"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Little Story Telling Magic

Time, once again, for my Christmas Eve fireside reading.  I was a little indecisive as to which scene I wanted to read this year, so I've asked readers of EOLYN what they want to hear, and the winning excerpt is the 'Gingerbread House' scene from Chapter 2.  This is one of my favorites as well, so it's been a delight to come back to it.  After listening to the excerpt, if you'd like to read the entire chapter, it's available on this site -- just click the CHAPTER TWO tab above.

No announcements this week.  Well, I suppose I could come up with something, but I'm not going to because it's Christmas; time to take a break and enjoy our weekend with friends and family, and to indulge in a little story telling besides. . .



Wishing all of you a wonderful Christmas and New Year's season, and many magical adventures to come.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

EOLYN on Adopt-an-Indie

I'm a little delinquent on my post this week.  The end of the semester has been particularly hectic at Avila this fall, but I'm done now and ready to enjoy the holidays.

Sometime in the next few days, I'll be posting my annual Christmas reading.  I haven't quite decided what I'm going to use yet, so if there's anything special that you'd like to hear me read from EOLYN, please just post your request in the comments.

I also noticed recently that I don't have an audio recording from the battle sequence up on this blog yet, which came as a surprise to me.  I thought I'd already posted one, but oh well.  All this means is that you will be treated to a battle scene at some point in the near future, perhaps in early January. 

This week, I'd like to point you toward something special:  the audio recording of Adopt-an-Indie's blogtalk radio show.   The show was hosted by Donna Brown just this past Monday, December 19, and included about ten authors.  I encourage you to listen to the whole show; I found it very interesting and came across some promising new reads to boot.  But if you're pressed for time and want mostly to listen in on my 10 minutes, look for them about half way through the show (about 55 minutes into it).  Here's the link:

Christmas Special:  BBCN Hosts Adopt-an-Indie Month

In other news, Donna Brown's blog Bookbags and Catnaps is hosting  a contest among indie novels.  Please stop by and show your support for EOLYN by 'liking' the novel.  There are many other great titles as well, and you can vote for more than one, so feel free to 'like' away. (I certainly have!) Voters have the chance to win a $25 Amazon gift certificate.  More details at this link:

Adopt-an-Indie:  Indie Book Love

That's all I have for you this week.  Thanks so much for stopping by, and please check back in a few days for the Christmas reading from EOLYN.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Treats

Looking for a break from the holiday madness? Join us this week on Heroines of Fantasy, where author Kim Vandervort invites everyone to Pause, breathe and read.




Speaking of holiday madness. . .

Just when I thought EOLYN updates might be slowing down as we approach Christmas, I actually have a lot of exciting news to share this week.

New customer reviews have gone up on Amazon, including this assessment from SavoirNoir:

Eolyn...is quite a change in pace in the epic fantasy. For one thing, it's quite iconoclastic in its treatment of sexuality, especially women's. For another, it has a well-thought-out and different magical system that though reminiscent of Raymond E. Feist, but has made it all her own. The journey of the eponymous heroine is at times harrowing, amusing, sensual but always human. Add to that a spash of Spanish realism that at times feels like Marquez and you have a quite different first novel that satisfies, in its own way, the many various tropes of an epic fantasy; Babe in the woods (literally!), revenge, sweeping war, and coming of age, even as it plucks with a more modern tone at the concepts of love and sex.

To read more customer reviews, please visit Eolyn's page on Amazon. And remember, Kindle and Nook editions of Eolyn are available for just $2.99 through the holidays!

One week from today, on December 19, I'll be participating in Adopt-an-Indie's blogtalk radio show, starting at 8:00pm EST. There is a great line-up of authors for this event, including our recent guests on Heroines of Fantasy, Carlyle Clark and Suki Michelle. Clark's and Michelle's spot will be at 8:20 EST; my slot (really, EOLYN's slot) will be at 9:00pm EST. Please mark your calendars with the date and time, and share the news with friends.

Now for the really great news: I was delighted to learn this past weekend that a pitch I wrote for the sequel to EOLYN, entitled HIGH MAGA, won first place in the Best Pitch Contest at thenextbigwriter.com In drafting the pitch, I had a lot of great feedback from authors and reviewers at tNBW, so a big thank you to everyone for all your help and support.

To celebrate, I'm posting the winning pitch for HIGH MAGA this week.  I'd thought to put this off a little longer, but what the hey -- It's Christmas.  This marks the first official preview of the sequel to appear on this blog.  (Drumroll, please!)

HIGH MAGA follows the story of Eolyn, a courageous and fiercely independent woman whose struggle to restore magic is set against a complex background of political intrigue, impossible love and pending war.

Eolyn, the last of the High Magas, founds a new coven in the isolated province of Moehn. The young girls she trains will, she hopes, revive a millennial tradition of women's magic.

Akmael, the new Mage King of Moisehén, must defend his land against invasion by the Syrnte, whose witch-queen has summoned long-banished creatures of the netherworld to aid her conquest.

When the Syrnte army descends upon Moehn, Eolyn's school is burned and her students killed, captured or scattered. Aided by Borten, a loyal knight of the king to whom she is increasingly drawn, and the devious and untrustworthy Mage Corey, Eolyn must escape the occupied province and deliver to Akmael the weapon that might secure his victory.

Their collective journey will test the limits of love and endurance, until Eolyn comes to understand -- perhaps too late -- that she also carries the shadow that could unleash Akmael’s doom.


. . .If you are among the growing number of readers anxiously awaiting the sequel to EOLYN, you'll be pleased to know that HIGH MAGA topped 90,000 words last week, and is scheduled for release in 2013. 

Thank you very much for stopping by.  I hope everyone has a great week.

Monday, December 5, 2011

EOLYN Past, Present and Future

This week on Heroines of Fantasy, I revisit one of my favorite holiday topics, ETA Hoffman's The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King Please stop by to read the post, and join authors Kim Vandervort, Terri-Lynne DeFino and I as we celebrate Stories of Christmas Past

Also, Hadley Rille Books is offering the Kindle edition and Nook edition of EOLYN for just $2.99 through the holidays.  Magical reading at a fantastic price.  Take advantage of this great offer while it lasts. 


December has only just begun, and already I am reflecting on 2011 and thinking forward to 2012. 

2011 has been a great year for EOLYN.  Since we celebrated her birthday with Hadley Rille Books on May 7, the novel has sold to an international audience in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and Nook format, including readers from North America, Europe, Central America, Australia and Asia. (And if there are other regions of the world where she is being read that I haven't mentioned, please by all means, let me know!)

Some particularly memorable highlights from EOLYN's debut:

In April of this year, Publisher's Weekly gave the novel the following review:  Though Eolyn becomes the hope of a rebellion, she never has to carry the whole weight of the story; Akmael, the "witch" Ghemena, and other characters develop many intriguing facets. Gastreich allows her heroes to have flaws--including moments of cowardice--and some victories bring new sorrows. Vigorously told deceptions and and battle scenes will satisfy fans of traditional epic fantasy with a romantic thread.   

At the end of that same month, students at Avila University received a special preview of the novel at our Pre-Launch Party. The Launch Party on May 7 was held at the Writers Place in Kansas City, Missouri, and attended by an enthusiastic crowd, including guests from Chicago, Washington DC, the United Kingdom and Germany. 

