City of Hope and Ruin

City of Hope and Ruin ebook coverAaaaand it’s out!

City of Hope and Ruin, a fantasy-with-lesbian-romance novel by Kit Campbell and yours truly, is now out in the world! You can buy it in the following formats:

(Amazon | Paperback | Nook | iBookstore | Kobo)

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The Self-Critical Writer: A Cautionary Tale

I have an abusive inner voice.

Perhaps you have one, too. It says things like:

That idea sucks / this scene sucks / your plot sucks / your housework sucks / you suck.

Oh, and why can’t you work harder?

You can’t write consistently, so you’ll never be successful.

You’re not good enough to have a writing career / an editing career [even though I do, in fact, have a 15-year editing career and have published a novel and multiple short stories on my way to having a writing career].

You’re not doing enough.

You’re not enough.

 

I don’t know where this voice came from–nobody important in my life spoke or speaks to me like that, and my loved ones are all much kinder to me than I am to myself. I do know I’m far from the only person to struggle with such a voice–destructive self-criticism is pretty common among writers and other creative types. Like many creatives, I’m also a sensitive soul, which makes it that much worse.

The question is, my friends and fellow sufferers, what do we do about it? How do we silence it, or at least ignore it long enough to do what we want to do with our lives?

Many writers do manage to push on regardless. I used to know how. I’ve done it before. I’ve read books on the topic, and countless articles and blog posts, and some of them have helped. But this voice has been getting worse over the years, instead of better. I try to fight back, and sometimes it works for a bit, but it’s so hard and I’m so tired.

Right now, the voice is quieter, but I’m trying to write and there’s nothing there. I’ve been crushing the life out of my own creativity.

I don’t have any answers for you.

All I know is that this voice has held me down too long. I’m in an abusive relationship with my Inner Critic, but I deserve better. So I’m naming it, I’m opening my dark secret to you, in the hope that it will begin to lose its power.

I want to tell myself a new story about who I am.

I have a voice, too. It’s time to make myself heard.

 

Do you have a critical inner voice? What does it say to you? How do you break it of its power?

Cover Reveal: Ever Touched by Erin Zarro

Hi folks! Today I’m excited to give you a sneak peek of the novel I spent last month copyediting. (You might have seen hints on my Instagram.) This is the next Turtleduck Press release, due out May 1st. It’s book 3 in the Fey Touched series, but it stands alone pretty well — each book in the series tells the story of a different couple within the same group of badass, genetically engineered, crime-fighting humans. (Call it…urban science fiction? Or Earth-based science fiction romance? We at Turtleduck Press love genre-bending!)

So, without further ado, here are the lovely cover and book description / back-cover copy for Ever Touched:

Ever Touched final cover 3-30-17
One secret remembered, another forgotten…which one will explode first?

Brianna has two problems: she cannot remember her past, and she astrally projects to another woman who has predictions tortured out of her. As a result, she is lonely and feels distanced from her co-workers — the only family she has ever known — the Fey Touched Hunters. She is their intelligence gatherer, and her episodes are interfering with her ability to do her job.

When Fey Touched Hunter Cobra, her friend, finds her alone and injured from an episode, she accepts his help. But she’s terrified of doctors and of being thought mentally ill, so she refuses to tell him what’s wrong or let him take her to get medical help. Still, Cobra continues to help and protect her. They find themselves falling in love.

But Cobra, too, has a secret that could rip their fragile bond apart.

When Brianna discovers through her episodes that someone has plans to destroy the Fey Clans, the Fey Touched decide to put their hatred aside and help them. But it’s not just a matter of someone with a grudge: there are other, more powerful players — beings thought to be legend.

As they unravel the mystery, Brianna’s episodes become more frequent and more dangerous until she is faced with a choice. To find the mystery girl and help the Fey Clans, she must risk opening herself up to the Hunters and to Cobra, and put her own life on the line. But is she prepared for the answers she’ll find?

