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!).

Summer 2015 Reading Book 6

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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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).

 

 

An Author Needs His Hat

“So, what’s with the hat?” The question came from a young man in the back row of the small (but thankfully packed) room.

I had been fielding questions about plot, world-building, characters, building a series, and on being a writer, so this caught me off guard. My bad. It was not the first time I had received such a question. I was reminded of this when a twitter follower graciously allowed me to finish the day with a smile this week, posting that he couldn’t ignore a book written by an author with such a great hat. Thank you, sir.

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So, what is with the hat? I was wearing it when my sons and I wrote those first words deep in a redwood forest in 2010. Sitting at a campsite picnic table, I brandished my snow-white keyboard, doffed my hat and wrote: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit…

Okay, I’m getting carried away. I actually opened At The Walls of Galbrieth with the words: The screams pierced his dreams and… Every summer since, I have read the next manuscript to my sons while camping, and while wearing my hat.

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

Reading Book 6 to my toughest critics in the summer of 2015. End of an era.

Though I feel a great connection between hat and story, none of my characters actually wear a hat in the novels. Maybe I connect to it because I would simply feel too self-conscious walking around the San Francisco Bay Area with a heavy, hooded cloak and staff with the exception perhaps of Halloween.

Ironically, I am not much of a hat-wearer. Traveling to the East Coast in winter warrants a hat, and the same one I wear for camping, sits aloft my head as I fly fish. I am sure the trout take careful note of my headgear since they totally ignore my fly.

But now I have begun to take notice. The professor wore his tweed hat though not in his ancient Oxford study. Sir Terry Pratchett RIP had his splendid black fedora (hope I’m getting the title right). And I have seen other fantasy authors on twitter handles, websites, and Wanted posters.

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Neil Gaiman, in his wonderful tribute to Sir Terry, described their first meeting thus: The author, a former journalist, has a hat, but it’s a small, black leathery cap, not a Proper Author Hat. Not yet.

So here is my Wycaan Master books series by hat. Please feel free to click on each to see which book the photo features on (we used the same for Books 3 + 4).

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Are you a fantasy author with a hat to show? Feel free to leave photo and link to your books in the comments.

Here’s to authors in hats. May our heads be ever covered, our pages full of words, and our minds ever brimming with imagination!

We are now less than two weeks from the release of From Ashes They Rose (October 1.). So please, consider investing $2.99 to preorder the ebook version. Maybe one day you can point out nonchalantly to friends over a deep red Merlot that you helped that best selling author when he was still a struggling writer.

How could I forget...

How could I forget…

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and four more novels in the Wycaan Master Series – all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose, the fifth in the series, will be released October 1, 2015. 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+

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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+

My Secret

Friday night, a Creative Writing Major asked me what was my ‘secret’. I like this question because I can respond that if I tell them, then it is no longer a secret. The truth is, it is not secret, and neither do I have any claim to originality. You will find these ideas in a dozen books and blogs.

What is important here is that they work for me. We are all different and live in different life circumstances. But I have three recommendations that I believe could resonate with others:

1) Write every day – writing is like working out. Go to the gym or wherever you work out every day and teach your body to expect it. Likewise, when you write every day, your brain settles into a groove and the process (like those bench presses) become more natural.

It helps me to set goals. I do this monthly and they are typed up and next to my desk. Keep them real and attainable.

What do you do when you finish your first novel? Begin to write your second. Have a glass of wine first to celebrate, by all means, but then get back into it.

 

Hit the gym and the keyboards every day.

Hit the gym and the keyboards every day.

2) Put yourself out there as a writer – if you don’t take yourself seriously, no one else will. Go to a writer’s group, a lecture circuit, conference, workshops, wherever there are writers. Become a member of the community. Start to think, act and behave like a writer (I’ll leave the details to you). Last night, at my non-profit’s annual fundraiser, I put my trilogy in the silent auction. Though I never hide my ‘other’ life, it was surprising how many students and donors came up to me and said: “I never knew…”

3) Learn the Craft – I know I have mentioned these books before, but I read annually. One is Stephen King’s On Writing, and the other is Sometimes The Magic Works by Terry Brooks. I believe that anyone who wants to write should read the former, and anyone who wants to be a fantasy writer (or a mensch) should read the second.

