Category Archives: books

Grave Touched: A Labor of Love by Erin Zarro

Erin Zarro author photoHello again! Today we have a guest post by Turtleduck Press author Erin Zarro, who is celebrating the release of her second novel, Grave Touched.

Full disclosure: I am the chief editor at Turtleduck Press, so I saw a version of this book early on and…well, I’ll let Erin tell it:

When I first conceived the idea of writing this book, I was over the moon. I’m a huge fan (and believer) of ghosts, and the idea of ghosts possessing people intrigued me. I started writing it before book 1, Fey Touched, was published. But then I had a problem with my left eye (severe excruciating pain that required taking a break from writing) and things kind of went off the rails.

When I finally got back to writing, I was able to make my next deadline. I’d worried about that, because I’d blown my first deadline because of my eye. The last thing I wanted to do was blow another deadline and create yet another hole in our publishing schedule. They were wonderful and understanding, but I still felt like a failure.

About two weeks after sending it to my editor, Siri, I got an email from her. It was not good news. She felt that the book wasn’t ready to be published. She gave me a extensive list of things that weren’t working. Naturally, I’d felt that I’d nailed it — at first. But then as I thought about her issues, it dawned on me. This was not my best work. She was absolutely right. Somehow, in the midst of my desire to make my deadline and having eye pain, I screwed up badly. And of course I wondered then if I was a crappy writer. Maybe Fey Touched was a fluke, and I suck. Maybe I went back to writing too soon, and was a bit delusional as to my abilities. Maybe the pain was screwing with my head. Maybe the book wasn’t working and it would never work. Maybe it needed to be trunked.

Cover of Fey Touched by Erin ZarroOn and on and on. I suffer from clinical depression, so this just added on to the refrain of “you suck, your writing sucks, you’re never going to sell anything” and so forth. This was a dark time for me. I’ve lost my way before — ironically just before I started writing Fey Touched. I’d rewritten a different novel 4 times in order to make it acceptable to an agent. Well, I was rewriting the love and magic right out of it. I took the advice of several writer friends and set it aside, resolving to write something purely for fun and for myself. That book was Fey Touched.

So I’d accomplished that but I wasn’t sure I had it in me to do it again. I agreed to the rewrite and the tentative deadline, which gave me about a year to work on it, so I felt fairly confident that I’d be able to make it. If I could get my muse on board.

She wasn’t, not at first. She saw this as an unnecessary rewrite and balked at doing anything. It’s funny because I really did want to do the rewrite. But maybe someplace in my subconscious I felt like I was beating a dead horse. It took awhile to get into the flow, but once I got started, I was able to keep progressing.

This entire process took three years. Sometimes I worried about wasting my time. But now, after completing it and publishing it, I’m happy to say that everything I went through with this book was so worth it. I learned that one misstep does not make me a failure as a writer. I learned that I could produce (and produce salable fiction) with excruciating eye pain. I learned to follow my instincts and my muse. But most of all, I learned strength. It would have so easy to give up. To say, hey, it’s just not working, I need to do something else. But I persisted, because the book needed to be written. My idea needed to be expanded upon and explored. My characters needed this growth. And I, too, grew as a writer.

I’m glad that Siri rejected the first incarnation. Sounds weird, but it’s true. Had she not rejected it, I might have published it anyway and that would have been detrimental to my career. It was not ready, and I know that. Because of this, I kept believing in myself and in the book, so much that I couldn’t let it die.

With writing, a lot of people don’t understand the amount of work that goes into a novel, both writing and publishing. Any novel could take months to years to complete. And every writer is different. When you suffer from chronic pain, every day you have to refigure your goals and productivity. I am, by nature, very stubborn and very driven, so I didn’t let it stop me. But it was tough. Some days I didn’t know how I’d come home from work and work on the book. Editing and revising was a study in patience. And it’s harder with a hurting eye. But I didn’t have the option of quitting. I’m a writer, and I write. Nothing else matters.

So, it can be done. Blood, sweat, tears, and persistence will win every time. Hopefully I’ve inspired some of you to try to meet your goals even through adversity. It’s an amazing feeling to have done the very thing you didn’t believe you could do. Try it.

The final incarnation of Grave Touched that’s published is a love song to my muse, a crazy journey, and a story I’ve wanted to tell for three years. I am truly proud of it, and proud that I’d nailed it this time. And thankful that I’m still doing my thing, regardless of anything else.