Since then, EOLYN has made appearances at several booksignings and conferences, including Powell's Books in Portland OR, Prospero's Books in Kansas City, Who Else! Books in Denver CO, the KU Bookstore in Lawrence KS, ConQuest, Bubonicon, the Campbell Conference, and the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego CA.  The novel has also been favorably reviewed by book bloggers and authors such as Eliabeth Hawthorne, Carlyle Clark and Dane Grannon, as well as by customers on Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Goodreads. (By the way, if you have read EOLYN but have not yet posted a customer review, please take a moment to do so.  Help other readers decide if this is magical medieval fantasy is the right story for them.) 

EOLYN has also been added to the collections of public libraries across the United States. (If it's not yet available in your library, please take a moment to request it.  Help make this epic fantasy, with its strong female protagonist, available for everyone's enjoyment.)

So, what do we have planned for 2012?

Well, I'm just beginning to answer that question.  I would like to visit some new cons next year, and have put LunaCon, ConQuest, WorldCon and MileHiCon on my calendar for the moment.  In the next few days, I intend to meet with my editor regarding book signing venues, and will keep you posted about that.  Also, watch for more editorial reviews of EOLYN in coming months.  And there will be some special events and surprises. . .that I have to keep under wraps for the moment. 

2012 is also the year in which I plan to finish the sequel to EOLYN, scheduled for release in Fall of 2013.  Interested in a sneak preview of book two?  Keep your eyes on this site. . .

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Magic of Flight

In Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, Serafina Pakkala, like the other witches in her world, achieves the power of flight with branches of Cloud Pine.  I really liked this idea when I read the trilogy, and so adapted it for Eolyn's world. 

Flying is not nearly as easy for the Magas as it is for Serafina Pakkala.  (Nor, for that matter, is it as easy for them as it is for Harry Potter and his friends.)  It requires integrating the power of the staff of High Magic with the magic of flight found in a particular kind of fir tree.  The fir's capacity for flight, in turn, is released by brewing together special herbs and a mushroom that appears only in spring, called white magenta.  The process is described in detail in Chapter 15 of Eolyn, when the young maga prepares to return to the land of her birth, after many years of growing up in exile and isolation. 

I'd love to be able to simply snatch a branch off a tree and lift up into the air, but me, I need a jet plane to fly.  Which isn't a bad way to do it, really.  This weekend I'll be getting on a jet plane and travelling to Europe to visit friends and family, and to pay my last respects to my maternal grandmother and all the wonderful memories she gave me during her long and fruitful life.  I'm not sure how consistent my internet access will be during my travels, so you may not see a post here for a couple weeks; say, between now and December 1. 

However, there will be a lot of exciting things happening over Thanksgiving -- some, in fact, happening right now -- that I want you to be aware of.

This week on Heroines of Fantasy, Terri-Lynne DeFino has us writing a collective story about Maia and the magic/horror of light.  Come join the fun; read the crazy twisting tale we've crafted so far, and add your own five lines as the muse inspires. 

Speaking of Terri-Lynne DeFino, the Kindle edition of her wonderful novel FINDER is being offered for a special price of $2.99.  This is a limited time offer, so take advantage of it while it lasts.  The sequel to this book, A TIME NEVER LIVED, will be available next summer, which makes now a great time to read the first book, if you haven't already.

During the week leading up to November 29, Hadley Rille Books will be celebrating its birthday with special offers on all its titles, and even giveaways -- yes, you understood correctly, FREE books -- for selected novels.  For regular updates on this great event, you can friend Eolyn on Facebook, or check in on the Hadley Rille Books website.  You may want to start browsing some of Hadley Rille's titles now. 

Next Monday on Heroines of Fantasy, author Kim Vandervort will be up with her regular monthly post.  Then, on Monday November 28, we have some very special guests:  Carlyle Clark and Suki Michelle, co-authors of the awesome sci fi and fantasy adventure, THE APOCALYPSE GENE

That should be enough to keep you all busy and entertained while I'm out of town.  I wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving week next week, and I look forward to seeing you back on this blog in December.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Season of Loss

Anni Kircher with her daughters Uschi and Helga
Well, it’s been a rather difficult semester this fall. About a month ago, my childhood home burned down. Last week, my maternal grandmother passed away. The first event was quite unexpected; the second, while expected, brought on a much deeper sadness.

When we went to visit the remains of my childhood home, it was eerie in many ways, seeing what had once been the ‘safe place’ of my youth charred and gutted by flames. I couldn’t help but remember Chapter One of EOLYN, where my protagonist's village and home are consumed by fire. I thought that a curious coincidence.

Now, the death of my grandmother has me thinking about Eolyn on deeper levels. Last week on my livejournal blog I wrote a brief reflection about Oma Anni’s life, the courage and determination that helped her survive two great wars, and the stories from that time that have most resonated with me over the years. The trials faced by my grandmother in World War II – as a mother of two young girls, alone amid chaos – had a strong influence on me growing up, and colored my view of war and warfare in ways that I think are irrevocable.

I’d like to write a longer post on this at some point, but for the moment I’m too emotionally tired to think through it all coherently. Suffice it to say that I suspect Ghemena’s intense loathing of war, an attitude inherited by her ward Eolyn, somehow has its roots in these stories told by my family.

There’s another element here: Growing up among a family that knew the reality of war -- not so much as soldiers, but as civilians, as women and children – can have a tremendous impact on one’s world view. This was a situation that set me apart, I think, from many of the children I grew up with in the United States; and having had that experience, I now believe, helped me understand Eolyn in ways I might not have otherwise when the time came to write her story.

Well, that almost suffices for a full post right there. Unfinished thoughts, I suppose, are better than no thoughts at all.

Just a few announcements for this week:

On Heroines of Fantasy, we are discussing Villainesses and Anti-Heroines. Also, I have a special treat there: an audio-recording of scenes from my short story ‘Creatures of Light’. Please stop by to have a listen and join in our discussion.

Author Eliabeth Hawthorne has posted a new review of EOLYN for Adopt-an-Indie Month. You can read and comment on her review of EOLYN either on her blog Ermilia, or at the Adopt-an-Indie website.  Also on the Adopt-an-Indie website, Eliabeth has posted an author interview with me, in which I talk about the challenges and rewards of writing EOLYN, and the advantages of publishing with a small press.

Signed copies of EOLYN, both hardcover and paperback, are now available at the Avila University Bookstore, 11901 Wornall Road, Kansas City, MO. 
If you're curious to learn more about my grandmother’s life, you can read my dedication to her at my livejournal blog.

Wishing everyone a good week.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

I had a special Halloween treat this week, with two more customer reviews appearing on Amazon. 

From W. Anderreg:  "The world was intricate, believable, both sinister and wonderful, and with a rich history."

And from Johnny F:  "Personally i would read the next 10 books from KRG, on the chance that i enjoyed just one of them as much as i enjoyed this."


To read the full reviews from both these Amazon customers, as well as other reviews that have been posted, please visit the Amazon Customer Review Page for EOLYN.

We just got back from a great weekend at the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego, CA.  I met many talented authors, participated in a panel on Exploration in Fantasy, listened to interesting discussions, and brought home a new stack of novels for my book shelf.  Also, we spent quality time with some good friends from college, explored tide pools along the sunny coast, and visited the San Diego Zoo.  All in all, it was a wonderful trip.

November is Adopt-an-Indie Month, and EOLYN will be featured along with other titles from independent presses and authors. New reviews will be made available every day, along with blog posts from authors and publishers about the "indie" experience.  I will let you know when the review for EOLYN is up, but keep an eye on the web site, as it is bound to be a source of a lot of interesting information during the month of November. 

This week we have a new guest on Heroines of Fantasy.  Terra Whiteman, author of The Antithesis, is sharing her thoughts on duality in fantasy.  Please stop by to read Terra's post, and share your comments and insights on the topic.

