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.

Sac Flame 2

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.

imgres  images-2

 

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Advertisements

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.

 th-1

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.

 thimages

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!

th-4

 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.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Will My Stories Be My Legacy?

This post is dedicated to a dear friend and poet, Al Levinson, who just passed away after a long struggle with cancer, refusing to compromise on his retirement dream as he traveled around America in his old RV. Al was a constant source of encouragement and support for many, myself included. His belief in my vision provided a consistent source of strength when my proverbial quill went dry or my doubts threatened to drown me.

——————– 

I wonder if the ‘Old Professor’ looks down from his study in the skies as people continue to fall in love with Middle Earth, with his elves and dwarves, his noble humans, and of course, his brave and lovable hobbits. What does he think as he puffs on his pipe and stares from the heavens at the people who annually watch his trilogy of Lord of the Rings, and who attend conventions to argue nuances of hobbit genealogy? Is he baffled that the quartet of geniuses from The Big Bang Theory is so in awe of him? (I just watched, perhaps for the sixth time, the episode with the ring … excuse me – The Ring).
imgres-1                                                         imgres-2                                             images-1

I recently met a young man who is, I think 11 or 12 years old. He has read the first three novels of the Wycaan Master series, and his first question was when Sacrificial Flame would be released. He then proceeded to tell me what he thought should be in the book, sharing stunning detail from the first trilogy. I probably sounded like a bumbling fool to him and his mother, but in truth, I was reeling from the astounding grasp this young man has on the geography of Odessiya, of the culture of each race (he knew in his mind exactly what a pictorian looks like – I don’t), and the trials and tribulations they have gone through, including so many minor threads.

The fusion of my family’s summer ritual to watch the Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit, the passing of my friend Al, me turning fifty, and hearing this young man’s enthusiasm, awakened in me a desire to create a legacy, not only as a conscientious soul mate and father, a decent human being, and a good friend to all, but absurdly, that my characters will not go to the grave with me.

Perhaps it is a symptom of my acknowledgement of my own finiteness, having just turned fifty this summer, but there has emerged a powerful aspect of my writing: that I am creating something that will outlive me, and perhaps in the eyes of future generations, define me. Will my stories become my legacy?

Professor Tolkien might, at best, be bemused at the desire of grown men and women to dress up as Arwen and Legalos, Bilbo and Gollum at every excuse, or while he might scratch his head when we vigorously argue the merits of including a (formally nonexistent) female character being invented for The Hobbit movie. But I wonder does his chest swell up with pride when his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, proudly hold his books and tell their friends that “Tolkien was my grandfather”?

imgres-3           images-3                                    1images-2

I can’t speak for the ‘old professor’, but I hope one day to peer down through the clouds and see my grown sons, sitting around the camp fire with their offspring as we do each summer, telling the stories of Seanchai and Shayth, Mharina and Senzia. As their children yawn, struggling to stay awake, and beg for just one more chapter, my sons will close the book and say: “Let me tell you about the storyteller. He was your grandfather and I helped him write these stories…”

——————–  

Rest in peace, Al. We are many who were touched by your kindness and will carry your inspiring torch forward for future generations. I hope that, as you look down from the heavens, you see this as your legacy.

10556500_10204400080432565_3898203193364948967_n

Al Levinson RIP

—————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe 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+

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.

imgres-1

 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.

imgres.

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.

—————————————————————————————————

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+

Exclusive Interview With An Elven Protagonist

The Odessiyan Times recently caught up with Seanchai, Wycaan Master, shortly after the battle of Cliftean Pass, and he graciously agreed to the following interview, to be published shortly before the release of Sacrificial Flame – Wycaan Master Book 4.

 193htrjzik8kajpg

Reporter: There are some who say that only a few short years ago, you were a lost child running from your village. Now you’ve brought down the army that tried to conscript you. Is that how it feels?

Seanchai: I was never a lost child, but a scared calhei who had fled his parent’s village in search of an uncle he had never met.

Reporter: When did you first understand that you might be special, more than just the average elf?

Seanchai: When strangers seemed to believe in me to the point that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for me.

Reporter: That must have made you feel important.

Seanchai: No! It made me furious and guilty. No one should give their life like that. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of widows and orphans, because their parents chose to believe in me.

 Wycaan Master 1 Just Front Cover

Reporter: But at least they are free. Mhari was your first teacher. Was she the greatest influence on your early life?

Seanchai: No, though she was and remains very important to me. But the greatest influence was Ilana and Rhoddan. They saw my potential but were never blinded by it. Perhaps because they saw my glaring faults as well. But they loved me, each in their own way, and I could never have done what I did without them.

Reporter: Some say your loyalty to your friends was your biggest weakness.

Seanchai: Your friends are never your weakness and neither is your family. I regret no time that I risked my life for one of them and they risked their lives for me. Their support is what makes it all so real. It gives you the determination to carry on.

Reporter: It was your friends who motivated you to take action?

Seanchai: No. It was destiny: Seeing the racism and injustice. No one, man, elf, dwarf, pictorian – no one should be a slave or denied the right to live free of fear or shame.  

Reporter: Was it easy to become a Wycaan?

Seanchai: No. It is a lot of internal practice and discipline. It is allowing yourself to connect with powers purer and stronger than you. But perhaps it is easier to become a Wycaan than to stay one?

Reporter: What do you mean?

Seanchai: Once you are a Wycaan, everyone follows your orders even if you don’t know what you are doing, even though it might go wrong and sentence thousands to an early grave. You are sought to bless babies, cure the sick, and make judicial decisions. The worse part is that they never blame you when you fail.

