To The Long Suffering Writer’s Spouse

I was rather surprised at the well of support for Mrs. Elfwriter in reaction to my recent blog post – The Addiction of Novel Writers. I would have thought that most of my loyal readers and followers would be, well, loyal. I assumed that those who follow the Wycaan Master series would appreciate the committed and fast output of the possessed writer, and that the writers who follow this blog would identify with me (the writer!).

However, this is not the case. It appears that the vast majority of followers are women and the gender bond transcends any of the above expectations. Ironically, this post was viewed over the aforementioned spouse’s birthday, so here in the interest of clarity is my appreciation of the long- suffering Writer’s Spouse.

My own spouse first objected to being referred to as Mrs. Elfwriter. This summer, she proudly received her Psy.D. She should be duly addressed as Dr. Elfwriter!

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I have yet to meet anyone who admits when they married their author-spouse, they truly understood what they were taking on. This suggests a number of options. Either they didn’t know that their beloved was a writer, thought they would not remain a writer (an author is a writer who never gave up), or were simply blinded by love.

Let me declare myself a romantic and vouch for the last. Truth is, none of us see it coming. I am consistently shocked at how consumed I become in the story, how concerned with the characters, how…

I digress. This is about the spouse, not the author.

Not only do they not sign on for this, but they often find themselves on the frontiers of our idiosyncrasies, that is having to explain our strange behaviors to everyone else. After driving 10 hours to our in-laws and being utterly exhausted, I would hug my relatives and then disappear to occupy my dear mother-in-law’s study that she generously relinquished to me during our stay. Why couldn’t I wait until the next day and relax? I had just spent 10 hours on the road thinking of new scenes and characters. My wife somehow explains this to her parents, though I doubt she would do so well with the California Highway Patrol, if I whipped out my laptop to make notes while driving! “What if I name a character after you, Officer?

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So how can we repay our loyal partners? Sometimes, we have to just stand up and say Thank You.  I hope I got it right in the dedication I wrote in Sacrificial Flame – Wycaan Master Book 4. I meant every word.

 

DEDICATION

The storyteller’s path can be lonely for those who become consumed, who stand with one foot in another world, who hold responsibility for characters and their destiny.

But the path is just as demanding for those who support the storyteller’s journey, those who walk side-by-side with the writer even when he is called to another world, those who are left behind in this world, those who ensure that reality continues.

They make the excuses for the writer when he is late, bridge the gap when he is distant, bring balance when another world consumes.

To Ariela, my life partner and soul mate, who gives me the freedom to soar above the land of Odessiya

and who acts as my lodestar, my compass that always leads me home.

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Have a great week and happy belated birthday, Dr. 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. 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+

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The Addiction of Novel Writing

I annoyed Mrs. Elfwriter this past Labor Day weekend. You see, I had promised not to do it, to exercise some self-control, to be a team player, a family man. She ended up exasperated, calling me ‘possessed,’ which I will accept as a compliment though I suspect this was not her intention.

You see, I was ahead of my goals. Sacrificial Flame was released in July, the sequel (we will call it Book 5) is written in what Anne Lamott delightfully called the “shitty first draft” and has successfully passed first inspection from my severest critics – my sons in our annual family ritual.

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Our annual family camping trip, where for five years I have read the latest Wycaan Master manuscript to my boys.

Book 5 has been put aside for a couple of months to allow some fermentation before undergoing initial homemade perusal as prep for the open heart surgery in the hands of my fearless editor, and I had promised a break from writing – no new book or editing crusade for the rest of the summer. With a new, exciting job, boys starting school, and an untrained four-legged addition to our family, there is plenty happening in the Elfwriter Household.

So it was probably not the smartest move when, full wine glass by my side, my new man’s best friend curled up at my feet, the warm Californian evening breeze ruffling … You get the picture.

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In my humble defense, I planned only to make a few notes, to list a couple of loose ends that need to be addressed in Book 6, jot down a character I am excited to introduce. It is the 25k words that poured out that led my usually understanding good lady to call me ‘possessed’.

A couple of weeks ago, a fellow writer complained that, having just ridden the adrenaline rush of finishing a book and taking it throughout the publishing process, she was emotionally exhausted and couldn’t face her trusty keyboard, even though she had an idea simmering for her next book.

