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Top Ten Tuesday: Settings I’d Like to See More Of (Or At All)

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Unlike last week, I had no problem filling up the list this week. Honestly, I could have shared twice as many ideas!

1. Prehistoric Africa. 

I’ve read dozens of prehistoric novels over the years. The vast majority of them were set in Europe or places very close to that continent. It would be really nice to read more books set in other parts of the world.

2. The Moons of Jupiter. 

I’ve read many books about Mars and the Earth’s moon. It would be interesting to see how authors imagine life might be on other planets or moons. 

3. Dirty Jobs.

That is, I’d love to read more books about characters who make a living as custodians, maids, sewage treatment plant workers, professional cleanup crews who are sent to clean up crime scenes, or other jobs that involve dealing with what can be difficult working conditions.

4. Hospital Waiting Rooms. 

Seriously, think about all of the dramatic things that happen in hospitals: births, deaths, elective surgeries, emergency surgeries, and more. I’ve read plenty of books set in the emergency room, but not so many that focus on what it feels like to sit and wait to find out how a loved one is doing when the outcome is uncertain or you’ve been kept waiting much longer than expected.

5. Somewhere Beyond the “Staff Only,” “Closed for Construction,” or “Do Not Enter” Signs

Have I ever ignored one of these signs in real life? No, of course not.

Am I a little curious to see what those places look like? Yes, especially if they’re in a library or bookstore. What new books might be hidden behind that door? If only we could know!

6. Cruise Ship Stops.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was on an Alaskan cruise with my spouse and extended family earlier this year. All three of our stops were in small, Alaskan towns where tourism had become one of their major sources of income and employment.

I think it would be incredibly interesting to read a book set in one of these stops in the off-season. I wonder what they’re like when all of the tourists stop visiting for the season and only the locals remain?

7. Subway Tunnels. 

Have I ever ignored the “keep out” signs and wandered into one of Toronto’s subway tunnels? No, of course not.

Would I sign up for a guided tour of them in a heartbeat if the TTC ever offered such a thing? Heck yes!

(Have you noticed the pattern here yet?)

8. Vegan Restaurants and Bakeries.

I’m not vegan, but I do go to vegan restaurants and bakeries on occasion because I like their cuisine and because it’s basically impossible to have an allergic reaction to something that is never on the menu! Based on the wonderful personalties of the people who work at the places I visit, I think this would make a fantastic setting.

9. Magic Show Rehearsals.

The cruise I went on with my family included shows from a talented magician. I can’t help but to wonder what the rehearsals for some of his tricks looked like!

10. National Parks. 

As a diehard city person who loves her air conditioning and soft bed, I find the idea of disconnecting from the Internet and all other modern conveniences to go spend time in nature to be as interesting as it is slightly bewildering.

Maybe there are lots of books about spending time in national parks already and I’m not looking in the right places for them? At any rate, I wouldn’t mind having more of them.

My Experience with (Mostly Not) Exercising on an Alaskan Cruise

Photo credit: Jim Schoch.

I’m still basking in the afterglow of the amazing Alaskan cruise I went on with my spouse and extended family earlier this month.

This was the first time any of us had been to Alaska before, so our vacation was filled with all sorts of firsts.  We spent one week sailing by glaciers, mountains, virgin forests, totem poles, and other beautiful sights.

Other than wishing I’d taken more photos during it, there isn’t a single thing I would have changed about that trip. It was wonderful to spend time with my parents, siblings, sister-in-law, and nephews again. We hadn’t all been together in the same place for three long years!

When we weren’t soaking in the hot tub, swimming, exploring the various ports of call or looking for whales, seals, and other wildlife bobbing past our ship, we ate meals together, played Dutch Blitz, attended various programs on the ship: nature and history lectures, cooking shows, poker tournaments, and more.

When I ordered food, I tried to strike a balance between eating a well-rounded diet and enjoying treats. There were some amazing sorbets on this cruise, and I tried to taste as many of them as I could. It’s not every day that a non-vegan restaurant has dairy-free desserts!

