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 “Lord of the Rings”

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).

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).

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.

 

What a Father Really Wants

Not a tie (even a Jerry Garcia collectors item), or cufflinks (anyone still wear them?). Not a bottle of wine, or aftershave (really? really!)…

Here are my Top 10 What A Father Really Wants. It’s based on my absolutely not unique qualification of being a father who, with each year, is fighting with an ever more competative field for his children’s attention. It’s written by a father who has an average standard-of-living: food on the table, clothes on his back, and a gym membership. Everything on my Top 10 list have one thing in common – see if you can work it out before the end:

1.  To watch Star Wars and Lord of the Rings with his kids, all sitting scrunched together on a big chair.

2. To go fishing with his kids in a beautiful natural place.

3. To play basketball/soccer with his kids and the winner being s/he who laughs the most.

4. To hear his kids looking forward to that family camping trip.

5. To hear his kids speak out on issues of social justice.

6. To listen to Eminen together and discuss his lyrics.

7. To receive that unsolicited hug when times are tough.

8. To have your kids want to play you at the card game Magic The Gathering (even when you are really bad at the game).

9. To educate another generation of Arsenal soccer fans (it doesn’t work with any other soccer team, trust me, I’m objective).

10. To have your culinary talents appreciated even when you overcook the scrambled eggs.

Who cares if the big one gets away? Artist: Mark Tomalty

And the answer is… No not a vivid imagination. It is all about time. No breakfast in bed or one-off treat can compare. When we have the time for our kids, then they have the time for us. And Father’s Day is no longer just a once-a-year event.

The unsolicited ones are always the best

Happy Father’s Day, Dads.

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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).

The Elves of Berkeley

I never believed in elves until I wrote a fantasy novel with my eldest son over the summer. Now they seem to be cropping up all over the place. Both my sons are desperate to get me hooked on a strategic game called Magic: The Gathering. I do love the art work and none more so than the elves.

What on earth has this got to do with a political left coast blog?

Two weeks ago, I tried to persuade my 7-year-old that elves are real (heck, he has no problem with the tooth fairy, though I don’t appreciate the winged one’s line of credit). My son remained skeptical but then we received a printed note from the Rosa Parks (the name of his school) Bike Elves.

It seems that these elves are very committed to encouraging young people to bike to school (and elsewhere). They (magically?) appear at the school and decorate the bikes at the bike rack with colorful ribbons. Now they are offering other incentives to young cyclists such as an ice cream social after school one night and to receive raffle tickets with cool prizes for riding to school.

I don’t know who these elves are, but one of them, Stephanie is willing to help children and parents map a safe route to school (I wonder if elves rely on google maps or prefer a GPS?).

In most fantasy novels, the elves have a great respect for the earth. In Berkeley, they are taking practical steps to help our youngsters embrace a healthy and socially responsible lifestyle.

Gotta love those elves!

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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 www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

List That Matter – 50 Best Political Novels

I believe passionately that fiction writers can use their ability to help effect positive social change. My novels all reflect this and 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. So far, the four novels that I have written all carry a political message, as you can see on my website. But over the summer I had the amazing experience writing a fantasy novel together with my 11-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 freedom. I was writing for my son and there is (I hope) 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 did.

When my wife and I discussed whether to allow him to watch Lord of the Rings which features a lot of violence, I suggested that the most important message from Tolkien’s trilogy was that of friendship.

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 fantasy-fans.

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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 www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Pele

I love the summer. We take a family vacation, my work slows, there seems more time to exercise, fish, write, and have quality time with my family. Almost everything I listed (apart from the latter, I do by myself. I work out, fish (usually), and write alone. But the highlight of this past summer was a fusion of two of these pastimes, and it was a treasured experience.

I often wonder how my sons perceive me. I spend long hours away from them during the week, and as they grow up, I find myself competing with their natural desire to hang out with their friends. In fact, during the week we will spend no more than two hours a day together and that is usually reduced to a frenzy of preparing and eating the main meal of the day, pushing them to complete their homework, bathe and go to bed at a reasonable time. They must resent my drive to write and promote myself as an author – an act that necessitates me being absent from home 1-2 evenings a week or on weekends.

So I was thrilled when my eldest son suggested, on the first evening of our vacation, that we write a book together. He devours fantasy novels and this was always going to be our common ground. I am not apathetic to a good sword fight, or a ride on the back of a dragon, and I have only read or watched Lord of the Rings about a dozen times.

It was amazing to sit in a mesh tent, surrounded by majestic redwoods and tap out a story on my noble white steed (a mac book by any other name). We disagreed here, he corrected my word choice there, and though it was me driving the story on, it never ceased to be a collaborative effort.

My sons are aware of my drive for social justice. I tell them when I have volunteered at the food bank, and have heard from other parents and teachers when my eldest has told them about my annual trip with students to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. I refrain (or try to) from lecturing him on such values as I refrain from pushing him to write. I figure that the best I can offer as a parent is to be a role model.  The choice must always be his.

More experienced parents tell me that I will learn to accept his choices as he grows up. I guess it makes it  special when our paths do fuse together, and all the more so when he makes the choice. I have no idea if our fantasy novel is any good. I doubt that Tolkien, Paolini or Terry Brooks need lose any sleep over our creation. But however good it is, it will always be very special for this father. Often the journey overshadows the destination.

Happy Birthday, Pele.

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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 www.alonshalev.com

A Moment of Appreciation

Wade Mayer, who manages an excellent blog called Inviting Conversations: Intelligent Dialog Connecting Thoughtful People, posted a question on our LinkedIn Writer’s group. He asked whether we put our family events on our business calenders. In sharing my response, I realized how strongly I feel about the challenges facing achieving excellence in my work, my writing and my parenting.

My response:
Always! The challenge of maintaining a work:life balance is the most difficult juggling act I face. I love my job and my writing life, both hopefully impact others to create a better world. Raising two young boys that they might become a positive force for change and sharing quality time with a life-partner who makes me a better person, demands just as much attention.

I am learning to live with the fact that I cannot promote my novels that are already published, edit the current completed manuscript, and write the next novel. All this while holding down a full-time (and wonderful) job, and being a meaningful influence as my children develop, as well as being a supportive life-partner.

But it’s hard. I’ve been struggling with the usual winter coughs and colds for too long. No time to slow down and let the body recuperate. In the words of Jack Kerouac:

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh…”
On the Road, Jack Kerouac

And I wouldn’t want it any other way!

Final word: I am speaking at the Californian Writer’s Club on Sunday (March 21), at 2.15 p.m. in the West Auditorium of the Oakland Main Library at 125 14th Street near the Lake Merritt BART station. Enter directly from Madison Street between 13th & 14th Streets.

Love to see you there.

Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

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