Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Considering the HiSET, or for heaven’s sake get your kids reading

March 31st, 2015

So, I’ve been looking over practice tests for the HiSET test, which last year replaced the GED in Missouri. Not infrequently we work with students who have entered college after taking these tests; sometimes our tutors work with students who are preparing to take these tests. The HiSET is supposed to be aligned with Common Core standards and thus it is supposed to reflect the High! Standards! Missouri students are supposed to meet if they graduate from high school.

Well, here’s my initial impression:

Math: The math is extremely simple grade school math with almost no algebra. However, the questions draw heavily on theory rather than practice. Here is a sample question:

It is estimated that construction of this pool area (pictured) will cost $75,000. A large corporation donated $35,000. An additional $2000 was earned during a local fund-raising activity. If 20 local businesses agree to donate the rest of the money, which of the following represents the average amount each business will have to contribute?

The correct answer is not the ANSWER, but this:

d) ($75,000 – $37,000) / 20

This is typical of how the answers are structured. The student is being tested on what ought to be done, rather than on doing it. That’s interesting. I have no opinion yet about whether I think this is a good idea.

Writing: There some of those typical Correct This Phrase questions, and then, I am relieved to see, an actual writing assignment. AM I EVER GLAD I AM NOT SCORING THOSE. I can’t even imagine reading a billion or so student essays on, let’s take a look at the writing prompt, here we go: Write an article for your employer’s newsletter that argues that workers should adopt at least one behavior that will improve their fitness. Wonderful, we get a lot of preachy student essays to read. Who came up with that prompt? Ugh.

Reading: Here’s what actually caught my eye. The reading passages are, in my opinion, highly demanding and would be quite difficult for students who were poor readers OR students who had not spent a lot of time reading fiction. Look at this passage from Conrad’s TYPHOON:

Jukes was as ready a man as any half-dozen young mates that may be caught by casting a net upon the waters; and though he had been somewhat taken aback by the startling viciousness of the first squall, he had pulled himself together on the instant, had called out the hands, and had rushed them along to secure such openings about the deck as had not been already battened down earlier in the evening. Shouting in his fresh, stentorian voice, “Jump, boys, and bear a hand!” he led in the work, telling himself the while that he had “just expected this.”

But at the same time he was growing aware that this was rather more than he had expected. From the first stir of the air felt on his cheek the gale seemed to take upon itself the accumulated impetus of an avalanche. Heavy sprays enveloped the Nan-Shan from stem to stern, and instantly in the midst of her regular rolling she began to jerk and plunge as though she had gone mad with fright.

Jukes thought, “This is no joke.” While he was exchanging explanatory yells with his captain, a sudden lowering of the darkness came upon the night, falling before their vision like something palpable. It was as if the masked lights of the world had been turned down. Jukes was uncritically glad to have his captain at hand. It relieved him as though that man had, by simply coming on deck, taken most of the gale’s weight upon his shoulders. Such is the prestige, the privilege, and the burden of command.

Captain MacWhirr could expect no relief of that sort from anyone on earth. Such is the loneliness of command. He was trying to see, with that watchful manner of a seaman who stares into the wind’s eye as if into the eye of an adversary, to penetrate the hidden intention and guess the aim and force of the thrust. The strong wind swept at him out of a vast obscurity; he felt under his feet the uneasiness of his ship, and he could not even discern the shadow of her shape. He wished it were not so; and very still he waited …

You see what I mean? Two words are defined for the student: stentorian and palpable. But look at the whole passage! This would be quite easy to read and understand if you had already read and enjoyed, say, some of the Horatio Hornblower novels. But if you have stuck mainly to nonfiction, or worse, have not ever read anything much for fun, my goodness.

Also, is it really fair to present the students with a passage that puts semicolons before conjunctions right before they take the grammar part of the test? I would also expect English teachers to ask for a couple more commas than Conrad used.

But my main takeaway here is: students are going to be at quite a disadvantage if they walk into this test without having grown up reading fiction. Given articles like this one on the plunging popularity of reading unassigned books for fun, that could be a significant consideration. Not that I made any effort to assess the linked article for validity; I just figured there would be articles like that out there and linked the first one I found; but if about half of all kids today never or very rarely read for fun, well.