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There is more to this point than just reading a How-To. Take an author who you admire and learn their work. Read their books first to enjoy a good story, but then read them again to understand their plot arc, character development, world-building, etc. Analyze what they do well and emulate. I do not mean copy. Take their techniques and blend with your imagination.

You might do well to apply this to how they sell their books. But here I would suggest a word of caution. Do not try to learn marketing from an A-list author. Choose someone who is five years ahead of you and follow them. Don’t come to me if you get a restraining order, I mean follow their online platform and certainly, if they are in town for a book reading or writer’s conference, then go.

A man I have my eye on (and I am referring to his success as an up-and-coming fantasy author) is Daniel Arenson, He has just released a new book – Requiem’s Song – congratulations sir. My youngest has just begun the first Requiem having heard my eldest and myself enthuse about it. He has hardly lifted his head from the book all weekend. 

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If my ‘secret’ doesn’t work for you, find someone else’s. I won’t be offended, I promise. While we are on the topic: Authors – What is your secret” Please share in the responses or consider a guest post here.

Have a great week everyone.

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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+

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+

Possessed Writers – repost

Over the three days of November 17 -19, Amazon.com have decided to promote the 2013 Winner of the Eric Hoffer Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. The novel will be offered FREE in ebook form.

This is a wonderful opportunity for me as an author and I request that  you download the book and invites your friends to do the same. Feel free to gift it on (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, anyone?).

To celebrate this and also the milestone of 100 blog posts on elfwriter.com, I wish to offer 10 of my favorite posts over the next three days. I hope you enjoy and, please, take a moment to download for FREE At The Walls Of Galbrieth and spread the word.

Thank you,

Alon

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The scene might be the same in any house mid-week, early evening.

Your partner is rushing to make dinner, still in his/her office clothes. Ten- year-old son is irritable, primarily because he preferred to play wall ball than eat his lunch at um … lunch break. He has even pointed out that the First Lady wants him to exercise more (you just lost my vote in 2020 Ms. Obama! Tell him to eat that sandwich we made him). Older son is drowning in homework and needs help. Unfortunately it is not math where he ends up explaining it to a perplexed calculator-wielding father – it is English and father is the fastest typist in the house.

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From within this maelstrom, hassled wife turns around from steaming cooking pots and sees an unset, messy dinner table, a swivel chair, and a writer’s desk. The writer, sitting in said chair, is distinctly facing the wrong direction, pounding his keyboard with a vengeance.

Suddenly, she can’t help herself. Forgetting the wooden spoon in her hand (writers notice these details especially when the spoon is being flailed in said writer’s direction), she towers over the writer, hands on hips:

“You’re writing? Now? Man, you are just possessed!”

When my extremely patient and understanding wife says something like this, it does makes you wonder. The problem is that after a stressful few months, I had a week off over the Christmas break, and kind angels put our family up in beautiful, snowbound Tahoe, 10,000 feet high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Already on crutches from a knee operation, I was never going to cut the crisp, fresh snow on virgin slopes (I don’t ski even when not on crutches – at best I tumble down a 100 feet nursery slope, make sure there are photos, and then slink off for laced hot chocolate).

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But here, if only for a few days, I couldn’t help myself. The laptop comes on and a few snow-bound scenes of a new book somehow appear.

Possessed? Moi? Five months and 103,000 words later, despite an intense period at work and many other obligations, I type the final period, click the save command, and stare at the epilogue. Rough first draft of Wycaan Master Book 4 is completed.

This latest book was written mainly between 7.30-8.30 am and after the boys go to bed on weekdays, and a couple of hours on the weekend, or random pieces written during odd times. Or while waiting at the dentist, on the mass-transit BART commuting home, in San Francisco, Washington DC, Ventura, St. Louis, San Diego, and at too many airports.

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Possessed? Nah. Possessed would be finishing Book 4 and starting to write scenes of Book 5. Possessed. Out-of-control. Crazy.

I just wrote a few pages, honestly, mainly plot threads that I want to develop, characters that need to grow and confront their pasts. There is a bit of world-building with oceans and…

Starting Book 5 might just be considered grounds for divorce, need to involve Family and Children Services, or a good psychologist (preferably one who is as much a fan of Tolkien as of Freud). 

Starting Book 5? “Now? Man, you are just possessed!”

Fair point.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, offered by Amazon.com  for FREE on November 17-19. The sequel, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 are all released by Tourmaline Books. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+