Churning Out Novels

I thought I wrote fast. I tell people I can write a 100,000 word novel – a first draft – in four months, writing for an hour before work, an hour or two later in the day, and a few solid hours on the weekend. I only thought this was fast because people told me so. Other writers spent a year, two or more, to get similar output.

So I was a little surprised when I started to follow a podcast by three authors, all in the sci-fi and fantasy world. These three, along with the different guests they interview each week, publish 4-6 books a year, often keeping different series’ and even different genres going.

So I did some digging. There are many writers out there who are churning out a 50-80K novel each month … and I mean from Chapter 1 through The End and into editing (I assume), book cover design, and placements.

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Wow!

I am emotionally exhausted when I finish a novel and only once (between Books 5 and 6) did I have any desire to continue straight into writing the next of the series. Editing, sure. Marketing, okay. But the idea of churning out another 100K?

I am trying to work out what it takes to do this and, as I listened more to these authors, and even got to question a couple, I think I get it.

1. Outsourcing – these people do nothing for the production process. Everything is outsourced and they do not play a part in the process. This makes total sense except when there is no investment in the process, when the author really doesn’t care about the end product. As one author said: “My book covers are more or less the same. Only the title and book number changes. The cover artist knows what to do.”

2. Editing – when my editor returns a manuscript, there are changes suggested in almost every paragraph. I am expected to go through these comments and decide what to do. True, I accept 95% of the suggestions, but sometimes the editor writes that a scene is not clear, a conversation does not make sense, or a description is repetitive. In this case, I need to rewrite. Sometimes, the editor suggests I delete something. If I am attached to what is written, I might rewrite it much shorter or insert elsewhere (oops – don’t tell my editor!).

images-63. Strict genre adherence – in order that some writers can keep pace with production, they keep the plot tight and similar – the same highs and lows. The protagonist acts as he (usually a he) is expected, the bad guy too, and often the women are…well, behaving in what is expected of women in that genre. Now there is nothing wrong here. If it ain’t broke, why fix? Who needs a bad guy you sympathize with, a woman who kicks the crap out of someone or simply  falls in love with the bad guy and not the hero? Real life is already too complicated. There are no twists in the plot and I expect that somewhere there is a story arc written that is faithfully adhered to. No time to spend experimenting. Take no risks with the loyal readership.

4. Investment in the characters – this is something I find hard to understand. I have never understood how people can write a stand-alone novel, and walk away. I feel so close to all my characters – I worry about them, fear for them, get angry when they screw up (and especially when they have the audacity to blame me). Long after the novel is finished, I think about them, and yes, I mourn the ones I kill off.

Now there is nothing wrong with any of this. There are people who write for the art and people who write for the royalty check and that is just fine. Most of us are somewhere in between. If the quality of the book is enough for the reader to enjoy, to read effortlessly and then crave the author’s next book, then what’s wrong with that? If the genre is popular just the way it is, then this is what the reader wants. And if it sells and so do the rest of the author’s work, then that is a clear sign that what they do is right and recognized by the most important views – the readership.

But sometimes it is tough to accept. In seeking the highest standard of writing, I agonize over a scene, word choice, how a character develops. Sure I can write a first draft in four months, but it takes longer to edit, rewrite, consider feedback, and feel once the book is published, that I have done my absolute best.

I’m trying not to be critical, but the book churn must have its limitations. And, in the end, a book exists forever. If the market is swamped by mediocrity, how will the special books get noticed? Will a generation get turned off novels because they just aren’t as gripping as a video game, a You Tube clip, or an on-demand TV binge?

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And I can’t help but wonder: what does George R.R. Martin think about this?

EXCITING NEWS: Tourmaline Books are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of March 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. 

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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).

Do It For The Trees!

