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 “December, 2011”

Let’s Talk About Sex

This is the last post of the year, so please allow me some bandwidth with regard to the contents of this blog. Each of my political novels include at least one, if not two, sexually explicit scenes. They are vivid and leave little to the imagination.

I have now heard from three people over the last eight months who do not approve of the inclusion of these sex scenes. They are not Bible-thumping fundamentalists (as far as I know) and, in fact, seem to fit into my target audience – politically aware, ideological, articulate, educated.

One man might not even have complained if it wasn’t for his 16 year-old daughter reading the novel and excitedly passing it around her friends. One of the friend’s mother was not impressed with his choice of literature! Another person, a book reviewer, gave The Accidental Activist a very nice review, but withdrew her offer of a free giveaway copy because she wasn’t sure if her audience was over 18. A third told me that it turned her off the book and she only continued because she knew me and felt committed to read it.

For the record, my mother also doesn’t approve, but I think I am more uncomfortable knowing that she is reading these scenes than she is.

And yet I feel compelled to include these scenes. Why?

Firstly, I enjoy writing them and, even more so, imagining them. I think I would be cheating you if I didn’t admit it.

But maybe more importantly, (otherwise I would just be writing erotic literature – which might be more profitable if less fulfilling) is the care and effort that I put into my characters. I love them, even the bad guys. And I want you to love them too. The only way I can achieve this is to expose all their characteristics there on the page.

Sex is a vital component in my own relationship experience. No one would question that you learn so much about your partner by the way they make love and interact intimately. Sex makes us open up to each other, share our fears and joys, and tells us so much about that person without having to explain it. Show Don’t Tell we are always told – well,  it doesn’t get any easier than this. Such revealing scenes allow us to move along in the developing relationship between characters that might take several chapters to captivate.

The way we relate to sex also reflects upon the kind of society, the mores and values of a religion, community, country, wherever the book takes place.

While it is important to me to reveal the deeper levels of my characters’ feelings and emotions, I do not want to turn people away because of the sex scenes. It is more important for me to inspire and empower people through the actions of my characters. I have written before about Transformational Fiction, if you haven’t read it, please click here to understand what common theme runs through my novels, this blog and my website.

I write from the heart and this is how I want my characters to be judged. I don’t think of myself as writing romance, but it is there because deep down I do not want people to live alone. Finding a soul mate can be the most affirming and empowering thing we ever do. Nurturing such a relationship requires far more than compatible sexual satisfaction. It involves communication, empathy, a desire to see your partner happy and fulfilled.

But the physical is a distinct piece in the puzzle and for this author, allows the characters to share themselves with the reader on a far deeper level. Perhaps I can afford to annoy or upset a few readers along the way in order to achieve the connection between reader and character. If you are one of those people who has difficulty with sex scenes, please feel free to skip those pages. No one will ever know and I prefer you do this and get to the end of the book.

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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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Gold Standard Hogwash – Roger Ingalls

The country’s sad economic state has renewed the cry for a return to the Gold Standard. A significant percentage of the population as well as presidential candidates are endorsing this form of monetary system. Fiat Money Systems are used by most countries (including the U.S.) which normally require tight regulation and active monitoring to thwart abuse and corruption. The recent financial crisis was caused by conservative policies that deregulated the banking industry which opened the door for unethical practices induced by greed. Wall Street’s failure to “self-police” has rekindled interest in the Gold Standard.

It is my belief that moving to a precious metal standard will not fix problems facing the people of this country (USA) or the world’s masses. It may unify currency across the globe but it’s still just another form of money significantly controlled by the wealthy few.

If we’re going to entertain the idea of changing our monetary system, let’s go all out. Let’s develop a system that empowers today’s masses and future generations. Let’s create a system that produces wealth based on conservation, cooperation and increases with the participation of many.

