Monthly Archives: September 2013

Nominated for the Liebster Award

I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award! This is a blog award that’s been around for quite a while, so there are different versions of the rules floating around the blogosphere. I’ll follow the ones given by the blogger who nominated me — My Luggage is Elsewhere, a fascinating travel blog by a young woman from Bosnia.

Liebster Award

The Rules for the Liebster Award are simple:

1. Each nominee must link back the person who nominated them.

2. Answer the 10 questions which are given to you by the nominator.

3. Nominate 10 other bloggers for this award who have less than 400 followers.

4. Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer.

5. Let the nominees know that they have been nominated by going to their blog and notifying them.

And here are the 10 questions posed by My Luggage is Elsewhere, with my answers:

1. If you could have one special power, what would it be?

I’ve always wanted to be able to fly.

2. At what age of your life will you consider yourself “old?”

That’s a moving target! Ten years ago I thought 30 was getting up there and 40 was ancient. Right now I’d say 60, but I’m sure my answer will be different as that number approaches….

3. Hard copy of a book or electronic edition? Why?

Both! I will happily consume books in any form. I can’t imagine giving up my shelves of dead tree books, but I love my Kobo ereader too. When I choose an ebook over a paper book, I tend to do it for one of several reasons.

4. What is the most amazing place you have ever been to?

The Taj Mahal. A bit cliché, I know, it’s a major tourist attraction…but sometimes there’s a reason for that. We went at dawn, and it was so beautiful I could barely speak. Proper post, with photos, coming soon….

5. Do you blog more for yourself or for others to read?

I created this blog as an author platform, so even though I love writing the posts, I’d have to say I blog for others. Still looking for the best intersection between what I’m interested in writing about and what others are interested in reading, though!

6. Sunday – a pajamas day, or a day out?

Pajamas, all the way. I’m usually out on Saturdays, so Sunday is my day to sleep in and lounge about.

7. What is your biggest talent?

Writing, I hope.

8. What is one thing without which you never go out?

A book. Heaven forbid I should be caught on public transit without one.

9. Country or a city life?

City. I crave nature, so I try to get out of the city several times a year, but I don’t think I could live without all the amenities of a big city — restaurants, public transit, movie theatres, and so on.

10. What’s one of the strangest things you have ever done?

I broke my arm while roller-skating with my eyes closed. Don’t ask….

Rule 3 for the Liebster Award is to nominate 10 other bloggers who have fewer than 400 followers. Sadly, most of the bloggers I know have already done the Liebster Award, since it’s been around for so long. I’m going to nominate a few who I don’t think have, and if you’d like to join in, let me know in the comments and I’ll add you!

1. Erin Zarro

2. KD Sarge

3. Kit Campbell

And my questions for the nominees are:

1. Star Wars or Star Trek?

2. What’s your favourite item of clothing? Why?

3. What do you like best about blogging?

4. If you could live in another country, which one would it be?

5. Tea or coffee?

6. Oceans or mountains?

7. What are you reading right now?

8. Tell us a memory from when you were a kid.

9. Who’s your favourite superhero (or supervillain)?

10. Vampires, werewolves, or zombies?

Go to it, nominees, and have fun!

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Book Release: Black Wine by Candas Jane Dorsey

Black Wine by Candas Jane DorseyI’m signal-boosting today, with whatever power this blog has.

I’d like to draw your attention to a book I once loved: Black Wine by Canadian author Candas Jane Dorsey.  It’s speculative fiction, not easily categorized as either fantasy or SF. I read it in university, and I remember it being a literary novel, a rather difficult read both on the level of narrative and for its sometimes brutal imagery. But I persevered, and was rewarded by beauty. The author is also a poet, and it shows.

(Full disclosure: I know Candas from way back. I used to volunteer for her back when she ran The Books Collective — a variety of imprints that included the venerable Tesseract Books, now part of Canadian publisher Edge Press — and I count her among my writing mentors.)

