Searching For Great Urban Fantasy Novels to Read

BookshelvesGiven that I’m editing my first urban fantasy (still untitled), I’ve read a fair number of fantasy novels over the past three years. I’ve discovered great authors in Jim Butcher, Kelley Armstrong, Justin Cronin, Darynda Jones, Deanna Chase, Charlaine Harris, Morgan Rice, Deborah Harkness, and Terry Pratchett. I could list another fifty lesser known speculative fiction writers whose books I’ve really enjoyed, yet I still feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface of great books I should be reading.

When I came across an article listing “The 21 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Ever”, I had to take a look (you can find it HERE). My problem with these types of lists, though, is that they are subjective and woefully incomplete. Only 21? How come? Perhaps this is a word-count issue for the piece, and the author does admit that a lot of great writers have been left off.

Many on the list are classic novelists such as Tolkien, William Gibson, Lois McMaster Bujold, Douglas Adams, and Ursula le Guin. Given that not all of the must-read authors are urban fantasy novelists, I’m not rushing out to read every book mentioned. I’m still looking for more great urban fantasies to read, so if any of you have some favorites, let me know.

This brings me to the link within the article, (HERE) which features the best books of 2019 so far (31 are listed). None of the titles are familiar to me, but the author provides descriptions of each. No matter how you cut it, I have a lot more reading ahead. It’s impossible to stay on top of even one genre, isn’t it?

So, what do you think of the list(s)? Would you agree with the author’s choices? Would urban fantasy novels would you suggest as must-reads these days? I’d really like to know.

Meet Guest Author, Jacqui Murray

Blog Post Image of The Quest For Home

One of the best things about being on WordPress is in meeting other authors. One of these great people is author Jacqui Murray, who has recently released her second prehistoric fiction novel, The Quest For Home, in the Crossroad series, part of the Man vs. Nature saga.

A short summary of the book:

Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind her African homeland, leading her People on a grueling journey through unknown and perilous lands. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that her most dangerous enemy isn’t the one she expected. It may be one she trusts with her life. 

The story is set 850,000 years ago, a time in prehistory when man populated Eurasia. He was a violent species, fully capable of addressing the many hardships that threatened his survival except for one: future man, the one destined to obliterate any who came before.

Based on a true story, this is the unforgettable saga of hardship and determination, conflict and passion as early man makes his way across Eurasia, fleeing those who would kill him. He must be bigger-than-life, prepared time and again to do the impossible because nothing less than the future of mankind is at stake.

Jacqui’s on a blog tour and today she’s going to answer one key question about her work, which is: Convince me they can communicate as well as it sounds like they do with just gestures, hands, and facial movements. 

I get this a lot. Let me give you two examples. First, have you ever been around someone who doesn’t speak your language and still, the two of you communicate by pointing, hand gestures, body movements, and facial expressions? Second, think of sign language. Very sophisticated ideas are communicated with just hands and facial expressions. That’s how Xhosa and her kind did it. 

Find Jacqui and her Books at Any of These Sites:

Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Jacqui-Murray/e/B002E78CQQ/

Blog:                                 https://worddreams.wordpress.com

Instagram:                       https://www.instagram.com/jacquimurraywriter/

LinkedIn:                          http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

Pinterest:                           http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

Twitter:                               http://twitter.com/worddreams

Website:                              https://jacquimurray.net

Jacqui MurrayJacqui’s bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman , the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for  NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, In the Footsteps of Giants, Winter 2020, the final chapter in the Crossroads Trilogy.

Excerpt from Chapter One, The Quest For Home

Northern shore of what we now call the Mediterranean Sea 

Pain came first, pulsing through her body like cactus spines. When she moved her head, it exploded. Flat on her back and lying as still as possible, Xhosa blindly clawed for her neck sack with the healing plants. Her shoulder screamed and she froze, gasping.

How can anything hurt that much?

She cracked one eye, slowly. The bright sun filled the sky, almost straight over her head.

And how did I sleep so long?

Fractured memories hit her—the raging storm, death, and helplessness, unconnected pieces that made no sense. Overshadowing it was a visceral sense of tragedy that made her shake so violently she hugged her chest despite the searing pain. After it passed, she pushed up on her arms and shook her head to shed the twigs and grit that clung to her long hair. Fire burned through her shoulders, up her neck and down her arms, but less than before. She ignored it.

A shadow blocked Sun’s glare replaced by dark worried eyes that relaxed when hers caught his.

“Nightshade.” Relief washed over her and she tried to smile. Somehow, with him here, everything would work out.

Her Lead Warrior leaned forward. Dripping water pooled at her side, smelling of salt, rotten vegetation, mud, and blood.

“You are alright, Leader Xhosa,” he motioned, hands erratic. Her People communicated with a rich collection of grunts, sounds, gestures, facial expressions, and arm movements, all augmented with whistles, hoots, howls, and chirps.

