Halloween Delights

Happy Halloween!

I am off celebrating in true witchy style today, but as a treat I’d like to leave you with this collection of short stories and scenes from our reviewers and contributors at Heroines of Fantasy

Also, please stop by HoF today to build a spooky story with us! The activity will be open all day & through the weekend.

Wishing you lots of fun and horror on this All Hallows Eve. Don’t let the ghouls get you!

A dance through the ghastly and the ghoulish with spooky stories and excerpts:
October 31 – Build-a-Scary-Story!

Mushroom Magick

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A glimpse of the diversity of fungi collected during a two-hour period in the forests and fields of the Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica.

I came across this brief video thanks to my good friend and fellow maga, Suzanne Hunt. I wish I’d known about the documentary “Fantastic Fungi” a few weeks back, when we did a short unit on this group in my plant biology class. But I’ll have a chance to teach that course again, and in the process will, perhaps, do fungi a little more justice.

For a long time, fungi were tucked into the kingdom of plants because of their sessile lifestyle, but that taxonomic mistake was fixed years ago when these modest organisms were elevated to their own kingdom. We know distressingly little about mushrooms, but there can be no doubt regarding their fundamental importance for life on this planet. And they are inherently beautiful, if one takes a moment to truly observe them.

In this video, I especially enjoyed the narration of Paul Stamets. He is precisely the kind of personality that inspired the mages and magas of Eolyn’s world. Listen to his message. It’s important. Most of all, enjoy the lovely footage.

World Fantasy Convention 2014

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Robert Aickman, 1914-1981

Just two weeks from now I will be in Washington, D.C., for the 2014 World Fantasy Convention. The very thought sends chills up my spine. I have not been back to WFC since it was celebrated in sunny San Diego in 2011. Wow! Has it been that long? No wonder I am suffering from this overwhelming need to return.

This year’s convention will celebrate the 100th anniversaries of the births of Robert Aickman and Virgil Finlay, as well as commemorating the start of World War I.

I admit, I knew very little of Robert Aickman before his name showed up on the WFC 2014 home page. Yet I have found a kindred spirit in this author, and I am very excited to be joining others in a celebration of his work.

Aickman was a writer and conservationist, a healthy blend if there ever was one (if I may say so myself). This month, in preparation for the con, I have been indulging in a wonderful collection of his short stories, The Wine Dark Sea. 

Aickman’s supernatural fiction is subtle and deeply compelling. Unlike many fantasy writers, he does not take the reader out of this world. Rather, he inserts his world into ours. The effects are downright spooky.

After reading Trains, every time I heard a train at night the threads of that story were reignited, its reality disturbingly near. A few nights after completing Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen, I woke up from my sleep thinking I’d heard the phone ring. (Thank goodness for the “recents” function on the modern cell!)

The-Wine-Dark-Sea-Robert-AickmanIt’s this stickiness of Aickman’s stories that fascinates me. Despite the supernatural elements, the characters and plots are very firmly embedded in this world. Our world. A world painted in disturbing detail by the very talented Robert Aickman.

I am honored to be moderating one of the first panel discussions on this author’s work, with co-panelists Leslie Gardner, Laurel Anne Hill, Matt London, and Peter Straub. The full panel description is listed below, along with a few other activities where you’ll be able to find me, if you’re at the con.

I should probably add that my short story ‘Creatures of Light’ was chosen for inclusion in WFC’s 40th anniversary anthology, which will be distributed in ebook to this year’s members. Woohoo!

You’ll be hearing more about WFC in the coming days. If you plan to be there, let me know! I would love to see you.

~*~

Karin’s World Fantasy Convention Schedule:

Ringing the Changes: Robert Aickman
Time:  4 p.m. – 5 p.m., Thursday, Regency E
Panelists:  Karin Rita Gastreich (M), Leslie Gardner, Laurel Anne Hill, Matt London, Peter Straub
Description:  Robert Aickman has been described as “one of the authors you respond to on a primal level”.  The panel will discuss how the “strange stories” of Robert Aickman such as “The Wine-Dark Sea,” “The Trains,” and “Your Tiny Hand is Frozen” have changed their expectations for tales of the supernatural.

Look for me Thursday evening at the opening ceremonies and the ice cream social!

Mass Autograph Session

Friday evening, November 7, in the Independence Center of the Hyatt Regency Crystal City. The session will begin at 8 p.m. and continue until midnight or whenever the signers and seekers of autographs are content, whichever cometh first.

I’ll be at a table with the incomparable Terri-Lynne DeFino. Be sure to stop by for a visit.

When I’m not listening to panels or attending parties, you’ll find me in the bar!

