Monday, September 28, 2015

Balancing Facts and Fantasy - Guest post by Katharina Gerlach

I am very happy today to welcome Katharina Gerlach to Heroines of Fantasy. I met Katharina through the Magic Appreciation Tour.

Katharina is a bilingual author from Germany with a heavy Scottish accent. She's interested in everything and will write stories to her deathbed, as long as there are people to read them. When she's earning a little money with her words, it makes her proud – but if she manages to touch the heart of a reader, that's way more important to her. She's a middle aged mother of three, a wife, and a dog-food-can-opener in her second, non-writing related life.

Katharina is a prolific writer, and you can view the full collection of her stories by visiting her web site. 

Balancing Facts and Fantasy

I'm a huge fan of history. If someone had told me so when I was still in school, I would have laughed. But the more I learn about the way we humans evolved, the mistakes we made, and the potential we hold, the more fascinated I became.

However, writing two historical novels (Ann Angel's Freedom and Victor's Rage) based on a true family story, I learned that I can't build a career on this genre unless I oversimplify historical realities. For the first novel my friend and I researched 7 years. The second one went faster. It only took 3 years. :D

Since I also love Fantasy, I turned to writing those, and my readers think I do it well (although as with most authors, I don't dare to believe them). But my love for history wouldn't let me go. Recently, I find myself adding aspects of true history to my novels.

I wrote a YA Fantasy Adventure mostly aimed at boys that mixes medieval times in Europe with a tiny pinch of magic (Urchin King). At the end of the month, I will release a Fantasy Romance set in Stone Age Africa (Juma's Rain). For both novels, I spent a fair amount of time on research.

Now, how to I balance these aspects? That's always the hardest bit. There are so many cool things I find out when I'm doing research. For the medieval story for example, I found a book about toilets throughout the ages. It was fascinating and disgusting at the same time. But did you know that people in a Stone Age village in Scotland already had water toilets? Well, I was fairly surprised by that, so I'm determined to put this kind of toilet (which looked a lot different from todays' water toilets) into one of my novels soon. When I researched the extinct Nok-culture in Northern Africa, I was surprised to find that they went directly from using stone tools and weapons to making iron tools and weapons. They did not use copper and bronze first, like all other humans. Naturally, that found its way into my newest novel.

The problem with adding real life information into fictions stories is that it's way too easy to overdo it. Readers, ans especially young readers, my target audience, want to be entertained, not educated. As an author, it is my duty to provide what they want. Therefore, I have to be extremely careful with which facts I add to my stories. From all the cool things I find out, only the tip of the iceberg makes it into my stories. It itches me to put in more, but so far I haven't given in to this urge.

Obviously, my readers like the mixture, and I remember that, as a kid, I loved to look for the facts in the mix of an author who did just that (Tonny Vos Dahmen, an author from the Netherlands that's probably quite unknown in the rest of the world). It felt like a big discovery when I was able to spot something. The funny thing is that I still remember the facts I learned that way … much better than a lot of the facts teachers tried to drill into me when I was in school.

So, how about you. Do you enjoy discovering real life facts in Fantasy? And how much is too much for you? Tell me and we can discuss this in the comments.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

WEDNESDAY REVIEW: FLESH GOLEM (IronScythe Sagas #1) by Kev Heritage

‘And from the dark unknown came a hooded avenger, a sable-weaved nemesis branded with living iron whose will it was to destroy all works of delving. His name? He had many over his lifetime, but history only remembers him as… the Cowl.’

Welcome to the IronScythe Sagas and the world of Arn, where two suns fill the sky and metals are forbidden, dangerous things. And introducing the hooded nemesis of delving himself—the enigmatic Cowl, the wielder of the land’s own avenger, IronScythe.

Flesh Golem is the first part of an exciting new trilogy of linked adventure fantasy novellas, by UK Indie author, Kev Heritage.

FLESH GOLEM (IronScythe Sagas #1)
Saved from execution by the ambitious Dracus Krall, the Cowl is sent on weregild to kill the evil golem that has lurked in the Krall family home for generations. Accompanying the task is Dracus’ brother-daughter, Vareena, who is not as she seems. She harbours a secret power that will alter the destiny of her family forever.

Kev Heritage's Flesh Golem (IronScythe Sagas #1) is a fast and dark entry in the Sword & Sorcery genre.

