The Gift of Escape

T’is the season of goodwill, so first, happy holidays and may you and yours enjoy a new year of good health, love and friendship, and the realization of whatever goals you dream of. Thank you for supporting my writing and for your wonderful feedback and encouraging messages. I treasure each and every one of you. 

This eNewsletter started out as a shameless plug to entice you to buy paperback copies of the Wycaan Master series as gifts for your dear ones, especially young adults. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I am happy to try and meet, to sign and inscribe a personal message.

But as I wrote it, this message became something quite different.

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2017 has been a tough year for most people, but I want to focus on those who are coming-of-age, It is difficult for any young person to be oblivious to what is happening in this country or abroad. The world is a darker, more violent place, where selfish self-interest seems to cast a depressing shadow over all.

Where can a young person look for inspiration and respite? I am not advocating for them being cocooned and oblivious to those who cry out for help or to ignore the injustices around them. But in a world of 24-hour news on every platform, the millennial and Gen Z are growing up fast…too fast. This is about gender, color and sexual preference. This involves everyone. My sons are white and straight (as far as I know), but their friends transcend these definitions.

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Think back to a time you lost yourself in a book series. Did you ride the dragons with Eragon and Brom? Accompany Frodo and Sam into Mordor? Whatever the novels that come to mind, think back and remember how it consumed you for a precious few weeks or months. Recall the heroes and companions along the way and what they taught you.

When I wrote the Wycaan Master series, I did so with a strong impulse to impart certain values to my sons. I wanted them to value friendship, honor, to be aware of the responsibility and abuse of leadership. I desired that they be aware of inequality and intolerance. I learned early on that lecturing them is the least effective method and I harnessed their love of stories to share what I wanted to convey.

These values are as relevant today as they were back then and they are under assault now with a greater intensity than I could have imagined when we sat under the majestic redwoods in 2011 and first summoned the Wycaan Masters.

DSCN0193 Taking a journey through a book series remains a memorable and powerful experience for people of all ages. It offers the reader an opportunity to step back for a while, to soar to a new land, bond with characters who take on great challenges in the name of the very values we want to believe in. It is a chance to dream, to be by yourself but never alone.

 So, as we enter the season of gift giving, perhaps consider giving a present of an epic fantasy series. Whether it is the Wycaan Master books or others, it will be appreciated long after the holidays lights are extinguished and the Starbucks’ Peppermint Mocha removed from its menu!

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Here is a review on Amazon by someone who calls herself Mother-of-Four:

My almost 12 year old son read this book for his summer book review project (prior to 6th grade). This is his review:

Seanchai, an elf is living in a world in which human rule, dwarves hide in the mountains and elves are slaves. Seanchai is trying to recreate a great alliance between men, elves and dwarves in the land of Odessiya. The emperor does not want Seanchai to recreate the alliance and sends out men to attack Seanchai and his companions. Seanchai takes safe harbor with a woman named Mhari who teaches him the ways of Wycaan’s. Mhari is the last of the Wycaan’s. They are great masters of magic and great storytellers. His friends are captured at the walls of Galbrieth. Seanchai and Mhari go and save them and take down the garrison. In this book, Seanchai successfully recreates part of the alliance. In the next book, he will hopefully bring the dwarves to join the alliance.

At the Walls of Galbrieth teaches you about the good and bad things in life. I think Seanchai is an interesting character, because he always has to choose between his friends and his destiny but no matter what anyone tells him he always chooses his friends. I like this book because each and every one of its characters have their own secrets. I like this book because it fills you with curiosity and you never know what will happen next. This medieval fantasy story is filled with action, suspense, and adventure, it is entertaining and interesting, and it teaches about friendship, and loyalty. I couldn’t put it down.

This is why I write!

Happy Holidays and thank you for your support, 

Alon

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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 published by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here

Learn more about Alon Shalev and his novels here and download a free copy of his latest novel as a publisher gauges interest – . Help secure a book contract by reading and leaving an honest review.

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Summer Reading Binge – August Only!

It’s that time of year again: Tourmaline Books has reduced the entire Wycaan Master series to just $0.99 for each book throughout August.

This a great time to introduce a young person to Seanchai and his friends. I wrote these books for my sons who were 11 and 8 when the first came out. They were 16 and 13 when the final book was published.

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This is how it all began – deep in a redwood forest in 2011.

Summer 2015 Reading Book 6

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

While At The Walls Of Galbrieth won the Young Adult category of the Eric Hoffer Book Award, I am not sure what proportion of readers are in the 11-18 age range. Perhaps they are less likely to interact with an author on social media. Still, I am delighted every time I hear of a teen who has enjoyed the series.

Please click on the book cover to buy your 99c copy of each book and, if I might request, please leave a review on Amazon when you finish. It’s a huge help for me.

Thank you for your support. Enjoy the summer.
Alon

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Pre-Release: Instant Bestseller?

This weekend, Tourmaline Books announced that From Ashes They Rose will be released on October 1, 2015. For the first time this series, they have uploaded the book onto amazon and allowed for the ebook can be preordered.

What does it mean to preorder? For the reader it is being part of the excitement as the countdown. Suddenly, the book appears on your eReader, an email in your inbox, and the inevitable ‘sick day at the office’ rears its head. “Stay home and get well soon,” the kind boss says over the phone. “Some chicken soup and a good book in bed.”

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I know of one person who read Sacrificial Flame, the prequel to From Ashes They Rose in one weekend and they were perfectly healthy on Monday morning if lacking a weekend warrior suntan.

