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 tag “Book Award”

Possessed By The Muse

After last week’s Eat, Pray, Love, Write post, I realized I had written something similar a while ago. It does suggest a (pathological) pattern, but the first step to healing is to recognize the problem and share with a few hundred on-line friends. No, don’t worry, I’m not subconsciously crying out for an intervention – I have too many stories to write!. Here is the earlier post: 

The scene might be the same in any house mid-week, early evening.

Your partner is rushing to make dinner, still in his/her office clothes. Ten- year-old son is irritable, primarily because he prefers to play wall ball than eat his lunch at um … lunch break…and is now grumpy and starving. He has even pointed out that the First Lady wants him to exercise more (you just lost my vote in 2020 Ms. Obama! Tell him to eat that sandwich we made him). Older son is drowning in homework and needs help. Unfortunately it is not math where he ends up explaining it to a perplexed calculator-wielding father – it is English and father is the fastest typist in the house.

imagesFrom deep within this maelstrom, hassled wife turns around from steaming cooking pots and sees an unset, messy dinner table, a swivel chair, and a writer’s desk. The writer, sitting in said chair, is distinctly facing the wrong direction, pounding his keyboard with a vengeance that clearly indicates he is not helping older son with homework.

Suddenly, she can’t help herself. Forgetting the wooden spoon in her hand (writers notice these details especially when the spoon is being flailed in said writer’s direction), she towers over the writer, hands on hips:

“You’re writing? Now? Man, you’re just possessed!”

When my extremely patient and understanding wife flips out with something like this, it does makes one ponder the extremity of the situation.

The problem is that after a stressful few months, I had a week off over the Christmas break, and kind angels put up our family in beautiful, snowbound Tahoe, 10,000 feet high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Already on crutches from a knee operation, I was never going to cut the crisp, fresh snow on virgin slopes (I don’t even when not on crutches – at best I tumble down a 100 feet nursery slope, make sure there are photos, and then slink off for laced hot chocolate).

images-1But here, if only for a few days, I couldn’t help myself. The laptop comes on and a few snow-bound scenes of a new book somehow appear.

Possessed? Moi? Five months and 103.000 words later, despite an intense period at work and many other obligations, I type the final period, click the save command, and stare at the epilogue. Rough first draft of Wycaan Master Book 4 is completed.

Written mainly between 7.00-8.45 am and after the boys go to bed on weekdays, and a couple of hours on the weekend, or random pieces written during odd times. Waiting at the dentist, on the mass-transit BART commuting home, in San Francisco, Washington DC, Ventura, St. Louis, San Diego, and at too many airports.

images-3Possessed? Nah. Possessed would be finishing Book 4 and starting to write scenes of Book 5. Possessed. Out-of-control. Crazy.

I just wrote a few pages, mainly plot threads that I want to develop, characters that need to grow and confront their pasts. There is a bit of world-building with oceans and…

Starting Book Five might just be considered grounds for divorce, need to involve Family and Children Services, or a good psychologist (preferably one who is as much a fan of Tolkien as of Freud). 

Starting Book Five? “Now? Man, you’re just possessed!”

Fair point.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

The Growing Power of the Ebook

My teenage son asked me to download the latest book from his favorite author. He was excited having seen an email that Amazon.com were kind enough to send him announcing the new book. My son is a voracious reader and I am extremely happy about that. He has a kindle and he is not afraid to use it.

I glanced and said no. “Why?

My first objection was that the ebook was $10, a price that I consider ridiculous for an ebook. “I’ll pay half,” he responded. That always gets me that he is willing to invest his paltry wealth into a book. He also knows that gets me.

I change track and suggest he orders it from the public library. His eyes roll as I begin a favorite lecture which can be summed up by: I pay for that library (a brilliant institution, by the way) with my taxes, so we should use it. He reminds me that last time I told him to do that, he was wait-listed for three months before I gave in and downloaded the book for him. “Oh,” he adds. “How long did you wait for that new John Grisham you are listening to?

I wince. I have complained for half a year as I waited for The Racketeer.

Finally, as I desperately stare at the Amazon.com advert, I realize this is a pre-launch announcement and the book isn’t due out for a few months. I sigh with relief. I have not won the battle, only deferred it. 

6181_636979412997595_972549_n

The argument rages on: Ebooks .v.Tree Books. I have a kindle as does my eldest, and my youngest can use my phone. Mrs. Blog has snapped a picture of the three of us taking a break from ‘screen time’ to read, and are each absorbed in whatever is on our kindle or phone.

In the past, I have talked about the environmental advantages of the ebook, but my children’s generation will add two factors to the argument that were probably not considerations when ebook technology was being designed:

1) It is instant, as are most things for these young people.

2) It is connected to the bigger information highway that is an integral part of their lives.