Did you wake up this morning the proud/confused/intimidated owner of something small, electrical, and vaguely rectangular? Did you smile meekly last night while your loved ones looked on with bated breath as you apprehensively ripped open the packaging and did they cheer and clap their hands welcoming you into the technological age? images-3

And did they notice when you reached for that glass of single malt and took a gulp instead of a sip? Thousands of years in the future, archeologists will discover that man had a propensity to collect random items and leave them in their boxes. Often, they will propose theories to skeptical crowds, these gifts ran off of some obtuse energy source which was, no doubt very rare, since these gadgets seem to be hardly used.

Furthermore, they will note, primitive humans had a propensity to acquire the same gadget with slightly better features despite barely understanding the gadget’s predecessor.

images-2

Have another sip of scotch. Oh, I forgot it is the morning after. Well you can always lace your cereal if you do it discreetly.

We are all entering the technological age, whether through brave adventurism, or without choice. You might as well take a deep breath and plunge in. Who knows, you might actually enjoy it.

Such things as cell phones and iPods seem to be accepted by all but a brazen few, even if the desire for the latest phone has nothing to do with actually making a call. The battle, for now, is over the tablet. The world (at least those of us who don’t need to worry about the little things like a roof over our heads, food at our next meal, or what’s in the water supply) is divided into three groups.

1. Embracing the technology. These people don’t just read on their iPad, Kindle or Nook, they embrace it, often with an annoying missionary zest. They don’t take it out of their bag at the coffee shop or on the bus, they brandish it, like a mighty sword from days long past.

They are liable to chastise you, often in a smug, sympathetic way, as you balance your hardcover on your lap. “Oh,” they whine in true Bob Dylan style, “How many trees does a Luddite reader fell…” When dealing with these people, it can be advantageous to note that the hefty hardcover has a distinct advantage over the light, sleek screen – it is far more effective when you take a swing at aforementioned pretentious individual.

2. Luddite Conviction. No way! We are already spending too much time on screens. A book is more than just words on paper. You can smell it, feel the page crackle as you move through the novel, feel the weight of the author’s perseverance as you hold his/her masterpiece in your hand… And then the classic, yet oft-doomed line: It will never catch on.

3. Dithering in the Middle. There is some middle ground. I have to admit that I love my Kindle. It is light, convenient, and I get a kick about the environmental aspects. However, I do also miss the feel and smell of the book. I love the art of a well thought out book cover, and I also love reading while soaking in a hot bath. My bookshelves are an important part of my identity in our house and I hope sets a certain tone with my family.

So, some Advice for The Morning After:

Firstly: Don’t Panic! Take a deep breath, slowly unwrap the gadget and take it out of its box.

images-11

Then: Go on your computer and find either the website for the company or go to You Tube. There are some really good, simple, step-by-step videos for people like us. I know, half of my readers are men and we read instruction manuals like we ask people for directions (by the way – you might have a GPS navigator on your tablet).

Finally: Have another whisky. It is the holiday season after all. And take note: if you are reading this blog, then you have already embraced the blogosphere: the cutting edge of the Internet. You are already firmly in the 21st century, dude. YOU CAN DO THIS!

Ebooks are a revolution: They allow us to carry them around with ease, read them with backlight, pay a reasonable price, and most of all, it’s good for the trees…and our children will need trees if they are to continue reading books, whether ebooks or tree books.

Sac Flame 2

Oh, and if you did receive a Kindle, iPad, or whatever, this might be a good first book to read on your gadget (couldn’t resist!). In fact, how else can you stack up with an award-winning epic fantasy trilogy for just $9….Just saying!

Which might be a good time to share that Tourmaline Books will make the Wycaan Master series available on all digital platforms in the coming month, not just the Kindle. You can download At The Walls Of Galbrieth, here.

Happy Hols’ to you and your family.

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. Calhei No More is the final novel in the series and was released in November 2016.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

 

 

Happy Hobbit Day!

