Knights of the Golden Arches

Research is important for the authenticity of a novel, right? But with six epic fantasy novels published and having written about half a million words in 3.75 manuscripts of a medieval fantasy series, it was a bit embarrassing to get so blatantly caught out.

While my Kingfisher series (looking for an agent, btw) is based on a fantasy land, it looks, feels and sounds like England. Born into a craftsman family in London (at the north end of the Underground’s Northern Line – does that give me “The North Remembers” bragging rights? – I figure I’m allowed. I can wield the olde language better than a lance, and read out loud to my writers group in the olde tongue (or at least the olde accent).

There I was reading about my characters digging into a feast of lamb stew and potatoes, when someone piped up that potatoes didn’t exist in England or indeed Europe until after the discovery of the new world. I protested. “What about Ireland?” I mumbled . I should have known better, arguing with a historian who writes excellent gold rush novels and has us salivating every time his heroes stop to eat.Lovington_Church_and_Chips_-_geograph.org.uk_-_710665

Now, having written for most of the six-hour flight to Toronto and hearing my connection is delayed, I thought to burn some time doing actual research. So here it is:

The peasants ate cabbage, beans, eggs, oats and brown bread. Occasionally, there was cheese, bacon and chickens. If you lived near water, fish would feature prominently, whether freshwater or sea. The fish could be dried, salted or smoked, which enabled them to be kept for the winter or for trips.

 They might have milk from sheep and goats, but cows were not popular because the milk went off quickly. Herbs, roots, nuts, and edible flowers garnished the plate.

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Actually, not the plate. They didn’t use them. Many carried their own bowls and spoons, and often used a loaf of bread with the middle torn out – a trencher. Nor did they use cutlery or artificial sweeteners. Honey was plentiful and used to sweeten and to make medicinal herbal concoctions drinkable.

The wealthy apparently did not eat their greens, having more access to livestock and the bounties of hunting – pheasants and deer, for example. Interestingly, they used spices heavily to create thick, rich sauces. They also refined flour making white bread a delicacy.

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Ale and beer were available to all, but wine was only for the upper classes, as it was imported from Italy, Spain, and France

There are actually a plethora of websites that give far more detail, including this excellent oneBut the most entertaining by far was this 2-minute video from Mama Natural. Well worth it!

Oh well. Guess I will have to scrap my sequel – Knights of the Golden Arches! – They were going to take over the world through real estate acquisition, cut down the ancient forests for grazing, pay their serfs  minimum wage, and destroy their enemies by encouraging them to become obese and have high cholesterol.

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Admit it, you were hooked!

Good Writing,

Elfwriter!

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls Of Galbrieth (ebook currently at 99c) and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books and available in KU. Sign up for more information about Alon Shalev at his author website.

Galbrieth cover.5th.anniversary

Grinding It Out

In over fifteen years of writing, I have rarely not ‘felt like writing.” Usually, I am frustrated that with a full-time job, family etc., that I don’t have enough time. I have expounded on this blog before about writing every day and I mean it. My absolute non-medical opinion is that there is a creative muscle somewhere in our bodies and, like the biceps and six-pack, it needs to nurtured…every day. Actually, when I went online for images to add to the blog, I see I am not alone in this thought.

Fortunately, I look on writing more favorably than the gym. I subscribe to the tweet they show all the time on the 24 Hour Fitness screens: “I really regret that work out…” said no one, everBut I often need to drag myself to the gym, usually by chastising myself that I am wasting the membership I am paying for.

Not so with my writing. I write in hour-long slots, just before work, just after work and before chasing the bus, after the dinner is cleared away and kids settled. I attack it with a vengeance, stopping reading an article about my soccer team or politics, because it’s 8am and the clock starts ticking.

So today (Sunday) took me by surprise. I rose from a good night’s sleep and drove to a Peets coffee shop where my son was working, and over a turmeric latte settled in to write. But I really didn’t feel inspired. I thought of checking soccer reports, basketball playoff reports, even discover more factual conjecture on the Muller Report. Yeah, I felt that resistant.

The strange part is that I am over midway through writing my latest novel. I know where the characters and I are going, and there are no problems that I can see (I’m not sure the characters are as confident). I cannot explain why I was felt so resistant, but I drank my coffee and ground it out.

Even an old Englishman from my hometown who was a friend of Alfred Peet couldn’t knock me off my stride (though you are about to become a character in my latest novel, Nigel. That’ll teach you to distract me!).

I have not read what I wrote. I think it was about two-thirds of a chapter. I have a feeling it is bad, even by Anne Lamott’s shitty first draft standards. It will likely be heavily edited, rewritten, or ripped up (if I ever bother to print it).