“Yes,” but her answer came out low and scratchy, the beat inside her chest noisy as it tried to burst through her skin. Tears filled her eyes, not from pain but happiness that Nightshade was here, exactly where she needed him. His face, the one that brought fear to those who might attack the People and devastation to those who did, projected fear.

She cocked her head and motioned, “You?”

Deep bruises marred swaths of Nightshade’s handsome physique, as though he had been pummeled by rocks.  An angry gash pulsed at the top of his leg. His strong upper arm wept from a fresh wound, its raw redness extending up his stout neck, over his stubbled cheek, and into his thick hair. Cuts and tears shredded his hands.

“I am fine,” and he fell silent. Why would he say more? He protected the People, not whined about injuries.

When she fumbled again for her neck sack, he reached in and handed her the plant she needed, a root tipped with white bulbs. She chewed as Nightshade scanned the surroundings, never pausing anywhere long, always coming back to her.

The sun shone brightly in a cloudless sky. Sweltering heat hammered down, sucking up the last of the rain that had collected in puddles on the shore. Xhosa’s protective animal skin was torn into shreds but what bothered her was she couldn’t remember how she got here.

“Nightshade, what happened?”

 

WordVancouver 2019 Coming Soon!

Word+Vancouver+2019+Website+Banner+SquareIn just two weeks, from Tues., Sept. 24th to Sun. Sept. 29th, the annual WORDVancouver festival will be celebrating its 25th year here in Vancouver. This celebration of reading and writing will feature many author readings, exhibits, workshops, panel discussions, and all kinds of fun stuff.

I love this event because it has something to offer people of all ages and reading preferences. Poets, comic book authors, nonfiction writers, Indigenous authors, and many fiction authors, among others, will be there.

The biggest day is the final day, Sunday, where there will also be musical entertainment. This free, family-friendly event will be held both outdoor and indoors down at and around Vancouver’s main public library on Georgia St.

I’ll be helping volunteer at the Crime Writers of Canada table from 11:00 to 1:00 p.m. There will also be a panel discussion on Setting in Crime Fiction from 12:05 to 1:05 pm in the Montalbano Family Theatre, so if you’re a fan of crime writing, come by and check us out!

You can learn more about the festival’s schedule HERE

Hope to see you there!

Celebrating International Literacy Day

tumblr_ma0chcq3dn1qedj2ho1_1280[1].pngFor those who don’t know, today is International Literacy Day. Created by UNESCO’s General Conference in 1966, the purpose of this event is to raise awareness of the important of literacy in communities around the globe.

According to one website, 16% of the world’s population, two thirds of them girls, are unable to read or write in their native language. While many programs are underway and doing great things to help, there’s still a long way to go. You can learn more HERE

There are plenty of things people can do to help promote literacy, but just helping someone with reading challenges is a huge and important step forward. When my kids were little, I spent many hours over the years reading to them. It’s one of the best things I ever did as a Mom.

This year’s theme is Literacy and Multilingualism. I work in the Linguistics department at a university here in Canada, and most of the people in my department speak at least two languages. Some speak four or five, and one professor far more than that! Three of our faculty members and others are working diligently to teach and record Indigenous languages, and to instruct other students on how to teach those languages before they are lost. It’s quite remarkable.

So, hats off to literacy and multilingualism, learning and communicating. No matter how technologically advanced we become, it doesn’t mean much if you can’t express and share your ideas with words.

Positive Takeaways From an Ugly Experience

The Latin Quarter, Paris, FranceIn ten years of book reviewing, now topping over 500 reviews, I have to say that it’s been a rewarding experience. I love reading and reviewing books. It’s amazing when I come across an author I’ve never heard of and find a story that I just love.

I read both famous and new, unknown authors. I read almost everything and draw on both self-published and traditionally published books. Basically, I choose whatever intrigues me on any given day. I also like to help and support other authors. So when I answered someone’s review request in the fall of 2016, I gave a balanced, honest review of a book that had some major grammatical, spelling, and typo flaws, but which also had a good plot and characters. I wound up giving it a 3-star interview on Amazon, (2-stars on Goodreads).

The author didn’t like my review and also wanted me to tell her where all the typos were. I told her about two of them and pointed out that it was her job to find the rest. That’s when she began ranting at me on Twitter. She emailed me a couple of times, but I didn’t respond. What was the point? I felt no need to defend or justify my review, and still don’t.

So imagine my surprise when I learned this past Sunday that she had posted a scathing rant on Facebook about me, warning her Friends about my “malicious” review. Oh yes, apparently, I was “stupid and ugly” too.

