Sunday, September 25, 2011

How one of the "Three With Eyes That See" started a new niche for Hadley Rille Books

Every fourth (and the occasional fifth) Monday on Heroines of Fantasy is set aside for a guest post.  Our line up for the fall is a very exciting one; for the complete list, including links to websites, please scan down the right-hand bar.  Today our guest is Eric T. Reynolds, editor of Hadley Rille Books.  But before we move on to the guest post, we have just a couple announcements. 

First, this week is your LAST chance to register for the Heroines of Fantasy Grand Opening Raffle on October 1.  First prize is a free signed copy of the novel Eolyn by Karin Rita Gastreich.  Second prize is the October 2010 issue of Adventures for the Average Woman, featuring Karin's short story 'Creatures of Light'.  To learn more about the prizes and registering, visit our Grand Opening Raffle Page.  Or just send your name and email address to women.writing.fantasy(at) 

Also, Karin was interviewed this past week by Terra Whiteman at 1889 Labs.  To read about what inspired Eolyn, the challenges of writing the novel, and the three things Karin would like to do before she dies (which hopefully won't be any time soon), please visit the 1889 Labs Blog.

Now, onto our main attraction. . .

When Kim, Terri and I started Heroines of Fantasy, there was no doubt in our minds as to the person we wanted as our first guest blogger.  Eric T. Reynolds has edited over twenty critically acclaimed anthologies, collections and novels and has had short fiction published in several anthologies.  He has also published non-fiction articles about the history of space exploration and technology. 

Perhaps most relevant to this blog, Eric is the reason Kim, Terri and I know each other.  We came together through his small press Hadley Rillle Books, which was founded in 2005 and is dedicated to publishing quality works of science fiction, fantasy and archeologically accurate historical fiction. Hadley Rille is a busy little press that many people in the genre agree is going places.  I think I can speak for all three of us when I say it's been a great pleasure and a source of pride to work with Eric and Hadley Rille.  So without further ado, let me turn the stage over to our esteemed editor, Eric T. Reynolds:

About three years ago, just a few years after its founding, Hadley Rille Books inhabited two niches: we published hard science fiction anthologies (and some short works from other subgenres) and I was just beginning to plan for our new Archaeology series. In 2008, I was working with Jenny Blackford on her book, The Priestess and the Slave, and had just made an agreement to publish Buffalito Destiny by Lawrence M. Schoen.  Those were to be the first single-author books of our two niches. 

Jenny’s, the first book of the new Archaeology series, featured female protagonists in dual stories set in ancient Greece (a subject of Jenny’s specialty). She showed what life was like from a female point-of-view, from a common person who was coping on an individual and community level with the Plague of Athens.  This was a unique and accurate way to show the struggles of humanity during the ancient past.

Lawrence’s science fiction novel was his first full length novel set in his popular world of The Amazing Conroy and his buffalito, Reggie, a fun adventure told on several levels, showing among other things how humans (and aliens) cope with their own frailties.

So Hadley Rille Books was all set. We had the new Archaeology series and the new Buffalito series of books to look forward to.  I was excited. Then Kim Vandervort approached me at Worldcon in 2008 and pitched her novel to me, a fantasy novel called The Song and the Sorceress.  I told her, sure I would consider it.  I had, after all, published a short story by her in the anthology Ruins Metropolis and I knew she could write.  I told her I hadn’t been publishing much fantasy and wasn’t sure if I was going to go that route, but I wanted to see what she had written so I told her to send it to me.

One chapter into the book, I knew I wanted to publish it.  (Naturally, I didn’t tell her that until I finished it.) 

So here was a book that, even though from a genre I hadn’t planned on spending much publishing time, I wanted to add to our growing list of fantastic titles. It took me a while to realize why I had wanted to publish it.  It was an excellent story, for sure.  Kim’s voice was unique and exciting.  Her characters were vivid. The mystery and romance in the book were exceptional.  But after a while I figured out that it fit into a larger part of the Hadley Rille Books personality for which I’d been searching.  Along with Jenny’s unique female characters and settings, and Lawrence’s witty storytelling, Kim’s book showed a new perspective on how a protagonist can grow from naivety to one who manages to conquer the unconquerable, and all without relying on many stereotypes of just how women in fantasy should be.  Kim’s book also allowed me to appreciate Jenny’s book even more (and appreciate what Jenny had started for Hadley Rille with her female characters' unique points of view). 

