Monday, December 26, 2011

Sleeping Beauties

I've found out over the Christmas holidays that my niece's favorite Disney Princess is Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty.  Not because of any particular aspect of her story, but because she's the one who wears Pink.

Right inside those two sentences, there are a few topics for discussion, but not for this week.  This week, Sleeping Beauty is my favorite princess as well, not because she wears pink, or because all she needs is a kiss from the right guy to cure her, but because of the extraordinary example she sets and which I intend to follow, for at least a few days: 

Why wake up when you don't really have to?

All this to say, Heroines of Fantasy is on holiday this week, but before we let everyone get back to their beauty rest, let me just make a couple announcements: 

Please stop by Donna Brown's blog Book Bags and Catnaps to vote for our novels as part of the Indie Love contest.  It will only take a few minutes; just scroll down and click 'Like' underneath the thumbnail for EOLYN, FINDER, THE SONG AND THE SORCERESS, or THE NORTHERN QUEEN.  There are a lot of great titles, and you can vote as many times as you want, so 'like' away.  Voters have the chance of winning a $25 gift certificate from Amazon.  Thanks for your support!

Elsewhere, on my blog for EOLYN, I've posted my annual Christmas Reading.  This year's excerpt, by popular demand, is the 'Gingerbread House' scene from Chapter Two.  Ten minutes of a little story telling magic; I hope you enjoy it. 

Those are all the announcements. 

Starting next week, Terri Lynne-DeFino will be our MC for the spring.  Hooray!  She is bringing a great selection of guest bloggers with her; for names, links and dates please check out the right hand bar.

Also, if there are any particular topics you'd like to see us put forward for discussion in the New Year, please let us know!  You can write your suggestions in the comments here, or email us at women.writing.fantasy(at)

On behalf of Kim, Terri and I, I'd like to wish all of you a wonderful holiday.  Thank you so much for being part of our discussions and musings on Heroines of Fantasy.  We've really enjoyed this blog and very much appreciate all the insights and perspectives you have brought to the table.

Now, go get your rest, because next week, we'll be back at it!

p.s. -- Not to open yet another topic of discussion (because we're all supposed to go back to sleep now, right?), I wanted to mention that in searching for images for this post, it was almost impossible to find Sleeping Beauties that were NOT the Disney standard. It's amazing just how much Disney has, for better or for worse, co-opted our images of the classic fairy tales...

Posted by Karin Rita Gastreich

Monday, December 19, 2011

La Befana

La Befana walks the dark-night streets, leading her little white donkey. She raps softly upon the door of every house wherein a child lives, because she is polite and would never simply intrude; but no one answers at the hour she calls, and she lets herself in nonetheless.

She looks underneath the table, in the potato bin, and behind the woodpile, sighing softly, sadly. She sweeps the floor with her ancient broom. She leaves the sweets from her hamper, and sometimes coal if the children of the house were naughty. The offering of wine sipped, cheese and bread nibbled, La Befana lets herself out again.

In the yard, her little white donkey lifts his head from a bucket, sweet well-water dripping from his ghostly muzzle. He's already eaten the grain from the shoe, and is ready when La Befana calls him to her. Off they go to find the next house wherein children live, to search again for her missing babe, to leave sweets and to drink wine, until dawn calls forth the new day, and her night of wandering is over.

There are as many stories of La Befana as there are towns in Italy. This is the gist of the one I remember from a time when I didn't know what memories were. It obviously collected quite a few stories and put it into one--including the Mexican element of grain in the shoe for the donkey. La Befana herself comes out of Italy's ancient past, and not, as far as this Streganona is concerned, a mispronunciation of Epiphany. Even the story I know from my childhood is very Christianized, though the pagan elements remain for any who care to acknoweldge them: At the turn of the year, La Befana sweeps away the year's detrius, and leads her white donkey to the dawn.

Christian legend says the three kings of the magi asked La Befana for directions (men, asking for directions?) and though she gave them shelter in her home, she was too busy cleaning to join them on their journey. Later, she regretted her decision and went after them, and to this day is still searching. In her search, she leaves all the little children she comes across a treat, just in case one of them is the baby Jesus.

Another Christian legend says La Befana was a woman whose child had died. Hearing of the birth of the baby Jesus, she set out to find him, convinced he was her lost son. When she finally found the baby, she gave him gifts. In return, Jesus gave her all the children in Italy for one night every year.

At this time of year, in the northern hemisphere anyway, no matter the faith or culture, it is the celebration of light's triumph over darkness. What stories come out of your past? Your grandparents? Parents? Interesting neighbors? Share!

Glad Tidings of this Joyful Season, and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 12, 2011


Even Santa needs a break!
It's going to rain tomorrow.

Normally I'm not a fan of wet weather, particularly when said weather is also cold.  There is a reason why I live in sunny Southern California, where we all put on our parkas and scarves as soon as the temperature drops below 65.

However, at this point in the holiday season, I'm sort of looking forward to a shut-in, lazy sort of day, where "the weather outside is frightful, and the fire is so delightful."  December, in particular, is hectic.  I'm at the end of my semester, so I'm right in the middle of that last burst of grading.  My eldest has finals this week.  And there is still plenty of shopping, wrapping and baking, parties to attend, visiting, volunteering.  It's easy to feel like I'm caught in a whirlwind of color and noise this time of year, with barely any time to pause and reflect.  Never mind time to engage in one of my favorite leisure activities: reading.

