Monthly Archives: May 2017

Exploring Jaisalmer and the Thar Desert, Part 2

It’s travel blog time! I left off relating my travels in India by talking about Jaisalmer, the Golden City. (Several cities in the state of Rajasthan are named by colour: Jaipur is the Pink City, Jodhpur is the Blue City, and Udaipur is the White City.)

Tourists come to Jaisalmer for two main reasons: to see the beautiful sandstone fort (covered in Part 1), and to use the city as a jumping-off point for camel treks in the Thar Desert.

Camels, Thar Desert, near Jaisalmer

The Prep

It’s possible to do long multi-day camel treks, or ones that last just a few hours. My travel companion and I decided to go for the in-between option: trekking a few hours, sleeping in the desert under the stars, and trekking back the next day.

IMG_1507We researched trekking companies online and with the help of our guidebook (The Rough Guide to India). What our research didn’t tell us was that at least some of the companies use child labour. On our trek, run by a company incongruously named Sahara Travels, a couple of preteen boys helped the adult guides with the cooking and taking care of the camels. Were they learning useful skills? Were they helping to support their families? Was it still uncomfortable? Yes, yes, and yes. Unfortunately, we didn’t know until it was too late.

Camel Trekking

Our trek started with a drive, by jeep, to an abandoned village. We never did get the full story, but it was chock-full of beautiful architecture…

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Your intrepid correspondent

Then we were introduced to our camels. A word of warning: camels are really, really tall. You get on them when they’re lying down, and then they stand up with an awkward lurch (they don’t seem very well put together, somehow) and you think you’re going to fall off. They’re also very bumpy when they walk. (Later in our India trip, I had the chance to try an elephant ride. Also very tall, but a completely different motion.) Having horseback-riding experience might have helped. As it was, I clung on tight the whole way.

Word to the wise: put on your sunscreen before you get on the camel! And you will absolutely need sunscreen. That desert sun is fierce! I also wore a wide-brimmed hat, a scarf to cover my neck (the hat alone didn’t do it because the sun’s rays bounced up off the sand), long sleeves and pants, and closed-toe shoes.

Camping in the Desert

After a few hours, our guides started looking for a spot to camp. Things to know:

  • Tourists want sand dunes.
  • The dunes where we were trekking weren’t actually that extensive–much of the desert in that area was just dried-out soil and scrubby bushes (see top photo).
  • There was a wind-power farm nearby.
  • We were not the only group of trekkers looking for a campsite.

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Hilarity ensued as the various tour guides tried to find camping spots out of sight of one another (and the windmills) so their respective groups could each have that “alone in the desert overnight” feeling.

This was managed eventually. Our overnight group consisted of a retired British couple and a younger group of Brazilians. We chatted over dinner (served by the two preteens), a simple meal of dal (lentil soup) and naan (flatbread) and hot chai (tea). The British guy boasted that he had fallen off his camel, but hadn’t hurt himself because he went limp as he fell. This was not very reassuring.

Sunset came. As you might imagine, the stars were spectacular. SO MANY STARS.

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Unfortunately, as night fell, so did the temperature. Note to the wise: bring layers! Our bed was simply layers of blankets on the sand (we slept in our clothes), and let me tell you, that was not enough. I did not sleep well at all. But I did see lots of stars throughout the night.

(Side note: the bathroom was simply a designated spot behind some bushes. I brought a Shewee, which helped.)

In the morning we woke early, walked about to try and get warm, and congratulated ourselves on sleeping overnight in the desert. I’ll always remember the beauty of the early-morning sunlight on the dunes.

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Then we had a simple breakfast of boiled eggs and toast and some very welcome chai, and got back on the camels. It wasn’t any easier than the day before, and we were just a tad sore by then. Nothing much to report from the return journey, except that I’ve never been so glad to see a jeep.

Also, we had sand everywhere. Thank goodness for hot showers.

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On Day 2, I did manage to let go of the saddle long enough to take a picture from the back of my camel!

Conclusion: my travel companion and I agree that we are not really cut out for this sort of adventure, but we’re both glad for the experience!

Desert Packing List

  • large water bottle
  • sunscreen
  • sunglasses
  • hat, the larger the better
  • scarf for keeping off the sun during the day and for the cold overnight (I used a locally bought pashmina)
  • long sleeves / long pants–the best outfit is either a simple cotton salwar kameez aka “Punjabi suit” (tunic and loose pants) or lightweight quick-dry Western clothing from a travel/outdoor outfitter
  • fleecie or sweater for nighttime
  • camera
  • flashlight
  • SheWee for the female-bodied among you

Have you been on a desert trek? Any tips to share?

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The Evolution of a Series by Erin Zarro

Ever Touched final cover 3-30-17This week I’m featuring a guest post by fellow Turtleduck Press author Erin Zarro. Erin is celebrating the release of Ever Touched, the third book in her series of…futuristic paranormal romance? urban science fiction? Here she is to tell you about how she got this far…

So, when I first set out to write the first book of my Fey Touched series, Fey Touched, I was feeling pretty good. It was to be an experiment in self-publishing. But as I wrote the book, it sort of took over my life.

But in a good way, of course. 😉

You see, Fey Touched was technically a rewrite of a previous novel I’d written in 2003, except I changed a lot of the worldbuilding and preternatural creatures. They were originally vampires. Then I changed them to Fey (the creatures of myth). Then one day at work it hit me SO HARD. Why not write about creatures based in science? And everything fell into place then: the Fey Clans, the Breeding Queens, the Fey Touched. The inciting incident, and what followed.

The book almost wrote itself. I saw the things happen, and wrote the story accordingly. In fact, I was superstitious about plotting, thinking it would wreck the spell I was under. Until the last ten percent, when I got stuck on how exactly to end it.