But it’s been a long time since I’ve read it, so I’m turning to others to fill in the gaps of my memory. Cheryl Morgan, Hugo Award-winning SF critic, blogger, and publisher, has this to say about it:

Black Wine, by Candas Jane Dorsey, follows the lives of three women in three very different societies. It is clear from the start they have some connection and are therefore probably in different parts of the same world. Slowly but surely, we see how their lives are intertwined, and they unravel the secrets of their past.

The world that Dorsey has created is very interesting, being just on the cusp of becoming technological. On the one hand there are castles and taverns that make the place seem almost mediaeval. On the other there are airships which bespeak a certain level of engineering sophistication. Best of all, as the book proceeds, Dorsey uses increased evidence of technology as a signal that time is passing and that the societies she describes are evolving.

Read the rest at SF Mistressworks.

And Jo Walton, author of last year’s multi-award-winning Among Others, says this:

It’s fantasy, but it might just as well be science fiction. There are some small insignificant magic gifts. There are some prophetic cards which seem to work. It’s another planet, anyway, a whole planet with as many cultures and climate zones as you’d expect, and a moon that rotates. There’s some technology, airships, medical imaging, but it’s unevenly distributed. There doesn’t seem to have been an industrial revolution, most of what you see is handmade. They know about genes, but children are as often conceived between two same-sex partners as two opposite sex ones. Against this world we have a story of travel towards and away from, of  mothers and daughters, quest and escape, horizons and enclosures.

It’s beautifully written at all levels. The language is precise  yet lapidary—literally. The words are like stones, sometimes sharp and sometimes jewel-bright, and all of them essentially placed in the structure of the novel.

Read the rest at Tor.com

As you can see, it’s not for everyone; it requires a reader who enjoys working for meaning. But don’t let that scare you off. If you’re a fan of China Miéville or other literary-leaning speculative fiction writers, you’ll probably like this.

Black Wine won Canada’s top speculative fiction prize, the Prix Aurora Award, for best novel in English, as well as the Tiptree Award for best novel about gender, and the Crawford Award for best first fantasy novel.

It was out of print for some time. But it’s just been re-released, in paperback and ebook, by the Canadian press Five Rivers Publishing. If it sounds like your cup of tea, you can also buy the new edition on Amazon.

WANA Friday: Your Favourite Word

Yes, yes, I know it’s Saturday, moving on…

This week’s #WANAFriday topic is:

Share your favourite (or merely an interesting) WORD — what does it mean for you?

My favourite word is Serendipity.

FreeDictionary.com defines it thus:

1. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.
2. The fact or occurrence of such discoveries.
3. An instance of making such a discovery.

Or in plainer language, a happy accident. Wikipedia says the word was coined by Horace Walpole, whose definition included the idea that one must be wise enough to recognize and make use of this “fortunate discovery” — think of all the scientific breakthroughs that were made by accident. (For values of “by accident” that include lots of hard work beforehand and rigorous experiments, of course.)

So why is this word my favourite? Partly because of the definition. Partly because it’s just so much fun to say (hello, I’m a writer).

Serendipity logo

And partly because of these books, featuring a pink dragon named Serendipity and similar whimsical creatures. Yeah, why are you not surprised that books would come into the, er, story somewhere? Though I think even back then, I liked the word better than the actual book.

(There was also a romantic comedy called Serendipity, which was cute but rather forgettable.)

Other #WANAFriday Participants

Di Bell digs deep and finds some wonderful lost words

Ellen Gregory shares some animal-love

Julie Farrar uses her word as a jumping-off point

Kim Griffin goes nostalgic (hey, Kim, I remember your word!)

 

Your turn! What’s your favourite word?

