Season of Thanks

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One of many reasons to give thanks this year: the Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience Program.

2014 started as a rough year, but it’s shaping up to roll out nicely. I’m talking on a personal level, of course. How you judge things on the regional, national, and international scene might be a different story altogether.

But in the small universe of my own life, I have much to be thankful for. Even the trials we had, in the long run, have proven rewarding experiences.

Today as I prepare to join my family for our annual turkey feast, I want to take a moment to reflect on some of the important people and big events this year that have made me thankful in many ways.

For professional and financial reasons, in 2013 my husband and I made the very painful decision that we would have to live in different countries for the time being. Needless to say, this was a source of extraordinary stress for me. Now, looking back on 2014, I am deeply thankful for the means and opportunities that we have had to enjoy each other’s company, despite the distance that has separated us on a day-to-day basis. I am also thankful that our love for each other has seen it through this latest trial, and shows no sign of abating as we look toward the new year. We will be together this Christmas season, and we have much to celebrate.

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With my husband Rafael and my editor Eric at the launch party for High Maga. Just a few weeks before, we didn’t know whether the book would be released on schedule, much less whether Eric would be there to see it.

Early in 2014, my editor and good friend Eric T. Reynolds suffered a massive stroke. As days and weeks passed, and he continued in critical condition, many of us wondered whether we’d ever have Eric back with us again. This Saturday, I’ll be joining Eric and his family to celebrate his birthday – the birthday that almost wasn’t. I couldn’t be more grateful for this, to have him not only with us, but well on the road to recovery, working hard at rehabilitation, and blessed with the same joyful and fighting spirit that has always made him uniquely Eric.

Eric’s stroke gave me an unexpected opportunity to step inside Hadley Rille Books, as I was called upon and willingly gave my time to help keep the press afloat in his absence. Despite the very difficult circumstances under which all this happened, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work closely with Terri-Lynne DeFino and Kim Vandervort, fellow magas and sisters in writing, to accomplish something none of us were quite sure we could accomplish. Thanks to their help and support, High Maga was released on schedule; Eolyn came out in audio book over the summer, and High Maga is due to be released in audio any day now. And that’s just my stuff. Terri and Kim also put out multiple audio books, launched an indiegogo campaign, and as Eric has gotten back into things, have put into motion the release of another new publication, Harriet Goodchild’s After the Ruin. It’s been a TOUGH year for Hadley Rille Books, but also a year that I think has shown us what we are made of. And we’re made of some good stuff.

The other BIG item on my thank you list: the opportunity to co-coordinate the 2014 Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience (NAPIRE) Program at Las Cruces Biological Station in Costa Rica. For this I am deeply indebted to fellow maga and kindred spirit Barbara Dugelby, easily one of the best supervisors I have worked with, and a woman to be admired on many levels. We had the most amazing group of mentors and students this year, and a top-notch staff to boot. More than a program or a research experience, this was a community, my family for eight weeks, and once in a while I still miss them dearly. I carry them, and the very rich experiences that we shared, in my heart everywhere.

This fall at Avila University, I at last realized my dream of teaching Ecology Through the Writers Lens, a course that integrates scientific and literary modes of inquiry in understanding natural ecosystems. Dr. Amy Milakovic and I took a group of eleven students to Konza Prairie, a breathtaking tall grass prairie reserve and biological station near Manhattan, Kansas. There we enjoyed three days of a truly transformative experience. The students will be presenting their final creative projects based on this experience in just a couple weeks, and these promise to be as diverse and exciting as the prairie itself.

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Soaking up the inspiration at World Fantasy with Stephen Gould, Julia Dvorin, and Terri-Lynne DeFino.

The last 10-12 weeks of 2014 have been about reunions. My brother came through Kansas City for a brief visit late in October; on the heels of that weekend good friend and fellow Rice alumna Martha Carey (also a maga!) visited my home. November started off with a weekend at the World Fantasy Convention, where I caught up with Terri-Lynne DeFino, whom I hadn’t seen in over a year and a half, although we had worked intensively together over the spring and the summer. I also met up that weekend with another good friend, Suzanne Hunt, who lives and works in Washington D.C. as an environmental policy consultant. Shortly thereafter, thanks to financial support from Avila, I was able to attend a World Health conference in Costa Rica, with the added perk of seeing my husband after several months of separation. This string of happy reunions is set to continue through the end of December, and for that I am most thankful.

Last but not least, I am thankful for the renewed inspiration that has marked recent weeks. The World Fantasy Convention in Washington, D.C., fired up my imagination. That along with a string of extraordinarily good books has me moving forward again on Daughter of Aithne, which I hope to finish early next year, with an eye toward publication in late 2015. The World Health Conference at the University of Costa Rica has renewed my resolve to make a positive difference in this world – a reflection that merits its own blog post, and to which I will be returning in the coming weeks.

That is my year in brief. I have a break coming up this holiday season, and I’d say I’ve earned it. 😉  But so has everyone else who helped make this such an amazing year. A simple thank you is not enough, but that’s what I have to give. I am so blessed to have such an extraordinary group of friends, colleagues, and family. May the holidays bring you many blessings, and may those blessings carry into the new year and beyond.

Happy Thanksgiving to Everyone!

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Our intrepid explorers – biologists and writers – at Konza Prairie.

Falling in Love Again

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My take from the World Fantasy Convention. I’m hoping to find some very inspiring authors in this mix, as well.

I’ve been very lucky these past couple of months to come across some great authors who are not necessarily new, but are new to me.

Earlier this fall I read Susan Carroll’s The Dark Queen, a light and entertaining fantasy romance cleverly disguised as historical fiction. Close on the heels of that getaway, I opened up Robert Aickman’s collection of supernatural short stories, The Wine Dark Sea. Now after my recent brush with greatness, I have sunk into the vibrant world of Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al Rassan. 

Three authors, three voices, three very different approaches to story telling. Yet all of them have succeeded in drawing me deep into their world. They’ve also reminded me that the excitement of finding a new author is very much akin to the high of new love. Perhaps the response has precisely the same neurological roots in our brains – a sudden release of endorphin that gets all the gears buzzing in new and compelling ways. Whatever the explanation, the effect is wonderful — and a big part, I suppose, of why I keep reading.

Writers are commonly asked what other authors have inspired them. I’ve often understood this question as, What authors do you strive to emulate? But in exploring the works of Carroll, Aickman, and Kay, I’ve come to realize that inspiration is not always about emulation. More often – and more effectively, I think – it’s about the kind of story telling that gets one’s own stories spinning in our heads. These three authors have done that for me, in different ways. Concurrent with all this great reading, I find my energy and enthusiasm renewed for the final stretch of Daughter of Aithne. 

After a long hiatus, the characters are “speaking” to me again. Last week, I topped 90K words on the manuscript, and I am more hopeful than ever that we might see the release of this novel by the end of 2015. Just thinking about it makes me want to stop writing this blog post & go back to the novel!

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Ah, the effervescent energy of new love!

~*~

I have an author interview up this week at The Masquerade CrewPlease stop by to check it out, and comment/ask questions if you’re moved to do so.

Also, my amazing editor and fellow author Terri-Lynne Defino has written a very interesting post on Heroines of Fantasy about the persistent lack of representation of women in fantasy fiction.

I will not be available this week on Goodreads Ask the Author, due to a Global Health conference that I’m attending in Costa Rica.

Have a great rest of the week, wherever your current adventure may lead!

Guest Author: Sheryl Tempchin

author_photoI am very excited today to be able to welcome author and editor Sheryl Tempchin. Back in 2008, Sheryl purchased my short story ‘Turning Point’ for the speculative fiction magazine Zahir. This was my first sale ever, an even that gave me the courage to continue as an author. It was a period before blogs and Eolyn and even Hadley Rille Books. I never imagined back then that one day I’d be welcoming Sheryl for a guest interview in my own virtual space.

Sheryl Tempchin is an accomplished author. She writes ghost stories, science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and stories that are just plain weird. Her stories have appeared in a number of publications including Rosebud, where twice they were finalists for the Ursula K. Le Guin Award for Imaginative Fiction. For nine years she published and edited the zine, Zahir: A Journal of Speculative Fiction, finally leaving it behind in 2012 to focus on her own writing. Ghosts, Aliens & Magic is her first collection of short stories, and she has a paranormal novel in the works. Sheryl lives in Encinitas, California with her husband, songwriter Jack Tempchin.

Sheryl, tell us about your book.

First of all, Karin, I want to thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog. It’s an honor, and I appreciate the opportunity to connect with your readers.

Ghosts, Aliens & Magic is a collection of short speculative stories. Some have been around a while and have been published before, and some are fairly new. As you might guess from the title, there are several ghost stories, a few sci-fi tales and some stories about magic and magical objects. These were fun stories for me to write, and I hope they are fun to read.

Who are some of the main characters in your stories? What are the challenges they face?

I think my favorite character is the ghost in “The Permanent Guest.” He’s a mild sort of fellow, a thinker, interested in everything, a little envious of the living, trying to solve the mystery of who he was in life and why he’s stuck haunting an old hotel. Another favorite is Dahlia, in “The Tattoo Artist and the Fisherman’s Daughter.” She’s in high school, trapped in a bad home situation, but too young to move out, so she writes her life as a fairytale, turning her problems and frustrations into something magical.

What inspires you to write dark fantasy/horror?

I’ve always liked that kind of story. When I was in the 6th grade, I bought a book through the Scholastic Book Club at school called Tales to be Told in the Dark. That might have been my first introduction to the genre, and it totally hooked me. Later, as an adult, I discovered a different type of fantasy when I read the stories of the Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, who was arguably the father of magical realism. His stories are connected by common themes such as dreams, labyrinths, libraries, and mirrors, things that have always fascinated me. He only wrote short stories and essays, never a novel, but you can get lost in his stories. I’ve read them over and over.

What do you find most challenging about the writing process?

Oh, just getting myself to sit down every day and do it. There always seem to be so many other things demanding my attention, and writing can seem like a selfish indulgence when there are practical, real-life problems that need to be taken care of. I have to convince myself every day that what I’m doing is worthwhile.

Any projects in the works right now? Tell us what we can expect in the future.

I’m putting the finishing touches on a novel about a woman who, at the age of sixty, rediscovers a psychic ability that she has suppressed for almost her entire adult life. She ends up on a cross country road trip with a similarly gifted elderly aunt, and they have adventures. That book should be out early next year. I have a few other things started as well, a fantasy that takes place on another world, and a romance/adventure that involves Aztec treasure, but they both have a way to go.

Everyone has their own idea of what a successful career in writing is. What does success in writing look like to you?

People wanting to read my books! If I can entertain people, take them away from their problems for a while and give them an enjoyable experience, that is success.

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

I’m a painter, I grow vegetables, and I read really a lot.

What do you hope people will take away from your stories?

The feeling that there’s more to the world than meets the eye. That, really, we exist in an incredible, magical universe where anything is possible.

~*~

About Ghosts, Aliens, and Magic

A1HmSsgPevL._SL1500_Strange things are afoot… A ghost wanders the corridors of an old hotel, pondering his origins. An antique mirror, bought at a garage sale, reflects more than it should. A strange fungal growth on a cellar wall tries to communicate. In the corner of a thrift store, a sentient leather jacket waits patiently. A young couple discovers a very unusual elevator in their newly purchased house. In these and other stories, things are never quite what they seem. The world is a mysterious place full of shadows and dark corners where anything can happen—and does.

View on Amazon. 

Excerpt

I walk these halls alone.

There are others here, of course, but they are not like me. They belong to time. I am aware of time, but I do not belong to it anymore.

This is not an unpleasant place. Really, I am quite fond of it. Every corner, every windowsill, every tiny detail of every room is intimately familiar. I have been a shadow on the wall, a pattern in the tiles, a curtain moving in the breeze.

It seems as if I have always been here, and yet that can’t be so, for the place itself has not always been here. In the lobby, a brass plaque states that the Hotel del Balboa was built in 1889, so I must have arrived sometime after that. I don’t remember. My past is an enigma, cloaked in a mist of forgetfulness. But I have come to understand that I am dead.

I have my routine. Even the dead are creatures of habit. In the morning I sit on the patio where they serve breakfast, and I watch the waiters with their shining silver trays rushing back and forth from the kitchen, so graceful and efficient. The guests look happy and well rested, their conversation ebbing and flowing like the sound of the surf on the nearby beach. On clear mornings, the sun shines through the dark green and brilliant magenta leaves of bougainvillea and dapples the red-tile floor with shifting patterns of light and dark. I sit in my corner, by the potted palm, watching. It is so beautiful, this dance of sound and light that is the living world.

A small child toddles over and stands before me staring. She is exquisite, with her tousled black curls and great brown eyes full of curiosity and intelligence. I smile and she smiles back. Then her mother is there lifting her up, glancing in my direction.

“What are you looking at?” she says to the child. “The chair? Do you like that pretty chair?”

It is a pretty chair, one of those high-backed wicker jobs that has lots of curlicues and looks like a throne. The child stares at me and points.

“Man!” she says.

The mother laughs nervously and carries her away. Over her mother’s shoulder, she continues to stare at me. I wave and she flaps her little hand.

Babies and small children sometimes see me. Animals, too. Dogs don’t like me. They bristle and growl, while their owners wonder what is wrong with them. Fortunately, not many dogs come here.

I get along better with cats. In the old days, the hotel always kept one or two on the premises to keep the mice under control. They would seek me out in the evenings and we would make our rounds together, walking the long hallways, wandering in the garden. Cats are subtle creatures, more imaginative and less respectable than dogs. They don’t mind consorting with the likes of me.

Occasionally there are others who see me. Once there was a woman who worked in housekeeping, an Indian from far down in Mexico. She sometimes spoke to me when no one else was around, and she treated me with great deference, as if I were important. I once heard one of her countrymen say in a hushed tone that she was a sorceress.

Then there was the girl in the white dress.