It’s hard to describe why I thought this, but that sense of building a new niche became stronger as we’ve continued to add more exceptional titles, including those by Kim’s Heroines of Fantasy sisters, Terri-Lynne DeFino and Karin Rita Gastreich.  Each of these authors’ works complements and enhances the others. This “being part of something larger” also continued along the Archaeology and science fiction lines. From those beginnings we’ve developed an overall personality of our novels with unique and overlooked points of view from characters, such as female characters (who aren't always young) that show us perspectives of life from an angle we get to see much too seldom in fiction.

Eric T. Reynolds
Hadley Rille Books

...As a post-script, let me add for our readers:  Please feel free to ask Eric any questions you have about small press, editing, or publishing in general.  Thanks for stopping by!  --Karin

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fantasy: A Love Story

"Round about what is lies a whole mysterious world of what might be.”
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As a child, I watched fairies flitter among the flowers. I heard ghosts whisper between my ears. I felt clawed witch-fingers slither up my spine whenever I walked by certain houses. If I held my breath and flapped my arms really, really hard, I could fly. My toys came alive when I was out of the room; I tried to catch them but never could. I had conversations with squirrels and neighborhood dogs. My childhood world was full of magic and adventure as real to me as dragonflies and my own thoughts, cranky old ladies and dreams.

That mysterious world of what might be got misplaced sometime between childhood and adolescence. As I grew and learned to see with adult eyes, the magic faded. The titles of my stories went from The Fire-breathing Dragon, to Luck is Only for Winners. From magic to mundane, all in a few years of growing up.

No wonder Peter Pan fought it.

In the summer of 1979, I was fifteen years old and spent many a-lazy hour reading, sprawled on a thick limb of a tree in my yard. I found my lust for Harlequin Romances waning. I was too old for childhood favorites like Pippi and Ramona and Harriet. A couple years earlier, Star Wars started me itching for something…something I almost remembered…

I went to the library where, within the seemingly infinite possibilities, nothing looked interesting. I remember absently thumbing through the books on the nickel shelf. Tattered, one and all. I spotted a blue cover. No dust jacket. Bent pages, frayed corners, broken spine. Gold letters etched into it.

The Once and Future King.

The title scratched my itch; the story blew my teenage mind. All that magic left in childhood came rushing back as Wart and Sir Kaye. A sword. A stone. Merlin and Nimue. Guinevere and Arthur and Lancelot. Did I get all the metaphor? All the symbolism? Hell, no! But I found the way back to the magic, the mystery, the possibilities you need the space behind your eyes to see.

I found Bilbo and Gandalf. Frodo and Sam. Lady Amalthea and Schmendrick; Thomas Covenant and Lord Foul; Garion and Belgarath and Polgara; Ged and Earthsea; Xanth and Dragonlance. I razed these worlds of words, went back for more and more, right up to this very day, more.

We are all born with that sense of wonder, the knowledge that there truly is a whole mysterious world, indeed, many mysterious worlds of what might be. Some keep the knowledge all their lives. Some lose it and never find it again. Some, like me, only misplace it, and are lucky enough find it again.
And then, there are those few of us who take the next step; we create our own mysterious worlds of what might be. We send them out into the world to ignite that sense of wonder and whimsy in others. It's our own sort of omnipotence, creating worlds. A form of immortality. And it’s love, pure love. For me, that is why fantasy.

What is your love story?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why Heroines? Defining the Heroine in Epic Fantasy

We've come a long way, baby, but why are good heroines still so hard to find?  And how do we, as authors,  write a heroine that speaks true to the reader?

