To Create a World: another great review!

High praise from Daan in the Netherlands:

Zac Alstin has managed to take one of the greatest themes in humanity’s history, that of wrongful usurpation of power, and turned it into a highly readable and entertaining fantasy novel. It evokes a strong reminiscence of Narnia at first, but the depth of the main characters and the reflections the story arouses raise the book to a higher level, in my perception. If you like fantasy, and are not averse to big questions in life, read this novel.

A higher level than Narnia? Thanks Daan!

If you’d like to read it for yourself, click on the link below for details:

Fat, non-fiction and the philosophy of losing weight

I’m working on a diet book at the moment, and it’s taking a bit of time to get back into the process of writing non-fiction.

The book is essentially a common-sense philosophical approach to the problem of diet, weight-loss, and overeating. And if “common-sense philosophical approach” sounds like an oxymoron to you, well that just means you’ve been philosophising wrongly.

If you can’t use philosophy to ask “why am I fat?” then what good is it?

The book is based on my own experiences over the last couple of years, wherein I analysed the hell out of my eating habits, motivations, and life itself, and then lost 20kg with relative ease.

How easy was it? Well on the one hand, it involved facing some unpleasant truths about my life that were painful and confronting to admit. On the other hand, I didn’t do any additional exercise and stopped even thinking about losing weight. When I finally thought to weigh myself it was a surprise to see how many kilos I had lost. It felt like I wasn’t even trying to lose weight.

I discovered this approach because I’m too lazy to do huge amounts of exercise, too gluttonous to just set arbitrary limits on my food intake, and too frustrated at the conflicting messages and “solutions” offered by existing diets.

Here’s a great example: today the news is full of new evidence that gluten-free diets might increase the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

Meanwhile we’re in the midst of either a revolution or just-another-fad that says refined sugar is the devil in nutritional form. Should we place bets on how long it is before some other new discovery bursts the no-sugar bubble?

I’m not doubting the scientific evidence, just doubting my ability and motivation to sift through all the conflicting messages to work out the whole complex picture formed out of the various strands of research.

I’d much rather see what I can work out for myself, using principles and facts that are unassailable. And if it turns out that I still lack the necessary information to find a solution, then at least I’ll know for sure that this is the case.

Asking “why am I fat?” is actually a great philosophical question. It led me to some very profound answers that have almost entirely changed my eating habits, and the way I relate to food. That’s why I’m writing a book about it. I’m sure some people will find it too radical and confronting, but for others it will provide the kind of certainty and insight they’ve been craving.

While you’re waiting for me to finish writing it, why not check out my new novel To Create a World? Unlike in Harry Potter the evil characters aren’t overweight!

TCAW: Corporal punishment for Goblins

Judging by the feedback, everyone’s favourite character in my new fantasy novel To Create a World is Torvol the Goblin:

“All goblins are beaten when we’re young,” Torvol explained, “it makes us hungry.”

“Hungry?”

“For power, for position, for profit. Beating is a challenge, not a punishment. So a goblin child who is more fearful than the others will get extra beatings – but he’ll also know he’s getting extra beatings, that he’s being singled out.”

“I don’t get it.”

“If he knows he’s getting extra beatings, then there’s nothing left for him to be afraid of. The worst has already happened. He’s surviving harsher treatment than the others. It’s all part of goblin formation, Tom. The confident ones realise they’re getting away lightly, and that makes them doubt their strength a little. The insecure ones realise they’re enduring the worst of anyone, and that gives them confidence. It’s brilliant.”

“I bet you were never beaten then,” Tom said morosely.

“Oh, I had my fair share,” Torvol grinned. But then his smile twisted bitterly. “But there are far worse things for a goblin than being beaten.”

Tom was too deeply immersed in his worries to ask what that meant.

“So are you going to beat me?” he asked instead.

“No, Tom, I’m not going to beat you,” Torvol sighed. “In the end you’re not a goblin. Who knows what effect it would have on you?”

I enjoyed writing Torvol because he’s almost the complete opposite of Tom. He’s choleric to Tom’s melancholic, but that rare breed of choleric who’s wise enough to be magnanimous without losing the inherent sharpness of his temperament.

I think many readers enjoyed seeing the Goblin tear into Tom, pushing him not so gently into getting his act together. And I loved that Tom was finally forced to confront a perspective so different from his own, without the excuse of turning the Goblin into an enemy.

It was also fun to try out some of my temperament ideas – wondering what it would be like for a whole race of creatures to be more choleric as an entire people and culture. Choleric was the obvious choice for Goblins, not because all cholerics are devious, subterranean, greedy little monsters (I still have choleric friends…) but because (brace yourselves, melancholics) the choleric temperament would ennoble the otherwise borderline-evil Goblin race, giving them a worldview and a way of thinking that encompasses not only greed and cunning, but wisdom and greatness also.

Torvol gave me an opportunity to play with the strengths of the choleric temperament – ambition and a quick wit – to offset Tom’s weaknesses, without him becoming choleric in the process. Who wouldn’t want a Torvol to advise them from time to time? Someone wiser and more astute than you, with an unrelenting yet open-minded conception of profit. You’ll be pleased to know I have big plans for him in future books.