The basis of life is energy. Every life force needs some form of energy to exist. Therefore, a true and unifying currency would be some sort of energy unit, such as a Joule or Calorie. The value of energy is understood in the U.S., China and even aliens from outer-space would understand its worth.

I realize that this initially sounds like a wild idea but think about it for a few minutes and it starts to make sense. Keep in mind that all forms of energy are somehow derived from the Sun. Oil, coal and natural gas are fossilized ancient life forms that once received energy from the sun. Even elements used to create nuclear power owe their existence to solar activity.

This blog site (leftcoastvoices.com) will post more on energy unit currency in the near future but in the meantime, here is some information that will hopefully inspire you to think more about the subject:

  1. Mother Nature takes the path of least resistance because it conserves energy.
  2. Calories are a form of energy unit. There are 90 calories in a large head of lettuce and 540 calories in a Big Mac. The current price of lettuce is $2; therefore, a Big Mac should cost $12 in a true free-market.
  3. The energy from one gallon of gas in equal to 408 man hours of work. The minimum wage in CA is $8 so a gallon of gas should cost $3264.
  4. If energy was priced appropriately, conservation would be adopted quickly.
  5. If energy was priced appropriately, food would not travel the average 1500 miles it now takes to get to your dinner table. Lettuce grown in CA would not be shipped to New York.
  6. A monetary system based on energy will automatically promote sustainability in all aspects of human existence.
  7. Humans consume food energy and transform it into mechanical energy.
  8. People working together cooperatively are more efficient and can produce more (community).

A Gold Standard is hogwash. An Energy Standard would promote human equality, builds community, protects the environment and create a happier existence. A system like this brings to light the true cost of energy and inherently promotes sustainability through local production. Local production creates local jobs.

Of course, big business, Wall Street and the banks would never allow a conversion to a monetary system that draws attention to conservation. They need debt to create wealth.

More to come!

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

The Internet Cost Him His Freedom

My novel, The Accidental Activist, illustrates the empowerment of the Internet in the face of great power. Unfortunately, in the real world, it doesn’t always work that way. Though the two individuals who stood up to McDonald’s in England (the real story that The Accidental Activist is based upon) were able to use the Internet to defend themselves, it can be a double edged sword.

Shi Tao, a journalist in China discovered that and is still paying the price. Here is his story in 30 seconds.

In 2004, Shi Tao sent details of government plans to restrict the activities commemorating the 15th anniversary of the pro-democracy rally in Tienanmen Square. Apparently he sent the information through his Yahoo email account, and Yahoo gave the information to the Chinese security forces. Shi Tao is now in prison for 10 years.

In 2007 he received the Golden Pen of Freedom award by the World Association of Newspapers. Tao’s family is apparently suing Yahoo and they are not the first. While I wish to condemn Yahoo, we do need to focus our attention on China and freeing Shi Tao.

Suggestions of how to help can be found at Shi Tao’s Amnesty International page. I plan every year, during Chanukah, the Jewish festival of Freedom to blog about Shi Tao until he is released. I ask that you help because the only hope that Shi Tao has is that we do not forget him.

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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).

Holiday Escapes – Tom Rossi

Good escapes and bad ones.

Ahhhh. Christmas was yesterday and we are in the midst of what most can agree to call, “The Holiday Season,” which includes Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan (in some years), and maybe others I don’t even know about. The winter holidays afford us an escape from the rat race. While it’s true that, for many, the year-round rat race is just exchanged for the holiday rat race, it still represents a change from the monotony.

If you’re lucky, the holidays are a chance to reconnect with family and friends. Planning these rendezvous can be stressful in and of itself, but hopefully they are worth it. The chance to hug your mom for the first time in months, to watch your new nieces and nephews play with new toys, and to catch up with siblings, cousins, friends, and the guy who has stood on the corner every day for 17 years hitting himself in the head with a dead chicken can be priceless.

