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 “Eric Hoffer Book Award”

Wake Up!

Today is Yom Kippur, possibly the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. But there is a clear message for all peoples.

Over the 10 Days of Repentance (and sometimes for the whole month preceding), Jews close their eyes and blow the Shofar, the ram’s horn. The ram’s horn comes from the Biblical story – the Akedah – where Abraham almost sacrifices his son, Isaac, to show his utter faith in Gd.  

During this intense period of retrospection, Jews are commanded to judge themselves and their actions, to make amends to both their fellow humans and Gd, and to commit to leading a better life.

The ram’s horn wakes us from our complacency and pushes us to step outside our comfort zone. This is a universal message. We are destroying the earth, using chemicals on fellow humans, allowing children to go to be hungry, women in fear for their safety, and people denied basic rights.

Take a moment and listen to the shofar (ram’s horn) being blown around the world (from Africa in this case) and wake up!

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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).

A Year of Peace

Tonight Jews all over the world will come together to welcome in our new year – Rosh Hashanah. It is a sweet occasion and we eat apples and honey to celebrate. But Rosh Hashanah is also the start of 10 days of introspection that culminate in Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and supplication that climaxes with the final blow of the Shofar, the ram’s horn, that signifies the closing of the gates of Heaven.

Zelig Golden of Wilderness Torah

Zelig Golden of Wilderness Torah

There are three levels of sins and forgiveness: the sins against G-d, those against our fellow humans, and those against the world.

Heavy stuff, but it is a great time for some soul-searching and an opportunity to mend bridges with people we care about. But what I love about this period is that, no matter how badly you have sinned against G-d, if you are genuine in your repentance, then you get a clean slate to start the new year.

However, you cannot ask G-d’s forgiveness for sins against your fellow men and women. Only the person you have wronged can forgive you and you need to approach them with a genuine desire to confess and be forgiven – tweets don’t count.

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Finally, a person cannot find peace with G-d unless it is found with our fellow humans, and peace cannot be attained within, unless there is peace in the world. There is something very humbling and holistic here. Above all, it is something very powerful.

There is so much to learn from this period of time. But it is also a time to simply celebrate life and our relationship with one another. Michelle Citrin, a great singer, sums it up in her song: Gotta Love Rosh Hashanah

Wishing all my Jewish friends a Shana Tova, and to everyone a year of health, happiness and peace.

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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).

Universal Healthcare – It Baffles Me

This is the third post in a series of fundamental changes we can and should make to have a lasting effect on our society. Last week I covered gun control and made many friends in the past week from the NRA. Now I want to turn my attention to healthcare.

I was born and bred in England, so please excuse me. You enjoy Downton Abbey, The Beatles, and got excited over young Prince George of Cambridge, so don’t pretend we don’t know what we’re doing.

images-3There seems to me that there are certain entitlements if you play the game. By playing the game, I mean work, pay your taxes, and don’t break the laws. In return, your country protects you from foreign invaders who want the rights to Downton Abbey and free season tickets to Manchester United games, give you a sound education so that you can step up in life, and take care of you when you are sick.

The protection and health care are part of what you invest in a social infrastructure as part of paying your taxes. Your soccer tickets are your own problem, but life isn’t perfect. As much as we complain about the National Health System (NHS), and it is far from perfect, there is no such thing as a person going without medical treatment, or losing all their savings to help a family member receive the treatment they need to stay alive.

How is this possible if Brits don’t pay more taxes than Americans? The answer is that the pharmaceutical companies and the medical supplies companies don’t make the astounding profits that are made in this country.

images-4It is greed that is preventing good-standing Americans from receiving what is theirs. Every American is entitled to access to healthcare. It baffles me how this is not accepted. There is no family in America (correct me if I’m wrong) wherein every family member is perfectly healthy and has no need of medical help.

It is a universal need and should therefore be universally accessible.

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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.

Eat, Pray, Love, Write.

This week I received the galley proofs for Ashbar, the third book in the Wycaan Master series. I recall, when I first held a copy of The First Decree, writing that I hope this special feeling never grows old. The process for writing a book, from tentatively typing the word Prologue to holding a copy of a book is long and arduous.

Ashbar front coverIt is also an integrated part of a multi-book process. The previous book is still being marketed, the next book being written, and sometimes there is a sense of never-ending cycle. This is good and how it should be. I can only imagine that the alternative is far more disconcerting – no new story, no end product. But it sometimes feels like I am pounding the treadmill and the clock is not moving as fast as I want it.

