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 “General: Me – A Left Coast Author”

Survival – No Matter How

Unwanted Heroes was much longer before my editor got his hands on it. A number of chapters were cut because they do not directly move the plot along. They seem to have something in common – my desire to show the many facets of San Francisco. I began sharing these passages with you last Wednesday and would like to share another one here.

There is nothing here that spoils anything in the book – which probably vindicates the editor’s decision to cut them!

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They sit in the corner of our coffee shop every day. They are old and somewhat withered, but they exude a mature and vibrant vitality that has a unique influence on our young staff.

He invariably wears a dark blue woolen hat, sturdy glasses and sports a full gray beard. All this partially hides a wrinkled, weather-beaten face and I fancy he could be a retired captain having spent a life at sea. He wears thick sweaters; today’s is dark brown and his training shoes are white, complimenting his beard.

She also sports gray but wavy hair. She wears comfortable corduroy trousers and often removes her Birkenstocks and curls her legs up under her or folded in front of her. She seems to possess an array of hoodies, all zip-fronted. The frames of her eyeglasses are thin and compliments waves of majestic wrinkles that line her face.

What makes this couple special? It is not that they are regulars, not that they always drink non-fat lattes, always ordered with a request from him to ensure the coffees come hot to which she lovingly rolls her eyes. It is not the single scone they order and carefully share.

It is the dynamics between them: the intimacy, the comfort. I watch as they share photographs. They never sit opposite each other with a table between them, but always gravitate to a corner where they sit on the bench that hugs the wall, close together with their backs on the red wood rest.

She has an arm around his shoulders and they enjoy close conversation. Nothing is forced. If there is silence, it is also shared and comfortable. But they are often talking and laughing. I am sure they have their aches and pains, their trials and disappointments, but there is always time to laugh, always time to share a loving gaze.

How do they keep it up? When does it cease to be new and fresh? They have been together forever, have children, grandchildren and maybe great grandchildren, but their focus is always on each other; their relationship is the anchor, the calm in the eye of the storm.

They have reached Budddahood, perfection. And they have achieved this by simply being together, by sharing the photos, the memories, by sharing the moment.

We are a young staff at The Daily Grind, all single, constantly vigil as we seek our own soul mates. We all observe this couple from behind the counter or when we clean around the café. We know their names and they remember snippets of our lives that they allow us to share with them. We are all silently asking the question.

We are their children, their grandchildren. We can be because they have enough space to share a bit of their Buddahood with every soul they come into contact with.

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It was a rainy day in January. Still no sign, no indication of Spring around the corner. Twain’s coldest winter was a summer in San Francisco, but he never braved a winter by the bay. The wimp! It is a tough time of the year. Christmas is over, gone long enough for people to return to their resilient regimes, but not long enough to forget the season of goodwill. We seek a glint in each other’s eyes, but they are glazed over now.  Eyes open, but shut.

The morning rush is behind us now and the place is completely empty of customers. I wrestle to clean an intricate and generally forgotten part of the Beast – our nickname for the Italian coffee machine that Mr. Tzu is extremely proud of. When he imported it from the old country, it was the only one of its kind in the New World.

I am so absorbed in my struggle that I am not aware of the door opening. Tabitha elbows me hard and I bang my head as I rise sharply. My pain is soon forgotten and the entire staff are now frozen to their spots and watching her.

She approaches the counter slowly, cautiously. Her head is bowed; she is defeated. Tabitha walks around and opens her arms to hug her. No words; it is clear. Their absence had been remarked upon over the last few days, but the inclement weather was assumed to be the culprit.

Now we know the weather is not to blame. I clear my throat. Even the most experienced barista is never experienced enough, but the responsibility falls to me. 

“A non-fat latte, extra hot?”

She nods. Now cones the hardest part. Will she or won’t she? She just takes the latte and shuffles, yes shuffles, to a table in the middle. It is not the one in the corner and it should not be. It was a brave enough act just to enter the store.

She sits and for a moment gazes over to the corner. The she picks up her coffee and sips. Returning the cup to the table, she reaches into a bag and pulls out a book to read. I see a slight shake in her grip that I had never noticed before.

