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Guest Author-Argument: Karin Gastreich on Women in War

I am honestly quite proud of the author interviews we’ve done on this site, because they’re much more like conversations, the Q and the A are just formalities when things get really good. I’m very pleased indeed to welcome back Karin Gastreich this week, whose cycle of works in the world of  High Maga is in audio as well as print. Karin and I had a marvelous chat about audiobooks the last time she was here. If that was a cozy tea-party, this one might be more of a mud-pie fight because the subject is a theme that figures highly in the novel, Women in War.

As an ancient history teacher by trade, the demographics of any preindustrial society with women in the battle lines always troubled me. I drooled over Red Sonja in the comics as much as the next barely-pubescent male, though of course part of the point was that she was, ahm, exceptional. But as much as I like to rant about the whole ten-women-one-man versus the reverse thing, Karin was quick to point out that war sometimes leaves no escape whether soldier or civilian. Think about the consequences of war in your world’s history– sure, it’s all on the line NOW, but how has it been in the past? And were women a part of it? Lend us a minute, I found Karin’s answers most interesting and I think you will too.

Q: You’ve written before about the effect of war on women, along with all those caught in the war-zone. Is the world of High Maga one where civilians are commonly threatened? Is no one safe, no place respected? Or have your current crop of villains just stepped it up a notch, and broken with previous customs in this war?

A: We live under a modern myth that with sufficient technology, civilians can be spared during warfare, but I’d say the bulk of Karin_Rita_Gastreichthe evidence suggests otherwise. Civilians are always at risk in a war zone, and this was especially true in medieval times. High Maga is firmly grounded in a medieval-style world, so yes, no one is safe when war breaks out. For the most part, it doesn’t matter how noble or villainous the current rulers are.

Q: I agree, there’s always risk to civilians in war, especially after defeat in ancient times. I find more exceptions in history than you did! But no question you have strong female characters on both sides of right here. Are they fighters, though? Are there strictures against women taking up big edged weapons and getting close enough to cause trouble? Or is soldiering an equal-opportunity field in your world?

A: Oddly enough, of the novels in this trilogy High Maga is the one most steeped in war, and yet no women adept at weaponry appear. This is in part an artifact of history and circumstance. I do have women fighters in the first book, Eolyn, and they will return for the third book, Daughter of Aithne.

Women and weaponry have a complicated history in Eolyn’s world. Mainstream society is fairly misogynistic, and there are strong cultural barriers to women taking up the sword. The subculture of the magas, however, is different. Before Eolyn was born, there was a centuries-long tradition of maga warriors. Like their male counterparts, the mage warriors, these women considered themselves spiritual descendants of Caradoc, a legendary figure who was the first to use magic on the battlefield.

Now, not all magas are swordswomen, and many magas – including Eolyn’s tutor Ghemena – are firmly opposed to the use of magic in war. Still, throughout history, the maga warriors have played an important part in the military might of Moisehén. They were well respected and feared by many, and they served the kingdom faithfully.

Will 5Q: Right, so we seem to be looking at battle-mages; a man or woman can be on the battlefield if they wield spells, and such a soldier might also use weapons. But otherwise, women are pressured not to fight, is that right?

A: That’s correct, but again, this wasn’t always the case. A generation or so before Eolyn was born, the maga warriors were still a strong force in Moisehén. Then they rose up in rebellion against Kedehen, their King. They objected to Kedehen assuming the crown because as a prince he had studied magic, defying a centuries-old prohibition against members of the royal family learning the craft.

Incensed by Kedehen’s decision to claim the throne, the magas rebelled. Kedehen, as you can imagine, chose to defend his inheritance. A brutal civil war followed, and Kedehen emerged victorious. Concerned about future uprisings, he promptly forbade all women from practicing magic or taking up weaponry. The kingdom was purged of women practitioners. During this period Eolyn’s own mother, who was a maga warrior, was burned at the stake.

For reasons developed in my first novel, Kedehen’s son Akmael eventually lifts the prohibition on women practicing magic. However, the new Mage King upholds the laws against women learning weaponry, as a matter of public safety.

I suppose I should point out that the use of magic in battle kind of changes the playing field. You might consider it akin to the advent of firearms in modern warfare, which some would argue has made the military much more accessible to women. Victory no longer depends on being able to physically hack your opponent apart. The maga warriors are physically adept at fighting, but what gives them the edge against some of their brawnier opponents are all those magic tricks, such as being able to sear your opponent with flame, shapeshift into a tiger, cast curses that enhance fear, and so forth.

Q: You mean there’s no referee to call foul? Oh right, it’s war… so is Eolyn, your main heroine, going to be a woman warrior?

A: I can’t answer that question, Will. It’d be a spoiler!

I will say that Eolyn is ambivalent toward the idea of the maga warrior. She strongly believes all women should be free to practice magic, but her own experience and upbringing have given her a rather conflictive relationship with the sword. Magic, from her perspective, should not be used in warfare. Indeed, if it were up to Eolyn, everyone, mages and magas alike, would lay down their weapons and live in peace. Unfortunately, this is not the way of the world that Eolyn lives in. Whether or not she wields a sword, war will come for her. When it does, Eolyn must find a way to defend herself. Will her magic be enough? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Q: I can see that Rishona is a summoner, a mage of sorts. Is it just as common for her to cast spells or summon daemons as a man? Or is this a case of only women having the special ability?

A: In Eolyn’s world, you don’t need to be a woman to summon demons. All you need is willingness and determination to use your magic toward this end.

Q: But is she a warrior-mage? Is it typical to summon demons to do your fighting?

High Maga Audiobook CoverA: So, first I should point out that in this world “mage” and “maga” refer to a very specific tradition of magic with unique origins in the Kingdom of Moisehén. Rishona did not grow up in Moisehén and was never trained in this craft. She does have an unusual brand of magic based on her heritage. Her mother was a Syrnte princess, her father a prince of Moisehén. As a result, Rishona is spiritually linked to both traditions. This is important because in the world of High Maga, magic has a cultural context.

The mages and magas of Moisehén draw their power from the earth and practice a craft grounded in knowledge of the natural world. They have no faith in prophecy or fortune telling. The Syrnte draw their power from the air. They cannot shapeshift, but they do have the ability to perceive time differently. Prophecy is second nature to them. They can hear thoughts of other individuals, even see the world through their eyes. Unlike the nobility of Moisehén, Syrnte royalty has, for pretty much all of history, embraced magic and used it with impunity to serve their ambitions. Rishona’s uncle, Prince Mechnes, is a master at using Syrnte sight to control everyone around him.

Q: So not to put too fine a point on it, Rishona can, and I assume she does. But does what, exactly?

A: Rishona’s connection to past, present, and future is coupled with a heightened awareness of other worlds. She is able to “hear” the voices of the Underworld and make contact with the Naether Demons. She has some sympathy for the plight of the Naether Demons (as do I), and it’s not entirely evil on her part to want to bring them back. But in doing so, Rishona unleashes a dark magic that proves a little beyond her ability to control.

Oh! I almost forgot – Rishona does know how to wield a sword.

Q: Hah, small detail! Penalty box for you, now cough up the details, who let her get away with it.

A: She was trained by Mechnes, who took on the project when she was a little girl, more out of a sense of fatherly indulgence than from any real conviction that a woman can or should fight. Rishona acquired some skill and even respect in the training ring, but she’s never actually been in battle. Nor is Mechnes interested in having her fight; and since he makes all the tactical decisions, it is very unlikely Rishona will ever ride into battle. From Mechnes’s point of view, Rishona’s greatest value is in her ability to summon Naether Demons. This gives him a new and very formidable weapon against the Mage King. Oh, and Rishona has a claim to the throne of Moisehén as well, superior to Akmael’s by some accounts. This serves as a convenient excuse for Mechnes to embark upon the conquest in the first place.

Q: So he’ll be taking one potential woman warrior-mage with him, and the heroine awaits with her own decision to make. Fabulous! Thanks for the fascinating explanations, Karin, you really showed how something as crucial as the active participation of women in war has to be considered in light of history and culture. And magic of course! Fabulous talking with you as always. Here’s to the great success of High Maga, and hopefully a nice manhole cover to drop on Mechnes soon.

chapbreakHIGH MAGA http://edition

Karin Rita Gastreich (author)
Darla Middlebrook (narrator)

Sisters in magic, Eolyn and Adiana seek to revive a craft once forbidden to women. When war strikes at the heart of the kingdom, their fledgling community of magas is destroyed; its members killed, captured or scattered.