To celebrate Hobbit Day tomorrow (the birthdays of both Bilbo and Frodo), I would like to share a post I wrote two years ago after the first Hobbit movie came out. There is so much depth in the Hobbits’ simple characters, especially in relation to the others around them – wizards, kings, princes, elf lords etc., that it is an amazing tribute to Tolkien how he weaved these unassuming and lovable creatures into our psyches. This was my tribute to the old professor after the movie. 

Happy Hobbit Day!

THERE ARE NO SPOILERS ABOUT THE MOVIE IN THIS POST.

Last week I blogged about my expectation that a new generation were about to embark on an unexpected journey into the world of epic fantasy as they sat and watched the first Hobbit movie.

I mentioned with pride how my teenage son, moving into social independence, chose to see the movie with me rather than his friends. My first fantasy novel (and the three others to a lesser extent), At The Walls Of Galbrieth, was a joint project, and I identify our mutual love for the genre as one more log to grab as he flows down the river of manhood.

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We sat next to each other and whispered and compared experiences. It was everything a father could hope for.

But it was with my youngest son (10 years old) with whom I had an unexpected experience. I wish to thank the movie theatre for failing to fix the armrest between us (why does this never happen on a date?). We were able to push it up and out of the way and for three hours, we cuddled together as we watched the movie.

While my older son leaned over and whispered whenever he wanted to, I could actually feel my youngest son’s reaction by his body language. I was intrigued. I felt when he tensed, when he was amazed, when he was sad, and when he laughed.

Other people - didn't think my fellow movie-goers would appreciate the flash!

Other people – I didn’t think my fellow movie-goers would appreciate the camera flash in the middle of the movie!

As we made our way home after the movie, my youngest enthusiastically told me about how we should incorporate this or that into the fourth Wycaan Master novel. I think the Tolkien Estate might sue if we did what he was suggesting, but for the moment, I just basked in his enthusiasm.

Another epic fantasy lover. I’m not the greatest father, I know. But this evening I felt I had done my job.

Finally a shout out to Stephen Colbert. Depending on your politics, you may or may not enjoy his nightly show. But he is undoubtedly impressive with his ability to be satirical and hold his own with very high-level guests.

But he outdid himself with a week of tribute to The Hobbit. Turns out, Mr. Colbert is a major Tolkien fan. His elfish sounds polished, and his knowledge of The Professor’s work is awesome.

Colbert and Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf)

Colbert and Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf)

Check him out on You Tube – he has a different cast member as guest each night.

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Dragged Into The 21st Century

Did you wake up this morning the proud/confused/intimidated owner of something small, electrical, and vaguely rectangular? Did you smile meekly last night while your loved ones looked on with bated breath as you apprehensively ripped open the packaging and did they cheer and clap their hands welcoming you into the technological age?

 images-3

And did they notice when you reached for that glass of single malt and took a gulp instead of a sip? Thousands of years in the future, archeologists will discover that man had a propensity to collect random items and leave them in their boxes. Often, they will propose theories to skeptical crowds, these gifts ran off of some obtuse energy source which was, no doubt very rare, since these gadgets seem to be hardly used.

Furthermore, they will note, primitive humans had a propensity to acquire the same gadget with slightly better features despite barely understanding the gadget’s predecessor.

images-2

Have another sip of scotch. Oh, I forgot it is the morning after. Well you can always lace your cereal if you do it discreetly.

We are all entering the technological age, whether through brave adventurism, or without choice. You might as well take a deep breath and plunge in. Who knows, you might actually enjoy it.

Such things as cell phones and iPods seem to be accepted by all but a brazen few, even if the desire for the latest phone has nothing to do with actually making a call. The battle, for now, is over the tablet. The world (at least those of us who don’t need to worry about the little things like a roof over our heads, food at our next meal, or what’s in the water supply) is divided into three groups.

1. Embracing the technology. These people don’t just read on their iPad, Kindle or Nook, they embrace it, often with an annoying missionary zest. They don’t take it out of their bag at the coffee shop or on the bus, they brandish it, like a mighty sword from days long past.