The one thing I didn’t do on this vacation was stick to my normal exercise routine. This is rare. Normally, the gym and running track are among the first places I explore when boarding a cruise ship. I like sticking to my fitness routine as much as possible when on vacation.

Why did I break that pattern this time?

  1. I’d caught a cold at the end of June and was still coughing when this trip began.
  2. I wanted to keep my daily schedule flexible.

Get-togethers with my side of the family happen rarely enough that I didn’t want to rush off from a leisurely breakfast or skip a last-time invitation so I could exercise. The fact that I was still feeling sick at first only gave me another reason to take it easy. With that being said, I wasn’t completely sedentary that week.

Taking the Stairs

As much as possible, I took the stairs instead of hopping on the elevator when we were on the ship that week. There were no specific goals here. If I was short on time or coughing a lot one day, I took the elevator without a second thought.

With that being said, walking up or down a few flights at a time can add up over the course of a day if you do it when it’s possible.

I take the stairs a few times a day here in Toronto. When I’m on a cruise, I can do dozens per day. It effectively doubles or triples the average number of staircases I walk on for that month, and most cruises only last about a week!

(No, this wasn’t the staircase that they had on board, although they both were wrap-around designs.  I forgot to photograph the real one while we were there, so I picked an eye-catching stock image photo of another staircase).

Walking Everywhere

While my cough limited how much brisk walking or other forms of exercise I felt up to doing, it didn’t stop me from walking at a slower pace.

When I’m home and feeling well, I try to log about 12,000 steps per day.  I accidentally met this goal on about half of the days of our trip.

Once I even made it to 16,000 steps! While most of that movement involved strolling instead of power walking, I was still pretty happy with how much gentle activity I was able to include in everything else that was going on.

It didn’t get my heart rate pumping as high as I’d normally try to get it, but that wasn’t a goal I was concerned about as I healed and spent time with the family.

A week off won’t mean much in the long run. I’m back to my normal weightlifting and cardio routines now and very glad I took the time to fully recover and make memories with my loved ones.

What do your fitness routines look like when you’re travelling? Do you try to stick to the same schedule? Do you take breaks from them?


Interview with M.H. Thaung

Say hello to M.H.! She responded to my call for speculative fiction interview participants last week, and I’m excited to share her answers with you today. 

What was the first speculative story you ever remember reading?

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge. I’m really showing my age here – must have been about six at the time. A year or two after that, my parents took me somewhere on the train without a ticket (in those days, under-5s travelled for free), but the ticket inspector caught me reading Alice in Wonderland.

Who is your favourite author? Why?

Oof, that’s a tough decision. I’d say Terry Pratchett overall since he wrote so many books, and I can pick one that matches my reading mood. I enjoy him not so much for his humour, but because of his insight into how people behave. All his people are believable people, as well as being vampires, trolls and so on. Roger Zelazny is also high on my fantasy author list. In contrast to Pratchett, it’s because his larger than life characters appeal to me.

What do you like most about the genre(s) you read?

I dip into various speculative genres – SF (on the soft side), alternate history, urban fantasy, low fantasy. There are common aspects to all of them. I like seeing the knock-on effects of whatever is different in that world taken to some logical conclusion. That is, “the different thing” isn’t just cosmetic – it affects the story.

More and more authors seem to be writing cross-genre stories these days. How do you feel about this trend?

It’s not always easy to place a book into a genre (I have this problem with my own writing). I like the idea of experimenting – a bit like fusion restaurants – but you’d need to try a specific combination before deciding if you liked it or not. Something to save for when you’re feeling adventurous, maybe. Given how many books are available, there’s scope for all tastes to be catered to, whether meat and two veg or a combination of eclectic ingredients from five continents. Ok, I’ll stop with the food comparisons now!

If you could name a pet after one character, which character would you choose? Why?

If I had a pet, I might call it Esme (Weatherwax). Why? So I could talk to it and imagine it giving me pithy, unsentimental advice on life in return.

What fictional world would you never want to visit?

Arrakis. Doesn’t seem like a friendly place at all!

What fictional world would you want to visit?