Siri here: Ever Touched will be available May 1st from Amazon et al. While you’re waiting, here’s a preview of what’s in store. Keep an eye on the Turtleduck Press site for buy links!

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Two Independent Travelers Go All-Inclusive in Cuba

IMG_4268THE BACKSTORY

As you know if you’ve been following this blog for a while, my partner and I have a particular traveling style. (To see all the travel posts on the blog, click here.) I tend to take the lead on planning–with lots of discussion and input from my partner, of course. When I’m planning a trip, it goes like this:

  • buy guidebook (my current favorite is Rough Guides) and skim all the important parts
  • read the heck out of the Internet
  • plan a general itinerary/schedule/route
  • look up all the B&Bs, guesthouses, hotels, etc., on TripAdvisor
  • prebook some of the hotels and transportation

…and then spend our actual trip meandering slowly across a country, seeing the sights at maybe half the speed of most tourists, enjoying lots of downtime to relax and acclimatize and explore. We stay in locally-owned guesthouses or B&Bs, use a mix of public transport and taxis, and soak up lots of the culture. Sometimes we’ll book a day trip or a few days on a tour, but most of the time we like being left to our own devices and handling the logistics ourselves.

My partner enjoys this type of travel–we’ve done a lot of it together and adjusted to each other’s pace and preferences–but he’s gotten used to letting me lead the planning. But when we decided to go somewhere warm for a week this winter, I begged off the planning due to time constraints…

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…which is how we ended up booking a vacation at all-inclusive resort in Cuba.

Not only that, we booked a package through an airline. No thinking or logistics required (with a few exceptions I’ll get to later). We were both curious to try out the complete opposite of our usual travel style…and hey, there was a beach, what’s not to like?

PROS

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The beach: Okay, there was a fabulous beach. The sun was great, the beach umbrellas were great, the lounge chairs were great. I could complain about the constant wind and the chilly water (both the ocean and the pools…yes, pools, plural), but really? It beats the hell out of Toronto in March.

The lack of research: As I mentioned, I just didn’t have the bandwidth to spend dozens of hours planning a trip this time around. It was really nice to be able to take a trip anyway and not have to worry about not being prepared. (We did do enough research to know we should bring first-aid supplies, toiletries, sunscreen, and bug spray. But that goes for most places.)

 

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The resort we picked: The research we did do was on resorts (mostly via TripAdvisor, of course)–and this paid off. The one we picked, Melia Las Americas, was not cheap, but Cuba is cheaper overall than other Caribbean islands, so we were okay with the price point. It’s an adults-only resort, and when we were there, it was not crowded at all, as you can see from the pictures. Plenty of lounge chairs, lovely architecture and landscaping, multiple outdoor pools (even if they were chilly). The service was fairly good–a nice change from our usual style of roughing it, relatively speaking.

IMG_4295The food was hit-and-miss, but we’d been warned to expect that of Cuban all-inclusives, and it wasn’t so bad once we figured out how to get the best use out of the buffet and the various à la carte restaurants. (Go for the meats that are grilled as you watch. Take a little of everything, then go back for seconds once you figure out what’s actually good. Arrive early for shorter lineups and fresher food.)

The pace of life at an all-inclusive: So what does one do at an all-inclusive resort? Eat. Drink. (Side note: all the coffees were made with goat’s milk. Took some getting used to.) Go for a dip in the pool or a wade in the ocean. People-watch. Talk. Lie on a lounge chair and stare at the ocean. Read. (My partner got through almost an entire epic fantasy trilogy. If you want a chance to catch up on your reading (and who doesn’t?) I definitely recommend it.) Repeat. Definitely not our usual pace, but it was kinda nice to do absolutely nothing for a week. It was also fun to spend the day in a combination of bikinis, coverups, and long lightweight skirts, then dress up for dinner.

This Canadian can’t get over the crazy spiky trees. The one on the right was in front of our door. Click to enlarge.

