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 “Harry Potter”

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).

 

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).

I Didn’t Make The Cut

I’m bummed. This week 50 writers saw their manuscripts advance to the Semi-Final stage of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award – YA category. My humble offering – Wycaan Master – was not one of them. It reached the Quarter-Final, ahead of a few thousand others, but…

In an odd sense of timing, I will finish reading the 95,000 word epic fantasy story to my writer’s group. They stuck with me over the past 18 months though none (until the last couple of months) read or are interested in fantasy. Thank you – Berkeley Writers Group.

Either you think epic fantasy is alive and thriving (Tolkien, Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore etc.,) or you think the only fantasy that sells is high concept – Harry Potter, The Hunger Games…

It is hard writing in two genres – social justice-themed novels reflect my lifestyle and values. Young-adult fantasy was inspired by a writing project with my preteen son and has been a lot of fun. But they serve two separate target audiences and I maintain a seperate blog and twitter account (both under the elfwriter name).

I have to admit, I’ve arrived at a junction. I have not only sweated over a first YA fantasy manuscript, but completed a second, and am 30,000 words into a third. It is  a series and I must admit: I’m kind of hooked on it.

I want to see how my young heroes (and villains – who I am also quite attached to) grow. Will the races of Odessiya unite? What is the Emperor’s secret power that enables him to keep winning? Will shy Seanchai and his guide, Ilana, ever hook up?

As a reader becomes hooked on a series and feels compelled to read through to the end, I have discovered that so can an author become ensnared. It might well be an issue of not writing an outline and having faith in the story evolving, but I need to discover what happens in the world I’ve created.

Even if I didn’t make the cut.

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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).

Goodbye Harry Potter

Dear Harry,

It’s been a while and I know that it’s my turn. We saw each other back in July and I knew in my heart (and also because J. K. Rowlings sounded pretty adamant) that this would be the last time we meet. I know there is an extravagant theme park somewhere, but I’m only a few hours on the I-5 from Disneyland, and for a family on a single income, it might as well be the last stop on the Hogwarts Express.

I actually began to make notes for a sequel, a story of you ten years down the line, but you’re not my genre and just one minute of the ensuing lawsuit will probably cost more than the entrance to your theme park. And if I am honest, and I think you always knew this in your heart, that you were – well – just not my genre.

I write political fiction, holding the torch for some political injustice and you just cut right to the chase of right and wrong, of the battle between friendship and greed. We were never meant to last. But still, Harry, I need to thank you.

In a world of senseless video games, three-minute You Tube song videos, 140 letter tweets, and texting abbreviations, you made 500-page tomes not only popular, but a rite-of-passage. In twenty years time when my nest is empty (I know it will happen a lot quicker than that, you don’t have to remind me!) and I look back at my happy little family, I will remember:

– lying on the big bed reading the stories to my boys.

– the wonder of seeing my oldest learn to read and read faster and faster as he held the latest book in his hand.

– seeing my youngest struggle through two pages of Harry Potter 1 when it was way above his reading level and sighing when he saw that there are still another 318 pages.

– the excitement building up to the release of a new book or movie (I think these were the only books we bought new and in hardcover).

– the annual family Potterfest – several days of TV dinners watching the movies and then snuggling on the love seat in pj’s to keep watching ’cause dinner can only be so many courses.

– the discussions about good and evil, romance, and death.

So this is the end, Harry, the final letter. I don’t expect a reply. You always delivered in the past, but I got the message as I sat in the movie theater this summer. It’s over. We had a good run, learned a lot together, laughed, loved and cried and, well, we’ll always have the memories, Harry. I’ll think of you every time I look at the bookshelf.

And do thank Joanne when you next see her. I guess without her we would never have met.

Your Friend,

Alon

p.s.  there are many magical moments in parenting, Harry, without the use of a wand (though sometimes I rather fancy it might help!).

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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/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

A Series of Books, A Line of Products

In the past few months, the writing world has been keenly watching the process of J. A Konrath and Amanda Hocking, two authors who are making a lot of money selling their e-books and harnessing the power of social media.

