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 “San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center”

Interview at Author Spotlight

I recently interviewed with James Moushon at Author’s Spotlight.

First things first. Do you have another book on the horizon? Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease.

I do. I actually wrote three Young Adult epic fantasy novels in consecutive years, so the second, The First Decree, is due out in March. The first – At The Walls Of Galbrieth – came out in 2012. They are stand-alones, but follow on from each other. The third has yet to be edited and begin all the publishing process.

The First Decree-hi resolutionI have also completed a manuscript that follows on from my latest social justice-themed novel, Unwanted Heroes, but I think my publisher has a few more authors in line before they get to me. My writer’s group is critiquing it now.

You have a great following on Twitter. (Over 20K followers) How important are the social media relationships that you’ve formed to your writing success?

I actually have 20K followers on @elfwriter and just less than 20K on a second twitter account – @alonshalevsf – that focuses on my social justice-themed novels. Writing in two genres really needs separate social media platforms, so there is also a blog for each – leftcoastvoices.com and elfwriter.com

There is an absolute connection between the relationships created from the blogs and twitter and my readership. My whole marketing strategy is based upon offering a genuine value and connection between author and reader. Hopefully, people become regularly engaged with me through the blog and twitter and therefore are already invested when each book comes out. 

Not only that, but the cover designer, editor and interior formatter for the epic fantasy novels all came from either referrals or directly as followers of my blog and twitter. They are amazing people and I am so grateful to have such a supportive team. The physical beauty and quality of the books, exterior and interior, are all due to them and I am in awe of their commitment.

Do you do book signing, interviews, speaking and personal appearances? If so, when is your next place where your readers can see you?

I do, but a knee operation has held me back the last few months. I did a virtual book tour in November 2011 and a series of reading this past spring when Unwanted Heroes was originally coming out. I am putting together several in Northern California now for this spring and will put the details on my website

While this isn’t a marketing priority I do cherish the interactions with readers and fellow writers. There is something richer in the face-to-face conversations.

You have real good book covers. How does your cover development process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?

The artist, William Kenney, designs my epic fantasy covers. I send him a couple of paragraphs about the plot and what I envisage on the cover. He produces some sketches and solicits my feedback. The end result is always far better than anything I imagine.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front CoverIronically, with my social justice-themed novels, my publisher Lloyd Lofthouse, encourages me to be involved. In fact, the cover for Unwanted Heroes is from a photograph I took in San Francisco’s Marina District, overlooking Alcatraz. This is based on a scene in the book.

Have you create a book trailer for any of your books to promote your books online?

No, but I am excited by the medium. I do think that the book trailers I see are either excellent or bad – there is little middle ground. I would need to outsource and it is a question of finance. I also think that given my market for fantasy is Young Adult, it becomes an even more compelling marketing tool.

You run a non-profit organization that provides education and support for Jewish students in San Francisco. Now rewarding is that? Do the students give inspiration in your writing? 

The students definitely inspire me for the social justice-themed novels. The SF Hillel Jewish Student Center is very social justice-orientated and we volunteer with different organizations in San Francisco. I was very impacted by all that happened around Hurricane Katrina (I had just arrived in the US) and have organized and taken groups to New Orleans ever since. 

All these experiences produce interesting and fascinating people and conversations – in the writing business, we call this novel fodder.

Has the advent of ebooks changed anything in your writing, getting the book to your readers and the relationship with your readers and fans?

It hasn’t changed how and what I write. An author has a responsibility to write the best book possible. There should be no compromise on quality. As you might read between the lines, as e-book production has become cheaper and more accessible, there are people who are churning out books and not investing in an outside editor or formatter. Even if someone is paying $0.99, they should not be reading a book littered with spelling and grammar mistakes. It is a question of pride in the craft of writing. 

Having said all that, the opportunity to sell books cheaply (book price, delivery, production) means that books can be sold for under $5. This gives the new or struggling author a great opportunity. Who isn’t willing to spend the price of a cappuccino and take a chance on the book by a new author? 

Finally, it puts pressure on the more established authors. John Grisham writes social justice-themed novels. His e-books cost x4 the price of mine. He now has to offer x4 the experience to satisfy our shared target audience. By the way – I love John Grisham’s novels and have all of them on my bookshelf.

Does being from Israel present any unique selling and marketing situation? Do you publish your books in other languages?