This time of year presents the opportunity to revel in all that is really important and good about this human existence. It isn’t required that you go all Norman Rockwell on us, just smile, talk, eat, sit next to a fireplace with loved (or liked) ones, and maybe even get out and hike or ski among the trees (if you can find some snow, somewhere). This is positive escapism.

Positive escapism isn’t an escape from reality – it’s a temporary escape from certain, tiring elements of reality – the commute, the office politics, the everyday drudgery.

In contrast, everyday escapism is one of the things that, in my opinion, contributes to the deterioration of our socio-economic structure. It’s great to watch a movie or a hockey game or maybe play a video game, but if all of your free time is dedicated to things like this, you can basically tune out real information or just never notice it in the first place.

I think this is one explanation for people saying things like: “It was cold at my house last night, so there’s obviously no global warming going on.” If you spend all your free time entertaining yourself and you stop learning, you can just keep thinking whatever you want, right or wrong.

So again, sorry for this brief interruption to your holiday. Please go on laughing at the same jokes your father has told 175 times. Drink an egg nog (with rum or without). Cherish the great gifts that you have. It took a trip to death’s door to wake me up to what a great family I have and what great friends. I’ll spare you the details, but I’ll just say again, Happy Holidays.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Welcome to the World of E-books

Did you wake up this morning the proud, or maybe 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?

And did they notice when you reached for that glass of brandy 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 claim 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 hardly using the gadget’s predecessor.

Have another sip of brandy. 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 e-book reader. 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 annoying 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. I am also a confirmed Star Trek fan. 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 the house I share with my family.

So, some Advice for The Morning After:

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

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. Remember how hard it was to drive a car when we were learning?

Finally: Have another brandy. 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!).

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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).

Last Minute Gift?

It’s quick. You don’t need to battle frantic store crowds.  It’s environmental. It’s not expensive…

Did you know you can buy an e-book and send it directly to a friend as a gift?

Any Kindle book available for purchase in the Kindle Store can be given as a gift to anyone with an e-mail address. You do not need a Kindle device to send or receive Kindle book gifts, and the recipient can read their gift on a registered Kindle device or any free Kindle reading application.

All you need to know is that person’s email.  You can add a personal message as well. For more details, click here. Apart from giving a meaningful gift, you are also helping a struggling author. Here are 10 other ways to help a friend who is an author.

Happy Holidays.

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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).

Redefining the U.S. Government – Roger Ingalls

Picture from theviewspaper.net

How would an honest educator define the current U.S. form of government to a body of students? This is the question I’ve asked myself while trying to fall asleep, night after night. The key word in the above question is “honest”.

The U.S. is no longer a true democracy or republic. Our government has latently morphed over the past 30 years into a dual-form system. It’s similar to the Constitutional Monarchy found in the United Kingdom except the power and ceremonial aspects are reversed.

In a modern Constitutional Monarchy, the democratically elected politicians are the true governing body (Parliament, Congress, President, Prime Minister…) and the Monarchy or Royal Family act as ceremonial figures.

In the current U.S. form of government, elected officials are a ceremonial by-product of a ritual balloting process that provides no positive impact on the voting public. Casting a vote is now just a feel-good public ceremony that pays homage to the concept of democracy.

Unlike the United Kingdom, a group-Monarchy or, more accurately, Plutarchy is the real governing power in the United States. Elected politicians are controlled by the wealthy for the wealthy. They’re influenced and financed through campaign contributions by famous and influential individuals, CEOs, corporations, financial institutions and Wall Street players. Essentially, politicians are personal policy generators for the wealthy few.

Accurately defining our current form of government: Pseudo-Democratic Plutarchy is a form of government in which power effectively rests with the wealthy via financial control over political candidates and propaganda means (Main Stream Media). The wealthy finance their desired group of candidates which effectively pre-selects favorable agents. The final selection is left to the voting public in a ceremonial pageant resembling a democratic election.

Pseudo-Democratic Plutarchy: A product of conservative deregulation.

