ConQuesT 47: Prime

It’s that time of the year again! ConQuesT, Kansas City’s oldest fantasy and science fiction conference, is this weekend. I’ll be participating in a couple of panels and giving a reading Saturday afternoon. My full schedule is below. When I’m not at a panel or reading, look for me in the vendor’s room. I’ll be sharing a table with my fellow Uptown Authors. Copies of the new edition of Eolyn will be available for purchase and signing.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Friday, May 27 – I’ll be in the vendor room at the Uptown Authors table between 12pm and 6pm.

Saturday, May 28

11:00am – Panel (M): Are expectations of female characters in SF/F too high and unrealistic? 

Female characters have become more and more common in SF/F, and everyone seems to have an opinion on how they should be written – people talk about writing strongly characterized women, rather than just strong women, and then someone inevitably turns up and uses the phrase “men with breasts”. It’s quite obvious that the characterization of women in SF/F receives more critical attention from readers. Do the subconscious biases which affect women in real life, translate to fictional characters?

3:30pm – Reading. Haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do with my spot, but I will probably feature new scenes from the second edition of Eolyn. I am also open to requests!

Sunday, May 29

10:00am – Panel: Costuming characters in your writing. 

Dressing a character in a story is far more complicated than you’d think. Writers need to consider all manner of things when clothing the people in their stories from movement to warmth and from practical materials to extravagant accessories. What are some good examples of authors who got it
right and some who got it really wrong (and why!)?

 

The Plight of the Villainess

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At Planet Comicon with friend and fellow Avila professor, Benjamen Pascoe.

I had a great time at Planet Comicon last weekend. Met some fun people, saw lots of great costumes, sold a few books… All in all, it was very enjoyable, and I think I’ll be up for more when the time rolls around again next May. Many thanks to all the folks who stopped by Uptown Authors to say hi, check out our books, and support our work.

Next weekend, I’ll be at ConQuest, the annual meeting of the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. In addition to having a table in the vending room with my fellow Uptown Authors, I’ll be on a couple panels and will also do a reading Saturday afternoon. I’ll post the full schedule later this week.

One of my panel topics centers on female characters in SFF: Are our expectations of female characters too high and unrealistic? From the panel description:

“…the characterization of women receives more critical attention from readers. Do the subconscious biases that affect women in real life translate to fictional characters?”

When I was first assigned to moderate this panel, I thought it might be something of a straw man – or, ahem, straw woman – discussion. But as I’ve reflected on the topic, I’ve realized that I’ve run into some important biases in responses to my own female characters. In addition to discussing these next weekend, I’ve decided to talk about them in a series of blog posts, starting today with unconscious biases against female villains.

The Plight of the Villainess

Revisions for The Sword of Shadows, the second edition of High Maga, are well underway. I don’t anticipate a lot of changes in this new edition, but some details need to be tweaked, mostly due to revisions in book one of the series, Eolyn. 

Among these changes, I’ve decided to give a handful of scenes to a new point of view (pov): Rishona, Queen of the Syrnte, will have the opportunity to tell part of the story from her perspective.

I love to play with multiple pov’s in my novels. Everyone has a different perspective on important events, and showing this diversity of lenses, I think, can greatly enrich a story. That being said, one has to be careful not to divide a novel into too many points of view, as this can lead to a dispersed story line that confuses the reader.

When writing High Maga, I had to make some decisions on which characters would get their own pov. Rishona made the short list, but she did not make the final cut. This was a difficult call on my part, but one that felt right at the time. Rishona’s co-villain, Prince Mechnes, seemed plenty capable of representing Team Evil, and it wasn’t clear to me what more Rishona would have to offer.

But an interesting thing happened when I started hearing feedback from readers about these two characters. For many readers and critique partners, Rishona was easy to hate from the moment she appeared. The Syrnte Queen was seen as evil and manipulative, jealous and violent, ruthless in all her ambitions. Most of all, she was without hope or redemption.

