Monday, January 27, 2014

The Start of a Revolution

It is my honor and privilege to welcome aspiring author, Jenny Gordon to Heroines of Fantasy this week. Over the course of years, Jenny and I have been following one another's personal blogs. When I saw this on hers one day, I asked if she would share it with us here on this page, and she graciously agreed...if squeeing and hopping about at the office qualifies as "graciously." This is a discussion we at Hadley Rille Books have quite often; it is the crux of the press as a whole. So, without further yammering from me, I give you Jenny...

On perusing the adult Fantasy shelves in my local bookshop, it seems to me that - depressingly - the market is still dominated by two things:

1. male authors (writing male characters), and
2. epic fantasy (either "the invaders are coming; to war, to war!" or, "the invaders have been and now everything's gone to hell, to hell!")

Now, while there are certainly some fine writers amongst those books, neither of these things particularly appeals to me, which is why I've generally read around the fringes of fantasy, rather that in its heartland.

(NOTE: I'm excluding the Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance subgenres here, where female writers and female protagonists are much more common).

As a girl, it's desperately frustrating for me that the heartland of fantasy is still dominated by men writing about war in some form or another. For a start, it only bolsters the cliched stereotype of fantasy fiction, and for seconds, there are so many more story tropes to explore in Fantasyland.

For instance, I hear that Mark Charan Newton's new series will be Holmesian detective fiction set in a Roman-type fantasy world. And then there's Patricia McKillip's work, which is sometiems referered to as "domestic fantasy", because she tells stories on a much more intimate scale. That's not to say she doesn't include "epic" aspects. In 'Song for the Basilisk', for example, the protagonist ends up bringing down a tyrant. The difference is, there aren't any great battles, because it's the protagonist's personal quest to right the wrongs done to his family, and he's a musician, not a warrior.

This brings me to my second thought, which is that in the Young Adult market, fantasy fiction is dominated by female writers, female protagonists, and intimate rather than epic stories. (Again, I'm excluding Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy here, and concentrating on "otherworld fantasy").

Once again, "epic" is present in novels such as Kristin Cashore's 'Fire', which concerns nations at war; in Leigh Bardugo's 'Shadow and Bone', which is in the "light vs dark" vein, and in many others. Yet without exception, these stories are more concerned with their character's path and growth as a result of the wider warring, as opposed to the warring itself.

Undoubtedly, a lot of this difference between YA and Adult Fantasy is due to their target audiences, but my question is this: If female readers are being won over to fantasy in their teenage years, surely supporters of the fantasy genre want to keep them reading fantasy once they move over to the adult shelves. But where are the kinds of fantasy novels they've come to love amongst the male-orientated epic quests? Where too are the female writers of adult fantasy?

Alright, alright, I know there are female fantasy writers out there, and some have even emerged from the shadows of their male counterparts. I also know that books with male protagonists can be perfectly rewarding for a girl to read. My issue is the on-going skew in the market. For every one female author, there are a dozen hairy blokes!

It seems to me that a pretty large trick is being missed here.

Which is why I've decided to start a revolution!

Let's get more girls writing the kind of fantasy fiction that appeals to girls (of all ages). Let's hold on to the female audience who fell in love with the YA fantasy novels of Kristin Cashore, Shannon Hale, Rachel Hartman, Megan Whalen Turner and SJ Maas, and give them books to love on the adult fantasy shelves. Let's throw wide the doors of Fantasyland and show the boys how much more there is to explore!

Who's with me?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wednesday Review: Hitchhiker by Audra Middleton

Hitchhiker by Audra Middleton
Publisher: BURST
Release Date: November, 3rd, 2013

Former army brat, Ainsely Benton, may have finally found her place in this world, and it's among the freaks. This small town art teacher has the ability to see, hear, and feel what other people are experiencing, and now the FBI's freak squad wants to use her human bug abilties to catch bad guys. Despite her fear of commitment, failure, and responsibility, Ainsely temporarily agrees to join this team of misfits, and ends up risking her life to investigate a conspiracy that may only be one of her schizophrenic coworkers paranoid delusions.

