Sunday, January 10, 2016

Thank you for visiting Heroines of Fantasy! As of January, 2016, we will no longer have regular Monday posts or Wednesday reviews. Our archives will remain on line for your enjoyment.

Many of our contributors and reviewers continue to be active elsewhere in the internet; feel free to visit our contributor and reviewer pages if you'd like to contact them.

Many kind regards,
The Heroines of Fantasy Team

Monday, December 14, 2015

Every New Beginning...

2015 has been a year of good-byes, for me and for many of my friends and colleagues.

Some of these good-byes have come out of important decisions of our own; others have been thrust upon us, making us unwilling partners in the changing patterns of our lives. 

Whatever circumstances, good-byes serve a purpose. They make us stronger, bring us closer to our true friends, and more often than not, open up opportunities that would not have appeared were it not for that first, brave act of letting go.

This month, after much reflection and conversation, Heroines of Fantasy is getting ready to say good-bye, as well. Starting January 2016, we will no longer be offering our regular Monday posts or Wednesday book reviews. Terri-Lynne DeFino and I, who have coordinated this operation for about two years now, each decided independently that we can't dedicate the same time anymore to the blog. The rest of our crew, unfortunately, is similarly bogged down by other commitments. There isn't anyone else at the moment who can take up the reins. 

I'm not sure whether this marks a true end to Heroines of Fantasy, or whether it will be a sabbatical of sorts that will allow us to rest, regroup, and perhaps come back together again six or twelve months down the line. In any case, I wanted to let all our readers know how deeply we appreciate your support and participation. All of us, in our own way, are sad to see this project end.

Back when Kim Vandervort, Terri-Lynne, and I started Heroines of Fantasy in 2011, there were very few public venues where we could engage in the kind of conversations we've had here, challenging the status quo and celebrating stories that give central roles to women from all walks of life. I've learned so much, and found so much inspiration, from our readers, reviewers, contributors, and guest authors. I will miss this venue very much.

What will we do now, you ask? 

Well, for my part, I'm looking forward to the release of several works in 2016. We are preparing new editions of Eolyn and High Maga, the latter to be marketed under a new title, The Sword of Shadows. This is a major undertaking. Not only am I re-editing both books, but what used to be packaged as separate companion novels will now be put forward as a single cohesive series, called The Silver Web trilogy. In addition to these two novels, I plan to put out a paranormal novella, The Hunting Grounds, in autumn. This time next year, I hope to be counting the days to the release of third novel of The Silver Web, entitled Daughter of Aithne. 

I very much want to keep in touch with all of you, and I hope you will visit and follow me at my website, krgastreich.com or on Facebook or Twitter. Any plans to reboot Heroines of Fantasy will be announced there. 

I've invited the rest of the crew to share their plans in the comments below. I know many of them have exciting news and dreams for 2016, so I hope they'll stop by and tell you more. 

I'd also like to hear your news and dreams. What are you saying good-bye to this year? What do you look forward to in 2016?

Because I always like to go out dancing, I'll leave you with this New Year's Eve song by Ana Torroja. It's in Spanish, so my apologies for those who can't understand the lyrics. But it's basically about the topic of the day: Saying good-bye and starting anew. I find it very serendipitous that in this video, the song is interpreted by three women. I can't help but imagine them as Kim, Terri, and me, the ones who started it all, way back when. I suspect that's Eric T. Reynolds back there on the bass, and Mark Nelson is almost certainly playing one of the guitars. 

My best wishes to everyone for a beautiful holiday season and a prosperous New Year.





Monday, December 7, 2015

Endings and Beginnings

December always makes me particularly mindful of time and its passage; how it speeds and slows according to age, tasks, days, stress level, and a variety of other variables. I am ever more conscious of how quickly time flies as I grow older, especially now that my daughters are nearly grown and flown the nest. But I feel the passage of time most in December, when the frantic bustle of the holiday season can’t quite mask the recognition that another year is grinding toward its inevitable conclusion, firmly closing the door on yet another year of hopes and disappointments, successes, failures, joys and sorrows. For better or for worse, this chapter in the book of life has come to an end.

Before the last page of the year is written, at 11:59 p.m. on December 31st, we have one last month to tie the loose ends, to sort the done and the undone, to reflect and regroup. Winter lends itself nicely to this process; even here in sunny Southern California, there is a drop in temperature, a crispness to the air, a dullness to the sunshine that drives us indoors to more contemplative occupations. This is my favorite time of year to write, when I cocoon inside my favorite hoodie and sweats, sit in front of the computer, and escape inside my imagination. As I do, I am mindful that these are the last words I will type in the old year. They become a tribute, a last minute love poem to the best and the worst; what was and wasn’t.