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

The Menorah and The Xmas Tree – The Perfect Opportunity

Last night was the first night of Chanukah, a Jewish festival celebrating freedom. Since the Jewish calender is lunar, this year Christmas and Chanukah fall at the same time. Even when they are not close together, these two highly visual festivals throw up many challenges for children of Jewish parents – decorations, gifts, commercialism, I’m different from my friends etc.

But with half American Jewry in mixed marriages (only one of the couple is Jewish) this offers different challenges. I meet a lot of students from mixed marriages as well  as members of my synagogue community, and I hear the stories. Such couples really have three options:

1) to follow one religion.

2) to follow no religion.

3) to celebrate both religions.

It is not for me or you to pass judgement on any of the three options. Each couple or family have their own unique factors to consider when deciding. I am not going to talk about how a Jewish couple deal with their child wanting a Christmas tree because his friend has one. This is all about Jewish identity and I feel that the stronger the family’s Jewish identity, the less threatening such discussions are.

I want to strengthen the families who offer both religions. The child will decide when they grow older which spiritual path they choose to walk. These couples offer knowledge and experience in both religions and often have a richer spiritual household for doing so. As this winter semester ended and Christmas decorations were springing up all over San Francisco, I participated in a number of discussions with students at San Francisco Hillel (the Jewish student center) and heard some wonderful and some painful stories.

I wish every couple who must deal with the dilemma of the menorah and Christmas tree will be empowered to enjoy the freedom of however they choose to express their spirituality. I hope those of us who light the menorah will invite our non-Jewish friends to join us. In a couple of days, I will drive my family to join dear Christian friends who have invited us to share their joy. We go as proud Jews: proud of our heritage and proud of our friendships.

Most of all, I am feel blessed to live in the Bay Area and proud to live in a society that can celebrate diversity. The Irish comedian, Dave Allen, who sadly passed away a few years ago, would conclude his TV show for years with the word: “Good night and may your God go with you.”

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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).

Do we know it’s Christmas… Over here? Tom Rossi

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ (ostensibly) in this Christian-dominated (politically, anyway) country, it might be a good time to take a brief look at what we claim to believe in.

We believe in the Bible, and we believe in personal wealth. We profess our love for Jesus, and we vote Republican or Republican-light (Democrat). We recite the ten commandments, and our national pastime is coveting.

In his thought-provoking book, “Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth,” Richard Foster wrote that there is, “… a prevailing notion that the Bible is ambiguous about economic issues.” He goes on to say, “No serious reading of scripture can substantiate such a view. The biblical injunctions against the exploitation of the poor and the accumulation of wealth are clear and straightforward.” Foster proceeds to pose several examples with scriptures referenced.

So how is it that the party of riches is also the party (supposedly) of Christianity? How is it that people think they’re voting for God when they vote republican? Aren’t they actually voting against God, Jesus, and what it actually says in the Bible?

I have to be honest. Even though I have studied many things and was raised in the Catholic church, I’m quite an agnostic. My dad named me after Saint Thomas Aquinas but I take after “doubting” Thomas much more. I question everything. My religion is reason and what offends me is intellectual dishonesty or hypocrisy.

But after studying the words of Christ a little bit as an adult, I realize that I’m the one who actually believes in what he taught, while it seems that 90% of the people who call themselves “Christians” really worship some manufactured image that better suits their ideologies and goals.

People hide behind religion to justify voting for selfishness, for maintaining the imbalances inherit in the present system. They vote to keep the “privileged few” privileged, because they are either now members of that club or psychotically hold onto the belief that they will be, one day.

When Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24), he was talking about money and God. It’s pretty clear that he meant that the pursuit of money would certainly take one’s mind and efforts from God and the way of life that Jesus advocated. How did it come to be that so many of the very representatives of Christianity are multi-millionaires? And I won’t even get started on the “Christian” politicians.

