Churning Out Novels

I thought I wrote fast. I tell people I can write a 100,000 word novel – a first draft – in four months, writing for an hour before work, an hour or two later in the day, and a few solid hours on the weekend. I only thought this was fast because people told me so. Other writers spent a year, two or more, to get similar output.

So I was a little surprised when I started to follow a podcast by three authors, all in the sci-fi and fantasy world. These three, along with the different guests they interview each week, publish 4-6 books a year, often keeping different series’ and even different genres going.

So I did some digging. There are many writers out there who are churning out a 50-80K novel each month … and I mean from Chapter 1 through The End and into editing (I assume), book cover design, and placements.

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Wow!

I am emotionally exhausted when I finish a novel and only once (between Books 5 and 6) did I have any desire to continue straight into writing the next of the series. Editing, sure. Marketing, okay. But the idea of churning out another 100K?

I am trying to work out what it takes to do this and, as I listened more to these authors, and even got to question a couple, I think I get it.

1. Outsourcing – these people do nothing for the production process. Everything is outsourced and they do not play a part in the process. This makes total sense except when there is no investment in the process, when the author really doesn’t care about the end product. As one author said: “My book covers are more or less the same. Only the title and book number changes. The cover artist knows what to do.”

2. Editing – when my editor returns a manuscript, there are changes suggested in almost every paragraph. I am expected to go through these comments and decide what to do. True, I accept 95% of the suggestions, but sometimes the editor writes that a scene is not clear, a conversation does not make sense, or a description is repetitive. In this case, I need to rewrite. Sometimes, the editor suggests I delete something. If I am attached to what is written, I might rewrite it much shorter or insert elsewhere (oops – don’t tell my editor!).

images-63. Strict genre adherence – in order that some writers can keep pace with production, they keep the plot tight and similar – the same highs and lows. The protagonist acts as he (usually a he) is expected, the bad guy too, and often the women are…well, behaving in what is expected of women in that genre. Now there is nothing wrong here. If it ain’t broke, why fix? Who needs a bad guy you sympathize with, a woman who kicks the crap out of someone or simply  falls in love with the bad guy and not the hero? Real life is already too complicated. There are no twists in the plot and I expect that somewhere there is a story arc written that is faithfully adhered to. No time to spend experimenting. Take no risks with the loyal readership.

4. Investment in the characters – this is something I find hard to understand. I have never understood how people can write a stand-alone novel, and walk away. I feel so close to all my characters – I worry about them, fear for them, get angry when they screw up (and especially when they have the audacity to blame me). Long after the novel is finished, I think about them, and yes, I mourn the ones I kill off.

Now there is nothing wrong with any of this. There are people who write for the art and people who write for the royalty check and that is just fine. Most of us are somewhere in between. If the quality of the book is enough for the reader to enjoy, to read effortlessly and then crave the author’s next book, then what’s wrong with that? If the genre is popular just the way it is, then this is what the reader wants. And if it sells and so do the rest of the author’s work, then that is a clear sign that what they do is right and recognized by the most important views – the readership.

But sometimes it is tough to accept. In seeking the highest standard of writing, I agonize over a scene, word choice, how a character develops. Sure I can write a first draft in four months, but it takes longer to edit, rewrite, consider feedback, and feel once the book is published, that I have done my absolute best.

I’m trying not to be critical, but the book churn must have its limitations. And, in the end, a book exists forever. If the market is swamped by mediocrity, how will the special books get noticed? Will a generation get turned off novels because they just aren’t as gripping as a video game, a You Tube clip, or an on-demand TV binge?

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And I can’t help but wonder: what does George R.R. Martin think about this?

EXCITING NEWS: Tourmaline Books are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of March though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship. 

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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).

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I Felt The Earth Move

I felt the earth move and not in the way that we Californians usually associate the word or what the rest of you are thinking – admit it! I had a literary orgasm and I had not just finish reading erotica. I actually had just finished Patrick Rothfuss’ second book – The Wise Man’s Fear.

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After I read his first novel – The Name Of The Wind – I gave it an enthusiastic 5 star review. After I finished the second book, I wrote: This is as close as I have ever come to giving six stars. There were moments when the complexity of the societies that Rothfuss writes left me amazed. As an author I feel he has raised the bar for me in a way I have not felt in years. Truly inspiring.

I really wanted to give the second book six stars but Amareads/Goodzon wouldn’t let me. I have never felt like this before, so completely in awe of a novel.

Rothfuss breaks the rules. The ‘experts’ (those who are and those who think they are) tell us that our novels must plunge straight in, that we must have a fast pace, that we should minimize backstory, and focus on plot, plot, plot!

Despite loving his books, I only now went to his blog to read the announcement about a future movie, television series, video game, and recipe book. Okay, I embellished about the recipe book, but who knows?

