Tag Archives: author

Co-Writing at Turtleduck Press

I’m over at Turtleduck Press again this week, talking about the novel that I’ve spent the past eight or nine months working on with fellow Turtleduck Press author Kit Campbell.

Here’s a sneak peek:

It’s not Kit’s first time co-writing a novel; I’ve done it before too, but not for many many years. And I’ve blogged before about having a major crisis of faith as a writer last year. So I was a little apprehensive about how it would go.

In fact, it’s been quite a smooth process — at least as smooth as novel writing ever is! It’s helped immensely to have somebody to bounce ideas off, to trade chapters with (we each wrote one point of view, in alternating chapters), to keep each other motivated. Having two minds to work on the worldbuilding and plotting has not meant that we’ve each done half as much work as on a solo novel, but it’s certainly helped — I think we’ve done a better job on this story than either of us could have on our own.

Read the rest.

 

And, most importantly…it’s gotten me to start, finish, and edit* a novel for the first time in way too long! I’m very grateful to Kit and to the rest of TDP. This process has been a true gift.

* Okay, still working on that part…

Stay tuned for more news about this novel in the coming months!

 

Winter Blues at Turtleduck Press

I’m over at the Turtleduck Press blog this week, talking about the winter blues and how I’m fighting back this season.

To be honest, some days are still worse than others — today is on the worse side — but I hope my multipronged strategy is making a difference to my resilience overall.

Here’s a sneak peak:

This year hasn’t been too bad so far. For starters, we’re having a really mild winter with almost no snow. Amazing what that does for one’s state of mind. Don’t get me wrong, I like snow, especially the proper crunchy snow that I grew up with and Toronto so rarely gets, but months of it will drag one down. And the cold, and the dark, and the post-Christmas, post-New Year’s letdown…okay, winter is still tough even without snow.

I’m doing all the usual things — taking extra Vitamin D, using a full-spectrum lamp, exercising (dance and yoga, with some walking here and there), focusing on coziness (blankets, slippers, tea, soup, comfort reads).

This year I’ve also added a couple of new things.

Read the rest!

Reading Recap: 2015

The cover of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken LiuHi all! I’m sneaking back in after a hiatus, with the aim of posting weekly. To kick things off, here’s my annual reading recap…

Favourite Books of 2015

In no particular order, my favourite books last year were:

  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • Janus by John Park
  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Honorable mention: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett (reread)

What I loved about these:

  • hard-hitting emotion and psychological depth
  • huge questions/twists, either in plot or in worldbuilding, that seem like they could have no possible answer…until they do
  • location, location, location
  • strong narrative voice
  • interpersonal conflicts, not necessarily with a single clear antagonist
  • layered stories – frame stories, tales within tales, etc.

Reading Stats

blog-Janus-coverI have no idea if these statistics fascinate you as much as they do me (if they do, please comment…) but here goes.

In 2015 I read 20 books, 4 fewer than the previous year. Not good! Must correct!

Genre

  • 6 were adult fantasy, 3 were adult SF, and 1 was hard-to-classify adult speculative fiction
  • 2 were non-SFF adult fiction
  • 2 were YA fantasy, 1 was YA SF, and 1 was YA speculative fiction
  • 2 were non-SFF YA fiction
  • 1 was a book of poetry, and 1 was a graphic novel
  • I read no anthologies for the second year in a row. Or rather, I read parts of two but did not finish. Short fiction is just not my gig right now. I also read parts of two non-fiction books but did not finish them either.

12 of the books were parts of series – almost all of my genre reading. The exceptions were Janus by John Park, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (which almost made my “favourite books” list), and Moonheart by Charles de Lint.

blog-Thirteenth Tale-coverAuthors and Publishing

9 of the authors were male and 11 female – a much more even showing than most years, as I tend to tilt heavily female.

To my knowledge, I read only one book by a person of colour. (That would be The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu.) However, in 2016 the stats will be much better because I’m doing a book-buying challenge – half of all the books I bought in 2015 were by authors of colour. I just haven’t read them yet because my buying is at least a year behind my reading…!

