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 “commute”

To India and Back Again

In just over two weeks, I will travel with a group of global activists to India to see projects funded by American Jewish World Service and hear the stories of our grantees, their challenges and vision. To help prepare myself, I just finished reading Katherine Boo’s Behind The Beautiful Forevers. I admit I do not often read  non-fiction, but Ms. Boo truly brought the people she followed to life as though they were characters straight from a classic novel. I felt the same regarding setting and even plot (the individuals’ stories). This book has made me reevaluate how I feel about the genre. If you write or read non-fiction, this book is well worth picking up. If you don’t read non-fiction – it is still worth the read and is so accessible in Ms. Boo’s writing. I listened to the audio during my commute and walking my dog – it is a superb rendition.

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Ms. Boo follows the lives of a number of people who live in Annawadi, a makeshift slum that is both side-by-side and overshadowed by beautiful, pristine hotels and the Mumbai international airport, all within a stone’s throw of each other. Their stories reflect everything that seems so wrong in India, but it is told without condescension and judgment. Crime and corruption live alongside hope and the driving desire for dignity. 

The dichotomies are everywhere. As Patralekha Chatterjee shares on DNA India: ”More Indians have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet. Everyone knows that. The issue became a major talking point in 2010 when a report by the Ontario-based UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health pointed out that while India had roughly 366 million people with access to improved sanitation in 2008, a far greater number, 545 million, had cell phones.”

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It is the irony and frustration of a beautiful land and incredible people, more a continent than a country, several nations under one flag and within one border. But everywhere you go, you find a society immersed in a deep history, rich philosophies, and pulsating culture. I spent several months there when I was younger and, in many ways, I never left.

While the memories have faded, the sensory assault dulled, Katherine Boo brought me back to the streets of India, even as I negotiated the BART public transport commute and long walks with my dog along the water looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz . Back in the early 90’s I was a tourist on a spiritual journey to India to find myself. Two decades later, I prepare to return as a global human rights activist, working for a transformational non profit organization, and traveling with inspiring philanthropists driven to help make a better world for those most marginalized.

To read about AJWS work in India, please click here. One of our main projects is the struggle to end child marriage. Despite a law making it illegal, 47% of girls in India are married before they reach 18. 

Shashi Tharoor summed up best what I am feeling: “India shaped my mind, anchored my identity, influenced my beliefs, and made me who I am. … India matters to me and I would like to matter to India.”

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. His latest novel is Sacrificial Flamethe fourth in the series.

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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

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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.

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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).

What Fathers Really Want

I would blog this on Sunday, except everyone is too busy hitting the diner or firing up the grill and anyway I rarely blog on the weekend. Father’s Day has always been a bit anti-climatic for me, coming a few days after my birthday. Given our family’s busy schedule, we tend to spread birthdays over a few days (okay weeks).

imgresI saw an advertisement for Father’s Day on Amazon. They suggested you show your undying appreciation by buying your old man either a green-striped necktie or an HD Kindle Fire. I keep thinking about this. My kids have never bought me a tie for Father’s Day, and it had better be darn special if they ever do!

Now I often wear a  tie for work: anything from a power tie (usually striped) to a Jerry Garcia masterpiece (if I can get away with it). It infers a sense of confidence and raises my self-esteem – call me shallow, but I raise money for good causes and believe I am empowering the next generation to be socially conscious. Whatever it takes!

images-5But what does the tie signify? No, not incarceration, but time in the office … away from my family – the opposite of Fathers Day!

So then I started to think about the Kindle Fire. I don’t need one. I watch movies on a TV, read my books comfortably on my old black-and-white kindle, listen to music on my phone or iPod, and type my novels on a laptop. Life is tough!

Offering me another toy that can keep me engaged with social media, TV shows, connected to the office is exactly what I don’t need. And if I do – I will buy it myself.

What I, and most fathers (moms too – but you’ve had your day) need is time: time to unwind, time to pursue hobbies and good health, and most of all, time to spend with my family. No man on his deathbed ever regretted not spending more time at the office. No man in his memoir ever mused that his commute was only three hours a day.

traffic-jamSo what do I want for Father’s Day? I want to go fishing with my kids, take the family into the Redwoods and hike, picnic, and do some archery together. Perhaps we can tickle-fight on the bed or snuggle on the couch and watch another episode of Big Bang Theory even if we’ve seen it a dozen times and know the punch-lines by heart. Better yet, Lord of the Rings for the 100-th time. It doesn’t matter, as long as we are doing it together.