January will come soon enough, sparkling with promise. I, like many writers, will resolve to write more, send out more stories, publish, market, repeat. I will approach each writing task with renewed energy, ready to discard old habits and embrace the new, inspired by the blank pages of this fresh chapter. The empty page is always terrifying: what should I say? Do I have anything to say? How do I make these new words the best they can possibly be? I know what I want to write, and the story has a way of telling itself; soon I will lose control, become swept away into wherever the plot takes me. I will have good writing days, and bad; some days, I won’t write anything at all. I will cry, I will rage, I will celebrate. This is writing. This is life. And so I will carry on until next December, when another chapter ends.

Endings and seem to carry the most significance; we measure our lives in what we start and what we finish. Yes, these are important milestones that drive us to accomplish goals and to reflect upon them. Yet when at last we finish our book, what really matters most are not our first and last chapters, but all of the story in between.

~ Kim Vandervort


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Winter Reading: Under the Skin by Michel Faber



This isn’t one of my regular new book reviews. It’s nearly the end of the year, the northern nights are long and dark, and I’ve been revisiting some of my favourite books. Many of these I first read a long time back. One book, however, that I only met for the first time late last year now sits firmly amid my favourites. It’s Michel Faber’s Under the Skin*.

I nearly didn’t read it. It was published way back in 2000, but I avoided it for years because the first of Faber’s books I’d encountered was The Crimson Petal and the White (2002) and that I hated (I’ve not changed my mind about it, either). But for whatever reason I did eventually pick up Under the Skin, and within a few pages I was transfixed.

Isserley, slight, scarred, in constant pain and with perfect, eye-drawing breasts, drives up and down the northern stretches of the A9 picking up hitch-hikers. Only men. Only men travelling alone. After she’s picked them up, whilst their eyes linger – or try not to linger – on those breasts, she talks to them, finds out where they’re from and who will miss them, decides if they measure up to her standards and fit her needs. And then, well, yes, those warnings you’ve been given about the dangers of hitch-hiking and accepting lifts from strangers are all warranted. But not, in this case, for the obvious reasons.

Summarised baldly the plot would sound fairly banal, an equal mix of sci-fi horror and urban myth. Plot, of course, is not usually the most important aspect of a book, certainly not of a book one reads and rereads. This book gets everything right, characters, setting, echoes and resonances. I don’t want to make it sound over-burdened with cultural baggage – it’s first and foremost a taut and gripping story – but it could be read through the lens of gender politics, or societal divisions between haves and have-nots, as a satire on western fears around immigration or battery farming.

It is also quite beautifully written. Every sentence, every word, counts. There’s no exposition, no clumsy transfer of information from page to reader. It’s Isserley’s world and she inhabits it utterly. Everything comes from that. Everything has context. It’s a story I can believe in completely, even fourth time around. Faber positions the reader more or less under her skin to feel her hatred of the Elite who used her and betrayed her, of the surgeons who mutilated her, of herself for her complicity in that mutilation. And Isserley herself is seen, through the eyes of the men she drops off by the roadside or takes back with her to Ablach Farm. The world-building is fantastic. It’s a double world building, in fact, conjuring the Scottish landscapes, roads and weather as finely and precisely as anything I’ve read. All the details are right, from the cheery banality of the overhead warning signs to the smell of whelks on the shore. And because all those details are right I can, of course, trust all the other details too, the ones not rooted in any reality outside the book.

In life, of course, no one can ever know what lies under someone else’s skin. In a book the reader sees all. As the story unfolds in perfect pace, I learn who Isserley is, what happens at the farm, why she finds the seascapes of the Moray Firth so alien and lovely. I learn of her escape from a miserable life on the Estates back home and the dreadful price she paid for it. I see too that the men she picks up all have their pasts and stories. Some are lonely, some are hopeful, some are well-meaning, some lecherous and dangerous. Isserley must question each, listening, guessing, hoping desperately all the while that she doesn’t make a mistake, but over and again I’m aware of the gulf between reality and perception, and how easily and neatly tragedy slips in to fill that gulf. Only connect, but Isserley has no wish to connect. She has a job to do, only she can do it, and she prides herself on doing it well.

For her past has left its scars upon her psyche as well as her body: she’s a tight, prickly soul, wary of kindness, estranged from the workers at the farm as much as from the hitchers on the road. At the same time, she’s filled with wonder at the strangeness and the beauty of her new home. Most wonderfully of all, I can see, as the story unfolds through Isserley’s experiences and encounters, how the landscapes through which she drives day after day seep under her skin, changing her slowly from one thing to another until, finally, she makes a connection. Metaphysics, perhaps, but still the perfect end to the story.