Those are the updates for today.  Again, Happy Halloween to everyone and have a great week!

Monday, October 24, 2011

World Fantasy Convention is this week!

Lots of exciting activities with the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego this week.

I will be at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore this Wednesday, October 26, for an informal Meet and Greet the Authors of World Fantasy event.  It should be a very fun evening; lots of great titles will be available for purchase and signing, including EOLYN.  If you are in the neighborhood, please stop by for a visit.  The fun starts at 6:30pm. 

Another event open to the public is the mass autograph session at the World Fantasy Convention (Town and Country Resort and Convention Center, 500 Hotel Circle North).  The evening will feature all the authors at World Fantasy; so bring your favorite books to sign, and be prepared to take more great titles home with you.  I will be participating, of course, along with several other Hadley Rille Books authors. 

For those of you attending World Fantasy, please join us on Friday at 10am for the panel discussion "Bring Me That Horizon:  The Exploration of Untrod Lands as a Fantasy Theme".  I will be a panelist along with authors Grania Davis, Michael Stackpole and Sean Llewellyn Williams.  Joshua Palmatier will be moderating. 

In other news, Heroines of Fantasy this week is featuring M.C. Chambers, author of SHAPERS' VEIL.  Please stop by to read M.C. Chambers' post on matriarchs, and participate in the discussion.

Have a magical week!

Monday, October 17, 2011

October Cons and Festivals

This has been a busy month for EOLYN. 

Last weekend, we were at the Longview Literary Festival in Lee's Summit, Missouri.  It was a great afternoon.  Talked with old friends, met new ones, learned about some of the other writers groups in Kansas City, read and listened to stories, participated in a panel discussion, and all in all had a lot of fun.  Many thanks to the organizer Susan Satterfield for making it all happen.

On Oct 21-23, signed copies of EOLYN will be available at Mile High Con in Denver, CO.  Look for Who Else! Books among the vendors. 

Next week -- yes, next week already! -- is World Fantasy in San Diego.  I am so looking forward to this conference!  Events will kick off the evening of Wednesday, October 26, with a Meet and Greet the Authors Event at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego.  I'm also doing a panel or reading or something like that at the con itself, but the program hasn't been posted yet, so I can't give you the details.  I guess I'll just show up and take it as it comes.  When in doubt, look for me at the bar.  I will also be at the book signing party, along with several other Hadley Rille Books authors.

Speaking of Hadley Rille Books authors, this week on Heroines of Fantasy, Terri-Lynne DeFino has put up a fun post about the use of horses in fantasy fiction.  Stop by Heroines of Fantasy to read Terri's post and join in on the discussion.

That's the news for the moment.  I'm toying with the idea of doing a holiday raffle for EOLYN; stay tuned for more news about that.  And congratulations, once again, to Jared Lemons for winning a free signed copy of EOLYN as part of the Heroines of Fantasy Grand Opening Raffle.

Wishing everyone a great week.  Thanks so much for stopping by!

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Reviews and Good News

EOLYN has two new customer reviews on Amazon.

From JElizabeth:  "Young readers will love the brave heroine and the thread of adventure that runs through the novel; adults will appreciate the social, political, and romance elements."

From kenaparsons:  "Gastreich's careful crafting of the friendship of Achim and Eolyn makes their bonds of devotion a power not eclipsed by political ambition, cruel sadism and thirsts for revenge. This is artisan storytelling at its finest - evokes yet transcends a tradition and confronts themes relevant to the reader within an alternate universe."

To read more from these as well as other customer reviews, please visit EOLYN's web page on Amazon.

In other news, this weekend I'll be at the Longview Literary Festival.  This two-day event will feature panel discussions, book signings, workshops and more.  I'll be participating in the following activities on Saturday, October 15:  Meet and Greet the Authors, Hadley Rille Reading, and the Panel Discussion "Self-Promotion 101".  Believe it or not, exact times are still up in the air, but the day will run from 10am to 6pm, and I'll be hanging out doing stuff the whole time.  Also, Hadley Rille Books will have a table, so please stop by to talk to Hadley Rille editors and authors, and to browse a great collection of Hadley Rille titles.  Books will be available for purchase and signing.

Last but certainly not least, discussion is fast and furious once again this week on Heroines of Fantasy.  Please stop by to read Kim Vandervort's post How Much Reality is Too Much in Epic Fantasy, and share your thoughts with us while you are at it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Love and Sex in a Heroine's World

What are our expectations when it comes to the love lives of our heroines?  Read my take on this question as it relates to Eolyn, and share your thoughts with us and other visitors this week on Heroines of Fantasy

Here's a preview:

Women with multiple lovers are often called “fickle”, “inconstant” and “weak”, or any number of much more uncomplimentary words, but does calling them all these things make it so?


Is a female protagonist with multiple lovers by definition weak?

When I began crafting the world of Eolyn, I had it very clear in my head how sex, and especially women’s sexuality, would be seen by the subculture of the Magas (the particular tradition of witchcraft that Eolyn inherits). . .  READ MORE

Monday, September 26, 2011

Interview with 1889 Labs and Other News

1889 Labs interviewed me last week.  If you'd like to learn a little about what inspired Eolyn, the challenges of writing a novel, and other fun facts about my life as a writer, please visit the 1889 Labs Blog.

This week is your last chance to register to win a FREE signed copy of Eolyn from Heroines of Fantasy.  Visit their Grand Opening Raffle Web Page to find out more, or just send your name and email address to women.writing.fantasy(at)gmail.com.  The drawing is on October 1.

Also this week on Heroines of Fantasy, Hadley Rille Books editor Eric T. Reynolds writes a guest post about how HRB began publishing fantasy.  Visit Heroines of Fantasy to read more, and while you're at it, feel free to ask Eric questions about small press, editing and publishing in general. 

Thanks for stopping by.  Hope you have a great week! 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fantasy: A Love Story

Stop by Heroines of Fantasy to read Terri-Lynne DeFino's great post on keeping the magic alive, and tell us how your love story with fantasy began. 

While you're there, don't forget to register to win your free, signed copy of the novel EOLYN.  Visit our Grand Opening Raffle page for more information, or just send your name and email address to women.writing.fantasy(at)gmail.com, and we will put you in the basket.  The drawing is on October 1, 2011. 

This weekend, I will be at Wordstock Poetry Festival, along with M.C. Chambers, author of SHAPERS' VEIL.  We will be sharing a table and will have copies of our novels and anthologies available for signing and purchase.  In the evening, there will be a bonfire and poetry for all.   This is shaping up to be a really fun event, so I hope to see some of you there!

We now have an anticipated release date for the sequel to EOLYN:  October 2013.  I'll be posting more news about that on this site in the coming weeks, so please stay tuned...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Heroines in Epic Fantasy

Kim Vandervort, author of THE SONG AND THE SORCERESS and THE NORTHERN QUEEN, has posted a wonderful essay on defining the heroine in epic fantasy on our new blog Heroines of Fantasy

Here's a sneak preview:

"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..."

To read more and share your own comments and insights, stop by Heroines of Fantasy

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Heroines of Fantasy launches this week

Our first post for the new blog Heroines of Fantasy is up.  Here's a preview, written in response to this month's theme "Why Fantasy?": 

"...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..."

To read and comment on the full post, visit Heroines of Fantasy

Also on Heroines of Fantasy, register this month to win a free signed copy of Eolyn with our Grand Opening Raffle. The raffle will be held on October 1, 2011.

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope to see you at the new site!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tomorrow We Ride South Together


The title for today's post is taken form a quote out of a soon-to-be-famous book by a largely unknown author. I chose it because it marks the end of one journey and the beginning of another; a new adventure that will not be undertaken alone, but in the company of good friends who share a common vision. 

It seems an appropriate quote for this particular moment in my internet life.  Next week, I will get on my virtual horse and trot over to another corner of the e-universe to begin a new project with fellow authors and esteemed Magas Terri-Lynne DeFino (FINDER) and Kim Vandervort (THE SONG AND THE SORCERESS, THE NORTHERN QUEEN).  Our project, entitled Heroines of Fantasy, is a new blog dedicated to the discussion of fantasy fiction in general, and women in fantasy in particular.  I wrote about this last week as well; if you'd like a preview of the new blog, please click HERE

It's been about a year and a half since I started this blog for EOLYN, and while I'm very excited about the new project, it's a bittersweet moment to be letting go of my weekly posts on this site.  I've really enjoyed sharing the backstory of EOLYN:  the history of Moisehén, the structure of its magic, the landscape in which its people live.  It's also been fun relating the journey of publishing this novel with Hadley Rille Books.  In a very real way, this blog has documented one of the most exciting periods of my life, and to be able to share it with all of you -- to feel your support and enthusiasm while bringing my first novel to press -- has made it a truly unforgettable experience. 

To give you an idea of how far Eolyn has journeyed since I started posting, here are a few fun figures:

Since its inception in May of 2009, the blog for EOLYN has received nearly 8000 hits. 

The countries most represented in terms of visitation have been the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Costa Rica (pura vida, mis amigos Ticos!), Australia, Germany, Russia, the Netherlands, Slovenia and France. 

The top five most popular posts to date have been:

Middle Magic

Women, Epic Fantasy, and George RR Martin

The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King

Epic Love

Strong Female Protagonists

To learn what people are saying about EOLYN, check out the reviews on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Goodreads.  You can also read the full text of the Publishers Weekly review of EOLYN on this site. I have been very pleased with how people are responding to the novel; there's nothing more fulfilling for a story teller than to know you are telling a good story.

In so many ways, Eolyn's journey has only just begun, so while I will no longer be posting regularly on this blog, the story does not end here.  You can still come to this site for announcements and updates about events and signings, or friend Eolyn on Facebook to learn what con, bookstore or library I will visit next. 

In the coming weeks, I will probably reorganize this site to make the existing information more accessible to new visitors, so that http://eolynchronicles.blogspot.com/ will remain the best place to go for inside information about the novel and the world in which Eolyn lives.

And, if you would like to embark on a larger journey through magic and fantasy -- one that will include discussion not only about the world of Eolyn, but about many other worlds and their heroines besides -- please get on your virtual horse (or whatever your prefered method of fantasy transport is:  dragon, damselfly, magic carpet...) and 'ride south' with Kim, Terri and me to our new blog Heroines of Fantasy.  I know you will not be disappointed.

I want to thank everybody who has followed this blog over the last year and a half.  Your comments, support and readership have meant the world to me.  Thanks to you, the novel EOLYN is off to a grand start.  I look forward to seeing you next week at our new location, http://heroinesoffantasy.blogspot.com/, where we will begin brewing up some special magic just for you.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Something Good This Way Comes

I have some very exciting news.  In the next couple of weeks -- on September 5, to be exact -- I will be launching a new blog with fellow fantasy authors Kim Vandervort and Terri-Lynne DeFino.  Entitled Heroines of Fantasy, this will be a new forum dedicated to lively discussion of all aspects of fantasy fiction, and especially women in fantasy fiction. 

Kim, Terri and I will take turns posting, and we will bring in guest bloggers once or twice a month -- editors, authors, and artists in the field -- so be prepared for a wide variety of perspectives on and experiences with this wonderful and varied genre that we call fantasy.  We also hope that you, the reader, will take time to participate in those discussions and share your thoughts, insights and inspirations. 

As Heroines of Fantasy gathers steam, I will be moving away from regular posts on my blog for EOLYN.  This website will remain, so that readers can access it as a repository of information about the history and magic of Moisehen, as well as the writing and publishing of the novel itself.  I will also keep the list of events up-to-date, and will likely post special news bulletins once in a while.

But if you want to continue reading the kinds of posts you have seen on my blog for EOLYN on a weekly basis -- now expanded in terms of breadth of topics and diversity of perspectives --  I encourage you to visit and follow Heroines of Fantasy.  I know you will not be disappointed with everything Terri, Kim and I have planned for the new site.

A couple other news briefs for this week:

Signed copies of EOLYN will be available next weekend at Bubicon in Albequerque, NM, Aug 26-28.  Look for Who Else! Books among the vendors. 

The date and time has been set for the Dead Horse Society's Annual Reading, this year entitled Emergence.   Ten authors from this Kansas City Area speculative fiction writers group, including me, will be presenting short works on Saturday, September 10, at the Writers Place, 3607 Pennsylvania, Kansas City, Missouri.  I will be reading from a story entitled 'Born of Fire', written as part of my Spring 2011 Andrews Writers Residency.  Those of you familiar with Eolyn lore will be interested to know that 'Born of Fire' features a scene from the life of Briana, when she was a young maga as as yet untried by love and war. There will also be copies of EOLYN available for purchase and signing.  This is the third year we have done this event, and it is always a great evening with lots of wonderful story telling, so I hope you will stop by if you are in the area.

I'm starting the gear up for World Fantasy in San Diego at the end of October.  More details to come on that...

Have a great week!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Landscape and Characters in the World of FINDER

This week I'm very happy to host guest blogger Terri-Lynne DeFino, author of FINDER and the soon-to-be-released A TIME NEVER LIVED.  The world of FINDER is similar to our Mediterranean in climate and geography.  Here, Terri-Lynne talks about how she constructed her world, and the impact of her landscapes on the characters that inhabit them. 

***


Getting the map right is one of the things many budding fantasy writers don't take into account when worldbuilding. I know I didn't. An Arctic tundra two weeks walk from balmy swampland? No problem! Except there is.


When creating a world, some things are generally taken for granted. There is one sun, usually one moon (the tidal kerfuffle two or more cause alone is not worth the coolness factor.) Both are similar distances from our worlds. The size of the world, the land to water ratio, the atmosphere and size of land masses will be largely similar to our own. There are those writers who go the extra lengths to create wholly unique worlds with strange but workable weather patterns and such, and then there are those who keep their worlds to one small, magical, Europe-like forest; but most of us fall in that middle ground of keeping things largely the same, just tweaked a bit.

I'm not going to pretend to be some sort of geological expert. I'm not even close. When it came time to create my world for Finder, I modeled it loosely after the Mediterranean. My characters travel Southern/Eastern Europe and Northern Africa-like terrains. The mountains to the east are there because continental shifts put them there. The same shift cut off part of the once-vast ocean, creating the Bloodbane Sea. Only narrow straits allow water in or out, cutting off larger sailing ships from entering the Bloodbane from the west, and making the basin extremely defensible from the east. Therk's Iabba Desert is what's left of the ocean floor after the waters receded.

Like our own world, the south toward the equator is generally warmer than the north, so while the mountains in Greater Argoa are often quite cold, those to the south only get snow in the higher elevations. The Bihn Iabba River flows--unlike the Nile--north to south. There are more pine forests farther north in Greater Argoa, and scrubby cedars along the western coast of Therk, in Tinnangar, while the southern mountains mainly contain deciduous hardwoods. Once again, these are things I borrowed from our world, because I know they work, even if I don't know why.