DSCN0951Because what a father really lacks … is time. Quality time with his family, before they grow up and move away and become adults in their own world. It’s not about the money spent, the thought that went into clicking the mouse to purchase a gift, or the wrapping. And this is a problem for Amazon and other retailers:

You can’t sell time. If you could: you wouldn’t need to sell ties and kindles for Father’s Day.

rememberingdad

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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 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.

 

Reacquainting With Old Friends

Last month, Three Clover Press, sent me the galley proofs for Unwanted Heroes. I was instructed to carefully read through the manuscript and pick out any light changes: spelling, grammar, word choice, etc.

Reading a Galley Proof is like preparing your kid for college (admittedly, I haven’t done this, but I do work with university students – bear with me). It is a last chance to make sure everything is as you want it to be before you send them out into the big, wide world. You want to make sure they have everything they need, are prepared for every scenario they might face. It is the same with a book – a last chance to get everything right.

Well over a year has passed since I last read through the manuscript. The novel was written a couple of years before that and since then, I have written four other manuscripts. 

I have moved on, right? Wrong.

Over the next two weeks, I did not expect to feel the emotional rollercoaster that played out. Of course, I remembered the plot. There are sensitive scenes that I have read, edited, reread, and reedited, a dozen times … but that was back then.

So why am I getting teary-eyed as I read them again now? Why do I find myself rooting for the characters that I got so close to back then? Admittedly, my relationship with these characters continued into the sequel that I wrote last year, and into the notes I have made for the third in the series both of which are also emotional roller coasters. 

When I am writing a novel, I become very close to the characters. They accompany me on my commute, in the gym, and I often dream about them at night. I worry for them, get frustrated with them, and just between us, I often argue with them.

I would like to tell you that I have control of these characters. What I type onto the computer decides their actions, attitudes, and destiny. But they, and I, know this is only partially true. They are part of the creation, part of the process, and an integral part in how the plot plays out.

Many writers claim that the plot defines the characters. That has always puzzled me and, I suspect, leads to either shallow characters or obvious stereotypes. The reader invests in characters. Given we all crave a twist or two at the end of the book, it is for the protagonist that we root, and our commitment to him/her is what sends us scurrying to buy the next book in the series.

This is why reading a galley proof is so much more than scanning for errors or word choices. It is reacquaintance with old friends: people with whom we shared so much: people with whom we laughed, loved, and cried. My characters stepped outside their comfort zone to try and create a better world, and for whom we, the reader and author, bear witness.

It is so much more than scanning pages of words.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. His next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is due out in early 2013. 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).

 

Socially Responsible Investing – 1

In my novel, The Accidental Activist, there is a scene when the protagonist upset by the sheer power of the multinational glares at commuters on the train and “silently challenges their portfolios.”

This scene led me to begin researching socially responsible investing. Can those of us with disposable income make a difference through the ways we invest? Are we culpurable for the environmental damage and human rights abuses of companies from whom we enjoy dividends?

Over the next few days I want to examine this idea. Here is a short kick-off, a short introduction from Stephen Whipp, who brings 30 years of experience with him.

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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/

Stephen King just told me off!

Stephen King just told me off!

He did! There I was sitting in my car, coffee perched next to me as I negotiated the commute from SF State back to the East Bay, and Stephen said there are only two things a serious writer needs to concern himself with: writing and reading.

He then went on to tell me that if I succumb to watching TV every night, in my case, Star Trek or Seinfeld reruns, or The Daily Show, instead of either refining my own craft by writing or learning from those who have mastered it by reading, I am not being serious about being a writer.

He dismissed my claims that I don’t have time (hey, I get up at 6am to hit the gym and get to the office by 9am … and, and the kids go to bed at 9pm … and, and I need to sleep a good six hours … and, and, and …)

He then embarrassed me by discussing a number of great novels that all fiction writers should read. I hadn’t read any of them, and I couldn’t even write them down as I was driving.

I should have seen it coming. I know Stephen King very well, though I’ve never met him. I listen to On Writing every year. I’ve read the paper version, though nothing beats hearing the master telling it in his own uncompromising dialect.

Worst of all is that I know he is right. I know that I need to read. Whenever I share my work with others, they often ask if I’ve read such and such, and I invariably haven’t.

But I will. In fact, last night I went to bed at 11pm and read for half an hour. At least, I think I did. I fell asleep at some point … and when I woke in the morning and got back in the car, Stephen King was waiting for me. He talked about other things, but somehow, I am sure he knew.

Oh by the way, if you haven’t already read it and wanna be a writer, do check out On Writing by Stephen King, book or audio. And yes, I’ve read it, a couple of times!

Good Writing
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

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