Happy Eragon Day!

It’s true! August 26 has been designated Eragon Day. I’m not sure who decides such things, but fourteen years ago, on this very day, Christopher Paolini realized Eragon, the first in an incredibly rich series that would turn a generation onto epic fantasy.

The four-book trilogy (every fan remembers the thrill at some point in the middle of the third book when they realized it wasn’t going to end and another 800 pages of Eragon would have to be written) provided a magically bonding experience for my family, and stands along with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings in Shalev family history.

My sons and I devoured every book: pouring over every word, listening to the audio versions on vacation, and watching the (only!!!!) movie. And yes, as loyal fans, we loved the movie even if it was not the greatest. Come on Peter Jackson – work your magic here, sir!

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When Paolini released Brisingr, my then 10-year-old son stood defiantly at the front of the line in our local Borders (RIP), falling asleep on his feet literally as the clock approached midnight. I will never forget the lady who was working there, encouraging him to stay awake and hang on. At exactly midnight, she put a copy that she had hidden under the counter into his hands and whispered that he should buy that very copy. It was the only book in the store that Christopher Paolini had personally signed. Five minutes later, my son was fast asleep in the car clutching his autographed copy by his hero who was barely ten years older than him.

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My son holding his autographed copy at the midnight release… a priceless moment!

I wrote a while back that Paolini must be one of the most underrated authors and shared that he disproved a number of important assumptions:

1. The young generation will read 400-page novels if the material is gripping enough.

2. They will read rich descriptions, convoluted plots, and identify with characters that are deep, vulnerable, and profoundly human (or elf or dwarf).

3.  They will thrive on a high level of language.

4. Tolkien might still be king, but he has good company. Paolini is young. His level of craft is only going to improve and that is an exciting prospect.

I have to admit to selfish disappointment when Paolini decided to stop writing after Book 4 and go to college. He had every right to want that rite-of-passage experience and, as a loyal follower, I had no right to resent him that.

I owe Christopher Paolini a lot.

As my sons and I bonded over the Inheritance series, a seed was sown. We sat together to write our own epic fantasy novel. At The Walls Of Galbrieth went on to win the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA and was a Grand Prize Finalist. Every summer for the next five years, I read the new manuscript to my sons while we camped under redwood trees that could have graced Alagaesia.

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Writing At The Walls Of Galbrieth – a family effort!

The uncompromising standards that these fierce young editors applied to our work was harvested from the lessons learned from reading the Inheritance Series. Earlier this month, I took my boys (now 18 & 14 and towering over me) on our annual camping trip. I read them the first 150+ pages of Kingfisher: Slave to Honor (minus a few adult scenes) and their edits were sharp and erudite. I am extremely proud of them (I know, I am totally objective!).

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

So Christopher, if by any chance you ever read this: Thank you, as a reader, a fan, and a father. How about Book 5?

While on the topic of Kingfisher: Slave to Honor, you can help me with a publisher (Inkitt) who is interested in the book. Please go to http://bit.ly/2ttpqt9 and download for FREE, this new medieval fantasy novel. The publisher is gauging interest by analyzing how much you read and by your honest review.

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Thank you for your support. Who knows, maybe Peter Jackson will one day make a movie of it because of your help. A boy can dream, no?  

Happy Eragon 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 novels all released by Tourmaline Books. Through August, all ebooks are 99 cents each.

Downloaded your #FREE copy of Kingfisher: Slave to Honor – http://bit.ly/2ttpqt9 – the new magical realism novel by award-winning Alon Shalev? Publisher gauging interest by analytics including how much read and your honest review.

More about the author at alonshalev.com.

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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.

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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+ 

Writers Hate Writing. Really?

I guess it used to be hard to write a novel, scribbling across the parchment with your quill, fretting every time you make a mistake, blotting the ink… Even a young 50-year-old like me wonders how he ever typed college papers … remember Tippex anyone (I believe it was called White Out here in the colonies)?

