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 “transformational fiction”

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).

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).

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).

Let’s Talk About Sex

This is the last post of the year, so please allow me some bandwidth with regard to the contents of this blog. Each of my political novels include at least one, if not two, sexually explicit scenes. They are vivid and leave little to the imagination.

I have now heard from three people over the last eight months who do not approve of the inclusion of these sex scenes. They are not Bible-thumping fundamentalists (as far as I know) and, in fact, seem to fit into my target audience – politically aware, ideological, articulate, educated.

One man might not even have complained if it wasn’t for his 16 year-old daughter reading the novel and excitedly passing it around her friends. One of the friend’s mother was not impressed with his choice of literature! Another person, a book reviewer, gave The Accidental Activist a very nice review, but withdrew her offer of a free giveaway copy because she wasn’t sure if her audience was over 18. A third told me that it turned her off the book and she only continued because she knew me and felt committed to read it.

For the record, my mother also doesn’t approve, but I think I am more uncomfortable knowing that she is reading these scenes than she is.

And yet I feel compelled to include these scenes. Why?

Firstly, I enjoy writing them and, even more so, imagining them. I think I would be cheating you if I didn’t admit it.

But maybe more importantly, (otherwise I would just be writing erotic literature – which might be more profitable if less fulfilling) is the care and effort that I put into my characters. I love them, even the bad guys. And I want you to love them too. The only way I can achieve this is to expose all their characteristics there on the page.

Sex is a vital component in my own relationship experience. No one would question that you learn so much about your partner by the way they make love and interact intimately. Sex makes us open up to each other, share our fears and joys, and tells us so much about that person without having to explain it. Show Don’t Tell we are always told – well,  it doesn’t get any easier than this. Such revealing scenes allow us to move along in the developing relationship between characters that might take several chapters to captivate.

The way we relate to sex also reflects upon the kind of society, the mores and values of a religion, community, country, wherever the book takes place.

While it is important to me to reveal the deeper levels of my characters’ feelings and emotions, I do not want to turn people away because of the sex scenes. It is more important for me to inspire and empower people through the actions of my characters. I have written before about Transformational Fiction, if you haven’t read it, please click here to understand what common theme runs through my novels, this blog and my website.

I write from the heart and this is how I want my characters to be judged. I don’t think of myself as writing romance, but it is there because deep down I do not want people to live alone. Finding a soul mate can be the most affirming and empowering thing we ever do. Nurturing such a relationship requires far more than compatible sexual satisfaction. It involves communication, empathy, a desire to see your partner happy and fulfilled.

But the physical is a distinct piece in the puzzle and for this author, allows the characters to share themselves with the reader on a far deeper level. Perhaps I can afford to annoy or upset a few readers along the way in order to achieve the connection between reader and character. If you are one of those people who has difficulty with sex scenes, please feel free to skip those pages. No one will ever know and I prefer you do this and get to the end of the book.

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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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What Inspired The Accidental Activist?

I was asked this question at the Book Review site: Rainy Days & Mondays and want to share my response with you.

Every novel I write begins with a personal catalyst. The Accidental Activist was inspired by a chance meeting with an old friend from my childhood in England, who I met in the desert in the Middle East, and that I wrote about here in the US.

I was a tour guide and the group leader turned out to have attended a youth center I had worked at in London, ten years before. He remembered how passionate I was about grassroots activism.

“I’ve been working on something you have to see,” he said, whipping out his laptop and bringing up a website.

I was enthralled, since in the early ’90’s, both a laptop and a website were cutting edge! But this guy had something more important to show me. He explained how a multinational corporation (McDonald’s) was suing two friends of his for distributing leaflets highlighting many of McDonald’s’ practices. There was no legal aid for libel (this has changed now because of this case) and so they were defending themselves.

This guy and some friends had built a website to help garner support and information. I was fascinated. At that time, I used the Internet to write emails and get soccer results (I am British). I didn’t know then of the potential the Internet had. Few people did, McSpotlight.org was, I believe, the first interactive advocacy website.

The McSpotlight Website

As word spread, the website began to receive evidence from as far as experts working in the rainforests in South America and trade unionists in Australia.

I was fascinated by the impact of the Internet as a tool for social change. As the case unfolded, a number of amazing incidents that highlight the behavior of multinational corporations kept my attention. I won’t mention them here because they are in my book.

I became intrigued by the transformation of a number of individuals impacted by the case. I decided to write a fictional account, not for the sensationalism because almost everything in the book is based upon something that really happened, but because I wanted to highlight the role of the website and the role of an empowered individual.

Most of us can identify with my protagonist, Matt. He is the guy you work with, have a drink with and watch the football games with. But he is also a guy who is personally affronted by the bullying tactics of big business when it challenges a close friend, and he is galvanized into action when he discovers he has the skills to fight back.

Steel and Morris showing the website

I loved writing The Accidental Activist because I was excited by the court case, the potential of the Internet and eventually the trials and tribulations of my characters, who became good friends.

But I have also become enthralled by the idea of Transformational Fiction, where ordinary people are drawn into fighting a social injustice and in doing so experience a life-shifting internal change.

I want my writing to inspire people to stand up for what they believe in. I want it to be an empowering experience. One of my favorite quotes is from Richard Wright: “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.”

Using the form of novels enable me to try and inspire, not though political speeches, but identifying with characters who are similar to you and me.

I have written three other manuscripts and, in each, the protagonist goes through a transformative process. In A Gardener’s Tale, the protagonist helps a young outcast become a meaningful and respected member of the community. In The Accidental Activist, as mentioned, a self absorbed computer programmer takes up the struggle against a multinational corporation who is trying to silence protestors in order to get laid (well kind of), but discovers he can harness his talents to help improve the world.

