Valentine’s Day – Epic Fantasy Style

What made the great authors and world-builders of our time overlook such a special occasion? Was Valentine’s Day not celebrated in Middle Earth? Shannara? Odessiya?  Where does Terry Brooks,  R. A. Salvatore, Christopher Paolini, Robert Jordan and others stand on this?

Perhaps it is not a question of the author’s epic battles for love. Perhaps the characters need to take a bit of responsibility. How would they have gone about it?

Elves: the sophisticated romantics. On this special day, elves would often take their beloved on a romantic walk, deep into the ancient forests. Alone, they would visit a favorite pool, fed by a sparkling waterfall, with a noble white heron keeping watch from a rock nearby. Butterflies of every color would hover over the water.

Each elf would produce a small flute and serenade each other. Then one would draw his (or her) intricately carved bow and shoot into a nearby tree. A shower of fragrant petals would fall around them, settling in their perfectly coiffured hair. The other would produce a carefully wrapped, gluten-free, artisan pizza, magically still warm and with crispy crusts that were calorie-light. They would recite poetry to each other, eat, and then bathe in the pool, coincidently illuminated by a full moon on a cloudless night.

Oh, to be an elf!
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Dwarves: The romantic dwarf is meticulous in her (or his) preparation for Valentine’s Day. The previous day is spent washing, conditioning, and combing their beards. Oh, those curly locks challenge even the most finely made comb.

A dwarf Valentine’s Day is all about the rocks. A conscientious romantic will travel deep into the mines to find the perfect gem and then forge a unique ring and necklace set, never seen before … since last Valentine’s Day.

The morning of Valentine’s Day, one often awakes to see their axe newly sharpened and oiled, the hilt freshly bound with clean leather or copper wire, the shaft gleaming. That night around a roaring fire, with an ox dripping grease into the flames, the dwarves consume tankards of ale and sing deep into the night. The songs, however, are not of mighty battles and bountiful treasures as they are every other night, sung as one mighty chorus. This night the dwarves sing only to their beloved, and the songs are of mighty battles, bountiful treasures, and furtive kisses for the hero (or heroine). The next morning, all you remember through the hangover is hazy and askew. But you still have the ring and necklace, and oh your axe is gleaming and sharp! images-6

Humans: As Valentine’s Day approaches, the scribes of the mighty House of Hallmark are almost out of scrolls, quills, and ink, their arms limp from Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. They don’t complain, few have health coverage, but they have made their money. They bless the Great Goddess of Consumerism, though they will never quite appreciate the theology until the Revelation of the Coming of the Internet. For now, electricity seems fantastical and visions of deluded priests, court jesters, and coders and entrepreneurs.

The gardeners have been preparing all year. Every self-respecting knight requires a bouquet of at least 10 long-stemmed reds to fit over the tip of their lance, which they will offer to a sweet virgin in the admiring crowd. If she accepts the roses, then she replaces them with her silk ’kerchief, piercing it gently over the young knight’s lance tip. Many a young man has, at this point, fallen from his horse in anticipation. The definition of virgin, it should be noted, is pretty relaxed in the world of fantasy.

After the obligatory jousting and archery competitions, the virgins retire to their rooms and surreptitiously peer over their balconies. After slaying dragons and defeating barbarian hordes on the battlefield, the young knights return, and once bathed, shaved and smelling of Old Spice, serenade the young virgins. They toss a twisted vine with grappling hook up to her balcony (many a venture capitalist squire made his fortune investing in the grappling hook industry). The virgin slides down, having practiced for hours how to keep her flowing dress from either ripping, getting dirty, or ending up awkwardly around her head. She lands sidesaddle on the knight’s noble steed.

The rest of the evening: a dinner, movie, and long walk along the moonlit battlefield, gazing together upon the vultures and ravens picking the entrails of the vanquished, have passed from tradition into our everyday rituals.
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Pictorians: The pictorians (read Wycaan Master series for background, but not while on Valentine’s Day date) are very secretive about their romantic rituals. Court anthropologists believe the couple sneak off after the pictorye are asleep, both wielding gleaming axes or thick clubs. Working in perfect synchronicity and without need for verbal communication, they bring down a wild buffalo bull, ripping its flesh with their bare hands and teeth, while feeding each other in a raw, bloody passion. The horns of the bull are carved out and used to toast the night with a dark beer imported from the mythical land of the Four-leafed Clover.

The female pictorian then beats her mate unconscious with the two bull horns, drags him back to their ice homes, and has her way with him, which often includes him skinning the buffalo and cleaning out the hearth, a rare feat for such mighty warriors. They are also expected to provide her with breakfast in bed, the Venti Mocha half-caf still steaming.

