A Son’s Journey Begins…

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.

imgres-2

Not my usual elfwriter blog post, but…

In a few precious months, my oldest son will graduate high school and leave home. Sure, I could tell you with pride that he will participate in a social justice gap year program prior to going to university, but for the moment, I am just stuck on the idea that he is leaving home. A car advert – father watches son drive very nice car away from the home to… – had me in tears on an airplane.

My son recently read a book that intrigued him and he could not put down. Then he asked if I would buy him a hardcover copy that he could take with him, perhaps share with friends, or reread when he feels the need.

In case you are wondering, the book is called Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart by Dr. James Doty, and this got me thinking. All his life I have tried to instill a desire in my son to read. Of course, the more I pushed, the more he rebelled … just like when his darn father was as a kid. But there were times when we bonded over books.

I remember Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series, as we stood in line at midnight in Borders waiting for the next book, and the delight when the bookseller, seeing him literally falling asleep on his feet as he swayed and leaned against me, snuck the only autographed copy into his hands. He sleepily declared he would stay up all night reading it, before falling asleep in the car and then in his bed, tightly hugging the book.

Pele w:Eragon

My son holding his autographed copy.

Then there were the Harry Potter series, a rite-of-passage for many parents and children. I am thrilled that we were a family during this exciting moment in time.

And, of course, there was his crucial role in the writing of the Wycaan Master series. He was the inspiration that led me to write the series and for six summers he listened and offered sound feedback around the campfire in the ancient redwood forests.

DSCN0193

Writing the 1st novel – a family effort!

Summer 2015 Reading Book 6

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

But his request is not about the books that were, but the books that are and will be. So I am asking for your help: what are the books that influenced and guided you when you left your parents’ home?

Here are a few from my time at college that I am thinking of including:

  1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Persig.
  2. The Tao of Poo – Benjamin Hoff
  3. Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach.
  4. Iron John – Robert Bly.

imgres-3imgres-4imgres-5imgres-6

I am particularly interested in books for a young man, but am happy to corollate a list that is more specific for young women as well. Please share the books that influenced you when you were that age in the comments below.

Thank you,

An Apprehensive Father.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Valentine’s Day – Epic Fantasy Style

What made the great authors and world-builders of our time overlook such a special occasion? Was Valentine’s Day not celebrated in Middle Earth? Shannara? Odessiya?  Where does Terry Brooks,  R. A. Salvatore, Christopher Paolini, Robert Jordan and others stand on this?

Perhaps it is not a question of the author’s epic battles for love. Perhaps the characters need to take a bit of responsibility. How would they have gone about it?

Elves: the sophisticated romantics. On this special day, elves would often take their beloved on a romantic walk, deep into the ancient forests. Alone, they would visit a favorite pool, fed by a sparkling waterfall, with a noble white heron keeping watch from a rock nearby. Butterflies of every color would hover over the water.

Each elf would produce a small flute and serenade each other. Then one would draw his (or her) intricately carved bow and shoot into a nearby tree. A shower of fragrant petals would fall around them, settling in their perfectly coiffured hair. The other would produce a carefully wrapped, gluten-free, artisan pizza, magically still warm and with crispy crusts that were calorie-light. They would recite poetry to each other, eat, and then bathe in the pool, coincidently illuminated by a full moon on a cloudless night.

Oh, to be an elf!
images-4

Dwarves: The romantic dwarf is meticulous in her (or his) preparation for Valentine’s Day. The previous day is spent washing, conditioning, and combing their beards. Oh, those curly locks challenge even the most finely made comb.

A dwarf Valentine’s Day is all about the rocks. A conscientious romantic will travel deep into the mines to find the perfect gem and then forge a unique ring and necklace set, never seen before … since last Valentine’s Day.

The morning of Valentine’s Day, one often awakes to see their axe newly sharpened and oiled, the hilt freshly bound with clean leather or copper wire, the shaft gleaming. That night around a roaring fire, with an ox dripping grease into the flames, the dwarves consume tankards of ale and sing deep into the night. The songs, however, are not of mighty battles and bountiful treasures as they are every other night, sung as one mighty chorus. This night the dwarves sing only to their beloved, and the songs are of mighty battles, bountiful treasures, and furtive kisses for the hero (or heroine). The next morning, all you remember through the hangover is hazy and askew. But you still have the ring and necklace, and oh your axe is gleaming and sharp! images-6

Humans: As Valentine’s Day approaches, the scribes of the mighty House of Hallmark are almost out of scrolls, quills, and ink, their arms limp from Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. They don’t complain, few have health coverage, but they have made their money. They bless the Great Goddess of Consumerism, though they will never quite appreciate the theology until the Revelation of the Coming of the Internet. For now, electricity seems fantastical and visions of deluded priests, court jesters, and coders and entrepreneurs.