The blurb does a great job covering the story’s content. It’s basically an FBI procedural with oddball agents and a science fantasy twist. What makes this novel a great fun read is Middleton’s deft touch with characters, especially Ainsley herself who is a bundle of issues having a career military father and brother she feels like she’s letting her dad down being “just” a high school teacher. Having an and unreliable often absentee mother growing up didn’t help add to her mental stability although they both share the hitchhiker gene which allows for a limited time to see, feel, and hear what other people are experiencing, but not read the person’s mind. The good news is she never whines, just trucks along trying to do the best she can even though her quirky nature and verbal blurting before she thinks get her in a lot of trouble. 

Ainsley is refreshing break from the plethora of headstrong I-know-best protagonists out there. She proves you can still be strong, clever, and resourceful, without being, well, an annoying ass. Another refreshing thing in Hitchiker is that rather than being attracted to the studly cock-of the walk character, she is drawn to another squad member: Dove. Schizo, Paranoid, OCD, ADD, germaphobic and super brainy. The only problem is the way Ainsley’s powers are activated thorough coming into contact with the bodily fluids of the person she’s going to hitchhike on. How can a paranoid, OCD, germaphobe like Dove ever learn to handle that?

Even Middleton’s secondary characters, mostly members of the freak squad, are deftly layered and by that I don’t mean the “bad” person turns out to be “good” or vice versa, but rather that each character has good points and bad points like real people. That she’s able to convey all that through dialogue and actions in a novel less than two hundred pages is a testament to Middleton’s talent.

The plot is solid and interesting but too hard to explain without spoiling it. I highly recommend this novel for anyone who needs to like and root for their protagonists and enjoys oddballs.

Available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Review by Carlyle Clark

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Question of Diversity

The NAPIRE workshop: diverse cultures, diverse minds,
diverse forests.  Photo courtesy of Lelemia Irvine.
There's a saying in Costa Rica that the first twelve days of the New Year indicate the weather patterns for the next twelve months.  I’ve always assumed that ‘weather patterns’ referred to rain, sun, wind, and so forth.  But it occurred to me, as we launched into 2014, that ‘weather patterns’ could also include emotional ups and downs, professional and leisure activities, what ideas would excite us in the New Year, and what obstacles might set us back. 

A good portion of my first twelve days was spent in a unique workshop sponsored by the Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience (NAPIRE) Program of the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS).  I’ve been involved with NAPIRE since 2006, and have talked about it extensively on my blog for Eolyn.  NAPIRE is a very innovative program dedicated to encouraging young scientists of Native American and Pacific Islander origin to pursue careers in field ecology. 

The workshop brought together the collective experience of several participants to develop a set of best practices for mentoring undergraduate research students.  Our group was small but extraordinarily diverse, representing several Native American tribes and Pacific Islander peoples, as well as students, faculty, staff, advisers, and tribal leaders.  I’ve rarely experienced as rich, varied, and productive a discussion as I did during the few days I spent with this amazing group of people, all dedicated to the mission of increasing diversity in the sciences.

As I made my journey home in the days after the workshop, I found myself mulling over diversity, what it means and where it fits not only in the sciences, but in the broader fabric of today’s society.  Naturally I turned to the question of diversity in fantasy.

The serendipity of composing this post on the eve of Martin Luther King Day is not lost on me.  Last week I watched a documentary about the struggles of the 1960s; what it cost in time, energy, heartbreak, and lives to achieve the civil rights laws that we all take for granted today.  During the NAPIRE workshop I was reminded that despite the many achievements of recent decades, we are still unable to fully appreciate not only the strengths of both genders, but also the rich cultural diversity that characterizes the world we live in. 

