When Is An Elf Not An Elf?

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

This is a wonderful opportunity for me and I request that, to support my sales rank and me, 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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WHEN IS AN ELF NOT AN ELF?

Yes, my novel is compelling, special, well-written etc. just like the 499 other epic fantasy manuscripts sitting in the slush piles of every publishing house that offers YA epic fantasy.

I am working with an agent who is asking the challenging and insightful questions that will help my manuscript stand out from the rest. It is tough and I am feeling very possessive. Last week I shared his prompting to seek a Higher Concept.

One of the aspects that he wants me to consider is changing my elves, who make up many of the main characters and cultural references. He suggests that I consider changing the elves for a new, mythical race that will set me apart from the rest.

Let me state from the outset that I have no doubt this man knows far more than I about the publishing world, has considerable experience and understands the current state of the publishing world.

But my elves? Our elves? Those of us who grew up on Tolkien, Paolini, Brooks and others, have standards, images, friends. Legolas and Anwen, Arya and Blodgarm, and many others have created a rich and familiar texture. We welcome them surfacing as we settle into a thick novel. We embrace them because there are common threads that pass between authors. We call it a culture, those who don’t read fantasy roll their eyes.

                               Noble Haldir – we owe him for Helm’s Deep, no?

Terry Brooks’ children know that he is not all there, he tells us as much when he opens his book Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life. More on this book in a later blog.

But Brooks in not dissimilar to the rest of us, just considerably more talented! We pass through a gate in our imagination and reacquaint in a world that exists in a shared consciousness.

Here the elves are tall, thin, light-footed and beautiful. They are fast and posses stealth and discipline. They are in touch with the energy of the earth, the forest, the animal kingdom. They excel in archery, crafts and healing. Perhaps they are aloof, elitist, and closed to the other races, but this comes from their ancient and rich heritage. We know and love them.

We rejoiced to learn that Peter Jackson is bringing Legalos into a prominent role in The Hobbit. Well, a few raised eyebrows, since Legalos was not even referred to by name in The Hobbit when he appeared flanking his father, the King of Mirkwood.

We accept, even with a bit of jealousy that he can fight at Helms Deep for five days, or run non stop for three and still not need to brush his immaculate hair. Nor do we care that his quiver seems to replenish itself, an occupational hazard of any archer who fights battles every other day.

We don’t mind because elves epitomize something that we identify with. We all want to be beautiful, brilliant, in excellent physical condition and, of course, environmentalists. When R.A. Salvatore created Drizzt Do’Urden and the dark elves of Menzoberranzan, a giant underground drow city-state he broke new ground.

Many of us were repelled and had it not been created in the hands of a master of fantasy, we would have rebelled. It was daring, it worked and by Book Three, we were rewarded with the typical elf one finds above ground.

It is tough to turn away from the basic tenets of epic fantasy: the teacher and student, the quest, the fight against a powerful evil, dwarves, elves, dragons, a rich natural world. There is something that has entered our collective consciousness and taken root.

It is why we read and reread the masters…and it is why we will return to read those who take over the role of entertaining us in a way that only epic fantasy does.

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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+

World-Building: How Much Detail?

I’ve noticed a number of adult reviewers of my Wycaan Master series have been critical of my world-building, suggesting that I do not go deep enough or that the books are too fast-paced and that more description of scenery and environment would help to pace the book.

There seems a definite age issue here. I asked a number of my sons’ friends (ages 10-16) who have read the book and they did not agree. In fact, the younger readers were happy to describe to me the fortress of Galbrieth from Book 1, and mighty Hothengold, the dwarf capital, which is situated in a huge cavern. Admittedly, each child described it differently, but I am not sure that matters.

Girl Browsing Books at the Library

It seems there is a certain richness in each (young) reader’s imagination forming their own world, but why do adult readers not want to exercise their minds in such a way? Why does the generation of instant gratification seem willing to work their imagination muscles, while those who always had to work hard to discover anything, do not? In an earlier blog post – The Art of World Building – which I wrote at the beginning of my epic fantasy writing journey – I assumed that it would be exactly the opposite.

I suspect age is not always a factor. The adult who is often challenged to find reading time, wants to push the plot along, something my books are complimented for, and not spend a chapter describing every tree in Mirkwood. Ironically, when the same readers lost themselves in Tolkien’s Middle Earth decades ago, they had more free time to meander with the master.

