Archive for the Blog Category

Recent wishlisting –

April 16th, 2014

Okay, first, this post, at Persephone Reads, about a narrative nonfiction book, WASHINGTON’S SPIES, about . . . get this . . . Washington’s spies. As in, the Washington, and the men he set up to spy on the British during the Revolutionary War.

Who knew?


Chelle says, “Talking with my father about reading this book, I was prompted to admit to being overtaken by one of those slow-blink moments of realization: George Washington was a living, breathing person. That sounds strange. Here’s the thing: In my imagination, Washington was never more than that silent stoic and mostly static figure seated on a horse in EPCOT’s American Adventure. He was, I don’t know…like plastic….”

This book evidently succeeds in bringing Washington to life. And his spies. I think I am going to have to read this. I love a story that really shows me a period of history, makes it seem alive and real. Thanks to Chelle for the tip.

Second, over at Books Without Any Pictures, a review of STOLEN SONGBIRD by Danielle Jensen.


I’ve seen brief mentions of this one on Twitter, plus one or two reviews, but Grace’s review is the one that made me add the book to my wishlist. It’s a recent debut so I will probably go ahead and pick it up in the next couple of days. Always nice to support a debut author if you can.

This is a troll story, very similar in basic outline to Dunkle’s THE HOLLOW KINGDOM. I really enjoyed that one, but had significant issues with the forced-marriage trope, which did not seem to me to be presented as a truly problematic plot element. I’m thinking I might like this one better.

Grace says, “And then there’s the fact that the entire prophecy/destiny thing doesn’t go according to plan. It’s almost a trope in a lot of fantasy novels that you have a character with a special destiny who has a mission to change the world. Here, you have two characters with an obvious destiny, and they’re forced together in the early chapters of the book to break a curse and it doesn’t work.”

It doesn’t work? Really? I think that’s rather fabulous. You know my post the other day about things I’d like to include in a future book? Another is: a prophecy that doesn’t come true.

Also: pretty cover. I’m a bit tired of the cut-off face closeup and I’m not a fan of the ballgown girl covers, yet this one really works for me. I haven’t priced this and might get it as a Kindle book, but if I get the paper edition, it’s one I would turn face-out on the shelf.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 16th, 2014

Three tropes I would like to include in a book eventually –

April 15th, 2014

First of all, an older woman protagonist.

I greatly appreciate it when someone else puts an older woman front and center in a book, such as in PALADIN OF SOULS by Bujold or THE WHEEL OF THE INFINITE by Martha Wells or, um, yeah, I’m sure there must be more older female protagonists, but right now I’m drawing a blank. The Mrs Pollifax books, if you step outside SFF and into the cozy spy novel subgenre.

I should do that.

But, not in the current WIP. The protagonist, Kehera, is your rather standard young woman. I’ve upped her age to twenty because hey, self publishing, don’t need to hit the standard YA parameters OR hit the definitely-adult button. I can go right in between if I want to. Which, for various reasons, I do. So: not an older woman. Of the other two mss I plan to complete this year — yeah, no older female protagonist in those, either. The books I have on my five-year plan? Not one has an older woman protagonist.

Sigh. Maybe someday.

And moving along, how about important friendships between unrelated girls! Friendships that don’t take a back seat when the Love Interest appears, or at least recover during the course of the story. Bonus points if one of the girls is a tomboy and the other is a girly-girl, because I don’t like either sort of girl being presented as intrinsically less okay. I like girl friendships, when I see them in a story. I understand this kind of female friendship is definitely a Thing in Elizabeth Wein’s recent historical novels, CODE NAME VERITY and / or ROSE UNDER FIRE. (Sorry, still waiting for a chance to read those, I know they’re great, maybe in May.) Also, THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, a fantastic contemporary YA by Nelson, includes a good example. Oh, and back to fantasy, MONSTROUS REGIMENT by Pratchett, of course, though that’s kind of cheating! Or for something completely different, DUN LADY’S JESS by Duranna Durgin. I’m sure there are others, but seriously, girl friendships are not that common in fiction.

Yep, not really expecting to see that in any of the books I definitely plan to write. Oh, wait, yes, there is that one! Heck, I even plan to write that one this very year. So that’s something. I hope the plot doesn’t become unwieldy in ways that make me reduce that aspect.