TV shows are still cancelled when they have too many intelligent women; the superheroes of our movies remain monochromatic (and the superheroines virtually nonexistent); the image of epic fantasy is often pigeonholed into a fictitious medieval age untouched by non-European cultures.  The list goes on and on.

Of course, these stereotypes are being broken down, day by day, piece by piece.  But there is still a long road to be traveled before we can call the genre truly representative. 

I’m very proud of the small role Heroines of Fantasy has played in bringing attention to the question of gender in fantasy over the past two years.  The fundamental importance of what we do was reaffirmed for me during my week with NAPIRE in Las Cruces.  Now, I’d like to challenge our friends and followers to broaden our discussion going forward, so that we include not only women in genre fiction, but also cultural and ethnic diversity. 

There are a lot of ways to do this, the most obvious of which is to bring to the table authors and books that have enriched the genre along these dimensions.  We can also consider how cultural and ethnic diversity have influenced our own stories.

For example, I talk a lot about the women protagonists featured in my work.  But what about the influence of Native American spirituality on my approach to magic?  Or the connections between the real place of Latin America and the fictitious kingdom of Moisehen?  Why did I think it important to make Corey’s Circle an ethnically diverse community? What is the connection between the Guendes of Eolyn's world and the duendes of Guam?  These and other aspects of the underlying fabric of Eolyn’s world are stories that deserve to be told, and that perhaps I have not spent enough time telling.  

Instinct tells me there are a multitude of stories out there like my own, where the cultural influences cannot be pinned down to a single source, but come from a variety of traditions and peoples.

So, what do you say? Are you ready to take our discussion to the next level and give a greater voice to this topic in our forums?  How has diversity, in your experience, contributed to the great stories you’ve read and written? Why is diversity important to the genres we know and love?

Have at it, HoF friends and followers.  I look forward to seeing your comments.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wednesday Review: Jirel of Joiry

 This book interested me because it's classic pulp from the 30s and features an early version of a sword-wielding heroine. It's a collection of half a dozen short stories set in a (very) pseudo-historical France sometime after the fall of Rome. One story seems to identify the time as 1500AD but while that fits with some references (arbalests), it makes no sense with others. That hardly matters of course but it irked me a bit as the setting could have easily been non-specific as to time and place. I am curmudgeonly about such things.

The first story was fascinating because almost from the start there seemed really no reason for Joiry (as I shall call her) to be a warrior at all. It would have worked as well, indeed probably better, had she been utterly lacking skill at arms. Throughout we're reminded that Joiry is a fearsome warrior but she does nothing that's at all plot-relevant that exhibits her skill at arms. The plot  can be summarised thus: Joiry's castle is captured by the (rather ruggedly handsome) villain. The imprisoned Joiry escapes and with the aid of a priest descends to what she imagines is hell in search of a weapon to use against the dastard who has captured her. Up to this point the story's rather trite and sometimes very unconvincing (even the most dim-witted Bond villain would not imprison someone still wearing armour). But what may be hell is suitably otherwordly and the nature of the weapon she uncovers is quite inspired. What's even better is that there's a bit of a twist at the end (which I suspect may enrage some readers but I found rather amusing and rather added to the strength of the story). Despite Joiry's unnecessary and probably counterproductive 'warrior-woman' status and a dodgy start, this ends up being really good. It should be noted though that action takes a distant second place to description, albeit some of the description is great.

 However the second story, a direct sequel to the first, reuses a good deal of the ideas of the first (and actually whole chunks of text too). It was a lot harder to get into for this reason. It turns out okay although the mental/spiritual nature of much of the conflict rather underlines the fact it's not really necessary for Joiry to have been a warrior.

 Jirel Meets Magic, the third story, does have Joiry in some (rather well done) combat at the start. Again though, the main thrust of the story doesn't actually demand a warrior woman. It's probably the best story in the book though and has lots of great scenes. I liked it a lot.