Tabitha takes off her apron and makes herself a coffee. Usually, she would ask me if she could take a break, even this close to break time. But she takes her coffee and a plate, on which she puts a scone and two forks. Then she walks over and sits opposite the old woman.                                                                                                                                               

Words are exchanged and the old woman briefly smiles. They begin eating the scone together and Tabitha is talking. At one point they both go to take a piece of the scone and their forks clash. Her head suddenly sinks. This is the difference. She would always be able to find someone to share a scone with, but after all these years the forks had been synchronized. The synchronicity has gone, forever.

If you meet the Buddha on the road, strike him down. We are deep in the grasps of winter and, even in this most beautiful of cities, it is cold and lonely. Even here, the Buddha has not tarried.

imgres-1I walk over to the table and pull up a chair. I take her hand in both of mine and squeeze gently. I swallow, not sure what to say. I stammer:

“My grandparents were together for more than sixty years. They were very different from you. She always seemed to be telling him off and criticizing him. He had an arsenal of cutting responses. My sister once asked my mother why they stayed together all this time if they couldn’t get on.

“My mother replied that it was just their way of communicating, that they had stood by each other through many crises and upheavals. She told us that they were really very much in love. I tried to understand this, but even as a boy I knew that theirs was not the relationship I would seek.

“When my grandfather died, my grandmother put on a brave face for a few months. But then she withered away, before our very eyes. As she lay on her deathbed, she told my mother not to mourn her as she was going to join my grandfather and was looking forward to seeing him. She was going to let him have it for leaving her behind after all these years.                                                                                                                                    “But it seemed wrong to us. We were kids. It seemed like she was leaving us, leaving her daughters and grandchildren and all those she had touched in her charity work at the church.

“I guess she couldn’t survive without him. I’m just trying to tell you that you have a lot of people here who love you and still need you; your family, friends, us.”

She smiles and squeezes my hand. Then she pulls up her sleeve to reveal her forearm. Her voice takes on a steelier edge.

“I will survive. It is tattooed onto my body, engraved into my psyche. I can do nothing else, for it would betray the memories of my people. We are survivors.”

Then she covers her arm back up and pats my hand.

“And you have a shop to take care of, customers and a lovely staff.” She forces a tight smile. “And this coffee wasn’t hot enough!”

Gloria Lyon, San Francisco resident.

Gloria Lyon, San Francisco resident.

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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.  

Weekend Warriors

Unwanted Heroes was much longer before my editor got his hands on it. A number of chapters were cut because they do not directly move the plot along. They seem to have something in common – my desire to show the many facets of San Francisco. I began sharing these passages with you on Wednesday and would like to share another one here.

There is nothing here that spoils anything in the book – which probably vindicates the editor’s decision to cut them!

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

Chapter 4: The Weekend Warriors

The male weekend warriors’ single concession is to leave the ties at home and unbutton the tops of their shirts. The fact that it’s Saturday cannot deter them from coming into the City to work. The roads are empty, the parking easy and the coffee far superior to anything they can find on the East Bay, Peninsula or Marin. Okay, so maybe not the last part, but whatever their justifications, every Saturday, defying protocol, they come into the office.

I have to admit that this strange Saturday subspecies of the San Francisco commuter fascinates me. They come in all ages and sizes, married or single, and appear, from this side of the coffee counter, to be relatively successful, or, at least not frantically trying to meet a deadline. Surely they all own laptops with wireless connections and can work from home if they want? Most look healthy and often sport trendy, compact gym bags.

Some will even sit and open a newspaper, clearly sending a message to the world that they are commuters-by-choice. They will, however, sit for only five or ten minutes, before succumbing to the call of the office.

I wonder if they are truly commuters-by-choice? Take Mr. Partridge, for example. He is surely approaching retirement. Throughout the week, he dresses impeccably in a sharp black suit and exudes an undeniable air of control and authority. Transport him a few thousand miles across the pond, and he would undoubtedly sport a bowler hat, black umbrella and bow tie, and work in Westminster or the Civil Service.

“Good morning, Will. I see you drew the Saturday shift again?”

I always work the Saturday shift, but I appreciate him remembering my name. Even though he comes in every Saturday, I play the game.

“They have you coming in again on the weekend, Mr. Partridge? Business must be good.”

“It’s always preferable to be busy, young man. Believe me, the alternative is far less attractive,” and he too-promptly recites the latest unemployment statistics.

“I’ll be on the golf course all day tomorrow if the weather holds,” he says, as if to suggest that he does have a life. “How about you? Any plans for the weekend?”

I smile. “I’m on the prowl. Got a party tonight and I’m feeling lucky.”