I decided to take a break this summer, once Ashbar had been submitted. I did read my first draft of Book 4 to my sons , but I otherwise planned not to write. I cut down on blog posts and thought I would give the creative and marketing sides a rejuvenating rest.

imgres-2Two things prevented this. First, I am not a recognized author who can yet rely on the market to sell my books. Blog posts, twitter, the invaluable interactions with those who are following my process and reading my books, are what spur book sales. George R.R. Martin and Terry Brooks might be able to take a break, but not those of us further down the ladder.

The second reason came out of a bike ride with my youngest. We were riding round a lake and I was looking for a kingfisher that used to hang out here. My 10-year-old was soon postulating a series of ever more fantastical scenarios of how the kingfisher got its name.

Having not yet gone on our camping trip, he was eagerly anticipating our annual ritual when I would read them the next book in the Wycaan Master series. He decided that this bird, of course fast, agile and very wise, was a fisher of kings, one who went from kingdom to kingdom and advised the rulers.

I half listened, half looked for the darn bird, and without realizing it, allowed my son to plant some seeds. So, with some planned downtime not writing, I found myself seated at my computer, furiously typing some notes that soon became almost 25,000 words of a start to something new, still fantasy, but different.

images-1This is more Game of Thrones than Lord of the Rings. There are certainly chapters too violent, or with sex or swearing, that I would not read to my sons, but it was relaxing to take a break from writing the series that has occupied me for the past four years and … well, keep writing.

I have no idea if this story is any good. I have not even stopped to read it myself. But it is ironic how I seem to define a break, a period of rejuvenation, as an opportunity to write something new. When you have been working out on a regular basis it is difficult to just stop. I imagine when you follow a religious or spiritual regime, or a diet perhaps, it is hard to just cease.

I’m not sure if writing something else is a smart way to recharge my batteries. But summer is over, there are galleys to proofread, book 3 to launch, the manuscript of book 4 to start editing, and nearer the end of the year, book 5 to start writing.

The cycle continues. I hope there is a steadily growing audience who are concerned and invested in my characters and await each new book in the series. There are certainly two appreciative young men who have high expectations of their father. Who needs to recharge batteries?

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

Gun Control: Let’s Agree On The Basics

Two weeks ago, I said I would start a series of posts that focus on real game-changers for our society. I feel we (probably – I) bounce around from one good cause or organization to another, and I’m feeling the burnout. Last week, I suggested raising gas prices to $10 a gallon – not my most popular post, but one that hit a nerve. Heck! I never said any of this would be easy.

imgresMy second post in the series isn’t going to garner much more support. I want to focus on gun control. My post begins with a number of consensus-building points. You might not agree with it, but you should be able to live with it.

1. People have a right to possess a secured firearm in their home to protect themselves and their families.

2. No one, except law enforcement, should be allowed to walk around the streets with a loaded firearm.

3. Not everyone should be allowed to buy a gun. There should be serious background checks, which is the responsibility of the local government, and a gun seller is accountable if s/he did not follow through with the appropriate checks.

It is my understanding that this is generally accepted, even within the NRA membership.

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–       The majority of NRA members do not want a heavily armed, troubled individual anywhere near their schools, universities, or politicians.

–       The majority of NRA members do not seriously believe they need to stockpile guns to protect themselves from a politically extreme government.

–       The majority of NRA members believe our police should not have to face armed criminals.

This would not solve all the issues surrounding gun control, but it would go a long way to making our country a safer place. Is it really so simple? Or only in the wake of another public shooting?

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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.

$10 a Gallon

Before the vacation, I suggested in a post, Changing The World, focusing on 10 actions that will make significant and sustainable change in our world.  Here is my first attempt.

I was walking with a friend down a main street in 2005 and asked him whether we would ever have true peace and what it would take. We passed under the price sign for a gas station, which was showing that gas prices had just gone above $2/ gallon and everyone was shocked.

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My friend shocked me when he replied that America would only be safe when we begin paying $10/gallon at the pumps. Now you should know three things:

  1. My friend is very smart.
  2. My friend is an environmentalist.
  3. We were much closer to 9/11 than we are now.

I fill a gas tank six times a month: so with prices above four dollars I am not a happy driver. The number on my monthly budget spreadsheet has ballooned. So why am I advocating for $10/gallon?

First, the only reason I am not focusing on public transportation is that for many it is not relevant. We need to get around during our workday. We need to avoid looking disheveled and sweaty – I love the bike-share initiatives popping up all over the place – but they are simply not practical for many. Neither do I have the time to coordinate a car share schedule, much as I admire the idea. So I am stuck with needing a car near me.

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I understand when we use certain technologies because there is no alternative. But there is an alternative now. The growth of hybrid cars, the electric car and other alternatives are all becoming common place. One of the most positive outcomes of the reinvention of the American car industry is the move towards gas-efficient cars. The Japanese, we all acknowledge, are years ahead of us.