Over the summer, I have indulged myself in writing an adult fantasy novel, a Game of Thrones wannabe, and I will soon shelve it to focus on editing Book 4 and writing Book 5 – the cycle never ends. But I realize I have been no more generous with my world building than for the Wycaan Master series.

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So my question to you, dear readers: How much detail of the environment is needed for a YA in comparison to an adult fantasy novel? Is there enough world-building in the Wycaan Master series? Please feel free to leave your feedback in the comments section below. I really appreciate every comment.

Talking of feedback: I have been reading a number of books about Amazon.com and how to improve your ranking and exposure. I really need reviews on both At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The First Decree, on both the US and UK sites. Apparently less than 3% of readers leave reviews and I admit, until I began writing, I was one of the 97%. But now from the other side of the fence, I would really appreciate that if you have read either book, please take five minutes and leave a review.

It will be a huge help to a struggling author and if ever we meet in Odessiya, the next round of ale will be on me!

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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).

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).

Another Author Writes For His Sons

Just a short post that reflects a frantic week. I often surf YouTube for author interviews when making dinner or cleaning the kitchen. Often they are enlightening about an author’s writing craft or their personal connection to their work. Sometimes I uncover a gem.

This is a great clip of Neil Gaiman (you need about 20 minutes – so don’t do this at work. People might hear you laugh out loud and worry!). You have to admire him for his charisma, speaking skills, sense of humor, and well, for me that he write a story for his children.

Rock on Neil Gaiman.

I shared a great talk by Terry Brooks on this blog and also Terry Goodkind.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

That Magical Time of Year – Better Than ‘Real’ Fantasy

Once a year, my family goes away camping in the mountains of Northern California or Oregon. All day we fish, hike, swim, explore and then after dinner sit around the campfire or snuggle up in my tent. This is the fourth year that I then open up a folder and read to my boys the completed first draft of the next book in the Wycaan Master series.

My boys listen, interrupt with question, comments and sometimes criticism. The latter is becoming increasingly sophisticated as they not only spot spelling or grammar errors, but when a character goes out of voice, or the plot is inconsistent.

During the day, while out on another activity, one of them might turn around and offer an idea or feedback. My youngest (10 years old) may well tell me what he guesses might happen next. I have told him that he is not allowed to share anything in an unpublished novel with his friends – many of whom are reading the series. He is to arch an eyebrow (Spock would be proud – if he ever felt emotions) and say Maybe. When he offers his predictions, I turn to him and smile, as evilly as I can muster: Maybe.

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It elevates an already wonderful family vacation into the realms of magical and I feel truly blessed that we are building these communal memories together and hope they will stay with us as my boys grow up and walk their own paths.

Together with this is the excitement building for the book launch of Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3. Pages have been added at alonshalev.com and here on the elfwriter blog.

It is turning into an amazing year with The First Decree and Ashbar being published, and, of course winning the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA. I am truly gratified that along the way I am making many new friends through twitter and the blog, and even some face-to-face networking (yes – it really happens!).

In this brave new publishing world, an author can only succeed with ‘a little help from his friends’ something Joe Cocker was preaching long before any of us knew that a chat room was a place you could hang out in pajamas or that we would love a tablet that is too large to swallow.

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I appreciate all the retweets, the recommendations and the reviews. My mentor is telling me that I am not accruing enough reviews. Please, if you have read either At The Walls Of Galbrieth or The First Decree, take a few minutes to leave a review. If you are in a Google+ group, a Goodreads group, or on a thread of epic fantasy book aficionados, please make a recommendation to begin the series. I am following a thread on Amazon called Life after Game of Thrones and checking out the authors they suggest.

I really believe that, even in the rich online world, word-of-mouth remains the most effective marketing tool. On Thursday, a friend enthused about this new author he has discovered. I came home, checked him out, and his first book is on my wish list.

To those of you who already advocate for my novels and my path as an author – thank you. My relationship with my boys and the support you give me are what makes my epic fantasy truly magical.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

The Fatherly Figure in Fantasy

As a warm up for reading this blog, please  say the following five times as quickly as possible: The Fatherly Figure in Fantasy.