But it was important that I sat down and wrote. It feels like when you ease up once on a run or set of exercises, it just becomes too easy to do it again.

I wrote today…and I will write tomorrow. There is no room for doubt.

Good Writing,

Alon Shalev

ps – in case you haven’t seen, my website URL has changed to http://www.alon-shalev.com. Find out why here

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls Of Galbrieth (ebook currently at 99c) and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books and available in KU. Sign up for more information about Alon Shalev at his author website.

 

A Fellow Author’s Last Battle Scene

Busy weekend, so I am plagiarizing dark fantasy author Andy Peloquin who has sent out an urgent message. One of my greatest fears is whether I can provide for my family should something happen to me.

From Andy’s eNewsletter:

Brandon Barr has been fighting cancer off and on for nearly a decade. He’s gone into remission twice, but you’d never know that he’s been fighting for his life. He’s such a cheerful, upbeat, positive person–he’s brought joy to those of us privileged to know him.

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But now, after multiple bone marrow transplants, his leukemia has returned. He’s done everything he can, yet the time has come: soon, the world will lose a good man.

I’ve never met him personally, but I’ve interacted with him online, worked with him, and seen the many people his writing, his skill, and his genuinely decent personality have touched.

But the loss will be much harder for others: his devoted wife Amanda will lose her loving husband, and three young boys will lose their hero, their rock, their father.

You may not know him personally, but you can help:

1. Buying a copy of his new launch: I’ve already got mine and once I get through my current read, I’ll dig into it and post a review to my blog/website to try and get more people to read it.

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2. Share the image around. Download the image above (right click, “Save Image As…”) and share it to your social media to become one of #BrandonsBuddies.

3. Donate to his GoFundMe page. I’ve already donated (anonymously–it’s not about me), along with most of my fellow author friends.

I know it’s a lot to ask–you don’t know Brandon, and likely you’re living on as tight a budget as the rest of us. If you don’t feel up to it, send positive thoughts or prayers his way, and for his family. But if you can spare anything–even just a dollar or two–it will make a huge difference for his family.

Every dollar you can part with is a little drop of peace you can give Brandon right now as he faces this greatest of challenges. Go to Brandon’s GoFundMePage here.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart! I know that if it was me, I’d be terribly worried for the future of my family, so knowing that there are genuinely good people out there willing to help can make a huge difference in Brandon’s final days.

May God, Allah, Yahweh, Gaia, the Universe, karma, or whatever higher power you believe in reward you a thousandfold!

Andy

Alon again: just downloaded my copy and went to Brandon’s GoFundMePage. In Jewish tradition, the number 18 signifies the Hebrew letters for chai – life. If you can, please donate $18 or whatever works for you.

Thank you for reading a difficult post in difficult times.

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. Sign up for more information about Alon Shalev at his author website.

 

Celebrating the 5th Anniversary of the Eric Hoffer YA Book Award

Next month, Tourmaline Books will release a 2nd edition of At The Walls Of Galbrieth, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the award and I am so excited. I was allowed to make a few edits (yes, I corrected that mistaken identity that annoyed so many of you!) and received a wonderful new cover from the amazingly talented William Kenney.

Galbrieth cover.5th.anniversary

Let me know what you think of the new cover. I appreciate all your feedback and support.

Thank you for following the Wycaan Masters.

Alon Shalev

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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. More about Alon Shalev can be found on his author website.

 

 

 

The Open Road – When Inspiration Hits

Anyone who has written a trilogy knows it is considerably harder to finish the final book than to conclude a one-off novel. This is simply because one needs to tie up all loose ends from three novels. I have done this twice, at the end of the first Wycaan Master trilogy and then at the end of the second.

When my mother passed away last year and then when I visited my father earlier this month, I found myself with plenty of time on the plane and in the UK to write. This luxury is something I have never experienced as I usually weave my writing time around an intense job and a desire to be an active father and husband. On each trip I wrote almost 50,000 words in 14 days, much of it at the aptly named apartment where my Dad lives.

Kingfisher Court, Bournemouth

This month, as the plane wheels touched ground, I concluded a big scene that left me two-thirds of the way through the final Kingfisher novel, a medieval fantasy trilogy I have worked on since finishing the Wycaan Master series. What lay before me was the build up to a climactic ending that necessitates bringing multiple characters together from different parts of the land, enabling them to finish their subplots, and get to the scene of the climax.

And I had no idea how I was going to do this.