Another aspect of geography that most budding fantasy writers don't take into account is how it affects language. Idioms, curse words, colloquialisms, even religion, often stem from environment. "That's a fine kettle of fish!" isn't an idiom that's going to come from the middle of the desert, and neither is "three sheets to the wind." The local gods of agricultural regions will be gods of planting, harvest, weather, the hunt; those along the coastline will be watery ones. In my desert, the gods are "ornery desert gods" because, let's face it, a harsh climate is going to birth harsh gods. By the same token, the gods in mild Bosbana are more inclined to art and revels. There are always exceptions, of course--but these will have stories to go with them. For example, in my recently completed novel, A Time Never Lived, the migration of mountainfolk brought their vastly different gods to the desert. Their stories changed over time to reflect assimilation, but some core elements that simply do not make sense environment-wise--like redheaded gods in a land that does not produce redheads--remain.

Obviously, the clothes your characters wear will reflect environment, not just in weight and material but in color. Desert people will wear a lot of white to reflect the sun. Most colors would be expensive; the cost of importing the plant extracts or mineral compounds to create them would be prohibitive. Even if there were succulents, grasses and such available, they would not be abundant enough to make color cost-effective. The wealthy could afford color, the poor could not; however in a heavily wooded or farming community, color is abundant. In the world I created, the wealthy Merchants along the Strip adorn their businesses with colorful pavilions, a way to show their prosperity.

We are where we come from, there's no doubt about that. City or country, coastal or desert, the way we think, speak, eat is determined largely by our environment. Geography is part of every story ever written, whether the writers and readers know or not; it comes out in details we often take for granted. This is why the geography needs to work, and why we have to know what our worlds look like north, south, east and west. If we don't, our worlds won't be believable, and it will show.


Terri-Lynne DeFino's FINDER is available in hardcover, softcover, Kindle and Nook formats.  Look for it on-line through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  You can also visit Terri at her livejournal blog, http://bogwitch64.livejournal.com/ 


Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Ecological Context of Eolyn's World

I need to start this post by correcting an error from last week.  In my July 30 post, I referred to the Wall in Westeros as having a location near a "polar latitude". One of the blog's readers brought to my attention that this was a rather careless statement; though unfortunately blogger didn't let him post the comment.  (By the way, I've had a few complaints lately about not being able to post comments on blogger.  If you have also had problems with this, please let me know at eolyn.of.the.south.woods(at)gmail.com.)

My use of 'polar' in this context stemmed from my habit of thinking of the planet as divided into six latitudinal regions defined by atmospheric circulation (blame it on my training as an ecologist).  North of the equator, we have three of these regions: a belt of northeast trade winds (from 0N to about 30N), a belt of temperate westerlies (from about 30N to 60N), and the belt of polar easterlies (from about 60N to the north pole). 

I've lapsed into the habit of calling this third region of polar easterlies 'polar', which is not an entirely accurate, and can lend to additional confusion when one takes into account that the Arctic Circle itself (what most people would probably call 'polar') is defined not by wind patterns but by the southern extremity of the 24-hour polar day.  The southern limit of the Arctic Circle is at about 66N.

So, all this to say, what I should have written last week is that the Wall, as I see it, is probably located somewhere around the earth equivalent of 60N. This seems to be more or less in agreement with what other folks who are better informed than I regarding Martin lore have concluded.  My apologies for any confusion my last post might have generated.

Now, back to the map of Moisehén...

This is a really good time for me to be thinking about maps.  I have been working for about a year now on the sequel to EOLYN, and just as our own world becomes bigger as we move through life, so Eolyn's world has grown in the second book to include kingdoms outside of Moisehén. Of course, I have always had a pretty solid idea as to where Moisehén fits in the context of the surrounding regions of Roenfyn, Galia, Antaria, the Paramen Mountains and the High Plains of the Syrnte, but reaffirming the details of climate and topography has been a very useful exercise for me.

Moisehén, as I've mentioned elsewhere, is a land-locked country that receives humid westerly winds, with water vapor coming not only from an ocean to the west, but also from a large inland sea known as the Sea of Rabeln.  The region also receives the influence of the equivalent of a 'Gulf Stream'.  (As a small aside, that means somewhere waaaay to the south west of the continent, there must be a structure similar to the isthmus of Central America, which upon its formation some 5-6 million years ago, generated the Gulf Stream, with significant impacts on the climate of Europe.)

a map of the Gulf Stream
The interior mountains of the continent, including the Paramen Mountains and the Eastern Surmaeg, are high, non-volcanic ranges.  But to the west and southwest of Moisehén, on the other side of Roenfyn, we have the Kingdom of Galia, a place of lordly wizards who for generations have intermarried with the Magas of Moisehen.  Galia is a coastal country with a volcanic mountain range.  In the novel EOLYN, we never visit Galia, but Eolyn learns about it through unusual means:


"On the western shores of Galia, fire springs from the earth and flows in burning rivers to the sea.  It is from this union of earth, fire and water that the Galian wizards draw their power."

Galian volcanos are important to Moisehén because the same winds that bring moisture to this inland country also pick up volcanic debris from Galia, which over geological time has settled on the landscape, particularly in the high valley of Moehn (Eolyn's home), resulting in very rich soils that, together with relatively heavy rainfall, have supported dense forests and -- where the forests have been cleared for farming -- very productive agriculture.

The South Woods of Moehn and the great forest of East Selen are actually remnants of vast expanses of woodland that once covered most of the Kingdom of Moisehen. The western portion of the country is somewhat drier than the eastern portion, and has also traditionally supported patches of grassland intermixed with woods. 

When drawing the map of Moisehén (embedded above), artist Ginger Prewitt was careful to indicate the transition from oak dominated deciduous forest in the south (which lose their leaves every winter) to coniferous evergreen forest in the north, Selen being on the whole a cooler region than Moehn, and therefore supporting a somewhat different ecosystem.

Prewitt was also kind enough to put a wolf in the South Woods for me.  I think that's my favorite part of the whole map. 

The map that was drawn up for the first novel does not include any of the surrounding kingdoms, but I mention them here to emphasize that Moisehén is an integral part of a greater whole.  As the author, it was important for me to have some vision of that greater whole in order to better understand the specifics of the landscape in which my characters lived -- which in turn allowed me a greater understanding the characters themselves.

For more thoughts on the relationship between characters, culture and landscape, stay tuned for a special guest post from Terri-Lynne DeFino, author of FINDER.  Coming soon! 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Biogeography in Fantasy

My summer reading list has included the fourth book of George R.R. Martin's Ice and Fire series, entitled A Feast for Crows.  Certain events in the story had me mulling over the map of Westeros the other day, trying to understand why Dorne has a desert environment. 

The mountain range on the west side of the kingdom of Dorne, combined with the fact that Martin mentions the winds come from the west, gave me part of the answer, as the 'rain shadow effect' (see below) would make those winds dry.  Still, Dorne has quite a bit of coast off the southwest, and it seemed to me the air masses coming from that ocean would have a lot of moisture. 

Then it occured to me -- and here was the key to the puzzle -- that Westeros is actually much larger than I've imagined it to be, extending from a polar latitude near the Wall to what is most likely to about 30N near the region of Dorne.  Roughly equivalent to the north-south expanse of Europe, from the nordic countries to Spain, with a little extra land tacked on in the south.  Some time on "A Wiki of Ice and Fire" corroborated my suspicion, and laid to rest my doubts about the capacity of Dorne to be a dry landscape. 