Not that this is relevant to any of you. I’m quite sure that those of you who are reading this and have children have houses filled with fiction.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 31st, 2015

Sparkling muffins

March 31st, 2015

I know, I know, if you sparkle a muffin, you’ll only be contributing to the trend — is something so established still considered a trend? — of turning muffins into cupcakes. And yet sometimes the urge is irresistible.

I made these the other day. They are one of my favorite muffins (of the cupcakey muffin style), so I thought I’d share them with you.


1 C frozen cranberries, chopped. I suggest a food processor to chop the cranberries. You’re not looking to grind them into a paste, so just pulse until they are fairly well chopped.
2 Tbsp sugar
2 C flour
1/3 C sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C butter
3/4 C orange juice — I use frozen concentrate because I just keep it in the freezer and use it now and then, but I guess fresh would probably be better.
1 egg, slightly beaten

1/4 C butter, melted, for dipping
1/4 C sugar, for dipping

Spray muffin cups with whatever oil spray you prefer. They will stick if you don’t spray the cups. If you use paper cups, put them in the muffin pan and then — this is important — spray the paper cups.

Combine the chopped cranberries with the 2 Tbsp sugar and set aside.

Combine the flour, the 1/3 C sugar, the baking powder, and the salt. Cut in the butter. I suggest cutting the cold butter into roughly Tbsp chunks, adding them to the flour mixture, and then using a Really Sturdy pastry cutter (with FLAT BLADES not ROUND WIRES) to cut in the butter. It only takes a minute if you have chunked the butter rather than dropping a whole stick into the bowl. Incidentally, if you’re not used to cutting in butter, you first press straight down and then twist the cutter in a circular motion. If (when) butter sticks to the cutter, scrape it off with a spoon or knife.

You cut in butter to produce flakier pastries, incidentally. It makes an enormous difference when you make scones, but I’m not certain it honestly matters tremendously for this recipe. The alternative would be to soften the butter (15 seconds in the microwave) and beat it with the egg and sugar, then the orange juice, then add the flour mixed with the baking powder and salt. That would probably work fine, too.

Anyway, provided you cut in the butter the way the recipe directs, you cut it in until the bits of butter are the size of peas or smaller and then stir in the orange juice and egg, mixing gently.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups. For me, this makes 12 muffins with no batter left over.

Bake the muffins at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or so, until lightly browned. Cool in the pan five minutes. Lift out and set on a rack. If you sprayed the muffin pan, they should lift out easily, or at least mine do. While still warm, dip each muffin in the melted butter and then the sugar. Serve warm, to cries of delight from all.

Though sparkling cranberry muffins are popular, I’m sure you immediately notice the potential of this techniques for other kinds of muffins. If you sparkle a chocolate or chocolate chip muffin, you may as well give up and call it a cupcake, but you can probably get away with serving most other kinds of sparkled muffins for breakfast. I must admit that I am perfectly capable of eating them for breakfast and then for dessert at dinner, so a batch doesn’t last long at my house.

Posted in: And Cake!, Blog by Rachel on March 31st, 2015

Self-Published fantasy challenge: an update

March 30th, 2015

Here Ria of Bibliotropic organizes her 26-title slushpile for the challenge and discusses how she’ll be handling things.

Here is Ria’s first review of one of those titles.

Here is Fantasy Book Critic, listing their titles and linking to other participants.

And here’s Fictiongarden, sorting through, as far as I can tell, all of the entries for the fantasy challenge and picking thirteen. Apparently JR Karlsson at Fictiongarden is a self-pubbed author himself and has been paying attention to self-pubbed fantasy for some time, so quite a few of the authors involved in the challenge were familiar to him.

Anyway, I just thought you might like a reminder about this challenge. I’ll try to remember to check in on it from time to time through the summer.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 30th, 2015

Observations on signing a new contract

March 30th, 2015

So, the final details of the contract with Simon and Schuster’s Saga imprint have been ironed out at last, and four copies of the contract are now printed, signed, and ready to go off to the publisher.

