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 category “Books that Make a Difference”

Who Are My Target Audience?

I recently asked readers of my elfwriter blog to help me define a target audience, a cornerstone of any book marketing plan. It occurred to me, almost two years after The Accidental Activist was published and a few months before Unwanted Heroes, that I still fumble over what my genre is and to whom I am marketing. Transformational fiction is a good topic when I give talks, and social justice-themed novels is rather a mouthful.

Twitter has offered an interesting insight into this. When looking to grow your following, you check out people who your target audience is following. Given the content of both Left Coast Voices and my social commentary orientated novels, I have looked into the Democratic Party, President Obama and Nancy Peolsi. I have also followed a number of publishing gurus hoping to attract other writers and authors.

I once wrote an elevator pitch about my writing: I write novels that highlight social injustices with everyday characters who discover they can make a better world.

If you read this ‘genre’ of novels, please take a minute and answer the following questions in the comments below:

1. How old are you?

2. Are you male or female?

3. Where do you live?

4. Did you finish High School / Bachelors Degree / Masters Degree?

5. What is your profession?

6. Are you active on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, read and comment on blogs?

7. What do you look for in a novel?

8. Do you read books on an eReader or as a hardcover/paperback? (if both, please assign a ratio).

9. How many books do you read a month?

10. What examples have you read of social justice themed novels? Why do you remember them?

Thank you for taking the time to fill out the survey. Please pass it on to anyone you think might share our interest.

 Alon

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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).

Ray Bradbury R.I.P

On Wednesday the book world received news of the passing of a master. Ray Bradbury,  author of The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and many more literary classics — died  in Los Angeles, at the age of 91.

I had the honor to meet Ray at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference where, despite age and health challenges, he continued to be a guest speaker. From the podium he urged us to write because we loved to, to let nothing but our imagination limit us and to dream big.

Here is Ray in a 2-minute clip from then.

In the introduction to The Illustrated Man,  entitled “Dancing, So As Not to Be Dead,”  Ray wrote a poignant line about death.

“My tunes and numbers are here. They have filled my years, the years when I refused to die. And in order to do that I wrote, I wrote, I wrote, at noon or 3:00 A.M. So as not to be dead.”

I’m sure they have a keyboard and screen waiting for you in heaven, Ray. Keep on writing … here on earth, your work will never die.

Ray Bradbury R.I.P 2012

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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).

Books For Writers and Bibliophiles

A colleague recently posted on our LinkedIn forum and asked what books writers read to learn and improve their craft. I would like to offer a few.

On Writing – Stephen King

I have the paperback, but once a year I check the audio book out of the library and listen to Stephen himself read it. Now I understand that he has been criticizing for reading one of his novels (never heard it myself), but since this is so personal, it is very intense. I feel as if he is a teacher.

But beware – he is the tough no-nonsense teacher. He lays out how it should be and brooks no dissent. There is no fluff, and no feel-good. This is a small book but packed with tips and direction.

 A must read – probably annually.

How I Write – Janet Evanovitch

I had never met Stephanie Plum (Janet’s protagonist) before I read this writing book, but she is a good friend now. Janet’s book is geared to e a reference. Much is presented in Q&A form (it is co-written with Ina Yalof) and there are lists and summaries.

I particularly learned a lot about writing a series and character development beyond one book.

Warning -You may find yourself reading a Stephanie Plum novel or twenty. Be prepared to set a summer reading space aside and get ready to laugh.

Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott

It is considered one of the classics. I haven’t read it in years and it doesn’t sit on my shelf to quickly check. But I remember it had a big influence on me and was mentioned in the LinkedIn list as often as any other book.

Sometimes The Magic Works – Terry Brooks

While fantasy writers will get more out of this than those who write in other genres there is a lot of fundamental stuff. However, such topics as creating a whole world are more unique to fantasy and SF.