We share a male-bonding wink and chuckle. Then he pays for his low-fat cappuccino with a five-dollar bill, dropping all the change nonchalantly into the tip jar.

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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.

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In the Shadow of Giants

Unwanted Heroes was much longer before my editor got his hands on it. A number of chapters were cut because they do not directly move the plot along. They seem to have something in common – my desire to show the many facets of San Francisco. I would like to share then with you over the next few weeks.

There is nothing here that spoils anything in the book – which probably vindicates the editor’s decision.

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In the Shadows of Giants

            The Daily Grind survives in the shadow of giants. Peet’s Coffee and Starbucks rule the roost. I believe there are eight of them within the half-mile radius that defines the boundaries of San Francisco’s Financial District. As an independent coffee shop employee, I should have nurtured a healthy hatred for these monoliths of corporate America, who have turned the little guy into an endangered species.

The truth is, I have read Howard Shultz’s Building Starbucks One Cup at a Time, and I have to admit I harbor a grudging admiration. He and his colleagues are true connoisseurs who stood up for something they truly believed in: Coffea Arabica.

Every investor, market analyst and beverage manager doomed them to failure. The American nation was incarcerated by the instant coffee powder, addicted to the milk, the sweetness, the insanely cheap coffee and, of course, the instant powder. Why wait? Why grind? Why the extra roast?

But these men embraced a common vision, believed in the people’s finer taste buds and held a zero tolerance for compromise. They raised the bar and the people voted, with their travel mugs. There are those who blame these corporate monoliths for the scarcity of the local corner coffee shop. But the little guy can survive, only he must commit to two holy tenets: top quality coffee and kick-ass service.

And this is why, even the corner coffee shop has its barista and he, or she, must make it work. I put considerable effort into trying to make every customer welcome – an honored guest. I have a good memory for names or odd details; I throw out liberally, letting them know that I remember them and that they are individuals.

We all want to be remembered. We go into a restaurant, a shop we frequent, the gym and hope that there is acknowledgement on behalf of the maitre d’, the shop owner or the gym receptionist.

It allows us to stand out from among the masses. It reinforces that we are each unique, individuals with our own life, our own destiny. The swamp of urban anonymity has not swallowed us. We live another day as individuals. And it keeps us returning to the same shop, restaurant or gym. It creates brand loyalty that is different from a great product, an image or a good price. It fills a need in each and every one of us; we are members of the tribe. In this case the Coffea Arabica tribe. Here, every morning, for a few minutes, we belong. We feel validated.

There is one woman who frequents our coffee shop every weekday morning at 8.20am, orders the drip of the day and sits in the same seat where she can easily look out the window or survey the coffee shop with equal ease. At 8.55am, she tosses her coffee cup into the garbage can by the door, and leaves.

She is, I guess, in her mid-thirties, always impeccably dressed. She is attractive, not centerfold beautiful, but in a genuine, deeper sense. Her clothes, though business attire, reveal a full, well-maintained body and her hair is always tied back in a tight bun. She would pass for one of a thousand who frequent our coffee shop, if it wasn’t for her eyes…and her silence.

She never speaks; she doesn’t have to order as I have her coffee poured as soon as I see her. The change from the two dollar bills is dropped automatically into the tips glass and she retreats to her seat.

Her eyes haunt me. They seem…empty. I realize she is somewhere else as she stares out of the window. Her elbow is on the table, her chin cupped in a hand that boasts elegant fingers, notably devoid of a wedding ring.

I always look for an excuse to get closer to her. I pick garbage off the floor, wipe tables; whatever is necessary to sneak a view of her. I wonder if she suspects and, if so, whether she even cares?

Yesterday, we heard of yet another Starbucks opening in our area. That makes six within walking radius and there are two Peets’ and two Tully’s. The boss constantly frets, though The Daily Grind has held its own for several years.

The talk among the staff focuses on the new Starbucks. People worry about their jobs; many are students, or high school dropouts. Others like me are artists; none of us have employment skills that will make finding another job easy. Our boss is tough but fair and he cares about us, though he would never want to admit it.

A customer, who is sitting at the next table to the woman I have just mentioned, asks me if I am concerned about the new competition in our crowded neighborhood. I crack a joke, something about Starbucks just wanting to ensure that they have at least one store standing after the next big earthquake thereby ensuring they maintain a monopoly on the survivors.