Do you realize what these contracts look like? I mean, this one is 25 pages long, single spaced. Can you imagine? Yes, I read the whole thing. It would be (mildly) interesting to get out my other contracts and compare them, not that I plan to do anything of the kind because life is short. They are all similar, of course, but I imagine the details are a bit different.

Anyway, the contract deals with all the stuff you would expect: rights and subsidiary rights (like audio, for example), obviously. Things like audio rights reverting to me if Saga doesn’t put out an audio edition within such and such an amount of time, stuff like that. There’s all this detailed stuff about what the royalty percentages are for every form of the book that could possibly exist, and details about when and how royalties are paid.

There’s stuff about Saga having an option for the next adult book SFF book I write — that’s always fine with me, I hope they love the next adult SFF book I write and are dying to acquire it.

There are clauses dealing with the timing of delivery of manuscripts. Like, a first draft of Book 1 is due May first and a final draft is due August first; a first draft of Book 2 is also due August first and the final draft is due next March. Of course I could have requested other due dates if I thought those were going to be a problem, but they should be just fine. The contract spells out how late I can be and how to ask for an extension if necessary. It also spells out how long the publisher has to accept or reject any particular manuscript and what happens if they reject one, and what happens if there is a delay in publication.

For once I like the length requirements, which are also listed: each book is supposed to be about 130,000 words. That is very close to my natural length, so this time there is no need for me to worry about having gone 50,000 words over the specified length. Although the second ms I have for them (THE WINTER DRAGON) is still going to overshoot. But I don’t think by *quite* so much.

There’s stuff in here about, oh, termination of the agreement under these circumstances and those circumstances, who is responsible for what in case of legal action under various circumstances. And I get to formally declare that I am indeed the author, and haven’t put any libelous stuff in the manuscript — obviously not a particular concern for secondary world fantasy, or I presume not, that sounds more like a clause that would matter if you were writing memoir. There’s stuff about my right to see page proofs and exactly how to deal with alterations to the text.

The most immediately important part is the noncompete clause, which specifically allows me to publish any sequels to BLACK DOG whenever I want. I can bring out the HOUSE OF SHADOWS sequel, too, though there are limitations about just when, ie, not within six months following publication of one of their titles. Getting permission to self-publish was important to me and my agent was instrumental in getting that in there. The contract specifically notes that I need to notify them about publication dates for BLACK DOG sequels, though, so it’s good I read that part, since I mean to bring PURE MAGIC out in May.

Anyway, here’s one thing you may find interesting: out of about eighty paragraphs total, my agent’s negotiations caused stuff to be added or deleted or altered in about 70. (These are rough counts, but something like that.) You can tell because additions are boldfaced and deletions are shown with strikethroughs. Lots of the changes are minor, but some are very important.

This is one of the big things your agent does. I just wanted to point that out, because it’s not like I didn’t know that when I was looking for an agent. But when you are looking for an agent, you are basically thinking about gatekeeping and about getting your foot in the door. And that is all true, but this contract negotiation stuff? And the persistence to keep at it for months? That is also very, very important.

But! It’s all settled now.

Right now: finishing the H of S sequel. It’s taking longer than I really expected (I’m sure you’re shocked to hear that), but I should be wrapping it up over the Easter weekend, I hope. I *think* I have just two more chapters to write.

Next up: revising MOUNTAIN one last time before sending it to my Saga editor by May 1st.

After that: writing the rest of the draft for my second Knopf YA title, due this September.

This is why I keep saying things like, “Too busy to read right now” and “Maybe a weeks’ break in April” and all like that.

Mind you, after I turn in my Knopf manuscript in September, I will ABSOLUTELY take a LONG break.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 30th, 2015

And I thought I spent a lot on books

March 29th, 2015

Actually, I *don’t* think I spend a lot on books — compared to how much I spend on other luxuries/necessities, such as dog treats. Much less how much I spend on real things like vet care! My vet loves me, I promise you.

On the other hand, I sort of thought I spent a good bit on books compared to how much other people spend on books. Well, let me tell you, I am in no way an outlier on this BookRiot post!

I read about 100 books last year and bought slightly more than that — about 130. The two lists don’t overlap quite as much as you might think; I read just about half of the books I bought — 62, counting four or so DNF titles. The remainder are still on my TBR pile, where they may sit for a good long time yet, it’s hard to say.