The gardeners have been preparing all year. Every self-respecting knight requires a bouquet of at least 10 long-stemmed reds to fit over the tip of their lance, which they will offer to a sweet virgin in the admiring crowd. If she accepts the roses, then she replaces them with her silk ’kerchief, piercing it gently over the young knight’s lance tip. Many a young man has, at this point, fallen from his horse in anticipation. The definition of virgin, it should be noted, is pretty relaxed in the world of fantasy.

After the obligatory jousting and archery competitions, the virgins retire to their rooms and surreptitiously peer over their balconies. After slaying dragons and defeating barbarian hordes on the battlefield, the young knights return, and once bathed, shaved and smelling of Old Spice, serenade the young virgins. They toss a twisted vine with grappling hook up to her balcony (many a venture capitalist squire made his fortune investing in the grappling hook industry). The virgin slides down, having practiced for hours how to keep her flowing dress from either ripping, getting dirty, or ending up awkwardly around her head. She lands sidesaddle on the knight’s noble steed.

The rest of the evening: a dinner, movie, and long walk along the moonlit battlefield, gazing together upon the vultures and ravens picking the entrails of the vanquished, have passed from tradition into our everyday rituals.
images-7

Pictorians: The pictorians (read Wycaan Master series for background, but not while on Valentine’s Day date) are very secretive about their romantic rituals. Court anthropologists believe the couple sneak off after the pictorye are asleep, both wielding gleaming axes or thick clubs. Working in perfect synchronicity and without need for verbal communication, they bring down a wild buffalo bull, ripping its flesh with their bare hands and teeth, while feeding each other in a raw, bloody passion. The horns of the bull are carved out and used to toast the night with a dark beer imported from the mythical land of the Four-leafed Clover.

The female pictorian then beats her mate unconscious with the two bull horns, drags him back to their ice homes, and has her way with him, which often includes him skinning the buffalo and cleaning out the hearth, a rare feat for such mighty warriors. They are also expected to provide her with breakfast in bed, the Venti Mocha half-caf still steaming.

 

If, by chance, you are still reading this post, you probably have a pretty good idea why our literary greats chose not to dwell on such rituals as Valentine’s Day. I would elucidate further, but my mate awaits with expectations high, and I have her axe to sharpen, parchment to gather, and, where did I put my lance…

images-5

Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

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

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Can I Have Your Autograph, Dead Author?

You probably know the story: Robert Jordan wrote 12 amazing epic fantasy books – Wheel of Time series – and outlined three more that he was unable to complete before he passed away in 2007 (for those of you purists counting, I have included New Spring as one of the series, though it was written out-of-sequence). His wife persuaded Brandon Sanderson, already a respected novelist in his own right, to finish the series for her husband.

images-7

I learned about this from an interview with Mr. Sanderson, which was both compelling and offered with wonderful humility – if you can find the interview, please leave the link in the comments. The whole idea of writing someone else’s book is stunning to me – no disrespect meant to ghost writers – I think this is different.

So A Memory of Light comes out in 2013 to great aplomb. It is the end of an era, a wonderful legacy by a rising hero to a master etc. etc. We fantasy readers get very emotional when the great stories actually transcend the page.

I’m sure you can imagine my joy when I pick up a book in a used bookstore and discover not only Mr. Sanderson’s autograph but also Mr. Jordan’s. I instagramed, showed my kids and began writing this blog post. How exciting to imagine both men sat together at this historical moment in epic fantasy history and autographed the very book I now possess.

2015-03-29 10.10.19

Here’s the problem: Only as I began to compose this post did I realize that Robert Jordan had been dead for five years when he autographed my copy. It is a strange feeling that his ghost would go to such trouble, and that he could even hold the pen, though personally I still get a kick when a reader asks me to sign their copy of one one of my books – though whether this feeling would follow me into the great writing retreats beyond, who knows?