Honestly, I’d forgotten all about her because the review was posted well over two years ago. Clearly, she hadn’t forgotten about me. What happened next was what really shocked me. Within an hour of the woman’s post, I had 23 people who had called her on it, told her it was wrong to attack a reviewer, and who then asked to “Friend” me as a means of offering support, so I did. Many felt that the woman’s remarks were uncalled for and that I didn’t deserve this treatment.

My expanding social network is still expanding as I write this. More people know who I am, what I write, and that I approach my reviews with integrity. I could make a number of points about this experience, but I want to focus on two that are most important to me.

One: The writing community is filled with wonderful supportive people who will not put up with bullying, abusive behavior.

Two: Honesty and integrity not only matter, but are appreciated.

It does my heart good to know this, and I will continue writing reviews because I still enjoy it. I’m not afraid of the occasional unprofessional rant about my work, whether it’s over reviews, blogs, or my books. The positive feedback far outweighs the negative and for that I’m grateful.

To Succeed or Not—It’s More Complicated Than I Thought

search-for-success-intro-220x140[1]In an earlier blog, I wrote about the question of success for writers…what it means, how we define it, and I pretty much decided that it’s up to each of us to define our own measures of success. This often involves meeting goals, some that might have little to do with large royalty checks and tons of book sales.

Of course, the reality is that the world beyond our front door will judge us by our income, book sales, awards and prestigious reviews. Whether that matters is up to you, but apart from my own definitions and goals, I find the overall topic of success fascinating. So I was pretty excited to come across a book called Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.

In this book, Gladwell makes it clear that the success achieved by Bill Gates and the Beatles, for example, is not just a matter of talent or IQ, but of cultural background, family and community support, opportunities seized upon (right time, right place) and decisions made. There’s also the matter of the extreme amount of practice put into mastering their skills.

Gladwell cites the famous study which suggested that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieved the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything. This goes for lawyers, rock stars, and writers, I expect.

It makes me wonder how many hours authors put into writing before publishing that first book (traditionally or through self-publishing), and if that practice is a sufficient foundation to reach multiple book publications and huge sales (whatever huge means). I’m just not sure that the 10,000 hour rule is all that straightforward.

For instance, if authors manage to put in 10,000 hours of writing practice before publishing that first book and landing a contract, is it enough experience to help them write the next two books that publishers often expect in quick succession? Will the authors have the mastery to produce the same quality of work that landed them a contract in the first place?

While Gladwell provides some intriguing anecdotes and stories, not all of the answers are there. He discusses the concept of failure as well, through the story of one of the most intelligent men in the world, yet very few people know who he is. It’s an insightful story.

I do think that Gladwell is spot on when he reveals that the super stars portrayed in his book are well aware that they didn’t get there alone. Again, this is also true for writers. If you’re interested in the topic of how success is created in some people and not in others, then I would definitely recommend this book.

Vacation’s Over, Now Back to Work

Vacations end all too soon, don’t they? We thoroughly enjoyed enough Puerto Vallarta sunshine (I used nearly a whole tube of sunscreen) and sleep (9 to 10 hours a night) to finally feel ready to face whatever this year brings.

Like pretty much everything in my life, I viewed this trip from a writer’s perspective. After all, most of us who love putting words on the page or screen, never stop thinking about writing even if at a subconscious level. We’re always coming up with new ideas and settings, mentally recording bits of dialogue or incidents, and I had plenty of time to do just that.

pool view, villa del mar, jan. 2019As you can imagine from this photo (the view’s from our balcony) I spent a fair bit of time observing people, sometimes from this patio or down by the poolside. Vacationers’ reading habits came as a bit of a surprise. Over half of the people reading by the poolside were holding paperback books. The majority of readers were 50 years and over. But many in the same age group, along with the younger generation, were also reading and/or scrolling through their phones. What surprised me most was the lack of Kindles and iPads there. I brought one paperback which I’d started reading before we left and then turned to my iPad for the rest of the trip.

patio view, villa del mar, jan. 2019This is the view of the other patio along the side of our corner suite. It was my quiet place to think and reflect and, yes do a little light editing for one hour a day. I also pondered writing goals and opportunities for the year. It might look idyllic but what you can’t see is the construction site just to the left, where workers were jackhammering and bulldozing to build a new hotel. Luckily, we weren’t in our room most of the day, and they didn’t work evenings or Sundays.

Lastly, and most importantly, this vacation was about family, creating new memories, jotting notes in my journal, and looking forward to the future. The shot below is of my husband and daughter, sharing a quiet moment. Actually, it’s quite momentous because my husband used to loathe the idea of putting his bare feet in the ocean, until this trip. He’s come a long way. Next time, he says he might actually try swimming in it. Baby steps, right?

elida and bark, playa de los muertos, jan. 2019So now I’m back to major edits, the day job, writing workshop facilitating, and more family stuff. Given that I’ve been on a leave of absence from the day job, it’s been a while since I’ve had a normal routine. But normal is okay. In fact, it’s just fine.