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 “protagonist”

Reacquainting With Old Friends

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

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

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

I have moved on, right? Wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is so much more than scanning pages of words.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. His next novel, Unwanted Heroes, is due out in early 2013. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

Guest Post: Matt Fielding – The Accidental Activist

The following post has been written by Matt Fielding, the fictional protagonist of The Accidental Activist. The struggle by two young people not to cower to the bullying of a multinational corporation (the real McLibel trial) upon which the story is loosely based, is as relevant today as it was 15 years ago.

Over to you, Matt.

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Thanks, Alon. I am truly humbled that an author would stil feel so connected to his characters years after he finished writing The Accidental Activist. I feel that after the Democratic Party Convention (and the Republicans, last week) that our message is just as important today as then.

Don’t get me wrong. When the multinational sued my girlfriend, Suzie, and her colleague, Bill, I was stunned. How could the British judicial system not protect their rights, not provide legal aid,  not come to their aid. The reality is that this astonishingly became the longest trial in British history because many, many people got involved. This was always a grassroots campaign.

Shalev saw fit to make me his protagonist, not just because my role as the web designer was significant (the Oilspill.com website was probably the first ever interactive advocacy website, a conduit for the free flow of information on a global level,  that enabled Suzie and Bill to act and respond at the necessary legal level without any formal training), but because of who I was – a regular guy, just like you.

The real website – McSpotlight.org

Let me be honest: Before meeting Suzie, I couldn’t have told you the names of our government’s cabinet members. I knew more about Arsenal Football Club’s reserve side than our shadow cabinet and, being in opposition meant Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona, and Liverpool, not the Conservatives, Liberals or the Green Party.

I only got involved because I fancied Suzie (love came along, but much later) and wanted to date her. I can’t tell you at what point I became politically aware, or at what point it went beyond personal, but it did.

This reckless multinational corporation, like so many today, hurt many people I loved and respected. My friends became victims to a business model fueled by the pain and destruction left in its wake, the devastating effect these companies have on the individual who willingly or unwillingly gets in the way of their profit margin.

I admit I was a self-absorbed yuppie out to get laid. But it was when I read The Accidental Activist that I understood the personal transformation that I underwent. And if my story can in any way help someone else make the personal changes necessary to help this embattled world of ours become a better place, well, I am proud to have been the protagonist of The Accidental Activist.

The conventions were pretty, slick, and occasionally amusing. But they were made for TV, for the passive viewing of a population who have become desensitized to real advocacy and are willing to allow the politicians and mass media to spin whatever message they want. Accountability is almost non-existant as politician after politician,  who in any other work sector would have been fired a long time ago, continue to pass the blame and hide behind pretty rhetoric. The debt crises didn’t happen last night, neither did the social security fiasco, diminishing education and healthcare and…well you get the picture.

And the media lap it up. Why not? It makes their life easier. The Internet offers a chance to break this conspiracy. It has helped bring down dictators – it can change the face of our political system – but only if we the people want it bad enough.

The Accidental Activist is as relevant today as it was in the 90’s.

Matt Fielding
Oilspill.com Webmaster.

The real heroes – Helen Steel and Dave Morris

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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 ahttp://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Defining the Genre – Transformational What?

This weekend I was asked me what genre I write.  I replied: “Transformational fiction.”

“What’s that?”

I was asking for it, since I have adopted a phrase I heard from the presenter of a workshop at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.

“I write about change – people who want to help change the world and in doing so experience a change in themselves.”

I began to explain about the books I have published and in process. In A Gardener’s Tale, the mysterious protagonist empowers a young outcast to transform into an important member of the community. In The Accidental Activist, my main character is not one of the activists sued by the oil company, but a self absorbed computer programmer who takes up the struggle against the multinational in order to get laid (well kind of), but discovers that he can harness his talents to help improve the world.

I have written three other manuscripts and, in each, the protagonist goes through a deep transformation. As I wrote my novels, I never realized that this was a common theme until The Accidental Activist was being critiqued.

The discussion progressed into which social causes we each work for, and what organizations we are involved with. When we finished, I felt that he wanted to buy my book because of his newly formed connection with me. Best of all, I never felt as though I was trying to sell him anything. I was being me and, passionate as I am about social injustices, I was being genuine.

Brian Judd, a book marketing specialist, recalled in a recent CreateSpace webinar  a man who had written a children’s book about bananas. He would dress up as a banana, which naturally became a talking point.I have tried to dress up my website fit that transformational flavor: the Richard Wright quote, the request to purchase my book at an independent bookstore and showcasing non profits and causes that I support.

This urge to advance a persona behind the book and author feels right. It wouldn’t work if it wasn’t genuine, but since I have been a political activist and community organizer (no I’m not announcing my candidacy for President) for most of my life, it fits.

And so I will go out into the world and introduce myself: Alon Shalev. I write transformational fiction. And maybe one day, the person I am being introduced to won’t respond: “Transformational fiction – what’s that?”

Maybe one day they will even say: “Alon Shalev? Yeah I read your novels. One inspired me to…”

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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).

Real Men Don’t Cry

This is how we are brought up. Men used to wander around with a club, bringing down mammoths and dragging a female back to the cave. We have progressed a bit since then, what with vegetarianism and on-line dating, but there are certain mores that we don’t expect to cross. 

I’ve done the ‘man’ things – play and watch sports, hit the gym, enjoy beer, fish, served in a combat unit, wooed a beautiful woman, and fathered two wonderful boys. I have a good job and plenty of friends.

Last month, my eldest son had his bar mitzvah and put on a flawless display of teaching, chanting, and schmoozing. He stood before our community and talked about the need to educate and not punish, to pursue social justice, and his desire to make the world a better place.

