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 “Left Coast Voices”

Oh Florida

Admittedly, this post is being written before the end of election day, so there is still time for other states and polling stations to screw up. But Florida, really? Again? And Ohio: did anyone tell you that the whole nation is watching you?

Now I have organized big events, though nothing on the scale of an election for a state. I have also made mistakes, but I have tried to learn from them. Florida – you embarrassed us all in 2000 – could you not be bothered to learn something from it and try to improve your performance? 

Already, accusations of fraud, misconduct, and six-hour waiting lines have dominated the news of electoral procedure from your state. Reports of voters (your employers) having to wait for several hours and cast their vote at 2.30am is not only intolerable, but abusive.

A line of early voters snakes around a parking lot at a voting location in Columbus, Ohio. (Michael Finnegan/Twitter)

Readers of Left Coast Voices know me for a man who doesn’t need too much encouragement to entertain a juicy conspiracy theory, but it is either considering electoral tampering, or gross mismanagement on a scale that is harder to swallow than Area 51.

It is not just the people on the ground who oversee the complicated process of facilitating a line of voters who put a cross on a piece of paper fold it and put in a slot…and then counting them afterwards. It goes right up to the top of their organization, no doubt led by people who hold degrees in organizational management and earn a good salary.

Perhaps we need to hand this task over to Event Planners. I attend a few conferences and weddings every year and they flow without a hitch. I know, an election is more complex, so take the best and brightest from the field. At least there is no drunk uncle making a toast or bridegroom having cold feet at the last-minute.

In fact, there is little that cannot be anticipated four years ahead. So Florida, Ohio et al: start planning now for 2016. If it truly is a matter of having the best organizational minds running the show, then do it. Democracy is too important to be abused and the voter is the foundation stone of democracy. 

Otherwise, we conspiracy theorists might just start suspecting.

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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).

Game On. Go Vote!

Today there are no fancy views, no links, no cool pics. Today there are no excuses for dithering – if you are undecided (really undecided) then you simply haven’t been paying attention ­– or you are denying something to yourself that only you can fathom.

Decide. This is too important a moment to pass up.

Breaking News: Left Coast Voices endorses Barack Obama! Actually, if this is breaking news to you, then you haven’t been paying attention to this blog!

I can understand the top 1%. They are voting for what best represents their interest and most people will do that. It is a rare individual who will put his/her country first and vote for the other guy because, in their heart, they know this country (and maybe the world) needs such a candidate. I want to declare my admiration for those 1%-ers who vote for President Obama.

But beyond the 1%, I am somewhat mystified why the choice isn’t clear. Mitt Romney is a proud Republican, so is Paul Ryan. They were members of a government that sent this country into massive debt and economic hemorrhage. That they have the audacity to use statistics on President Obama’s first day in office as a mark of measurement for the President is incredulous. That they don’t see it as a mark of shame is scary. That the media and social commentators aren’t calling them out for this is either pathetic or really scary.

The suggestion that eight years of Republican greed and irresponsibility can be fixed in a day, a week, or a month, is stupid and insulting to the intelligence of the populace. That it has taken four years to stop the hemorrhage and institute a measure of stability is an illustration of the gravity of Republican mis-governance.

Barack Obama not only saved the car industry, but also galvanized it to enter the 21st Century and compete with Toyota and Honda. This must be a model for how we govern. He is bringing us out of two wars that are financially bankrupting us, and laying the foundation for new financial and economic sustainability that will be appreciated by our children if not us. More than anything else: we owe it to our children to repair the damage. Let the sins of the fathers (and mothers), stay with the fathers.

Some are frustrated at the pace, at the emphasis, or the inability to create comprehensive policy in, for example, health care. But huge steps have been taken. If you are on the left and even contemplating not voting, or casting your vote for a candidate who, while genuine in their beliefs, are irrelevant to what we, the American people, have deemed a two-horse race, then you are not taking responsibility.

I am frustrated at the Obama campaign for not speaking out consistently at Governor Romney’s inability to provide a clear and understandable policy. His running mate, the ‘numbers man,’ has consistently and condescendingly told us that he has crunched the numbers but can’t share them with us because they are too complicated and time-consuming.

Mr. Ryan – the voter is your consumer and your boss. You owe us an explanation in a language we understand or you run the risk that either: WE DON’T BELIEVE YOU or WE THINK YOU ARE HIDING THE TRUTH – or possibly both.

Four More Years – in a world of instant gratification, this has almost become a curse. But the American people, fueled by Republican greed and public apathy, have allowed us to dig ourselves a deep hole. It is going to take time to fill the hole and cement a firm foundation.