I returned to my seat — we were about to begin our critique group — and jotted down the following words on a scrap of paper I found last night:

“I live for the exhilaration of the unfolding story.

I seek the adrenaline rush of the unanticipated plot twist.

I crave the company of my characters.”

Possessed? Me? Guilty as charged! But it’s a life sentence I can endure.

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 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+

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.

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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.

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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!

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 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.

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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).

Will My Stories Be My Legacy?

This post is dedicated to a dear friend and poet, Al Levinson, who just passed away after a long struggle with cancer, refusing to compromise on his retirement dream as he traveled around America in his old RV. Al was a constant source of encouragement and support for many, myself included. His belief in my vision provided a consistent source of strength when my proverbial quill went dry or my doubts threatened to drown me.

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I wonder if the ‘Old Professor’ looks down from his study in the skies as people continue to fall in love with Middle Earth, with his elves and dwarves, his noble humans, and of course, his brave and lovable hobbits. What does he think as he puffs on his pipe and stares from the heavens at the people who annually watch his trilogy of Lord of the Rings, and who attend conventions to argue nuances of hobbit genealogy? Is he baffled that the quartet of geniuses from The Big Bang Theory is so in awe of him? (I just watched, perhaps for the sixth time, the episode with the ring … excuse me – The Ring).
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I recently met a young man who is, I think 11 or 12 years old. He has read the first three novels of the Wycaan Master series, and his first question was when Sacrificial Flame would be released. He then proceeded to tell me what he thought should be in the book, sharing stunning detail from the first trilogy. I probably sounded like a bumbling fool to him and his mother, but in truth, I was reeling from the astounding grasp this young man has on the geography of Odessiya, of the culture of each race (he knew in his mind exactly what a pictorian looks like – I don’t), and the trials and tribulations they have gone through, including so many minor threads.

The fusion of my family’s summer ritual to watch the Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit, the passing of my friend Al, me turning fifty, and hearing this young man’s enthusiasm, awakened in me a desire to create a legacy, not only as a conscientious soul mate and father, a decent human being, and a good friend to all, but absurdly, that my characters will not go to the grave with me.

Perhaps it is a symptom of my acknowledgement of my own finiteness, having just turned fifty this summer, but there has emerged a powerful aspect of my writing: that I am creating something that will outlive me, and perhaps in the eyes of future generations, define me. Will my stories become my legacy?

Professor Tolkien might, at best, be bemused at the desire of grown men and women to dress up as Arwen and Legalos, Bilbo and Gollum at every excuse, or while he might scratch his head when we vigorously argue the merits of including a (formally nonexistent) female character being invented for The Hobbit movie. But I wonder does his chest swell up with pride when his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, proudly hold his books and tell their friends that “Tolkien was my grandfather”?

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I can’t speak for the ‘old professor’, but I hope one day to peer down through the clouds and see my grown sons, sitting around the camp fire with their offspring as we do each summer, telling the stories of Seanchai and Shayth, Mharina and Senzia. As their children yawn, struggling to stay awake, and beg for just one more chapter, my sons will close the book and say: “Let me tell you about the storyteller. He was your grandfather and I helped him write these stories…”

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Rest in peace, Al. We are many who were touched by your kindness and will carry your inspiring torch forward for future generations. I hope that, as you look down from the heavens, you see this as your legacy.

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Al Levinson RIP

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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+

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.

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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).

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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.

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Have a great week. Read something epic!

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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).

Sacrificial Flame Released!

This weekend sees the release of Sacrificial Flame, the fourth Wycaan Master novel, available in paperback and Kindle. One would think that when your seventh book comes out, the thrill lessens. You never forget your first time, right (I know, but bear with me)! I wonder how Henry VIII felt at his sixth wedding?

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I have written in the past about that special moment and it remains one of the most reblogged and retweeted elfwriter blog posts. But it was true when I wrote it and it is just as true now. The thrill of holding the book, and of seeing its’ gradual uploading onto Amazon, is simply palpable.

