Living in A Time of Giants

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Of EOLYN, Apex reviews said, “the story warns young women about the ways in which the world will try to take advantage of them – but it does so in a way that never denies them their magic.” 

 

2016 was a hard year for a lot of people, myself included, but despite the general wailing and gnashing of teeth out there in the interverse, I can’t help but feel that 2016 was, on the whole, no better or worse than 2015.

To be fair, 2015 was a pretty bad year for me. About as bad as they come. Emotionally, I am in a much better place now than I was one year ago, and for that I am very grateful.

2016 also saw some important personal successes. After recovering my rights from Hadley Rille Books, I was able to roll out the first two novels of The Silver Web trilogy on my own. This was no small task, and while credit goes to Thomas Vandenberg for his stunning cover art, everything else was on my back.

Both novels have received stellar reviews, including praise from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Apex Reviews.  I’m very excited about releasing the third and final Silver Web novel this spring. Whenever the larger events of 2016 start to drag me down, I try to remember this and other small but meaningful achievements.

Although all of us can point to some good things that happened, a lot of my friends are anxious to boot 2016 out the door, having set their hopes for a brighter future on 2017.

I don’t count myself among their number. I don’t see any evidence that the new year will be better than the old one. On the contrary, I’m bracing myself, because I know so much of what I believe in and have worked for all my life is going to be under assault. I know I will have to retool – perhaps on a daily or monthly basis – as I decide the best course of action going forward.

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Kirkus Reviews described Sword of Shadows as “a consistent blend of lyrical verse and dark imagery.”

Last night, I had an odd dream: I was discussing how to teach statistical analyses with a fellow professor. As part of that conversation, I mentioned that one of the most difficult challenges for me, when teaching the scientific method, is to help my students respect their data even when the experiment doesn’t turn out the way it’s “supposed to.”

More often than not, if the outcome of an experiment does not agree with my students’ predictions, they automatically assume they did something wrong. Granted, once in a while the experimental design isn’t appropriate, or the sample size is too small, or something else gets messed up, and all of this can affect the data.

But the first rule of any good scientist is to look data in the eye and accept its truth, even if that truth contradicts our expectations.

When I woke up, I laughed at myself for having had such a geek dream. I mean seriously, debating statistical tests in my sleep? But on deeper reflection, I realized there was an important message here:

Just because things don’t turn out the way you expected doesn’t mean you did something wrong. 

Sometimes all the variables aren’t under our control. Sometimes our initial prediction is based on a misguided understanding of how nature (and therefore, the world) works.

When this happens, rather than assume we screwed up, we have to look the data in the eye and listen to what it’s trying to tell us. This is not an easy thing to do, not in science and less so, sometimes, in life.

During this final week of 2016, with the passing of Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Vera Rubin, and George Michael, I’ve realized that through all the lives it took, 2016 taught me something very important:

I have lived in a time of giants.

I was born on the cusp of an age of transformation; and I grew up as part of a generation that has pushed for positive change over decades.

The heroes we worshiped as children and adults – pop stars, actors and actresses, news anchors, astronauts, scientists, and so many others – represented the best aspects of that transformation. Their loss is deeply felt, because without their example and leadership, we feel set adrift. More so with the turning of the political tide, which threatens to roll back so many of the hard won achievements of recent years.

So for 2017, this is my prayer:

Let us look truth in the eye without flinching, but also, without berating ourselves for faults we did not commit.

Let us allow that truth to reshape the nature of our understanding so that we can act accordingly.

Let us celebrate the good even as we struggle to overcome the bad.

Most of all, let us remember we have lived in a time of giants; and let us honor their legacy with the choices we make and the lives we lead.

Peace to you all. I look forward to seeing you on the other side of midnight.

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In science as well as life: Just because things don’t work out the way you expected doesn’t mean you did something wrong. Trust the data, and the story it tells.

 

Farewell, Carrie Fisher

88394-leia1Carrie Fisher’s death on December 27 was very sad news for me, as it was for many people around the world.

I know she was so much more than the actress who played Princess Leia, but just that one role would have been enough to fill a lifetime. Carrie gave women of my generation something new and unforgettable: a gutsy heroine who could hold her own on the big screen; a mythic and iconic woman warrior who stood up to arch villains and played hardball with the boys.