Reporter: How did it feel to know that your story won a national book award?

Seanchai: I do not put as much emphasis on ego, such as shall we say, authors. But I guess if he hadn’t have written the story, I wouldn’t exist.

Reporter: You don’t like your author?

Seanchai: He killed off many of the people closest to me. Who does he think he is – George R.R. Martin? How could he? I mean: look what he did in Book 4.

images-1

Reporter: What did he do?

Seanchai: Oh, I can’t tell you. The book, Sacrificial Flame, is not out yet.

Reporter: Still if you told me, I could leak it and we would make the front pages.

Seanchai: You would truly make a terrible Wycaan. But you only need to wait for two more weeks or so. And if you want to find out more about the new release, click here LINK, even though we don’t have computers in the land of Odessiya.

Sacrificial Flame Cover Hi Res

Reporter: Well that’s all we have time for, unless you wanna turn into a bear for the camera…Hey! I thought Wycaans don’t get angry. Help!!!

——————————————————————————————————

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+

No Blog Post, But An Announcement!

No blog post this week as I have been busy incorporating the (many) suggestions of my fearless (or fearsome) editor. It never ceases to amaze me how perceptive a good editor is, how they can stay focused through 100,000 words, and be able to not only correct grammar or spelling, but follow plot arcs, different character developments, and so much more.

 images 

Here are two great errors that I really should be too embarrassed to share, but hey, we’re all friends here, right? 

1. One of my characters was very sad and wiped the tears from her ears!

2. Seanchai (my protagonist) left his bow and quiver at the summit of a mountain, snowboarded down to join the battle, and when he entered the fray shot several of the enemy with his bow! Clever guy!

 images-1

I wrote a while ago a blog post – A Tribute To Editors ­– and I remain just as in awe today.

Along with the edited manuscript I have received a first sketch of the book cover and an ISBN number. June 12 is my fiftieth birthday – I’m negotiating the launch date for this time, but it might be too close.

It’s beginning to get real and I am so excited. As I blogged a while ago: It Never Gets Old.

Finally…(drumroll)…the title of Book 4 is official:

 Sacrificial Flame – Wycaan Master Book 4

Can’t wait to share it with you. Two months to go!

—————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe 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+

 

How Fantastical is Fantasy?

I mentioned previously that I am reading Sometimes The Magic Works by Terry Brooks. On Page 27 of this little book of great lessons, he writes how, as he struggled with his writing, he began to realize that he could not write the book in this world. “Everything I wrote had to remind readers of what they already knew, yet makes them take a second look at whether or not what they believed was really true.

 terry-brooks-150x150

I’ve been thinking about this sentence a lot. The difference between epic fantasy and magical realism (think Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin) is that the former transpires in a totally different world, whereas magical realism takes place in this world, but has elements of the unexplained – magic.

While the Wycaan Master series takes place in Odessiya, a mythical world, I kept it relatively easy to imagine, because I do not want the reader to struggle with my world building. Rather, I want them to focus on the characters and the plot, while still portraying a beautiful world.

Christopher Paolini does a wonderful job describing his land of Alagaesia, in stunning detail. He suggests his success in doing this is based on his love for the wild as he grew up in Montana. But again, his world is very easy to believe. When my family is on a road trip and are confronted by a beautiful vista, we point and declare: Alagaesia!

images 

I hope I have succeeded in portraying Odessiya as a beautiful land: full of great mountain ranges, deserts, forests, lakes and coast. I thoroughly enjoyed describing the ice worlds in the north and the forest of the Shanrea, but I never strayed from environments you can associate with on trips or the National Geographic channel.

When I sent Seanchai to the Elves of the West, I wanted to describe a rich world of mighty trees. Living in Northern California, I am in constant awe of the redwoods. My fictional bloodwoods are a tribute to these majestic giants and the name is meant to offer just enough to fill the reader with the images of redwoods. I wanted to offer an exotic setting with a connection to something known to the reader with just enough to be different.

 images-1

The age of a dozen pages of descriptions that J.R.R. Tolkien got away with no longer survives the red pen of the 21st Century editor. The publishers, facing rising costs of resources are loath to publish thick tomes, and the millennial reader does not have the patience to read several pages describing a small forest. My eldest son admitted to skipping descriptions after he had a clear picture in his mind and I am not completely unsure that I didn’t do this when I read Lord of the Rings back in the previous century.

That being said, the fantasy writer is challenged to offer opportunities for the reader to suspend belief as Brooks suggests. In his own prequels to the Shannara series, he sends us through post-apocalyptic California with humans and mutations. But the mutants are a result of the catastrophe that has all but destroyed the world. It is, tragically, not hard to take that leap of imagination, which again happens when he skillfully weaves in his elves.

Perhaps no one deserves more praise that he who blazed the trail and created a hobbit. There had never been a hobbit before Tolkien and yet it seems so familiar. Even ‘second breakfast’ and the family relations that Bilbo et al gets so worked up about, makes sense.

 images-2

The skill of the fantasy author is to create a world that the reader does not have to work hard to imagine and then to create something imaginative that allows us, because we have built trust between writer and reader, to suspend rational belief and embrace.

It is a subtle yet powerful tool that offers a rich layer to the world of epic fantasy. It is why readers flock to Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore and Christopher Paolini, and why those of us who walk in their shadows continue to cultivate our craft and build words, races and situations that are believably unbelievable.

Have a great week, everyone.

Elfwriter

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe 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+