So now everyone’s a writer. I get it. But what I don’t understand is the complaining about writing. I opened a Writer’s Digest this weekend, an old one from the end of 2012, and it was full of articles on Writer’s Block, discipline, and how we need to force ourselves to write.

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In the space of 24 hours, I was interviewed by a high school student who kept asking about writer’s block, discipline, and how I maintain my focus; then I was invited to speak at a workshop on Writer’s Block.

In the aforementioned issue of Writer’s Digest, there are articles and a hilarious graph (way to go Zachery Petit) on doing everything but writing. One article is about overcoming writer’s block without willpower, another has you spending an hour or so writing and the rest of the day doing all kinds of wonderful “author” things like visiting bookstores and doing field research. There is an article about extreme measures authors took to keep their “butt in the seat,” including Frank Burrows who would chain himself to a chair and drink lots of Tab (a soda that is pretty torturous in itself) so that his bladder was bursting, I assume.

William Styron is quoted as saying: “I certainly don’t enjoy writing. I get a fine warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it: Writing is hell.”

The author of the article continues: “I get it. I get why writers hate writing.”

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I don’t! I really don’t! If you don’t enjoy writing don’t do it. There are things we all have to do: taxes, flossing, cleaning the bathroom, but not writing. Sure there are hard times: when the plot doesn’t work, or when your heroine does something out-of-character, but to hate writing?

I LOVE writing. I can’t wait to fire up my laptop and pound the keys. When I am not writing, I become frustrated and (according to my family) pretty darn annoying. I LOVE the thrill of the unknown plot twist. I CRAVE the company of my characters, and I RIDE the adrenaline rush of the scenes unfolding under my fingertips.

When a beloved character fails or dies, I cry. When battle is joined, I apparently mumble and wince out loud as people are wounded or killed. I have never learned how to type properly (touch typing?), but my fingers fly across the keyboard as I get increasingly excited. Sure there are many squiggly red and green lines, but I can worry about that later.

When I finish a novel, the first thing I want to do is celebrate. The second thing is to start the next book. In my own fantasy world, I would just write the novels. Others would edit, market and do all the other ‘stuff’ that authors need to do these days. I just wanna write.

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I don’t mean nothing else. I love my day job and feel I am, as Steve Jobs expressed: ‘helping to put a dent in the world.’ I love my family and am truly blessed to have a soul mate who tolerates me with all my quirks. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

The high school student asked at the end of our interview:” “When do you know you are a writer?” I answered that it’s when you never leave the story, even when you are doing something else. It’s when you crave returning to the computer and when you take immense pride in the story unfolding.

That is my answer. Every author probably has something different to offer and I am sure they are all right. But I hate writing just doesn’t make any sense.

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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+

 

Walking Away From A Fantasy Series

I have heard others talk about the difficulty of finishing writing a series, of tying up loose ends, of sad partings and death, glorious battles and victories. However clear your plot line is, it is difficult to turn your back on characters who have walked with you on the paths of fiction for five or ten years.

When I finished the first draft of Book Five during the summer, the plan had been to edit and rewrite and then send out to my editor by the end of October. What actually happened was that I plunged straight into Book 6 and now, three months later, I am writing the final third of the book: the climax and end of the series. My publisher knows that a February launch date is mere fantasy (excuse the pun), but given that they are more used to authors who get writers block and stop writing, my uncontrollable urge to write is hardly seen as much of a disaster.

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However, I am finding the final third of Book 6 so difficult to write and it is a strange feeling. There are many storylines to tie up and it occurs to me that perhaps it is better to write the sixth book before locking down the fifth.

The conclusion of a series is a huge responsibility and radically different from finishing one novel. There are many reasons why a series is easier than individual standalone stories and many reasons why it is harder.

But beyond anything, and first and foremost is the multiple strands of plot, is the commitment between author and character, and this truly weighs me down. I have written before about killing off characters but even dead they remain part of the story.

I hope to finish the first draft of Book 6 by the end of the year. Thirty thousand words in forty-five days with Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday season included is not daunting in terms of output. But this time it feels different and a steeper mountain to climb.

