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 day “November 19, 2011”

Getting Creative

This week, as part of my virtual book tour, I stopped by Richard in Anderson, South Carolina.  His blog is Bound & Determined (to find a good read). Richard reviewed The Accidental Activist (he is the first person to hug my book … at least who admitted to doing so!). He also posted a short article that he requested I wrote on The Creative Process.

Thank you, Richard.  

The Creative Process
I was recently asked in a workshop how I find time to write. I had surprised the audience when I asserted the ability to write a 90,000 novel in 100 days. I write at this pace while holding down a challenging full-time job and being an active and involved husband, father, and community member. In fact, I have done this twice in 2011 and could keep writing if I didn’t have to attend to marketing and promotion.

I can write anywhere - even in a redwood forest.

Many authors have their own personal framework: the sacred space in their house, listening to certain music, the writer’s retreat, and many more. Whatever works for you is right, but my desk in our kitchen. I swivel my chair around and I am at the dinner table. I can write in coffee shops, on the train ride as I commute, or while several boys enjoy a rambunctious play-date in our tiny house.

Writing has always been a natural process for me and I rarely need to spend much time deliberating what my plot is going to be or developing my characters. From what I hear, this is not typical.

It is a state of mind. When I am writing a novel, I am in an intimate relationship with my characters. Since I do not plan my novels before writing, I am absorbed in the plot, sharing the thrill of what might happen next, just as my readers and characters experience it.

I am able to switch off, to leave my characters and focus at work or home, and switch back on when I have an hour to write. What I do think is important is that I am writing consistently. When I am in the creation process, I must write every day. In fact, I am pretty sure that I become quite insufferable when I am not keeping up with my characters.

The Accidental Activist, a political courtroom drama in which two young individuals are sued by a multinational corporation and need to defend themselves in court, is based upon a real court case. The food giant, McDonalds, sued two activists in England in the 1990’s and the archaic legal system did not allow legal aid to be granted in a libel trial (they have since overhauled these laws because of this case). Try to blow up the Queen’s Corgis (her dogs) and the state provided you with a lawyer, but not for libel. So the plot was pretty much laid out for me. With what happened there, I didn’t need to embellish.

The Real Heroes - Helen Steel & Dave Morris

But even when I do not base a novel on something that really transpired the story has always quickly taken shape. For example, A Gardener’s Tale is a reflection on the fast-disappearing rural life in England and the magic of the Pagan religion that still permeates village society, or Unwanted Heroes (release Spring 2012) which is a critical view of how we in America treat our war veterans, as seen though the eyes of a young English Kerouac-wannabe in San Francisco. The first draft to both these novels were each written in a quick and intensive period of time.

New Cover, New Edition

It is an amazing thrill, a rush, to see the novel come to life under my fingertips. It is what makes the periods between writing so frustrating, and what keeps me always coming back for more.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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