(My next thought was, "No wonder the royal houses of Westeros have such a hard time keeping it all under one kingdom."  I mean, really.  Why do they even try?)

One of the most challenging and interesting tasks of writing fantasy is "world building".  I was first introduced to this term by DHS, my local writers group that specializes in fantasy, horror and science fiction.  There are many, many aspects to world building, but from my point of view one must always start with the foundation:  the landscapes and biomes in which our characters live. 

It is the landscape that determines the resources available to the human (or non-human) characters in our stories.  The distribution and abundance of those resources, as well as the relative isolation of different regions, can in turn impact the structure and development of the human societies that depend upon them.

The author decides just how meticulous he or she wants (or needs) to be with the biogeographic details of a fantasy world.  But having a landscape that makes 'biogeographical sense' is one of many factors that contributes to the authenticity of a story, and whether or not your readers have conscientious knowledge of the basics of geography and climate, at some level they will sense whether the world 'feels' real or not.

When thinking about the geography and climate of your world, here are some basics to keep in mind:

 1. It's generally easier to start by assuming your world is 'earth-like' in the basics of size, rotation, relative amounts of land surface vs. water surface, distance from the sun, and so forth.  (Of course, if you are a science fiction writer, you'll probably want to throw this point out the window, as the whole premise of your story may involve a world entirely different from earth.  A wonderful example of this is Geoffrey A. Landis' award-winning short story 'The Sultan of the Clouds', set in a level of Venus' atmosphere that has more or less the equivalent of a tropical environment on earth.) 

2. Be aware of the Coriolis effect, which determines large-scale wind patterns on the earth's surface.  Because of the Coriolis effect, prevailing winds will come from different directions depending on where you are on the planet.  In the polar and tropical latitudes, prevailing winds will come from the east (northeast or southeast, depending on which side of the equator you're on).  In temperate latitudes, prevailing winds will come from the west (again, northwest or southwest, depending on which side of the equator). The interaction of landmasses, waterbodies, and wind is an important determinant of local weather patterns, so knowing where the wind is coming from (and whether it has passed over a large water body in the process of getting there) will help determine where the forests, grasslands and deserts can be found on the map of your world.

3. The interaction between the sun's energy and the earth's atmosphere leads to large-scale patterns in the distribution of forests, grasslands, deserts and polar environments, which we refer to collectively as biomes.  For example, at 30N and 30S, one can find a belt of deserts that circle the earth.  (This is the same belt that I now believe Dorne is a part of in Martin's world.)  Boreal forests, on the other hand, dominate from about 50N to 70N.  (And if you've ever wondered why there's more Boreal forest north of the equator than south of it, have a look at a map.  You'll notice our planet has a lot more land between 50N and 70N than it does between 50S and 70S. This consideration adds another level of complexity to world building.  Where are your continents and seas?  The distribution of landmasses can have a huge impact on global and local climate, and therefore the distribution of biomes.)

4. Local mountain ranges are associated with 'rain shadows', a phenomenon which causes the windward side of the range to be relatively wet, while the other side of the range tends to be dry.  In the rain shadow effect, as air masses hit mountain ranges, they rise and become cooler.  The evaporated water they carry condenses and falls as precipitation.  By the time the air mass crosses the mountain range, it has lost a lot of its moisture, resulting in dry climates on the other side.  Variation in the topography of your mountain range can add a lot of complexity to this effect.  Low passes, for example, can allow channels of moister air to reach the far side of the range.  Very high mountains can result in local air circulation patterns that lead to unusually wet slopes.  And within a mountain range, of course, there can be an interesting mix of relatively wet and dry slopes and valleys.

That's probably enough for one post.  There are many excellent on-line resources that can tell you more about how latitutude, wind patterns, land masses and water bodies interact to determine the distribution of biomes on our planet, so you can put these principles into practice when developing your fantasy world.

Next week, we'll have a look at the map of Moisehen, and talk about how these and other phenomena affect the climate and ecosystems of Eolyn's world. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Rocky Mountain High

I'm in Colorado this week visiting friends and family, and technically on vacation (again), so today's post will be short.  I have a special treat for you, nonetheless.  Friend and fellow author Jeanne M. Bannon hosted me for an interview on her blog BeyondWords this past week.  If you'd like to read the interview, which includes questions about what inspired EOLYN, as well as the process of querying and publishing, please click HERE

In other news, Who Else! Books at the Broadway Book Mall in Denver, CO, hosted a signing for EOLYN on Saturday.  We had a small but very enthusiastic audience, with a lively discussion about the novel and the craft of writing fantasy in general.  A limited number of signed copies of EOLYN are still available at Who Else! Books, so if you are in the Denver area stop by the store soon if you'd like to purchase one.

I don't think I've announced this on the blog yet, but even if I have it's worth a reminder:  I've started posting audio-recordings of excerpts from the novel on a new YouTube Channel for EOLYN.  Chapters 1 and 2, as well as the Origin of Magic and a scene from the battle sequence are now available for your listening.  I'll be posting more in coming weeks.  Enjoy!

EOLYN is now available in Kindle format and should be coming out in Nook format any day now. Amazon also offers the hardcover print edition, while Barnes & Noble offer both hardcover and paperback editions.  The novel may also be at your local library; check EOLYN in libraries on this blog to find out, or run your own search on http://worldcat.org. 

That wraps up the updates for this week.  Thank you for stopping by, and I promise to be back to my usual posts, with some interesting discussions of the craft of writing fantasy, next weekend.  Enjoy your summer!

Many thanks to Jennifer Weise for providing this week's photo from the booksigning at Who Else! Books in Denver.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What People Are Saying About EOLYN

Hadley Rille Books editor Eric T. Reynolds once said to me, "Authors like to know they're being read." 

It's true.  When I first started writing EOLYN, my core motivation was simply the need to write; but as I began to share the manuscript with an ever-wider circle of readers and critics, the need to be read became increasingly important.  Now, with EOLYN in print, every time I hear it is being read -- and enjoyed -- it adds a spark of brightness to my day. 

Since its release this past May, EOLYN has garnered several reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, all of which have been positive.  That's not to say readers haven't had an occasional minor complaint, but for the most part people are enjoying the adventure.  Some feedback from Amazon readers:

"...a book to first savor at great length, and then revisit over and over again. Ms. Gastreich's characters become as real to the reader as the next-door neighbor, and much more beloved."

"...a great story that will take you on an emotional journey with romance and thrilling action."

"When it's summer within the story, you'll feel the heat....When it's winter, you'll feel the chill down to your bones. Ms. Gastreich's uncanny talent for truly creating a world her readers can become part of is a rare gift, and one she shares abundantly in Eolyn."

"Gastreich's Eolyn focuses on the emotional, political, and physical conflicts between powerful and three-dimensional characters."

"The ending is superb, both the climactic battle and its aftermath leaving no easy answers or trite successes: it's a real-world ending..."

"I cannot wait for her next book."

In addition to the Amazon reviews (which you can view in their entirety on Amazon's page for  EOLYN), it seems not a day has passed without someone somewhere mentioning a reader's enjoyment of this novel.  Word has come to me about friends of friends, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandchildren, adults and young alike, some connected to me, others not, but all finding a moment of escape and adventure in the pages of EOLYN.  Here are some comments you won't find on Amazon, as they have arrived through other channels:
 
"One of my birthday gifts to myself was to stay up until 1AM the night before so I could finish EOLYN."
 
"At first I didn't think I would be interested in the subject matter, however, the vivid descriptions made her characters come alive and the countryside so real, one could almost smell the forest."
 