Mechnes, on the other hand, was given much more leeway in his behavior. Some of my readers even worried that poor Mechnes was in over his head with Rishona. They speculated that he might be redeemed by “the right woman” – in this case, another character whom he captured, tortured, and then enslaved. No matter how violent and brutal Mechnes’s behavior, it seemed readers were willing to believe that unlike Rishona, this awful man could somehow become a better person.

This double standard troubled me, because as the author, my understanding of the characters was exactly the opposite. Mechnes is evil, pure and simple. He’s amoral, interested only in indulging his own sadistic pleasures and advancing his own selfish interests.

Rishona, on the other hand, is more torn in her path. She seeks to right and old wrong – the betrayal and murder of her parents – and she’s driven to an alliance with Mechnes because he becomes her only hope for military superiority against the Mage King, who occupies a throne that should be hers. Granted, she indulges in a little human sacrifice and demon summoning, but in her heart of hearts, Rishona is trying to serve a greater good.

How was it possible that some of my readers did not see this? For a long time, I blamed it on my own decision to omit Rishona’s point of view from the story. And maybe that was part of the problem.

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Rishona’s mother, brutally murdered by her husband’s assassins, was named after Tamar of Georgia. Painting by Mihály Zichy (1880s)

But that doesn’t explain why these same readers were so lenient in their judgement of Mechnes. There is nothing in his point of view that hints at the possibility of mercy in his heart. The first time we step inside Mechnes’ mind, we learn he’s an incestuous pedophile. A few chapters later, he’s revealed as a rapist and a torturer. How is this in any way redeemable? And why is Rishona, obviously at Mechnes’s mercy because he has the army she needs, judged so much more harshly?

Has Rishona been a victim of unconscious bias? Are we quicker to condemn her simply because she’s a woman? Do we perceive it as less acceptable – more perverse, somehow – when a woman character chooses the dark and violent path?

No answers here, just questions. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

For myself, I’m hoping to do Rishona a little more justice the second time around by giving readers some insight into her thoughts and perspectives. In Sword of Shadows, we will get to see certain events from her point of view. This will not condone her actions, of course, but perhaps it will help change the balance a little when her evil is weighed against that of her ruthless uncle, Prince Mechnes.

Next Week on my Female Characters in SFF Series: The Other Woman. 

Weekend Events and Freebies

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Getting set up at Planet Comicon.

The Goodreads Giveaway for the paperback edition of Eolyn ended this past Wednesday. Many thanks to everyone who participated and congratulations to the five winners! Your books are going in the mail today.

If you didn’t win this time on Goodreads, don’t worry! Today only, you have another chance for a FREE copy of Book One of The Silver Web. Until midnight tonight, you can download the Kindle edition of Eolyn at no charge. Visit Amazon and start the adventure today!

This weekend, I’ll be at Planet Comicon with Uptown Authors Rachel Ellyn, Christine Williams, and Dennis Young. Come visit us at table 1641; we have a great selection of books for every taste and age. Most of all, we’d love to chat fantasy and fandom with all of you. Hope to see you there!

In other news, we’re getting very close to the cover reveal for Sword of Shadows, Book Two of The Silver Web. Tune in next week for more on that, as well as a discussion about female villains: What we love to hate in women on the dark side.

Wishing you a great weekend!

 

 

The Darkness Within

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One of our friends at Virginia Beach.

Last week I enjoyed my annual writing retreat at VAB, easily the most important week of my year. It’s a time of renewal and restoration in the company of a remarkable group of women. A place of centering and rediscovery. A chance to stop and breathe in the midst of our busy lives.

Ironically, I came out of the week in a dark place, not because of my VAB friends, but because of where I was with my new novel. I dedicated most of my writing hours to The Hunting Grounds, and when time came to catch the flight home, I was on the precipice of tragedy, the hammer of fate that catches up with all our characters.