Much is written, every year now, about how Christmas has become so commercial. That’s not it. We worship money every day of the year and that worship is enshrined as our one true national religion. We duly elect the perfect representatives… those who epitomize “money-ism” of one form or another. Christmas is just the culminating orgy of what goes on all year long.

What would I change? Plenty. But let’s start with the elimination of hypocrisy. This Christmas (or Chanukah or Kwanzaa or whatever else you might celebrate), look at yourself honestly in the mirror and admit what’s important to you. Maybe it’s money. OK, nothing wrong with that. Just admit it. When I look in the mirror I see Lorne Greene, a martian, and sometimes Martha Stewart. I’ve really gotta stop drinking so much.

What I want for Christmas this year is for everyone to open their eyes and see that their leaders are mostly just trying to get even richer. Then to realize that claims those leaders make about how to be a better Christian are mostly lies. People vote based on these lies. That makes them dangerous.

But forget about politics for now. Spend your vacation with family, friends, or your favorite snow-capped mountain or evergreen forest. Let yourself step off of the rat-racetrack for a few days, and have a happy holiday season. We’ll talk politics when you get back.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Author Salon – Creating Community

I have written several times on Left Coast Voices about initiatives that create online communities in a win: win framework. I think that Meetup is a good example of this. I have also written about how the idea of an author’s life being a solitary one is outdated and ridiculous. If a writer chooses to walk alone this is his/her choice. There are many options today that Mark Twain never had.

A Master At His Desk

So I was excited when a colleague introduced me to Author Salon, a new initiative aimed at helping authors prepare to pitch and market their manuscripts. It is a win:win community wherein the author is able to hone their work, while agents and publishers can delve in knowing these writers have done their due diligence.

When you sign up for Author Salon there are a lot of questions about your work. Often these questions make you look at your manuscript through new eyes. This is essentially the idea, that you see it not as the writer, but as the agent or publisher.

You will need to refine your pitch, synopsis, introduce your characters, clarify the overriding conflict and examine many other aspects. You need to plan for a few hours at least and this is only the first round.

Once you have completed your proposal, it is reviewed by peers and the Author Salon staff, all experienced agents or people who have worked in the publishing business for years. You get graded as your proposal is developed and this enables the agents and publishers who troll the site to know who is holding a more finished product.

This is not a get-rich-quick or silver bullet offer. Author Salon seems to hold pretty high standards and if you have a tender ego, perhaps you had better give this one a miss.

However, if your goal is to get published, if you fear your manuscript sinking into the publishers’ ever-growing slush pile and if you are willing to do what it takes, Author Salon might just be the answer.

Slush Pile

For those interested in learning more, here is the Author Salon mission:

First, to make Author Salon a preferred source of discovery for literary agents, producers, and publishing house editors. Author Salon opens channels to professionals to keep them updated on desirable projects, and for those who wish to search, we provide detailed writer and project profiles, multiple search parameters, and lists of high-rated projects, thus enabling professionals to more quickly obtain a range of information, and in a manner conducive to productive decision-making.

Second, to create a 24/7 writers conference environ utilizing a criteria-based step by step workshop approach that includes a primary and upper level peer-and-pro review process, a separate two level review by Author Salon, additional forum-based draft workshops, as well as a final top level review on the part of seasoned peers and players in the publishing business. We tell the writer what works, what doesn’t work, and what needs to be developed further – while they can still do something about it – and before an agent or publisher shuts the door in their face.

Third, to sustain a suitable and pragmatic work space for the nonfiction and novel writing community that combines the technical advantages of a Facebook-like environ (instant chat, site mail, video embeds, etc.) with the content approach of Publisher’s Marketplace. In other words, Author Salon provides the communication and features technology the writer community needs while enabling easy access to a backdrop of publishing news, as well as writer resource and craft content.

Fourth, to make Author Salon a trusted source of tie-breaking, valuable information on fiction and nonfiction writing, craft, publishing, and book marketing that avoids the myths and sticks only to the facts.

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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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