 

Guide to Train Travel in India

It’s time for another installment of Adventures in Asia. I’m mixing personal travel tales with how-tos, and this week is the latter…

Earlier this year, I spent six weeks travelling through India, much of it by train. Like India in general, the trains were an intense experience, chaotic, busy, sometimes dirty…but I wouldn’t have missed them for the world.

Here’s how to get the most out of travelling by train in India.

1. Decide whether trains are practical for your travel needs.

Pros: trains in India are extremely cheap (all of $10 for a six-hour trip in a decent class), they’re a great way to experience the country while not being insulated from it, they beat buses hands down, and they’re memorable.

Cons: they’re not the most comfortable by Western standards (more about this later), delays can be extensive, and you have to plan ahead.

The best parts of India to see by train are those where you can do 6- or 8-hour hops. That’s why the northern state of Rajasthan is so popular: it boasts a string of cities, most an easy day’s ride apart. If you don’t have time to tour Rajasthan, even more popular is the Golden Triangle: New Delhi–Agra (home of the Taj Mahal)–Jaipur (one of the major cities in Rajasthan)–and back to Delhi.

Certain parts of the country don’t have trains at all — any of the Himalayan states, for example — and in a lot of other cases, the trips required are extremely long. Faced with a 30-hour train ride, for example, you might decide to splash out for a plane ticket instead, or even hire a car. (In India, when you rent a car you also get a driver — which is not prohibitively expensive unless you’re really on a budget.)

2. Book your tickets online ahead of time.

Indian train tickets can be booked through Cleartrip, but if you don’t have an Indian mobile (cell phone) number, you’ll need to contact customer service to get an activation code.

The train system has a confusing number of different classes and trains (read all about them at IndiaMike — a wealth of information). The better ones fill up fast, so book as early as you can — best is to do it at least several weeks ahead. We did manage to get some last-minute seats, but they weren’t on the fastest trains or the best classes.

If you don’t book online, you’ll have to go to the station. New Delhi Railway Station is memorable, but not an experience I’d like to repeat. That’s because…

3. Expect chaos.

Big stations are incredibly busy and chaotic, full of people wanting to carry your luggage (for a fee) or take you to your hotel via rickshaw (for a fee) or begging. They’ll be especially eager if you look like a new tourist, or if you’re at a big tourist destination like one of the Golden Triangle cities. And you have to watch out for pickpockets, and not trust people who offer directions, because they may be part of a scam.

Even boarding and finding your seat can be tricky. When you get to the right platform, you’ll have to watch for electronic signs that will tell you where on the platform to wait for your train car (check your ticket). If you get on the wrong one, you’ll have to haul your luggage up and down the train, asking other passengers which car you’re in, receiving conflicting advice and trying to get a consensus. When you find your seat, there might be someone in it who will insist you’re in the wrong car.

There will be no staff to help; other passengers may be eager to help, but they may also have their information wrong.

Even after we had a handful of train trips under our belt, we still found the station navigation and boarding process to be exhausting and confusing.

4. Persist and learn the patterns.

Despite what I said in #3, it is quite possible to enjoy train travel in India — even if, like us, you’re not the most confident of travellers. Most of the stations where you’ll be getting on or off have electronic signs and announcements in English (smaller ones won’t, but unless you’re well off the beaten track, you shouldn’t have to worry). The complex system of classes starts to make more sense (tip: AC2 and Chair Car are the best; AC3 is also fine). You’ll get used to the layout of the cars. Even running the gauntlet of would-be rickshaw drivers gets easier — by the time we returned to Delhi, we’d mastered the art of ignoring touts so completely that we weren’t hassled for rides at all, even though my light hair attracted plenty of attention throughout India.

5. The level of comfort won’t be what you’re used to.

I mentioned that trains aren’t very comfortable by Western standards. In the classes you’re most likely to travel in, AC2 and AC3, you’re sitting on benches (reasonably well padded) facing other travellers, so there’s not much privacy, and the windows may be tinted so you won’t have a good view. (At night the benches convert into tiered bunks. In AC2, each compartment can be curtained off and the lighting dimmed individually. We managed to avoid any overnight trips, though, so I can’t be any more helpful there.)