Actually I was born and bred in England and my first two novels (A Gardener’s Tale and The Accidental Activist) are situated there. Since a lot of my stories come from personal experiences this has a bigger influence – in fact the protagonist from Unwanted Heroes and the subsequent novels is also British. 

There are scenes that happened to me in Israel. For example, there is a scene in Unwanted Heroes in which a war veteran tells of the time he was in Israel for Soldier’s Remembrance Day and compares it to how we recognize Memorial and Veteran’s Day in the US. 

I have a small following in the UK but I am not aware of other countries. I would love for my books to be translated into Hebrew, for my own satisfaction rather than financial potential. Israel is a very small country and my target audience is probably reading in English anyhow. 

There are apparently two people in Scandinavia who buy all my books. I don’t know them, but definitely appreciate their loyalty!

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

Do you belong to any author support groups? Do they help with writing, marketing and the publishing process?

Absolutely. I have facilitated the Berkeley Writer’s Group, a weekly critique group, since 2006 and we learn so much from each other. I have no doubt that my novels are considerably better for the feedback that I receive. 

I am also a member of the California Writer’s Club and attend their monthly meetings. Again, I have the opportunity to network with other writers and accomplished authors. At this club, a small group meets an hour before the regular meetings to discuss marketing. We teach each other different forms and techniques and help each other when people get stuck.

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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).

 

 

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It Takes An Unarmed Village

Kudos to President Obama. While everyone else is just talking (or blogging) about gun control, he decided to get the ball rolling with a package that overflows with common sense.

A month after we witnessed yet another horrific massacre, Obama challenged a cowering Congress to pass universal background checks and bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines like the ones used in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

imgres-3Fighting words or not, he knows that a deeply divided Congress is an integral partner to pass the most necessary and effective measures for preventing more mass shootings.

“To make a real and lasting difference, Congress must act,” Obama said. “And Congress must act soon.”

Already those brave souls in Congress are burning the midnight candle forcing the NRA to send rational leaders to participate in the debate and selling their shares in the pork industry, fearlessly risking their seats by taking on the special interest groups that put so many of them there in the first place.

Okay I apologize. You probably read that paragraph twice, rubbed your eyes, and vowed to  ditch the decaf and return to caffeinated coffee.

Immediately, the NRA was up in arms: ” “Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus dismissed Obama’s measures as “an executive power grab.”

imgres“He paid lip service to our fundamental constitutional rights,” Priebus said of the president, “but took actions that disregard the Second Amendment and the legislative process.”

It seems to me that one of two things need to happen and they both require acts of courage by huge numbers of people.

The first is a mass movement of people who are willing to make this the focus of attention until the mid terms. I doubt this is sustainable. There are too many other issues that effect our pockets and we are simply too attention deficit and the media are too deft at facilitating this. 

The second involves an (unarmed) uprising within the NRA. I have already written about the NRA historically leading gun reform policy. The only way this is going to happen is if the moderate majority of NRA members make a stand:

I realize this hope contains too flaws: there might not be  a moderate majority and, even if there is, it might be too intimidated to stand up to the extremists. Secondly, it renders my blog title inaccurate.

As the President said: “Behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any commonsense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever, The only way we will be able to change is if their audience, their constituents, their membership says this time must be different, that this time we must do something to protect our communities and our kids.”

Here is something we can each do TODAY. Find a friend who is a member of the NRA and take them out for coffee. Invite them to raise their voice – make this about background checks and automatic weapons. Reassure them that the gun they feel they need to protect their family is not threatened.

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President Obama is not going to succeed alone. He needs his friends and he needs the moderate majority of the American people. 

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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).

Castles of Glass – Linkin Park

There are many mediums to promote causes. When I recently spoke to a group about Unwanted Heroes – a novel that highlights the plight of war veterans and homelessness – a gray-haired man came up to me, patted my arm and said: “It is a story that must be told.”

He doesn’t read fiction, only non-fiction, but I appreciated his support. He probably isn’t a fan of Linkin Park – a rock band that incorporates a fair amount of rap – but I hope he would appreciate this beautiful song and video.

If you are not into loud music, turn the volume down so you can just hear it while it accompanies the video.

Not the happiest way to enter the weekend, but as the old man said about Unwanted Heroes: It is a story that must be told.

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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).