But I have faith in the process. Knowing I would not have concentrated writing time until the summer, I decided to put it on the back burner and return to editing and finding an agent for Book 1.

Then I drove from San Francisco to Portland (about 10 hours) through beautiful scenery of mountains, rivers, and forests, listening to soccer podcasts and enjoying Mrs. Elfwriter’s company.

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Deep in an Oregon forest, she put on a playlist that included many symphonic rock songs I write to (Nightwish, Epica, Within Temptation, Tarja). Abruptly a musical track of bagpipes, The Gael by Dougie MacLean performed by Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, filled the car (one of Mrs. Elfwriter’s choices, I might add) and the entire final scene entered my mind with incredible clarity.

Now here’s the problem: we were driving on the Interstate 5, in the middle of nowhere with a 6pm deadline to be in Portland. How could I get this down on paper? I was literally squirming with excitement as I drove.

I couldn’t dictate to Mrs. Elfwriter, it would spoil the possibility that she might one day read the books. Whipping out my iPad while driving…well we won’t go there. I had once downloaded an app (Quick Voice?) but had no idea how to use it and this didn’t solve having said passenger.

What resolved the problem was one of Oregon’s wonderful rest stops, often situated in a forest or overlooking a vista. Best part (okay, 2nd best part since knowing the conclusion to your novel and trilogy tops everything) is that the final two hours of the drive passed unnoticed, fatigue totally forgotten.
Last scene from Kf3 driving from Portland 1Have you ever had an experience where you have an intense creative experience at such an inopportune moment? Wanna share?

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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.

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

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Write to Market

I belong to a wonderfully supportive writer’s group where, over the years, we have struck a balance between supporting each other and offering constructive criticism to help each other improve our craft and our manuscripts. It is a multi-genre group, primarily fiction, but with poets and non-fiction.

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This week, John Putnam, one of our most successful authors, who has written several historical Western novels about the Gold Rush, explained how having taken our prior comments into account, is keeping a specific action scene. He had given it some thought and decided that it aligns with his target audience. None of us generally read Western novels and I admire how he has stuck to his guns (probably Colt 45’s or a trusty Winchester!) and, while considering our advice, has stayed focused on what his readers want and expect.

At the same meeting, a wonderful colleague mentioned how she thought some of my female characters in Kingfisher: Slave to Honor were too dark for her taste. It is a fair point and I am wondering about balancing her feedback with the fact that this manuscript is meant for a Grimdark / adult Medieval Fantasy audience (think Joe Abercrombie, Brent Weeks, George R.R. Martin). 

The concept of Write-to-Market is to know who your target audience – your readers – are and what they expect. Your mother might not like it even though she still claims you’re the greatest author ever, but then she does not buy other novels in your genre.

I listen to many podcasts, read marketing books and articles, hopefully by successful authors as I try to fathom my way through the ever-changing tools available to market the Wycaan Master series. A commonality among these authors is the need to write for those who read your books. It sounds simple, but I’ve lost count of writers who have assured me that everyone would love their novel – and I ran a writer’s marketing group for years for the California Writers Club and spoken to various forums on the topic.

It is incumbent to understand who are reading your genre, where they hang out, and what they want. How do we find that out? Here are a couple of ideas:

  1. Goodreads – the Facebook of bibliophiles has groups dedicated to genres. Hang out there and don’t just sell your books, ask good questions to mine for data you really want.
  2. Follow Successful Authors – choose 3-5 authors who are several rungs ahead of you and follow them. Check out their website, subscribe to their newsletters, follow them on twitter and, read their books (buy them – they rely on royalties just like you).
  3. Kindle Boards – I feel a bit hypocritical here because I only go there when I want an answer to something. But I am always so impressed by the enthusiasm and honesty of those who hang out there.
  4. Survey – solicit your contact list for advice. I did this years ago when The First Decree was published and learned a lot about who was reading my novel and how popular the Young Adult epic fantasy is with adults.

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I hope this blog post has inspired you to focus on your target audience and take the time to research before you invest time and money in certain marketing tactics. It has helped me. I am planning a survey of Grimdark / adult Medieval Fantasy readers. If you’re a member of the tribe, I hope you’ll participate.

Good Writing,

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.

More on the author can be found at his website and you can sign up for his quarterly eNewsletter here.

Author Interview – Winterview!

Thank you to my colleague, author K. J Harrowick for taking the time to interview and post this. Good luck with the Winterview series and for making our winter a little less cold and dark. 

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Perhaps there is no better time to stay home and warm, snuggling with a good book. Hang in there, everyone: Summer is Coming. 

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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.

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

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