An Author Needs His Hat

“So, what’s with the hat?” The question came from a young man in the back row of the small (but thankfully packed) room.

I had been fielding questions about plot, world-building, characters, building a series, and on being a writer, so this caught me off guard. My bad. It was not the first time I had received such a question. I was reminded of this when a twitter follower graciously allowed me to finish the day with a smile this week, posting that he couldn’t ignore a book written by an author with such a great hat. Thank you, sir.

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So, what is with the hat? I was wearing it when my sons and I wrote those first words deep in a redwood forest in 2010. Sitting at a campsite picnic table, I brandished my snow-white keyboard, doffed my hat and wrote: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit…

Okay, I’m getting carried away. I actually opened At The Walls of Galbrieth with the words: The screams pierced his dreams and… Every summer since, I have read the next manuscript to my sons while camping, and while wearing my hat.

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

Reading Book 6 to my toughest critics in the summer of 2015. End of an era.

Though I feel a great connection between hat and story, none of my characters actually wear a hat in the novels. Maybe I connect to it because I would simply feel too self-conscious walking around the San Francisco Bay Area with a heavy, hooded cloak and staff with the exception perhaps of Halloween.

Ironically, I am not much of a hat-wearer. Traveling to the East Coast in winter warrants a hat, and the same one I wear for camping, sits aloft my head as I fly fish. I am sure the trout take careful note of my headgear since they totally ignore my fly.

But now I have begun to take notice. The professor wore his tweed hat though not in his ancient Oxford study. Sir Terry Pratchett RIP had his splendid black fedora (hope I’m getting the title right). And I have seen other fantasy authors on twitter handles, websites, and Wanted posters.

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Neil Gaiman, in his wonderful tribute to Sir Terry, described their first meeting thus: The author, a former journalist, has a hat, but it’s a small, black leathery cap, not a Proper Author Hat. Not yet.

So here is my Wycaan Master books series by hat. Please feel free to click on each to see which book the photo features on (we used the same for Books 3 + 4).

Bookcover Trees copyBookcover Snow copy                                                                         Bookcover Ocean copyAuthor Photo Book 5 copy

Are you a fantasy author with a hat to show? Feel free to leave photo and link to your books in the comments.

Here’s to authors in hats. May our heads be ever covered, our pages full of words, and our minds ever brimming with imagination!

We are now less than two weeks from the release of From Ashes They Rose (October 1.). So please, consider investing $2.99 to preorder the ebook version. Maybe one day you can point out nonchalantly to friends over a deep red Merlot that you helped that best selling author when he was still a struggling writer.

How could I forget...

How could I forget…

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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, the fifth in the series, will be released October 1, 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+

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The Magic of Story

The man brought a smile to my face. He wore a gray suit; a red power tie, shiny black shoes and he made his way through the streets of San Francisco’s Financial District this early Thursday morning. I really should not have followed him, but I needed the walk before starting my day… and I needed to know what captivated him.

 

Not quite as cool as this guy, but you get the idea!

Not quite as cool as this guy, but you get the idea!

You see, the man was oblivious to where he was walking, who he passed, or who sat in the plethora of breakfast venues, already deep in crucial meetings. He was in a world of his own.

Well not exactly his own, I discovered. To be exact, he was in a world that Stephen King had created. The man, dressed ready for another day where millions of dollars might pass from one pocket to another, destined by the scribble of his signature or click of his mouse, could not tear himself away from the grip of the novel he read as he walked.

And that, my friends is the magic. That is why we write: not just to tell the story that must be told, but also to transfer our readers to a world we created. Most writers, I believe, know the adrenaline rush of being sucked into their own story.

When I wrote the climatic chapters of Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, I wrote 10,000 words almost without a break. My long-suffering better half recalls how my lips moved and scattered, broken sentences leaving my mouth. I remember nothing but the urge to pound the keyboard. It could have been smoking as armies clashed, heroes died, and evil was vanquished (or not – read the book J).

I love watching my sons read my novels, but I have never yet seen an adult totally absorbed as the businessman was this morning. I have a fond memory of a mother telling me that she can’t pry her son from Sacrificial Flame and, while cute, he is not doing his homework.

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I apologized as sincerely as I could muster. I’ve no doubt she saw through my pathetically concealed smug expression. I once saw a woman reading another of my books, The Accidental Activist, on the train – that was thrilling.

But I want to see a person, walking the streets, trying to wrench him/herself from the clutches of one of my novels, to apologetically insert the bookmark, close the book, and count down the hours until the commute home and the opportunity to return to Seanchai and the land of Odessiya.

I want to be Stephen King, even if just for a morning walk in the Financial District. I want to see one of my novels cast its magic on some unsuspecting reader.

Then I will be a Craft Master like Stephen King.