Winter storms force us to pause and take a much needed break.  To reflect.  To relax.  To curl up on the couch with a thick blanket, shut out the outside world, and read.  Right now, I'm looking forward to finishing Terri-Lynne DeFino's richly woven A Time Never Lived, the incredible sequel to her first novel, Finder.  Next I'm going to resume reading either Tamora Pierce's Bloodhound or the ARC of Under the Never Sky, a forthcoming YA dystopian novel by Veronica Rossi.  Those are at the top of the towering pile of juicy fiction goodness stacking up next to my bed, but if those don't strike my fancy, I may pull out something else.  Whatever I choose, it will most likely be fantasy of some sort, either epic or dystopian.  It will provide me with a much-needed escape from the crazy day-to-day, for just long enough to recharge my batteries for the days to come.

As 2011 speeds toward its inevitable conclusion, I challenge you, gentle reader, to pause.  Pick a day.  Maybe it's a bad weather day, or a bad hair day, or even just an hour or two carved out between tasks on your to-do list.  Buy, beg, borrow, or steal the time if you must.  Forget about all of the musts and have-tos for just a little while, curl up in front of that fireplace, and lose yourself in a good book.  You'll be so glad you did.

So-- rain or no rain, what are you going to read next?

~ Kim Vandervort

Monday, December 5, 2011

Stories of Christmas Past

At midnight, the Christmas Tree becomes
larger than life; a climactic moment
in Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite 
When the first snow fell Mage Corey appeared, wearied from his journey yet infused with the energy of contentment that accompanies a true homecoming.  Upon his arrival, preparation for Winter Solstice began in earnest.
~ EOLYN, Chapter 23

I like Christmas.

In part, because the season and traditions are such a nice integration of my Pagan, German and Catholic roots.  Symbols that have transcended time, culture and religion abound – the Christmas tree, the Advent’s wreath, holly and mistletoe.  Song and celebration. The coldest night, the shortest day; death and renewal of the cycle of life. 

One could say the event we currently call ‘Christmas’ has outlasted many of the beliefs that have upheld its celebration; its origins date back long before the conversion of Europe to Christianity.  Even today, people often celebrate Christmas regardless of its contemporary religious significance.  For some reason, it simply makes sense this time of year to deck the halls and stoke the fire, to sit in cozy spaces with family and friends while sipping hot spiced wine or cider, munching on the traditional sweets and delicacies of the season, and retelling the beloved legends and myths that bind us as a family, people and culture.

Carl Offterdinger's interpretation
of Maria Stahlbaum.  A dark-haired
witch in the making?
Last year on my blog for Eolyn, I dedicated a December post to one of these timeless tales:  E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King. Every year when Christmas approaches my thoughts return to this story, one of the favorites of my childhood. 

When I was a young girl, it seemed Hoffman’s Maria Stahlbaum and I had much in common. Maria lived in Frankfurt, a city which I knew well, and which had been the childhood home of my own mother. Maria thrived on dancing and parties and adventure.  She got along well with her brother (except for the occasional dispute regarding ownership rights over the new action figure).  She loved her mysterious and eccentric Uncle Drosselmeyer, whom I could not help but associate with my own paternal grandfather (though in truth the characters of these two men were quite different; and unfortunately, my grandfather was not a toymaker).

Like many scenes, this moment between
Maria and her ugly prince is lost in
Tchaikovsky's famous ballet.
Over the years, the adventures of Maria (also called ‘Klara’ in the Tchaikovsky ballet interpretation, which is to Hoffman’s tale as Disney is to Grimm) have inspired me in countless unexpected ways.  With time, Hoffman’s complex little story blended with Tchaikovsky’s much simpler ballet, melding in the mysterious pathways of my own mind to become more than a children’s Christmas story: It became a tale of a young girl’s coming of age, of the discovery of the power of her own magic. 

The Chistmas Tree has transcended frontiers of
culture and religion to remain an enduring symbol
of life and warmth in a season of cold and death.
I bet few people see The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King in quite the same way I do, but that doesn’t really matter.  What’s cool about all this is the way in which the stories we love as children can become an integral part of who we are as adults. 

That’s what I would like to celebrate this week: the Stories of Christmas Past; those wonderful tales that have stayed with us from earliest memories of childhood.  Tell me about them all, how they inspired you then, how they inspire you now. 

In the spirit of the season, I’m especially interested in the holiday legends, but if you want to share other stories as well, please do.  Let's rediscover the Children's Magic inside us all.

Wishing you a joyous holiday season, and many great stories besides.

~Karin Rita Gastreich

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Apocalypse Gene

One announcement before we move forward with this week's special guests:  Hadley Rille Books is celebrating its birthday with special offers on all its titles:  just $0.99 for the Kindle or Nook editions; this includes all novels by Terri-Lynne DeFino, Kim Vandervort and Karin Rita Gastreich.  The sale lasts only through November 29, so if you haven't yet ordered your electronic edition of your favorite titles from HRB, now is the time.  Happy reading!

* * *

We are delighted to have as our guest bloggers this week Carlyle Clark and Suki Michelle.  Clark and Michelle are co-authors of The Apocalypse Gene, released just this past October by Parker Press.  This critically acclaimed blend of science fiction and fantasy is set in a near-future Chicago.  The protagonist, Olivya, is a spirited young African American woman whose unique ability to see auras becomes a key weapon in a struggle upon which the fate of the world – and perhaps the universe – depends.  I recently finished reading The Apocalypse Gene, and will be posting formal reviews on Amazon and Goodreads in the next week or so.  In the meantime, I can give the novel my highest recommendation for anyone interested in imaginative blends of sci fi and fantasy that engage the reader with imminent danger, nonstop action, a healthy dose of romance and a touch of well-placed humor. 

Please join me in welcoming Carlyle and Suki to Heroines of Fantasy.