In hopes of defending her people, Eolyn tries to escape the occupied province and deliver to King Akmael a weapon that might secure their victory. Trapped by the invading army, Adiana is taken prisoner and placed at the mercy of the ruthless Prince Mechnes.

Even as their world is torn asunder, Eolyn and Adiana cling to a common dream. Courage and perseverance guide them toward a future where the Daughters of Aithne will flourish in a world set free from the violence of men.

“War propels the book forward, and the characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst.” –Publishers Weekly

Purchase Links:
Amazon (audio book):

Barnes and Noble:


About the Author:

KARIN RITA GASTREICH writes tales of ordinary women and the extraordinary paths they choose. Inspired by a lifetime of exploring lush forests and breathtaking landscapes, Karin’s stories blend elements of epic fantasy, historical fiction, and romance. The worlds she creates are a strange amalgamation of medieval Europe and colonial Central America, with misty forests, vast savannas, and steamy jungles. They are populated by brave heroines, noble heroes, and twisted villains. From ancient woodlands to uncharted seas, readers will experience gripping battle scenes, heart wrenching loss, hard-won triumphs, and the ultimate magic of love. Karin’s fantasy novels Eolyn and High Maga are available from Hadley Rille Books. Her short stories have appeared in Zahir, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, and World Jumping. She runs an on-line discussion forum about women in genre fiction at Heroines of Fantasy. Follow Karin’s adventures into fantastic worlds, both real and imagined, at

Author web links:

Karin’s web site:
Heroines of Fantasy:
Twitter: @EolynChronicles

About the Narrator:

Darla_MiddlebrookDarla’s voice is a versatile instrument used with skill. It is a voice filled with intelligence and warmth. Her sound can range from mature to youthful female, and she can also produce convincing male timbres. Narrative is presented in a conversational, down to earth, matter-of-fact manner and also displays a broad emotional range across a large repertoire of characters (female, male, young, old and “creature”). All of that while still conveying a sense of wonder when telling the story.

With experience of 34+ years as a Speech-Language Pathologist, more than 20 years as a stage & film actor and over 20 years as a trained singer with knowledge and insight into the mechanics of the voice and speech, Darla Middlebrook brings a wealth of experience to bear to develop character voices (male, female, mature, extremely elderly, creepy, bright exotic, etc) with an impressive emotional range.

Currently, Darla is one of many voice actors who narrate podcasts for AIRS-LA (an audio internet service for individuals with visual challenges) in addition to narrating audio books.

Narrator Web Links:

Twitter: @GypsyCatVoice

Don’t Miss a Chance at Great Loot from the High Maga Series!



The Voice of Purple Prose? Audio Version of “The Ring and the Flag”

I am very excited that the first audio-book for the Lands of Hope is done at last. Purple prose has found its voice.

The first tale in Shards of Light, “The Ring and the Flag”, is now available at You can listen to as many episodes as you like for free, and I certainly encourage you to try a few chapters. I would love to hear comments as well, which you can leave right there or on the LoH Facebook page, or here!

Making an audio-book is what I call dogged fun: I really had to stick with it, very labor intensive as I learned everything the hard way. But I haven’t had a chance to hone my craft at speaking and acting in several years, so that was invigorating. I still don’t think I do women’s voices well- thank heavens it was just three lines in this book, but I’ll need to practice hard if I want to try for “Fencing Reputation”. And I think I need to spring for a microphone that was NOT made in the Philippines… before Marcos stepped down. The last two chapters I recorded sounded like they had been dunked in Rice Krispies- snap-crackle-pop on every take, sometimes on the same sentence of three different takes! Plus for some odd reason, whenever I went back to re-record lines for “punch-in”, the presence sounded altered. With all that, I think it  came out rather well. But if you’re thinking about trying it- I can assure you, it’s work. The community at Podiobooks was very supportive and gave all kinds of useful advice, invaluable really.

So I got to thinking, there are now so many ways to experience the Lands, you might need help deciding. Being a good analyst here in the Alleged Real World, I made a Decision Tree for you. Click for a close-up view. Just answer honestly and you’ll be all set!

