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