Some books are gifts, but most I buy. The local library is small and it’s generally not worth checking to see if they have what I want, so I let my membership lapse ages ago. I buy mostly Kindle books, but there are some exceptions, like THE VOYAGE OF THE BASILISK, which I think is just too pretty a package to buy anything but the hardcover. I’m more likely to buy a Kindle book if it’s $5.99 or under; over that, and I’m more likely to put it on my wishlist so I don’t forget about it. But if I know I definitely want to read it, I will probably go ahead and buy it. Or if I know the author at all and I want to get the book someday, of course I’m likely to get it when it comes out, because that kind of thing matters to authors. Same if it’s a debut author and I have some reason to think I will like her book; I’ll probably pick it up now and read it, well, whenever.

Even so, I very much doubt that I spend over $1000 per year on books and I strongly suspect it’s less than that. (Maybe not a lot less.)

Nineteen respondents to Book Riot’s survey report spending more than $2000 for books last year (out of about 2500 respondents total). That doesn’t seem totally unbelievable . . . but I see one data point at about $25,000. Is that even possible? The greatest outlier is $70,000. On books. In one year. I . . . am kind of having a hard time believing that.

Unless these are people who collect rare first editions! Whew, glad I thought of that, because it does bring those numbers into the realm of possibility.

The mean number of books read in 2014 was 70. I’m pleased to see that the Book Riot folks get that mean is not the only way to state an average: the mode was 30 and the median 55. You can see some outliers must have read A LOT of books to pull the mean that far away from the mode. The greatest number of books reported read last year was 800. Wow. A) A lot of those were itsy bitsy kids books. B) That person reads REALLY fast.

Anyway, interesting! They’re still wading through the data, too.

About how many books do you all read per year? Do you have any idea? I know it was about twice as many for me before I started writing, so my natural number per year is probably close to 200. How about you?

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 29th, 2015

Sometimes you win: The kindness of strangers edition

March 29th, 2015

Here is Honey, primping before driving to the show:

Honey primping

She is sitting on the kitchen counter with a blow dryer pointed at her ears. As you can probably tell. Generally one bathes the dog the day before the show and tries to do the ears again the morning of the show. Honey doesn’t have a ton of coat, so she’s easy to keep in good condition, but on the other hand I want her ears as fluffy as possible when we walk into the show ring because she doesn’t have a ton of ear fringe compared to some.

Anyway, here is Honey back home after the show:


She doesn’t know she is a new champion, but she certainly has noticed that she’s getting double treats today!

She is now what is called a “well-balanced dog” — meaning a title at both ends. It’s a joke, especially appreciated by people who show in performance. But her full official name as soon as this one point goes through will be: AKC Champion Anara Honeysuckle Rose RN RA

So, Yay, Honey!

This was actually an interesting show. Generally I try not to say snide things about professional handlers and the way they win all the time, because of course often the professional handlers are showing very good dogs, and generally they know how to groom them just right, so naturally they do a good bit of winning. But it does get frustrating, because from time to time it sure looks like a particular judge is awarding the win to the handler without looking at the dog — I’ve seen the occasional not-very-nice dogs go up for major wins from time to time. Losing to a dog that is plainly excellent is not as bad as losing to one that is obviously not nearly as good as yours.

But today — well, the situation was this: the entry was bigger, but the animals that actually showed up were four boys and one girl (Honey). In Missouri at the moment that’s one point for the dogs and, of course, no points for the bitches. But even when there aren’t any other girls, it’s possible for a girl to get a point by winning the boy’s point. She does this by first automatically getting Winners Bitch (because she’s the only bitch there). Then she goes back in the ring to compete with the Winners Dog for Best of Winners. If she beats him, she gets as many points as he won.