I am wondering if other authors feel the same way? The Professor went on after Lord of the Rings to write two more tomes, though George R.R. Martin seems relieved to soon finish. How do you feel, a reader or writer of series’, when you approach the end of an era?

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Enough pontificating. another 30,000 words to write!

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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+

Happy Birthday, Professor Tolkien

Everyone should have a mentor, a leader they look up to, someone who, when they are faced with a dilemma consider: What would XXX do? That person might be a religious leader, a youth leader, a teacher … or a professor.

A month ago, on another blog, I spoke of the loss I feel for Nelson Mandela and describe his influence at various times of my life. But I have another hero, not one who would, I am sure, compare himself to Madiba, but a man I think about all the time when writing. If I am faced with an issue in 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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The old professor is, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and others. His books are legendary, his world-building stunning, and his ability to create languages simply mind-boggling.

But often what people forget is that Tolkien seemed, on the outside at least, to be anything but a fantasy writer. He was an academic, a somewhat stiff Englishman, a traditionalist, a Christian, and a war veteran. One fine summer day, he was rather bored marking term end papers when someone had inadvertently inserted a blank page.

Tolkien, without much thought, scribbled on the white paper the famous words: In a hole in the ground there lives a hobbit…

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And he went on to change the world of epic fantasy forever. He should have realized what he was doing, for as he warned 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.

Today, J.R.R. Tolkien is, I believe, in a pub up there in heaven, celebrating with his illustrious friends from The Inklings  and raising a glass to celebrate his 122nd birthday.

In the Lord of the Rings, Bilbo celebrates his eleventy-first birthday, so it is only fitting to wish Tolkien a very happy twelvety-first birthday and to sing him Happy Birthday in elvish, the language he created, one word at a time. Thank you to Petri Tikka for this rendition!

So please, wherever you are, take a moment, pour yourself a glass of whatever does it for you and raise it to the following song:

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, 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+

My First You Tube Book Video

Thank you so much to the folks at Slashed Reads and, in particular, Robin Austin, for taking the time to generously produce this 90 second You Tube video. Please take a moment to visit their website and check out the other featured authors.

Let me know what you think of it in the comments below.

We are a week away from the epic fantasy celebration at Games of Berkeley – next Sunday at 3pm. I really hope you can come and we will try to show it on a Google+ Hangout.

If you have any questions that you would like answered at the event, please take a moment to write them in the comments and I will pass them on to the facilitator, Joanna Phoenix.  For details of the event, please click here and let me know if you have any questions.

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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+

Welcome Back Old Friends

It takes about four months for me to write a first draft of a novel. The rest of the year is spent editing the manuscript and promoting the books that I have already published.

I actually enjoy editing and marketing, but there is no rush here to compare to writing a novel. It is extra special, I think, when writing a series. In my political fiction, I have just begun the third in a series, and I have put it aside while I write the third book in the Wycaan Master series.

It is strange to finish a novel in a series and walk away from the characters that I have created. They seem to think they can still follow me around, hang out with me at the gym, intrude when I am trying to write something else, and sit in my car while I am driving.

 Most often, they appear in real people. It might be a comment, a mannerism, or an accent. Sometimes a person will say something and I will stare at them. These poor victims then feel a need to explain themselves because they fear they have just offended me. But really I am thinking that the Wycaan teacher Mhari might have said that, or Ilana would have arched her hip in exactly that way.

The worst part is when I suddenly think of a better way that one of my characters might have said something or dealt with a situation. I am consumed with concern or guilt and chastise myself, like a parent who missed an educational opportunity with a child.

 

But beginning a book is like welcoming old friends back after a long time apart. It is the family gathering once or twice a year. There is so much to catch up with, new stories and challenges, people growing up, flourishing or struggling. It is a fusion of the familiar and the potential.

 It is an amazing journey, and I could not walk it without the characters of my books by my side.

Welcome back, old friends.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first has reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).