In Earthen Vessels

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Autumn colors at Konza Prairie.

Among the things that linger from a Catholic upbringing are songs from Sunday mass. One can hear those songs thirty years hence and still remember them word for word, note for note.

So it was today, while we were driving back from Konza Biological Station, that the lyrics of a particular hymn returned to me:

We hold a treasure, not made of gold, in earthen vessels wealth untold.

The hymn is based on a passage in 2 Corinthians that likens our bodies to earthen vessels, the treasure within being the presence of God in our hearts.

Today I find myself reflecting on the fact that there are many earthen vessels in this world that hold many treasures. All too often, these treasures go unnoticed and under appreciated in the busy, self-serving rush of our lives. Konza Prairie is one of those treasures, held in an earthen vessel of shale and limestone laid down by millennia of rising and falling seas. Superimposed upon this bed of hidden fire and tiny fossils is a thin rocky layer of soil that supports one of the few remnants of tall grass prairie in North America.

I had the privilege of immersing myself in this rich environment, along with my colleague Dr. Amy Milakovic and eleven adventurous students who enrolled in our new course Ecology Through the Writers Lens at Avila University.

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Bison keeping an eye on us as we pass through their home.

For three very intense days, we explored a mysterious intertwining of the minuscule with the vast. We learned that all grasses are not alike, that the summation of a thousand subtle colors results in an intensely vivid landscape. We looked bison in the eye and held a horned lizard in our hands. We studied tiny insects and spiders and watched deer leap across fields. Turkeys danced and fought in our presence. Coyotes called at night. Overhead, the stars glimmered with the promise of an even greater universe.

All of us were transformed by this experience in big and small ways. Some students overcame fears of wilderness and the unknown; others found their vocation as biologists or story tellers, or both. Everyone came away with a new appreciation of this magnificent ecosystem that unfolds over quiet hilltops and under expansive skies.

Those of you who follow me know it has long been a dream of mine to implement this course. The idea was sparked by my residency at Andrews Experimental Forest back in the summer of 2011. We have faced no small number of obstacles trying to turn that dream into reality, including one failed attempt to take the course to Costa Rica last spring.

As often happens in hindsight, now I look upon all those obstacles and moments of frustration as blessings in disguise. Every time we were turned from a particular vision of how to run this course, we were brought a step closer to its current manifestation in Konza Prairie – a field site that I would not have considered even a year ago, but that has proven so wonderfully appropriate in so many ways.

Now that I’ve seen the treasures within Konza Prairie, I cannot imagine having done this course anywhere else.

~*~

As a closing treat for today, here’s a video we put together last spring about Ecology Through the Writers Lens:

One Child, One Teacher, One Book, and One Pen

I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to express in my journal how very happy I am to see Malala Yousafzai announced as one of the winners of the Nobel Peace Price. I have the deepest admiration for her and her struggle to bring international attention to the oppression of women in Pakistan and the world over.

Personally, it’s hard for me to get my head around the fact that we still live in a world where girls are systematically denied access to education. That anyone should attempt to assassinate a girl for going to school seems a situation more apt for the world of dystopian fiction than for this very real planet we all call home. It is tragic, in the deepest sense of the word.

I hope that we will all unite with Malala and support her cause, in small in big ways, by whatever means are within our reach, during the months and years to come. Education, particularly education for girls, should never be taken for granted.

Malala is much better at speaking to her mission and experience than I could ever hope to be, so I’ll leave you with an interview conducted by the PBS News Hour a year ago in October. Please take a moment to watch; I think you will find her as inspiring as I do.

~*~

Don’t forget to join us this week on  Heroines of Fantasy for three more installments in our month-long Fright Fest.

Dragons in the Heart

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Alicia Borrachera interprets the formidable role of Aixa. She will see her beloved Granada fall to the infidels Isabella and Ferdinand, but not without giving them a good fight.

So here’s the thing:

I am two episodes away from finishing the second season of TVE’s Isabel, an excellent series based on the life of Queen Isabella of Spain. I have raved about this series before, and I am going to rave about it again.

The story never once shies away from the harsh brutalities of the middle ages, and yet it is full of humanity and beauty. Deadly intrigue, deep passion, timeless love, human failure, unflinching prejudice, religious fervor, implacable dogmatism, ambition, triumph, cruelty, and compassion. Name an element of the human experience, and I bet you will find it in ISABEL.

Best of all, the women characters are not in any way shortchanged. Isabel is not presented as a token woman in a man’s world, but as a powerful figure who stands at the center of a diverse array of equally complex male and female characters.There are many women among Isabel’s friends, rivals, and enemies. They have their own interests and ambitions, and they assume important roles in the unfolding of Spain’s history.