He laughs and, as the businesswoman glances over at me, I see a crack in the frown. I jump at the opportunity.

“Why do you come here every day instead of Starbucks or Peets?”

She hesitates. Is she deciding why or whether she wants to even tell me?

“Because of you,” she replies, quiet but confidant. “The coffee is good, but I come because of you.”

I swallow, uncharacteristically lost for words. Thankfully she continues. “For a few brief minutes of the day I belong. You know me; know what I want to drink. You respect my boundaries, though you hover around cleaning and such. I feel comfortable,” she hesitates again. I see her swallow. When she continues, I can hear the emotion in her voice. “Over the past few years you have been my most consistent friend. Sad isn’t it.”           

“At the chain coffee shops, that is what I am: just another link in the chain. Still I’ve been wanting to tell you something for the last month.” She rises and throws her cup in the garbage can. Then she turns around and smiles. “I love that you have my drink drawn by the time I am at the counter, but I’d like to try the mocha one morning.”

With an uncharacteristic bounce in her walk, she leaves the coffee shop. I don’t need to check the time.  It is 8.55am.

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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.  

 

Telemarketers, Cell Phones and Hobbits

At a recent fundraising seminar, I was told that the best time to call people and solicit donations is between 6-8pm. Allow me to describe my house during this time. The entire family is just getting home. The kids are tired and cranky. Mum and/or Dad is making dinner and very tired. Other parent is helping kids with homework and/or doing other chores (pay bills, clean house, fold laundry). Between all this activity, family tries to find time to sit around a table and ask how each other’s day went, what we learned, or discuss some monumental change in the world.  

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The phone rings. It is surely a friend who needs help, another kid asking our kids a question about homework. It is certainly NOT a stranger trying to sell me something, or a good samaritan trying to engage me in a conversation that will lead to me wanting to support their cause. At least the good samaritan is trying to do some good in the world. But the telemarketer…

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And here are two gripes:

1) How dare you use an automatic voice to call me! If it is not worth your time to pick up the phone, why do you suppose it is worth mine! I’m sure you are busy right now – maybe making dinner for your family or helping your kids with homework.

2) I am paying for these calls. At least when it comes to my cell phone. I didn’t ask you to call and you are not my friend. Why should I pay? 

So here is my suggestion:

1) If it is automated … hang up!

2) If you have a cell phone, call the following number from your cell phone: 888-382-1222. It is the National DO NOT CALL list It will only take a minute of your time. It blocks your number for five (5) years. Remember, you must call from the cell phone number you want to have blocked. You cannot call from a different phone number.

Remember the old days, when business was done down the pub and cemented with a round and a handshake. No? Me neither, but I would like to. Then again, I think the world would be a better place with hobbits. And I bet they don’t spam your cell phone.

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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.  

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An Imaginary Author’s Co-op

There are a lot of authors out there, a lot of books, and a lot of noise on the Internet. Each author racks his/her brain for an original idea to blaze a trail in one social media or another that will create the elusive momentum that will propel a series of book sales, of movie options, and publicity.

That’s a lot of work for one person, especially one who would prefer to sit behind a computer screen creating new characters, plots and worlds. Even more so, that comes after possibly a full time job, helping the kids with homework, paying the bills, working out…

DSCN1387I believe I spend an hour a day blogging, tweeting, answering emails (as an author). I often do this with ease; either early in the morning, during a lunch break, or after my boys are in bed. But I am giving seven hours a week to promote myself and if I had more time, I would delve into Facebook, Goodreads, redesign my website, participate on other people’s blogs and forums.

What if I spent that time promoting not only myself but also five other authors, all writing within the same genre? What if we parceled out each social media forum, not exclusively, but the person in charge of Twitter, for example, would delve deeper into how best to leverage this medium. We would all tweet, retweet, dm, and build our own twitter following, but the cross-pollination would make it six times as visible.

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And then, we would offer extra time and focus when someone’s new book is published. We would write reviews on Amazon, on their website, interview them on our own blogs, and recommend them to friends. I recently went to a party and could have given my book-loving friend a book. She has read mine, but why not then give a copy from someone in my co-op. 

It demands honesty and trust. We are all desperate to ensure our own success and need to rein in the tempting opportunity to promote ourselves to the detriment of others. A ‘friend’ stood up at a venue where I spoke, told everyone how great The Accidental Activist is, and how it reminds him of his novel… and he then went on to pitch his own.