1011918_637113489650854_1069644331_n

I have been reading and enjoying a how-to book – The Kindle Publishing Bible by an Internet entrepreneur, Tom Corson-Knowles. Tom (May I call you Tom? I feel I know you so well after reading this book) provides very clear instructions and methodology. He enhances this by providing links to examples and further information. Most impressive, he can update something that changes on a webpage and I can receive the most up-to-date data and developments.

I found this added aspect really exciting, but then I am only a year shy of fifty. My sons will take this service for granted…they probably already do.

But there is still that magic of holding a book, gazing at the cover, smelling the musty scent, and hearing the crackle of pages. While recently on vacation, I bought a few hardcovers from a used bookstore. I have read them all and my son was puzzled why I would buy them. They are great books and I want them to adorn my bookshelf and I want to be able to lend them to friends.

 1016630_636769779685225_2071808959_n

The advantages of ebooks are obvious, their market penetration destined. This is good for the planet, for the increasingly smaller spaces we live in and the need to be on the move and not be laden with heavy tomes, and probably good for the author. My epic fantasy series has been consistently selling more ebooks than tree books.  Moreover, it just fits so seamlessly into the lifestyle that will be prevalent for my children.

I can just imagine them one day, holding their own children’s little hands and staring at my bookcase. “Yes, Grandpa actually read those tree book things, even though he loved the trees. You know he used to make me read them, and often wait months to receive them, even when I could have simply downloaded a book with a click!

The other advantage for the reader is the far more affordable price of a book, often tempting us to try a new author for less than the price of a cappuccino. This might be a good time to share that to celebrate the release of my next Wycaan Master book, Ashbar, my publisher has decided to lower the ebook price of At The Walls Of Galbrieth to $0.99 (see my very different attitude here as the author!) for the month of August.

—————————————————————————————————–

Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

Changing the World

I am feeling emotionally tired bouncing from one political cause to another. There is simply too much to do to fix our world. There are amazing organizations that work for solutions whether globally or locally…and they are all worthy of my time, attention and dollars.

I am aware that many political activists suffer burnout and seem to get excited once every four years at best. I used to be critical of them, but I am beginning to understand where they are coming from. I will be fifty next year and though there are ten months to go, I’m already taking it hard. I went to my first political rally when I was eleven and never looked back. But I am having a hard time when I look at my dear children and the wonderful students I work with, wondering what I have achieved to make this world a better place for them.

images-3

I lost my political virginity campaigning for a political prisoner who walked from 25+ years in jail to lead his nation to a democratic and non-racist society. He dismantled the worst racist societal framework in my lifetime and did so with as little violence as possible. As I write this, he lies in hospital on life-support and I am profoundly sad. I had a pencil case at school with a sticker Free Nelson Mandela on it and when the teacher told me that I could only display a political sticker if I explained to the class who Mandela is, I stood and made my first political speech.

nelson-mandela-in-prison

I would like to compile a series of blog posts that each relates to a particular action that will have a profound impact on the world or at least the society we live in. I can only think of a couple so I am turning to you for help.

Think of an action that can have serious impact and let me know in the comments and maybe I, Tom or Roger, might take it on. If you would like to compile it into a 400-600 article, you are invited to guest post it here on Left Coast Voices. Let me know at alshalev at yahoo dot com. I’m happy to edit, provide the pictures etc.

There is a famous Jewish proverb (Rabbi Tarfon I believe): You are not obligated to finish the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.

—————————————————————————————————–

Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

When Does A Whistleblower Cross The Line?

I’m feeling rather confused about whistle blowing. The premise of The Accidental Activist was the abuse by large multinational corporations of individuals and their rights. My politics are generally left-wing – I’m sure you haven’t noticed from this blog – and I feel I should be siding with those who purport for freedom from surveillance, but when it comes to national security, my politics shift…sometimes dramatically.

The question for me with regards to the actions of both Bradley Manning and Edward Snowdon revolves around three questions:

1.  Was US national security breached?

2.  Were men and women risking their lives for our protection compromised?

3.  Will our ability to utilize various systems of intelligence be closed to us because those willing to help us cannot trust our government agencies to control the information and sources?

imgres-1If any of the above leads to the death of one innocent individual, much less the failure to prevent a terrorist attack, then the actions of Manning and Snowdon are inexcusable. It is, I believe, not clear whether Snowdon crossed this line.

The definition of whistleblower is a person who tells the public or someone in authority about alleged dishonest or illegal activities (misconduct) occurring in a government department or private company or organization. 