If you enjoyed this excerpt about Torvol the Goblin, you might like my new fantasy novel To Create a WorldCheck it out!

My first-ever ebook review!

Dtcwee has written an awesome review of my new ebook on amazon.com.au:

“Then what about me?” Tom demanded. “What am I meant to do?”
“You’re doing it.” The old gnome said simply. “Even if that means being confused and complaining a lot and being ill at ease…”

Schoolboy Tom Gunn ventures into the forest to find a cure for his sister’s illness, and a way for his family to move back to the countryside, away from alienating suburbs. Lost within, he agrees to join forces with a sorcerer to create a a magical world. However, nothing is as it appears, including the act of creation itself.

From beginning to end, I felt primarily grateful to the author for keeping the paragraphs short, the action relentless, the scope focussed, and the headcount low, even if it meant disjointed themes and leaving loose ends.

A rambling chronicle this novel is not. The pace is rhythmic, the language clear, and the few important points are not glossed over or lost in belabouring. You will not have to flip back or search for a name or event.

Yet, this discipline makes room for complexities seldom explored in heroic fantasy such as anxiety, the paralysis of will, and even the function of the genre. By avoiding errors of indulgence, a modest tale is delivered well, rather than becoming – as often happens – a grand epic that exceeds the prose carrying it.

This ebook was a charming and cheap way to spend several hours thanks to the author recognising – in a self-referential nod – that creating a world is less important than telling a story.

Intrigued? Check out To Create a World

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To Create a World – and an ebook!

So I’ve finally published my first ebook!

It’s been, in all honesty, one of the most exciting and enjoyable things I’ve ever done.

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To Create a World is a middle-grade fantasy novel about a boy named Tom who enters a hidden magical world in search of a magician who can heal his sick sister. When he arrives, he finds that the hidden world is all but empty and the magician is long gone. It’s up to Tom to rebuild the world, and fill it with all the magic and adventure a hidden world ought to have.

…and it turns out that writing fiction is awesome. Or, to be precise, finishing writing fiction is awesome. It’s so incredibly satisfying to have reached this point after about fifteen months of working on the manuscript, on top of two or so years of trying to figure out how to write fiction in the first place.

Along the way I’ve been astounded and full of barely-contained glee at all the things that have come together in my life, in my mind, and in my writing as this book took shape.

It’s as though everything has become a metaphor for everything else. Even my experiments with making things like cheese and bacon and beer have flowed back into this creative process, until writing and publishing an ebook became a natural extension of the DIY ethos.

In other words, I’m stoked.

But as with all my other creations, the keyword is experimental. There’s still so much to learn about writing, publishing, and marketing. Expectations are realistic. I have another four books to write in the medium-term along with blog posts and articles to support and publicise this one.

I’m really looking forward to sharing some of my insights and observations along the way!

A big thank you to everyone who reads this blog, and especially to the people who supported me directly and indirectly in writing To Create a World.

The links will take you to my ebook page which lists all the available digital stores. You can purchase it from Amazon if you use a kindle, or the kindle-for-pc app, and it’s available on the iTunes iBook store if you have an iPad or iPhone. Other digital stores can be found on this page.

Ebooks aren’t books, don’t have covers

I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to design an ebook cover for my new novel.

Who would have thought that over ten years of writing have done nothing – nothing – to improve my graphic design and drawing skills?

But I really want to get this book out there. So while I submit my manuscript to the few traditional publishers in Australia who actually welcome submissions, I’ve continued to research and experiment with cover designs that might not destroy all hope and curiosity in the would-be reader.

After investigating a number of options from crowdsourcing to having no cover at all, I finally succumbed to despair.

Fortunately, despair is where I do my best work.

I concluded it was hard to decide on a cover because I actually don’t care much about it, despite everyone saying a good cover is one of the key determinants of success.

But what does a book cover mean to me? I admit that a good cover is a wonderful thing…but I never before considered how these covers were made or where they came from. Now I know that publishers employ artists and graphic designers to create covers, but that’s part of the publisher’s trade along with printing and book binding.

Despite the prospect of “self-publishing” on Amazon, uploading an ebook doesn’t really make me a publisher anymore than playing a guitar on youtube would make me a recording company.

What I’ve actually done – and all I really wanted to do – is to write a story. It’s the publisher’s job to print books, and despite the neologism, an ebook is not a book.

To be precise, what I’ll finally be distributing on Amazon is a .mobi file containing my story. There is no cover, because there is no book. What we anachronistically refer to as ebook covers are simply advertisements.

Looking at it this way helps demystify the ebook cover a little. Plenty of people have already explained that an ebook cover is different from a physical book cover, and how the latter often fails to transfer successfully into a digital form. But it’s so different, perhaps it’s better not to think of it as a cover at all.

If nothing else, this helps me lower my expectations. At this stage, I don’t want to hire an artist to create something for my book.  Nor do I want to leave it blank or text-only. That leaves plenty of room for compromise.

At the very least, it only needs to not scare people away. If it draws some people in, better still. But we’re a long way from the ideal of having an amazing artist read your book and create something that captures the very essence of your story.

Maybe one day.