One of the best events I participated in was a panel set up by the historical fiction author, JoAnn Smith Ainsworth. There were four authors and we all flowed in effortlessly. We had decided that Christine London, a romance author, would be our informal facilitator, and probably no one in the audience noticed as she occasionally directed a question to an author who had been quiet for a while. The audience was considerably bigger than it would have been if it was only me appearing – there were fans of all genres.

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I spent almost half my life on kibbutz and when we all worked for each other the synergy was amazing. Is it possible to replicate such mutual support in the world of promotion, sales, and money?

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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.  

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Reviewing Reviews

I have a friend who is successfully establishing herself as a novelist and doing it by selling books on Amazon.com. Francine Thomas Howard is an Amazon Encore author. This means that her first book, Page from a Tennessee Journal, advanced deep into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and was selected by Amazon to publish. They were sufficiently impressed to take on her second novel, Paris Noir.

imgresFrancine is a wonderfully modest woman who attends the California Writers Club’s Marketing & Success Group to help struggling authors with her experience. She does this in a way that is neither condescending nor arrogant. She cares about other people. I don’t know how many successful authors there are around like her, but I don’t see many attending author events unless they are the main act.

Francine protests that she is not responsible for her success beyond the writing of her novels and gives all the credit to the folks at Amazon Encore. However much time and energy she invests in marketing her own books, Francine has done a great job at garnering reviews – 83 for Page from a Tennessee Journal and almost 50 for Paris Noir.

I am convinced that reviews are crucial in a world where people purchase novels on the Internet, whether e-book or tree book, without the help of a friendly bookseller or extravagant display at the front of a store. Surveying several friends I have come to the conclusion that book reviews are critical to sales on Amazon and other book purchasing websites.

In particular, when it comes to new authors or authors that the reader has not read before, the reviews offered are scrutinized. Interestingly enough, people seemed more apprehensive about investing their precious reading time in a bad novel over the fear of having wasted money.

I believe that reviews are now the second most important marketing tool. The first is a good old-fashioned recommendation from a friend. Word-of-mouth, even in the digital age, remains a powerful influence. I find this strangely comforting.

The issue I want to raise, however, is how ‘kosher’ are these reviews? I recently heard of a man making more than $20,000 a month generating reviews for authors. He was exposed for not having read the books, and accused of offering a five-star review for cash.

I am struggling to get reviews for Unwanted Heroes. I implore anyone who tells me they bought it to post on Amazon but most people, unsurprisingly, don’t generally write reviews. They are too busy devouring the next novel on their towering ‘To Read’ pile.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18I do not want to pressure friends because they will feel they must leave a 5 star review, otherwise I won’t car pool their son to basketball practice. I want readers to leave an honest review and generate a solid collection on my Amazon page, but I am not sure how to go about it.

Do you have any ideas how I can solicit honest reviews? Oh, and if you have read Unwanted Heroes (or any of my other books), please take five minutes and leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you hang out.

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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.com.

Interview at Author Spotlight

I recently interviewed with James Moushon at Author’s Spotlight.

First things first. Do you have another book on the horizon? Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease.

I do. I actually wrote three Young Adult epic fantasy novels in consecutive years, so the second, The First Decree, is due out in March. The first – At The Walls Of Galbrieth – came out in 2012. They are stand-alones, but follow on from each other. The third has yet to be edited and begin all the publishing process.

The First Decree-hi resolutionI have also completed a manuscript that follows on from my latest social justice-themed novel, Unwanted Heroes, but I think my publisher has a few more authors in line before they get to me. My writer’s group is critiquing it now.

You have a great following on Twitter. (Over 20K followers) How important are the social media relationships that you’ve formed to your writing success?

I actually have 20K followers on @elfwriter and just less than 20K on a second twitter account – @alonshalevsf – that focuses on my social justice-themed novels. Writing in two genres really needs separate social media platforms, so there is also a blog for each – leftcoastvoices.com and elfwriter.com

There is an absolute connection between the relationships created from the blogs and twitter and my readership. My whole marketing strategy is based upon offering a genuine value and connection between author and reader. Hopefully, people become regularly engaged with me through the blog and twitter and therefore are already invested when each book comes out. 

Not only that, but the cover designer, editor and interior formatter for the epic fantasy novels all came from either referrals or directly as followers of my blog and twitter. They are amazing people and I am so grateful to have such a supportive team. The physical beauty and quality of the books, exterior and interior, are all due to them and I am in awe of their commitment.