Barack Obama has taken on this responsibility. His campaign would have been more effective if he had played the sugar daddy and promised to wave his magic wand and deliver vague and impossible dreams. But he is too principled for that – a rare trait in politics.

The reality is that we need four more years to continue the recovery and repair the damage. We probably need more than that, in truth, but we need to embrace consistency, rather than chase the magic bullet.

President Obama hasn’t been perfect, but he took office in a deep depression and he has remained a consistent and responsible leader. He deserves the opportunity to continue advancing everything he has built and he needs us to be honest partners, not only today, but for the next four years.

Tomorrow, he needs your endorsement. Your country needs you – GO VOTE!

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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 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).

National Novel Writing Month

It was early November and I went to the coffee shop in a Borders (RIP) to write. I immediately saw that something was different. During the week, the tables were usually occupied by nursing students with huge, backbreaking text books and blank facial expressions.

This Saturday, it was a different crowd and I could feel the silent tension screaming.  Half the tables were occupied by writers (don’t ask me how I know), but when I took out my laptop to write, one leaned over and asked, her tone conspiratorial: “How many words so far?”

I glanced at the novel that I wasn’t far off completing and told her that I was at 72,000 words. She stared at me. I didn’t understand it then. I do now.

National Novel Writing Month is: “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel-writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000-word (approximately 175-page) novel by 11:59:59 PM on November 30.”

I have never felt the need to participate. It seems to me that this challenge is for those who need the adrenaline rush and/or discipline demanded from ‘NaNoWriMo’. I am blessed (or cursed if you ask Mrs. Left Coast Voices) with the ability to sit anytime, anywhere and write. I write my 90-100,000 word novels in four months. I work, sleep and write. 

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

But for those who don’t howl at the full moon, this sounds like an amazing opportunity and I think I am somewhat jealous of the camaraderie that develops for those people who congregate in sacred and frantic silence. 

“Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2011, we had 256,618 participants and 36,843 of them crossed the 50K finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.”

Good luck, NaNoWriMos’ May the Muse be with you.

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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 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).

 

 

Halloween in Berkeley

As a newbie in this fair land, there is much I love about America. I say this because so many of the blog posts that I, and my esteemed colleagues at Left Coast Voices, are critical of one thing or another. I love the freedom, liberty and Halloween. 

I know this ancient, spiritual festival is now commercial, sugar and additive prone. I know these are the hazy remnants and perhaps denigration of the customs and culture of a downtrodden religion. But I love how everyone throws on a costume for a few hours, get all excited and friendly, and for a few hours share the sandpit together without squabbling over toys or elections … and I enjoy the kids doing it too.

Perhaps it’s living in Berkeley (I have no experience outside of cold, awkward England), but when whole streets get into the swing together, something very special happens, if only for an evening.

My first novel, A Gardener’s Tale, illustrated the struggle between the Pagan religions and Christianity in rural England. It follows two years in the lives of the villagers and a mysterious stranger who comes into their community. One of the elements felt by the villagers is the breakdown of their community, how they are becoming increasingly estranged from their neighbors.

Through reigniting the Pagan religion that once united them, the protagonist offers an opportunity to reclaim their community. We need this today more than ever. How many of us really know our neighbors and those living across the road? My neighborhood began a community initiative to get to know each other after a woman was attacked by a man who tried to steal her purse. As she screamed for help, there was a spontaneous outpouring of people from their houses. Out of nowhere, that street became a community. But it lasted only a year or so and we returned to our own little connected/unconnected worlds.

We need Halloweens to bind us together rather than crimes. With so much violence and conflict in the world that sees to revolve around religion, perhaps we also need the gentler, older religions. The earth certainly does.

So here’s to candy and spontaneous celebration. Happy Samhain, everyone. And I know that a week before the Presidential elections it is probably a relief to read something that is politic-free, but I couldn’t resist the pumpkin below. After all, this is Halloween in Berkeley.

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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).

In Praise of Editors

I have adapted this post from my elfwriter blog because I am aware that a large proportion of the faithful from Left Coast Voices are either writers or people interested in the writing world. I have made a few adaptations from the original post. 

No blog post this weekend. 

Two weeks ago, I received the manuscript to At The Walls of Galbrieth, my first foray into the world of Young Adult Epic Fantasy, back from my editor. Like many authors, I thought I had sent her a pretty clean story. I had gone over it several times myself, had it scrutinized by the venerable Berkeley Writers Group, and put it through the laundry with softener (I think you get my point).

At first, I was a bit dismayed to see all those little boxes in ‘Track Changes’ fighting each other for space along the right-hand side of my page. But after following and accepting her changes for the first three chapters, I am in awe of what an impact the eye of an independent professional can have, how much s/he can discern, how a few changes can add such clarity.