Whatever you decide – the first chapter is unforgettable. If you have ever been where Terry takes you, you will understand what I mean!

Writing Down to the Bones – Natalie Goldberg

Natalie has written a number of inspirational books on writing (with plenty of practical tips. She writes from the perspective of one deeply in Zen practice. Her latest is about memoir writing.

Finally books mentioned by other writers:

Story – Robert McKee

This Year You Write Your Novel – Walter Mosley

Writing Basics for Beginners by Jeanne Marie Leach

The Weekend Novelist – a Writer’s Digest book

I want to share that I believe it is important to choose a couple of authors and read everything they wrote. This includes their novels, their how-to books, their blogs, interviews etc.

This is important for your own level of craft and how you market your work and present yourself.  We all write as individuals, but we can learn a lot from those whose company we strive to share.

Good Writing,

Alon

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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).

Writing About Justice

The following article was taken with permission from Bookmarks, the blog of Southern Celebrations.

Dr. Steve Boyd, a Religion professor at Wake Forest University, fights for justice in his writing as well as inside his classroom. Dr. Boyd’s book Making Justice Our Business: The Wrongful Conviction of Darryl Hunt and the Work of Faith has just been released. His first talk about his book and book signing will be held on Monday, November 28th at Emmanuel Baptist Church. Below is a description (from Wake Forest University’s website) about Dr. Boyd’s course “Religion and Public Life.” A course that has taught him just as much as it has the students who have taken it.

(from WFU website)

…For nearly twenty years, Winston-Salem resident Darryl Hunt spent every day in a dreary prison cell serving a life sentence for a crime he did not commit. In spite of a trial that was devoid of physical evidence tying Hunt to the scene of the crime, he was convicted of first-degree murder in 1984. Hunt was just nineteen years old at the time.

Facing perhaps the cruelest fate a human being can endure, Hunt maintained his own innocence, and his spirit remained unfettered as he called on God to give him strength and to comfort him. As his days behind bars grew in number from the hundreds to the thousands, Hunt’s faith in God only intensified and served as much more than a means of preserving a glimmer of hope for life outside of prison.

Nine years after being convicted, DNA evidence surfaced indicating that Hunt, an African American, could not have committed the crime, yet the appeal of his conviction was denied. In 2003, his attorney, who served him for eighteen years pro bono, threw one last “hail Mary” pass in the form of a motion to compare the DNA in the 1984 rape kit to a state database of DNA profiles. Miraculously, he got a “hit.” Finally, the real murderer was found and Hunt was freed.  Hunt’s remarkable story gained national recognition and became emblematic of Winston-Salem’s historically tense race relations.

Building upon his experience, Hunt founded the Darryl Hunt Project with community leaders to help prevent the criminal justice system from convicting innocent parties, educating the public about faults in the system, and helping ex-offenders re-enter society and become productive, contributing citizens.

Just one year after Hunt’s exoneration, Wake Forest student Rashad Daker had the opportunity to transcribe Hunt’s daily journal entries that he wrote during his imprisonment, an assignment that Daker chose as part of Professor Stephen Boyd’s “Religion and Public Life” course. Daker and Hunt are both practicing Muslims, and according to Boyd, both individuals found the experience cathartic and spiritually engaging.

In addition to Daker’s work with the Darryl Hunt Project, each student in Boyd’s class worked with a local nonprofit organization that is addressing a significant need in the community. For instance, one student worked with Advocacy for the Poor, researching issues related to poverty, affordable housing, homelessness, and hunger. The in-class portion of the course focuses on issues of religious leadership, social entrepreneurship, the separation of church and state, and the differences among service, advocacy, and community organizing, as well as their roots in three dominant theological paradigms in Christian history.

Boyd also sees great value in simply getting students involved in projects off campus – outside the “Wake Forest bubble.”

“As a student, it is easy to get consumed with life on campus,” said Boyd. “Students sometimes forget there is an exciting world outside the ‘Wake Forest bubble’, one that is full of challenging issues that can be gratifying to work on.”

The students and the organizations were not the only ones touched by the course, however. Boyd described the experience as “the most rewarding course I ever taught” and is offering it for the second time in 2011.

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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).

Andy Brandi – P.T.S.D Counsellor

Today is Veteran’s Day. I have lifted this post from my friend, Al Levenson, who blogs about his experience: A Year on the Road.Al met a man named Andy Brandi who served in the Vietnam War. Forty years on, Andy is still living the war.

Andy recounted to Al how when he sits in a room, he will always have his back to a wall and be able to see the door. When he crosses a parking lot he will automatically scan the roofs of the surrounding buildings. A car backfiring can make him instantly drop to the floor. 

These stories sent chills through me.When my family first arrived in the US, we visited Chinatown in San Francisco with some friends. As we exited a store someone let off a firecracker. I instinctively threw my son (then 2 years old) behind a parked car and dived on top of him.

I freaked the group out (not least my two-year-old) and we decided to go sit for ice cream and tea. One of our friends asked me about my reaction and my wife told about other behavior traits I have that I took as ‘normal.’ This was the first I heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D). I too hate to have my back to a door and scan around me in unfamiliar urban areas. I have been shot at from roof tops and had rocks and Molotov cocktails thrown from above.

Today P.T.S.D is recognized as a genuine anxiety disorder caused by extreme psychological trauma. In a severe condition, it can overwhelm the person and rend them helpless to deal with it. Symptoms include “re-experiencing the stress through flashbacks, or nightmares, difficulty falling or staying asleep,anger and hypervigilence to the extent of impaired social function. Most often, they are plagued by a feeling if intense guilt that they survived when so many who were close to them did not.

Andy has written a book meant to serve as a guide for those (and their loved ones) who are fighting a fight they should have left behind in the desert or the jungles. Al says that The Warrior’s Guide to Insanity, Traumatic Stress and Life, “is a book that will haunt you from the first page.”


Al says that the most important message in the  book is that there is help available to the combat vets today.  Although Andy is critical of the level of services, they are vastly underfunded in his opinion, he points out that the Veteran’s Administration does offer counseling, and there is peer support at the posts of Veterans of Foreign Wars. He encourages veterans to reach out to these services.

Finally, Brandi wants to get his book in the hands of elected officials, who need to understand that a war costs more than the weapons and soldiers deployed.

Andy maintains a website (www.sgtbrandi.com) from where he wants to reach out and support veterans. He is also happy to speak to veteran’s groups.

The Warrior’s Guide to Insanity, Traumatic Stress and Life   is free to combat vets and their families and Andy funds his book giveaway from his own pension and disability checks. If you wish to help get his books into the hands of those who need it, you can donate at the following address. Just $20 can help cover the p&p  for a half dozen books to get to men and women who need to read it.

Sergeant Brandi, P.O. Box 574, Cerrillos, New Mexico, 87010.

The Warrior’s Guide to Insanity, Traumatic Stress and Life is also available from Amazon in tree or e-book. Buying a copy will help fund more books going out for free. Put that book in the hands of a veteran that you know is suffering.

Show them you care.

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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).

Guest Blogger – Suzie Thornton

I couldn’t help it. Someone has to stand up to multinational corporations and who better than me? Well maybe many people who are smarter, more articulate and strategic. But I was a young, single woman, with no assets that anyone could threaten to take from me. I was working part-time in a bookstore. I was ready.

Or so I thought.

Helen Steel - the real heroine

No one suspected that the Oilspill court case would become the longest in British history. No one thought I would be denied legal aid and forced to defend myself against the most accomplished lawyer in British libel history.

It took a huge chunk of my life away from me, something I will never get back. But I had to do it. I simply wouldn’t be me if I had ignored or buckled to the threat. And I got to know Matt in a way that I doubt would have happened.