CONS

Lack of originality: Once we started talking about the trip, we were taken aback by how many people around us had already been to Cuba this year. An undiscovered location it is not, at least for Europeans and Canadians. (Now that some of the restrictions for Americans have been relaxed, I expect it will slowly become a popular destination for you folks as well.)

IMG_4250Complacency: We were lulled into complacency and forgot to do as much research as we should have. For one thing, we didn’t bring the correct plug adapters for our laptops (we needed a three-prong to two-prong adapter), so one charge and we were done. For another, we had thought it was OK to tip in American dollars at the resort, but judging by the lukewarm reaction we got, we perhaps should have been tipping in pesos. Eventually we gave up tipping altogether. It didn’t make a noticeable difference in service.

Lack of control: We didn’t end up taking any “excursions” (guided tours) beyond the resort. I think it was a little bit due to laziness, but largely a matter of preferring to be in control. A 12-hour guided tour to Havana, including 2 hours on a tour bus each direction, just sounded like too long a day on someone else’s schedule, and too much forced socializing (did I mention we’re both introverts?). Same for the full-day dive tour, with the added difficulty of our both being shade-lovers (giant beach umbrellas made of dried leaves = best thing ever).

In fact, we didn’t leave the resort at all, not even to go into the nearest town (Varadero). I attribute that to a lack of confidence, since we didn’t have our usual experience of landing at an airport, having to immediately navigate to our lodgings, and thus being immersed in the country from the start. Here, we were insulated from the start (we walked out of the airport and immediately boarded a bus owned by our tour company that took us straight to the resort), and it dictated the rest of our stay. Granted, it didn’t help that we were only in Cuba for a week, and we felt obliged to make the most of the resort while we were there.

On the other hand, we did get to look at a lot of palm trees. Canadian, remember? Click to enlarge.

Lack of adventure: When you come back from a trip like that, there are no stories to tell! You can’t complain without sounding whiny. You didn’t do much of anything, and you certainly didn’t do anything different from all the other people you know who’ve been to all-inclusives.

 

Okay, we did have one adventure, and it was in the 30 minutes we spent outside of the resort’s/tour company’s control. On our homeward journey, we took a taxi to the airport due to missing the tour company’s bus…and he got stopped by police for speeding. We were a little worried that the police were up to something more serious, maybe related to noticing the foreigners in the car, but nope, just a speeding ticket. But at least we can say we had an interaction with the Cuban police…?

 

What are your thoughts on all-inclusives? Want more information? I can share my packing list, or talk more about the specific resort we stayed at. Let me know!

 

Fourteen Years Later

I’ve been sidelined by the flu this week and am still recovering, and then WordPress ate my original post, so here’s just a quick (and late) note to direct you elsewhere.

Here’s what I wrote about my father (died March 14, 2003) over at Turtleduck Press:

I don’t think about him often anymore, except right around this time of year. He died in March, late in a bitterly cold prairie winter. The day he was buried, there was a thaw and, finally, everything began to melt. Ever since then, I’ve found late winter difficult to bear. Some years are harder than others; this one has been easier so far, probably because it’s been so unseasonably warm here. Bittersweet for sure.

He feels now like part of another life, one I don’t remember as well as I would wish to.

Go and read the rest.

And I’ll see you back here on March 27 with a proper post.

 

 

Genre-Bending Books (Redux)

The Passage by Justin Cronin coverI’m a fan of science fiction. And fantasy. And everything in between…sometimes especially the books that fall in between. I’ve written before about science fantasy, about works that blend speculative fiction and realism, and of course, steampunk. But that was all several years ago, and now I’ve got a whole new crop of genre-benders to share with you…

Futuristic Fantasy

Start with the present day. Fast forward a few decades, or maybe a little more. You can see a clear connection to our own world, including geography. The technology level might be similar to ours, or higher in certain areas, or maybe lower, depending on what might have happened between now and then. (Gotta love verb tenses when talking about futures that may never arrive…) But there are also fantasy creatures or tropes–magic, gods, vampires. In this category we have:

The Passage series by Justin Cronin

This is what literary agents call a “high-concept” book with a “strong hook”. Two words: vampire apocalypse. Cronin starts in the present day, where a vampire virus has just been discovered. Then he fast-forwards through time, pausing for a while here and there to dip into the lives of a set of characters, some of whom pop up again and again. The books veer between thriller and literary drama–what agent Donald Maass calls “breakout novel” territory. That’s a lot of genres, but somehow it all works.