LoH Decision Tree Jan 2013

Beyond Naked: My Audiobook Adventure

This morning about 7 AM I emerged from my sound studio having recorded the last word of my Tale of Hope “The Ring and the Flag”, which I’m making into an audiobook. I don’t know about you, but I read my stories to myself all the time. As I write the first draft I tie-break between phrases by hearing them out loud. I speak as I polish, all the time- some chapters I’ve probably chanted ten times over. And if you don’t know, I’m an amateur ham from way back- I’ve acted onstage since I was six (when I was type-cast in my first grade church school skit in the role of Jesus). I heard that audiobooks are cool because they bring in a new audience- the people who don’t read but who do listen to stuff on their way to work, while doing the laundry, and so on. And the websites I’ve looked at say people like hearing a tale narrated by the author. I figured what could happen?

Now I know.

My main publishing platform Smashwords has made an agreement with Podiobooks to link up their e-book pages from the former to audio files at the latter. You can listen to a chapter in your favorite genre for free through any MP3 device. Just like other audio exchanges, you can seek a pro to read your book (and pay them) or do it yourself. First choice easy! I listened to a couple and became somewhat excited- you know the sound quality is first-rate, you can picture the beautiful boom mike with the nice diaphragm to block your spit and soften your “p”s. On the other hand, these folks are almost TOO professional, you know? I was thinking, nice diction, but where’s the passion? I can do this. Hah!

One of my first two tales- back when I was silent.

One of my first two tales- back when I was silent.

So I spent a couple dozen hours in my “studio”- which I will freely confess means I carried my laptop and lapel-pin mike down to the basement of my house. The unfinished basement, with cement walls and floors, the central air vent shooshing a foot over my head and the sound of whoever just flushed the toilet trickling down the pipe to my left for two solid minutes. The cats, of course, have a need to know what on earth I’m doing balancing my water glass on the dryer and putting all these sheets of paper on my daughter’s music stand. Six-fifteen AM, the perfect time to record. Only a cat is insane enough to be awake at the crack of dawn. And if you’ve fed them, they keep reasonably quiet.

Of course I surfaced all the flaws in my writing I missed during the endless rewrites and polishing: reading your story out loud is ESSENTIAL, and I already agreed with the principle, but I keep finding more. Repeated words, that’s the thing that always kills me- for you, maybe something else. But with all that, I must say I come away liking The Ring and the Flag a lot, even more than I did a year ago on publication. It’s a very intact story, has some terrific plot elements, and I’m pleased to note that it lent itself very easily to the audiobook format (they like “chapters” to fit between 20 and 40 minutes ideally, and it was no problem to make my story sections match up in a neat half-dozen). I threw in a couple of special effects, and got to sing the soldiers’ marching-song. Perhaps best of all, the “studio” was only ten feet from the cat litter boxes- so I needed no help imagining the stench of the monster!

I learned to do two or three takes of every paragraph even if the first one sounded fine. Later I was shocked to realize what had transpired around me while I was carried away with the tale. I got the pops and cracks out with just some elbow grease. But the background noise was clearly my worst enemy. I used the Audacity recording utility which is freely available online and has eighteen times the features I could ever understand. Noise Removal was probably a solid six hours of my work, after cuts and choice of takes, just trying to get the hiss (roar, really) of the world down to a reasonable level without making my voice sound like the computer in “War Games”. Even so, I’m not sure what I’ve got here.

But frankly, I’m almost hoping you’re distracted by the equalization levels. Anything to get away from the sound of my own voice! I can’t believe I’m writing this- I’ve always been deeply, madly in love with the sound of my own voice. No fooling, I talk to myself all the time and belly-laugh at how witty I am. It’s pathetic. But to lay your own voice, reading your own tale, out there for the world to judge- well, it’s different. The actor’s nightmare includes appearing without any clothes on. But the thought of my voice on the web is the angst beyond naked. What if people don’t like the story AND think I sound like a dork?

So now there’s a pile of story I’ve heard many times, a paragraph at a go, but I must sit and hear it all again. If I can just bring myself to face the sound of my own voice- which is SO much different than reading out loud live and direct. Survive that, put in a few tags and an intro, and I’ll be ready to post. Hopefully you’ll have it within a week, certainly by Christmas. And if you or any of your friends are the sort who like to hear the tale, by all means let them know when it comes out. I’d be very interested to hear how I can improve. And if you like to listen while you’re in the laundry-room, I guarantee this story will make you feel right at home!

Now I think I’ll go put some clothes on.

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