He was great and I am very proud of him. He worked very hard for two years to reach the level in which he could achieve this. Then it was time for his parents to bless him.

My wife won the toss (soccer reference) and chose to go first, knowing that I am confidant and used to standing before an audience and speaking into a microphone. Her blessing was modest, genuine and heartfelt, a reflection of her as a mother, wife and friend.

Over the hump, right? Wrong. I had written my blessing for him a while ago. I told him meaningful the project we had pursued together (we wrote the first Wycaan Master novel together) and then imparted how I saw him as our coming-of-age protagonist. And then I choked up…and cried. When I stopped and stole a sip of his water bottle, he leaned over and gave me a hug.

The first thing that went through my mind was shock. I hadn’t expected this, even though I have been known to cry at a Simpson’s episode (another story). I actually wasn’t embarrassed for myself: I was embarrassed for him. I struggled through and he still talks to me. Moreover, many people came up to me and gave me loving reinforcement.

But it was the comments from the men that I remember. There were some who admitted to shedding a tear themselves, others who said that I had done something they would like to be able to do. Some admitted they could never allow their mask to come down like that in public, or maybe any time. 

In the struggle for equal rights between the sexes, we have seen a necessary push for women – equal opportunities, equal pay, and legal protections. All this stems from societal mores that favored men and allowed us to exercise a ‘power over’ that is unacceptable in a modern society.

But we, as men pay a price. Most of us still shoulder most of the burden of material provision, or at least feel we should even when our partners are better qualified and can pursue better jobs. We are mostly the warriors from defending our country to our family,

We all respected George Bush for shedding tears at 9/11 but we still expected him to go blow someone up as a consequence for us being attacked. President Obama’s status rose when we took out bin Laden. He did not gather the intelligence or undertake the mission, but in making the decision, he became a warrior chief.

I have worked closely with my son over the past few years, preparing him for this rite-of-passage, and I will continue to work with him, preparing him to enter society as a man.

To ignore our role as the hunter/gatherer would be foolish. To ignore our rights as men to be sensitive and nurturing would be sad.

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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).

Guest Blogger: Matt Fielding

I am truly humbled. I knew Alon Shalev was writing this novel, Oilspill dotcom, and I knew he had aspirations to one day see it published, but I kind of had my doubts about the whole project.

Don’t get me wrong. The decision by Global Energy Development Corporation to sue my girlfriend, Suzie, and her colleague, Bill, was pretty stunning. That the British judicial system didn’t see fit to provide them with legal aid is still hard to believe; and, of course, the astonishing fact that this court case went on to become the longest trial in British history, is all worthy of being recorded.

What I find humbling is the fact that the author, Alon Shalev, saw fit to make me his protagonist. Certainly my role as the web designer is significant. The fact that Oilspill dotcom was probably the first ever interactive advocacy website, that it became a conduit for the flow of information on a global level, and that it enabled Suzie and Bill to act and respond at the necessary legal level without any formal training, is all amazing, especially to geeks such as myself.

But Shalev goes a step further. He is not content with the mechanics of the Information Highway and the work our Dream Team undertook. He seems fascinated with me personally and the process I went through.

Let me be honest: Before meeting Suzie, I couldn’t have told you the names of our government’s cabinet members. I knew more about Arsenal Football Club’s reserve side than our shadow cabinet and, being in opposition meant Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, not the Conservatives, Liberals and the Green Party.

I’ll be perfectly clear (I have been asked this many times in interviews): I only got involved because I fancied Suzie (love came along, but much later) and wanted to date her. I can’t tell you at what point I became politically aware, at what point it ceased to be personal.

This reckless multinational corporation hurt many people I loved and respected. My friends became victims to a business model that cannot conceive of the pain and destruction left in its wake, the devastating effect these companies have on the individual who willingly or unwillingly gets in the way of their profit highway.

Today I remain involved: being with Suzie, how could I not? My consulting agency is selective about which clients we take on and we have an internship program where we not only mentor students, but also have them work, pro bono, on projects that advance social justice and sustainability.

Not bad for a self-absorbed yuppie who was only out to get laid, huh? Only when I read Oilspill dotcom did I ever have any idea about the transformation that I underwent. I guess for this I should thank Shalev for writing the novel and giving me the chance to become who I am.

And if my story can in any way help someone else make the changes necessary to help this embattled world of ours to be a better place, well, I am proud to have been the protagonist of Oilspill dotcom.

Matt Fielding
Oilspill dotcom.

The Tears Bear Witness…

There is nothing unusual when reading a scene evokes a strong emotion, perhaps a lump in the throat or maybe even tears. When it is the author that feels this, it is a clear testament to his/her connection to what s/he has written, to the part of the author imbibed in the story.

But what puzzles me is, when even after reading the same passage 5, 10, even 30 times, the same strong emotion is evoked. It happened to me this week, when my publisher suggested I read through the book one final time to spot any mistakes the editor or I might have missed.

There is a particular passage in Oilspill dotcom where the protagonist, realizing that they are probably going to lose the court case, runs out of the office in frustration but is then confronted by pouring rain. He stares up at huge skyscrapers and feels helpless and puny. A delicate dialogue follows between him and his girlfriend.

I got choked up when I wrote it, choked up when I reread it, and choked up when I edited it. My voice broke when I read it out loud to my writer’s group and I remember stopping mid sentence to gulp some water.

Now, two years on, I read it for possibly the 20th or 30th time and the tears well up again. Why?

It is magic.

Even if no one else in the whole world is moved, it is magic nonetheless. There is a connection between the writer and the character that defies definition. And perhaps it doesn’t matter what the reason is or who else it affects, because no one will ever understand a character like its author.

And just maybe, this is why we write – to experience the magic.

Good Writing,

Alon

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