I am a writer. Nothing more, nothing less.

Grave Touched by Erin ZarroSiri here. I’m so proud of Erin for fighting through all those self-doubts. (Heck, I posted just last month about my own struggles with imposter syndrome.) The new version of Grave Touched is a whole lot better, and I hope you’ll check it out.

Grave Touched is available as a Kindle ebook here, and a print version is coming soon. If you’d rather start with Fey Touched (the first in the series) the ebook version of that is currently on sale for 99 cents.

Happy reading!

Turtleduck Press News: Grave Touched by Erin Zarro Cover Reveal

Hello, lovely blog readers! I’m excited to share some news from Turtleduck Press. On May 1, we’re releasing our next novel, a futuristic paranormal by Erin Zarro. Here’s the brand-new cover and cover copy:

Grave Touched by Erin Zarro

Fey Touched – humans, genetically engineered for immortality and flight, tasked with protecting the rest of the world from rogue Fey…

Grave Touched – dead souls in search of living bodies to possess, especially those who’ve had a brush with death…

When Fey Touched Hunter Emily wakes up in a hospital, she doesn’t know that she was in fact dead. Nor does she know that her lover, Nick, broke all kinds of rules to bring her back. But the grave touched do.

Fey Touched Healer Asha does know that her mate, Joe, saved her when her abilities nearly killed her. And she knows the voices in her head are the grave touched trying to stake their claim. Asha needs Joe’s help again, but unfortunately she’s the only one who believes the grave touched exist.

The grave touched are plotting to take over the corporeal world, and they’re gaining strength. Only Emily and Asha stand in their way – and both are about to be possessed.

Grave Touched.

Siri here. If you like spicy paranormals, we hope you’ll check out Grave Touched on May 1 (in print and Kindle editions). Although it can be read alone, it’s the sequel to Fey Touched, Erin’s debut novel, so if you can’t wait to dive into this world, go read Fey Touched!

Reading Challenge: Authors Not Like Me

If you hang out on the Internet a lot, you may have seen this post by K.T. Bradford:

I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year

It’s been the subject of much discussion, which I’m not going to get into here. Suffice to say that I’ve been thinking about it a lot. For several years I’ve been intending to buy and read more “authors not like me”, as John Scalzi puts it, but somehow it keeps not happening.

I do read a lot of female authors — last year was roughly 3/4 female, the year before was more like 60% — but they’re nearly all white, straight (as far as I know), and cisgendered (i.e., not trans).

I think it’s time that changed.

So here’s my highly personal variation on Bradford’s challenge:

For the rest of 2015, more than half the books I buy/otherwise acquire will be by writers not like me: women and men of colour and/or LGBTQ writers.

I’m setting the bar lower than Bradford’s because I know I’ll end up making some exceptions–for example, authors on my auto-buy list, or series I’m in the middle of. Again, most of these are likely to be women, so at least there’s that.

The fine print:

  • I’ll probably keep my reading habits the same in other respects. I read mostly SF and fantasy (both adult and YA) and that’s not likely to change.
  • I said acquire, not read. A lot of the books I read this year will be those that are already on my shelf/ereader, because I don’t want all of them to languish for another year. But at least some of the ones entering the queue will be more diverse, and some of them will get read this year.
  • I may also add other sorts of “not like me”, such as works in translation and/or writers with disabilities — especially if they are also POC or LGBTQ.

In case you’re thinking of a similar challenge, here are some LGBTQ speculative  fiction writers I’ve read and enjoyed:

  • Candas Jane Dorsey (bonus: she’s Canadian)
  • Kelley Eskridge (mini-review here)
  • Nicola Griffith (mini-review here — and I haven’t yet read her latest, the very well-received Hild)
  • Tanya Huff (also Canadian)
  • Ellen Kushner

Writers of colour, ditto:

  • Kathryn Anthony
  • Kazuo Ishiguro
  • N.K. Jemisin
  • Thomas King — okay, technically what he writes is more literary than speculative, but it’s also hilarious and meta. My favourite is Green Grass, Running Water.