So how should I feel? It felt such a privilege to own this book and now I’m not sure want to think? Still, I will be better prepared next time I ask a dead author to sign my book.

————————————————————————————-

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. 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+

 

 

Writers Hate Writing. Really?

I guess it used to be hard to write a novel, scribbling across the parchment with your quill, fretting every time you make a mistake, blotting the ink… Even a young 50-year-old like me wonders how he ever typed college papers … remember Tippex anyone (I believe it was called White Out here in the colonies)?

So now everyone’s a writer. I get it. But what I don’t understand is the complaining about writing. I opened a Writer’s Digest this weekend, an old one from the end of 2012, and it was full of articles on Writer’s Block, discipline, and how we need to force ourselves to write.

images-3

In the space of 24 hours, I was interviewed by a high school student who kept asking about writer’s block, discipline, and how I maintain my focus; then I was invited to speak at a workshop on Writer’s Block.

In the aforementioned issue of Writer’s Digest, there are articles and a hilarious graph (way to go Zachery Petit) on doing everything but writing. One article is about overcoming writer’s block without willpower, another has you spending an hour or so writing and the rest of the day doing all kinds of wonderful “author” things like visiting bookstores and doing field research. There is an article about extreme measures authors took to keep their “butt in the seat,” including Frank Burrows who would chain himself to a chair and drink lots of Tab (a soda that is pretty torturous in itself) so that his bladder was bursting, I assume.

William Styron is quoted as saying: “I certainly don’t enjoy writing. I get a fine warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it: Writing is hell.”

The author of the article continues: “I get it. I get why writers hate writing.”

istock_000000379982xsmall

I don’t! I really don’t! If you don’t enjoy writing don’t do it. There are things we all have to do: taxes, flossing, cleaning the bathroom, but not writing. Sure there are hard times: when the plot doesn’t work, or when your heroine does something out-of-character, but to hate writing?

I LOVE writing. I can’t wait to fire up my laptop and pound the keys. When I am not writing, I become frustrated and (according to my family) pretty darn annoying. I LOVE the thrill of the unknown plot twist. I CRAVE the company of my characters, and I RIDE the adrenaline rush of the scenes unfolding under my fingertips.

When a beloved character fails or dies, I cry. When battle is joined, I apparently mumble and wince out loud as people are wounded or killed. I have never learned how to type properly (touch typing?), but my fingers fly across the keyboard as I get increasingly excited. Sure there are many squiggly red and green lines, but I can worry about that later.

When I finish a novel, the first thing I want to do is celebrate. The second thing is to start the next book. In my own fantasy world, I would just write the novels. Others would edit, market and do all the other ‘stuff’ that authors need to do these days. I just wanna write.

DSCN1387

I don’t mean nothing else. I love my day job and feel I am, as Steve Jobs expressed: ‘helping to put a dent in the world.’ I love my family and am truly blessed to have a soul mate who tolerates me with all my quirks. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

The high school student asked at the end of our interview:” “When do you know you are a writer?” I answered that it’s when you never leave the story, even when you are doing something else. It’s when you crave returning to the computer and when you take immense pride in the story unfolding.

That is my answer. Every author probably has something different to offer and I am sure they are all right. But I hate writing just doesn’t make any sense.

————————————————————————————-

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+

 

A Middle Earth Thanksgiving

During the later days of Middle Earth …

King Aragorn was fascinated. One of his emissaries had just returned from a land far, far away, where they celebrated a festival which commemorated a group arriving to a new world and being welcomed by the indigenous people who offered them food and grain. To show their gratitude, the explorers promptly conquered the indigenous people, crowded them into reservations, and reciprocated their generosity by giving them all kinds of diseases for which the indigenous people  had no immune response, along with almost sole rights to gambling establishment.

Who couldn’t resist making a holiday out of this? King Aragorn marshaled his army…of caterers and executive assistants.

Two weeks later, the king entered his great hall and a smile crossed his face. His beautiful wife, Arwen, sat at one end of the table, with three handsome longhaired, blond elves with narrow, distinct features, and jeweled headbands, sitting erect and aloof to her right (family was a big part of this festival, Aragorn had been told), and three thick-shouldered dwarves to her left. The dwarves were already drinking, though the food had not been touched. He would forgive them their transgression. It was Thanksgiving after all.