But the process of preorder is huge for the author. If many of one’s followers preorder the new release, the purchase will count on the launch day. This means a high sales rank, potential best-selling status, and encourages other readers and Amazon itself to take notice.

So please, consider investing $2.99 sometime this month to preorder the ebook version of From Ashes They Rose. And maybe 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.

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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+

Big Boobs and Book Covers: A Critique of Fantasy Art

When I began soliciting artists interesting in creating the covers for At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The First Decree, I asked the artists for a rendering of Mhari, an elfe (politically correct term for female elf in Odessiya) who would become the first teacher of my protagonist, Seanchai.

I explained that she was old but vibrant, tough but wise, and I waited for the examples. Every one of the four artists produced sexy, buxom female warriors. I realize that sex sells ­– I considered moving to T-Mobile because of the woman in the advert not her motorbike, helicopter or the beautiful color purple (okay I am partial to motorbikes and purple, but lets stay on topic…) ­­– but these are YA books.

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Apparently, the use of beautiful women on covers of YA Fantasy and Sci Fi are nothing new. This article follows the noble battle by author, Jim Hines.

Hines produced a series of great photos in which he poses in similar positions to scantily-clad women on book covers. Mr. Hines wasn’t against showing some skin himself.

_65356744_scifi“The way women are portrayed is just so ridiculous, so often, you just stop seeing it,” Hines says. “I think posing has made people see it again – you see how ridiculous it is when a 38-year-old fantasy writer is doing it.”

Hines began posting his poses at the beginning of 2012 and they quickly became the most visited. This gave him the idea to create a series to raise money for research to help fight Aicardi Syndrome, a genetic disorder, and he has raised over $15,000 to date.

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The issue of depicting women in fantasy art in a sexual way is nothing new and, in fact, quite rampant in role playing games like D&D. Tracey Hurley, co-founder of Prismatic Art Collection, has commented: “Women are so often portrayed assuming that a stereotypical hetero male is going to be the person looking at the cover, … Male characters [are] powerful and strong, and women’s sexuality will be emphasised. And why is that a problem? It’s constraining for both men and women.”

I find this really depressing. I guess I expected something different from a genre free of stereotypical constraints because it creates its own reality. This is all the more disappointing when dealing with Young Adult literature because of the target audience. I wonder whether a scantily-dressed, thin, and cleavage-heavy woman might also be a turn-off for young women, conscious of their own body-type. Add to this that most of the women portrayed are white and I am left wondering if this explains why less teenage women read fantasy. I also think it explains the success of The Hunger Games, though the promo photos for the movie also follow the concept.

imgresIt is not enough to just thrust a sword in her hand or dress her in a chain mail bikini to project strong images of women, nor is the cover of the book enough to reinforce strong, positive female values.

While my protagonist is a male, I made sure to add strong female characters, who are indispensable to his quest. I believe I showed them as more than equal warriors, each with her own special character. I needed prodding with this, I admit, and even changed Seanchai’s teacher from a man to a woman. Interestingly, it opened up a number of exciting avenues.

Authors are powerful influencers in the community, and even more so when writing for a Young Adult market. But power comes with responsibility and we have a role to play in shaping the next generation of thinkers, leaders, and innovators.

Even though many of us write about different worlds and kingdoms, let’s help make this world a better place.

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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 At The Walls Of GalbriethThe First Decree is due out in March 2013.

I Didn’t Make The Cut

I’m bummed. This week 50 writers saw their manuscripts advance to the Semi-Final stage of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award – YA category. My humble offering – Wycaan Master – was not one of them. It reached the Quarter-Final, ahead of a few thousand others, but…

In an odd sense of timing, I will finish reading the 95,000 word epic fantasy story to my writer’s group. They stuck with me over the past 18 months though none (until the last couple of months) read or are interested in fantasy. Thank you – Berkeley Writers Group.

Either you think epic fantasy is alive and thriving (Tolkien, Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore etc.,) or you think the only fantasy that sells is high concept – Harry Potter, The Hunger Games…

It is hard writing in two genres – social justice-themed novels reflect my lifestyle and values. Young-adult fantasy was inspired by a writing project with my preteen son and has been a lot of fun. But they serve two separate target audiences and I maintain a separate blog and twitter account.

I have to admit, I’ve arrived at a junction. I have not only sweated over a first YA fantasy manuscript, but completed a second, and am 30,000 words into a third. It is  a series and I must admit: I’m kind of hooked on it.

I want to see how my young heroes (and villains – who I am also quite attached to) grow. Will the races of Odessiya unite? What is the Emperor’s secret power that enables him to keep winning? Will shy Seanchai and his guide, Ilana, ever hook up?

As a reader becomes hooked on a series and feels compelled to read through to the end, I have discovered that so can an author become ensnared. It might well be an issue of not writing an outline and having faith in the story evolving, but I need to discover what happens in the world I’ve created.

Even if I didn’t make the cut.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Amazon Breakthrough Round 2

On Thursday, Amazon announced those novels which have made their way through  to the 2nd round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA). As I wrote in an earlier post, this is the writers lottery, with the winner receiving a $15,000 advance and, most importantly, a contract with Viking Press/Penguin Books.

From 5,000 YA entries, we are down to 1,000. The last round was judged on the 300 word pitch, something that is incredibly difficult to write.

The next round will be judged on the first 5,000 words of the novel and we will hear  who moves into the Quarter Finals on March 20.

It’s a long wait, but a great time to dream.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first has been entered into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

When is an Elf not an Elf? And why do we care?

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 Tolkein, 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.

                               Nobel 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 Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#elfwriter).