Do you do book signing, interviews, speaking and personal appearances? If so, when is your next place where your readers can see you?

I do, but a knee operation has held me back the last few months. I did a virtual book tour in November 2011 and a series of reading this past spring when Unwanted Heroes was originally coming out. I am putting together several in Northern California now for this spring and will put the details on my website

While this isn’t a marketing priority I do cherish the interactions with readers and fellow writers. There is something richer in the face-to-face conversations.

You have real good book covers. How does your cover development process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?

The artist, William Kenney, designs my epic fantasy covers. I send him a couple of paragraphs about the plot and what I envisage on the cover. He produces some sketches and solicits my feedback. The end result is always far better than anything I imagine.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front CoverIronically, with my social justice-themed novels, my publisher Lloyd Lofthouse, encourages me to be involved. In fact, the cover for Unwanted Heroes is from a photograph I took in San Francisco’s Marina District, overlooking Alcatraz. This is based on a scene in the book.

Have you create a book trailer for any of your books to promote your books online?

No, but I am excited by the medium. I do think that the book trailers I see are either excellent or bad – there is little middle ground. I would need to outsource and it is a question of finance. I also think that given my market for fantasy is Young Adult, it becomes an even more compelling marketing tool.

You run a non-profit organization that provides education and support for Jewish students in San Francisco. Now rewarding is that? Do the students give inspiration in your writing? 

The students definitely inspire me for the social justice-themed novels. The SF Hillel Jewish Student Center is very social justice-orientated and we volunteer with different organizations in San Francisco. I was very impacted by all that happened around Hurricane Katrina (I had just arrived in the US) and have organized and taken groups to New Orleans ever since. 

All these experiences produce interesting and fascinating people and conversations – in the writing business, we call this novel fodder.

Has the advent of ebooks changed anything in your writing, getting the book to your readers and the relationship with your readers and fans?

It hasn’t changed how and what I write. An author has a responsibility to write the best book possible. There should be no compromise on quality. As you might read between the lines, as e-book production has become cheaper and more accessible, there are people who are churning out books and not investing in an outside editor or formatter. Even if someone is paying $0.99, they should not be reading a book littered with spelling and grammar mistakes. It is a question of pride in the craft of writing. 

Having said all that, the opportunity to sell books cheaply (book price, delivery, production) means that books can be sold for under $5. This gives the new or struggling author a great opportunity. Who isn’t willing to spend the price of a cappuccino and take a chance on the book by a new author? 

Finally, it puts pressure on the more established authors. John Grisham writes social justice-themed novels. His e-books cost x4 the price of mine. He now has to offer x4 the experience to satisfy our shared target audience. By the way – I love John Grisham’s novels and have all of them on my bookshelf.

Does being from Israel present any unique selling and marketing situation? Do you publish your books in other languages?

Actually I was born and bred in England and my first two novels (A Gardener’s Tale and The Accidental Activist) are situated there. Since a lot of my stories come from personal experiences this has a bigger influence – in fact the protagonist from Unwanted Heroes and the subsequent novels is also British. 

There are scenes that happened to me in Israel. For example, there is a scene in Unwanted Heroes in which a war veteran tells of the time he was in Israel for Soldier’s Remembrance Day and compares it to how we recognize Memorial and Veteran’s Day in the US. 

I have a small following in the UK but I am not aware of other countries. I would love for my books to be translated into Hebrew, for my own satisfaction rather than financial potential. Israel is a very small country and my target audience is probably reading in English anyhow. 

There are apparently two people in Scandinavia who buy all my books. I don’t know them, but definitely appreciate their loyalty!

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Do you belong to any author support groups? Do they help with writing, marketing and the publishing process?

Absolutely. I have facilitated the Berkeley Writer’s Group, a weekly critique group, since 2006 and we learn so much from each other. I have no doubt that my novels are considerably better for the feedback that I receive. 

I am also a member of the California Writer’s Club and attend their monthly meetings. Again, I have the opportunity to network with other writers and accomplished authors. At this club, a small group meets an hour before the regular meetings to discuss marketing. We teach each other different forms and techniques and help each other when people get stuck.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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).

 

 

Other Side of the Street

“Oh you can’t write in more than one genre. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

The man was lecturing me at a recent holiday social event. He is himself an author, not famous, but has several detective novels out. Despite my noble attempts to argue with him, his words have haunted me.