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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).

I Met My Protagonist At Starbucks

Okay, he wasn’t exactly Seanchai (his ears were predictably round, and he wielded a briefcase and pen, rather than elegant Win Dow swords and a blood-wood bow and magical arrows), and in truth, it wasn’t Starbucks, but a locally-owned independent coffee shop with a lot of attitude.

But in my humble defense, I met a young man who totally encapsulated everything I imagined in Seanchai, my Wycaan Master and protagonist of the same-named series. He had a distinct look about him that suggested you could trust him with your innermost secrets while knowing he possessed the ability to take you down without breaking a sweat.

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When he spoke, his voice was soft but carried authority. He operated as the calm in the storm while others flurried around him, achieving much less and having nowhere near as much responsibility as him.

As others joined us, they tensed their assertiveness, told funny jokes, and claimed great victories. He listened magnanimously, happy to back up any exaggerated story. And though, over exquisitely crafted lattes and frappes, each took center stage, still he remained the fulcrum for all.

I was fascinated. Surely this young man could effortlessly vanquish evil Emperors, emancipate a race, and inspire a society to join together with his unique magic. Failing that, I would settle for eradicating hunger, declaring world peace, and inspiring my soccer team to win the English Premier League.

And this got me thinking. Am I yet to meet Sellia, Ilana, Mhari, Rhoddan or Shayth in the Financial District of San Francisco? The truth is, I realized, I have taken traits from many of my friends and acquaintances. There is one with naturally spiky hair who runs his hand through it like Shayth, especially when agitated, causing it to stand even more erect. I have a friend who is constantly trying to placate others and encourage them to do the right moral thing, often teaching (or preaching – depends who you ask), just as Ilana does, drawing all the time strength from her life-partner. But I don’t think I ever met Seanchai … until Starbucks.

It begs the question: are there also people wandering out there in the non-fantasy world, muggles some might call them, who are the real version of our fantasy characters? I believe that the magic of J.K Rowlings’ Harry Potter series, for example, was that we all knew a Harry, a Hermione, and Draco.

There is a soccer player in my beloved Arsenal, who looks exactly the opposite from Legalos, short and dark-haired, yet shares the impressive trait that his hair remains perfectly coiffured throughout a physically demanding soccer match.

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Have you ever met someone who reminded you of a character from a famous fantasy book or one you have just read? Have you met a Seanchai, Ilana, or Shayth? How about Bilbo Baggins or Frodo, Gandalf or Legalos?

And no, you cannot compare everyone in the Senate to Gollum or Emperor Palpatine. Behave yourself!

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 But here is a fun exercise. Which famous person reminds you of an epic fantasy character? Answers in the comments, please.

While I have already given you homework, I do have another request: If you have read one, two or four of my epic fantasy novels (and it can’t only have been my mother who bought all those books), please take a few minutes and leave an honest review on Amazon. It is really important to me.

Have a great week.

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).

Elves in Coffee Shops – repost

Over the three days of November 17 -19, Amazon.com have decided to promote the 2013 Winner of the Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. The novel will be offered FREE in ebook form.

This is a wonderful opportunity for me and I request that, to support my sales rank and me, you download the book and invites your friends to do the same. Feel free to gift it on (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, anyone?).

To celebrate this and also the milestone of 100 blog posts on elfwriter.com, I wish to offer 10 of my favorite posts over the next three days. I hope you enjoy and, please, take a moment to download for FREE At The Walls Of Galbrieth and spread the word.

Thank you,

Alon

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It happened earlier this week in the Financial District of San Francisco. It was a rainy workday and I was sitting in a café editing Wycaan Master, my fantasy novel, when these two beautiful women entered. I’m a guy: I peeked, taking in their tightly, swept back hair, high cheek bones and narrow eyes, all accentuated by carefully applied makeup. They were both tall and thin.

Then I realized. I had been disappointed as my gaze moved to their ears. Their ears were not pointed!

I was shocked. I had really expected pointed ears? It’s this elf thing…it’s taking over. When I am writing a story I am absorbed…totally. Even when editing, I am completely caught up in the story. I can read an emotional scene a dozen times and still be moved to tears (Confession: I once cried during a Simpson’s episode, but that’s for another time).

However more recently I am taken when I see someone who might fit into my fantasy world. A walking stick becomes a staff, and I expect a short, bearded man to have an axe at his side, not an iPhone.

It is taking over.

I’m not the first to stumble down this route. In his excellent book about writing fantasy, Terry Brooks admits to disappearing into the world of Shannara.  Often it happens when he is at the dinner table or with family or friends. His eyes (so he is told) gaze into the distance and everyone understands.

Now Terry Brooks can get away with it for three reasons:

1) He is older and entitled to a senior moment.