It was a strange place to be after a week of rest and sunshine, of creative freedom and laughter, of strong women and heartfelt support. I’d made much more progress than I expected on the story (a good thing), and now an awful confrontation was at my protagonist’s doorstep.

I don’t know about you, but for me, a very particular mood always accompanies this stage of my writing. I become withdrawn, somewhat distracted, saddened by the pending, inescapable loss. I have to give myself extra time between scenes as I recuperate from the latest turn of events and meditate on the best approach to writing the next.

In these moments, I doubt myself more than ever as a writer. Am I making the right decision for my characters? Is this betrayal necessary? Is my use of violence justified? How will I know when I cross the line from good story telling to graphic excess?

I have always been sensitive to violence as a reader, and therefore I am, I think, sometimes overly sensitive to my use of it as in author.

But why does all this bring me down? How is writing the dark moments qualitatively different from the day-to-day struggle of any other scene? What’s the real source of my strange melancholy?

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Cupid Kisses Psyche by Antonio Canova; Photo by Jorge Bittner Unna. Source: Wikimedia

Is it remorse over the fate of my characters?

Confrontation with the fact that my own imagination can spawn such terrible moments?

Or is it a too-keen awareness of the human cruelty that I feel compelled to chronicle in my works of fiction?

I vote for the third possibility. After all, that’s the one that made me misty-eyed while I was writing this post.

My characters, in the end, are fictitious. My imagination is just that – imagination. But the truth that both tend to point to in the darkest moments of my stories…Wow, that’s a tough truth to face.

~*~

So as not to end on too sad a note…

There’s still one day left on my Goodreads Giveaway for Eolyn, Book One of The Silver Web. A story full of hope, passion, and triumph! (And yes, a little bit of human cruelty…) Five signed copies are up for grabs. Enter before Wednesday, May 18th, at 11:59pm for your chance to win.

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Eolyn by Karin Rita Gastreich

Eolyn

by Karin Rita Gastreich

Giveaway ends May 18, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Goddess Fish Tour: Week 3

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This it it! The third and final week of my Goddess Fish romp through the interverse. It’s been a great tour so far, and  I want to thank everyone who has visited the different stops, asked questions, and commented.

Several readers have posted new reviews this past week on Amazon, Amazon UK, and Goodreads. Thank you all. I’m so happy that you enjoyed the novel and took the time to share your thoughts about Eolyn and her story.

There’s still time through this Friday to register to win a $15 B&N/Amazon gift certificate. All you have to do is visit one of the tour stops. I’m also running a Goodreads giveaway of five signed copies of the paperback edition of EOLYN.

And without further ado, here’s this week’s list of stops:

May 2 – Many people have commented on the beautiful cover designed by Thomas Vandenberg for the new edition of EOLYN. Find out what inspired the cover art in an author interview at Edgar’s Books.

May 3 – If you could co-author a book with anyone, who would it be? My answer and more at the Indie Authors Blog.

May 4 – The only perfect characters are the imperfect ones. Do you agree or not? Join the conversation at Book Lover Sue.

May 5 – As we near the end of the tour, I offer some advice for writers just getting started on Harps Romance Book Review. (This is, by the way, my favorite stop so far because their banner has a red-eyed tree frog!)

May 5 – Yes, I get two stops in one day this week! Once you finish up at Harps Romance, slip over to Lilac Reviews and check out my guest post on mutinous characters. I’ll tell you about one of my favorite mutinous characters, and give some tips on what to do when the characters refuse to listen to your vision for the story.

May 6 – We close out the week and the tour with one last interview at It’s Raining Books.

And that’s it. This time next week, I’ll be returning to my normal blogging rhythm, hopefully with a few more readers enjoying Eolyn’s magic. And…I’ll have news on the sequel, the Sword of Shadows.

Thanks again for your support and enthusiasm, and many things to Goddess Fish Promotions for coordinating the tour.