Finally, here are some of the SF&F writers of colour on my radar:

Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed – Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn
Saladin Ahmed
Aliette de Bodard
Tobias Buckell
Octavia Butler
Joyce Chng / J. Damask
Samuel R. Delany
David Anthony Durham
Andrea Hairston
Nalo Hopkinson
Keri Hulme
Ogawa Issui
Chohei Kambayashi
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Malinda Lo (YA)
Marie Lu (YA)
Tahereh Mafi (YA)
Nnedi Okorafor
Helen Oyeyemi
Cindy Pon (YA)
Michelle Sagara / Michelle Sagara West / Michelle West (both YA and adult)
Sofia Samatar
Douglas Smith

Your turn! Would you take Bradford’s challenge or something similar? Who am I missing in that list up there?

Quick administrative note: My short story The Haunting of Heatherbrae Station is now posted at Turtleduck Press. Go! Read! Enjoy!

Reading Recap 2014

Starfish by Peter WattsIt’s that time again…the best-of roundup posts! I’m a little late to the party, but who cares? Here — in no particular order — are the best 5 books I read in 2014, plus some reading statistics just because…

Disclaimer: I’m always playing catch-up in my reading, so these aren’t the best books published in 2014, but the best I read. For links to some lists of the former, see the bottom of the post.

The Books

1. Starfish by Peter Watts.

Peter Watts is a Canadian SF author who writes very dark, very hard SF centered around biology. His novel Blindsight was shortlisted for the Hugo a few years ago, and the sequel, Echopraxia,  came out last summer (I bought it promptly but haven’t read it yet).

Starfish was his first novel, but you couldn’t tell from the quality. It’s about a deep-sea station manned by people who’ve been modified with built-in wetsuits and breathing apparatus, which raises a couple of questions. First, what kind of people are willing to have that done to them (and live at the bottom of the ocean, next to an oceanic rift, for months)? Second, when your body is altered to live under these conditions, what does that do to your psyche? And that’s just for starters….

The Passage by Justin Cronin cover2. The Passage by Justin Cronin.

This book was big when it came out in 2010 (remember what I said about playing catch-up with my reading?). Cronin had previously published some family drama novels, and it shows…so this is a vampire apocalypse novel with family/small-town drama at the core and also a quest structure. Sounds like a strange mash-up, but for the most part, it really works. Cronin’s cross-genre roots serve him well — there’s a lot of hard-hitting emotional stuff intertwined with the end-of-the-world action.

My only quibble is the length. Despite the epic scope of the story, it didn’t need to be 900 pages long — 700 would have done just fine. Having said that, I devoured it at twice my usual reading speed, so make of that what you will.

Room by Emma Donoghue cover3. Room by Emma Donoghue.

This is the only non-genre book on the list (another high-profile 2010 novel), but I loved it in part for genre reasons, and I’ll tell you why. The concept is tough to read: it’s the story of a woman kidnapped and kept in captivity in a soundproofed garden shed, told from the perspective of her young son. Jack has been sheltered from the truth of their existence. To him, Room is the entire world; everything and everyone he sees on TV is pretend.

Watching him slowly learn otherwise is painful at times, but it also hits at the heart of what I love about genre: that sense of discovery, of learning about a world and how it works. As a bonus, the POV and narrative voice are extremely strong: we’re in five-year-old Jack’s head the whole way, even when we understand things he does not, and that’s both heartbreaking and amazingly effective.

Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley cover4. The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley.

You’ve probably all read this already, so I won’t say too much about it. It’s an ’80s novel, which made me all nostalgic — in part because I’ve read (and loved) other McKinley novels before, in part for the writing conventions of a time before YA was a “‘thing” and fantasy was just fantasy.

I found the pacing and conflict a bit uneven by today’s exacting standards, but the protagonist’s journey felt larger-than-life as she *ahem* gets dragged through the fire and has to rebuild herself stronger than ever. Plus, there’s a horse who really feels like a horse, with a complete personality. And I’m not the only one who loved it — this is a Newbery Medal winner.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor cover5. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

By contrast, this is a contemporary YA fantasy (from 2011), so it’s full of familiar tropes. BUT I think this is what literary agents mean when they say they want writing that feels “fresh”. Despite the tropes, the characters ring true and bring depth to the story, and the sentence-level writing reaches for poetry without being overdone. I particularly enjoyed the fact that although the protagonist, Karou, is “special”, she’s also lonely and deeply insecure; and also the relationship with her best friend, full of in-jokes and teasing.

Fair warning: this is book 1 in a trilogy, and it shows.