Assuming personal safety wasn’t an issue, I’d like to explore the world of Alan Dean Foster’s Journeys of the Catechist series. It wasn’t the most interesting story I’ve ever read (and I’m sure it’s horribly dated by now), but my curiosity was sparked by the different locations the adventurers pass through.

Sharing spoilers with people who haven’t read the book or seen the film/show is a hot topic on Twitter and across many fandoms. How do you feel about sharing or overhearing spoilers?

I don’t share spoilers since 1. it annoys some people, 2. it feels like there’s little point in talking about a book if your conversation partner hasn’t read it already and 3. I know very few people in real life with similar reading interests to mine. However, I’m not bothered by overhearing spoilers. This might be partly because I only read: I don’t watch TV or films, and it feels like books prompt less discussion in general.

Bonus Questions

What is the most unusual or interesting way you’ve come up with an idea for one of your creative works?

I don’t think any of my story ideas have had unusual sources of inspiration. Random generators are pretty helpful – cards and lists that you might use in RPGs or collaborative storytelling.

Sometimes characters don’t do what their creators want them to do. If this has ever happened to you, how did you deal with it?

I love it when my characters start wanting to do their own thing, but I still tell them I’m in charge. It’s not always that easy! There was one specific incident when I was writing A Quiet Rebellion: Posterity. It’s the final book in my trilogy, so I knew the characters pretty well by that point. One character woke me up and told me she was going to kidnap another character. It complicated the plot wonderfully, and (I hope) got me out of a mid-story slump.

What is your favourite trope?

Not exactly a trope, but I love dramatic irony and my characters (most of whom are supposed to be on the same side) getting in each other’s way, with the best of intentions.

What tropes do you try to avoid in your stories?

I’m not terribly keen on grand, pre-ordained fates or saving the world. My characters might want to save their little part of the world, but their concerns are largely personal.

About M.H.: M. H. Thaung is a pathologist working in a laboratory in London, UK. It’s been over ten years since she cut up a dead body. She started writing for fun about four years ago, and since then it’s turned into an obsession—er, major hobby. She recently released A Quiet Rebellion: Posterity, the final book in her SF adventure/mannerpunk trilogy.



Terry Pratchett fans may be particularly interested in M.H.’s interview with Stephen Briggs. 

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Fictional Worlds I’d Love to Visit

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

I’m guessing that a lot of people are going to pick the Potterverse, Narnia, and the (safe) portions of Middle Earth this week. Count me in for those places, too, but I’m going to spend most of this post talking about worlds that may not get as much attention this week if my predictions are correct.

The Land of Oz.

Something tells me all of you will catch this reference immediately. I’m the sort of person who senses danger early on, so I’d like to think I could visit Oz without running into any of the witches or other dangerous folks there. It would be so cool to see the yellow brick road in person and meet some munchkins.

The Gatsby Mansion from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”

While I’m not actually a fan of this story in general, I do think attending one of the parties at the Gatsby Mansion would be a marvellous way to pass a warm summer evening. The one good thing I can say about the Gatsby family is that they sure did seem to know how to throw a party!

In my imagination, every morsel of food and drink there would have been delectable and the live music would keep everyone dancing until the wee hours of the morning.

Pandora from the 2009 film “Avatar” 

Simple things like spending time in nature and exploring new places makes me happy. I’d love to go explore the bright, colourful world that the main character of “Avatar” got to know so well during his stay there. The fact that so many of the creatures there were bioluminescent only makes me more eager to see them for myself!

Pemberly From Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”

Once again, I was not a fan of the novel where this fictional country estate is from, but that wouldn’t keep me from wanting to visit Pemberly anyway. I value spending time in nature, eating delicious food, dancing, and having some peace and quiet at times. Based on the descriptions of this place, I think I could do all of that stuff with ease there.

Jurassic World (but only after the dinosaurs stopped attacking people)

Honestly, how could you not want to see real live dinosaurs in person? I’d definitely wait until all of the safety concerns had been ironed out, and I’d avoid the Tyrannosaurus area in general. I’d be thrilled to see some Triceratops, Gallimimus, Velociraptors, and other species in person once those precautions had been taken.

How about all of you?

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question. The image below is the list of upcoming prompts for this blog hop.