Somewhere in the middle of the blog post, Rothfuss wrote the following about why he was skeptical that Hollywood could put his books onto screens:

“Pretty much every fantasy movie created so far has been an action movie, or plot centered, or both. And my books aren’t like that. My books are about the characters. They’re about secrets and mysteries and the hidden turnings of the world.”

At this point, the heavens opened, a bright ray of sunshine beamed down accompanied by harp music. I had an epiphany!

I love my characters. I really do. I worry for them when they face danger, I grieve for their failings and I cry when they die. I have dreamed of meeting them and even imagined I met my protagonist at Starbucks – yes there was an extra shot in the Frappawhatzit.

While I have never been accused of a slow pace or lack of emphasis on plot, most of what the editors cut is character development rather than world-building or plot. I would like to share more of my characters, and discover with the reader their multifaceted personalities.

But this does not work in our fast-paced world with our nano-second attention span. We are apparently listening to our readers and what they want.

Thankfully, Pat Rothfuss (may I call you Pat?) was totally negligent in listening to these naysayers, or he just followed his muse. And he has proved that if a magical realism or fantasy novel is written well and rich in texture, it does not have to be like every other book.

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Before I embark on rewriting the manuscript for the 6th Wycaan Master novel, I am taking a few weeks to enter the corrections and suggestions that my writers group has given me over the last year for a magical realism novel I whipped up one day (or half-year).

I am noticing that my own corrections are adding depth in a way that I have not done before and I think, no I know, I am being influenced by Rothfuss’s two novels. Imitation, they say, is the highest form of flattery. I am not copying his style, but he has left a deep impression on me and I am sure many other authors and writers.

Thank you, Pat. I hope you are as flattered as I am grateful. And thank you to everyone who helped make the launch of From Ashes They Rose a success. I couldn’t do it without you … literally! I am sincerely grateful.

Book 5 Cover FINAL

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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).

 

 

Epic Fantasy, Epic Tattoos

I take my tattoos pretty seriously and see them as a rite-of-passage. I have three, each celebrating a landmark event. I got the first when Ms. Elfwriter and I got married and the other two when my sons were each born. I often joke that the reason there will not be a third child is that I can’t afford the tattoo. I actually did plan another tattoo to celebrate the Wycaan Master series, but I haven’t done it yet.

I have often wondered about incorporating my love for body art into my books. I have this association, when it comes to fantasy, of tattoos and the bad guys. If they are essentially used to signify evil, I take issue.

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Having just discovered the Iron Druid series, I have found at least one author who has delved more than a cursory skin deep level (couldn’t resist).

Hearne’s protagonist is a Druid who draws power from the earth … through his tattoo. Hearne describes the tattoo beautifully as it moves from the soles of his feet to cover all the energy points on his body. In Book 1, we even learn something of the significance and the process. Note to Mr. Hearne – we, the readers, would love to learn more of this.

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Credit to another writer – Paul Goat Allen – who wrote a blog post that asked what is your favorite literature image that you can imagine making into a tattoo.

But, as an author of Young Adult fantasy, is it okay to romanticize or elevate the art of tattoos? Certain religions forbid it – I will not be allowed to be buried in a Jewish cemetery since I have defiled my body, which was created in G-d’s image.

Putting aside any desire for my ashes to be thrown from the Golden Gate Bridge (there is probably a law against that as well – but hey, I’ve already apparently pissed off YAWEH) – there are many parents who, I am sure, do not want their children getting a tattoo on the whim of a fictional character.

My own sons, justifiably proud that I bear a tattoo of each of them, have already told me of the various images they plan to emblaze on their bodies. I promised that when they are 18, if they still want them, I will take them to get their first tattoos (to add proportion, I have also promised to buy their first round when they turn 21 – good parenting, I am told, is all about consistency). I do, however, also point out the painful process, which helps to somewhat quell their impatience.

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And yet tattoos do have a rich, spiritual past. If fantasy authors are trying to illustrate such a fantastical bygone age, why should we shirk from a bit of body art? I am trying to imagine a conversation with a concerned parent.

“Look, Mr. Shalev, I really appreciate that you have written several books that my son is enjoying more than endless video games, but really! He now wants a tattoo. Do you have to keep harping on about it? It is so crude.”

“Crude?”

“Yes. All those needles and blood.”

“Have you told your son about this process?”

“Goddess no. He would have nightmares, poor little tyke.”

“Has he told you about the fighting in my books, slaying good and bad guys with swords and bows?”

“Oh yes. He wants to take up archery, the sweetie. At least it will get him out of the house, I say.”

“Great. By the way: what’s his favorite video game?”

“Grand Theft Auto. He just loves his little cars.”

“Do you have a problem with that?”

“Of course not. Burt Reynolds starred in the movie you know. Anyway, it’s only a game.”

True, I think. Only a game. This is literature!

And to end with a question in the vein of Paul Goat Allen’s post: What fantasy image, character, or phrase, could you imagine having tattooed onto your body? Answers in the comments, please.

Thank you! Have a great week.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. 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).