My last novel, The Accidental Activist, is a social justice-themed novel that fictionalized the McDonalds libel trial in England in the 1990′s. To show how thwarted and depressed my protagonist felt, I had used an English soccer game of my favorite team, Arsenal, as an analogy. My editor had written to me and, while expressing that she did not follow soccer, had researched a bit and thought that I could use an actual game from 2004. She had been right. The game was perfect.

With Tourmaline Press working hard with a gifted cover artist in St. Louis, an ISBN number (or three) assigned to the book, everything is taking shape. On Friday, I wrote the dedication at the front of the book with tears in my eyes. But that is a story for another time.

This update is just to let you know why there is no blog post this weekend. Here let me click the button…. Okay – posted!

Have a great weekend and if you know an editor – give ’em a hug.

Elfwriter

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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 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).

Authors Are Not Islands Unless They Want To Be

I seem to have corresponded with a number of writers over the past few weeks who tell me that writer’s groups are a waste of time and ineffective. This is in spite of the fact that I have been a member and facilitated the Berkeley Writers Group for several years and it continues to thrive. Still meeting face-to-face might not be for those of either softer or harder feelings than the Wednesday warriors who attend my group.

 I believe the idea of an author’s life being a solitary one is outdated and ridiculous unless the writer chooses to walk alone. There are many options today that Mark Twain never had.

                                                                                       A Master At His Desk

Since I last wrote on the topic, a number of online communities have come to light. But I want to put the spotlight on Author Salon, a new initiative aimed at helping authors prepare to pitch and market their manuscripts. It is a win:win community wherein the author is able to hone their work, while agents and publishers can delve in knowing these writers have done their due diligence.

When you sign up for Author Salon there are a lot of questions about your work. Often these questions make you look at your manuscript through new eyes. This is essentially the idea, that you see it not as the writer, but as the agent or publisher.

You will need to refine your pitch, synopsis, introduce your characters, clarify the overriding conflict and examine many other aspects. You need to plan for a few hours at least and this is only the first round.

Once you have completed your proposal, it is reviewed by peers and the Author Salon staff, all experienced agents or people who have worked in the publishing business for years. You get graded as your proposal is developed and this enables the agents and publishers who troll the site to know who is holding a more finished product.

This is not a get-rich-quick or silver bullet offer. Author Salon seems to hold pretty high standards and if you have a tender ego, perhaps you had better give this one a miss.

However, if your goal is to get published, if you fear your manuscript sinking into the publishers’ ever-growing slush pile and if you are willing to do what it takes, Author Salon might just be the answer.

                                                                                                     Slush Pile

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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 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).

 

My Target Audience – Who Are You?

I recently asked readers of my elfwriter blog to help me define a target audience, a cornerstone of any book marketing plan. It occurred to me, almost two years after The Accidental Activist was published and a few months before Unwanted Heroes is launched, I still fumble over what my genre is and to whom I am marketing. Transformational fiction is a good topic when I give talks, and social justice-themed novels is rather a mouthful, but the first reaction is, at best, an inquisitive frown.

Twitter has offered an interesting insight into this. When looking to grow your following, you check out people who your target audience is following. Given the content of both Left Coast Voices and my social justice orientated novels, I have looked into the Democratic Party, President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. I have also followed a number of publishing gurus hoping to attract other writers and authors.

I once wrote an elevator pitch about my writing: I write novels that highlight social injustices with everyday characters who discover they can help create a better world.

If you read this ‘genre’ of novels, please take a minute and answer the following questions in the comments below:

1. How old are you?

2. Are you male or female?

3. Where do you live?

4. Did you finish High School / Bachelors Degree / Masters Degree?

5. What is your profession?

6. Are you active on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, read and comment on blogs?

7. What do you look for in a novel?

8. Do you read books on an eReader or as a hardcover/paperback? (if both, please assign a ratio).

9. How many books do you read a month?

10. What examples have you read of social justice themed novels? Why do you remember them?

Thank you for taking the time to help me with this. Please pass it on to anyone that you think might be able to help. Have a great weekend,

Alon

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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).

Join The Party

Left Coast Voices celebrates its third birthday this month. We are approaching 700 posts, have been viewed nearly 36,000 times, have over a hundred loyal followers, and have generally had a good time, offering our opinions without annoying too many people along the way.

What I enjoy about Left Coast Voices is that we attract people with a variety of views who can articulate their opinions. You can be a liberal but here that doesn’t mean you have to support everything about our president. Just because you are excited by the potential of the Occupy movement, doesn’t mean you agree with every action.

Our readers think. Our writers think. 