What I loved about these:

  • hard-hitting emotion and psychological depth
  • huge character arcs
  • SFF stories in which the whole world is affected/changed
  • sentence-level writing that rises above the ordinary, whether it’s poetic (Laini Taylor) or a strong narrative voice (Emma Donoghue)
  • strong sense of the world/place

That summary is especially timely for me right now, as I seek to regain my writing mojo. Note to self: read (and maybe, eventually, write) more of that!

Reading Habits

On to the statistics…here’s hoping I’m not the only one interested in them. ;-)


I read 24 books in 2014, 7 fewer than in the previous year, but that’s not surprising because I was on a six-month sabbatical that year!

  • 6 were adult fantasy (9 last year) and 6 were adult SF (5 last year).
  • 2 were non-genre adult fiction (1 last year)
  • 5 were YA fantasy (2 last year) and 2 were YA SF (2 last year)
  • 3 were non-fiction (5 last year)
  • I read no anthologies, poetry, YA non-genre (1 of each last year), or graphic novels / webcomics (3 last year)

The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia cover17 of the books were from my to-read list (14 last year).

17 of the books were part of series – almost all of my genre reading. (The exceptions were The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia.)


I read books by 22 different authors (not counting collaborations), of whom 9 were new to me this year (12 last year) and 13 were new-to-me books by previously read authors (11 last year).

6 of the authors were male, 15 female, and 1 presented as non-gendered (Mazarkis Williams, although hir novel, The Emperor’s Knife, was solidly hetero). Last year was 9 male and 14 female.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin coverTo my knowledge, I read only one book by a person of colour. (That would be The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.) I keep resolving to do better in this regard and falling short.

Publishing and Buying

Of all 24 books I read, 10 were published in the last five years – a ratio consistent with years past.

2 books were acquired for free from an SFF convention, 1 was a library book, 1 I read as an e-ARC (Advance Reader Copy), and 1 was free from Project Gutenberg. The rest I bought.

10/24 were ebooks – about 40%. (Last year was 33% and the year before was 25%, so it’s gradually creeping up! At the end of 2013 I finally got a smartphone, but it hasn’t changed my ereading habits much – I still read mostly on my Kobo B&W e-ink reader.) What I buy in ebook form:

  • big fat fantasy novels or trade paperbacks that are too heavy to comfortably hold or lug around (2)
  • older books that I can’t get in print from my local bookstore (3)
  • out-of-copyright books (1)
  • books from my to-read list that go on sale (2)
  • books that I bought as ebooks for no particular reason (2)

I buy from my local indie SF&F bookstore whenever I can, otherwise that number would likely be higher!

Other Reading Recaps

Last year’s recap is here.

And here are some reading recaps/ “best-of” lists that actually cover SF&F books published in 2014…

Your turn! What were the best books you read in 2014 (any genre)?


New Turtleduck Press Book: Even the Score by KD Sarge

I’m baaaack!

Okay, I’m going to duck into hiatus again shortly, because the wrist issues are not yet solved and until they are, I’m going to use my limited keyboarding time to write stories.

But I’m here because I have to tell you about a new book! This is the return of Turtleduck Press author KD Sarge‘s best-loved characters, Taro and Rafe. Their latest SF adventure takes them into murder-mystery territory…

Even the Score by KD SargeOne, two, three,
How many will my victims be?
One, two, three, four,
How many more to even the score?

When Taro Hibiki leads a survival class into the backwoods, he has two goals: to prove himself as an instructor, and to propose to his beloved Rafe before he loses his nerve completely. In the wilds might seem a strange place for that, but it’s where Taro feels most at home—and the only place the couple can escape all their other responsibilities.

On BFR, proud colonists say the name stands for “Big Effing Rock,” and brag about their planet’s dangers. More treacherous than bomb bugs or sight scamps, though, is a human seeking vengeance. Soon Taro’s students are dropping one by one, and no matter what Taro does, the killer stays a step ahead. Worst of all, Taro comes to suspect that the students are targets of opportunity—that the ultimate goal is Rafe.

Taro would die for Rafe in a heartbeat, but who’s going to take care of Rafe if he does?

As it happens, the killer has a plan for that, too.

Check out Even the Score at Turtleduck Press, including free sample chapters and “buy” links for the ebook format of your choice (print version coming soon!).

KD Sarge writes for joy and hope, and works for a living. She has tried her hand at many endeavors, including Governess of the Children, Grand Director of the Drive-Through, and Dispatcher of the Tow Trucks. Currently KD loves her job at a private school for children with autism.