If you’re travelling alone or at night, you’ll want to bring a sturdy lock to lock your bag up for security (there’s a ring for that purpose under each bench). The cars aren’t all that clean, particularly the bathrooms. Most of the time you’ll find each car equipped with three squat toilets and one Western-style toilet — usually with no toilet paper, so bring your own (and hand sanitizer!).

6. Make a conscious choice to relax and enjoy the experience.

Despite #5, if you have the ability to take such things in stride, trains are a wonderful way to see the country and meet locals. India hosts a lot of tourists, but almost everywhere you’ll be seriously outnumbered; I’ve been the only white person in a car many times.

AC2, AC3, and Chair Class are how the Indian middle class travels, so your seatmates will tend to be businessmen or students or families. I’ve chatted with a young woman travelling with her mother-in-law and her small son, showed off the sock I was knitting to a cadre of women, and asked lots of people whether we were coming up to our stop yet.

(And no, you don’t need much language in common to share moments like these. It helps if you learn the local pronunciation for places and a few key words, though many people will have a little English.)

And then there’s the cultural flavour. Periodically, someone will come by selling chai (tea) with a long drawn-out shout of “Chaaai!” that recalls a train whistle, or paani (water) with a low, growly “paani-water-paani-water-paani-water”, or bags of chips in strange and wonderful flavours. In Chair Car class, food and chai are provided free, but I learned the hard way not to partake. If in any doubt, bring your own.

Have you travelled by train in India? Any tips to share?

If you liked this post, you might also like other posts in my travel series, Adventures in Asia.

Your Turn: Favourite Summer Movie

Hi, all! I’m back from my blog hiatus (and vacation) and, as usual, scrambling to catch up with real life. So today I’m turning the blog over to you, my faithful readers. My question:

What was your favourite movie this summer?

I’m thinking blockbusters, but if you saw something else in theatres that you really loved (quiet little drama? foreign film?), do tell.

Mine? A toss-up between Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim, despite things I found problematic about both (click through to read my reviews).

Have at it, and I’ll see you back here with some real content on Wednesday!

Guest Post by Erin Zarro: Opening a New Window

Erin Zarro author photoThis week I’m on a blog hiatus, so my fellow Turtleduck Press author, dark SFF and horror writer Erin Zarro, is here to fill in. Please give her a warm welcome!

They say that when a door closes, a window opens.  And that has never been more true than it is right now.  Long story short: in February (8 months ago to the day), I began having severe, excruciating pain in my left eye.  I was checked out, poked, prodded, and tortured by 3 MRIs (hello, claustrophobia!) and as of right now, no one can conclusively say what precisely it is.  The closest thing is optic neuritis, a painful inflammation of the optic nerve.

I’m not a wimp about pain of any kind, and I usually write through everything (including migraines and recovery from surgeries), so that was my first instinct.  Problem was, I had severe vertigo that made it impossible to stay focused on the screen.  After that went away, it was just too painful to work on the computer.  (I do have a day job, and I *have* to look at a computer screen most of my day).  Soooo I took three months off writing, and that nearly drove me insane and made me wish I were dead.  Not writing was like not breathing to me.

At some point, I determined that maybe I *could* do a little bit of writing, just not the novel revision I’d planned to do.  (Revision is tough, even under the best of circumstances).  So I thought, hey, I’ll just write 100 words a day.  When it’s flowing, and I can bear the pain, I’ll roll with it.  But surely I can crank out at least 100 words, right?

So I did.  And it felt amazing.  It was like coming home after a long time away.  It was sunshine and autumn leaves and Christmas all at once.  It was just what I needed.  But something was missing.

