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 “Christopher Paolini”

Can Fantasy Be A Vehicle For Social Change?

I believe passionately that writers of fiction can ply their craft to help effect positive social change and offer a platform for values and principles. The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale both reflect this and I have a series of books focusing on social issues in the US (all based in San Francisco) beginning with Unwanted Heroes which will be released by Three Clover Press later this year and highlight the way we treat war veterans and the homeless.

I was delighted when Kaitlyn Cole from Online Universities shared a list that their faculty had put together entitled: 50 Best Novels For Political Junkies.

Kaitlyn wrote: “True story: Some of the best political novels aren’t explicitly about politics. Yes, some of the books on this list deal directly with governments and politicians, with laws and the ways they’re made or abused, and with the peril and promise inherent in every governing body. But some of them use adventure, parable, or satire to subtly explore our political system with a depth that wouldn’t be possible any other way.”

Great point and relevant to those of us who write political fiction. But how about fantasy? Is there room to use our elves and dwarves to promote social injustices or causes? 

Over the last three summers I was blessed with the amazing experience of writing three fantasy novels together with now 13-year-old son. While I have read a few fantasy novels, I had no idea about the “rules” of the genre.

Writing with my son, however, compelled me to include moral issues such as racism, dictatorship and freedom, as well as the values of friendship and inclusiveness. I was writing for my son and there are plenty of swords, quests, elves, dwarves etc., but as I watched him read and listened to his feedback, I waited for his comments about such issues and derived huge satisfaction when he brought up issues.

In setting my goals for an exercise at Author Salon, I wrote:

“I have seen the impact of the Harry Potter series and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series on my son and his friends. I want to help shape the landscape of the next generation’s imagination and maybe even the society they strive to create.”

 My lack of knowledge regarding fantasy leads me to ask the question: Can fantasy offer a vehicle to discuss political and social injustice? I would love to hear your answers.

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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).

A Good Leader is A Good Reader

The problem with writing blog posts in advance is that they run the danger of being out-of-date before tehy are published. I wrote this post two weeks ago and since then, Herman Cain has resigned. I decided to keep the post because, amidst the sex scandals, something very important surfaced and needs to be processed.I have left the post intact because when I began to edit it to being in retrospect, it lost the anger that I felt. I hope this doesn’t prevent the point being made.

I’m somewhat surprised by the Republican debates. Blame it on the TV coverage, or the fact that they are facing a standing President who, despite struggling to see his agenda through to practical fruition, is still extremely impressive, but how are the Republicans allowing certain candidates to still be in the running?

When do people start losing in this game of Musical Chairs?

More specifically, how are they allowing Herman Cain to stay in the running? If it is really about the money, who is willing to stand up and admit to investing millions in this man, or at least to continue to invest their money in him.

The sexual allegations are of course the most shocking. If this man is being totally set up and framed, let’s expose those behind it and send them to jail where they belong. If the answer is anything but this, why on earth is Herman Cain still running?

I have no doubt that Mr. Cain is a keen and astute businessman. We need such people helping to set our economy right. But the seat of the Presidency requires a lot more.

Mr. Cain’s lack of grasp on foreign policy is stunning. Libya? Really?

But it is with somewhat mixed emotions that I discovered that Mr. Cain and I have something in common. We both love The Simpsons. I also quote from the show, Mr. Cain, but I’m not sure I would if I was a presidential candidate.

I love that scene from 2007’s “The Simpsons Movie” when Arnold Schwarzenegger who is the movie’s President of the United States has to make a critical decision. His aids offer him several options and he immediately picks one without reading the briefs. The character of Schwarzenegger when asked why he doesn’t read the options replies: “I was elected to lead, not to read.”

He does encourage people to read his own book.

In a recent post, The Power of Paolini, I shared my gratitude to J.K. Rowling and Christopher Paolini, for turning my son and his generation onto reading through their respective Harry Potter and Eragon series. I want a President who can inspire the nation, a President who can make educated decisions, and a President who considers  all the options.

Never go anywhere without your nuclear launch codes and a good book.

Perhaps if we lived in a country that read, if we were a nation who stayed informed, we would not have allowed ourselves to dig such a deep hole that we now have to climb out of.

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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).

Not My Fault

On Saturday, I made my debut appearance at a Borders bookstore. I was part of a panel of local authors featuring JoAnn Smith Ainsworth, Karin Ireland, and Christine London.

On Monday, Borders filed for bankruptcy. I have been assured that nothing I said on Saturday precipitated the decline of this multinational company despite the content of my books.

Truth is, although I am first and foremost a supporter of the independent bookstores, I have an admiration for Borders and Barnes & Noble. I enjoy spending time in their stores perusing and drinking coffee and writing.

Most importantly however, I feel for the people who work at these stores. Sure, they are there for the money, but they love working around books. They love the excitement of the public when a new Harry Potter comes out. When they hit the job market, they most probably won’t be able to stay in the book industry. Around 200 Borders are slated to close.

This isn’t the time to theorize about the advent of the e-book, or the archaic business principles of the industry. Neither is it the time to explain why, as a not-yet-on-the-A-list of authors, it doesn’t make business sense to expect to sell your book when it sits on a shelf alongside 100,000 other books.

Right now, I am feeling for those who work at Borders, who kept the place clean and orderly, who help you find a book. When Christopher Paolini released the third of his 4-book trilogy, my then 10-year-old stood defiantly at the front of the line in our local Borders, falling asleep on his feet literally as the clock approached midnight. I remember the lady who was working there, encouraging him to stay awake and hang in there. At exactly midnight, she put a copy that she had hidden under the counter into his hand and whispered that he should buy that very copy. It was the only book in the store that Christopher Paolini had personally signed.


Five minutes later, my son was fast asleep in the car clutching his autographed copy by his hero who was barely ten years older than him. Two years later, my son and I wrote a 90,000-word fantasy novel. The seed might not have been sown in Borders that night, but I have no doubt it was well-watered and nurtured.

To that lady and others who may well lose their job – Thank you. I hope you find something fast to help you on your 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 http://www.alonshalev.com/

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