Letting Go: The Relationship Between Author and Character

It was always going to feel strange: the excitement of a new novel being launched together with the knowledge that this is the end of the Wycaan Master series. But somehow, it feels even more surreal than I had anticipated.

Calhei No More_full res2 (4)

My knee accident and operation along with the subsequent rehab was obviously never anticipated, and I thank all of you for your wonderful healing wishes. I am an active, sports-loving man, and have no idea how to sit around and wait for seven pieces of my knee bone (patella) to slowly reconnect. In desperation, my wonderful staff at AJWS bought me a two months’ subscription to Netflix and had to explain to me what binge watching is and why it is especially okay in my situation.

homer-binge-watching

Still it is hard not to feel guilty if I’m not working hard for those who pay me a salary or if I am not busy writing a next novel, editing the latest manuscript, and in this case, promoting the launch of Calhei No More which is next Tuesday.

Next Tuesday! At The Walls of Galbrieth was written in 2010. Seanchai, Rhoddan, Ilana, Sellia and Shayth have been in my life for six years now. I have laughed with them, cried, feared for their future, and between us, got quite annoyed at some of their decisions.

I watched an episode of Westworld yesterday (cable, not Netflix), in which a character said being a parent is about knowing when to let go. I’m dealing with this as a parent of teenage boys – I would rather they remain young enough to snuggle in our tent in a redwood forest as I read another manuscript to and for them – but now I realize I need to step back as well with the Wycaan Master characters.

Westworld, without giving anything away (and I have barely began to watch), is about artificial intelligence. A theme park has been created and people pay to interact with the very real robots (hosts), but the really fascinating part is the relationships that seem to surface between the team who created, maintain, and upgrade the hosts, and the robots themselves.

westworld

It seems impossible not to get attached to the characters of a book much less a series where you created the character and have helped it evolve and grow. When I killed off a major character early in the series I cried. I didn’t, at the time, think it particularly strange to shed a few tears, but crying each of the 20+ times I edited and rewrote the scene and subsequent consequences borders on the traumatic…for me, the author (many of you made it very clear how you felt too…!).

I believe the relationship between character and creator is sacred in as much as it is unique. Those of you with a more religious perspective might connect this to the Creator and humanity, which brings us to the question: is being an author a vain attempt to play at being a deity? Let’s leave that for another time.

wworld2

But I never expected to care and agonise so much for the characters I created throughout the series, and it feels as though I’m failing as a father when Calhei No More launches next week, when I finally let go of my creative offspring and close the last page.

Whatever my feelings, Calhei No More will be released and you can pre-order the e-book here. The page for the paperback will be here, but I’m not sure when it goes live (usually a few days before launch to iron out any issues). Pre-ordering will bring attention on Launch Day and tempt Amazon.com to help promote more – so it is a big help to me.

Thank you again for all your good wishes and for your support of the Wycaan Master series. Do remember, I love hearing feedback and really appreciate any reviews you can write on Amazon for any of the novels.

Until November 15… For better or worse, it all ends on the Plains of Shindellia. See you there.

Alon

——————————————————————————————————

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).

The Empowering Stereotypical Female Protagonist

 Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the sappy male hero, the protagonist who is can be brave without being too macho and who is in touch with his values and feelings. The post generated considerable discussion and debate, and since I am in the appreciating mood, thank you for your feedback.

But it also got me thinking about my female protagonists. With well over 70% of readers apparently girls and women, it would seem daft to ignore them. In truth, my inspiration for strong female characters comes from less altruistic motives. I am blessed to have been surrounded with strong women all my life, none more so than Mrs. Elfwriter, who continues after two decades together, to amaze me with her strength, vision and principles. I have come through a tough summer and she has been my rock throughout.

Sacrificial_Flame_Cover_Hi_Res.205201213_std

Yesterday, a dear friend told me that it would have been his and his deceased wife’s 25th wedding anniversary, had she not succumbed to cancer a few years ago. My mind reeled back to her struggle, to the elegance with which she continued, right up to the end, to be a source of strength and inspiration, to her family and friends.