Olivya-Wright-Ono is a fifteen-year-old, sword wielding, aura seeing, African–American girl born into a near-future dystopian Chicago. She lives on the pages of The Apocalypse Gene and loves nothing more than to share her adventures. That she has that opportunity is a miracle. First, let's talk about what her authors didn't know when they started writing her story.

  1. We didn’t know that there was such a word as "dystopia" let alone that it was a whole genre or that it was the genre we were writing. Needless to say, we hadn't yet heard of The Hunger Games, and didn't until the manuscript was almost complete.
  2. We didn't know there was a term called POC - Protagonist of Color – or that there were very few in YA Speculative Fiction – especially those who are female.
  3. We didn’t know that Olivya’s story, as it developed, would refuse to stay within the strict boundaries of any genre.
  4. And we certainly didn’t know that new authors who try to enter the scene with a novel that combines Dystopia, Urban Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Paranormal, and even Cyber-Punk was enough to make agents' and editors' heads spin.

In our ignorance, innocence, and enthusiasm, we forged ahead. At last it was ready to present to what we thought would be waiting arms of agents and publishers. How surprised we were to discover that the story, being utterly unique, met no pre-established marketing paradigms, that there was no proven sales model to encourage agents and publishers to snap it up regardless, as most of them said, of its originality, the quality of writing, or the fresh new characters. Most rejected it with regret simply because the novel refused to be part of any trend.

Then along came Parker Publishing who specializes in multiethnic literature. They loved our story for their Moxie imprint, and they loved Olivya. The Moxie heroine, as Parker describes her, surmounts all obstacles in her path, and learns lessons from each.  MOXIE heroines are the antithesis of unrealistically pretty and shallow characters that have been popularized in much of YA fiction.

This is a perfect description of Olivya! When the book was released, we were greeted with high praise from professional reviewers and many beloved readers - words like "unique", "refreshing," 'wildly imaginative," and of course, "original." 

Olivya is a headstrong girl, rough around the edges, and highly determined. You can't dictate to her – you’re lucky if she'll even pay attention. At first, we wrote her weapon as a good old katana. No. Olivya wanted an obscure Japanese sword called a nagamaki, which has a handle as long as its damn blade! That's just how she is - difficult and opinionated - but so much more. Loving one moment, cynical the next, and filled with pain because her aura sight forces her to see the suffering of the pandemic with exquisite agonizing intimacy. She had every right to give in to despair, but that's just not her style.

Carlyle Clark and Suki Michelle

Olivya is a fighter. She won't give up on her sick mother, her dying world, or on hope itself. The odds against her are staggering. Horrifying myths and monsters spring to life around her. Shivpacks run the streets of Chicago, hell bent on chaos. Cancer is ravaging the world.  Challenge after challenge arises. The one thing you can count on is that Olivya is the embodiment of MOXIE. She will fight whether it is against monsters and mayhem or for the preservation of love and hope.  Olivya . . . Will . . . Fight.

As Kirkus says in their review, “This novel is ultimately about belief, belief in yourself, your friends, your family, and the future.”  We are proud to present Olivya to the world. She is a sorely needed role model for young women of every race, and we thank Parker Publishing’s Moxie for giving her that chance.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Food, Glorious Food!

What is Thanksgiving without food?

I’ll admit it: I love to eat.  It’s probably no great secret that the rest of us do, too.  But food means more than just sustenance—what we put in our mouths is a central focus of our lives and defines who we are as individuals and as a culture.

So why is food largely absent from fantasy?  Authors provide occasional mentions of food: the giant roasted boar at the banquet, the dead rabbit shared around the fire.  But we fantasy authors, with all of our imagination and creativity, could do so much more.  Food can be used not as a throw-in detail (or as too much detail), but to actually define our characters and the world in which they live.

Use food to define personality.  One of the petty criticisms of Ken Scholes’ fantastic first novel, Lamentation, was that his main character’s preference for chilled fruity wines was unrealistic.  Where did his minions find the ice, after all?  While this detail can distract the reader, it also helps create this character.  Through the series, Rudolfo changes from a carefree lover of chilled wine and women to a strong leader.  In later books, when he starts hitting the chilled wine rather heavily, it says something altogether different about his character, and Scholes doesn’t have to use much space in the novel to do it.

As much as our likes define us, our dislikes define us more, and can say a great deal about our personalities in very few words.  A child who only eats pizza and chicken nuggets?  Picky.  A person who refuses to drink anything but red wine from a certain label?  Discerning.  What conclusions can you draw about someone who enjoys everything?  Who prefers lots of meat, no meat, or rich foods?  Who refuses to eat that dead rabbit, and instead fetches her own berries from the forest?  A simple mention of what a character chooses to eat (or not) can say so much about your character in only a few words.  

Use food to define social class.  One of my favorite scenes to write in Song and the Sorceress was the one in which Ki’leah, a runaway princess, tries to figure out how to eat without silverware in a totally different environment.  The people around her dig in with pocket knives and fingers, a method completely foreign in her world of polished silver forks and knives.  It’s a huge culture shock, as it should be for any member of pampered royalty thrust into the wilderness, and says a great deal about social structure and manners in Ki’leah’s world.

Use food to define families and traditions.  It intrigues me that many modern fantasies don’t incorporate the same traditions that we hold dear.  There is no Thanksgiving, no Passover, no gathering of family in the kitchen to put together a meal.  Yet these are important elements of our cultural heritage.  For many of us, gathering to make the Thanksgiving meal as a family is almost more important than consuming the end result.  How can food help define your characters’ ideas about family and their relationships?  How can the simple preparation of a meal define their place in a greater tradition?