Of the 20 books I read, 14 were published in the last 5 years – a higher ratio than years past, thanks in part to the Turtleduck Press books I read and in part due to a book club I’m part of on Twitter (#20reads — come join!), which tends towards recently published books.

Acquisition

I got 3 books from the library, 2 were e-ARCs (electronic Advance Reader Copies), 2 were rereads, 1 was a gift, and 1 was a loan of a physical book. The other 11 I bought.

11/20 were ebooks – 55%. The ratio of ebooks to physical books I read continues to creep upwards – last year it was 40%, then 33%, then 25% (the first year I had an ereader). I own a smartphone but don’t tend to read books on it; I don’t own a tablet. What I acquire in ebook form breaks down like this:

  • books where the paperback wasn’t out yet and I wanted to buy it right away but didn’t want the hardcover (3)
  • books from my to-read list that go on sale (2)
  • e-ARCs (2)
  • library books (2 of the 3 library books I read were ebooks)
  • big fat fantasy novels that are too heavy to comfortably hold or lug around (1 – I’m looking at you, GRRM)
  • books that I bought as ebooks for no particular reason (2)

…argh, I counted something twice there, but I can’t be bothered to go back and figure it out. Ahem.

Your turn! Did you notice any patterns in your reading last year?

 

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!

Exploring Jaisalmer and the Thar Desert, Part 1

Today on the blog, we’re exploring the Thar Desert.

Isn’t that an amazing name? It’s a place in the far northwestern corner of India, in the state of Rajasthan, not far from the international border with Pakistan. The major centre is Jaisalmer, a small city that boasts a spectacular fort. Jaisalmer also the jumping-off point for camel treks into the desert — the main reason to come here as a tourist, and the focus of my visit.

The fort at sunset

The fort at sunset

Getting There

First, a note about the weather. As I said, this is a desert. We visited in late February, when the average high is 29 degrees C (84 F) but it gets down close to freezing at night. November is comparable; December and January are a bit cooler. I would not advise visiting in any other month, because that sun is fierce!

Getting to Jaisalmer can be a little tricky, as we found. There’s only one train, a long overnight trek from the nearest city (Jodhpur), and it often books up early. All the dates we wanted were full. Besides, my travelling companion and I had taken trains in India already, but the longest ride was 8 hours (for a supposed 6-hour trip) and that was long enough for us. You can also take a bus to Jaisalmer, but we decided that was definitely too much roughing it. On the other end of the spectrum, you can splurge on a very fancy train tour — the Palace on Wheels — which was out of our price range.

So we ended up hiring a car, which in India comes with a driver. (You do not want to drive yourself on Indian roads, trust me.) It’s not prohibitively expensive for Westerners — we paid about 2500 rupees a day, which sounds like a lot until you realize it’s only $40 USD!

The road to Jaisalmer

Tumbleweeds, anyone?

The road from Jodhpur is a quiet two-lane highway full of potholes, rolling through a dry, dusty landscape. It is not quite desert, more what’s known as “semi-arid”, and reminded me of nothing so much as the Wild West: sparse trees, little ground cover, muted greens and tans, ramshackle roadside shops. The villages we saw were a mix of boxy desert architecture and tiny round thatch-roofed huts — this is a poor area of India, and it shows. But we also spotted “desert haveli resorts” advertising stays in “huts”…and, somewhat less obscene, wind turbines. Animal sightings included a lot of cows with humps on their backs — no, not camels, although we saw those too — plus wild antelope and peacocks (this is their natural habitat…who knew?).

As the cows indicate, Rajasthan is heavily Hindu, with a minority of tribal peoples who live nomadic lifestyles — easily recognizable by their turbans and long robes. The political power was held by city-states ruled by maharajas…until the British came.

Side Note: Women in Rajasthan

If you’re a woman traveller, especially one with light hair, be wary. I’m female and strawberry blonde. My travelling companion was male and we went everywhere together, but I still got many stares and the occasional comment. If travelling without a man, I’d advise being very careful.

Wearing an approximation of local clothing may help somewhat. I often wore loose Indian-style pants and a tunic with a scarf thrown over the shoulders from front to back, an ensemble known as salwar kameez or informally as a “Punjabi suit”. Bonus: the fabrics are very thin and the cut is loose, both ideal for the climate. If you wear Western-style clothing, choose styles that are loose and offer good coverage.