These thoughts are relevant to my female protagonists because I realize that I am creating similar (albeit female) stereotypes of common heroes and heroines. Ilana, Sellia, Mhari, Pyre and Mharina are all brave warriors. Fearsome with bow or sword, they might seek to solve a conflict without resorting to violence (as Seanchai did, to be fair), but nonetheless are not females you would want to pick a bar fight with (not that you are that kind of person, of course).

 keira_knightley2

When I began this post, a couple of days ago, I had hoped to pat myself on the back for my strong female characters. In Sacrificial Flame there is almost an absence of strong males (unless they are evil antagonists). In Book 5 (sorry for the tease) there emerged two males who are not warrior-types. As I begin writing Book 6, I realize that I have not given them much space in my initial plan. I will address this. Likewise, I have not given thought to the non-warrior, strong female protagonist.

Do any strong female protagonists who are not warrior-type come to mind from your reading of epic fantasy? Is it even compelling to have female who is not beautiful, thin, brave, and wicked with sword or bow? Would love to hear.

 imgres

Have a great week. Read something epic!

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Cinderella The Savage and Saruman The Sweet

A common question that I field at readings is how/why I chose the name of a particular character? I find it surprising because I would never have thought to ask such a question of my favorite authors. Either I considered their names a perfect fit  (and so never thought about it), or the author probably didn’t remain my favorite for long.

But it is a good question. A name, particularly for a protagonist or main character, is a significant part of the experience. If it appears ten times on every page and gets stuck in your throat, it is either a big problem or you need some lozenges on hand.  And if we are talking about a series, then that character is going to be around for some time. 

images-2

R.A.Salvatore, one of my role models and favorite authors, challenges us with his drows.

With the fourth Wycaan Master novel safely ensconced in the hands of my editor, I did what every author without a life or with a compulsive disorder does and began Book 5. My dear friends, Seanchai, Rhoddan and Sellia, have appeared in every book, so we are closing in on a half million words by the time I finish this one. I am trying to restrain myself from discovering how many times each name has appeared.

Having attended a number of events with people who have actually read my novels (they exist!), I discovered that everyone pronounces Seanchai differently. I am particularly proud of his name and love being asked why I chose it. In Celtic culture, a Seanchai was a traditional storyteller and, in my books, the Wycaan magic that our protagonist learns is based upon words and stories.

While providing what I hope is a cool answer, I see in their expressions how it is difficult that people struggle to say or hear. I am, of course, the worst offender. My non-existent Celtic notwithstanding, I have spend a good part of my life in the Middle East, where we sound like we are clearing our throats every time we put a ch together. It can be unsettling at first, because you flinch thinking the person is about to spit on you. but a serious ch is essential to the language and I worked very hard to master it.

More locally, I discovered people use che as in the name of the Cuban revolutionary. At a recent event, two friends decided to help me with a more interactive reading, each taking different parts, and each inevitably pronouncing Seanchai differently. We had a blast, but I wonder how those in the audience who had not read any of the series coped.

Games of Berkeley Question from Asif

I guess it doesn’t really matter until the movie comes out right? And by that time, pronouncing his name will be the last thing on this elated author’s mind. Slightly more realistically, I would love to produce an audio book since I derive such pleasure from them on my long, daily commute. 

Ironically, I have no idea where the name Rhoddan came from, I really don’t. I was looking for something that suggested stability and loyalty – go figure – but I feel the name fits perfectly. Certainly, the upside is that everyone agrees on how to pronounce his name, so hey, he can stay alive…for now!

The Greeks deserve credit for conveying much about their characters through names. Zeus is truly a name fit for a god and the king of the gods at that. And how would you react if your daughter told you that she was dating a dude named Hades or Loki? Lock her in her room, I’m sure. Thor sounds like a badass, and Aphrodite – well, best I leave that to your own imagination.

Moving to our own gods, and I think the old professor did a pretty good job all round, particularly with his hobbits. Bilbo Baggins is already lovable and you have only seen his business card. Friendly, courteous, and clearly one who drinks tea, eats Second Breakfast, and has a clean handkerchief in his pocketsss along with, of course, a ring of apocalyptic power. Who doesn’t these days?

 images-1

Tolkien did so well naming his hobbits – see this awesome list – and he nailed it with Gollum. If a name conveys considerable information, we understand that this is one twisted fella, with a name that just sticks in your throat.

Ilana, since you ask, comes from the Hebrew for tree. I chose this quite deliberately as I was looking for something stable, beautiful, and important to the existence of the characters around her. Alon means oak in Hebrew, so you see I have an affinity with trees, and At The Walls Of Galbrieth was conceived in a beautiful ancient redwood forest.

The names of minor characters is also important as an author spends more limited time extrapolating their characteristics. Since they appear and disappear so often, you want these names to be remembered and to also convey something about the characters. Certainly, when you have over a thousand characters stretching over several hefty tomes, yes I’m talking about you, Mr Martin, this becomes especially challenging.

 imgres-1

There is an advantage when reading ebooks, that you can search back to find references to a character, but this is impossible in an audiobook, and while a glossary of characters is helpful to flick through in most circumstances, it is not recommended while driving and listening to the audio book. App anyone?

What is your favorite name for an epic fantasy character? Which author shines at their selection? And which character does not fit the image you imagined from the name?

——————————————————————————————————

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+

Big Characters Without Big Boobs

Last week I asked in my blog post, 10 Questions For J.R.R Tolkien, what questions people would like to ask the Professor if they had the opportunity. The answers were great, but one stood out for me.

A person with the twitter username @oneyearnovel (happy to enter your name and website) wrote: “I would ask if he ever considered a woman character who was not beautiful?”

 images-1

This got me wondering. When I began looking around for a book cover artist and shared my concept of Mhari, an elfe (the politically correct term for a female elf) and Seanchai’s teacher, I was offered sketches of buxom women with cleavage-revealing armor, muscled (bare) legs etc. You get the picture. I talk about this in an earlier post – Big Boobs and Book Covers. While these images might have sold more copies of At The Walls Of Galbrieth, the pensive, wise face that adorns the cover truly represents the wise, yet world-weary mentor for my protagonist, Seanchai.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front Cover

I don’t in truth know if @oneyearnovel is correct that Tolkien’s females in his books are all beautiful, or if this is Peter Jackson pandering to what he believes his Hollywood audience wants. I have not read Lord of the Rings in years and can’t even recall a female in the Hobbit.

Tolkien students: please enlighten us on this in the comments.

imgres

There are three main female characters who each leave an indelible mark on the first four books of the Wycaan Master series. Sellia is dark, exotic and beautiful, but she is also an excellent warrior and probably fits the stereotype. While I never talk about her breasts, hips etc. (this is YA), she intimidates the younger male elves and has them stuttering. She makes a game of eliciting a blush from Rhoddan or Seanchai.

Ilana is tough, an ideologue, constantly seeking a peaceful solution and offering Seanchai her unwavering support. As a romance blossoms she is viewed for her beauty, but it is seen through the eyes of one who is falling in love with her. Don’t we doting men all think our wives/partners are the most beautiful women in the world? Of course mine really is!

But Ilana is possibly the most popular character among readers, certainly female readers. It is not anything physical about her that binds the reader to her, but her deep principles, cutting sense of humor, and well just about everything else concerning her.

Maugwen is a human, short and pudgy. She is a weak character at first and I never meant to give her a long run. But she grows, matures and becomes a wise friend and strong individual. Readers have told me that she intrigues them and, just between us, she intrigues me.

We don’t make all our male characters handsome and ripped, so why our females? I think @oneyearnovel has a great point. Society expects us to bind ourselves to a pretty woman, and in truth, this goes for good or bad characters, but fiction has a responsibility to not only change with the times, but to be present at the tipping edge of that change.

It is very popular to write a coming-of-age novel. Perhaps it is time for our genre to come of age.

imgres-2

——————————————————————————————————

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).