 

If, by chance, you are still reading this post, you probably have a pretty good idea why our literary greats chose not to dwell on such rituals as Valentine’s Day. I would elucidate further, but my mate awaits with expectations high, and I have her axe to sharpen, parchment to gather, and, where did I put my lance…

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Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

BREAKING NEWS: Tourmaline Books have announced they are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of February though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship. 

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

Fathers Get A Bad Rap

It’s true … at least in fantasy. Fathers get a bad rap. Luke Skywalker’s father hacked his arm off and tried to turn him to the dark side. I have to admit there are a few times when my kids were not doing homework that I almost reached for my light saber in frustration.

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Frodo didn’t really know his father, Eragon never knew his, and even my own Seanchai, leaves his father in the first chapter of At The Walls of Galbrieth and has to struggle through six books without parental advise, and then…well, let me know when you get to the fourth book, Sacrificial Flame.

Terry Brooks doesn’t offer much father: son/daughter love with his characters and Beowulf’s wouldn’t let his son tell anyone who his father was. Terry Goodkind might have spared Richard Cypher discovering who his father was and how he was conceived. Fathers are absent from the Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and so on and so forth.

Here’s the mystery: all these books are written by men who, I am pretty sure, have/had sons. I myself would not even have ventured into the world of fantasy if not for a camping trip with my family.

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Reading Book 6 in the summer of 2015. End of an era.

Fathers, when they do appear, seem to be burdened by their responsibilities, often traveling to save crown or country, and seem somewhat at a loss how to be a good father. Somehow, this is no longer sounding fantastical. I spend a fair time away from my children, admittedly not slaying dragons or fending off hordes that want to invade my country, but doing work that puts food on the family table, a roof over our heads, and hopefully doing a little good for the world along the way.

Now fantasy is about coming-of-age, about the struggle of young people overcoming challenges as they grow into their full potential. Fair enough. We put our faith in our youth – this is an age old trope – and given how badly we adults have treated this world, each other, and what a mess we have made of society, it is only natural that we channel our optimism into the next generation.

But here on Father’s Day, let’s give credit to the gene pool. These young heroes and heroines must have received the hero gene from someone. No doubt their courageous and wise mothers had something to do with it, but so did we.

So head to the local tavern and raise a mug of mead: to all our fantasy heroes and the fathers who play their part, often against all odds and without an instruction manual (which we don’t read anyhow, being men). And if that spills out from the world of fantasy into the real world, well, so mote it be!

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Happy Father’s Day!  

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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.

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

The Changing Pace of Novels

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post highlighting my favorite novels from 2015. The list included the venerable George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss. I am currently reading the third Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind. Followers of this blog will know that I hold Terry Brooks, Christopher Paolini, and Robert Jordan in high regard, and that I am somewhat obsessed with a certain Oxford professor.

What do they share in common? Okay – they are wildly successful and have dedicated hordes of followers – no need to rub it in. But I am referring to their writing styles. All these authors write slow-paced novels with intricate details about characters, their actions and personifications, and the world they exist in. Each writes thick tomes that you need to make a commitment to reading.

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The industry, so the experts expound, believes novels should be fast-paced. They demand that we hit the ground running: “Show me a hook!” we demand in our writer’s group. “You only have 20 pages to grab your reader,” “10 pages,” “5.” Sometimes it is the first paragraph or sentence.

If you look at the reviews of my Wycaan Master series, you will see compliments such as:

– The plot and action keep you turning pages 

– It’s fast paced

– Shalev delivers a well-paced novel

And my favorite:

– Fantasy that moves at a blistering pace

I am proud of these reviews because this was my intention. I wrote the series fast because I believed that is what the industry (which purports to know the readers) demands.

But I am having my doubts. I want to add the layers that the aforementioned wrote and I believe that a large segment of epic fantasy readers crave this too. I want to create a rich world in which the readers lose themselves. I want to offer a deeper insight into the mores of the society and analyze the intricacies and inconsistencies of my characters.

Tolkein spends three pages describing Mirkwood. I probably skimmed over it when I first read The Hobbit, but as I have grown older, I seem to enjoy it, thrive on it even.

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I see how this does not pan out on the screen. I have watched all fifty episodes of Game of Thrones, and am now enthralled with The Shannara Chronicles. But if I were to be critical (perish the thought), I would say they have missed out so much. Of course, this would mean that each GoT season would last a couple of years but hey, you won’t hear any complaints from me!

But back to the world of novels: What do you prefer between the fast-paced, action-packed novels and those that take their time?