Amanda Hocking

Joe Konrath often sells his e-books for $1.99, a price that has been met with considerable disdain by writers who sweat years over their masterpiece and can’t imagine selling it for the price of a cup of drip coffee (not even an espresso drink).

Konrath, however, sees this as a business and his books essentially as a line of products. After someone buys one book and enjoys it, they will go back to the Kindle store and buy several in one go. They know they enjoy Konrath’s style and stories, so for $15-$20 why not get the set and know you will always have something accessible to read for the next few months?

Joe Konrath

What is interesting here is the difficulty of authors to view their books as products. Both authors attribute their success, in part, to having several books to sell. After all, it is easier to sell a second and third book to someone who has read and enjoyed one of your books, than to sell them the first one. Moreover, it is the need to look at our writing as a business. Both Konrath and Hocking are very clear: they work very hard at not only writing, but building their online platforms.

There will always be A-list authors, some of whom become richer than the Queen (I still have a problem with that one – it somehow seems unpatriotic, Ms. Rowling), but the new generation of successful ‘everyone-else’ will consist of those who see this as a business.

Last month, I heard an author tell a group that she is a full-time author. She paid tribute to her partner who has a job that can allow her to stay home and she then admitted that most of that time is spent raising two young children and that she doesn’t have a writing routine.

I’m not sure I would include her in the category of full-time writer. Her position is similar to mine, struggling to carve out time between a full-time job, family, and everything else life throws at us. For writers like us, there is always going to be a struggle to be marketing one book (or ourselves), editing a manuscript, and writing the next book (the law of thirds).

And this is what will separate us from the likes of Konrath and Hockings. Good luck to us all, and may The Readers have mercy on our souls!
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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/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/

In Search of Golden Nuggets

Firstly, a big thank-you to the twelve people who offered feedback and helped me with my synopsis for Unwanted Heroes. I submitted my entry to the San Francisco Writers Conference Writing Contest and am particularly excited. This is the first time that I have shopped Unwanted Heroes and I am eager to see how it is received.

I also entered Oilspill dotcom for the Stanford University/William Saroyan International Writing Prize.

In helping prepare my synopsis, a number of friends asked why I am putting so much time into writing contests. In the 19th Century, people came to California in search of gold. In a riverbed of pebbles they sought the elusive golden nugget. The nugget in itself was of great value, but it also offered the hope that the discovery would lead to more nuggets nearby.

The world of literature has become crowded. The advent of the computer has shortened the discipline and time needed to create a book. As a medium of expression, it has become accessible to all and fills an important void to many. The expansion of publishing channels to include cheap and readily available models of publication has added to the amount of books being published. The e-book revolution is still in its nascent stages but will open more accessible platforms to publish a book. Weblit is another new idea catching on fast.

So how can a golden nugget shine among the pebbles? How can it find a way to catch the attention of the gold-digger (the reader) bending down over murky waters?

In a world of mass advertising, if you have the money to allow newspaper and billboard promotion, TV, web, and radio, there is a clear route. The only barrier is having a marketing budget the size of a house purchase. For the A-list authors, this remains the easy and obvious way. When Dan Brown’s new novel recently came out, we all knew about it, whether we follow his work or not. Someone spent big bucks getting our attention. My nurturing wife, ever sensitive to her family’s needs, planned the camping site during our summer vacation to be near a bookstore thus enabling my eldest son and I to purchase the final Harry Potter novel the day it came out – and we booked our trip about four months earlier.

But the mid-lister and emerging author both need to get creative. We need to find alternative ways to harness media attention, to plant our books into people’s consciousness and onto their bookshelves.

Book contests are one way of shining among the pebbles. The contest provides legitimacy to the level of the author’s writing, a stamp (or more likely a sticker) of authority and hopefully helps the media take note. When the consumer hears that a particular book is a prizewinner they are impressed. When approaching bookstores, speaker engagements and agents, it is a strong line on your resume.

Finally, it is imperative that the writer believes in his/her ability and this needs to be sustained and legitimized. Having your pebble remaining in the sieve when all others have been thrown back into the river of rejection, having a miner hold it up to the sun, bite it (did they really do that without dental coverage?) and whoop for joy knowing that this discovery might change their lives — what more can an author dream of?

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

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