The fourth story underline the spiritual nature of the real conflicts and although one of the weaker tales is miles better than the fifth story which brings in an overtly science-fiction slant, and is much the weaker for it. Hellsgarde though is a return to form and a fitting finale

All the stories have this in common: the battles are more those of the will than of the flesh. For me Jirel as a mail-clad, sword-wielding warrior actually detracts from the real strengths of both the book and the character. Without the sword she could be a true heroine. With it she is diminished, though the book's well worth a read anyway as it has moments of pure class and is generally satisfying.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Books That Linger

We've sidled along this subject before--those books that stick with us through our lives. Kim's Top Ten Books meme a few weeks back brought a whole bunch of great books to the list, and we even got a bit of why. I want to take it a step further.

If you are reading this, you are a reader, or a writer, or both. Some stories are read and enjoyed and forgotten. Some are remembered. And some, those treasured few, linger in our minds all our lives. I have loved many books, and I though I will name three here, they might not be my absolute favorite reads of all time; they are the ones that linger.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay

I could not count how many times I have read The Giver. When I read it the first time, I was in my twenties. I read it from the perspective of a sheltered young woman coming out of a very dark place to a world that was nothing she ever expected it to be. The Giver made me see that there was so much just beneath the surface, things I glimpsed now and again but never truly acknowledged. As an angsty thirtysomething rebelling against all those conventions and restrictions of a housewife and mother in 1990s suburbia, I disdained the conformity. The ultimate "keeping up with the Joneses" prettied up to look like it was all fair and equitable--as long as no one stepped out of their boxes. When I read it in my forties, I saw the overwhelming love imbued into every word of this story. Heading into my fifties, I am wondering what will grab at my heart next time.

Ender's Game. Is there a book with more controversy these days? While I respect those lines people draw around art vs. artist, I am one who separates them. Ender's Game never fails to bring me to tears from the very first pages. It touches that little kid in me, the one who never fit in, yet longed to be liked, safe. Loved. Every time Ender gets hurt, tries again, outsmarts those trying to trip him up--I cry. He is us, we are him. My motherly heart had a hard time saying, "I loved this book so much!" when it was all about  a child being hurt, used, misused--and triumphant. As I read it now (the spark for this post) I read with all that controversy I mentioned earlier firmly in mind. It can't be helped--but it did not stop those tears when Ender is first forced to do or die.

Tigana. This is the one; the book I point to and say, "This is what made me a writer." I read it at first as any reader would--as a story of love and betrayal, adventure and hardship.

But then came the end...

I read the whole book believing one thing, and then got to the end and said to myself, "Oh! See what he did there? I didn't know this story or these characters at all!" When I read it the second time, because I now knew, I saw all the hints Mr. Kay wove in for me to follow. Details took on new meaning. Tigana taught me that good and evil depends upon the eyes one is looking out of in a way I might never have understood otherwise. It started the clicking that fit other writerly pieces into place, because Mr. Kay, in his brilliant way, taught me that creating a story isn't just pretty words that make adventures for our characters; he set me on the road to weaving tales rather than simply writing them.

These are the stories that linger for me, will linger all my life. What are yours?

~Terri-Lynne DeFino

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wednesday Review: She Wrote on Clay