2) He is a best-selling author and there is nothing like success to romanticize a little eccentricity.

3) He is such a mensch.

While I will one day be older, if the gods allow, the success isn’t assured. I am going to have to learn to curb my imagination, to stay in this world until sleep or time in front of a computer allows. A few glasses of single malt can also help.

But I don’t want to block it. My characters are part of my life, their challenges are my problems, and their triumphs are my successes. If I block them out just once, will they come back when I beckon them?

It’s tough living in two separate worlds, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Finally, it is St. Patrick’s Day. Did you know the Irish for whiskey is ‘Uisce beatha’, which literally means ‘water of life’?

Live Green My Friends.

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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).

Possessed Writers – repost

Over the three days of November 17 -19, Amazon.com have decided to promote the 2013 Winner of the Eric Hoffer Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. The novel will be offered FREE in ebook form.

This is a wonderful opportunity for me as an author and I request that  you download the book and invites your friends to do the same. Feel free to gift it on (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, anyone?).

To celebrate this and also the milestone of 100 blog posts on elfwriter.com, I wish to offer 10 of my favorite posts over the next three days. I hope you enjoy and, please, take a moment to download for FREE At The Walls Of Galbrieth and spread the word.

Thank you,

Alon

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The scene might be the same in any house mid-week, early evening.

Your partner is rushing to make dinner, still in his/her office clothes. Ten- year-old son is irritable, primarily because he preferred to play wall ball than eat his lunch at um … lunch break. He has even pointed out that the First Lady wants him to exercise more (you just lost my vote in 2020 Ms. Obama! Tell him to eat that sandwich we made him). Older son is drowning in homework and needs help. Unfortunately it is not math where he ends up explaining it to a perplexed calculator-wielding father – it is English and father is the fastest typist in the house.

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From within this maelstrom, hassled wife turns around from steaming cooking pots and sees an unset, messy dinner table, a swivel chair, and a writer’s desk. The writer, sitting in said chair, is distinctly facing the wrong direction, pounding his keyboard with a vengeance.

Suddenly, she can’t help herself. Forgetting the wooden spoon in her hand (writers notice these details especially when the spoon is being flailed in said writer’s direction), she towers over the writer, hands on hips:

“You’re writing? Now? Man, you are just possessed!”

When my extremely patient and understanding wife says something like this, it does makes you wonder. The problem is that after a stressful few months, I had a week off over the Christmas break, and kind angels put our family up in beautiful, snowbound Tahoe, 10,000 feet high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Already on crutches from a knee operation, I was never going to cut the crisp, fresh snow on virgin slopes (I don’t ski even when not on crutches – at best I tumble down a 100 feet nursery slope, make sure there are photos, and then slink off for laced hot chocolate).

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But here, if only for a few days, I couldn’t help myself. The laptop comes on and a few snow-bound scenes of a new book somehow appear.

Possessed? Moi? Five months and 103,000 words later, despite an intense period at work and many other obligations, I type the final period, click the save command, and stare at the epilogue. Rough first draft of Wycaan Master Book 4 is completed.

This latest book was written mainly between 7.30-8.30 am and after the boys go to bed on weekdays, and a couple of hours on the weekend, or random pieces written during odd times. Or while waiting at the dentist, on the mass-transit BART commuting home, in San Francisco, Washington DC, Ventura, St. Louis, San Diego, and at too many airports.

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Possessed? Nah. Possessed would be finishing Book 4 and starting to write scenes of Book 5. Possessed. Out-of-control. Crazy.

I just wrote a few pages, honestly, mainly plot threads that I want to develop, characters that need to grow and confront their pasts. There is a bit of world-building with oceans and…

Starting Book 5 might just be considered grounds for divorce, need to involve Family and Children Services, or a good psychologist (preferably one who is as much a fan of Tolkien as of Freud). 

Starting Book 5? “Now? Man, you are just possessed!”

Fair point.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, offered by Amazon.com  for FREE on November 17-19. The sequel, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 are all released by Tourmaline Books. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

The Magic Is Everywhere – repost

Over the three days of November 17 -19, Amazon.com have decided to promote the 2013 Winner of the Eric Hoffer Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. The novel will be offered FREE in ebook form.

This is a wonderful opportunity for me as an author and I request that you download the book and invites your friends to do the same. Feel free to gift it on (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, anyone?).

To celebrate this and also the milestone of 100 blog posts on elfwriter.com, I wish to offer 10 of my favorite posts over the next three days. I hope you enjoy and, please, take a moment to download for FREE At The Walls Of Galbrieth and spread the word.

Thank you,

Alon

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Last weekend, our family headed for the marina, a grassy area on the west point of Berkeley that looks over the San Francisco Bay Area. We have been there many times to fly kites, play soccer, run and bike. 