Love to hear.

elfwriter

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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 three 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+ 

Fantasy Novels That Stood Out 2015

I am a voracious reader. At any time, I am reading one book while static (on the bus, in bed) and listening to a second on audio while walking the dog, working out, or commuting.

One of these books will be fantasy or magical realism. The other is usually non-fiction, perhaps a social justice-themed book or a biography. Here are the ten fantasy or magical realism books that stood out for me. To check out what else I read and the reviews I left, please check out my Goodreads page.

Patrick Rothfuss – Name of the Wind, The Wise Man’s Fear.

My stand out reading experience of the year .I loved both these books. Rothfuss has a unique style and voice. I was totally captivated. The third book is very different and I was less enamored.

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Terry Brooks – Dark Legacy of Shannara

I have not read anything from Terry Brooks in a year. He is my role model and fantasy writer hero. But I think there was a reason that I took a break. Still coming back to his work was so enjoyable – like drinking your mother’s chicken soup after being vegetarian for a year (well, you get the point). Biggest problem is a fear I have harbored for a while – I am now up-to-date and have wait until May 26, 2016 – but who’s counting (124 days at the time of writing!).

Robert Jordan – The First Five Wheel of Time books.

This was the big intro for me this year. Robert Jordan is one of the foremost fantasy writers of the past few decades, but I had not read any of his work. I thoroughly hang my head in shame but I really enjoyed the first two novels and totally entered his world and connected to the main characters. Impulsively, I bought the entire audio set off of eBay on sale. I think I am now about six books through and taking a break, but long series’ are difficult to stay with. As with Terry Brooks’ work, I shall return to it soon.

Kevin Hearne – Hammered.

What can I say? This guy is so cool and his books are hilarious. Beware about laughing out loud. I have in each book. Looking forward to reading more.

George R.R. Martin – A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.

So, I admit it. I give the guy a hard time (not because I am insanely jealous of his talent and fame…oh no! Goodness!), but I have been in serious GoT withdrawal. The TV episodes are good, but the books are a lifestyle. So you can imagine how ecstatic I was to come across this kind of prequel. Kind of because it is a story in its own right that doesn’t, as far as I see, really prepare much for GoT. It takes place a hundred years before and is full of the flavors that make Martin’s writing so special. Well worth it to help tide you over until…

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Lev Grossman – The Magician’s Land

This is the third in the series and as impressive as the first two. I finished this at the beginning of January 2015 and don’t remember much beyond satisfaction and a sense of loss once completed. It is not an easy read, but great tales rarely are.

Hal Emerson – The Prince of Ravens

This is one author you might not have heard of. I picked up the book as a freebie on Amazon’s KDP program and was intrigued by its original world and concept. The protagonist is a troubled young man that we slowly learn to love as he learns to love himself. Great first book by an excellent author.

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Terry Pratchett – A Slip of the Keyboard

This was tough. In truth, I read it as a tribute to the author when he passed away. Discworld was a big part of my life and helped pull me through some of my own darker periods of life. There are some quaint stories and insights into the great man who no longer walks among us. Probably for the hardcore fans more than the casual reader. But for most of us, the world is an emptier place today.

Artist: Paul Kidby

Artist: Paul Kidby

I would like to show my appreciation of Goodreads for the ability to be able to track the books I read and the books that others are reading. I will write more about this in the future, but for now, thank you, Goodreads, for being my virtual bookcase.

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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 Goodreads.

 

Happy Birthday My Favorite Professor

Dear Professor,

Happy Birthday, sir.

You probably don’t remember me since I never took a class with you while you lived. Neither have I sat in the lecture auditorium at Oxford, nor a tutorial in your office.

But I consider myself a student of yours nonetheless. I have read most of your books (got a bit lost on the more obscure ones to be honest) several times, watched the movies (though I’m not sure you  would give academic credit for that), and read numerous books about you and your work.

 

When I write, I see you as someone to emulate, someone who has set the standard. It is not just you of course, please don’t get ahead of yourself; there is Terry Brooks,  Robert Jordan, and some new kids on the block: Christopher Paolini, George R.R. Martin, and Patrick Rothfuss – you would approve of the former, and latter, I am sure.

But as much as I admire them, when faced with an issue writing one of my books, I pause and try and imagine what a certain old Oxford professor would advise me to do.

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But while your books are legendary, your world-building stunning, and your ability to create languages are simply mind-boggling, what amazes me is that you had it in you in the first place: an academic, a somewhat upper-crust Englishman, a traditionalist, a Christian, and a war veteran. Was it the latter? Was what you witnessed on the battlefields of Europe in the First World War the seeds for LOTR? Was this the only way you could find to express the struggle of good .v. evil? 