"It was really surprising in the directions it took.  I enjoyed it a lot!  At first I thought it was a young adult novel, but it quickly changed into a much more politically charged book.  And I liked the ending a great deal..."
 
"I just finished your magical book Eolyn and now am ready for the second one. Hurry!"


All this to say, if you haven't yet indulged in the adventure of reading EOLYN, now is the time to do it.

The novel can be ordered online from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and is available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle editions (with the release of the Nook edition soon to come).  If you're feeling tight on your book budget (and don't have a Kindle or a Nook), look for EOLYN in libraries.  As of this writing, twenty-eight public library systems in eighteen states carry the novel.  For all you expats in my adopted country of Costa Rica, EOLYN is also available at the Mark Twain Library at the Centro Cultural Norteamericano Costarricenses. 

Check it out -- literally or figuratively.  You will not regret it.

FRIENDS AND FANS OF EOLYN IN DENVER:  I'm going to visit you next weekend!  Stop by Who Else! Books, 200S Broadway, Denver, Colorado, 80209, on Saturday, July 23, to talk about the novel in particular, and fantasy in general.  Books will be available for purchase and signing.  The fun starts at 3pm.  Hope to see you there!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Artists and Revolutionaries

It was with great sadness that I learned of the tragic and violent death of Facundo Cabral this weekend. A visionary and a man of peace, the musician was gunned down by professional assassins on his way to the airport in Guatemala. 

Why?  No one is quite sure.  Some believe the target of the assassination was not Cabral but the publicist who managed his visit to Guatemala.  But there are others who suspect he was killed for the ideals expressed in his songs, folk music that has inspired generations of Latin Americans to demand justice and peace from often oppressive governments.  Whatever the motivation behind his death -- indeed, if there was a clear motivation at all -- this is a sobering moment for all of us.  Men and women of peace continue to die in this world, and they continue to die violent and senseless deaths.

Word came to me of Cabral's death on Saturday night, while I was attending the Campbell Conference, hosted by the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.  The loss of Facundo Cabral reminded me of the recent deaths of musician Mercedes Sosa and poet Mario Benedetti -- both perished of natural causes, but their loss was nonetheless deeply felt. 

It is my perception, after residing for ten years in Costa Rica, that artists and poets occupy a somewhat different place in Latin American society than they do in the United States.  In the U.S., we look to our artists for entertainment and escape.  In Latin America, artists are often the revolutionaries, the voice of protest, the leaders in the demand for change.  Instead of trying to distract their public from social reality, they make social reality -- and particularly social justice -- the focus of their work.  (As an interesting and perhaps extreme example, the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia was assassinated in the 1950s by the Nicaraguan poet Rigoberto Lopez Perez.) 

All of this was running through my head Sunday morning, when I sat down with authors and teachers of science fiction for the last round table discussion of the Campbell Conference.  It was an informal discussion that began with comments by Sturgeon Award winner Geoffrey Landis and Campbell Award winner Ian McDonald sharing some of what inspired their award-winning stories.  (Landis received the Sturgeon this year for his short story 'The Sultan of the Clouds', published in the September 2010 issue of Asimov, and McDonald received the Campbell for his novel The Dervish House from Prometheus Books.) 

I suppose one could talk endlessly about what inspires a story, particularly a novel, where the influences can be numerous, diverse and complex.  Every so often on this blog, I've come back to the topic of what inspired Eolyn, and while listening to Landis and McDonald, I remembered one of the important books that influenced my own novel: the non-fiction work by Giocanda Belli, The Country Beneath My Skin. 

This might come as a surprise to a lot of people.  After all, how could Belli's memoir of her experiences as a Nicaraguan revolutionary in the 1970s and 80s have anything to do with the story of a young maga living in a medieval society?  But there are certain aspects of the human experience that are timeless, and Belli's story gave me many ideas to work with. 

For example, it was through her testimony that I realized the central importance of poets and artists to the revolution in Nicaragua. As a result, in Eolyn's world the revolutionaries are also musicians and artists.  I also learned a lot from Belli's memoir about the logistics of organizing major social change in an environment where any voice of protest is quickly silenced by imprisonment, torture and death.  Perhaps most importantly, I found food for thought in Belli's experiences as a woman seeking equality while engaged in a military movement that -- for all its revolutionary nature -- was still immersed in a patriarchal society and mindset. 

I wish I could say revolutions can have happy endings, and that people who advocate for peace often die peaceful deaths.  But history keeps testing my optimism, among the latest examples being the fate of the Sandinista movement in Nicaragua, and this past weekend the terrible murder of Facundo Cabral. I suppose this awareness also influenced the writing of Eolyn, which -- while it does not have an unhappy ending -- certainly has an ending where many of the gains are counterbalanced by important losses.

I'll have to stop there, so as not to spoil the story.

Thank you, Facundo Cabral, Mercedes Sosa, Mario Benedetti, Giocanda Belli, artists and revolutionaries of Latin America, for inspiring by your example.  May your work and your message live on in our hearts and imaginations.

 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

EOLYN Abroad

Technically, I'm on vacation right now, so this will be a short post.  But I wanted to mention EOLYN has made her first official foray into Latin America.  Fans of EOLYN living in Costa Rica may now check out the novel at the Biblioteca Mark Twain, the largest collection of English language books in the country.  The library is located at the Centro Cultural Norteamericano Costarricenses.  I've donated many books to this library over the years, but this is the first time I've donated a novel of my own making.  That was a lot of fun.  I hope it finds many happy readers here.

I also brought down several copies, hardcover and paperback, that had been requested by friends and family, plus a few extras just in case -- which have come in handy after all.  Though the story is set firmly in a temperate environment, many of the scenes in the early chapters were inspired by the forests of Costa Rica, most especially the highlands of Talamanca, which in this part of the tropics support forests dominated by oak.  Costa Rica is one of the top sources of visits to this blog, running neck-and-neck for third place with Canada (behind the United States and the United Kingdom).  So I think EOLYN will find a good home here, and with any luck will be picked up by some of the local bookstores that cater to English language speakers and expats. 

Of course, someday I hope EOLYN will also be translated to Spanish.  There's been talk about that in the virtual halls of Hadley Rille Books, so it's not outside of the realm of possibilities.

In other news, I'll be at the Campbell Conference this weekend, hosted by the University of Kansas in Lawrence.  I've heard a lot of wonderful things about this conference, dedicated to science fiction but welcoming of the genres of fantasy and horror.  Many well-known authors will be there, and I am very much looking forward to having the opportunity to interact with them.  If you are in the area, there will be a group booksigning event at the Jayhawk Ink Bookstore in the Kansas Union, on Saturday from 12:45pm to 1:45pm.  The event is free and open to the public.

Okay.  Back to vacationing.  I'll check in early next week with news about the Campbell Conference and more on upcoming events.  Until then, Pura Vida!

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Landscape of My Imagination

I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein when I was in high school, as part of my English class. To this day (and it’s been a long time since then), the cover art of my high school edition of Frankenstein remains vivid in my mind: A man in 19th century dress, his back to the viewer, his figure small but distinctive in a vast landscape of ragged mountains and hidden valleys.


It was wonderful surprise – while I was refreshing my memory of Shelley, Frankenstein, and Romanticism – to come across this same image on Wikipedia. It didn’t take much; just one click on “Romantic” from Wikipedia’s Frankenstein page. The artwork, entitled Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, is by Casper David Friedrich, a painter of the Romantic period.