It’s funny but one of my friends who read The Accidental Activist claimed that it is a romance novel. Of course it isn’t. The Accidental Activist is a courtroom drama wherein a multinational corporation tries to crush a tribe in South America and anyone who tries to stop them, or highlight their injustices.

I studied Political Science at London University, but I never learned as much as I did taking on the big guys. You can never understand how the legal system helps the multinationals until you are on the inside. And then it simply gets frightening.

I’m glad that The Accidental Activist focuses on Matt. He was an unsung hero, a man who not only changed the outcome of our court case, but changed the face of political advocacy. I’m glad Alon Shalev was able to get inside of Matt’s head and show his transformation from a self-absorbed yuppie to a man who was ready to harness his talents to fight social justice.

The real website. It changed everything.

But the sex! Did you guys have to get so explicit about it? You know my mother will read the book, right?

This blog post is dedicated to Helen Steel – the real heroine in the real McDonald’ Libel case upon which The Accidental Activist is based.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) 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).

Interview with Professor McGoughen

The following post is a post by Professor McGoughen, a fictional Scottish law professor who plays an important role in The Accidental Activist. On Sunday, I gave a brief explanation of my desire to revisit the characters of this story, a tale that continues to be as relevant today as the real McLibel trial in the 1990’s on which the story is loosely based.

I would like to say that what follows are the words and opinions of the writer himself and his alone. Given that he is a product of my imagination, I’ll skip it. Over to you, Professor.

Steel & Morris demonstrating at the McLibel Trial

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“I’m really excited tae be com’g tae California for the book launch of The Accidental Activist  in a co’ple o’ weeks. Once I finish the semester teaching law at Oxford, I had planned tae visit ma wee grandchildren in Edinboro’, but I could nae resist seeing the book o’ the trial an’ how yoo Americans perceive such a shenanigan.

Ma role in the trial was a wee one. I can nae believe that computer wiz kid got me soo wound up as tae bring me out of retirement. I spent ma whole life fightin’ the multinationals. As an Oxford University law professor, I still can nae imagine how two young scrufs could have pulled it off.

Certainly the Internet was a powerful tool that I nae had in ma day. But the way that laddie harnessed it to involve so many people from all o’er the world was amazing. He deserves all the credit that this wee book gives him.

The real McSpotlight website

An’ I hope it gives a new generation o’ lasses ’n lads the inspiration tae fight for what’s right in a way that’s relevant for them. Your President, Mr. Obama, understood this ’n that’s why soo many people got involved in his campaign that had nae done soo before. I hear he still sends out updates to his supporters, still keeps them informed via the Internet.

I want this t’ be the message that y’ people will take from The Accidental Activist: that it’s possible to effect change, that y’ can influence what is happening. Ya need to know what is going on. When them corporate types know som’n is watching them, they might think twice ’bout their actions. I hear that in America, they don’t even pay any taxes.

An’ remember: this trial mae have happen’d in England, but many o’ these multinationals operate outta the US. This is as relevant for yoo as it is for Britain, Africa or Asia. Our world is connected now an’ we noo got much time. This Internet might just be the tool to change everything – an’ this is what young Shalev is tryin’ t’ tell us in his book.

Read the book. I reckon that you’ nae look at the Internet in the same wae again.

Alistair McGoughen
Professor at Law, Oxford University

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) 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).

Transformational Fiction Workshop

I have expounded in previous blog posts what motivates me to write in the political fiction genre and why I love the term Transformational FictionThis coming Sunday, April 10th, between 10am-1pm, I will be teaching a workshop for the California Writers Club entitled: Fiction As A Vehicle For Social Change: Using the Novel for a Better World.

There are many ways today to reach out and influence people. Traditional media has been supplemented by websites, blogs, non-profit promotion, and traditional activism. But most of these options are often no longer than 5-minute sound bites, or an afternoon of flurry.