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinsonblog-brown-girl-hopkinson-cover

Toronto in the future, or at least Hopkinson’s version of the future, is a lawless place controlled by a drug lord. Infrastructure and social safety nets are all but gone. The placenames and layout of the city are still recognizable, though much decayed. But at the same time, the voodoo gods are drifting around, looking for a chance to get involved…

Above by Leah Bobet

Another story set in Toronto, but this one starts out sounding much like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, if the young protagonist had been from the underworld peeking out instead of our own world peeking in. It goes on to deconstruct stories like Neverwhere and a whole lot of other things. I can’t say too much about it without being spoilery, so instead I’ll just give a bonus shout-out to Bobet’s second novel, An Inheritance of Ashes, which is more…

Fantasy with Hints of Technology

A fantasy-seeming world that hints at not being a straight-up secondary world a la Tolkien. Or a world with some futuristic trappings that’s clearly more interested in fantasy tropes and telling fantasy stories. (Think Pern or Dune.) Or some mad blending of the two.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi OkoraforCover of Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Like Brown Girl in the Ring, this is a compelling near-to-mid-future story of a young black woman coming into her own magical powers. I’ve placed it here not because it’s set in Sudan (which looks more like fantasy to Western eyes) but because it’s less interested in the tension between magic and technology than Hopkinson’s novel is. It’s a classic fantasy quest story, with powerful sorcerers and training sequences and visions and even a band of misfits trekking long distances. There just happens to be advanced technology here and there.

The Tearling series by Erika Johansen

Girl living a quiet life in the forest learns she’s the heir to the throne and is whisked away to start her new life in the palace. (That’s not much of a spoiler–it’s all in the first few pages.) Another classic fantasy tale, modernized for today’s reader? Maybe…except that the heir occasionally uses words like genetics. The second book in the series delves more into why this is so, losing the tight focus on character but adding worldbuilding context.

The Fey Touched series by Erin Zarroblog-erin-zarro-fey-touched-cover

Finally, I have to put in a plug for Turtleduck Press author Erin Zarro. Her fantasy world looks not unlike ours…except that there are vampire-hunting fey…and occasional evil scientists performing genetic experiments and the like. Intrigued? Book 3 in the series will be out May 1! I’ll be posting more about it as the date draws closer.

 

Are you a fan of genre-bending books? Please share!

 

The Top 5 Most Romantic Places in India

The travel blog returns! In honour of Valentine’s Day, I’m doing a round-up of the most romantic places I encountered during my six weeks in India. If I missed your favourite, please chime in!

5. Taking a houseboat tour in Kumarakom

The state of Kerala, on India’s southwest coast, is known as “God’s Own Country”, and it’s easy to see why. It’s lush and jungly, with a higher quality of life than in the north (as Indians themselves will tell you). If you haven’t travelled in India before, it’s also less intense and overwhelming than the north. It’s not as well known to Western tourists as, say, the state of Rajasthan, but it’s popular among Middle Eastern and domestic travellers, meaning that there’s still decent tourist infrastructure. One of the must-do activities is to rent a houseboat (with crew, which is not prohibitively expensive for a day or a few nights) and putter around what’s known as the “backwaters”, an extensive network of canals lined with palm trees. Especially during the off-season, it’s both serene and luxurious.

Kerala backwaters

4. Exploring Old Kochi

Before the British arrived, the city of Kochi was colonized by the Portuguese, then the Dutch. Today it’s home to a picturesque fusion of architectures and cultures. If you’re up for a splurge, check in to the Old Harbour Hotel–it’s not cheap, but it’s gorgeous, and the food is delicious. There’s even a small swimming pool in the tranquil garden. And it’s located in the heart of Old Kochi, where you can wander down to the harbour to watch the unique fishing nets in operation, or stroll up the narrow streets to admire the beautiful old buildings.

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The Old Harbour Hotel

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3. Camel Trekking in Jaisalmer

Moving up to the northwest part of India, we hit Rajasthan, which I mentioned above. The cities are fascinating, each with its fort towering over the centre of town, but if you’re the adventurous or outdoorsy type, you’ll want to head for Jaisalmer and the Thar Desert (click through for more photos!). It’s much cheaper than the options mentioned above–we stayed in a perfectly respectable hotel for 1500 Rs. (less than $25 USD) per night–and the old fort is fascinating to explore. Except we didn’t stay there long, because we took a camel trek into the desert and slept under the stars. So. many. stars.

Camels, Thar Desert, near Jaisalmer

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How sexy are these curves?

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Sunrise over the desert

2. Exploring Udaipur

Still in Rajasthan, the city of Udaipur is known as the Venice of the East (to be fair, it has plenty of rivals for the name) or the White City. The old part of the city is built of white stone on the shores of a lake, with architecture that tends towards arches and cupolas.

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How much more romantic can you get? Well, actually…

1. Visiting the Taj Mahal

I’ll leave you with this. Okay, it’s a cliche, I’ll admit. But some of the world’s most famous sites are definitely worth visiting, and this is one. The city of Agra is voracious for tourists and skilled at parting you from your money. But I swear the Taj Mahal is worth the visit (click through for more photos!) for the beauty alone, let alone the story behind it. If you want to be ultra-romantic, book a moonlight visit, when it will look even more ethereal than it does below.

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The Taj Mahal at dawn

If you liked this post, you might be interested in my short story “The Raja and the Madman”, set in a fantasy version of Rajasthan. You can read about it here and buy the anthology it appears in, Under Her Protection, from Turtleduck Press.

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On Writing Despite the News

(Warning, politics ahead! This will not be a permanent shift for the blog, but just for tonight, humour me. I’ll try to keep it vague…)

Friends, I come to you tonight weary and wrung out. Like many of you, I’ve been struggling with the news for months, burnt out but unable to look away. Writing was impossible, pointless, indulgent. I started a mini-challenge and kept hoping things would subside. Instead, they’ve gotten worse…and worse…and worse.

I’m not even American, I’m Canadian. But whatever happens south of the border affects us deeply, so we tend to keep a close eye on American news.

Besides, yesterday we learned–beyond a shadow of a doubt–that we’re not immune to the forces sweeping this part of the world, much as we’d sometimes like to think we are.

I’m angry, I’m tired, I’m afraid. Writing seems impossible again.

But…

Words have power. Facts have power, but story has more. We’ve always known that, and we learned it again this election year, when one candidate was brought down by narratives that wouldn’t go away, and the other candidate tapped into the fears and frustrations of his audience and sold them a story they wanted to believe.

When I  write, it’s not a coincidence that I often write about young women who are learning how to be themselves and how to shed what is holding them back. I write about cooperation winning out over fear and hate. I write about people from opposite walks of life who grow to understand, and sometimes love, each other. I write about people who are not white and straight–both to take away the “otherness” for some readers and to give other readers someone who looks like them.

If I’ve done my job right, my readers don’t even notice half of what I just said. They don’t notice…but the story is inside them now, and so are the themes.

In times like these,  here are some reasons why I need to keep writing:

  • to process events
  • to exert a sense of control
  • to escape so I can recharge and keep fighting
  • to provide an escape for readers who need it
  • and–just maybe–to change the world, one reader at a time.