Who’d’ve thought there were so many women during the middle ages? We hardly see them in all those other films and movies and books set in this period.

And I haven’t even gotten started on the costuming, the casting, the acting, the writing, and the directing. . . There are so many wonderful dimensions to this intriguing story. I am, in a word, spell bound.

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Alnhoa Santamaria as Beatriz de Bobadilla, Isabella’s closest friend. Even medieval queens need a BFF!

I am also constantly tempted to compare ISABEL to that “other” medieval-style series that is so popular on this side of the Atlantic, Game of Thrones. And with all due respect to the much admired George R.R. Martin (I admire him too!), HBO’s interpretation of his classic series cannot hold a candle to what the producers of ISABEL have accomplished.

ISABEL regularly moves me to tears; that is how engaged I am in the fate of each of its characters, no matter what side of the conflict they are on. And ISABEL has many characters – at least as many as GoT – yet somehow they are easier to keep track of, more memorable in their unique contributions to Isabella’s journey, and more capable of inspiring my empathy.

An example: Yesterday’s episode included the first appearance of Christopher Columbus. In one short scene, the character had me captivated. How often does that happen in a series? (The only other series that I can remember accomplishing such one-scene-wonders is HBO’s ROME, but that is a rave for another day.)

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A minor character played by Nuria Gallardo, Beatriz de Braganza impresses with her smooth management of Isabella’s interests in Portugal.

Of course, GoT has some things ISABEL does not. GoT has gratuitous sex and graphic violence. Like many resigned consumers of the modern age, I’d begun to believe you couldn’t make a series anymore without gratuitous sex and graphic violence. Yet ISABEL manages to deliver an extraordinarily engaging story (including heart wrenching scenes of torture) without ever once resorting to the distasteful (even perverse) excesses of HBO’s GoT.

Oh, yeah. And GoT has those dragons.

But you know, sometimes the most interesting dragons reside in the human heart. In the end those are the dragons that make or break a story.

ISABEL does an exquisite job of letting each character’s personal dragon flourish, and this more than anything else is what marks it as an amazing series.

The Good, the Bad, and the Evil

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You’d be hard-pressed to find an author who doesn’t fantasize about seeing her book interpreted on film. I’m no exception. I’d love to see Rodolfo Sancho of TVE’s ISABEL interpret the role of Mechnes, 10-15 years down the road.

Wow, that man is evil!  Who is this character I’ve written?

These were my thoughts when I arrived at work this morning, having listened to another chapter of the freshly minted audio edition of High Maga, narrated by Darla Middlebrook.

The character in question is Prince Mechnes. I’ve written about him elsewhere. Brilliant and ruthless. Conqueror of nations. A master of violence and manipulation, an artist in sensual pleasures. My skin crawls every time I hear another scene with him. Which is weird, right? I wrote the guy, after all. Crafted him with my imagination. Why should he continue to surprise and dismay, two years after I finished the manuscript, six months after the novel was released?

Maybe it’s the same syndrome that keeps me wishing for a happy ending every time I see Romeo and Juliet. The implacable optimism that this time there will be a break in the vicious storm that is Mechnes; that the way I remember writing him wasn’t actually the way I wrote him in the end.

I’ve had readers praise Mechnes for being the single most important character of this book; while others haven’t been able to get past the opening chapters because of the horrors he encourages and commits. I suppose that polarizing effect is the sign of something good within the bad; a character that strikes at the heart of us all, whether we respond by pushing forward or pulling back.

I would love to see a Goodreads discussion on Mechnes. Just putting that out there. Maybe someday it will happen.

While contemplating the Great Evil that is Mechnes, I’ve had some very good news this week.

First of all, my editor, fellow author, partner in crime, and sister at Hadley Rille Books Terri-Lynne DeFino is a FINALIST for the 2014 Cygnus Award!  I can’t imagine a more deserving fantasy author. The book that earned her this honor is Beyond the Gate, which was released last year by Hadley Rille Books.

We are one month away from World Fantasy, and I have been invited to participate in a panel on the work of Robert Aickman.  I couldn’t be more thrilled, not only for the panel, but also because it gives me an excuse to spend the Halloween season brushing up on Aickman’s horror shorts. Dark Side, here I come! (Yeah, I know – as if Mechnes weren’t enough. . .)

Speaking of the Dark Side you must visit Heroines of Fantasy for our FRIGHT FEST. Both Terri-Lynne DeFino and Kim Vandervort have posted creepy excerpts from their books, and we have another horror short coming up this Friday from Julia Dvorin.

Next Monday on Heroines of Fantasy, I’ll treat you to a scene from High Maga, undoubtedly featuring my new favorite villain.