In A New Hope, Princess Leia was the leader of the rebel cause, facing off with Darth Vader and deeply embroiled in resistance long before Luke or Han had a clue what was going on. Decades later, when the old crew was reunited for The Force Awakens, Leia was still charging into battle, even waging war against her own son, while her former male companions had run away from the fight.

Ironically, Leia never had many lines in any of the Star Wars movies. Even so, she was clearly a woman in charge of her own destiny, a leader much admired by her people. Her decisions and actions mattered in the grand scheme of things. She made history, in her world and in ours.

Through her portrayal of Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher inspired me in more ways than I can do justice to here. As a girl, I’d never seen anything like her in a movie before. She was a new kind of heroine for a new generation. That moment of revelation has stayed with me ever since.

Every woman I’ve ever written into my stories – whether young or old, warrior or pacifist, good or bad – has had a little bit of Princess Leia dust sprinkled on her; a touch of magic that has made them soar.

Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher. You lived a full and worthy life. You were greatly loved, and you will be greatly missed. And though you are no longer with us, your legacy lives on, in our stories and in our hearts, and in the ways we choose to live our lives. May we all be as brave as you were.

 

 

Midwinter’s Eve

Happy Winter Solstice, Everyone!

To accompany your midnight meditations, here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite scenes in Eolyn; a glimpse into the revelry of Winter Solstice, as traditionally celebrated by the mages and magas of Eolyn’s world:

yule witch by EcoWitchAS MIDNIGHT APPROACHED, the musicians quieted their instruments. Mage Corey’s guests convened in a circle at the center of the hall. This was the most sacred moment of the year’s longest night, marking the farthest reach of the sun into the great void of the Underworld. All across Moisehén, from the hearths of its peasants to the King’s great hall, the sun’s descent would be received with reverent silence.

Moving his hand in a slow arc, Mage Corey dimmed the candles until only the flickering flame of the Yule log illuminated the room, casting such shadows that Eolyn imagined the Guendes slipping out of the woodwork to join them.

Closing her eyes, she caught sight of the sun, a dim star in a cold black sea, a hesitant glimmer almost lost to the night. The vision ignited a deep ache in her heart, an irresistible desire to sing as she always had with Ghemena. So she lifted her voice in an ancient melody that once belonged to the magas of Moisehén, a poem of love composed for a single purpose, to bring the sun back to the world of the living.

Adiana was the first to join her. She took Eolyn’s hand and graced the melody with the weave of her fine voice. Within moments, the other women of Moisehén accompanied them. Even Renate tried to enter the chorus, though some unseen power choked her back into quiet tears. The verse ended in resonating silence.

When Eolyn opened her eyes, Mage Corey was watching her, his expression unreadable amidst the shadows.

He raised the lights of the bayberry candles and turned his attention to the musicians. At his bidding the music resumed, but the circle did not break. This new melody, though unfamiliar to Eolyn, evoked a sense of deep memory.

Rishona and Mage Corey moved to the center of the floor, where they danced around each other, giving dimension to the space between them with elegant movements of their hands. The exchange was subtle yet sensual. The air became so charged Eolyn felt her skin tingle. They repeated the pattern three times before bringing the movement to a breathless finish.

Rishona withdrew, and Mage Corey extended his hand to Eolyn.

Instinct compelled Eolyn to step away, but Adiana reversed her momentum with a firm hand against the small of Eolyn’s back.

“Mage Corey, I don’t know this dance,” Eolyn said as she stumbled forward. “I can’t do it.”

He took her hand and drew her close. His voice was low and infused with such confidence it sent a shiver through her. “This dance is in your blood, Eolyn. It is as old as the land to which we were born. All you need do is follow the music with your heart.”

Just as Mage Corey promised, Eolyn remembered. The steps returned to her, carried somehow on the fluid waves of rich music, on the slow heartbeat of the cold winter earth, on the sharp fire of Corey’s essence, on the whispering spirit of the dead magas.

Eolyn’s interpretation of the rite, though not nearly as skilled as Rishona’s, carried a natural expression of their faith. The movement settled comfortably about her, like a favored old cloak with soft, warm folds.