Unwanted Heroes will be released in the spring of 2012  and tells the story of a young man who befriends a mentally disturbed war veteran and uses his talents to help the old man come to terms with his past and rebuild his life.

I never consciously wrote these novels with this common theme until The Accidental Activist was being critiqued. But now I feel very comfortable and inspired to follow this path. And if it can inspire a few readers along the way, I will feel I am doing my part in creating a better world.

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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).

An Author’s Code of Practice

Earlier this month I gave a workshop for the California Writer’s Club on Transformational Fiction and exploring fiction as a tool to change the world. It was a great session with a group of committed and serious writers all of whom provided insightful material.

At the end, I shared the following takeaway, though not part of the actual workshop, I believe it touches on many of the challenges that writers face. I would like to encourage people to create their own code of practice and hang it in full view from where they sit to write. If you do write your own, please share it with us.

THE SERIOUS WRITER: 9-FOLD CODE OF PRACTICE

These nine tips are inspired by the teachings of Stephen King in his book On Writing. The credit is his, the honor to pass it on is mine, the opportunity is yours.

1. Write Every Day

No excuses. None. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up, but write the next day. If you can, set a consistent time of the day, but either way, this is a daily practice like anything else for which one strives for excellence. If you can, dedicate a place in your house purely for writing. When you are there, do nothing else. Don’t wait for inspiration. Write, write, write.

2. Write a draft. Then let it rest.

King recommends that you crank out a first draft (don’t stop to edit or contemplate) and then put it in your drawer to let it rest. You need to transition from creator to editor and a break helps build the correct perspective.

3. The Ten Percent Rule.

When you revisit your text it’s time to remove all the superfluous words and sentences. Kick out the clutter and your message gains clarity and power. King advises to cut by 10%. Tough to do, but you won’t regret it.

4. Sacred Space.

This is a profession, a business. If possible, have your own physical place to write. Treat it like an office desk. It should be clean, uncluttered, but you should own it. Just entering and sitting down, puts everything else out of your mind. If you can’t have a physical space, create a mental one. I have certain playlists on my iPod and wear headphones. Kids? Yeah, they are in the house somewhere.

5. Shut Up And Listen.

King has a professional network to back him up. Most of us use family, friends, writers’ groups, and other networks. Solicit honest, constructive feedback – compliments are nice for our ego but don’t advance our manuscript. You don’t have to take every piece of advice that every person suggests. But you do need to listen and consider.

6. Read a Lot.

When you read, you learn. It might remind you of what you should be doing: a cool technique, style or voice. Sometimes you learn what not to do. There are always lessons to learn. Read (or listen to it – the audio is brilliant) Stephen King’s On Writing annually. You won’t get bored.

King reads his own book - v. powerful to listen to.

7. Network.

Writing is only a solitary art if you want it to be. Meet writers at writers’ groups, clubs, conferences or online. Support others and you’ll find support (no leaching). Proclaim that you are a writer. Some may smirk, but you’ll discover new friends and contacts, often unexpected.

8. One-third:One-third:One-third.

Allocate your time to thirds: 1. market what you have published (or plan to), 2. edit what you have written, 3. write your next book.

9. Enjoy and Believe.

It’s the only sustainable way.

10. Deliver More Than is Expected. Always.

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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).

Transformational Fiction Workshop

I have expounded in previous blog posts what motivates me to write in the political fiction genre and why I love the term Transformational FictionThis coming Sunday, April 10th, between 10am-1pm, I will be teaching a workshop for the California Writers Club entitled: Fiction As A Vehicle For Social Change: Using the Novel for a Better World.

There are many ways today to reach out and influence people. Traditional media has been supplemented by websites, blogs, non-profit promotion, and traditional activism. But most of these options are often no longer than 5-minute sound bites, or an afternoon of flurry.

The novel has long held the ability to create powerful images and characters that stay with the reader long after they read the final page. What if the novel can precipitate a transformational change not just within the story, but in how it impacts the reader? What if the emotional connection between reader and plot, or reader and fictional character, can motivate the reader to fight social injustice?


I am now in the middle of writing my fifth politically focused novel (The Accidental Activist is the third). Each novel features a character who experiences a transformational process, emerging with a stronger consciousness and a desire to help make a difference.

I am interested in your answers to the following questions:

1. What novels have helped make you the person you are?

2. What characters (and from which novels) have stayed with you a long time after you read the last page?

I appreciate your answers. If you are interested in participating in the workshop, or have any questions about it, please contact Barbara Ruffner at:  bdonruff at lmi dot net.


Finally, one last question. Do you think novels can really help change the world we live in? ——————————————————————————————————

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).

 

 

 

July 15th A Time to Chill Pt. 2 – Failed!

July 15th – Posted a week later…

A hippie café with a mean latte in hand, sipped in the shadow of the snow-capped Mount Shasta. Truly a ‘Garden of Eden’. The boys are swimming in the deep blue lake, the trout are biting, and my partner and I are drinking wine in the evening by the campfire. Vacation – a time to chill, to relax, to reconnect with close ones and nature.

The mistake. I should never have put an Internet option on my cell phone. An email. An interview with a deadline…one that has passed. The sympathetic reporter has sent questions via email since she has not been able to find me.

A rescheduling of tomorrow’s vacation day incorporates a mad dash to a wireless café. Once again I am pounding the keys of my laptop. In truth, the questions are thought-provoking and an hour shoots past as I immerse myself back into the dream – to become a recognized author of transformational fiction.

Whether it is the caffeine coursing through my veins, the deadline, or the dream, I’m not sure, but I suddenly feel pleasantly wired again. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been so relaxed, fishing pole in hand, watching an osprey compete for food.

The osprey might have the upper hand on the lake, but I feel good fishing for another dream.

Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

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