The image portrays a hero/ine who is willing to stand up when they see an injustice, knowing that they might face repercussions from that oft-powerful business or organization. In fact, the US Government put laws in place to protect whistleblowers, as early as 1863 to expose suppliers who were fraudulent during the Civil War. The Act even goes so far as to offer incentives such as a percentage of any money recovered or damages won in court. The act also protects them from wrongful dismissal. 

whistleblower-cliffIt all sounds great until we get to issues of national security. I suspect we will never know the extent of many of these secrets or the implications. I read that, after Mannings’ leaks, an entire ring of Afghan informers and their families were taken out of Afghanistan for their own safety. Beyond the upheaval of those families, US forces were left more exposed to potential and life-threatening ambushes. How desperate must someone be to step in as an informer under those circumstances?

I have no doubt that our intelligence agencies do a lot of bad stuff to protect our freedom. I am sure they bend the rules and sometimes cross the lines. But the reality is that it is a rough world out there and when you enter the realm of religious or political extremism, and face up against people willing to kill thousands of people in an indiscriminate fashion, then you have to decide what values you prioritize, and I put the lives of freedom-loving people first.

For several months I boarded public buses in Israel knowing that there were daily attempts to blow up these buses. I did it, not because I was a hero, but because I had no choice.

images-4I treasure freedom and democracy and I believe that all who choose to live in such a society have the right to do so, without fear. If the price is that someone occasionally taps my communications because I have a foreign name, I can live with it.

Note to NSA: 80% of the websites I go into refer to Arsenal – they are my soccer team back in the UK and have no connections to munitions. When I comment that we need someone who can shoot straight, I mean with an inflated round piece of leather. I hope I have saved you considerable time with this revelation.

A final question to Edward Snowdon: If you leaked all this information in the name of democracy and freedom, because you feared America was becoming a surveillance state, why did you flee to a Chinese colony, where security cameras abound and people regularly checked for what they read, surf and write?

If you have any free time while in China, perhaps you could speak out to help free Shi Tao – he was, I guess, also a whistleblower 

—————————————————————————————————–

Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

Love Your Mum, Love Your Editor

I’ve become one of those people and I’m feeling ashamed of it. You know the type I’m talking about – the people who read your book and proactively looking for errors – grammatical, spelling, and especially plot. They get more excited discovering a mistake than at a plot twist. Okay, I have not fallen that far, but I am noticing mistakes and if there are too many, it becomes very off-putting.

Now let me make it perfectly clear: I have made all these mistakes…frequently. Thankfully my writer’s group or my awesome editor usually catches them. Here are a couple of examples:

In At The Walls Of Galbrieth – Seanchai and Ilana rode their horses into a closed desert enclave, met and fought some bad guys and walked out. Luckily, one of my writer’s group suggested they take their horses with them because they are in the wilderness!

I have had characters walk into a one-story building and climb stairs, and in Unwanted Heroes spent over a page talking about the pastry crumbs in Salvador’s beard – it was later cut to one line.

I have written and self-edited nine manuscripts, with six eventually published. It would not occur to me to publish a book without a professional eye scrutinizing every line. I am grateful for the people who email me when they find a mistake in one of my novels and I diligently write it down for a future revision. But I confess, it hurts when they find it. We want our novels to be perfect – if we didn’t, it would be a serious flaw in our motivation for publishing. 

imgresI am close to finishing reviewing my editor’s work on Ashbar. As with the previous two epic fantasy novels, she has cut over 10% of the manuscript. Given that my own rounds of revisions did something similar, I am still always surprised. But the manuscript reads, without a doubt, tighter and more fluent for her work.

I came across an article by Dick Margulis entitled The Editor–Author Relationship: Five Reasons Why Self-Publishing Authors Need An Editor. I was more interested in the relationship side, but Margulis focused on the latter part – fair game considering he is an editor.

You can check out his article for yourself if you need convincing your work needs an editor. I am always surprised when people present at our writer’s group and preempt by telling us that their work is finished and sent to their publisher. I just know the group are going to find a dozen errors and will show no mercy pointing it out.

I think the relationship between author and editor is fascinating. I have never met Monica Buntin, my editor for the Wycaan Master series. But I feel we have a close, sensitive, professional relationship, and yet we could be sitting at adjacent tables in a coffee shop and never know (oh no, the woman next to me has caught me staring – she will never believe my reason!).

imagesBut we have created an understanding whereby she feels comfortable to be critical and I am willing to hear what she says (it helps that she is 95% right). I can email short questions and she send back a succinct answer while inviting me to ask if what she wrote is not clear. 

I have no idea if she enjoys my novels, but I have no doubt she is totally invested in my novels being as perfect as possible. I hear from so many friends, writers and editors, how this relationship is riddled with tension, how the writer feels the editor is rushing through, how the editor is too burned out to mention a flaw knowing the writer will just become defensive. 

girl-hugging-words1

I believe I have the perfect relationship with my editor and that can only mean a better, more fluid final manuscript. Perhaps it is better that we never meet and never invest anything personal in the relationship. It might be better if the woman at the next table was not my editor. Still…she has a dictionary on the table next to her latte.