But what if we truly laid a foundation for electric car by converting gas stations into recharging docks and, instead of one lane for hybrid cars during rush hour, it was the opposite? What if we taxed heavily the import and domestic production of non-electric cars?

And what if we raised gas to $10/gallon?

images-2My motivation is two-fold. I believe much of our foreign policy is designed to protect our domestic energy needs. Wars are fought and countries supported with foreign aid because many are in oil-rich regions. We ignore terrible human rights abuse in these and other oil-rich countries. The connection between global terror and oil are clear and our dependency makes us vulnerable.

The second reason is simply that the earth cannot sustain the effects of our oil dependency. In a sense, it is already taking steps to prevent us destroying it as supply dries up and the environmental impact, both of global warming and regional disasters, become greater.

What makes this so frustrating is that the alternative technologies are out there and I am left with the feeling that they are being held back. Why? Because a lot of people still stand to make a lot of money.

I do not care to prioritize the millionaires of today over the abilities of my children and grandchildren to live in a sustainable and healthy environment.

Government can turn this around with three easy steps:

1) Tax conventional cars (both domestic and imported).

2) Invest in a structure to sustain electric and other energy efficient cars

3) Raise gas prices to $10 – it may well go a long way to financing the change.

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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 ouhis website.

Elves, Dwarves and Political Activists

“You can’t be serious!” she exclaimed, wrinkling her nose as though I had just made a pass at her, or uttered a politically incorrect sentiment. “You write about elves and dwarves running from one end of the world to another killing each other and making long speeches? I thought you were a serious writer.”

In honesty, she had not seen me for a few years, and even then, knew me in the context of my more political work environment. To her credit, she recovered and apologized, and I was able to refrain from pouring my drink into her lap. It was, after all, a good scotch.

images-2-1Friend or not, intentional or not, it still hurt. I thought I had passed this stage, smoothly presenting myself as ‘an author who writes in two genres’. I have practiced my opening line and it is now delivered with confidence.

I am involved in social justice causes. Even in my short eight years living in the US, I have built a fair resume of involvement. I have taken students almost every year to New Orleans, not only to help rebuild a community, physically and emotionally, but to bear witness so that the millennials will not make the mistakes my generation did. I have been involved in various campaigns here and abroad.  I know my local food bank well. Hey, you never had a black President before I came to the US! 

But yes, I love to lose myself in Middle Earth, Alaegasia, Westeros and, dare I add it to the list: Odessiya. It’s a nice break from the intensive campus environment to deal with stubborn dwarves and idealistic elves. While closeted in an urban concrete jungle, I can escape on a horse and gallop through ancient forests, over great ice plains, and to quaff an ale or puff a pipe (without the health risks) with good friends, all from a computer screen or ebook reader.

hobbits-in-pub The San Francisco Bay Area is intensely populated by a variety of the human species often identified by salt-and-pepper haired, wrinkled, colorful attire, and provocative bumper stickers. These aging ideologues have rich resumes of demonstrating against wars, civil rights. Watergate, and more recently, more wars, gay rights, and gun control.

While there are many who have fallen by the wayside, succumbing to burnout, those who have maintained their energy to keep demonstrating and fighting for what is right, all seem to have a secret place they go to recharge, relax, and to return energized to help create a better world to live in. It might be literature, meditation, family, friends, food, nature … it doesn’t matter. As a friend once said: Fixing the world is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Yeah, I write about elves and dwarves doing brave acts and striving for justice and honor. Sure I write about battles and loves, about friendships and magic, about the power of nature and good fighting evil.

It energizes me and often provides clarity and vision. And if I do occasionally wonder what Seanchai or Shayth might do about gun control or why some people are denied the rights and opportunities their neighbors have, well that’s because fantasy is not quite as far-fetched and detached from reality as my shocked friend might think.

God created the world in six days and on the seventh s/he rested…and may well have deservedly read Lord of the Rings.

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Here’s to whatever it takes for each of us to continue the journey we’ve chosen!

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. In celebration of the upcoming launch of Ashbar, the third in the Wycaan Master series, Tourmaline Books are offering for August only,  the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth – for 99 cents (kindle only).

Porn Website For Teens?

My teenage son wants to watch the Game of Thrones series with me over the summer ­– a father/son bonding opportunity? I rarely pass up one of these increasingly rare opportunities. But I baulked at this.

It was not the questionable morals and values of many of the main characters in a series where even the heroes are rarely portrayed as gallant. Neither was it the violence that can be quite graphic. I baulked at the sex, not because I don’t want my son seeing explicit sexual scenes, but because I felt these were not healthy examples of sex.