           This month I had the pleasure of reading Shirley Graetz’s first novel, She Wrote on Clay.  The story follows the life and career of Iltani, a young woman living in the Mesopotamian city of Sippar during the reign of Hammurabi. As a child, Iltani marvels at her father’s scribal talents and dreams of becoming a scribe herself. Since girls do not have the option of studying at a scribal school (É-DUBBA),  Iltani chooses to enter the gagû and become a nadītu. This elite group of monastic women command great respect in society, and many nadītu are highly skilled. Iltani sees this as the best opportunity to pursue her dream and willingly accepts a future without the possibility of marriage or children.  However, life in the gagû proves more difficult than she imagined. The young novice must learn to navigate through a closed society where the intrigues of a powerful woman threaten her chances of becoming a scribe. As the years progress, Iltani encounters many unexpected challenges and choices, especially as a friendship with a male scribe develops into something more.   
                In fewer than 200 pages, Graetz has created a powerful, sensitive work about the life of an extraordinary ancient woman. Through Iltani’s journey, the reader experiences the sights and sounds of the bustling Sippar marketplace as well as the calm luxury of apartments in the gagû.  Iltani’s clay-stained hands serve to distinguish her from the other nadītu and give her a sense of pride and accomplishment.  We laugh with her as a stylish friend tries to dress her up for a special occasion, and we share in her sensory delight as she visits the ornate home of a nadītu princess.  Through her friendships, we learn of the many difficulties women would have faced and the forms of legal recourse available to them. It is a fascinating world that is both alien in its customs and familiar in its humanity.
             In many ways, this book is a wonderful introduction to the Old Babylonian period and current Near Eastern scholarship. Graetz, who received her PhD in Ancient Near Eastern Studies from Ben Gurion University, draws on a variety of primary sources for authenticity. At key points in the story, she inserts her own translations of actual letters, hymns and documents. Akkadian words are rendered in italics, while Sumarian, which would have been known only to scribes, is transliterated in capital letters. The careful use of these ancient languages adds richness to the narrative without detracting from the flow.  For those inspired to learn more, the author provides a list of scholarly resources at the end of the book. Needless to say, I highly recommend it!


She Wrote on Clay is a Hadley Rille Books publication available for purchase on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Writer's New Year's Resolutions

Hello folks, Mark here with a few thoughts on the new year.

I've never been a big fan of new year's resolutions. I figure why wait for some calendar moment to make some necessary decisions about one's life just because "everyone else does it." Besides, from what I know about the practice, most of us who make those resolutions don't keep them. Part of the problem might be that we tie those resolutions too closely with unrealistic expectations to lose all the weight we put on during the holiday season. Let's face it, temptation increases exponentially once we start slinging around mashed potatoes and gravy, turkey and prime rib, dressing, divinity and the plethora of sweets attendant to the times.  I've never made weight related resolutions. I like my wine and chocolate too much to curse myself to disappointment.

But since publishing The Poets of Pevana, I have been making writing centered resolutions. Having publishing dates and deadlines for edits to meet facilitated the practice. I'm happy to report that I met all of last year's! This year, feeling the need to shake myself out of my own funk, I've decided to post my Writer's New Year's Resolutions. Here are my personal writing goals for 2014.

I will edit and clear volume three of my Pevanese Mosaic: The Path of the Poet King before the end of the school year. The project has been waiting for me to commit. Time to tickle the keyboard.

I will develop in earnest the fourth, and likely final tale with these characters, during this spring and summer. I've made a good start and copious notes, and there are a few folks whispering in my sleep. I can almost understand the language they are using. I keep seeing a painter, a poet, a teacher and a warrior interacting in a way that feels like a storm of cultural significance. Perhaps it is just the tinnitus I'm battling...

Perhaps I'm being presumptuous, but I think the working title is The Price of the Poet King's Peace....or something shorter like King's Peace.  It's madness, but it is my madness...:)

I will develop a workable website with a more active personal blog. I started on Livejournal, but have not done a good job creating a presence. That changes this year.

I will place on that website/author page, a good chunk of my poetry and other material both writerly and teacherly. Call it ego, but I have a career's worth of things from the classroom and opinions I want to find a place for. Go here I come.

I will also place on that site extensions of some of the folk tales for Pevana that I've hinted at in early volumes regarding the various exploits of Minuet, Renia, Tolimon and the rest of the pantheon of Old Way's deities.

So, forgive my pompous declarations if you can. Somehow this coming year I intend to squeeze out 200,000 words about myself and a place I've come to love dearly. At the same time I hope to get a bit more techie and at ease with the whole author persona.

These are my writerly intentions for 2014. What are yours?