I also remember our classroom discussion of Frankenstein, where our teacher talked about the importance of wilderness for the Romantic movement. Shelley is a prime example of this.  In her timeless novel, she devotes ample attention to the untamed landscape in which her characters live. Were she alive and writing today, I suspect Shelley would find herself embroiled in some vigorous debates with fellow authors, who now live in a world where generous attention to landscape is often seen as an impediment to a story rather than an integral part of it.

My own writing is heavy on description and landscape. I believe a reader cannot fully understand the characters of a story unless he or she also experiences the setting in which they live -- this because the landscape with which we interact shapes who we are.  I would have been a happy camper (literally and figuratively) had I written during the Romantic period. As it is, I am constantly challenged by my readers and fellow authors to strike a balance between my own convictions regarding the importance of landscape and more contemporary lines of thought, which often insist setting is not only unimportant, but actually in the way of the 'real story'.

Why shun landscape in our stories?

This question has come back to me often during these last few years, as I’ve engaged with different perspectives regarding what makes good writing. It has resurfaced again these past few weeks, as I reflect on my experience as writer-in-residence at Andrews Experimental Forest and the short story inspired by it – a story that in its current draft is, perhaps even by my own standards, ‘too heavy’ on description.

But what is ‘too heavy’? What determines the point where we stop looking out the window, because we just don’t want to see anymore? Why is that cutoff in a different place now than it was some 200 years ago, when Shelley wrote her immortal tale?

The biologist and philosopher inside me can’t help but wonder whether rejection of landscape is simply about ‘good technique’ in writing.  Perhaps it's more than that.  Perhaps it is also a reflection of the context in which so many of us now live: a world where wilderness has been fragmented and pushed to distant corners of the earth; where we have no point of reference for the organic nature of our surroundings, living as we do in climate controlled spaces, attached to our ipods and cell phones, purchasing pre-packaged boneless meats, avoiding fresh fruits and vegetables because they must be peeled, treating our next door neighbors as somehow less ‘real’ than the person we just met on Facebook.

Not that the modern lifestyle is bad perse; just that we lose something, I think, if we let ourselves become too absorbed by it. There’s a larger world out there; larger even than the internet. Filled with sensory experience -- sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures. A world that would speak to us, if we let it; just as the forests of Moisehén speak to the Magas and Mages of Eolyn's world.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Romantics like Shelley, I have read contemporary fiction that takes place entirely inside the mind of the main character. While I appreciate the artistry behind this approach to storytelling, it has little appeal to me as a reader. A disembodied mind in an organic world seems not so much a reflection of real life as a precursor to madness. I cannot engage with someone who is so removed from their surroundings; indeed from their own flesh and blood.

I suppose for me as a writer, the landscape and its components – forests, plains, valleys, rivers, cultivated fields, mountains, plants, animals, rocks, weather patterns, and so forth – will always be characters in their own right, and deserve to be treated as such. My protagonists interact in intimate ways with the environment in which they live; so, then, should my readers. 

And even though I tend to cull descriptive passages as I move toward the final draft, I'm rarely fully convinced that by doing so I'm creating a better story. Indeed, it often seems like I'm deforesting the landscape of my imagination, just as we have deforested the landscapes of our planet. 


This post is part of a series of reflections inspired by my week as a Writer-in-Residence at Andrews Experimental Forest.  To learn more about my week at Andrews, visit the links in the box entitled "Spring 2011 Residency at Andrews Forest" on the right hand bar. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Animating the Forest

An "Ent" as depicted in the Lord of the Rings film series.
There are a couple of lingering topics from my week at Andrews Forest, and I want to return to one of them today.

During a follow up conversation with Frederick J. Swanson, one of the coordinators of the Long Term Ecological Reflections project at Andrews, he expressed interest in knowing more about ‘what I had to let go of’ when trying to consider the forest from a writer’s perspective, having been trained for so long to approach the forest as a scientist.

I’d say the most difficult impulse for me to follow – to put my faith in, so to speak -- was the desire to anthropomorphize the creatures around me, to animate them with human qualities.

It is very common for story tellers (and humans in general) to anthropomorphize animals and other non-human creatures. Walt Disney’s The Lion King, for example, imposes a human social structure and human behavior on lions and their cohorts in the grasslands of Africa, so that what appears to be a story about lions is, in fact, a story about humans dressed up as lions.

Disney, of course, does this with a lot of films; but I chose The Lion King is an example because the first animal social structure I learned about when I began my study of behavioral biology was in fact the lions.

Lions live in matriarchal prides, where territory is shared among sisters and passed from mothers to daughters. Males leave the pride when they reach reproductive age and live alone or in small groups (usually pairs of brothers) until they are able to challenge and replace the reproductive male of another pride. Upon ‘taking over’ a pride, a new male kills all the cubs in that pride, causing the females to enter their reproductive cycle earlier than they would have otherwise. The new male then has about two or three years to sire as many cubs as he can (and see them safely to maturity) before he, in turn, is booted out by a younger, healthier rival, who will then proceed to kill all the cubs that his predecessor sired.

Not the stuff of Disney movies, I suppose. But it was through the lions that I first realized most animals interact with each other in ways that are difficult to understand if measured by a human world view. We must use other tools – in this case, evolutionary theory – to make sense of their behavior.

The danger, for a scientist, of anthropomorphizing is that the moment we dress up another species with human qualities, we handicap our capacity to understand them on their own terms. So as a biologist, I have for years coached myself – and all my students – away from the habit of anthropomorphizing. (I might add that this is also the approach that the Magas and Mages of Eolyn’s world take; they do not impose human qualities on the plants and animals with which they interact; nor do I as the author.)

While I was in Andrews, whenever I found myself wanting to give voice and personality to the trees and other creatures, my first instinct was to back away. But this instinct ran contrary to the number one rule of any creative writer, which is not to censor yourself. In order to honor me-the-writer, I occasionally had to let go of me-the-scientist.

Anthropomorphizing may be treacherous ground for an ecologist, but it can be a powerful tool for the story teller. If used well in the attempt to relate something as complex as the experience of walking through a forest, the occasional anthropomorphic creature allows the reader a familiar thread that can help carry him or her through otherwise unknown territory. How many children, for example, came to love lions because of The Lion King? And would they have been so quick in their affection for this imposing predator, if the first thing they had learned about it was the customary massacre of all those sweet and playful cubs every time a new male takes over a pride?

While I appreciate the benefits of anthropomorphizing, something inside me cringes every time I see a movie – or read a story – where animals think, talk and act like humans. In my own work as a writer I try to avoid this, seeking a balance between making the creatures of Eolyn’s world accessible while respecting their fundamental non-human qualities.

An "Ent" of Andrews Forest
One of my favorite examples of a skillful anthropomorphism in fantasy is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ents, the tree shepherds, which are essentially anthropomorphized trees. Tolkien allows Ents to wander through the forest, speak with hobbits, and even go to war. He hints at a loose social structure and the one-time existence of Ent-Wives.  Ent-Wives are very cool; they are credited with having taught the people of Middle Earth much about agriculture.  Nonetheless, a 'wife' is a kind of pointless concept for real trees, most of which have both male and female reproductive parts, and because the offspring take care of themselves, there’s no need for the pair bonding we tend to see in animals.

Despite all these human-like qualities, Ents never lose their essential tree-ness. I think that’s part of what gives Ents their immortality in our imagination, and why every time I enter a forest, I half expect to see one – whether I’m thinking like a scientist or not.



This is part of a series of reflections based on my experiences as a writer-in-residence at Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon.  If you'd like to read more about my week-long stay at Andrews, check out the links under "Spring 2011 Residency at Andrew Forest" on the right-hand bar.