Food as cultural signature.  Most people know what it means when something is as “American as apple pie.”  Whether we like it or not, our culture is defined by our love for fried chicken and fast food.  A universally-recognized sign for all things American looks suspiciously like the golden arches.  We also define other cultures by what they eat, whether they enjoy rice, bangers and mash, or baked ziti.  And this is where fantasy runs into the most trouble: nothing says Euro-centered fantasy like that infamous roasted boar.  In fact, I would argue that the boar has become a more prevalent stereotype in fantasy than the sexy female love interest.  Got boar?  Check!  Consider instead finding some dish, even creating your own, that defines your culture in a stronger way. 

Perhaps most importantly, let your characters eat!  They do need sustenance for that long journey, battle, or interrogation.  Let your executioner munch a turkey sandwich while he tortures your hero.  Have your heroine grab a bit of jerky on the road (or at least let her stomach growl).  Food is a part of your characters’ lives as much as it is a part of your own; and, with just a few small details, you can build a better world.        

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Story We Created

(I apologize for the formatting kerfuffle here. I have been trying to get it to look like it's supposed to for half an hour now, and it's just not working. I'm certain Karin or Kim will be able to fix it! For now, you'll have to suffer with my lame-ass tech skills.)

As promised, here is the story created this week in Heroines of Fantasy. I needed a few more than five lines to close it out, but I think it turned out really faboo. That old saying about too many cooks ruining the soup?? Not in this case! I give you--Our Story...
Light, the final ingredient, and the most elusive. Maia gathered up the ribbons she found in the crusty trunk her grandfather kept under his bed. "From older days, when I was young and full of spice," he told her, and winked, and tucked the ribbons back into the trunk. Maia knew better; these were no bobbies passed by poxy-doxy-girls to favor young men just in from the sea. They were light, trapped and coveted; and her grandfather was nothing of the kind.
She twisted the ribbons around her wrist, watched the play of light and shadow, delighted in the slip of silk and satin against the warmth of her skin. What she could do with these tools! She could work the magic of these little slips of light in ways her grandfather only dreamed. What he had never understood, she knew: it took a woman's touch to unlock the secrets of light and shadow, to find the gray areas trapped within.
If only her grandfather could see the complex tangle of ribbons now. But would he understand? That was something she'd never know, but his perspective on the world was quite different and rigid. But Grandmother, she would have understood. And she would appreciate the new way.
Maia ran a strand of green silk between her thumb and forefinger. Green, the light of life. Could she use it to give temporary life and a temporary voice to Grandmother? She knew she couldn't bring back the dead, but what if she could allow Grandmother to speak for a short time? What secrets, what magics would she reveal?
She knew fire would be necessary. She searched for matches and the tiny brass burner her mother used for incense. She set the burner on the windowsill, coiled the green ribbon in its cup. The first match fizzled, but the second caught. She touched its bright orange flame to the frayed tip of the ribbon. A tendril of smoke spiraled up.
A soft knock at the door caught her attention for a moment. Then faded away again. The words tripped off her tongue, slipped from her teeth and into the shadows like bats into the haze of dusk.
“Maia,” the voice said. “Your dinner's getting cold.”
Then the door opened, revealing in the glow of lamplight, the terror on her grandfather's face.
“What are you doing?” he hissed.
Maia paled. "I was just—I thought—"
Grandfather spied the tiny wisp of smoke and shoved past her, intent on snuffing it out.
Maia hesitated, the words of the spell pregnant on her tongue. Now was her moment, if she would speak, and reverse the damage Grandfather had done, so long ago.
“No!” she cried and snatched the cup from grandfather’s hand. Off her tongue fell words bright and fierce. They strengthened the orange spark. Green light wound its way through the strand of silk and exploded into joyously into the air.
“Oh, child, you don't know what you've done,” said grandfather, a look of incredible sadness on his face.
Light danced in shades of jade, mandarin, vermilion, cerulean; flames twisting around each other in an ever more frenzied rhythm. The center of the vortex rumbled and writhed, then expanded outward, forcing the walls to bend and groan. Without warning, the magic imploded. All color, all light was sucked into darkness. In the black silence that ensued, Maia drew a frightened breath and reached for her grandfather's hand.
“Maia, is that you?”
“Grandmama? I can't see you.”
“No!” shouted grandfather, squeezing her hand tight. “You don't know what you've done.”
“You said that already, Grandfather,” said Maia, “and you're hurting my hand!”
A tendril of smoke curled up from the bowl and stroked Maia's cheek. She shivered, for the smoke wasn't warm, it was cold and slick as a newly-caught fish.
“Edmar always did have an exaggerated sense of drama, didn't you, Edmar?” said Grandmother's voice, as cold as the smoke. Grandfather squeaked and dropped Maia's hand, backing away from the smoke.
“Ediris, forgive me!”
Maia felt a cold chill as the draft wafting around her legs and arms subsided. Grandfather? Grandmama? All was still. And black.
“I forgave you long ago.” Grandmama curled around her husband, like the cold, like the smoke. “It is forgetting I will not do.” Light burst from grandfather's eye sockets, his ears, his nostrils. Grandmama sucked him in, sucked in his life, his light; and when grandfather was a husk drifting soundlessly to the ground, Grandmama turned to Maia.
“How do you follow that up?” asked the Narrator. “I mean, really. That's pretty exciting stuff.”
“Shut up,” snapped the reader. “Tell the story.”
Grandmama looked at Maia, the dribble of grandfather's light wet around her mouth. A long, black tongue snaked out licking the room to darkness again. “Come here, my pretty,” the fish-belly voice said.
Maia slipped shaking hands under her apron and pulled the rest of the ribbons, still in their complicated knots, from the waistband of her skirt. Did she have enough time?
“You are not my grandmama,” Maia said, bunching the ribbons in her fist. “She was wise and brave and kind.”
“And tasty.” The thing-not-grandmama moved closer. “Edmar did not believe his playthings would bite back, but he learned," she licked her lips, “and so did his beloved Ediris.”
“Grandma, what big teeth you have!” said Maia.
“Oh no, no, NO!” said the reader. “That has been soooo done already!”
The Narrator cleared her throat in embarrassment. “Sorry. Let me try again...”
The thing took another step, and Maia could see that it drifted, rather than walked, as though it was woven together from smoke and fog. The scent of burned hair and sulfur hung heavy in the air.
“It won't hurt very long, unfortunately,” the summoning said.
In the hall, the grandfather clock tolled the hour, its song filling the room with dulcet tones. The creature turned towards the sound, its head cocked, transfixed by the melody it played.
Maia felt the ribbons in her fist. If only she could see their colors in the dark. Wait, what was that? A little flash of red sailed up her fingertip. Which ribbon had it come from?
“Red for fire,” whispered a voice close beside her ear. “To burn away the darkness and dark creatures.”
Not-grandmama didn’t appear to hear the voice, but could Maia trust it? She'd already stumbled into one curse calling-forth and feared another. But the-thing-not-her-grandmother was already turning back towards her, and she had no choice. She played her fingers rapidly against the ribbons until red sparked again and spit out the words.
“Red is not for fire,” Maia thought. “Red is for blood. For life!”
The ribbon twisted, slowly smoldering down to ash. The chimes of the clock continued to ring: twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen; eventually she stopped counting.
She ran.
The thing not her grandmother gave chase, cold flicking at Maia's heels. Its fishy breath chilled the back of her neck.
“Yes, yes, run. The light tastes better when young and heated.”
“Follow me to your doom,” Maia whispered between panted breaths, ribbons clutched tightly in her hand.
Down the hill, over the tops of the trees, Maia saw the pennant flying from the top of the town's abattoir, a place she usually avoided at all costs, but today the place she most needed. The twists and turns of the forest trail swallowed her up, but didn't throw Not-Grandmama off her trail.