In another age, Corey and Eolyn might have engaged in similar rites on countless occasions, he as Mage and she as Maga. Now everyone who watched thought magas no longer danced in Moisehén. Yet Eolyn sensed she had finally, completely exposed herself to Mage Corey, and she discovered she did not care. It seemed a small price to pay in exchange for this moment, for the sense of shared magic at her fingertips, for the steady heat of his silver-green gaze, for the fleeting vision of how he might respond to her caress…

***

Learn more about EOLYN, Book One of THE SILVER WEB.

Kirkus Reviews SWORD OF SHADOWS

Sword of Shadows Kindle 3I don’t usually come back twice in one week, but I have some news that’s too good not to share.

Yesterday, Kirkus Reviews published it’s review of Sword of ShadowsBook 2 of The Silver Web. 

Before I tell you what they said, let me put this in context:

I’ve been through the editorial review cycle a couple times, and I’ve watched many friends and colleagues go through it, too. Editorial reviews are tough. Magazines like Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal are big hitters; they do not judge books lightly, and it is not an easy task to please them.

A “positive” editorial review consists of a summary of the novel, several sentences about the book’s flaws and shortcomings, and if you’re very lucky, a couple words about the one thing the author almost managed to do right. That brief, bright moment in an otherwise mediocre assessment is then extracted from the review and used to market the book. It’s the three-word phrase the reader is bound to see on the book’s back cover or the author’s web site. Phrases like “utterly gripping” and “seductively well-written” that sound impressive out of context, but often refer to one moment in the book that the reviewer perceived as a welcome statistical anomaly.

For this reason, any author who receives an editorial review must brace herself before reading it. She must take a deep breath, pour a glass of brandy or reach for the chocolate, and then remind herself before reading that this is an editorial review. The reviewer will not gush. The reviewer will not glow. The reviewer will politely summarize the book to prove they read it and then he or she will grudgingly admit there was maybe one thing they kind of liked about it.

And if there is one thing an editorial reviewer kind of likes about a novel, that constitutes wild success.

I knew the Kirkus review was coming down the pipeline, but I didn’t expect to see it for at least another month. So when the notification showed up in my inbox yesterday, I hesitated before opening it. After all, I’ve been feeling down lately. Could I really summon my thick skin mode to take whatever criticism Kirkus would undoubtedly dish out?

Well, you know what I decided. I drew that deep breath, and I dove in.

I’m so glad I did!!

I’ve never received such an amazing editorial review. Part of me still can’t quite believe what I read. Part of me still thinks, “Did I understand this correctly? Is that really my book they’re talking about?”

My favorite moment from the Kirkus review:

“…the story’s greatest triumph is Gastreich’s prose, a consistent blend of lyrical verse and dark imagery…”

Wow! My prose was a triumph. A triumph, they said! It doesn’t get much better than that, but then they went on to say:

“Lush, evocative descriptions carry readers through an unforgettable journey.”

Lush! Evocative! An unforgettable journey! That’s my story – mstory – they are talking about. omg omg OMG!!!

Sword of Shadows, further described by Kirkus Reviews as “unhurried but engaging,” is praised for its versatile characters and relevant social themes. Rishona is even mentioned as an admirable villain – another wonderful moment for me, since I worked hard to strengthen the portrayal of her character in this second edition.

So there you have it. Proof positive that sometimes taking the plunge is just the ticket to a happier moment in life.

This made my day, my week, and quite possibly my holiday season. After all the negativity I’ve been struggling with lately, that one review was a welcome ray of sunshine. And I’m very grateful for whatever coincidence of fate brought it to me a month ahead of schedule.

You can read the full review at Kirkus’s web site.

Haven’t had a chance to dive into Sword of Shadows yet? Curious to find out more about this “lush,” “evocative,” and “unforgettable” journey? You can order your copy today from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Silent Night, Holy Night

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One of the many rituals of the season that I enjoy: Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite

I’m learning something new this holiday season: I’m learning Christmastime kind of sucks when you’re divorced.

I write “kind of” with utmost sincerity. Because really, it’s just kind of.

I’m a big fan of Christmas and New Years. I love the winter rituals of celebration, rest, and renewal. But while my enjoyment of the season has not been completely undermined by my newly minted legal status, bitter emotions do rear their ugly head on occasion, and usually in unexpected moments.