Now, Honey is a pretty little thing, but she doesn’t have the glamour of a top winner, she has that kiss mark on her face, and she has a white sclera in one eye. So I didn’t think she had a chance of beating the Winner’s Dog, who was unquestionably a nice youngster. But the professional handler — with whom I’d been chatting — did SUCH a casual job of showing his boy! He let him sit, he let him amble around the ring, he didn’t encourage him to pose, he didn’t really move him out on the down-and-back — in other words, he was trying to give Best of Winners to Honey. Sometimes this kind of thing affects the outcome and sometimes it doesn’t, because the judge has already seen both animals showing properly and very likely she has already made up her mind. But in this case — whether because of Honey’s extremely good movement, which she showed off fairly well today, or because of the dog’s casual look in the Best of Winners competition — the judge gave the win to Honey. Poof! She’s a champion.

None of this did anything for or against the boy puppy, btw. He’d already won his point and the male special had already gotten Best of Breed over both of us.

If I were a judge, I would absolutely award the better dog no matter what. And maybe she’d have given it to Honey anyway. Quite a few judges have appreciated Honey, especially if they came out of Sporting Dogs and prioritize movement and even more so if they don’t approve of the modern shift toward more extreme heads in the breed. But I sure appreciated that handler, whose name I don’t even know, giving Honey a little boost. At the very least, it shows good will. So, whoever you were, bless you, friend.

I’m done showing for the year, now. Except I’ll put Ishmael in nearby shows to boost the numbers in dogs (and thus the points) when my friends need me to — Deb is trying to get majors for her boy. And I would like to put one or a couple Rally titles on Ish, of course. But that is much, much less stressful. I just do that because we all enjoy it, and although it’s nice to win first place, it doesn’t *matter* — all you need are qualifying scores, so you generally come home with a new title after every weekend.

Zero progress on the WIP today, but, yeah. Today was a good day.

Addendum: I looked up the judge in my show notes, and she is definitely a structure & movement judge. In 2011, she gave my young girl of mine, Eve, Best of Breed over a really nice male champion, and when I commented that she must not have minded the puppy’s freckles, she said, “Oh, I don’t mind freckles when she moves like that.” I made a specific note about that at the time. Eve was possibly my best-structured puppy ever, though rather too big and certainly not feminine and pretty. I do regret placing her as a pet now that I’m down to two intact girls, but at the time, placing her made sense.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 29th, 2015

There are only five kinds of books in the world –

March 27th, 2015

I don’t mean that there are only five distinct plots! I know people occasionally make that sort of assertion and that is not what I have in mind.

But it has occurred to me that there are definitely just five kinds of books that matter in my life, and in fact I bet you all have precisely these same categories.

1) Books I will definitely, without question, read this year.

2) Books I would really like to read this year.

3) Books I definitely intend to read sometime this decade, if possible.

4) Books I would kind of like to read before I die.

5) Books I definitely do not intend to read.

The first category is easy! Category (1) books are simple to identify. It exclusively includes books which come out this year that are part of a series I am really enjoy and that I very familiar with so that I don’t have to re-read the earlier books. This includes Patricia Briggs’ DEAD HEAT. Also Marie Brennan’s VOYAGE OF THE BASILISK. Also CJ Cherryh’s TRACKER. Also most likely ANCILLARY MERCY by Leckie and AN APPRENTICE TO ELVES, by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, both due out this fall. These are titles I will read, not necessarily the minute they hit the shelves, but probably within a month or two of publication. Laura Florand is a special case of this category, because it is easier for me to read a contemporary book when I’m actually working on a fantasy novel of my own whether it’s part of a series or not. They are easy to get into and out of, and her books are quick to read, so her books are also in Category (1).

Category (2) is bigger. It includes new standalone titles by authors I love, OR titles that are part of a series I love but where I want to re-read the earlier books before reading the new one, OR books by new-to-me authors that come with a strong recommendation from someone I trust, such as many of you.

This year, books in this category solely because of a recommendation include THE STORY OF OWEN by EK Johnson, THE STEERSWOMAN by Kirstein because both Kate Elliot and my brother strongly recommend it, and THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB by Genevieve Valentine.

Books that are part of a series, but where I want to re-read the whole series plus the new one, can be hard to get to because I have multiple writing deadlines of my own and reading a trilogy is more of a commitment than reading a single book. But I will try hard to read JINX’S FIRE by Sage Blackwood this year.

New standalones by authors I love includes things like Sarah Addison Allen’s FIRST FROST, which is out now, I believe. Ah, yes, I see it came out in January. Well, I was busy in January and I’m busy now and I’m not sure when I will get to it.

Catagory (3) is much, much bigger. It includes everything from Category (2) that I don’t actually get to this year, plus things that one or more of you recommended but that I have some doubts about — here I’m thinking of 100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE, which I just picked up because Sherwood Smith pushed me toward it. Plus everything on my current physical TBR pile, because it’s just embarrassing to have the same books sitting there year after year. I’ve got Cinda Williams Chima’s THE DEMON KING on there. Do you realize that came out in 2010? It’s terrible. Also I haven’t ever read the third book of Rachel Carson’s THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS (I need to re-read the whole trilogy).

Also included in Category 3 are any series where I’m specifically waiting for the author to write the last book before I read the series. That’s like THE RAVEN BOYS quadrilogy, for example. The 4th book, THE RAVEN KING, is due out this fall. That’s all very well and I may actually read the whole set when it comes out, but who knows? A four-book set is going to involve a heavy commitment of time. Maybe next year. Or the year after that.

Category (4) includes WAR AND PEACE. And stuff like that. You can probably fill in the titles. Probably some of them are on your list, too. A TALE OF TWO CITIES. Things that are basically hovering on the edge of my radar. I know they’re there, I have heard good things about them, I would like to have read them, but they keep being bumped out of the way by new releases I’m dying to read.

And, of course, you can all fill in books from Category (5) after those recent discussions about Grim Classics. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE: yeah, no, thanks. I’m glad I wasn’t forced to read it when I was in high school, and I sure don’t plan to read it now.

So. The current Top Ten Books I Most Want to Read Right Away . . . titles come and go from that set. But at the moment, books I’m most likely to pick up in April include, not necessarily in this order:

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

The Steerswomanm by Rosemary Kirstein

I Rode A Horse of Milk-White Jade by Diane Wilson, which I feel a tug toward every time I see it on my coffee table

Kill All the Lawyers, the sequel to Infinity Hold by Barry B Longyear, which I only just found out about.

Keep the Law, which is the third book in that series

A Wind in Cairo by Judith Tarr

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Tracker by CJC

The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray


Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 27th, 2015

Number one Do Not Want

March 26th, 2015

Look at this teaser for a short story that just went up at

“Dog” by Bruce McAllister is a chilling horror story about a young American couple who encounter dogs in Mexico very unlike any domesticated variety north of the border and what happens.

Uh, no. Count me out. Not touching it. But thank you so much for warning me! No, seriously, I appreciate knowing I should not read this story.

For example, Kij Johnson’s short story, “The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change.” I would have appreciated a warning on this one: DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE RACHEL NEUMEIER. Not that it’s not well written. And tying it into a kind of anthropological report format is so interesting and just my kind of thing! But sad, abandoned dogs are not for me.

That is worse than the dog dying. Usually.

“A Boy and His Dog” didn’t bother me. I could appreciate what Ellison was doing and awful stuff that doesn’t involve awfulness happening to the dog is fairly tolerable. But normally, these days, if the word “dog” is in the title, I’m pretty cautious about touching the story. I notice that Michael Swanwick’s story “The Dog Said Bow-Wow” is listed as one of Locus’s picks as Best Short Story of the 21st Century. But I sure wouldn’t read it unless someone who knows me gave me a thumbs-up.

Incidentally, Duranna Durgin has a wonderful real-life story about her beagles up at Book View CafĂ© today. Complete with adorable beagle pictures. She is making me feel guilty and neglectful as a trainer, I must say. My dogs all want me to do a ton more training with them even if it cuts into my writing schedule. I will be totally embarrassed if I don’t get around to putting at least one or two Rally titles on Ish this year. He loves training so much, and Rally is so easy, but I’ve done so little work with him. Well, soon the weather will warm up and we will have some fun times until the summer’s heat (and encroaching deadlines) drive me back to my air-conditioned living room and my laptop.

Gratuitous spaniel pic: Please can you stop typing and do something fun?


Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 26th, 2015

Who would think of doing that? Or, I bet Tolkien would have been pleased.

March 25th, 2015

So, I just saw this interview of Marie Brennan at

This is Liz Bourke interviewing Brennan because of Brennan’s THE VOYAGE OF THE BASILISK coming out this month.


Now, I am a great admirer of Marie Brennan, which doesn’t mean I necessarily like all her work. I didn’t care for MIDNIGHT NEVER COME (though let me just add that that is one of the best titles ever). Somehow it just did not grab me. I gave it to my brother because he’s into history, though I don’t know if that period is one of his favorites, but he often likes books I don’t much care for, so I thought he might appreciate it more than I did.

Of course you all know that I love her current series.

Given her past work, I can sorta see Marie Brennan doing a short story like this, but I would never, never have thought of it:

I have a short story coming out in the fourth Clockwork Phoenix anthology this summer; it’s called “What Still Abides,” and it’s written entirely in words derived from Germanic roots (no Latinate terminology). On a per-word basis, it is probably the most labor-intensive thing I’ve ever produced: I had to look up everything in the Oxford English Dictionary, and struggle to find synonyms or other ways to phrase things when I ran afoul of Anglo-Norman vocabulary.

Seriously? I will NEED to look at that. I may not be very interested in short stories generally, but that will be an amazing story to take apart. What kind of story do you suppose it will be, that this use of language makes sense? I know that Tolkien was thoroughly involved with the old Germanic languages; I wonder if we’ll see Brennan draw on some of the same heroic traditions that influenced Tolkien and if so, how recognizable that influence will be.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 25th, 2015

Quiet moments in epic fantasy

March 24th, 2015

Here is a post by Beth Bernobich at Fantasy Book Café.

Beth says:

I love epic fantasy. I love the drum roll of its vast armies, the crescendo when kingdom battles kingdom for the fate of the world. I love its thousand­-voice chorus of political intrigue, secret agendas, of heroes and heroines. I love its quests and sweeping drama of events writ large. It’s the 1812 Overture with extra cannons.

But you know what else? I love the quiet moments in epic fantasy too.

In between the explosions, I want to catch my breath, to absorb what all that action means for the characters. Most important, I need to connect with individual people, and not nations.

I agree. I would go further than that, because I don’t think I’m all that big a fan of epic fantasy, actually, so I’m not too keen on the vast armies. I want to connect to one or a few main characters and follow them; once we get past, say, four pov protagonists, I generally become less involved in the story. (I say four because I’m currently working on a book with four pov protagonists, so that limits my ability to stomp my feet and declare I dislike multiple pov.)

While I do appreciate quiet glimpses of daily life in an epic, I also appreciate books that are quieter overall — more intimate, less epic. Here The Sharing Knife series comes to mind, for example. So does Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn. In books like that, stuff may happen, but there is a gentler pace for much of the story and a definite focus on the day-to-day life of one or a few pov characters. I like that a lot.

Anyway, Beth offers a good handful of examples of the kinds of moments she’s talking about.

I have her Passion Play on my Kindle, incidentally, but I haven’t read it.  The whole trilogy is complete, though.  I’m certain I picked up Passion Play because of a recommendation from Liz Bourke, not that I can find that right now.  It was probably on Twitter. Here’s a snippet from Liz’s review of the second book of the trilogy:

The prose is strong, expressive, rising occasionally to understated elegance. Bernobich has a good hand with a descriptive turn of phrase, and a robust grasp of characterisation: for the most part, everyone in this book has reasonable, internally consistent motivations for the secrets they keep and the actions they take. With intrigue and machinations and danger around every corner, secrets are understandable. The rare moments of trust are startling by comparison.

Also, just FYI, Beth Bernovich is running a Kickstarter for a novella that’s connected to and takes place after the trilogy. I kicked in, just on the weight of Liz Bourke’s opinion and a general desire to be helpful. I guess that will probably make me read her trilogy a bit sooner. Maybe this year.

The list of Books I Really Want to Read This Very Year is getting uncomfortably long, and it’s not even April. Well, I will soon finish my current project — I’m thinking I will be able to tie a bow around it over Easter weekend — and then I will be able to take off a few weeks. But I better not take too long a break: Saga is expecting a full ms from me by mid-May, so I will need to revise that, too.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on March 24th, 2015