Harriet Goodchild

* Under the Skin was made into a film starring Scarlett Johansson. It’s often said that the best film adaptations are those which don’t attempt a literal rendering. This one certainly doesn’t, being a very free interpretation of the novel. As it was, having read the novel first, I tried to map it onto the film and found myself perhaps more baffled than a completely na├»ve viewer. In retrospect, that’s the wrong way to view it as, although it retains something of the central conceit, the film works it in another mood and direction entirely. It's a rather beautiful, surreal couple of hours but not much like the source material. The book is, I think, also very beautiful but it’s not at all surreal and not really that strange. It’s concrete and grounded in character and place in a way the film is not.

Buy links
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Monday, November 9, 2015

I'm a Believer

This is going to be one short post, because my weekend slipped by, and then suddenlty I remembered: I'm up on HoF for Monday!

Fortunately, I have a topic handy that ties in with writing fast: National Novel Writing Month.

I'm doing Nanowrimo for the first time ever this year.

I confess, I've always been a skeptic about this event. Being a quality over quantity person, I've never been much into punching out words just to punch out words. Moving too fast toward a number goal seemed to me a sure recipe for having to spend double time on revisions later.

And who knows? Maybe I'm right. Maybe it takes just as much time to mull and agonize over wording while you go along, as it would to just throw whatever comes to mind into the manuscript and then go back later and...well, mull and agonize again.

Still. This year felt like the right year for me to give it a try. I happen to be working on a short novel that seemed amenable to the 50k challenge. Even more tempting, I knew if I took the challenge and succeeded, I could very well have this manuscript done by December.

Now, a week into the dare, I have just over 11,000 words written. Not quite on target to meet the 50k challenge, but well within range to accomplish my own personal goal. Needless to say, this gives me a great sense of satisfaction.

But there's more to this, really, than numbers. Nanowrimo has given me something very much unexpected, and also very welcome. For the first time in a long time, all that matters right now is my story. In a way, I'm reliving the early days of crafting my first novel, when every spare minute was devoted to discovery and creating. I remember this feeling, and have thought of it often in recent years with nostalgia.

Once published, it seems, it's hard for an author to enjoy that pure focus that inspires the first novel. There's just so much else getting in the way. Editing, marketing, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, book signing... the list goes on and on; a veritable truckload of writing related things demand our attention, leaving us with very little time to, well, write.

No matter how far I get on my word count this month, I'm grateful to Nanowrimo for allowing me to sink back into that spark that is the creative moment; to wallow in it, even, for a full month while everything else (even Heroines of Fantasy!) goes on hold.

So yes, Nanowrimo, this skeptic has become a believer. I may be back again next year, and the next, in only to keep in touch with the writer I most like to be.

How about you? Are you doing Nanowrimo? And how do you keep the creative focus alive when all those other writerly responsibilities get in the way?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wednesday Review: Last Night at the Blue Alice

Title: Last Night at the Blue Alice
Author: Mehitobel Wilson
Genre: Fantasy/Paranormal/Urban
Publisher: Bedlam Press
Publication date: September 2015
Point of sale: Amazon
Price: Kindle $2.99 or Paperback $9.95
Description: Mollie Chandler is on the verge of joining a shadowy Order whose magical operatives, the Glymjacks, manipulate events of the past. As the only candidate for the role of Psychopomp, she must pass one final test before the job is hers. The crumbling Blue Alice has been gathering ghosts for over a hundred years. Once a grand mansion, it was converted to a rooming house in the 1920s. Tenants throughout the century since have suffered violent poltergeist attacks by a vengeful spirit, complained of a spectral woman in black who looms and leers at their every move, reported hearing music when there should be none playing, and appealed to exorcists when tormented by a judgmental demon. Mollie must use magic, ingenuity, and intuition to travel back in time to the source of each haunting, avert their circumstances, and change history. If she succeeds, she will have to give up everything she’s ever known to become a Glymjack. If she fails, Mollie will not survive - if she’s lucky. The alternatives to death are far worse. Mollie has but one night to change the histories of the dead and plot the course for her own future. She is running out of time, and into the haunted heart of the Blue Alice.

Good morning! Cybelle here with another Wednesday review. This week I read an intriguing novella by Mehitobel Wilson. The Blue Alice is considered the most haunted house in the region, and it has been selected as the location of Mollie's final exam. In order to become a true psychopomp, she must travel back in time to intervene in the final moments of people's lives and prevent them from becoming the tortured spirits that haunt the place. When she returns to the present, she must give the details of the experience to her Second. During the course of the night, Mollie makes four trips to the past to correct the ghost problems in the old house. The first one goes smoothly, but the three following encounters present far greater challenges. Although Mollie succeeds in clearing the place of ghosts, she fears her methods will destroy her chances of joining the Glymjacks.