They are liable to chastise you, often in a smug, sympathetic way, as you balance your hardcover on your lap. “Oh,” they whine in true Bob Dylan style, “How many trees does a Luddite reader fell…” When dealing with these people, it can be advantageous to note that the hefty hardcover has a distinct advantage over the light, sleek screen – it is far more effective when you take a swing at aforementioned pretentious individual.

2. Luddite Conviction. No way! We are already spending too much time on screens. A book is more than just words on paper. You can smell it, feel the page crackle as you move through the novel, feel the weight of the author’s perseverance as you hold his/her masterpiece in your hand… And then the classic, yet oft-doomed line: It will never catch on.

3. Dithering in the Middle. There is some middle ground. I have to admit that I love my Kindle. It is light, convenient, and I get a kick about the environmental aspects. However, I do also miss the feel and smell of the book. I love the art of a well thought out book cover, and I also love reading while soaking in a hot bath. My bookshelves are an important part of my identity in our house and I hope sets a certain tone with my family.

So, some Advice for The Morning After:

Firstly: Don’t Panic! Take a deep breath, slowly unwrap the gadget and take it out of its box.

 images-11

Then: Go on your computer and find either the website for the company or go to You Tube. There are some really good, simple, step-by-step videos for people like us. I know, half of my readers are men and we read instruction manuals like we ask people for directions (btw – you might have a GPS navigator on your tablet).

Finally: Have another whisky. It is the holiday season after all. And take note: if you are reading this blog, then you have already embraced the blogosphere: the cutting edge of the Internet. You are already firmly in the 21st century, dude. YOU CAN DO THIS!

Oh, and if you did receive a Kindle, iPad, or whatever, this might be a good first book to read on your gadget (couldn’t resist!). In fact, how else can you stack up with an award-winning epic fantasy trilogy for just $9….Just saying!

Happy Hols’

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Stand Up Fantasy Readers

I came out of the literature closet when I made the decision to find a way to have my Wycaan Master series published. My ego prevented me from using a pseudonym and I knew it was time to let the world know.

At first I kind of tagged a mumbled line into my elevator pitch: I write social justice-themed novels and also dabble in some fantasmmmm (imagine a hand rising in front of my mouth).

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I was mortified when my boss’s wife turned to me one day and said her husband had told her I’m really into epic fantasy. I focused all my superhero strength on the ground opening up and swallowing me. Thankfully such talents are woefully non-existent because boss’s wife revealed with pride how she totally loves the genre and began reeling off her favorite authors and series. Then boss’s super-cool wife promptly sat on the stairs with my then 12-year-old son and talked for a half hour of their shared genre. He was beaming when I asked him how their conversation went.

I discovered that, as I assumed more confidence in sharing that I write in two genres, people began to share their love for epic fantasy. I found that there were plenty of fantasy nerds (Big Bang Theory, anyone?) but there are also many very cool people.

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As I begin to frequent the forums, I discover people who are deep-thinkers, who follow and critically analyze plots, world building, and character development. In fact, having participated in a fair share of workshops, read how-to writing books, and listened to countless authors, I have found these threads to be as profound and educational as any.

Fantasy readers are connoisseurs in the true sense of the word – a person who is especially competent to pass critical judgments in an art, particularly one of the fine arts, or in matters of taste (dictionary.com).

Last week I quoted from a comment on a long You Tube thread (I was listening to the Hobbit soundtrack) full of comments, disagreements, and debate. The author is RobbieBjork17: “Holy Crap that was one_ of the most educated conversations I’ve ever read on youtube…. shoulda known it was going to be Tolkien Fans ;).”

He (or she) knew something I didn’t. But then what can you expect from a genre led by two British Oxford professors!

Now I wear my genre on the side of my car and when I pick up commuters every morning at the casual car pool and they ask me about the car magnet, I reply: “I am an author. I write in two genres: social justice themed novels and YA epic fantasy.”

Image Car Magnet

And I say the last part without mumbling.

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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 Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.