Followers of this blog know that I have three social justice-themed novels published and more on the way. I have written a sequel to Unwanted Heroes and have a framework for a third book involving many of the same characters and also based in San Francisco, the city I find so rich in novel fodder!

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

But I am also excited to be writing Young Adult Epic Fantasy. Over the past three years I have written three novels – a series – and the first was just published with Tourmaline Books. 

While I see a lot in common between epic fantasy and more activist literature, in terms of imbuing certain values, I have to admit that I often feel embarrassed revealing to someone who knows me through my social justice-themed novels and Left Coast Voices that I also write YA epic fantasy.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front Cover

I tried to explain to the man that I maintain separate blogs (elfwriter.com) and twitter accounts (@elfwriter) and that my target audiences for both are very separate – actually I am not the only one who enjoys more than one genre – but he would not hear of it.

I am very proud of my social justice-themed novels. When I give talks I begin by stating that I write novels that highlight social injustices with everyday characters who discover they can help create a better world. 

I am passionate about this and it is what has kept me writing not only the four novels I have completed, but also nearly 800 blog posts in just over two years. I know I am not alone. It is why you read this blog and why I have 19,000 twitter followers.

But I love my epic fantasy books as well. It began as a project together with my sons (I would read a new novel to them on each of our annual summer camping trips. Snuggling in my tent or sitting around the campfire have become definitive memories for all of us. Seeing my eldest cradle the first copy of At The Walls Of Galbrieth with such pride was priceless).

DSCN0193But it has become more than just a family project. As I have met more fantasy fans through the social media I mentioned, I have discovered a rich and wonderfully warm group of people. And if some are a bit quirky, well, I love it.

Writing Young Adult affords an opportunity to share values I believe important with a different age group and if I play a small part in helping create the next generation of book readers, then I am also very proud of my work.

And I will continue to write in both genres for as long as I feel inspired to do so.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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).

 

A Place for Tree Books

My latest novel, Unwanted Heroes, was released in ebook format over Thanksgiving. I was stoked. Readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of the electronic book revolution and my Facebook status lists me in a steady relationship with my kindle. I would, I admit, consider an open relationship but no iPad came down my chimney last month – I really should ask the landlord for a chimney.

When the ebook was released and I alerted the usual suspects, I was surprised at the number of people who responded with: “Let me know when the paperback comes out.” My surprise was because many were people who enthusiastically embrace the tech revolution and could probably download and read a book simultaneously on their phone, tablet, laptop, computer, TV, and by just staring up at the cloud.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

But they choose to hold a ‘real’ book in their hands. They want the feel, the crackle of pages turning (there must be an app for that), the smell of a book (how about an ink-addiction app?). One person told me that, when buying a book by an author that she knows, it doesn’t feel right if she is not holding ‘a real copy’. For authors she doesn’t know personally, she buys ebooks.

Two months ago my family moved house and for a long time there was a great wall of boxes in every room. I realize that the point when I began to feel at home was when I was able to unpack and shelve my books. This was my identity, my stamp on the territory.

On Wednesday, Three Clover Press announced the release of Unwanted Heroes in paperback. So, all you tree book lovers, I would be honored for a place on your bookshelf.

I have also set myself a goal to garner five reviews on Amazon for Unwanted Heroes. If you have read the novel, please consider leaving a review. It is very important to me. Thank you. 

girl-hugging-words1

And just for the record:

Unwanted Heroes brings together an elderly, battle weary Chinese American war vet and an idealistic and somewhat pretentious young Englishmen, who share a love for San Francisco, coffee and wine. They soon discover they share even more when repressed abruptly surface, cementing an unlikely relationship that just might release each from the tragic pasts that bind them.

Set in beautiful San Francisco, this novel is a tribute to the city, its people and those who sacrificed so much to keep it and America free, as seen through the eyes of a young struggling writer from across the Atlantic, who brings more baggage than just his shiny laptop and romantic ideals.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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).

Never-too-late New Year Greeting

I’m still basking in the New Year glow. There is something so hopeful about switching from December to January that every other monthly transition lacks. Maybe this year will be one of peace. Maybe we will discover a cure for cancer. Maybe we can create an environment that is sustainable. Maybe we can help people find a meaningful occupation, true love, safety, hope.

It will happen … One Day…

.. but only when we realize that despite our differences we can only achieve it together.

Happy New Year.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, 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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