The problem with “traditional” female characters in epic fantasy, as I see it, is that they fall into one of only a few roles: the goodly matron, the healer, the love interest, the witch, the prostitute, and the victim.  Sometimes they fulfill more than one of these roles at a time.  She’s a witch AND a goodly matron!  She’s the prostitute AND the victim AND the love interest!  5x bonus for a character who manages to meet all of the stereotypes at the same time!  Unfortunately, she doesn’t play much of a role beyond that prescribed for her by the genre.  Our “heroine,” even when she wields a sword like a badass, still swoons over our hero and falls apart like bad toilet paper whenever the going gets tough. 

Heads-up, people: these are not real women.  In order to write a proper heroine, the author has to respect the characteristics that make women strong and use those to advantage instead of trying to force the heroine to occupy a stale stereotype or squish into the role traditionally occupied by the hero.

So what, then, defines a great heroine?

For starters, she’s going to use her words.  A woman’s need to communicate is generally much stronger than that of her male counterpart.  We talk, and talk, and talk.  We problem solve, talk through tricky situations and share stories.  Thus, even if our heroine isn’t a chatterbox, she will still most likely attempt a little parley before jumping into that bar fight.  She’ll try to talk herself out of—or into—a situation.  She’ll use words as a delay, as a diversion, as a weapon, or to make up for what she herself may lack in physical strength.

Which leads me to another problem: women are not equal in strength to men.  Yes, I’m going to have my feminist card revoked.  But it takes a lot of brute strength to lift that two-handed broadsword over your head like Conan and split your enemies in two.  Forensic archaeology argues that the English archers of Agincourt had such overdeveloped chests and shoulders that their bone structures and musculature were physically altered.  Just to pull the bow those men had to train from an early age, and even then, a particular body type was required or they wouldn't succeed past a certain point.  Unless your heroine has a gym membership and has been working out with her weapon of choice since the age of five, I have a hard time believing that she will ever be able to equal her male counterparts in battle.

So what’ s a girl to do?  Pick up a smaller weapon.  A short sword.  A dagger.  A small bow and arrow.  Or—my personal favorite—use her brain.  The brain is an oft-overlooked tool in the sword and sorcery genre (unless it’s being used to cast spells or figure out how to bed the hot guy in the party).  In Song and the Sorceress, Ki’leah’s memory is the most sought-after commodity on two continents.  The knowledge she carries is far more important—and more dangerous—than she realizes.  Learning to use that to her advantage gives her more power than a lifetime of sword lessons could ever do.

Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of a heroine is that she, unlike the lonely hero, thrives with a support network.  A good heroine realizes she can’t get the job done all by herself.  If she’s lacking strength, she’ll bring the muscle.  Does she need information?  She’ll bring a spy, a scholar, a big-ass book.  She’s not afraid to delegate or ask her friends for help.  Why?  Because that’s what strong women do.  Anyone who has ever been to a PTA or a Girl Scout convention knows exactly what I’m talking about.  Strong women acknowledge their weaknesses, then find a way to overcome them.  They work together to get the job done.  They also connect, on a much deeper level, with other women, who are always ready to jump in and spackle up the cracks in their friend’s emotional armor, buff it, shine it, give her a hug and send her on her way with a “good luck” and a “don’t forget your gauntlets.”  A strong network of friends and associates is essential for any heroine worth her salt.

Which brings me to my last point, which is that we seldom see too many of these women in fantasy even though we have moved beyond the gold-bikini-as-armor era (thank goodness—it’s so unsafe to be fighting naked).  Nevertheless, even though one can glance at the SFF section in Barnes & Noble and see rows upon rows of covers featuring women in tight tank tops and leather jackets, very few of these creatures are actual heroines.  They are simply male characters who’ve been dressed up as women.  These girls act like men, think like men, ride Harleys like men, fight like men, have sex like men.  They don’t act like real women at all.  And while we women can pretend that we’re making all kinds of progress in the genre, the reality is that those covers aren’t so far after all from the gold-bikini-armored warriors that made Boris Vallejo famous. 

