Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the month “August, 2009”

Why Fiction?

While addressing a group about my novel, Oilspill dotcom, I apparently spent considerable time describing the McDonalds’ libel trial that transpired in London in the 1990’s, the court case upon which I had based my book.

I had been deeply inspired by the trial and meticulously researched ‘McLibel’ as it became known. My fictional timeline corresponded exactly with that of the real trial, motions in Oilspill paralleled those of the real court case, and even the more infamous quotes from the real-life witnesses found their way into the mouths of my characters.

I also allocated a fair part of my talk to the idea of writing for social justice, for a better world. This is a consistent theme of my books, and features heavily on my website – www.alonshalev.com – so it begged someone to ask the question: Why fiction?

My answer was not very impressive. I think I mumbled that John Vidal, a journalist for The Guardian in the UK, had done a great job of writing the definitive book on the case.

But there is more. I feel it is possible to reach more people and on a deeper level when they, we, read fiction. We open ourselves to the emotions of the characters, the smell of the place, the textures of color, food, or wine.

But most significantly, we seek to identify with the characters, particularly the protagonists, often aligning by gender. I have heard from women who were deeply affected by my character Suzie’s ideological drive for a better world, and men who can understand how Matt needed to find a way to defend his woman.

If we can create a bond between character and reader, we open the opportunity for the reader to create an environment in which to undergo a similar transformation in their own life, outside the realm of fiction.

I believe relationships are what drive people to step outside their safe space. I am skeptical that so many people were propelled to go and vote in an African-American democrat because of the policies he advocated. The debate over the health plan probably illustrates this. I believe people were able to relate to then-Senator Obama’s (and/or Michelle’s) drive for a better America, for change. And this is what motivated so many to head to the polls.

When we relate to a person we admire, whether in fact or fiction, we consider on some conscious or subconscious level whether we could emulate that person and make a similar, courageous decision.

And when that happens, the potential for a better world seems almost obtainable.

Have you ever been inspired by a book to take action? I’d like to hear what the inspirational book was.

Good Writing,



The Independant Bookstore

A friend went to her local independent bookstore and browsed the shelves intent on purchasing my book, Oilspill dotcom. It wasn’t there. Unperturbed, she went to the counter and asked the employee to order her a copy.

The assistant told her that they are not ordering single copies of books just now and would not be able to order Oilspill dotcom for her. Now I understand that the small bookstore has limited shelf space and there are 2 million books out there. I even understand (begrudgingly) why a bookstore where I haven’t appeared, or am not a local author, would not be sensitive to the legions of grassroots activists and readers who are seeking out my novel.

My friend went home and ordered the book online, I assume from Amazon.com.

I am a big supporter of the independent bookstore. I appreciate the service that Amazon provides, but if I plan to buy a new book, I would rather patronize my local bookstores. I admire Starbucks – they make good coffee, have cheerful staff, and a vibrant and clean store. But providing that they match the standards, I would rather give my business to a local coffee shop.

Times are hard, and the consumer field is becoming even more competitive. If Darwin was a capitalist (I’ve no idea), he would probably suggest that Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon will not need to share the field with the independent bookstore for much longer. Likewise, Starbucks, Peets, and Tully’s should be percolating the death knell of local coffee shops, grinding them into the dust, relegating them to has-beans…I’ll stop. Who said blogging couldn’t be fun?

Whether or not the mom and pop shops’ days are numbered, I would rather see them for a while longer. I feel, maybe irrationally, that they have a place in my ‘community’.

Which is why I don’t understand why the independent bookstore employee didn’t go the extra mile and order Oilspill dotcom for my friend. Perhaps they make less money from the small publisher than from major distributors, but hey, isn’t that ironic? My friend might have been able to buy my book from Amazon for less, and certainly didn’t have to leave her house, park her car and walk into the store. Furthermore, that satisfied customer might have returned to buy the next bestseller she fancies. More likely, she bought it when she purchased Oilspill dotcom and saved on the free shipping for a $25+ order.

There is a fascinating report out on the state of the book industry. What makes it fascinating is that it is cautiously optimistic of a literary future. But it does challenge the future of the independent bookstore, and anticipates a time in the not-too-distant future when e-books will match tree-books for sales. The author is Danny O. Snow, who works for the Society for New Communications Research, and his report can be found at http://www.sncr.org/

So let us end on a positive note. The book industry is not dying, but it is evolving and everyone: authors, publishers, distributors, bookstores, need to learn how to adapt to the ever-changing reality. That includes the independent bookstores, if they want to continue to exist. And I hope they do

Good Writing,




New Interview!

Thanks to Katina Williams from Attribute Magazine. The interview can be found at the Attribute website:

Book Review: Oilspill dotcom <http://www.attributemagazine.com/index/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=240:book-review-oilspill-dotcom&catid=35:literature&Itemid=268>

A Request for Help

It’s been a good week with the interview from Frank Mondo, of the LA Books-Examiner, buoying my spirits.

I want to ask a favor from those of you who have read Oilspill dotcom. If you have finished reading it (or when you do), could you please take a few minutes to post a review on the amazon.com website.

This is becoming my main distribution channel and I need to exploit the tools they provide. I will spend the next week polishing up my amazon page to make it as attractive as possible to the casual browser.

I had hoped to focus my efforts in marketing Oilspill dotcom through the independent bookstores. I love these shops and am sad to see so many closing. A local bookstore is like…a local coffee shop (also a disappearing breed). They seem to be part of the community fabric.

However, it is not proving easy to secure readings and shelf space. These small shops have limited space, for a reading or on the bookshelf, and do not always have the staff to organize. They ask understandable, but challenging questions, like how many people I will draw to the store for my appearance. I remain (for the present) a small fish in the literary ocean.

Thank you for posting a review on Amazon. I have set a goal for 10 reviews by the end of the weekend.

Good Writing,


My First Interview…

Frank Mondo, from the LA Books Examiner, just published an interview that he gave me.


Thanks Frank.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: