About those women characters…

A Wonder of a Woman, but does she trust her instincts?

This post is inspired by three seemingly unrelated events this week.

One was an article by Renee Asher Pickup about the feminist implications of the story of Ted Bundy.

The other, a reflection on a Tumblr blog about Joss Whedon and the ever-elusive female heroine. (This latter post has been on line for over a year now; but I only came across it thanks to a share by author Christopher McKitterick on Facebook.)

These two articles are linked by one important element: They both use feminist analysis to understand a problem. In Ted Bundy’s case, how cultural expectations placed upon women might enhance the success of serial killers. In Joss Whedon’s case, how the crafting of authentic science fiction and fantasy heroines is bogged down by persistent (almost insidious) male bias.

Truth is, I’ve avoided the topic of women characters for a long time. Not because I don’t think it’s important. I do. But lately I go into eye-rolling mode every time I see another post about how to write women characters.

Haven’t we already talked about this? I think. Don’t you guys GET IT yet??

Sadly enough, it appears many still don’t. For some reason, understanding and writing about women continues to be the holy grail of an otherwise wonderfully imaginative genre.

So this week I offer a small epiphany with respect to my current work-in-progress, The Hunting Grounds. I’ve actually been applying this approach to writing women characters for a long time. What changed is that I came into a conscientious awareness of my approach. In so doing, I was able to solve a problem that’s been niggling at my story for a while.

Here are the key words: Instinctive. Instinctively. Instinct.

In her very insightful article, Renee Asher Pickup discusses how women in our society are often coached to downplay the significance of their instincts. They are told not make a fuss even when – especially when – they have a feeling that something’s wrong.

Men, of course, also have instincts, but we don’t call it that. In the case of men, the word applied to that ‘gut feeling’ is the hunch. A hunch carries a different connotation; we often imagine hunches as based on some underlying foundation of logic and evidence. Perhaps not all the pieces are there, but a man can, in true Sherlock Holmesian style, trust whatever conclusion he makes based on the pieces he has and act accordingly.

Instinct, on the other hand, is perceived as shaky and vague, even irrational. It’s a primitive response that we share with our “less-evolved” animal cousins. From the time we are girls, we are told that the woman’s domain of instinct simply cannot be trusted in the same way the man’s domain of the hunch can.

Here’s how thinking about all of this helped me: I’ve been stuck at one of those knots in the narrative where I know what needs to happen at point A and what needs to happen at point B, but I couldn’t quite nail the best way to move my characters between those two points. As it turned out, the sequence between A and B involved a potentially dangerous situation. After reading Pickup’s article, I asked myself a simple question:

Does my protagonist, Helen, trust her instincts?

The answer was a resounding yes. In fact, all of my major women characters trust their instincts, whether they are warriors or pacifists, queens or peasants, old or young, humble or ambitious. This is a hallmark of the women I write, and I believe now that it plays a major role in making them strong.

Once I had it clear in my head that Helen trusts her instincts, I knew exactly how she would respond to the situation at point A, and this made everything fall into place so that I could get her to point B.

Moral of the story? As an author, you need to know whether your heroine trusts her instincts, and why. All women have instincts (as do men), but not all women trust them. Trust of instinct, or lack thereof, will determine the decisions your protagonist makes, and in a very fundamental way, drive the plot and complexity of your story.

And now, back to writing stories about women…

Happenings About Town

My contribution to Heroines of Fantasy’s FRIGHT FEST went live this week. The horror short is an excerpt from my new work-in-progress, The Hunting Groundsan urban fantasy featuring lots of scary things that go bump in the night. I’ve had some good feedback on the scene, and would love to hear what you think. Check it out at Heroines of Fantasy

Also this week, Audra Middleton hosted me on her blog for month-long Villain Visitations event. The post features an interview with Prince Mechnes, the ruthless and charismatic villain of High Maga. As part of the event, there’s a great giveaway featuring 7 eBooks, 3 eComics, and an Amazon gift certificate. Don’t forget to register for your chance to win, and good luck!

Last but not least, this month we’re hosting a giveaway for High Maga on Goodreads. Four signed paperback copies of the Hadley Rille Books imprint are up for grabs. These are beautiful volumes featuring stunning artwork by Thomas Vandenberg. And of course, the story inside is pretty amazing too! If you’re a member of Goodreads, it’s easy to enter to win. If you aren’t a member, it’s easy to sign up, and free. You can enter the giveaway by clicking the box below, or visit Goodreads to register and enter there instead. Winners will be announced November 9.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

High Maga by Karin Rita Gastreich

High Maga

by Karin Rita Gastreich

Giveaway ends November 09, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


Fright Fest 2015

Fright Fest 2015It’s the season for horror, and once again Heroines of Fantasy is celebrating with a month-long series of horror shorts. Fright Fest kicked off today with a super-creepy Gothic tale from the one-and-only Cybelle Greenlaw. The schedule for the rest of the month is posted below.

On Monday, I’ll have a special sneak preview for you from a new work-in-progress, an urban fantasy and paranormal romance entitled The Hunting Grounds.

Also, be sure to stop by at the end of the month, on October 30, to help us build a creepy story.

Trick or treat!


October 9 ~ Death and Reanimation, Cybelle Greenlaw

October 12 ~ The Hunting Grounds, Karin Rita Gastreich

October 16 ~ Bones and Silence, Harriet Goodchild

October 19 ~ The Candidate, Gustavo Bondoni

October 23 ~ Mark Nelson

October 26 ~ Usher’s Well, Harriet Goodchild

October 28 ~ Louise Turner

October 30 ~ Build-A-Scary-Story! Join us as we write together to build the spookiest All Hallow’s Eve tale ever!

A New Start

Last weekend I took an eastbound train to attend an ecology, evolution, and conservation retreat in St. Louis. In addition to getting together with old friends, I met some new people, learned a few things, saw a little of the St. Louis Zoo, and even attended a fun play about neurotic writers at an intensive workshop. (The play is Seminar at the Gaslight Theater; they run for one more weekend, so if you’re in St. Louis, check it out!)

Journeys – particularly journeys that include train rides – have always been good opportunities to reflect and reassess. Getting out of the routine and into thought and conversation can fire up the brain cells in unexpected an productive ways.

I can’t say I was very ‘productive’ last weekend, but I did get a lot of thinking down about issues that have been on my mind for quite a while. One of those issues is the future of Eolyn.

As many of my followers know, Eolyn was not originally intended as the first book in a trilogy. This had a lot of implications for how Eolyn and its eventual sequel, High Maga, were written and then rolled out onto the market.

My first novel, Eolyn, was picked up by Hadley Rille Books at a time when its companion was just a sparkle in this author’s eye. It has been such a great privilege for me to work with this small press, and to this day I would not give up that experience for the world.

But at the time, we put no thought to a strategy for marketing full trilogy. Simple things like a title for the series, a well-timed release schedule, and a cohesive look for the covers weren’t taken into account, in part because they didn’t yet need to be.

Meanwhile, Eolyn’s journey continued to grow. High Maga was released almost two years ago, and Daughter of Aithne now waits for its chance on the shelves.

With three books under my belt, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the best way forward, and I’ve come to an important decision: Eolyn needs a new start, with a marketing and release strategy that will capitalize on the series as a cohesive whole.

One of the implications of this decision is that the Hadley Rille imprints of the first editions of Eolyn and High Maga now have a limited shelf life. If you’ve been thinking about buying or gifting the current editions, featuring artwork by Jesse Smolover and Thomas Vandenberg, you’d best make that purchase now. I can’t say exactly when they’ll be removed from the market, but I guarantee it will be soon. (And yes, I promise to warn you again before the final date.)

Spider web; Ed Austin & Herb Jones; 1987. From the Yellowstone National Park online photo collection.

Following the discontinuation of the first editions, there will be a (hopefully brief) hiatus to regroup, re-edit, and redesign in preparation for a new launch. As part of all this, I am giving the series a new name: The Silver Web trilogy.

Many of you probably know that Eolyn and High Maga are currently linked in the market as books one and two of Eolyn Chronicles. I’ve never been happy with “Eolyn Chronicles”; it is a generic title, developed almost as an afterthought when High Maga hit the market.

The Silver Web, I think, does a much better job of capturing the spirit and uniqueness of the series. You might guess, correctly, that the title refers to a jewel made by Briana of East Selen and gifted to her son, Akmael at the beginning of book one; a magical amulet that binds the destinies of Eolyn and Akmael as they meet and clash on the future of women’s magic.

However, the title has a larger meaning as well, referring to the intertwining of fates of all the characters in the series, from Briana to Kedehen, to Mage Corey and Akmael; Eolyn and Ghemena and Tzeremond; Adiana, Mechnes, Rishona, and Taesara. Every character in the series is connected in some fashion to the web of magic left behind by Briana of East Selen, and this new title honors her sacrifice and legacy.

 This is a big transition for me, and a little scary. There are many unknowns that I can’t yet talk about (mostly because they’re unknown). My one reservation is that readers who have been through books one and books two, and are anxiously awaiting book three, will have to be patient a little while longer. Really, I feel terrible about making you wait! But I also need to be faithful to what my heart is telling me about the best way to go forward.

As the details become clear, you’ll be the first to know, right here on this blog. In the meantime, I very much appreciate your support and patience. And I hope you share my excitement as we chart a new course for Eolyn.