Maia burst through the last stand of trees into the clearing which held the abattoir, into a wall of sound composed of lowering and panicked beasts. Red ash rose from her fingers, spreading and transforming the blood this place was soaked in into a glowing web of red light, scintillating drops of red as numerous as the grains of sand on a beach, fascinating Not-Grandmama as Maia hoped they would.

That which was not Grandmother ground to a halt, mouth opening and closing with desire. "Beautiful! I must count them all."
Greed twisted its features into a parody of happiness. Sobs of mind-numbing fear shuddered Maia's little body, and she curled up on the ground, her fingers still open, the red ribbon continued to turn to red ash, the blood into red light.
The creature sucked eagerly at the red light, and grew. Maia, past the hope of her life continuing, watched through her salty tears as the not-grandmama blew up like a pig bladder in its greed.
“Red for blood, green for life, gold for light, blue for courage, and pink for love…” Again that voice whispered, so far away and trembling. The thing-not-grandmama towered over her now, sucking and still not sated. Maia tugged the blue ribbon from the clutch in her fist. She stuffed it in her mouth and swallowed.
“What is this?” shrieked the creature. “You dare take what is mine? What I was tricked into giving that old man and his wife? I will have it back. Right. Now!”
Not-grandmama grabbed Maia around the waist, hauled her into the air. Eyes wide open, the blue ribbon burning warm in her belly and snaking its courage through her blood and bones, Maia faced the black-tongued maw.  Breath like monsoon wind hit her face, fishy as the cold and twice as rank. Maia held her breath. As her head dipped between the creature’s lips, she thrust her fist in and let the pink ribbon fall onto its tongue.
Not-grandmama gagged. It swallowed. And then it burped.
The question never came. Not-grandmama dropped Maia to clutch at its throat. Maia rolled to the ground, coming up in a crouch. She watched the thing shrink as she had watched it grow, a silent scream splitting its lips like a gash. From that gash, light. It shot past Maia.
“I am sorry, child,” a voice like the rush of wind whispered. “I was a fool. My trunk is yours, and all inside.”
Not-grandmama jerked and twisted on the ground, its now-nubby hands twitching, and then still. Light drooled out of the corner of its mouth, its eyes, its nostrils, swirling colors like syrup in cream. Maia heard, “The green summoned it, the red fed it, the pink destroyed it. You carry the blue inside of you now. What you do with the gold is your choice. Peace, dear child. Forgive us both.”
Maia struggled to her feet. Her fingers, cramped into an aching fist, held a gold ribbon. She loosened her grip, one digit at a time, watching the play of light and shadow; knowing it for what it was. Maia wrapped it tenderly around her wrist and kissed the knot she made to hold it. Stepping gingerly over the husk once not-grandmama, she headed for home and the trunk that once belonged to her grandfather who had been no such thing, and the magic never his.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Well, either this is going to be a lot of fun, or there will be plenty of cricketsong in Heroines of Fantasy this week. I'm hoping for fun.

Back in the before-times, when I was a Girl Scout leader, I naturally had my girls do the writing badge. Ok, there were several writing-related badges, and we did them all. We were an artsy group. An activity I came up with to satisfy one of the requirements was writing a collective story. We started with a picture, and five lines. Each girl had to add another five lines before passing it on to the next. In the end, we had a story, and a lot of laughs because, inevitably, the girls got a little naughty with their storytelling--poop-jokes when they were little, and a bit bawdier once they hit middle school.