Cowl works flawlessly as the doomed, enigmatic, and maimed monster-man cursed to destroy all products of "delving"(metalwork) because in the world of Arn metals are imbued with magical powers and magic is forbidden. In this novella, Cowl's mission is to accompany Vareena, an untried swordswoman who is the scion of a once great House to the now abandoned hereditary home. The reason for her house's fall from grace happened generations ago when her family's ancestral castle was taken over by a delving-demon. Now, with Cowl, enemy of all delving at her side, Vareeena is determined to free her home of this supernatural menace.

Heritage does a great job of moving the story along without seeming hurried and revealing new information about Cowl and the world in a timely and intriguing manner without the dreaded info-dumps. Heritage also has a fine pen for picturesque prose, which will make the read especially enjoyable for those who prefer slightly more vivid and sophisticated writing, though he never comes close to drifting into purple prose.

And perhaps, in the finest accolade I can give Heritage, Flesh Golem inspired me to immediately buy the Cowl Omnibus so I can continue reading tales in the world of Arn.
You can find this novella on Amazon.

Review for Heroines of Fantasy by Carlyle Clark

Monday, September 14, 2015

September and the trees are restless

Certain pieces of song lyrics tend to stick in my head and return at predictable times of the year. Here's one of my favorites:

September and the trees are restless

Six simple words that capture the mood of an entire season. Words that carry weight in my heart. They speak to me of my home in the Midwest, of an entire landscape preparing to undergo the same dramatic change that it has endured for thousands, perhaps millions, of years.

These lyrics are from a song, El Matador, by Semisonic. They tell not only of the end of summer, but more profoundly, of the end of a season of youth for the singer.

Matador sweeps the veil
From the last young day of my life

I don't know if songwriters speak of protagonists in songs, but I'm an author of fiction, so I will. Like the protagonist of El Matador, I feel an important season of my life is drawing to a close. I am looking toward a moody sea with more than a touch of melancholy. I, too, wonder what the next wave might bring.

Seaside revelations
All those dreams and visions of mine
Washed up like a vacation
Lost as I wasted my time

2015 has not been an easy year. Many of my friends have suffered difficult personal losses. Their family members have passed away, some under tragic and unexpected circumstances. Or they've faced formidable challenges in their personal health. Or both. I've not been without my own losses in love, and as much as I'd like to downplay the impact of my trials in the face of what others are going through, who am I kidding in the end? The loss of love is also a kind of death.

Say goodbye to the weekend
And the last of the summertime sun
Driving off the end of a decade
So many things to be done

My regular Monday slot on HoF approached like a cloud on the horizon this week. A mere twenty-four hours ago, I couldn't think of a single thing to write about.

Then this morning I watched Stephen Colbert's interview with Joe Biden on the Late Show, where Biden spoke about the death of his son and how he was dealing with that loss. And I thought, "Maybe this is what I should talk about, too."

Maybe this is what we should all be talking about: the different manifestations of death, and how we cope with each one. After all, this is the hard nut at the core of life, isn't it? And the hard nut at the core of life is what gives rise to the beating heart of great fiction.

September and the trees are restless
Windchimes blow in the dark

Why are trees restless in September? Are they somehow aware that they are about to physically shed something that has been an essential and vibrant part of their being? Does it hurt to drop all those leaves that they have nurtured and fed and given color and meaning to during the long warm months of spring and summer?

And what about their silence in Winter? Is that their meditation, their prayer, their way of working through loss?

Trees are such intimate and yet distant companions. They are with us all the time, yet the essence of their experience remains a mystery. In responding to that mystery we find metaphor, and sometimes that metaphor makes us feel less alone.

Looking through my dark glasses
I see smiles on the faces of friends

Of course, the cryptic message of autumn is that spring will come again, though it's really hard to think about that when you're staring winter in the face. That's why we have friends and family, why we look to community: so there will always be someone next to us who can see the horizon when we can't. Community sustains us while we mourn, meditate, and pray. Friends and family help us remember the warm winds that will inevitably call us back to life.

September and the trees are restless

Yes, it's that time of year. And for many of us, that time of life. As you walk through your own autumn landscapes, where do you look to ease your restless heart? Friends? Family? Faith? Good books? B movies? Music? Art? Dance?

While you're thinking about your answer, here's the song from Semisonic that inspired this post:

Monday, September 7, 2015

Happy Birthday, Heroines of Fantasy!