Sacrificial Flame is different from the novels of the first trilogy. It is darker, more complex, and I realize that I am aiming my novels at my own kids (my most important target audience) and they are growing up. We wrote the first when my eldest was 10 years old. Now he is a teenager who shaves and thinks about his appearance and the interactions around him. He and I talk about politics, drugs, and money (among other lighter topics).

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As I write this, I am reading the first draft of Book 5 every night to my sons. It remains the highlight of my summer and I thrive on their reactions, appreciate their feedback, and treasure the ensuing conversations.

Book 5 will take a time-out after this reading, left to ferment like a hopeful wine, and then receive a serious edit in the fall, before leaving for the arms of another. Book 6? Maybe now, but more likely in the winter. Whenever it begins, the first rough draft must be ready for next summer’s rite-of-passage.

In the meantime, I wait anxiously for the verdict on Sacrificial Flame. Please let me know what you think, leaving comments on this blog post, on twitter, or most importantly, an honest review on amazon.

Good reading,

Alon

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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+

The Sappy (Male) Hero

As I mentioned last week, I am work-shopping a magical realism novel to my fearless writer’s group. I was worried how they would react to the more graphic violence and the explicit sex that is a far cry from the YA epic fantasy novels I have shared over the past few years.

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Song of Battlefield by Norry at Epilogue

But this week, a couple of the participants surprised me. They suggested that perhaps my protagonist is too in touch with his feelings, that he is too sappy in his budding relationship with the sassy, but attractive Brynn.

The protagonist, the Kingfisher, has experienced many traumas, including the destruction of his country and family, for which he feels responsible. This looming sense of failure follows him as he begins to tread a similar path in Cassia, while searching for his sons, who have been sold into slavery.

“How is it,” one of my readers asked, “that one minute he can be ruthless and violent with his enemies, and then so tender with those close to him?”

“How can he,” another asks, “be so traumatized, yet so self-aware?”

I am puzzled by this, not least because if the Kingfisher was female, I suspect we would not be asking such questions. It feels (on a totally different level of awareness, I know) similar to hearing political pundits wonder whether Hillary Clinton can function both as President of the United States and as a grandmother. No one asks this of her male predecessors. Apparently one can be a President and grandfather, though judging by some of their performances, I am left wondering…

I work hard to present my characters as multi-dimensional. This summer, I began the indoctrination of my family (not the protesting youngest) with Game of Thrones. Mrs. Bloggs (she should actually be addressed now as Dr. Bloggs) pointed out that there is only one (royal) character in George R.R. Martin’s thousand-character cast, who it is easy to thoroughly hate. No spoilers, however!

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I have written previously of my admiration of Martin’s ability to make us care for his characters while blatantly exposing us to their flaws.

Most people in real life are both good and bad. It is the endless struggle wherein we strive to make ourselves better human beings (or not), and we are, by and large, inconsistent. There are days when we are heroes and others we are embarrassed about.

Fantasy is all about showing the reality of human behavior in a different concept, fiction allowing us to bend the story to suit our plot. Nonetheless, fantasy (and most genres of fiction) stand and fall on the reader’s ability to connect: with the plot, characters, and conflict.

I lived for two decades in a country where all eighteen year olds are conscripted and many serve in combat units and see real action. It never ceased to surprise me to discover that a gentle father was an officer in an elite unit, or that a mild-mannered man was a sniper, holding life and death between his sights. I see it in other people’s expressions when I talk of my own experiences.

Perhaps the issue that my readers are experiencing with the Kingfisher, is that we are hearing him speak and think in the first person. We are literally inside his head and this might be why so many feel his introspection is so jarring. We feel his pain, his rage, his love, and his conflict.

Most men can hide their fears in the privacy of their bedrooms, their cars, or their empty bottles. We don’t need, or are expected, to express our inner emotions and vulnerabilities, in public. And if we do, perhaps we are scorned for being sappy and in touch with ourselves.

Perhaps this is why we need fiction: to show the human side of half the world’s population, when the world is not ready to see it in reality.

Sacrificial Flame – Update on Book Launch

The review copy arrived this week. Unfortunately there was an error of placement of the book cover and there is at least another week’s delay. I understand why Tourmaline Books we so vague with their: out this summer. I just hope they aren’t aware that in Berkeley our summers can go on until the end of October! 

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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+