Next to his end of the table sat four, diminutive hobbits, small creatures who, Aragorn knew, had big hearts. Just seeing them made him…well, thankful. Hey, he was really getting the hang of this festival!

On the other side sat Gandalf, his huge mane of hair as white as his flowing robes, his long-stemmed pipe in his mouth, though recent city ordinances meant he could no longer smoke indoors. Aragorn frowned. Gandalf had asked to bring a friend, but really, Gollum?

imgres-7

All rose when they saw the King of Middle Earth enter and he magnanimously beckoned them to sit.

“My friends,” he began and then as he glanced at Gollum, he forgot his next words. “My friends…um…thank you for joining me. Welcome to the first ever Thanksgiving dinner in Middle Earth.”

A huge cheer went up from the hired, union card-carrying and adoring crowd, packed into the corner and given generous barrels of beer and non-alcoholic refined sugar (for the designated cart drivers) – another discovery from the land of Thanksgiving.

“I have taken the liberty of adapting the traditions to suit us. For example, they eat a bird that has so been tampered with, it is no longer able to fly. I decided to genetically modify a dragon, which is both an excellent source of lean protein, and a low imprint and sustainable dish, since it can heat itself.”

“Cooked?” Gollum said. “Yuck!”

“Is there a gluten-free option?” Elrond asked, sending just the right message of disdain at the idea of meat.

“Avocado,” Queen Arwen snapped, wondering why you were expected to invite relatives to this new festival.

“I use that on my skin,” Legolas said, “as you can all see.” As one, they all glared at him.

The king knew he had to move on. “Thank you to Samwise for providing us with this beautifully colored corn. Such a decorative centerpiece.”

“Oops,” said a dwarf, his mouth full.

“Bloody dwarves,” a voice said and intended only for pointed ears.

“Excuse me?” An axe was quickly brandished.

images-2“Splendid idea,” King Aragorn said quickly. “Perhaps you would do me the great honor and carve the dragon?”

The axe came down hard and everyone spend the next ten minutes, wiping the fat and grease from their hair, beards, and fine garments.

At least, this festival will please the dry cleaners, the queen thought.

Legolas leaned forward. “You might not have noticed but the dragon was already dead.”

Gimli slammed his tankard down, sloshing beer onto the silk tablecloth. He leaned forward brandishing a yam. “Perhaps we should check if this is soft enough to eat. We could stick it up your tight–”

“Gimli!” Gandalf shouted and the table rattled with fear. “Sit down!”

“I am sitting down!” Gimli shot back.

“Oh. Of course. Sorry.”

“I believe,” the king said, “that those who made up this festival, would go round the table and share what each of us are thankful for. I will start. I am thankful for being a king and having everyone do everything I say.”

He glanced over at the hired cheerers, who raised their glasses and cheered.

“Don’t they love me,” Aragorn mumbled to himself. He then turned to the hobbits. “Who will go next?”

Samwise raised his glass. “I be thankful that me old gaffer has a beautiful garden full of blooming roses. Oh an’ I’m thankful for me beautiful Rosie of course.”

“I am thankful for my stunning good looks, my modesty,” Legolas offered, “and the hair gel that keeps me so manicured even during the battle of Helms Deep. By the way, I did kill twice as many orcs as you, Gimli.”

“How about you, Gimli?” the king asked quickly as the dwarf glared across the table.

“Gold,” Gimli said, “and more gold,”

And off the dwarves went with their favorite song: “Gold, Gold, Gold.” But they soon got confused with the lyrics.

“What about you, Gandalf?”

“I’m thankful for Peter Jackson, who managed to make as many movies out of the thin Hobbit novel as he did from three thick tomes of Lord of the Rings. Very considerate of him.”

“Gold. Gold. Gold.

“Arwen, dear?”

“I’m just happy that I have the opportunity to host such events. Tell me dear, how many of these Thanksgivings are there each year?”

“Just one, my Evening Star.”

“Thank goodness,” she mumbled into her napkin.

Aragorn felt a tug on his sleeve. “Yes Gollum?”

“Whatssss issss Gollum thankful for, you asssssk?”

“Yes, yes, I do. Please go on.”

“Thessse,” he said brandishing a long tube, wrapped in shiny red paper. “Itsss called a cracker. Pull with me pleasssse.”