I shared some thoughts on Left Coast Voices regarding Father’s Day this Sunday. But it occurred to me that the father figures in epic fantasy gets a tough time. Here is a brief overview of a few of our beloved characters and their fathers (I acknowledge that I am encompassing a wide definition of the genre for this post. Purists – please excuse me this once).

WARNING: There might be spoilers here, so I am giving the name of the character first and won’t be offended if you skip that part.

1. Luke Skywalker:

I know this is sci-fi and not fantasy, but we have all hung there with Luke as his father, who had just chopped off his arm, now looms over him with a lightsaber. What a time to discover your father! As if it is not enough that your uncle and aunt who brought you up were murdered, now you discover your father is a metallic mass-murderer.

Suggestion: Do not buy Dad a lightsaber. It is the first step to the Dark Side and he already has plenty of power tools he never uses.

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2. Tyrion Lannister:

So your father abused you and openly hated and insulted you. As if you don’t have enough to contend with two older, beautiful siblings, who are bonking, or the fact that you were born stunted and are accused of killing your mother as she gave birth to you. Not hard to understand why A Lannister Always Pays His Debts!

Suggestion: Don’t give your father a ‘quarrel’ even if he deserves it.

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 3. Eragon:

Also grew up never knowing his true father and then, like Luke Skywalker, finds his uncle, who was like a father to him, is murdered in his stead. Of course, no sooner does he discover who his father really is, than he has to bury him, and take considerable blame for brave father’s death.

Suggestion: Giving your old man your dragon/porche just before he dies is classy, but do check your insurance policy first.

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4. Drizzt Do’Urden:

Gotta give the dark elf considerable credit. He grew up in the Drow city of Menzoberranzan. where all males were merely fighters and concubines. Of course his mother and sisters abused him and tried to kill him, and by the time he discovered who his father really was, well…I don’t think he even got to bury him.

Suggestion: a bit stumped here. When your father gave you a genetic sense of justice, enough to turn you against your mother and sisters, what can you really reciprocate with? 

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Artist – Noche

5. Frodo Baggins:

I admit, I had to look this up and cannot guarantee my sources. Frodo’s father was Drogo and we don’t know much about him other than he went and drowned in a boating accident. Hobbits should know not to participate in such dangerous and adventurous pastimes as boating. At least, Frodo had a nice secure upbringing with his first cousin once removed (and not his uncle as even dear Bilbo often referred to himself). It was not as though Bilbo passed on any artifact that was incredibly dangerous and held the fate of the entire Middle Earth!

Suggestion: Stay away from the jewelry!!!

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In epic fantasy we gravitate to protagonists who are the underdogs, who overcome adversary, and make great personal sacrifice. But we also seem to be sending out a message to our young readers that the absent/weak/villain father is the norm.

It must not be so. Every young man deserves a father who is a role model, imperfect and flawed as we may be, but a father who will teach him to fish, nock an arrow, believe in a just society, and to be a good human being…or elf…dwarf etc.

I’m sure if we were to meet Luke, Eragon, Tyrion, Drizzt or Frodo in a pub, they would all agree that they wished they had fathers they could truly appreciate and learn from.

Perhaps being the best father you can is the greatest quest any of us can embark on. It may not save Middle Earth or Menzoberranzan, but it will make our world a better place to live in.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

100 Days: The Countdown Begins

Wow! What a week. We are about 100 days from the release of Ashbar – Book 3 of The Wycaan Master series. I received the cover from artist (and suspected magician) William Kenney, whose renditions just get better with each book and a copy of the edited manuscript from my editor, Monica Buntin.

Ashbar front cover

With At The Walls Of Galbrieth receiving 1st place at the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Awards and The First Decree garnering such great feedback, I am so excited at the prospect of unleashing Ashbar, where so much will be resolved.

I have a month to review the suggestions and changes that Monica has proposed and then off to the 60 day turnover and the binding of the pages!

Stoked!

In July, that most ancient family tradition (ancient = four years, but bear with me): tents, campfire, Redwoods, and reading a first draft of Book 4 to my most critical audience…my sons.

If you have read either or both of At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The Frist Decree, please take a few moments over the weekend and post a short review on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. It will be a huge help. If you have already reviewed my books – THANK YOU – maybe review another emerging author when you have a moment.

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Have a great weekend, everyone.

Elfwriter

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.