—————————————————————————————————–

Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

Corina Vacco – Social Activist and YA Award Winning Novelist

I write because I believe fiction can be a vehicle for social change. I believe when the reader becomes emotionally engaged with a character, they too are moved to action. I met Corina Vacco when she joined the Berkeley Writer’s Group, and laughed at what I first thought, was a cool but whimsical YA novel with outrageous characters and wickedly sharp dialogue.

corina headshot

But Vacco uses her humor and excellent writing to fight for something she passionately believes in: our children deserve to grow up in a clean world as a foundation to each realizing his/her own potential. I can think of nothing more inspiring than empowering the next generation to action – and to do it reading and laughing is a powerful combination.

MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN, an award winning YA novel will be released by Random House, on June 11 and has been called THE OUTSIDERS of our generation. Vacco calls it “my love letter to a cleaner world, and my hope is that it will raise awareness of the growing problem of toxic towns and the lingering effects decades-old pollution can have on our present-day environment.”

Read her inspiring story below and, if you live in the Bay Area, join me at her book launch at Books Inc., Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness, San Francisco at 7:00 PM on June 11 (appropriately situated opposite City Hall!).

Corina book cover

=============================

Culture shock ensued when the Coast Guard moved our family from the sun-kissed beaches of Miami to the cold, polluted city of Buffalo. It’s not easy to switch gears from palm trees to smokestacks, from saltwater air to the nostril-burning smell of a local asphalt plant, and this is especially true when you’re an environmental activist.

I had a cursory knowledge of Western New York’s pollution history. I knew of the Love Canal disaster—an elementary school and hundreds of homes were built atop 21,000 tons of toxic waste that later oozed into basements and triggered serious illness, along with forced evacuations. I also knew Rust Belt steel workers had unknowingly rolled uranium for the Manhattan Project during WWII, and that the corresponding uranium waste had ended up in landfills throughout the Buffalo-Niagara region. I was scared to live in such a place. Alright, perhaps a better word is terrified.

No sooner had I unpacked than I joined the fight against a contaminated landfill adjacent to a school and playground. Residents whose backyards blended into the landfill’s slopes had received official letters telling them not to eat vegetables out of their gardens. Unfortunately, the town meetings and public comment periods were nothing but thinly-veiled smack-downs of the residents who dared voice concerns. Panels of industry “scientists” and a smug, highly-decorated Army Corps of Engineers representative in full uniform stood at the front of the auditorium and admitted that yes, hundreds of contaminants were leaching into the local groundwater, but don’t you know each dangerous ingredient fell within acceptable limits? Of course, no one had even begun to test the effects of the entire cocktail of contaminants on each genetically-unique individual in the room, but it didn’t matter. The panel of “scientists” was absolutely certain there was no hazard, and a decision was made to leave the landfill alone. The residents, who obviously could not sell their homes, were told to go back to their lives and “just relax”.

I lived in Buffalo’s art district, far away from this plagued town and its infamous landfill. I should’ve been able to rest easy. But as it turns out, activists can never really rest easy. Not in this world. I was devastated when I heard the landfill would not be remediated.

One of my good friends lived a literal stone’s throw from the landfill and invited me on a toxic tour of her neighborhood. We visited defunct factories, a radioactive creek, and the boarded-up homes of Love Canal. She then introduced me to her husband, and they told stories about growing up amid such intense pollution. They recalled splashing in puddles the color of anti-freeze, riding their bikes down the landfill’s slopes, and breaking into contaminated factories. I was moved by these accounts, how a world so foreign to me, so repulsive, could be viewed with…nostalgia. They weren’t ashamed of their neighborhood. They didn’t want to flee. They wanted the pollution cleaned up so they could stay. Imagine that.

I wrote the first outline of MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN in my car, parked at the foot of an ominous, snow-covered landfill. There, with my window cracked so I could breathe the industrial air, I had long conversations with an angry boy who’d suddenly taken up residence inside my head. I asked him all sorts of questions: What is it like to live near one of the most poisonous landfills in the world? Why do you and your friends break into the abandoned factories when you know it’s dangerous? Are you furious about what happened to your father? And my protagonist said, “I have a story to tell you. It’s about revenge.”

MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN (Random House, June 2013) went on to win the Delacorte Prize for a First YA Novel, and has been called THE OUTSIDERS of our generation. It is my love letter to a cleaner world, and my hope is that it will raise awareness of the growing problem of toxic towns and the lingering effects decades-old pollution can have on our present-day environment. Please visit me at www.corinavacco.com.

—————————————————————————————————–

Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: