Monthly Archives: August 2013

#WANAFriday: Fall Bucket List

maple leaf

Copyright Siri Paulson, 2011

Welcome to another edition of #WANAFriday! This week’s topic is:

Fall bucket list — what experiences do you want to have / what do you want to spend time doing this fall?

A quick preface is in order here. I hate being cold, and my body knows that the arrival of fall means winter is not far behind. Add to that the fact that I grew up on the Canadian prairies, where fall was only about six weeks long. Now I live in Toronto, where it lasts at least two months, and often longer. Yet I still spend fall thinking about the cold days ahead, instead of enjoying the glorious days of the season I’m in.

So every year about this time, I remind myself to dig in and enjoy fall. Some things I plan to do:

  1. Pay attention as the leaves change colour.
  2. Drink pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin soup and…all things pumpkin, really. And apple cider.
  3. Revel in the crisp — but not yet cold — air after the long, hot summer.
  4. Savour the tomatoes and other vegetables from my garden.
  5. Go for some long walks before the weather turns cold and I start my winter hibernation.

As far as concrete goals for this season, I’m going to:

1. Figure out what I’m doing for NaNoWriMo.

I’ll probably write a brand-new novel — which means picking an idea first — but there’s a chance I’ll do a complete rewrite of a previous NaNo. Either way, I’ve got lots of planning to do.

(See my post Should You Do NaNoWriMo?)

2. Get as far as I can on the novel I’m editing before NaNo.

I don’t want to say “finish this draft”, because I’m feeling my way through this edit and I don’t know how long it will take. But I will give it my best shot.

Other #WANAfriday participants this week

Ellen Gregory (who, being Australian, is talking about spring)

Kim Griffin

Liv Rancourt

Your turn! What’s on your bucket list this season?



Visiting the Red Fort in New Delhi

The outer walls of the Red Fort

The outer walls of the Red Fort

In this installment of my Adventures in Asia series, we’re exploring the Red Fort, built on the order of Shah Jahan — better known as the emperor who built the Taj Mahal.

The fort was built during the heyday of the Mughal Empire, a Muslim empire that controlled much of India from the 16th to early 19th centuries. They built a lot of forts, palaces, and tombs that still stand today, even though Muslims have been reduced to a minority in present-day India.

If you go, rent an audioguide — it will not only walk you through the various structures in the fort but also give you a good overview of the history.

The Red Fort, or Lal Qila, overlooks the Yamuna River. Its imposing red sandstone walls are enclosed by a moat (now dry). Once you make your way through the series of massive gates, you’ll see that the complex wasn’t just a fort, but also a palace.

(Lots of photos after the jump!)

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Convention Report: Fan Expo 2013

A model of an AT-AT from Star Wars. Photo by Louise Kiner.

A model of an AT-AT from Star Wars. Photo by Louise Kiner.

This weekend I took in my second Fan Expo — for those of you not in Toronto, think a smaller version of San Diego Comic-Con.

(If you’re still confused, there’s a primer here. Short version: it’s a convention for science fiction fans, with a lot of TV and film actors doing talks and signing autographs. And so much more than that — read on…)

I went only on Sunday, so I missed the biggest day (Saturday) but also got to skip the worst of the crowds, and there was still plenty to see.

(Warning: lots more photos behind the jump!)

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#WANAFriday: What Did You Love About Going Back to School?

I’m late for this week’s installment of #WANAFriday — forgive me! But I couldn’t pass up the current topic:

What was your favorite thing about going back to school?

Since I’m a writer, my answer will come as no surprise. I loved getting new school supplies. I had my favourite brand of lined paper. I was very picky about pens — they had to write just so, the smoother the better, although I made an exception for the pens that came with four colours in one (perfect for colour-coded Social Studies notes, you see). I loved just about any kind of highlighters and Post-It notes, even though I didn’t use them much.

Of course, this love has carried on. I’ve never gotten into high-end pens, like some writers, but I still have favourite pens. I’ve developed a definite preference for certain kinds of notebooks (while I drool over fancy bound diaries, the kind I prefer for story notes is a 9X7″ Mead brand — coil-bound, stiff cardboard back, thick lined paper that feels nice to write on). And in my day job I get to use Post-It notes all the time, which makes my inner 12-year-old very happy.

Be sure to check out what other #WANAFriday participants have to say about this week’s topic:

Dianna Bell

Kim Griffin

Liv Rancourt

Your turn! What was your favourite thing about going back to school?

Confessions of a Wannabe Writer

Guys, I have a confession to make.

I’ve been putting out inspirational posts like 10 Ways to Follow Your Passion Without Quitting Your Day Job and After the Vacation: A Conversation with the Inner Critic.

But the truth is, my baby writing career is stalled like you wouldn’t believe.

I get home from work and the last thing I want to do is write or edit…even though I’ve been dreaming all day about how productive I’ll be when I get home. So I chat with my family, putter around on the Internet, and maybe squeeze out half an hour some nights, an hour if I’m lucky. Too many nights I get nothing done at all. I’m not a morning person, so I don’t write before work, and lunch hours disappear awfully fast.

My priorities are all wrong. I spend more time blogging and working on Turtleduck Press stuff than I do writing or editing my own stories. More time reading blogs than reading novels. I think Chuck Wendig has something to say about that. (See what I mean about reading blogs?)

Now, it’s true that I’ve had a busy and distracting couple of years. I bought my first house, went through another major life event that was all-consuming for months, and planned and executed a massive trip.

But all those things are finished and I’ve been back at work for a month and a half now, long enough to have gotten over the hump and back into the groove. Except…I struggled with these same problems before all the distracting stuff happened. It’s no surprise that they’re back.

I’m tired of not writing. Of taking weeks to edit a chapter because I’m only devoting a handful of hours a week to the thing I want to do most in all the world. (Don’t I?) Of still not having even one edited, polished novel ready to go out on submission, or out on Amazon, or out into the world somehow.

I feel like a poser. A master of self-sabotage. A wannabe doomed to failure because I don’t want my dream enough to work for it.

I don’t have any answers.


Your turn! Am I the only one who feels this way?


If You Liked… Temeraire

Naomi Novik Blood of Tyrants coverAmazon can give you recommendations, but it can’t tell you why or zero in on specific aspects of a book. To do that, you need a human (for now, anyway). So here we go…

Last week saw the release of the latest book in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, Blood of Tyrants. (If you’re not familiar with Temeraire, here it is in a nutshell: Napoleonic Wars with dragons.) To celebrate, I’m devoting this “If you liked…” post to Naomi Novik.

If you liked…

  • The dragons. I will assume you’ve read Anne McCaffrey. (If not, get thee to a bookstore immediately and look for Dragonflight!) Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett does something a bit different — their dragons are clockwork, in an alternate Russia, bordering an alternate China. On my TBR list are Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton and Dragon’s Keep (YA) by Janet Lee Carey.
  • The Regency setting. Mairelon the Magician and Magician’s Ward by Patricia C. Wrede are fabulous. A teenaged street urchin meets a street magician who’s more than what he seems. Shenanigans ensue. (YA, but don’t let that stop you!) On my TBR list: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal.
  • The social graces (but not necessarily the Regency part). The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson is set in ancient Japan, a time and place as strongly bound by etiquette as Regency England. Melusine by Sarah Monette is a secondary-world story, but it’s still largely about court graces and politics. I believe Tooth and Claw qualifies here as well, along with Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner.
  • The ships. I’ve seen the Temeraire books described as owing much to the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian, but somehow I missed reading these…odd, given my childhood love of books about the sea and Arthur Ransome in particular. On to my TBR list they go….
  • The human-animal bond. Temeraire is highly intelligent, but he doesn’t think like a human. Still, the bond between him and Laurence is one of my favourite things about these books. For a bond where the animals are much more animal-like, I’ll put in another plug for A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette (yes, again) and Elizabeth Bear.

Your turn! What can you recommend for people who enjoyed Temeraire?

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy If You Liked… A Game of Thrones and If You Liked… Neil Gaiman.


WANA Friday: Reading

I’m combining two blog memes today.

First, there’s #WANAFriday, where a group of bloggers post on the same topic and share links to facilitate blog-hopping to read everyone’s takes on the subject. This week’s assignment is:

Take this first line from Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani and run with it: “This will be a good weekend for reading.”

Second, there’s WWW Wednesday, stolen from Erin Zarro (okay, it’s not Wednesday, but I’m stealing it anyway). The meme consists of three questions about what you’re reading. So here we go…

1) What book (s) are you reading right now?

I’m reading a fantasy novel called A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear. I’ll have to do a proper review later, but for now I’ll just say that this is, hands-down, the best novel I’ve read this year. In fact, I just finished it last week…but I loved it so much that I started over at the beginning. I’m halfway through the second read.

(Fun fact: The only other book I’ve done that with, at least in recent years, is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.)

2) What book (s) have you finished recently?

Besides A Companion to Wolves? *grins*

  • Airborn by Kenneth Oppel. YA steampunk adventure story featuring an airship cabin boy, a girl scientist, and air pirates. You might recognize the author — he’s better known for Silverwing.
  • Specials by Scott Westerfeld. The third book in Westerfeld’s Uglies series (YA SF), and a most satisfying installment. More about that here.
  • The Steel Seraglio by Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey. A multi-stranded, lyrically written fantasy story about a harem of women exiled to the desert.

3) What books will you be reading soon?

I’ve got about 30 books on my TBR shelf (well, two of them are ebooks), but here are a few of the most likely candidates for “next up”:

    • Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear (SF)
    • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (YA fantasy)
    • Cetaganda by Lois Mcmaster Bujold (SF — Vorkosigan Saga)
    • Mainspring by Jay Lake (steampunk)

(My shelf also has plenty of adult fantasy, but I like to mix it up, and since I’m reading fantasy right now, some other subgenre will get its turn next. Probably.)

Chances are pretty good you’ll hear about one or more of these on the blog.

Other WANA Friday participants this week:

Ellen Gregory

Kim Griffin

Janice Heck

ETA: Cora Ramos

Your turn! What are you reading?

Happy Friday, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Impressions of New Delhi

It’s a travel week here on the blog (travel posts go up on alternate Wednesdays, in case you haven’t noticed), and this week I’m going back to telling tales from the road.

The third country on our grand adventure was India. After whirlwind tours of Malaysia and Thailand, we were looking forward to getting to know this country better — we had a full six weeks there, which sounded like a long time (ha). Our loose plans included a mixture of touristic itineraries and visiting my travelling companion’s relatives.

Our initial impressions of India were fourfold.


These carts are ubiquitous in Delhi.

These carts are ubiquitous in Delhi.

We were picked up at the Delhi airport by a relative…and his driver. Having household help (driving, laundry, dishes) is common among the Indian middle class, but we never felt quite comfortable with the idea. It underscored the depth and breadth of poverty in the country.

In fact, poverty was our first impression. The grassy medians near the New Delhi airport had people using them as a park, a place to stroll or play ball or take a nap. A little later on, I realized that some people were actually living by the road — in cobbled-together hovels, in makeshift tents, or just on the bare sidewalk. At stoplights we were harassed by people selling trinkets, everything from balloons to hunks of fruit.

Old Delhi bazaar

Old Delhi bazaar

I had known that about India, had been prepared to see it, but actually experiencing it was still hard to take.

(I’ve mentioned before that I’m not comfortable snapping away at the poorest of the poor — after all, I’m not a journalist, just a tourist. So I don’t have pictures of the worst of it.)


Traffic in Delhi #1Our second impression was one of chaos. The roadsides were full of garbage and dirt. Buildings and fences were jumbled, unplanned, lacking in upkeep.

Driving was…well, loud, because everyone honked constantly. We eventually came to realize that there is some method it. You honk when you’re passing or when you want to pass. You honk when somebody ahead of you is in a slower vehicle. You honk when you’re driving past a pedestrian who’s trying to cross. You honk when somebody does something unexpected. You honk when there’s a traffic jam. And so on.

Traffic in Delhi #2

Lane markings are treated like suggestions — if you can squeeze in to create a third lane, why not? A lot of the traffic is motorcycles, motor scooters, auto-rickshaws (think golf carts), and cycle-rickshaws (bikes with a two-seater passenger cart on the back), all of which weave in and out with abandon. And there are almost no traffic lights, only roundabouts. Yet we saw very few accidents. We finally concluded that every vehicle is surrounded by an invisible bubble. Or, to put it another way, driving in India is a form of haggling.


A trio of friends with overloaded backpacks...look familiar?

A trio of friends with overloaded backpacks…look familiar?

Our third impression took a little longer to form. We visited a call centre that looked clean and modern, resembling a cubicle farm in any Western office tower rather than a sweatshop factory; the manager spoke good English and we found him surprisingly easy to talk to. Then we met our hosts’ adult daughter, an independent-minded woman who is married and has a daughter of her own, but who also works outside the home and drives her own scooter.

People like these are the face of urban, middle-class India…which is far from the only India, but it’s one that doesn’t get shown much in Western media. We hear about the discrimination, the poverty, the misogyny (more about that another time) — all at shocking levels to Western eyes — and those are all very much true. But they’re not the only truth.


The Rajpath, a grand boulevard built by the British, now used as a park and a place to stroll.

The Rajpath, a grand boulevard built by the British, now used as a park and a place to stroll.

For our initial shopping experience in India, we went to Palika Bazaar, a cramped, subterranean shopping mall jam-packed with tiny stores. There we got mobbed from all sides as the salesmen smelled green tourists and tried to wave their wares in our faces. My travelling partner practised his haggling skills and bought sunglasses (for way too many rupees) and a sweater (for what in Canada would be a pretty good deal). We emerged weary but wiser. +1 on the experience points!

But India is changing fast, and this was brought home when our host told his driver to take us to a “nice mall”. This turned out to mean a shiny new Western-style mall, full of upscale chains like Guess. Not quite the shopping experience we had in mind! We could have been anywhere in North America.

The only jarring bit was the security checkpoint, thanks to bombings of malls in the past. Nobody was allowed in without going through a scanner, being patted down (always separated by gender — a conservative touch, but a nice one), and having their bags poked through. This was an odd experience, and one we never really got used to.

Delhi redux

In the end, our strongest impression was one of contrasts. Delhi is a city of wearying sales pressures — it sees a lot of fresh tourists and isn’t shy about taking advantage of them. But it’s also a vibrant city, full of life and colour, a vivid feast for the senses in a way that quiet Canadian cities just aren’t. And the poverty and chaos exist side by side with the modernity — from the cutthroat bargaining in Palika Bazaar to brand-name clothing stores and Western-style coffee chains in Connaught Place just a few steps away.

Your turn! What are your impressions of India?


Pacific Rim Analysis: Is Mako a Strong Female Character?

I finally saw Pacific Rim this week. It made me think All The Thoughts, plenty of which were about women. So…let’s talk about strong women and the role of Mako Mori, Raleigh’s co-pilot.

Mako Mori official poster

(This post is not a review, but here’s a capsule review of Pacific Rim for you: Unexpectedly nice balance of giant robots fighting giant aliens with some great character development. Just…bring earplugs, because this movie is LOUD. And all those sparks during the fight scenes are rather blinding, too.)

Hollywood blockbusters are not known for their strong female characters. Women are usually relegated to eye candy (Transformers) or sexy scientists (Star Trek Into Darkness) or mothers (World War Z) or damsels in distress (Spider-Man (2002) — Mary Jane is an independent woman with her own ideas, but at the climax she’s still dangling from a bridge screaming). The bar to surpass these roles is not set very high.

So when I saw Mako participating in the plot and being treated like a person rather than a woman, I got excited. But her role is still problematic. Let’s look at why…

Mako as a Strong Woman: Pros

1. She’s desexualized. Her outfits don’t scream sexy, and she never has to disrobe for thinly disguised male gaze reasons (ahem, JJ Abrams). The sexiest moment is the bit with the umbrella when she’s first introduced.

2. The other characters treat her like an equal. She’s a member of the army and, eventually, a Jaeger pilot, and that’s how she’s treated (except by Marshall Pentecost, but that’s a parent-child dynamic, not a man-woman imbalance). The only person who puts her down for being a woman — Chuck Hansen — clearly needs (and gets) a comeuppance.

3. She can kick ass. She fights Raleigh to a standstill…and again, her outfit and the camera work don’t emphasize her sexy female body while she’s doing it. And then, of course, she goes and kicks Kaiju ass too.

4. She’s a central character with her own arc and her own choices. Granted, the film fails the Bechdel test, but at least the romance is de-emphasized (they don’t even kiss! Hurrah!) and her arc isn’t all about a man, it’s about her.

5. All she’s ever wanted is to be a pilot. Her hero is the first Jaeger pilot she ever saw — a man — and she dreams of following in his footsteps. And the movie thinks she can, too. None of the characters, even Chuck Hansen, ever says she can’t do the job because she’s a girl.

Pacific Rim official posterMako as a Strong Woman: Cons

1. She has an emotional breakdown. If anyone gets lost in memories and unable to escape, it should be Raleigh, who was so traumatized by his brother’s death that he quit the program and had to be bullied back into it. But no, it’s the girl who gets, ahem, hysterical.

2. She gets rescued…several times. Raleigh rescues her from her memories, beats up the misogynist pilot for her (even though she could clearly defend herself), and ejects her from their shared Jaeger before their final mission is over (after others have died at their posts to get them into the portal).

3. Her commander (and surrogate father, and hero) doesn’t think she can handle the job…and he’s right. She wants to prove herself. He thinks that not only is she not ready yet, she never will be. She proves him wrong on the latter…by becoming less like the emotional little girl she was and more like a man. (That’s a point that deserves its own blog post. Stay tuned…)

Your turn! Do you think Mako is a strong female character?

Here’s what other bloggers had to say about Pacific Rim:

If you liked this post, you might also like my earlier posts Women in SF and Fantasy: Book Recommendations and Women in A Game of Thrones.

After the Vacation: A Conversation with the Inner Critic

Best of Turtleduck Press, Vol. 1Quick announcement: This week I’m over at Turtleduck Press talking about our new anthology and how far we’ve come in the three (!) years since we started.

This is my fifth week back at work after taking a six-month sabbatical. The feeling of my time off is fading quickly in my memory, and in its place is the Inner Critic. You know, the voice that goes “I had all that time off work! Why didn’t I write three novels AND decorate the entire house and garden AND run all those errands I keep putting off?”

(I’m reasonably good at shutting up the Inner Critic’s comments on my actual writing ability, thanks to NaNoWriMo. Most of the time, anyway. But that’s a post for another time.)

There are two sides to this problem. (1) My Inner Critic is really good at telling me how I “should” be doing more than I am, while ignoring the actual amount of time and energy at my disposal. (2) I am, in fact, really good at spending a lot of time at home doing nothing (but less time than my Inner Critic thinks).

So here are some of the things I did, in fact, do during my time off:

1. Spent almost 4 months travelling.

Roadtrip! The Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta.

Roadtrip! Coming up on the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta.

I spent 12 weeks in Asia and 3 weeks in Western Canada. During that time I wasn’t writing, except for irregular blog posts, because I was, y’know, busy. I did initially have dreams of travelling and writing lots of fiction at the same time but…well, see above comments about the Inner Critic. Not going to happen.

The Asia trip was planned long in advance, but the Western Canada trip was relatively last-minute; a family member was hitting a life milestone and I realized that hey, I wasn’t working, I could actually make it out to celebrate with her. Bonus: spending more time with my family than I’ve spent since I moved to Toronto in 2005. Am I going to beat myself up for that? No!

2. Edited novels.

Besides the travelling, my main goal for those six months was to further my writing career. No, I didn’t edit a whole novel like I was hoping (before I knew I’d be spending three weeks out west). But I did start a major content edit of one of my novels, got several chapters in, and didn’t run away screaming, which is more than I’ve ever managed before.

(If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t published any novels yet, through Turtleduck Press or otherwise, this is why. I have a ways to go yet before I’m ready for major publication! Short stories, though…you can see the ever-growing list over here.)

I also copy edited someone else’s novel in my capacity as editor for Turtleduck Press, wrote two parts of a serial short story for the Turtleduck Press website, and branched out into travel blogging. That’s not nothing.

3. Started a garden.

Baby tomatoes in our garden

Baby tomatoes in our garden

My significant other and I really wanted to grow vegetables in our new backyard. But we had only the vaguest idea of how to do it. We’re still very much beginners, but going from (figurative) preschool to Grade 1 took a lot of research and a lot of (literal) digging. (More about this in a future post!)

I took the lead since I wasn’t working and he was. We put some things in the ground, then I went out west for three weeks, and when I came back I had more planting to do and three weeks’ worth of weeds to get under control, all without knowing what I was doing (so everything took longer). That’s not trivial!

Of course, this project meant that my time, attention, and energy were divided. So even when I wasn’t travelling to far-flung locations, I wasn’t purely focused on art. But it made my physical world better and gave me some exercise to boot.

4. Relaxed.

Remember when you were in school and you had two months off every summer? And four months off during university (during which you were probably working, but at least that’s something different than studying, so it gives your brain a break)? I really, really miss that. I’ve been out of university for over a decade and I still miss it.

I’m thinking this is probably related to my being an introvert and someone who is easily over-stimulated (sometimes called a Highly Sensitive Person). I need a lot of down-time and peace and quiet. This year, I finally got it.

And hey, while I was  relaxing, I didn’t just stare into space. I read a lot (partly to make up for not reading much while I was on the road, but I came out ahead). I knitted. I bought garden implements. I tried to sort the many, many photos I took while travelling and write down some of the experiences I had. I got enough sleep for a change. And so on.

So STFU, Inner Critic. I needed that time, and I made good use of it.

And even now that I’m back at work full-time, my life as a writer isn’t over.


Your turn! Do you have an Inner Critic? How do you shut it up?