 

Scapegoat Hunter

Even if you aren’t a big fan of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, there occasionally comes an episode that is much more serious than usual. Stewart, and his team, know when there is a need for a more cutting-edge episode and, when dealing with the outcry for a debate on gun control, he hit the mark on January 8, 2013.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/tue-january-8-2013-stanley-mcchrystal?xrs=share_copy

You know he hit the mark because of the furor that it stirred up. It is a touch ironic that it takes a comedian to create a debate. It is easy to claim that he showed us the extremists, but these were the heads of the NRA and national TV figures who reach millions each day.

imgres-7But it occurred to me that there must be a large group of gun-carrying people, who are not paranoid that they might need to overthrow the government, and who are not planning to go out and shoot one or many people. There must be a significant number of NRA members who have a gun in their house which they envisage using to defend their family should someone break in.

Where are they? Why are they not speaking up? Is there a fear-factor within the NRA that you can lose your membership, your gun license, or that you might be outright intimidated by the extremists?

No one should have a problem with gun debate. This is a democracy: we all talk, we all listen. No? What is the issue with opening a debate over automatic weapons? What is wrong with looking to how mentally unstable people get their gun license?

imgres-6None of the decisions that might come out of such a rational national debate will affect the average American of good standing and their genuinely perceived need for a gun in their home.

It was interesting that national hero, General Stanley McChrystal, was the Daily Show guest that night. Stewart could not resist asking the general and his answers were so articulate.

imgres-5“You can give the single individual the ability to do extraordinary damage – I just don’t think you can give everyone that ability.”

I want to believe that there are very few members of the NRA who believe a man should be able to walk into a public area and shoot off 30 rounds in 27 seconds, as happened in Aurora. 

Would the rational majority of the NRA please stand up – unless they are the ones feeling intimidated.

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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).

Back to Gun Control – Now

I have to admit that I feel a bit intimidated writing this post. The truth is that I started to write it shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School. My blog posts on gun control have elicited the most virulent responses, primarily from people who didn’t even bother to read the posts. 

But, as I watched the tragedy unfold on twitter, those who immediately ran to man the barricades shocked me. Most of us were just trying to glean information, to come to terms with what I hope we all see as a pointless and heart-wrenching tragedy.

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My first response to these tweets was that this was not the time: not for those who were inevitably going to call for gun control or those who would defend it. So I held off. In reality, I didn’t feel I could write something rational then either.

I am proud that there are NRA members who, while they disagreed with my previous posts, respected that I was not taking an extremist stand, and joined the debate. These are the rational members of the NRA and they have a voice that the rest of us need to empower so that others will allow them to be heard.

But we need to have the debate and it cannot be held under the shadow of a tragedy. In the same vein, we need to establish parameters for the debate. There are a number of points I wish to make:

1. Historically, the NRA was governed by brave leaders who saw a need for gun control and took the initiative to ensure their members were well represented in policy decisions. As such, they were often a rational and productive voice from within the organization. We need brave leaders in the NRA today. 

2. I recognize the inherent need that many men and women feels to be able to defend themselves and their families. I believe this can be recognized and, as such, relieve much of the anxiety around gun control debates.

3. This debate should focus on automatic firearms (a weapon that will continue to fire bullets as long as the trigger is pressed and there is ammunition in the magazine). It would allay the fears of people who feel the need for a weapon in their house.

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There is room to prevent a person holding a gun that can deliver the carnage we saw in the last few tragedies. It is a beginning and part of a controllable process.

Let’s not wait for the next tragedy to debate whether we should debate gun control. Let’s do it now and come to the table in an environment of listening and willingness to compromise.

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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).

Never-too-late New Year Greeting

I’m still basking in the New Year glow. There is something so hopeful about switching from December to January that every other monthly transition lacks. Maybe this year will be one of peace. Maybe we will discover a cure for cancer. Maybe we can create an environment that is sustainable. Maybe we can help people find a meaningful occupation, true love, safety, hope.

It will happen … One Day…

.. but only when we realize that despite our differences we can only achieve it together.

Happy New Year.

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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).

The Three R’s – Adopt An Author

‘Tis the season of goodwill and I’m thinking we should share the love. 

In Judaism, the teacher Maimonides offered eight levels of giving – the highest being to help a person find a sustainable way to lift themselves out of poverty. I have written numerous times about micro-lending, which I think is an amazing solution, but I want to focus on the world of writers. There are many new authors out there and they need a lift up to be noticed.

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I want to invite you to adopt the three R’s and adopt an author for a few months. Disclaimer – you are about to discover I am dyslexic!

R – Read the work of the author. There is no bigger compliment for someone who has spent years writing a novel than to have others read it. Believe me – when I receive a tweet or email from someone I don’t know and they tell me they are reading my books, I get so excited. 