We have so many heavy conversations in HoF, I thought, given the festive time of year, we could use a bit of a revel. Let's have at it, shall we?
Light, the final ingredient, and the most elusive. Maia gathered up the ribbons she found in the crusty trunk her grandfather kept under his bed. "From older days, when I was young and full of spice," he told her, and winked, and tucked the ribbons back into the trunk. Maia knew better; these were no bobbies passed by poxy-doxy-girls to favor young men just in from the sea. They were light, trapped and coveted; and her grandfather was nothing of the kind.
(pic removed)

Here are the rules--FIVE LINES ONLY! No cheating. And the only thing I ask is that you not be offensive. Sex and/or violence is allowed, but please don't get too graphic. Posting ends midnight on Saturday, November 19th. I'll conclude with the last five lines, and post the whole collective story on Sunday, November 20th. Sound like fun? Join in!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Villainesses and Anti-Heroines

Happy November.

For various reasons that are beyond the scope of this blog, I've decided to take it easy on myself with this month's post, and give all of you a treat while I'm at it: an audio-recording of a reading I did this past September from my short story 'Creatures of Light'. 

'Creatures of Light' is a portrait of Selenia, a brilliant and ruthless woman scientist living in a fantasy Age of Exploration. The audio-recording includes just two scenes from the short story, both featuring some remarkable organisms that Selenia studies. One day this short story will be expanded into a full-length novel; until then I can give you this small taste of what is to come.

Selenia has been mentioned on this blog before; I brought her up in the discussion following our very first post in September (Why Fantasy?) as a possible example of an anti-heroine.  And because a week cannot pass on Heroines of Fantasy without a discussion of some kind, I'd like to pull out the topic of anti-heroines once again, and couple that with the topic of villainesses. 

Here are my questions for you:

What do you like to see in your anti-heroines, and your villainesses?  What makes this kind of character appealing, engaging; a woman we might actually relate to even as we abhor her decisions and actions?

Who are your favorite anti-heroines and villainesses, and why?

What would you like to see in an anti-heroine or villainess that you have not yet seen in your reading?

Do you expect the anti-heroine or the villainess to act in ways that are qualitatively different when compared to the anti-hero and the villain?  Why or why not?

You don't have to tackle all these questions in one week, of course.  But if you're up for sharing your thoughts on at least one, I'd love to hear them.

While you're mulling over what to write in your comments, here's that audio recording I was talking about.  I hope you enjoy Selenia; she's one of my favorite characters to work with.

Posted by Karin Rita Gastreich

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Evolution of Duality in Fantasy and Science Fiction

It is my great pleasure this week to host Terra Whiteman as our guest blogger on Heroines of Fantasy.   I met Terra when she attended the School of Health and Science at Avila University.  Terra was one of those students who makes it a joy to teach:  intelligent, dedicated and hard working; always bringing an insightful and focused presence to the classroom.  But it wasn't until I announced the forthcoming publication of my novel EOLYN that I learned Terra, like me, had a secret life as a fantasy fiction author.

The first installment of Terra's web serial THE ANTITHESIS was published on line in February of 2010.  By the time she finished the web serial in August of 2011, the site had received over 270,000 hits.  The serial was picked up by 1889 Ltd Labs and released in three print volumes this past summer.  THE ANTITHESIS takes our traditional vision of heaven, hell -- and the struggle that at once separates and unites them -- and turns that vision inside out.

In addition to her fiction, Terra writes a bi-weekly blogzine at 1889 Labs.  She currently works in the field of clinical toxicology and plans to pursue a PhD in microbiology/virology.  She is married and lives in Kansas City, Kansas.

Please welcome Terra Whiteman, and join us in a discussion of duality in the context of fantasy and science fiction.


Duality is a term that describes opposing forces; though, the opposing forces that mainly pertain to duality are placed within the topic of good and evil.

The basis of theology—most religion and belief systems, revolves around duality. We must be good and thwart evil. We must abide the laws and learn from the morals written for us, so that we can continue being good. For a large majority of the existence of human civilization, religion was the supreme force that shaped our societal, political and cultural beliefs. Some may even argue that it is still this way for many countries and societies.

Therefore, it goes without a doubt that many forms of fiction, spanning across all genres, somehow encapsulate duality. I'm sure you can think of several off the top of your head at this very second. Many of the classics deal with duality, and without it, we wouldn't have had fairytales either. Duality is a reflection of how us, as a human collective, view the world in the most basic sense.

But how exaggerated is this notion, when placing duality in the perspective of the real world, and real people?

The Enlightenment Period of history was when things began drastically changing. Duality was still there, but it shifted from 'good and evil' to 'right and wrong'. And, though these terms are definitely related to one another, they are not synonymous. During these times, literary fiction began changing as well. Even before then, the Greeks explored the spaces in between good and evil, or right and wrong, reciting epics of wars where not everything was simply one sided, and each character had their reasons for acting in certain ways. The Iliad, Paradise Lost (where Satan is actually more of an anti-hero) and The Divine Comedy are excellent examples of this. It was during these times that duality was approached and analyzed in a more philosophical way, leaving readers questioning whether their idea of 'good and evil' or 'right and wrong' was actually correct.

Since then, we've had a significant addition to character roles in fiction. Before, we simply had the hero/heroine and the villain/villainess. Later on, we switched the hero to the protagonist, which is a more ambiguous term for a leading character, because people began exploring main characters that were less than heroic. For the villain, it was the antagonist, which pretty much is described as the person the protagonist has a problem with. No longer do our 'villains' cackle from towers, attempt world destruction for no apparent reason other than for the fact that they are genuinely evil, or try to cook and eat children. No, now emerges characters that are a little more easily relatable to us; that deal with situations and are placed in circumstances that perhaps we have experienced as well.