It was an exciting time. And Fey Touched was the fastest book I ever wrote and published at just nine months (when a book for me takes from first draft to publication an average of two years).

And it sold moderately well, which spurred me on.

So then came Grave Touched, which was a bit of a departure. There were science-y things in it, but it leaned more toward paranormal with ghosts. This is where things kind of went off the rails. I’d been experiencing excruciating eye and face pain (which I learned later was trigeminal neuralgia*) and I’d just started revising Grave Touched‘s first draft. And I found I could not do it. The pain was excruciating (I would not get a diagnosis for almost three years). In despair, I broke down and told my fellow Turtleduckers that I couldn’t make my deadline. I hated doing it, but I just wasn’t able to turn in my best work with pain and stress screwing with my mind.

So plans were made to fill the hole, and I was given a new deadline, a year into the future.

Except…I had to quit writing for three months. I feared it would be forever. But it wasn’t, and when I returned to it (out of necessity – I was quite literally losing my mind), things were tough. I had to work myself back up to the higher wordcounts I’d once written in order to make my deadline. It was rough going because I was still in pain, but I managed to make it – and Grave Touched was rejected by my editor. [Siri’s note: Full disclosure: that was me.] It wasn’t my best work, and deep down, I knew it. I was given the opportunity to rewrite it and resubmit it, which I took.

My muse was not on board this time, and it took months of incremental progress to get going, but once I hit my stride, I was all right. I was still having pain, and very little relief, but I worked on it because there was nothing else I could do. This book had to be done and it had to published, come hell or high water. I believed in the story, and I was not about to blow another deadline. My editor had given me a list of things to consider as I rewrote, and I used it as my guide.

I turned it in, and it was accepted.

That book was probably the hardest I’d ever written, so when it was released on 5/1/15, I was elated. I’d managed to do the thing I didn’t think I could do – write to a deadline and publish with severe eye and face pain. Whoa.

And finally, we come to my current release, Ever Touched. I’d just gotten my diagnosis and was on medication so things were better, but not perfect. Ever Touched was a bit of a departure again – but this time, new beings in the Fey Touched world. It came as a tiny whisper as I closed up after work one day, “Old but new. First Fey. Holographic wings.” And with that, the Ascended were born! (And there is another new race of people as well, but I won’t spoil it.)

Ever Touched wasn’t plotted much – very loosely, and I liked it that way. Throughout the process, I wondered if I’d pushed things too far, or maybe, hell, it sucked. The whole thing with GT had shattered my confidence some, so there was always the question of whether or not I could do it again. I believed in myself, and my fellow Turtleduckers believed in me, but there was always that little voice inside that said, “Maybe it really does suck, and everyone’s afraid to tell you.” Which made no sense, because my editor, Siri, the one who’d rejected GT, would indeed give it to me straight. And the others would, too. We’re about quality and we’re professionals and we’d be fine. But I wondered.

When I turned EvT in on December 1st, it was with trepidation. This would be it. Was EvT worthy of publication? I was also trying to avoid another three-year gap between books. Marketing-wise, it was suicide. Thankfully, it was accepted, and I was shocked to discover that it didn’t need many rewrites at all (thank you, Kit!) and was pretty sound as is.

This blew my mind. I’d expected some rewrites. But for it to be pretty clean…this was amazing (and a first. I have always had to rewrite books. Always).

Ever Touched may or may not be the final book in the series. I wrote it so it could be either, because I couldn’t decide at the time. But for me it feels like coming full circle. I started out all excited to be experimenting, was hit with serious health adversity, almost gave up writing altogether, and now have emerged triumphant and better than ever. In the book, there is also a big triumph over a cruel, horrible enemy. And I wonder if this enemy was a symbol for the trigeminal neuralgia – that the Fey Touched’s victory over him is a parallel to my victory over the TN. It certainly feels that way at times. On the whole, writing this series has had its ups and downs and tears and frustrations, but it has also been one of my greatest joys. I always tell people that I am not doing this for the money (and really? I haven’t sold much more than the average indie) but because I simply love it.

This book also has a special place in my heart because the two main characters, Brianna and Cobra, are two of my favorites. It took me three books to discover both their secrets, and I’ll be honest, I got a bit teary writing some of their scenes (especially one in particular). I discovered their theme song, “The Sound of Silence” (as covered by Disturbed) after writing three-quarters of the book. I was writing a certain scene while the song was playing, and it was so perfect that I was stunned. (You’ll understand when you read it).

Ever Touched is a book I am proud of. It took a lot of guts to do what I did in it, and to stretch the science in the way that I did, but I am glad I did it and didn’t give up till I found some cool stuff to work with. That’s all my muse, and my love of science, which is what started me on this back in 2011. Why not combine science and fantasy and see what develops? I’m so glad I took a chance on this series.

I can’t tell you what’s coming for my Fey Touched folks, but I can say this: I am probably not completely done with them, or their world. Stay tuned.

*Trigeminal neuralgia: an excruciating inflammation of the trigeminal nerve, which supplies sensation to the face in three branches. It is also called the “suicide disease” because people have attempted suicide to be free of the pain. Mine is atypical; that is, it’s not a usual presentation. I have mainly eye pain and some face pain; it’s usually face pain mostly. And that’s how I discovered it myself. The pain feels like someone is poking my eyeball constantly. Hard. And it never went away. Never, unless I was sleeping. And no one could figure it out, until I did last year. I finally have medication that reduces the pain significantly, but does not eradicate it. I am beginning to have more pain these days, which is to be expected as it is a chronic, progressive condition.

Siri here: I’m so proud of Erin for fighting through and getting Grave Touched and now Ever Touched out into the world! You can buy Ever Touched at Turtleduck Press, or if you’d rather start with the first in the series, Fey Touched is available here.