The sex scenes in Game of Thrones are often about men using their power over women, or women using sex to manipulate men. There are many instances where the man unceremoniously mounts the woman from behind, enjoys a couple of grunting thrusts and climaxes (we assume). He then ties up his breeches and saunters off.

imgresIt seems to me that this reflects much of what is out there in Internet porn. I’ve never watched BDSM, rape or violence scenes, even if they are fictional, so you will excuse my assumption that these are not what I would consider healthy sexual encounters.

I do not want my son learning about sex from such videos or scenes. While we have discussed the birds and the bees, and the difference between having sex and making love, I have to acknowledge that there is only so much he is willing to learn from his father.

When I was his age, I had seen a few sex scenes on the then-new (British) Channel 4 – The History Man anyone? – but this seems very tame compared to the options now available with the Internet. And I was woefully prepared for my first time.

imgres-1So I was fascinated to discover an article in the Daily Mail – Make Love Not Porn – in which Cindy Gallop, an entrepreneur, has launched a website which has already over 100,000 subscribers.  Ms. Gallop told ABC’s Nightline: “Children are viewing porn years before they have their own sexual experiences and it is shaping their view of sex. That is why showing real lovemaking is so important.

“Young men and boys alike have a warped sense of what sex is like. I want to change that.”

There is a statistic floating around the Internet that claims 90% of children between the ages of 8-16 years have visited porn sites. I could not find the study, but even if it is ‘only’ 50%, I am not sure I want a generation receiving their sex education from Internet pornography.

I plan to check out Ms. Gallop’s website. In the old days, a father would leave Mayfair and Penthouse magazines in a hidden place that his son would find and hope he can connect the dots. A positive website showing healthy sex might seems a better option for the 21st century.

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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.

America: July 4th For All

I realize that I, like many of my fellow social commentators, spend a lot of time highlighting what is wrong in this country. This is important and even patriotic because it feeds from a desire to create a better and more just society. Today, however, should not be such a day. Allow me to share a post I wrote for a previous July 4th and in the afterglow of the historic Supreme Court human rights decision just a week ago.

I am sitting in my local coffee shop and two men have just walked in together. They are deep in conversation and I see that one insists on paying for both coffees while the other protests and then gratefully accepts. I sense they exchange this ritual regularly.  One man is black and the other is white. This shouldn’t stand out to me living in the People’s Republic of Berkeley, but it does.

These two men, though they walk straight and fluidly, are both old. They must be in their late 70’s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in their 80’s. They grew up in a different time, another age, when this scene would have drawn everyone’s attention in the coffee shop. Now, I suspect, it is just me.

These two men lived through segregation, the civil rights movement, and the general drive by mainstream American to create a non-racist, civil society. I know there are extremists out there, and I am aware that black people still face institutional racism, but when spotlighted, there is a strong consensus that such behavior is unacceptable.

I am writing this post a couple of days before the 4th of July. I am still not a citizen of the US, but I feel a part of this society because I believe in what it stands for: freedom and democracy for all. I know our country is not perfect, but we are moving forward. I know that not everyone is on board, or swimming in the same direction, but I believe there is a determined majority who embrace these principles. Jewish proverbs teach us that “It is not for us to finish the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.”

My blog often criticizes members of our society, organizations and politicians. But today, July 4th, while we fire up the barbecue and chill the bud (really, the only reason I haven’t applied for citizenship is I am expected to drink my beer cold!), lets focus on what we share in common.

I’ll leave you with Janis Ian who spells it out in black and white.  Happy 4th everyone.

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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.

Cat Caller Form

WARNING: The form below contains offensive language. Feel free to skip this post if you might be offended.

Two weeks ago, I shared a revealing conversation (revealing for maybe 49% of the population, I mean) I had with a young woman about the thoughts that go through her mind and those of most young women when out walking.

She sent me this form (you will need to double-click it to see bigger) to share.

Catcalling Questionaire

I was never brought up in an environment where we cat-called. I  find it difficult to understand what makes a man feel such power over a person he has never met that he would call out a derogatory comment. But it still happens and in areas of the world where you would imagine a more enlightened and aware populace.

In hebrew, the same word is used for husband and owner. I understand how this came about in Biblical times, but fail to comprehend how it has remained in our vernacular. Still, I recently followed a link about a story regarding my beloved soccer team and reached a daily English newspaper – The Daily Star – every page had pin-ups, including one which reported on a horrific case of sexual abuse. I remember this happening when I was growing up in the UK, but today?

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Last month, I introduced my youngest son to an intensive dosage of Star Trek. He asked me if I thought there were races from other planets watching us and, if so, why they had not made first contact. I responded that maybe our world is simply not evolved enough to make contact with: we still have wars, famine, poverty, etc.

It just occurred to me: perhaps the commanders of these star ships watching Earth are female (must be a 50% chance). Judging by our behavior to more than half our population, I understand why they might give our planet a wide berth.

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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.

 

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