Both the worlds of fantasy and science fiction are the leaders in this new evolved form of duality. Often, we are introduced to a number of characters on opposing sides, who despite being enemies, have some traits that we find likeable, or we can sympathize with. When the war begins, and ensues, we are challenged to decide what is right and wrong, given the circumstances, based on the characters we've grown to know (and sometimes love).

And I think this is very important, and crucial, because our world is actually one that is entirely subjective. The best stories were the ones that made us stop and think. They made us question our beliefs, or morals, or their message stayed with us for a very long time. Classics continue to be read for a reason, after all.

The evolution of duality—the black and white curtain of good and evil to the gray veil of right and wrong—has not only made fantasy fiction more complex and deeper, it also made it more personal. Making it more personal allows us, as writers, to touch readers in a way that we couldn't in the earlier ages of fiction. And ultimately, moving readers is something that writers aim for.

Because writing is art. Therefore we are artists, and art should both edify and evoke.

In the parting words of Archdemon Belial Vakkar on the topic of good and evil, from The Antithesis:

"I supposed the events of my life posed quite a good example of the fallacy that was ‘good and evil’. Though I’d occasionally done what might be considered ‘evil’ things, I was most certainly not an evil man. What was evil, anyway? I’d have liked to see a true definition, pointing out the prerequisites of ‘evil’. On that note, I’d have liked to see ‘good’ as well. Because by the standards given in the mythos and religion we’d brainwashed all of you with, I’d say with the utmost sincerity that I had never met a good man. Why?

Because none of that rubbish actually existed. Not good, not evil;

Only justice.

We did what we did because of what was done unto us, period. Justice needed no good or evil, nor had it needed an ethical guideline to reference. It needed a reason, and that was all. And everyone had their reasons, right?"

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Matriarch

A couple announcements before moving on to our guest post by M.C. Chambers.

First, Heroines of Fantasy now has a Forthcoming Titles Page.  So, in addition to seeing our current novels (whose links are also listed on the right hand side bar), you can have a sneak preview of titles to be published in the not-so-distant future.  At the moment, Terri-Lynne DeFino's A Time Never Lived, scheduled for release in summer 2012, is listed.  Additional forthcoming titles from Kim Vandervort and me will be added as pitches and preliminary cover art become available. 

This week, Terri-Lynne DeFino, Kim Vandervort and I will all be attending the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego, California.  As part of the kick off events, I will be at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore for an informal Meet and Greet the Authors event on Wednesday, October 26, from 6:30pm to 8:30pm.  Terri, Kim and I all have panels scheduled; to find out when and where please check out the Program Schedule for World Fantasy.  Finally, we will be at the mass autograph session on Friday, October 29, from 8pm to 11pm.  This is going to be a fantastic event, featuring all the authors at World Fantasy, including an impressive roster of Hadley Rille authors.  Books will be available for purchase and signing.

Those are the announcements for this week.  Onto our guest post.

M.C. Chambers is the author of SHAPERS' VEIL, recently released by Hadley Rille Books.  SHAPERS' VEIL is the story of Kawi, a hawk with the power to assume human form.  In addition to boasting stunningly poetic prose, SHAPER'S VEIL features a unique approach to the traditional magic of shapeshifting:  The "power" of changing shape depends on microscopic parasitic organisms called "Shapers".  This makes Chambers work a compelling blend of fantasy and science fiction, and a must read for fans of both genres. 

M.C. Chambers has also published science fiction short stories, including two in anthologies published by Hadley Rille Books.  She earned her first college degree in music, her second in computer science.  In addition to writing, she plays flute, programs databases, belly dances and walks in the wind.  She lives in Missouri with her husband, several of her sons, two cats and a cockatiel. 

Please welcome M.C. Chambers, and join us in a discussion of the Matriarch.


Some years ago I asked several women whom I admired what the word matriarch meant to them. Each of them named her own grandmother, and described how inspiring and influential she had been. Two things interested me by the responses: one, no one mentioned queens, politicians or world leaders, and two, it was not mothers but grandmothers who were given the title.
In mythology, a grandmother is an Elder, a wise woman, who protects and teaches the young.  I’m thinking now of grandmothers I have read about in fantasy. I remember wise and regal Galadriel, Arwen’s grandmother in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I remember the completely not regal but equally wise Nanny Ogg, an ancient, powerful and daffy sorceress who is also progenitor of half the county, from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.
Thinking of the mothers portrayed in stories, I remember many unsavory characters. In fairy tales, the good mothers die and evil stepmothers take their places. The mothers Dara and Jasra in Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber are protective but ultimately manipulative power-seekers: matriarch wannabees hoping to rule through their sons, except that these strong, ambitious women raised strong, ambitious sons who thwarted them. But some mothers in spec fic are noble in their protectiveness: Sarah Conner from the Terminator movies and Helen Parr, “Elastigirl”, from The Incredibles.
When writing my novel Shapers’ Veil, I wanted my heroine Gydana to be not just a strong character who is female, but a character who is strong because she is female. The sword-wielding warrior women I had been seeing more and more of in fantasy did not resonate with me. I wanted to write of a woman who was like women I actually knew. I wanted to write of a mother.
Gydana, like Demeter without Persephone, is a mother who has lost a child and has withdrawn from the greater world. Yet she remains maternally adoptive. Just as a nursing dog will adopt a piglet or a tiger cub, Gydana takes all manner of creatures under her wing - including the shape-shifter who pulls her into her quest. She is close to nature, having learned where to find and how to use the plants and waters and heat that her world provides. This knowledge is her defense and her weapon. She understands the nature of things, and understands her strange companions, adversaries, dreams and the hungry force that threatens all life as part of all nature. Understanding them, she grows in her journey first to acceptance, then to mastery. She rejoins the greater world as an Elder, a titular Grandmother.
The grandmothers described to me by my friends were not rulers in the political sense. To some eyes, they may even have seemed ordinary women. Their true mastery lay in their understanding of life, and their ability and willingness to pass the legacy of their knowledge to their children’s children. This is what gave them power and influence. This is what made them Matriarchs.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Reality of Horses in Epic Fantasy