The novel has long held the ability to create powerful images and characters that stay with the reader long after they read the final page. What if the novel can precipitate a transformational change not just within the story, but in how it impacts the reader? What if the emotional connection between reader and plot, or reader and fictional character, can motivate the reader to fight social injustice?


I am now in the middle of writing my fifth politically focused novel (The Accidental Activist is the third). Each novel features a character who experiences a transformational process, emerging with a stronger consciousness and a desire to help make a difference.

I am interested in your answers to the following questions:

1. What novels have helped make you the person you are?

2. What characters (and from which novels) have stayed with you a long time after you read the last page?

I appreciate your answers. If you are interested in participating in the workshop, or have any questions about it, please contact Barbara Ruffner at:  bdonruff at lmi dot net.


Finally, one last question. Do you think novels can really help change the world we live in? ——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) 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).

 

 

 

Khaled Hosseini Revisited

I realize that I just posted about Khaled Hosseini a few weeks ago. The difference is that I have just finished his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns.

The novel is as compelling as The Kite Runner. Whereas The Kite Runner focuses more upon the relationship between two boys/men, A Thousand Splendid Suns brings out the way women are treated and, in particular, describes the relationship between two women.

Moreover, A Thousand Splendid Suns provides a clearer history lesson of Afghanistan. Not that I think this is the point of the novel, but I found it a welcomed addition.

Last week I met someone who’s daughter works with Hosseini. I know it is barely six degrees, but I was excited to not only hear about his foundation, but also a bit about him.

Khaled Hosseini doesn’t only write to highlight the plight of his people, he is doing something to help raise the awareness and find sustainable solutions. He deserves to have his his books read. He deserves to be heard.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) 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 www.alonshalev.com

 

his article

kite runner

Banker to the Poor

In earlier posts, I shared a number of books on micro-lending. I want to share with you another important one I just finished. Banker to the Poor is authored by Dr. Muhammad Yunus who is seen by many as the first initiator of such a system.

Dr. Yunus is a professor of economics. He studied at the Vanderbilt University in the US before returning to Bangladesh and slipping into life as a professor. But in 1974, a famine ravaged the country, sending millions of rural Bangladeshi to the cities to beg on the streets.

“What good were all my complex theories when people were dying of starvation on the sidewalks and porches across from my lecture hall?…. Nothing in the economic theories I taught reflected the life around me.”

Dr. Yunus began to experiment with what we now know as micro-lending and lent $27 to 42 women who could buy bamboo to make and sell stools. This was the first step that a few years later saw the creation of the Grameen Bank. He created a system whereby loan recipients were grouped into cohorts of five. Only two of the five received their money up front. As soon as they were paying back their loans, the other three received theirs. Yunus sought to create more than individual business initiative, he sought to create a community of entrepeneurs who gave each other support. 97% of loan recepients repaid their loans.

Today the Grameen Bank is a $2.5 billion banking operation in Bangladesh. The micro-lending model has spread to over 50 countries worldwide, including the U.S. to Papua New Guinea, Norway to Nepal.

Dr.Yunus continues to  travel around the world spreading the belief that poverty can be eliminated: “…the poor, once economically empowered, are the most determined fighters in the battle to solve the population problem; end illiteracy; and live healthier, better lives. When policy makers finally realize that the poor are their partners, rather than bystanders or enemies, we will progress much faster that we do today.”

This book is a great read, particularly the first half, where Dr. Yunus shows his personal evolution into this idea as well as his life in the US as Bangladesh goes through its political upheaval. He shows a passionate love for his country and great courage in his willingness to offer the loans to women, who were held back by tradition and strict male domination.

In 2006, Dr. Yunis was recognized for his life’s work and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This could be seen as recognition not just an award for the work of a visionary, but recognition that there is a sustainable solution to empower people to lift themselves out of poverty. I’ve never met Dr. Yunis, but I bet he also sees it this way.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) 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 www.alonshalev.com

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