What happened that fine summer day as you marked term papers? Were you bored? Looking forward to a vacation? Had a pint too many of Eastfarthing at lunch? When you stared at that blank sheet of paper a student had accidentally inserted, what made you scribble: In a hole in the ground there lives a hobbit…

Whatever possessed you, sir, changed the world of epic fantasy forever. Perhaps you should have heeded the advice you gave dear Frodo: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

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I hope you are sitting in a pub up there in heaven, surrounded by wonderful friends – elves, dwarves, hobbits, and even a few humans, most likely friends from The Inklings.  and raising a glass to celebrate his 123rd birthday.

This student thanks you for everything you gave him as a reader and taught him as an author. A very happy twelvety-first birthday, sir! And to celebrate, here is a rendition of Happy Birthday in elvish, the language you created, one word at a time. Thank you to Petri Tikka for this rendition!

Happy Birthday Professor – Oronnad meren allen! 

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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+

 

A Gift For The Gifted

Last month, when Amazon featured At The Walls Of Galbrieth, I asked my teenage son to get his friends to download the book and leave a review. He responded that most of them don’t have a kindle or even the app on their phones.

I was surprised and pushed back, but he persisted. When most have finished their homework it is late and they only want to chill, play a video game or read a graphic novel at best. No one has the energy to read.

No one?

Well, he admitted, some do.

Are they the ones who don’t do their homework?

He thought for a moment then decided that these were his friends who are academically the high-achievers. Actually they also participate in crew, debate club, or hold down a part-time job.

We left the conversation there, but the next day he asked if he could download a book to read. It has just come out and is part of a series he was reading in the summer vacation and before. He is excited about its release.

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I am proud that he joined the dots and decided to begin reading again. He spends almost all his waking hours at school or doing homework. I know and appreciate how much energy he invests just to keep up. But he realized that those friends he wishes to emulate are reading.

It is no surprise that teenagers who are reading are flocking to series. They grew up on Harry Potter and a host of other great series. These books offered long months or years of reading, of living in a world they got to know as well as their own, and of meeting characters who turned into good, steady friends. They got sad when they finished the last page of the most current book and counted down to the new release. In an age of instant gratification, waiting a year or two for a new novel is unthinkable!

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My son and I stood at midnight (actually he fell asleep leaning against me) in Borders waiting for the fourth Christopher Paolini book. By the time we returned home, he was too tired to read it, but that did not stop him falling asleep hugging the book.

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My eldest holding his autographed copy at the midnight release… a priceless moment from 2010!

It is fun to see that even now, years after the Harry Potter series began and even ended, how excited everyone gets when J.K. Rowling tweets a thought.

So when you consider what to buy a teenager or pre-teen for the holidays, you could do worse than buy a few books and begin them on a journey to another world that they envisage on their terms (with a little input from a humble author!). And, though this article is not meant as a promotion, well, I’ll leave you with a gif.

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Happy Holidays,

Alon / 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 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.

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

 

 

 

Can I Have Your Autograph, Dead Author?

You probably know the story: Robert Jordan wrote 12 amazing epic fantasy books – Wheel of Time series – and outlined three more that he was unable to complete before he passed away in 2007 (for those of you purists counting, I have included New Spring as one of the series, though it was written out-of-sequence). His wife persuaded Brandon Sanderson, already a respected novelist in his own right, to finish the series for her husband.

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I learned about this from an interview with Mr. Sanderson, which was both compelling and offered with wonderful humility – if you can find the interview, please leave the link in the comments. The whole idea of writing someone else’s book is stunning to me – no disrespect meant to ghost writers – I think this is different.

So A Memory of Light comes out in 2013 to great aplomb. It is the end of an era, a wonderful legacy by a rising hero to a master etc. etc. We fantasy readers get very emotional when the great stories actually transcend the page.

I’m sure you can imagine my joy when I pick up a book in a used bookstore and discover not only Mr. Sanderson’s autograph but also Mr. Jordan’s. I instagramed, showed my kids and began writing this blog post. How exciting to imagine both men sat together at this historical moment in epic fantasy history and autographed the very book I now possess.

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Here’s the problem: Only as I began to compose this post did I realize that Robert Jordan had been dead for five years when he autographed my copy. It is a strange feeling that his ghost would go to such trouble, and that he could even hold the pen, though personally I still get a kick when a reader asks me to sign their copy of one one of my books – though whether this feeling would follow me into the great writing retreats beyond, who knows?

So how should I feel? It felt such a privilege to own this book and now I’m not sure want to think? Still, I will be better prepared next time I ask a dead author to sign my book.

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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. 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+