I want to take the opportunity to thank Roger Ingalls and Tom Rossi, who have become regular partners, tying up the Tuesday and Thursday slots. My only regret is that we have not hung out more often at Jupiters – micro-brewed beer, serious pizza, and great conversation. Norman Weekes has joined us on a less regular basis, but we are grateful for his contributions. You are always welcome, Norm.

I believe the diversity of writers is what makes our little community special. You never quite know what article or topic you are going to get and who is going to agree/disagree with whom.

I feel ready to offer up a slot to a fourth person. The criteria are that you write weekly (each contributor gets a consistent day: Tom – Tuesday, Roger – Thursday) and observe the three NOs – no racism, sexism, or homophobic comments. If you wish to write on a specific theme – gender, local grassroots, food justice, environmental, occupy etc., that would be great. If you prefer to choose a different topic each week, that works too.

I will teach you the mechanical aspect of blogging on WordPress and you will find a supportive team behind you. Along with the collaborative nature, there are other advantages. Left Coast Voices has its platform and following. We feed off each others followers  – you are not blogging for your mom and best friend (though they are both very important!). If you have a book or cause to promote in your signature, you are welcome to do so.

If you are interested, let me know in the comments below. If you have something to say, we can help you say it.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Alon

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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).

 

 

 

Why It Has To Be Fiction

Last month, I was invited to address a very politically aware audience about my novel, The Accidental Activist. I spent considerable time describing the McDonalds’ libel trial that transpired in London throughout the 1990’s This is the the court case upon which The Accidental Activist is based.

I was deeply inspired by the trial at the time and meticulously researchedMcLibelas it became known. My fictional timeline corresponds exactly with the real trial and many of the events in The Accidental Activist parallel what transpired in the real court case. In fact, many of the more infamous quotes from real-life witnesses just happened to find their way into the mouths of my characters.

I allocated a fair part of my talk to the idea of writing for social justice, to help empower people to create a better world. This is a consistent theme throughout my books, and here on Left Coast Voices – so it begged someone to ask the question: Why fiction?

My answer was not very impressive. I mumbled that John Vidal, a journalist for The Guardian in the UK, had done a great job of writing the definitive book on the case and even had a copy on hand to show them.

But there is more. I believe fiction allows the writer to reach more people and on a deeper level than non-fiction. We open ourselves to the emotions of the characters, the smell of the place, the textures of color, food, or wine. We become invested in their challenges.

But most significantly, we read fiction to identify with the characters, particularly the protagonists. Often we align through gender, life experience, fears, or loves. I have heard from women who were deeply affected by my character Suzie’s ideological drive for a better world. Men can understand how Matt felt driven to step outside his comfort zone and find a way to defend his woman.

If we can create a bond between character and reader, we open the opportunity for the reader to create an environment in which to undergo a similar transformation in their own life.

I believe relationships are what drive people to step outside their safe space. I believe people were able to relate to then-Senator Obama’s (and/or Michelle’s) drive for a better America, for change we can believe in. This was what motivated so many to get involved and head to the polls four years ago and, I hope, what ultimately will bring them out to vote again in November.

When we relate to a person we admire, whether in fact or fiction, we consider on a conscious or subconscious level whether we can emulate that person and make a similar, courageous decision. Perhaps this will empower us to believe that our actions can create a better world.

Have you ever been inspired by a book to take action? Has a fictional character ever helped you change your life? If so, please share in the comments below.

Good Writing,

Alon

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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).

 

Who Are My Target Audience?

I recently asked readers of my elfwriter blog to help me define a target audience, a cornerstone of any book marketing plan. It occurred to me, almost two years after The Accidental Activist was published and a few months before Unwanted Heroes, that I still fumble over what my genre is and to whom I am marketing. Transformational fiction is a good topic when I give talks, and social justice-themed novels is rather a mouthful.

Twitter has offered an interesting insight into this. When looking to grow your following, you check out people who your target audience is following. Given the content of both Left Coast Voices and my social commentary orientated novels, I have looked into the Democratic Party, President Obama and Nancy Peolsi. I have also followed a number of publishing gurus hoping to attract other writers and authors.

I once wrote an elevator pitch about my writing: I write novels that highlight social injustices with everyday characters who discover they can make a better world.

If you read this ‘genre’ of novels, please take a minute and answer the following questions in the comments below:

1. How old are you?

2. Are you male or female?

3. Where do you live?

4. Did you finish High School / Bachelors Degree / Masters Degree?

5. What is your profession?

6. Are you active on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, read and comment on blogs?

7. What do you look for in a novel?

8. Do you read books on an eReader or as a hardcover/paperback? (if both, please assign a ratio).

9. How many books do you read a month?

10. What examples have you read of social justice themed novels? Why do you remember them?

Thank you for taking the time to fill out the survey. Please pass it on to anyone you think might share our interest.

 Alon

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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).

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