It was 1956. I had been wandering the hallways, as I often do, when I came upon her, near the elevators, standing in front of one of the big mirrors trying to fasten a string of pearls around her slender neck. The clasp must have come loose as she was on her way downstairs to the party in the main ballroom. She looked so lovely in her party dress, I stopped to watch her. It was a white dress, strapless, with a full skirt that rustled. She looked almost like a bride. I couldn’t take my eyes off her as she struggled intently with the pearls, frowning and biting her red lips. Something about her seemed terribly familiar.

I moved closer. It has often puzzled me that in my insubstantial state, my four senses function quite well. She smelled of flowers and sunshine and health. A great longing filled me and I moved closer still… and then something strange occurred. I saw a figure, white faced and hollow eyed, dressed in a dusty tuxedo, reflected in the mirror. It was a vague floating image, just behind her left shoulder, hardly there at all, but I saw it.

And so did she.

Her eyes went wide with terror and she whirled around. Suddenly we were face to face, just inches apart. She screamed and screamed, then fainted. I looked back at the mirror and realized that the sad, pale face, those eyes full of longing, belonged to me.

My Brush with Greatness

lionsofal-rassanI’m coming off the high of the World Fantasy Conference last weekend in Washington, D.C. Monday I posted on Heroines of Fantasy about the unforgettable experience of hearing Patricia McKillip read from her new novel. Today I’m going to rave just a little more, this time about Guy Gavriel Kay.

First, a confession: I had a dismal knowledge of fantasy literature when I started writing.

I’ve always been a reading omnivore, taking in little of everything and rarely sticking to a single story type. At the time I began crafting Eolyn, my genres of preference were history and historical fiction. Because writing was a hobby, I didn’t worry about this. It wasn’t until I was nearly done with Eolyn that it occurred to me I might try publishing. That’s when I sought out a speculative fiction writers group, so I could get some idea as to whether I had anything new and interesting to offer.

Within a few months of joining that group, the work of George R.R. Martin came to my attention. I was struggling with the issue of how to embed history without bogging down the plot. Martin was recommended to me as a good example to learn from. He would also, unbeknownst to me at the time, become my very first brush with greatness.

I met George R.R. Martin at ConQuesT in 2010. By then I had read three of his books. He gave me a full 15 minutes of chat time, a humble experience that left me starry-eyed for days. Looking back, I now know this was a final window of opportunity. A year later, the HBO series Game of Thrones was released. By the time Martin returned to ConQuest in 2013, he no longer had 15 minutes of chat time to give.

There was no chat time with Guy Gavriel Kay this past weekend, either. All I did was attend  an interview with him at the con. Later that evening, I asked him to sign two copies of his books. This was enough, more than enough, to qualify as a brush with greatness. Kay’s words and ideas, combined with a certain humble and gracious presence, linger despite the brevity and distance of these encounters.

As with Martin, I really did not know who Kay was until well into my own journey as an author. I heard about him a few years back when a reviewer compared my stories to his. Always curious to find out who I am unintentionally imitating, I’ve had Kay on my TBR list ever since. It wasn’t until this past weekend, however, that I finally sat down with one of his novels.

I’ve known authors to get discouraged when they come across a writer whose work reflects their own. I suppose there was a time when I harbored that sort of anxiety. By now, I’ve come to realize there is more than just a niche for the work I do, there is a true need. Listening to an interview with Guy Gavriel Kay, who not only writes the sort of story I aspire to, but has made an extraordinary success of it, was in no way discouraging. On the contrary, it gave me another companion along the way.

Now as I sink into the delightful narrative that is The Lions of Al Rassan, I wonder whatever possessed that reviewer all those years ago to compare me to the extraordinary author of this enchanting tale. I do not have Kay’s finesse or his mastery. Though I’d like to believe I have the potential to get there someday.

Yet there’s something we do share, a certain commonality of intent. Perhaps that’s what my reviewer noticed as well. What I want to accomplish with my writing is reflected in Kay’s work.

It is a reflection compels me to move forward with the promise of possibility. Even if I don’t quite make it to my destination, authors like Guy Gavriel Kay assure me I have chosen the good journey. And I’ve always believed it’s the journey that counts the most.

My World Fantasy Schedule

f5693-colcoverproto3aWe had an amazing Build-a-Scary-Story event at Heroines of Fantasy last Friday. A lot of participants, and everyone’s contribution was wonderful. Visit the blog to read our collective story.

I am SO excited to be heading out to D.C. for the 2014 World Fantasy Convention. Look for my story Creatures of Light in the 40th anniversary WFC anthology. My panels and events are listed below. When I’m not attending a panel, I’ll be at the bar or in the coffee shop (depending on the time of day…) Hope to see you there!

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.

For a preview of my thoughts on Robert Aickman, check out my October 23 post.

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.