Aragorn indulged him and they both tugged. There was a pop and a flash. Then a single shimmering gold piece flew into the air and Gollum deftly caught it.

“Look. A sssuprise,” Gollum said. “A ring. My precciou­–“

images-1

He put it on and promptly disappeared.

“Oh bugger,” said Frodo.

“Well,” Aragorn said, signaling his aide to call up the entire army. “Let’s partake of this Thanksgiving feast before we march on Mount Doom. By the way, the next festival we will celebrate is the birth of a pacifist, who stood by his principles, got betrayed by his friends, and crucified by his rulers. They made so many wars in his name, I hear. I’m sure it will be a lot of fun. Tuck in everyone.”

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First DecreeAshbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, and Sacrificial Flame (Wycaan Master Book 4) 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).

When Authors Reach For Immortality

Recently, I listened to an interview with the famous Israeli author, Amos Oz, a literary icon I grew up admiring. Now, well into his 70’s, he is as vibrant and inspirational as ever. There was something he said in the interview that resonated with me. He claimed to have made up a number of words that he used throughout his books. He was stoked one day when, while in conversation with a cab driver who did not recognize his passenger, the man used one of Amos Oz’s words. Oz suggested that his modest contribution to the Israeli language was his own brush with immortality.

imgres

If this is so, I am quite proud of my own. When reading the manuscript of my first YA epic fantasy novel, At The Walls of Galbrieth, which won the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA, to the Berkeley Writer’s Group, the female members of the group took exception to the term she-elf to delineate my female elves from males.

And so, after much discussion and debate, she-elves asserted themselves as elfes, and even saw the former term as an insult throughout the Wycaan Master series. Fast forward three years, and a newer member of the group while presenting his YA epic fantasy novel, used the same word, believing it part of the genre. I was, and remain, chuffed every time he uses the word.

images-6A friend from your writer’s group, is certainly a far cry from a random taxi driver (though no Israeli cabbie is ever random – you have to take a cab in Israel to appreciate them) of course. But I am hardly comparable to Amos Oz, an author widely expected to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

And so I offer elfe to the epic fantasy world, along with calhei (elf children) and ahdahr (elf father). Last week, I mentioned that, while I have sent the manuscript of Book 4 to the editor, I am struggling with a title. The protagonist is a female, so I guess at least I have one word worked out!

—————————————————————————————————

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+

The Great Author Gold Rush

Last week, Amazon announced the dates for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards 2014 (ABNA). This was the signal, across the country, that sent thousands of writers, novelists, and dreamers, scurrying into our offices, corners, coffee shops, and wherever else people of our ilk perch to write their novels.

images-2 

Ten thousand will be allowed to enter a novel, an excerpt and a pitch, click on submit, and then lean back to spend three months dreaming of future fame and glory. It is the writer’s lottery ticket and the adrenaline is flowing.

Part of the magic around this competition is that it is the ultimate democratizing of publishing. All who enter receive equal access to the judges, the fans, and the agents who hover on the periphery. No more ambushing agents in expensive Writer Conference bathrooms (yes it happens), no more trips to the post office with unsolicited manuscripts, no more trying to convince a friend who knows someone who knows…

Click on the button and let cyber-nature take its course. If your manuscript is intriguing, your pitch compelling, and your craft sound, you stand as good a chance as the other 9,999 entries. Personally, I prepared my acceptance speech, good for ABNA, Nobel, the Oscars or Oprah!

imagesAnd then there is ABNA Anonymous (not its real name – see Createspace website), a glorious plethora of online forums wherein the hopeful gather to ask questions, hypothesize, vent frustrations, and enjoy a communal glass of wine without needing to drive home.

I have entered two novels that both reached the Quarter Finals, the last 250 contestants.  Whilst the semi finals proved elusive, Unwanted Heroes was picked up by Three Clover Press, and At The Walls Of Galbrieth went on to win the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA.

 photo (17)

A good friend, Francine Howard, also reached the Quarter Finals with Pages of a Tennessee Journal and went on to become an Amazon Encore author, signed up by Amazon’s own publishing house. The link also has a lovely interview with Francine further down the page.

So here’s to another successful year for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and all those who bravely enter. Reaching the final destination would be nice, but the journey is a great ride. Enjoy it!

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a pitch to polish!

——————————————————————————————————

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+