This time, armed with a blanket and picnic, we were planning on some serious reading. Older son had a book assigned from school, a historical fictional account of many good people dying from a plague back in the 1700’s: perfect depressing material for the summer vacation. Not surprisingly, he hadn’t embraced the intrusion with the enthusiasm he showed for Christopher Paolini’s Eragon or J. K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter.

It was surprisingly windy and we made for some bushes and trees that would deny us the view, but offer shelter. We spread the blanket and I fell into my stadium chair and flicked on my Kindle.

While I waited for it to fire up, I glanced to my left. Between the bushes and the trees was a tunnel, with brush growing up and over so that you could barely see the sky. It was dark inside with the promise of sunlight on the other side. My youngest son, I realized, was staring at it as well. He turned to me.

“What do you think is through there?” he asked, eyes wide open.

“I don’t know,” I replied, the right level of gravity in my voice. “Think you should check it out?”

He nodded, rose and moved into the tunnel. He never came out…

Okay, that is not exactly true. But he stayed in the tunnel and explored beyond. Sometimes he sat and read his book, and other times played, creating his own world. Finally, he called for me to join him.

“The tunnel is safe,” he declared, “but there are dragons on the other side. Be careful.”

I knew that on the other side was a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, San Francisco, and the bay with many sailboats. But as his tiny hand took mine and guided me out the other side, all I saw were the dragons.

Others might have seen a red kite with a long tail, to its left was a blue-green one tearing through the sky in acrobatic maneuvers, but we saw two dragons eying each other. My son announced with authority that they were deciding whether to fight or be friends. Remembering my politically correct role as father, I said I hoped they would be friends. 

But as I watched them and glanced back at the tunnel, it was my imagination that soared. Perhaps a new book is fermenting, or only a scene in the next Wycaan Master. Maybe it will surface next year or in a decade, but it is stored away.

And this moment of magic only happened because I was ready to embrace it, albeit with a little help from a nine-year-old with a rich imagination. But then I have seen elves in coffee shops.  

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, offered by Amazon.com  for FREE on November 17-19. The sequel, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 are all released by Tourmaline Books. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Elves, Dwarves and Political Activists

“You can’t be serious!” she exclaimed, wrinkling her nose as though I had just made a pass at her, or uttered a politically incorrect sentiment. “You write about elves and dwarves running from one end of the world to another killing each other and making long speeches? I thought you were a serious writer.”

In honesty, she had not seen me for a few years, and even then, knew me in the context of my more political work environment. To her credit, she recovered and apologized, and I was able to refrain from pouring my drink into her lap. It was, after all, a good scotch.

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Friend or not, intentional or not, it still hurt. I thought I had past this stage, smoothly presenting myself as ‘an author who writes in two genres’. I have practiced my opening line and it is now delivered with confidence.

I am involved in social justice causes. Even in my short eight years living in the US, I have built a fair resume of involvement. I have taken students almost every year to New Orleans, not only to help rebuild a community, physically and emotionally, but to bear witness so that the millennials will not make the mistakes we have. I have been involved in various campaigns here and abroad.  I know my local food bank well. Hey, you never had a black President before I came to the US! 

But yes, I love to lose myself in Middle Earth, Alaegasia, Westeros and, dare I add it to the list: Odessiya. It’s a nice break from the intensive campus environment to deal with stubborn dwarves and idealistic elves. While closeted in an urban concrete jungle, it is relaxing to ride a horse through ancient forests, over great ice plains, and to quaff an ale or puff a pipe (without the health risks) with good friends, all from a computer screen or ebook reader.

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 The San Francisco Bay Area is intensely populated by variety of the human species often identified by salt-and-pepper haired, wrinkled, colorful attire, and provocative bumper stickers. These aging ideologues have rich resumes of demonstrating against wars, civil rights. Watergate, and more recently, more wars, gay rights, and gun control.

While there are many who have fallen by the wayside, succumbing to burnout, those who have maintained their energy to keep demonstrating and fighting for what is right, all seem to have a secret place they go to recharge, relax, and to return energized to make the world a better place to live in. It might be literature, meditation, family, friends, food, nature … it doesn’t matter. As a friend once said: Fixing the world is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Yeah, I write about elves and dwarves doing brave acts and striving for justice and honor. Sure I write about battles and loves, about friendships and magic, about the power of nature and good fighting evil.

It energizes me, often provides clarity and vision. And if I do occasionally wonder what Seanchai or Shayth might do about gun control or why some people are denied the rights and opportunities their neighbors have, well that’s because fantasy is not quite as far-fetched and detached from reality as my shocked friend might think.

God created the world in six day and on the seventh s/he rested…and may well have deservedly read Lord of the Rings.

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Here’s to whatever it takes for each of us to continue the journey we’ve chosen!

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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.