This novella is an engaging read and often quite funny. Each of Mollie's interventions would make great standalone stories, but they are beautifully linked through the framework of a final exam. It's an interesting twist on traditional haunted house stories. Although Wilson is best known for horror, this is more of a paranormal fantasy. Her research into various cultural beliefs surrounding death and haunting is clear throughout the novella and adds to its charm. The characters are well developed and memorable. The tale of the sad Goth girl, Gillian Frye, is both humorous and tragic. She sees Mollie as a ghost and is eager to communicate with her. Her death is the hardest for Mollie to process and forces her to reconsider the usefulness of her empathy in dealing with the dead. Her encounter with another young woman, Ruby, makes her question whether all hauntings are bad.

If you're in the mood for a quick, lighthearted read with horror elements, this is a good choice. You'll find references to classic horror films and classical antiquity, along with a great cast of well-drawn characters. Definitely a treat for anyone who already misses Halloween!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Apologies to Thanksgiving

Dear Thanksgiving,

Effective November 1st, all stores have officially transitioned from Halloween to Christmas. I would like to thoroughly apologize on behalf of American culture for, once again, forgetting all about you. I know this may sound insincere, but truly: it's not you, it's us.

Part of the problem is placement. Despite your great significance and firm roots in American history, unfortunately, you are nestled between Halloween and Christmas, which have both transitioned from somewhat modest holidays grounded in old religious and cultural traditions to grand displays of secular commercialism (just be glad you aren't Chanukah, or Ramadan-- they get even less cultural love than you). Let's face it, Thanksgiving: they are big, sparkly and fun, celebrated with lots of parties and freebies. You are old money; they are Gatsby. It isn't your fault that they suck up all of the attention, but there isn't really anything you can do about it, either. Sorry.

Another reason why we tend to slight you is cost. Halloween is a lot of effort, and has become quite expensive. We can't just buy some candy, flip on the light, hand it out to some cute kids in plastic tie-on costumes purchased at the drugstore, turn everything off when the candy's gone, and go to bed. No, the costumes are now either extravagant hand-made Cosplay or pricey Party City fare that clearly costs at least $40 a yard of fabric (or lack thereof). We have to decorate now, too: giant spiders (I'm looking at you, neighbors, and I really resent your 5-foot tarantula), sticky webs, orange sparkle lights, gravestones, mummies, skeletons, etc. At least $100 in candy must be purchased to avoid getting "tricked" by "children" varying in age from 0-60, and we haven't even discussed the cost of booze and snacks for parties. By the time November 1st rolls around, we're so broke that it's time to save for Christmas, and we all know what a financial burden that is. 

Another real problem here is time. To put it bluntly: we're exhausted from Halloween, and we now have less than two months until Christmas. I'm stressed just thinking about it. The retailers enjoy reminding of this fact hourly, with their cheerful "15 shopping days until Christmas!" countdowns and snappy jingles. You used to be a lovely little break in the chaos, but now, thanks to the miracle of commercialism, we can forego acknowledging you entirely in favor of that new little pseudo-holiday upstart "Black Friday" who has seriously encroached on your space.

Look, I really enjoy you. Having a few days off to give thanks for our blessings and remember the historical coming together that saved our colonists' asses so many years ago is really kind of amazing, especially when life seems to move at ever more frantic a pace. Taking time to reflect upon what is truly important to us, to our families, to each other, and to just sit together and be grateful for what we have, in every way that is important to us, is not something we can honor by putting giant sparkling pilgrims in our yard or dressing like hookers, but that doesn't make it any less valuable. We may not exchange physical gifts, but sitting down with those we love and giving them our time and attention-- two of the most elusive commodities in our fast-paced society-- are probably the best gifts we can share with one another. And need I mention that you come with turkey and pie? What are people thinking?!

Thanksgiving, I, for one, promise to do better this year. As much as I love these other holidays, this year I vow to push Christmas off just a little longer so that when you come around, we can really enjoy hanging out. As much as I like that Black Friday guy, I'm not letting him have my Thanksgiving Thursday. I and my family are going to hang out in our pajamas and watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, enjoy a hearty meal, and above all, remember that the world needs a little more gratitude and a little less marketing. 

Maybe if we all slow down and spend a little more time being grateful for what we have and less time worrying about what we don't, we can all achieve some true peace. 

All the love,

Kim Vandervort