Horses. They are the most common mode of travel in fantasy novels, and yet how many authors actually get it right? Forget about Gandalf's Shadowfax who could run like the wind...indefinitely. I'm not interested in such magical or magicked creatures. I'm talking about horses. Regular horses that, as much as we might wish they could, can't gallop for hours on end, cover full countries in three days, or survive blizzards without shelter.

Despite what we have been programmed to believe, the ground a horse can actually cover in a day is not as much as you might expect. In fact, a person on foot can feasibly cover as much ground. Sure, a horse can kick it into a gallop in the blink of an eye, but it's built for evasion, not sustained periods of speed. They need to run faster--a little bit longer--than that lion giving chase; that's all. Depending upon the breed and training, size of the rider and terrain, certain horses can go longer, faster, but no breed can gallop for hours on end, or even an hour, or even half an hour.

The reality of traveling horseback is that the animals themselves are designed to walk. Plod even. Horses need to drink and graze often. Like other grazing animals, they eat most of the day just to get enough nutrition to graze again the next day. If ridden, even at a walk, for several hours a day, a horse can't simply be staked to graze through the night. When would it rest? A working horse needs grain to supplement its diet or it will starve, quickly. To carry that grain entails having a pack animals of some kind, which in turn slows things down considerably. Of course, ye ol' stabling a horse can work sometimes, but that comes with a whole different set of obstacles like the expense.

Horses are expensive--and that's another reality of horses in fantasy. They're fine and dandy for the royalty and wealthy in a story, highwaymen and brigands maybe--that quick getaway being kind of important-- but few of your locals are going to own horses. As for travelers using horses, the sad fact is that trading a spent animal for a fresh one would be a lot more realistic than properly caring for a beloved horsey-companion.

Horses in fantasy fall into the category of other such realities we've discussed this month in Heroines of Fantasy. If we were after authenticity, we'd see more mules--smarter, hardier, and all around stronger--than we do horses. But would Lady Godiva (above pic) strike as romantic and lovely a pose if she were riding a much more stalwart and practical mule?

And there's the biggest reason I see fantasy employing the horse when the reality would do no such thing. Not only have most readers been programmed to see horses through these rose-colored glasses, but we want to suspend that belief. They are beautiful animals, almost magically so. They are part of our fantasy backdrop--like those non-menstruating sword-wielding warrior women--and I don't see that changing any time soon.

Have you ever seen a realistic depiction of horses in a fantasy novel?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Reality Check: How Much is Too Much in Epic Fantasy?

My post last month led to a fantastic discussion of a variety of things, including the concept of realism in fantasy.  Commenters brought up many excellent points, including the idea that maybe it doesn’t matter if a girl can’t really heft that big sword; isn’t it nice to suspend a little disbelief now and then and believe it could happen?

My answer?  It depends on the talent of the writer and the sensibilities of the reader.  One of the things I LOVE about Tolkien is that, as a medievalist myself, he pushes all of my scholarly buttons.  I enjoy seeing the seeds of our own culture in Middle Earth.  But I also love that he’s taken those seeds and grown totally unique flowers.  One of the things that turned me off about Steven Erikson’s Malazan Empire series is his unrelentingly realistic depictions of torture and violence.  While I understand that he’s not reinventing the wheel here—historically, human beings have developed a marked appreciation for the varied ways to harm one another—but the image of hundreds of crucified children will never burn out of my brain.  That was more realism than I could handle.  Another reader’s mileage may vary.  Regardless, both authors do a bang-up job of making their fantasies realistic to the reader, whether they’re historically accurate or even probable—and that’s good craft.

Sometimes it’s not the big things, but the little details that intrude too much into the story.  One of the things I liked about Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Paksenarrion was that whenever the army stopped moving, one of the first things the soldiers did was dig the poop-trenches.  I found this to be an excellent small detail that made a lot of sense and said a great deal about the organization of the army, its priorities, and the pecking order (because that definitely wasn’t a job handled by the highest-ranking members).    However, I quickly put down another fantasy novel because the main character was constantly menstruating and passing out.  It was messy and gross and really took me out of the story.  Unless it’s important to the story in some way, I just don’t need to read about certain aspects of reality.

Most importantly, characters should be as realistic as possible in the context of their own world.  I will only judge a fictional character by modern standards if the writer hasn’t done a good enough job of convincing me that his/ her world is “real.”  And characters need to connect with the reader in a human way, regardless of profession or social status.  Whether I’m writing or reading about a princess or a servant, I need to care about the character in order to feel engaged with the story.  Everything else is just window dressing.

Ultimately, the question of how much reality is too much all comes down to craft.  If I want to drop a couple of female ninjas riding pink hippos into a pseudo-medieval setting, I can—presuming I can get the reader to buy that this is totally plausible in my world.  The worldbuilding doesn’t have to be historically accurate for readers to buy in; the real trick is selling the world so well that the reader doesn’t even question whether or not something could or could not happen.

Kim Vandervort