It’s simply not the same, preparing for Christmas without that one person whom I so recently considered my life-long partner. Bringing in the holidays without him makes the absence – and the aftermath of our relationship – much more keenly felt.

I’m not going to try to pull something positive out of this today. We so often pressure ourselves to do that: to see the silver lining, to focus on the joy inside our darkness. We must count our blessings, or we will appear self-centered and ungrateful; ignorant toward all the good things life has given us.

But sometimes, I think, it’s important to acknowledge that we’re sad. To feel our pain and anger, and to embrace it. To give ourselves a break from setting the example, from being on top of things, from always smiling and never giving up.

I’m seeing similar sentiments echoed throughout my social networks lately, both on- and off-line. There seems to be a sense of collective exhaustion right now. A very real need to withdraw and re-center.

I also see a tendency to push back against that need: Internally, as we fight our own fatigue; and externally, as friends and neighbors coax each other away from the instinct to crawl toward a safe space and ignore the outside world.

Everybody has their own coping mechanisms. The lucky ones among us have developed a fairly diverse tool box, applying different options to different circumstances. Sometimes we respond to fatigue and melancholy with action and interaction; but sometimes – and this is very important – what we really need is to rest.

For a long time, I’ve believed that in their purest form, the midwinter holidays were intended as a time of rest and renewal. I’d like to invite you to consider that this holiday season. Dare to break the routine by giving yourself a chance to be quiet. Listen to your heart, and follow that voice, whether it leads to the next holiday party or to an evening alone by the fireplace.

Don’t be afraid to seek solitude and silence, if that’s what your spirit needs. Trust me on this. You’ll be happy you did when 2017 arrives, laden with its own supply of new opportunities and unforeseen challenges.

Game, Set, and Match

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EvenSong is a Path of Souls novel; part of my new collection of paranormal thrillers set in Kansas City.

NanoWrimo 2016 ended for me last night at 10pm, when I clocked in with 32,075 words on my paranormal romance/thriller EvenSong. I didn’t meet the 50k challenge, but I couldn’t be happier with my progress. I averaged about a thousand words a day despite losing almost a week to migraines and…well, other kinds of headaches.

And I love my new novel. Love it! It is such a nerve wracking transition, to go from that seed of an idea to laying down the opening chapters of a new book. No matter how many times you’ve done this before, you worry that this time, it’s just not going to come together as you envisioned.

Then, after those first bumpy scenes, you hit your rhythm. The characters open up to you, and you to them. After that, the surprises start: Little details pop up that wouldn’t have occurred to you ahead of time. The story fills with color and life. Confidence builds, and halfway through the first draft, you start thinking, “Hey, this could actually work!”

EvenSong is a companion novel to The Hunting Grounds. Both of them form part of my new Path of Souls collection, a series of paranormal romance/thrillers set in my hometown of Kansas City. The novels feature different casts of characters, with some overlap in the minor players, and all the action and conflict built around the same supernatural world.

EvenSong will probably be about the same length as The Hunting Grounds, which means I’m halfway done with the first draft of my fifth novel. As part of NanoWrimo, I also completed an outline for the remaining chapters, and so I have a very solid map of where all the threads will go from here.

With the first big push behind me, I’m going to set EvenSong aside for now and attend to other priorities. Most importantly, I need to finish going through the proofs for Daughter of Aithne so we can get the third and final book of The Silver Web out to my readers this spring. Thomas Vandenberg is working on the cover art, and we’re planning to have a reveal for you later this month.

No decision yet from the publisher who is currently considering The Hunting Grounds, but with any luck, I’ll have some news – and hopefully good news – by Christmas time. If the answer is no, I’ll pick up the pieces of my shattered ego and start a fresh round of queries in the new year.

I still haven’t put up my Christmas decorations; NanoWrimo took priority over that. But I plan to get the house ready for the holidays this weekend, and I’m very much looking forward to a season of hot chocolate and cozy fires.

2016 has been a trying year, and yet filled, nonetheless, with its own manner of blessings. I’m a little wary of what 2017 might bring, but with NanoWrimo behind me, at least I can say this much: On the other side of New Year’s Eve, EvenSong awaits.

And that gives me something truly fantastic to look forward to.