I’d done this for about a month or so when I discovered Holly Lisle’s How to Write Flash Fiction that Doesn’t Suck class (yes, that’s the actual name).  It was free and short-term, just 3 weeks.  I’ve always been curious about flash fiction, but never considered it because I’m a novel writer, and I write long.  How could I write a story that feels like writing haiku? I figured I’d give it a whirl.  Worst case, I suck and no harm done.  Best case, I learn something new and can use it in the future to write flash fiction.

So I signed up and waited for lesson 1 with trepidation.

Long story short: Holly Lisle is a genius.  Seriously.  She has an actual methodology for determining what to write about, what to throw at the character (s), and how to end it, usually with some type of twist.  It was broken down so easily and went so smoothly that it felt like a dream.  But most importantly, I really, really enjoyed it.  And writing 500 words in the span of 2 or 3 days was just enough to get me back to writing with purpose.  It felt amazing, and I discovered that I’m actually pretty good at those twist endings.

There was also a board set up where students can talk, mingle, and critique each other.  I met some wonderful people, and learned a lot from the critiques. My stories are so much better for it.

One of the things Holly talks about is self-publishing, and getting people to start the process — just dipping their toes in, starting small, nothing too intimidating.  And she suggested we take the flash stories we wrote in class (I wrote 7) and put them into an anthology.  I decided to put mine up for 99 cents as a gateway into my writing.  I figured no one will turn down 99 cents.  But hopefully they will enjoy it, and maybe I’ll get some sales of my other stuff, too.

Cover of In Flames by Erin ZarroIt took me about a month to get my anthology, In Flames, put together and up at Smashwords.  It was a learning experience.  I’m very happy with it, and I did everything myself, even the cover!  I feel good.  I feel like the months I spent not revising were put to good use.  But even more importantly, it kept my hand in it even when I wasn’t feeling up to anything intricate.  It saved my sanity, too.

So, if you’re curious, you can download In Flames at Smashwords at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/349458.

I’m still in pain, but I’m back to writing fully again.  I still don’t have a diagnosis, either, but that really doesn’t matter.  I was able to come back to writing, opening a window I never knew existed.  And that’s enough for now.

The Epic Battle of Sugar Cravings vs. Vegetable Smoothies

This week I’m over at Turtleduck Press talking about vegetables:

My household has had a steady (but not overwhelming) supply of zucchini for the last month. Zucchini grow fast, did you know? We picked the first one a month earlier than we were expecting after last year’s tomato crop. And we could have picked it even earlier, only we didn’t notice it. They’re good at hiding. By the time we realized we had one, it was thicker than a baseball bat. Whoops!

Partly as a result of our vegetable garden, my household has been drinking a lot of smoothies lately, full of varying and tasty combinations of greens, celery, apples, ginger, and fruit. I haven’t noticed any Popeye tendencies yet, though. I admit I was hoping for a magic food that would give me 100% more energy, 150% better digestion, 98% fewer mood swings…and, I can’t deny, 33% less tummy pudge. But maybe green smoothies can only do so much against a desk-bound lifestyle.

I go through phases. I find that when my mood is lower, I crave sugar; but conversely, drinking (or eating) less sugar doesn’t seem to have an effect on my mood. Sometimes I drink more lattes, sometimes more soda pop, sometimes hot chocolate. When I wasn’t working, I drank sweet chai (Indian-style tea) because someone in my family makes a fantastic chai. For a while I bought red wine regularly and tried to become a connoisseur; now I’ve given up and only have alcohol at restaurants.

These days most of my fancy drink needs, and some of my dessert needs, are being met by smoothies. I drink regular coffee and the occasional cappuccino or pop, and that’s pretty much it.

But winter is coming (I’m a Stark at heart) and I know what happens then. I get cold and want warm, sweet drinks. And my NaNoWriMo drink of choice is mildly caffeinated root beer. We won’t even get into NaNo snacks.

So…

Your turn! How do you combat cravings and stay healthy? How much does varying your diet affect your mood?