons.

So my question is: Can sex be handled within a YA context? Your thoughts?

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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.

 

Where is the Moral Line in YA Fiction?

Since I wrote Wycaan Master with my (then) 11-year-old son, I assumed that our story fitted the Young Adult genre. It is a coming-of-age novel, so I never gave it much thought. There is no clear sex or profanity, though race is a big issue in the first book.

Since I have become absorbed in the fantasy genre, I have begun to wonder where the line is drawn. As I continue to write the second and third books in the series, intimacy has developed between characters, sometimes direct and at other times implied. There has been plenty of violence and references to overindulgence in alcohol. Colleagues at my writers group have questioned whether I should be including these themes.

As I began to research this, I found a number of excellent sources regarding YA fiction in general. Heather Dunlevy-Scheerer has written an interesting article about the historical development of YA literature.

She lays out several characteristics that she took from someone called Niday (I couldn’t find a clear reference).

(1) a teenage (or young adult) protagonist

(2) first-person perspective

(3) adult characters in the background

(4) a limited number of characters

(5) a compressed time span and familiar setting

(6) current slang

(7) detailed descriptions of appearance and dress

(8) positive resolution

(9) few, if any, subplots

(10) an approximate length of 125 to 250 pages.

From a brief skimming of the Internet, it seems that the common thread in YA fiction is an adolescent, rather than an adult or child, protagonist. However, the subject matter and story lines of leading YA literature are relevant to the challenges of youth, and more edgier novels include themes such as identity, sexuality, science fiction, depression, suicide, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, money issues, race, familial struggles, and bullying.

April Dawn Wells suggests seventeen common traits of young adult novels. These include: “friendship, getting into trouble, interest in the opposite sex, money, divorce, single parents, remarriage, problems with parents, grandparents, younger siblings, concern over grades/school, popularity, puberty, race, death, neighborhood, and job/working.

There are a number of YA novels currently in print that are on the edgier sides, dealing with peer pressure, drugs, gangs, crime, violence, sexuality, incest, oral sex, and female/male rape.

The obvious criticism of these novels is that they encourage destructive or immoral behavior or at least bring them into the adolescent’s mind at too early an age. Countering this is the fact that teens will be better equipped to deal with real-life difficult situations and social issues because they have role models in the protagonists they have followed.

Where is the line drawn in amount and nature of such issues between appropriateness and inappropriateness in young-adult fiction? How can we keep literature as a relevant medium when the exposure of TV, computer games and Internet is almost not monitored and easily accessible? None of these mediums, in my opinion, can offer the depth of thought and emotion that a good book provides.

Now more than ever, YA literature needs to stay relevant. Maybe the adults (including parents of teens like myself) have to accept that we might be more uncomfortable with this than our children.

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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).