R – Rite about the person. No put away that athame (Pagan ritual dagger) away, but make your computer your sacred space. (W)rite to friends recommending the author, blog about her/him, or comment on other people’s blogs, take to the twitterverse – it works!

R – Review. Despite the controversy surrounding paid reviews, it is still one of the most powerful tools that helps a person perusing amazon, smashwords, B&N, goodreads, etc.

 

Here are a few other ways to help a struggling author (I couldn’t find an R to begin the sentence!): 

1.     Buy their book, if not for yourself, then as a gift for a friend’s birthday, or instead of a bottle of wine next time you’re invited for dinner. Maybe as a Xmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa present. Did you know that you can buy an e-book as a gift and send it to your friend’s e-Reader?

2.     Know someone who is in a book club? Suggest that they nominate your friend’s book for the group to read.

3.     Donate a copy of their book in a fundraising raffle or silent auction as a prize. It is great exposure.

4.     Hug an author. It won’t propel them into the New York Times Bestseller list, but it means a lot.

This is my final post for the year. I want to thank each and every one of you for taking a few moments each day and sharing our blog posts, agreeing, disagreeing, laughing and sighing. Thank you to Tom Rossi and Roger Ingalls for offering different voices and enriching the discussion.

Wishing everyone a year of peace and meaning.

Alon 

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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).

 

 

Lighting A Candle For Freedom

Tonight Jews around the world will light the third candle of Chanukah. For a description of the festival please click on the link. The purpose of this blog is to focus on the theme rather than the ritual. But what I found fascinating is that American Jewry identify and celebrate Chanukah more than any other Jewish festival by a huge margin. The statistics buck the doom-and-gloom fears of assimilation and I believe there is a good reason for this. Chanukah is the Jewish festival of freedom. And freedom, while something the Jewish people have often struggled for, is a universal theme.

This year, I would like to dedicate Chanukah (not that I own any dedicating rights!) to the Egyptian people, who after demonstrating so bravely to overthrow a dictator, find themselves in Tahrir Square again only a year later. Freedom is worth fighting for … and coming back to fight for it again.

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Tahrir Square this past Friday.

The fact that many religions have a festive holiday deep in the winter is another bond that binds us. Here is my offering to kick off the festive season. It is one of a series of cool, hip Jewish songs for different festivals by a great, rising star.

Michelle Citrin has an amazing voice, an amazing personality and deserves so much more success. So please check out her music here.

Happy Chanukah to All People – Let’s all light the way to freedom.
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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).

PTSD – Never Leaves You

This is an old blog post, but the subject is very much on my mind with the release of Unwanted Heroes.

I left my office late that damp, foggy San Francisco night. I drove my car onto Junipero Serra, a main street, and then pulled over, needing to wipe the windows for safe visibility. As I worked my way round the back of the car, wheels screeched around the corner behind me. I instantly crouched down low behind my car and my whole body tensed. I was ready. I could feel my heart thumping.

When I saw the joy riders speed past me, their music blaring, I leaped back into my car,  pulled out and followed them. I think my wheels actually screeched. They would stop at the traffic lights a half-mile away and I could ram my car into theirs. I would teach them a lesson they would never forget. I could clearly imagine the crunching sound from the impact of the two cars and the terror they would feel, similar to the terror that I had just felt.

I pulled up behind them, images of my wife and children instantly grounding me. I breathed heavily and scrambled for some familiar radio station as I followed them to the Daly City exit where I would turn off.

When I had served in the army, I drove plain-clothed deep into enemy territory. My role was to protect someone who received information. There were three guards: one entered with the person, the other two stood outside guarding the car and the entrance.

We were undercover, but wore our army boots and carried our distinct semi-automatic rifles. In short, we were sitting ducks for a sniper, or a drive by. When any car approached, either too slow or too fast, we would take defensive postures. When a car’s wheels screeched to accelerate, we hit the ground, in one well-practiced movement.

My hands remained clenched tightly around my Saab’s steering wheel for the whole 45-minute trip home to the East Bay. When I stepped through the door to our apartment in Berkeley, it was time for dinner, kid’s homework, and to hear stories from the schoolyard.

I had made it home today …  but only just.

But there are friends who were not so fortunate. They never made it home. They never got the opportunity to open the door to a loving, if somewhat crazy, family. It’s the difference between choosing to hit the gas or the brake.

As simple as that.

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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).

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