Loose pants and long-sleeved shirt in quick-dry materials. The scarf is local style (normally thrown over the shoulders front to back). You can't see my practical trail-running shoes.

Loose pants and long-sleeved shirt in quick-dry materials. The scarf is local style (normally thrown over the shoulders front to back); the hat is not but is essential for pale skin with sun like this! You can’t see my practical trail-running shoes.

As for the life of a local woman…Rajasthan is not the best place to be female. It’s known as a backwards state even within India, with a high number of child brides and the lowest level of female literacy in the country.

If you start your travels in Delhi, you’ll see women wearing Western clothing, working (but not in customer service jobs that involve interacting with the public), studying, driving their own motor scooters, and walking around freely.

But as you travel farther west in Rajasthan, all of this shifts. Driving through small towns on the highway, we saw very few women out in public, and those few wore sheer veils over their faces (they’re not Muslim, but I guess it’s a similar idea). Even in the Rajasthani cities of Jaipur and Jodhpur, women in Western clothing are rare, and as soon as evening falls there are no women on the streets.

I’m far from an expert, but from what I’ve read and seen, and from conversations I’ve had in India, women’s rights and equality are progressing slowly, unevenly, and with many setbacks…but they are progressing. For example, there’s a new program to recruit women to be firefighters.

But back to the topic at hand.

Jaisalmer, The Golden City

Narrow street in Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer is known as the Golden City, for the sandstone that the spectacular central fort and most of the buildings are made of. It’s a small city of 80,000, engaged mostly in the tourism industry. As a Westerner, wandering around the city on foot is quite safe…it has a small-town feel with a medieval flavour. You’ll be dodging mopeds and cows, but the traffic isn’t heavy or fast. Besides, by the time you reach Jaisalmer you’ll already have worked your way through New Delhi and several other cities in Rajasthan, so you’ll be well prepared.

Rajasthani textiles, Jaisalmer

Rajasthan is famous for its rich food and textiles. Another thing you can get in Jaisalmer only: bhang lassis. A lassi is a cold drink akin to a milkshake; in most of northern India it’s based on yogurt (often flavoured with  mango), but here it’s based on buttermilk with chopped pistachios on top (recipe here). Bhang is marijuana, prepared in a drink. In Jaisalmer it’s legal to sell to foreigners from a government-authorized shop…and you’ll see a certain brand of traveller come here precisely for that experience.

A few words of warning, though. First, it’s not easy to tell which shop is the government-authorized one (there are several competitors). Second, not long after this lassi experience I got diarrhea that wouldn’t go away and eventually, days later, landed me in hospital for dehydration. I can’t point to the lassi as the culprit — there are too many factors — but I would not be surprised.

The Fort

Jaisalmer Fort 1

The fort itself, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is geared towards tourism, full of restaurants, guesthouses, and textiles stalls catering to Westerners. But unlike the other famous Rajasthani forts, it’s also home to several thousand locals — it’s been more or less continuously occupied since its construction over 800 years ago, though it has changed hands several times and the rajas who built it rule no more.

However, the fort is in danger. Its sewage system is leaking into the foundations, a problem made worse by the increasing number of guesthouses and other establishments within the fort’s walls. Increased rainfall in the region and seismic activity may also be weakening the fort’s already shaky foundations. (For more information, see this article at Smithsonian.com.) So if you want to visit, consider staying at a guesthouse outside the fort, as we did…and consider going sooner rather than later!

The fort includes a museum, which we did not visit because our time in Jaisalmer was so limited — we were there mostly for the camel tour — and because we’d already visited several similar museums in other cities. Instead we poked around the main square and streets nearby, admired the incredibly intricate stonework, and had dinner on a veranda to watch the failing light turn the fort’s walls to gold. I mean, just look at this:

Jaisalmer fort at sunset

Jaisalmer fort detail

The ubiquitous auto-rickshaws (taxis) in front, and textiles for sale behind

This is getting long, so I’ll close here. Tune in next time for the Thar Desert camel trek and sleeping out among the sand dunes!