Past accomplishments include surviving eight one-year-olds for eight hours alone (she lasted about ten months), driving a twenty-foot truck from Ohio to Arizona by way of Oklahoma, and making a six-pack of tacos in twenty-three seconds.

Writing achievements include the Weightiest First Draft Ever, as well as eleven other, much lighter, completed novels. She has somewhere between five and ten universes under construction at any given time, writes science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, smut (in many genres), and means to one day undertake a cosy mystery. A widow, KD lives in Arizona with her biological daughter, her internet daughter, two cats, and a hermit crab named Bob.

KD can be found on the internet at or Follow her on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, where she mostly talks about cool things she found when she should have been writing.

One last note from your host: I participated in National Novel Writing Month in November. Here’s how it went and what I learned.

All Hallows Read

Halloween is coming up again, and that means it’s time for All Hallows Read!


But what is it, you ask? Here’s Neil Gaiman to explain:

I have a few suggestions for scary books to share. For starters, I’m finally getting around to reading The Passage by Justin Cronin. It’s not terribly horror-ish (actually a plus for squeamish readers like me) but it’s about a vampire apocalypse, which surely counts as Halloween-appropriate. Be prepared: it is looong, and something happens a third of the way through (end of Act I? Why yes…) that turns off some readers. But I kept going, and I’m glad I did. It’s really well-written. I may have to go an apocalyptic literature kick now…

Cover of The Passage by Justin Cronin

Where was I? Ah yes, scary book suggestions.

As I said, I’m a lightweight when it comes to horror, but here are a few authors/books who creep me out without keeping me awake for the rest of the month:

  • C.J. Cherryh – Rider at the Gate / Cloud’s Rider
  • China Miéville (discussed on the blog here and here)
  • Halli Villegas – The Hair Wreath and Other Stories (reviewed here)
  • Peter Watts – Blindsight (and hey, there’s a sequel out now, Echopraxia!)

I’ve also written a horror-lite short story myself, which you can read for free at Turtleduck Press: The Dangers of Creation; or, A Machine to Rival Man. (It’s not the only horror-leaning story among our freebies, either.)

Here’s a post on YA Gothics from last year, and another about women in Gothic novels. There’s lots more over at the All Hallows Read website. But now…

Over to you! What scary books would you recommend?

Reading the World

As you may have noticed, I have a fascination with other countries. No single country in particular, though there are some that exert more of a pull on me more than others — rather, the whole world intrigues me.

But I don’t read nearly as much international literature as I’d like. I’m going to guess you’re the same way.

Here, then, is a starting list of (mostly) fiction I’ve read from countries other than Canada, the USA, and England. It’s very 101-level for the most part, but still, I hope it’s helpful! If you have recommendations from countries not your own, in translation or otherwise, please chime in…

  • Albania – Ismail Kadare, The Successor (literary)
  • Argentina – Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Sand (magic realism)
  • Belgium – Hergé, The Adventures of Tintin (comics)
  • Columbia – Gabriel García Márquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold (magic realism) and Living to Tell the Tale (autobiography)
  • Czech Republic – Karel Čapek, R.U.R. (science fiction play)
  • Denmark – Hans Christian Andersen (fairy tales)
  • France – Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, Paris in the Twentieth Century (science fiction and/or adventure); Albert Camus, The Stranger (literary)
  • India – Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things (literary)
  • Ireland – James Joyce, Ulysses, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners (literary)
  • Italy – Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before (magic realism)
  • Lebanon – Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (spiritual)
  • Nigeria – Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (literary)
  • Norway – Knut Hamsun, Hunger (literary); Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter (historical); Henrik Ibsen (plays)
  • Poland – Stanislaw Lem, The Futurological Congress (science fiction)
  • Russia – Ekaterina Sedia, The Secret History of Moscow (urban fantasy); Sergei Lukyanenko, The Night Watch (urban fantasy); Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (science fiction); Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (literary)
  • Sweden – Astrid Lindgren (children’s books)

That’s 16 countries. As you can see, there’s a serious tilt towards Europe and away from genre fiction. That’s because I read most of these in school. If you can expand the horizons of this list, please do!

Further reading:

A Year of Reading the World

Women in Translation Month

Another time I’ll share with you the (much longer) list of international books that are on my radar but that I just haven’t gotten to yet…

Your turn! What books/authors can you add to this list?