The best way I’ve found to tackle the problem is to just keep writing the kind of heroines I admire.  Women who have dreams, hopes, fears, friends, enemies, brains, and wit.  Women who care deeply for their families and would do anything to help a friend, even if it means giving an edge to the enemy.  Women who laugh, cry, make mistakes, then problem solve ways to fix them.  Women who need men as companions, as friends, as lovers, but who don’t need to be rescued.  Women with depth of character, spirit, and passion.  These are real women; these are the true heroines of fantasy.

Now, speak: what do you all think?

Kim Vandervort

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why Fantasy?

“I propose to speak about fairy stories, though I am aware that this is a rash adventure. Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold.  And overbold I may be accounted…” –J.R.R. Tolkien

When Kim, Terri and I first began discussing the idea for this blog just a few weeks ago, I thought it might be a couple months before we came to an agreement on what we wanted to do, and how we wanted to do it.  But Heroines of Fantasy, as a concept and as a web site, was assembled in record time.  I think this reflects not only similarities between the three of us in terms of how we view fantasy fiction, but also the great excitement we share about the genre and our deep desire to discuss the adventure of fantasy fiction with other authors and readers.

By way of introduction, this month we’ve decided to talk a little about "Why fantasy?”  What is it about fantasy as a genre that inspires us as readers and authors?  Why start a blog dedicated to the discussion of fantasy fiction, and especially women in fantasy fiction?

The question of “why fantasy?” has come back to me many times, especially in recent months since the release of my first novel, Eolyn.  The full answer to the question would be way too long for the average blog post; and I’ve responded to it in different ways at different moments in my journey as a reader and a writer.

For colleagues who know me through my day job as a biology professor, the revelation that I am also a fantasy author seems all the more puzzling.  Why would a scientist write fantasy?   I think the perception that this is somehow contradictory stems from our cultural tendency to assume it is the career that defines the person, and not the person who defines her career.

But also, I think we tend to forget that fantasy and science, although very different endeavors, nonetheless respond to very similar needs.  This was made clear to me once again in recent weeks. While mulling over what I would write for this first post, I came across a curious coincidence between my readings about fantasy and my readings about ecology. 

In his classic essay, ‘On Faerie Stories’, J.R.R. Tolkien made the following observation:

“The magic of Faerie is not an end in itself, its virtue is in its operations: among these are the satisfaction of certain primordial human desires.  One of these desires is to survey the depths of space and time.  Another is…to hold communion with other living things.”

Wow.  That really struck a chord with me, and it occurred to me that maybe I became a fantasy author for the same reasons that I became a scientist – the desire to explore the limits of space and time, and the desire to commune with other living things.  

A generation later, in 1984, one of my heroes in the field of ecology, Edward O. Wilson (known as “Captain E.O.” to entomologists worldwide), popularized what he called the ‘biophilia hypothesis’.  Wilson defines biophilia as “the connections human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life” – wording that very closely resembles one of the ‘primordial desires’ identified by Tolkien. 

I find it fascinating that these two men from different periods and very different walks of life should have come to such similar conclusions about one of the foundations of human desire. Writing fantasy fiction is one of the ways that I can not only fulfill these ‘primordial desires’, but also share in their fulfillment with others, both readers and fellow authors.

Wilson, interestingly enough, also recognizes the connection between one mode of exploration and the other:

"I have argued...that we are human in good part because of the particular way we affiliate with other organisms.  They are the matrix in which the human mind originated and is permanently rooted, and they offer the challenge and freedom innately sought....I offer this as a formula of reenchantment to invigorate poetry and myth: mysterious and little known organisms live within walking distance of where you sit.  Splendor awaits in minute proportions."

Splendor in my world, splendor in my books.

That’s one answer I can give to the question "Why fantasy?", and it’s enough, I think, for a single blog post.  

I do have a couple questions for you before I finish:

What do you like (or dislike) about fantasy fiction?

And, more importantly, what topics would you like to see discussed on a blog dedicated to fantasy fiction, and especially women in fantasy fiction?

Thanks for stopping by!  We look forward to reading your thoughts and comments.  While you're with us, make sure you check out our Grand Opening Raffle and register to win your free signed copy of Eolyn The drawing will be on October 1, 2011.  

--posted by Karin Rita Gastreich