Four years ago, Karin, Terri and I had a shared vision for a blog that would focus not just on our love of fantasy, but particularly the role of women-- both as authors and as characters-- in the genre. On September 5, 2011, Karin Rita Gastreich kicked off Heroines of Fantasy with our inaugural post, "Why Fantasy?" Since then, we've tried to answer that question in a variety of ways, and I think we've done a pretty damn good job.

A lot has happened since our first post. We've had over 50 guest posts, showcasing the ideas and opinions of men and women, published and aspiring authors alike. After a year or so we added Mark Nelson to our team; then, over time, we included a handful of other wonderful regular contributors: Gustavo Bondoni, Eric Griffith, Louise Turner, and Eric T. Reynolds. Last year, with Julia Dvorin at the helm as Review Coordinator and Claire Ashgrove, Eve Brackenbury, Carlyle Clark, Chris Gerrib, Harriet Goodchild and Cybelle Greenlaw keeping up with a tremendous amount of reading, we added a wildly successful review component. 

The topics we've covered here have run the gamut, exploring everything from the role of women in fantasy, to food, to textiles, to the many nuts and bolts of just getting words on the page. We've dipped the occasional toe into the often turbulent, always passionate waters of the SFF community, and celebrated the personal and professional successes of our sister and brother authors at Hadley Rille Books. But in the end, our all-time top five posts have one thing in common: they are all about women and their role in the fantasy genre. 

I am incredibly proud of this fact, because it means we have done our jobs well. The success of not just these, but many of our female-centered posts indicates that we have created something important for many people out there. We created this blog hoping to bring more attention to the roles of women in the genre, and people not only read what we had to say, but shared it with others, thought it over, commented, passed it on. Have I mentioned yet how proud this makes me?

I would like to think that through this blog we have helped contribute to the ongoing dialogue of women and genre in some important way; yet there is still work to do. Female characters still don't get the same attention that male heroes do; female authors still don't get the kinds of contracts or book promotions that their male counterparts do. Until then, it is important to continue speaking about these topics we are so passionate about and sharing our words whenever and however we can.

So on this fourth birthday of our blog, let's all raise a toast to Heroines of Fantasy. It's been a great run-- let's see where the future takes us!

~ Kim Vandervort

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wednesday Review: The Star Family

Title: The Star Family
Author: Theresa Crater
Genre: Metaphysical/Mystery
Publisher: Crystal Star Publishing
Publication date: October 2013
Point of sale: Amazon and Barnes and Noble
Price: $4.99 Kindle, $16.19 Paperback
Reviewer: Cybelle Greenlaw

Description:  A secret spiritual group. A recurring dream. A 400-year-old ritual that must be completed before it is too late. 
Jane Frey inherits a Gothic mansion filled with unexpected treasures. A prophecy claims it hides an important artifact – the key to an energy grid laid down by the Founding Fathers themselves. Whoever controls this grid controls the very centers of world power. Except Jane has no idea what they’re looking for.

Good evening, Everyone! This week I had the pleasure of reading a wonderful paranormal mystery by Theresa Crater. Jane Frey has just lost her job with a powerful corporation and realizes that, at her age, her career prospects are limited. The same morning, she receives a call informing her that her former music teacher, Miss Essig, is dying, and that she has been chosen as heir. Although she has not been in touch with her teacher for decades, Jane decides to return to her hometown and visit the dying woman. As she makes the journey home, memories of her childhood and Moravian culture come flooding back to her. Jane makes a promise to the dying woman to take care of her house without realizing the enormous responsibilities the task will require. Jane soon finds that she has much to learn about her family's past, the secrets of the mansion, and the rich culture of the Moravian church.

This novel is extremely well researched and provides a fascinating introduction to the history of the Moravian communities in Europe and the U.S. Jane's quest to understand and solve the mysteries of her new situation leads her on a spiritual journey through Europe. Along the way, the reader learns of Moravian connections to famous historical figures, including the great artist and poet, William Blake. It's a captivating, well-paced story of international power brokers with occult interests, who are trying to shift the direction of the future. Along the way, Jane suffers the loss of a friend and rejoices in the renewal of an old relationship.

Comparisons could be made with Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, but I actually found this to be a much better read. The characters are realistic and engaging, and the writing style is elegant. Nothing is oversimplified for the reader (one major complaint I had with the DaVinci Code), but the plot is still easy to follow. I think this book would appeal to a wide audience. It's very hard to put down, and I'll definitely look for more novels by this author!