Okay, how about an important nonsexual friendship between a man and a woman? You know, there is actually this kind of friendship in the Mrs Pollifax series, come to think of it — between Mrs Pollifax and Farrell. Is it possible to have a real friendship between a man and a woman who are closer in age? In real life, I know it is. In fiction, I think you really don’t see it except between a woman and a gay man, and that’s all very well but not only is it becoming something of a cliché, use of this trope implies that it’s impossible for straight men to be friends with women, which I know is not universally true. Tana French started to include an important male-female friendship in her IN THE WOODS, but of course she completely ruined that friendship as the book progressed. You may recall how I felt about that.

Though actually, you do see important friendships between Cassandra and other women, and Cassandra and male characters, in Andrea K Host’s TOUCHSTONE trilogy. Two thumbs up on that one. And you also see this in the INDA series by Sherwood Smith, so there’s another example.

I will say, yes, okay, I do have an important male-female friendship in one story. But generally if you are going to include romance and then dwell on that relationship, unless you’re writing a trilogy (you will notice the examples above are all series), you may have trouble including everything else you would like to. The story where I have this is also a duology. Or trilogy, depending on how it eventually breaks up.

So, that’s three. Anybody got suggestions for books that hit these tropes?

I could sure list more than three tropes and types of characters I’d like to include someday, that I just don’t see happening in the near future. Important secondary animal characters! Thieves! Assassins! I could list a dozen more, but, gosh, look at the time, gotta go work on the current WIP.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 15th, 2014

Spring! And updates –

April 14th, 2014

Cleverly flowering between last week’s freeze and tonight’s freeze, my baby Magnolia ‘Butterflies.’ This is one of the best modern yellows. I believe it’s a selection off the normal saucer magnolia, so my guess is it will be a small tree rather than a shrub. Mine is just a baby, about five feet tall.

Butterfly2 (Medium)

I must say, in my more totalitarian moments, I would like to establish a plant list for every town and refuse to let more than, say, ten trees of any one kind be planted within the city limits, because there are WAY too many Bradford pears and WAY too few yellowthorns (say), so it would be nice to prod homeowners away from the former and toward the latter. BUT, I would give everybody a free magnolia. Nothing is more beautiful in the spring than a town where people went nuts with magnolias about 40 years ago. Champaign/Urbana in IL is like that, btw. Magnolias for spring and red maples for fall, that town will knock your socks off twice a year when the weather cooperates. Someone sure deserves a lot of credit for that town’s landscaping, don’t know who, but good job whoever you were.

Okay, and I think this is a fritillaria of some kind.

Frittalaria (Medium)

I planted it about ten years ago, just one bulb because it was expensive, and every year it comes up, looks fine, fails to flower, and dies back. Now that I have forgotten exactly what it is, it has finally decided to flower. Black flowers! How cool is that?

Tonight it is supposed to freeze. Or maybe tomorrow night. This might zap the apricot / plum / peach flowers, but on the other hand, maybe not. We are up high enough that we sometimes manage to stay above the line even when there is a sharp frost in town. Lots of finger-crossing around town, I’m sure.

On the other hand, nasty weather will let me stay inside and get some (non-gardening) work done!

On Saturday I didn’t really have time to do much, what with gardening etc, but I managed to cut 50 pages, yay! Progress! Now the WIP is merely much too long rather than INSANELY too long. It’s down to about 550 pp in case you are curious. It started as nearly 750 pp. I want to cut another 100 pages or so, but in fact it is okay with me if this particular WIP winds up on the long side, so I won’t insist on getting it down below 480 pp or so.

Yesterday I added a short scene to complete Ch. 6, but I cut several pages so that was all right. Then I strung several scenes together and corrected the flow for Ch. 7. Then I wrote a new beginning for Ch. 8. Today, I will revise Ch. 8 — an extensive job, but hopefully I will finish that tonight. Or, yeah, maybe tomorrow. I believe a lot of Ch 9 can remain essentially unchanged, though! And I will be saving large chunks of Ch 10. After that I’m not sure, probably a lot more hacking it up and stitching it back together.

Meanwhile, puppy cuteness continues to be mildly distracting.

A typical view of the puppy:

PuppyBlur (Medium)

The small blurry puppy is Bug. The large blurry puppy is Honey, who has recently turned one, btw, so she will be showing in the Graduate Puppy class in May. Thank heaven her foot is much, much better. Advice to puppies: do not drive half-inch splinters into your toes where they won’t be found for three days. Very ow. But her toe looks back to normal at last.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 14th, 2014


April 11th, 2014

A logline is an elevator pitch. Huh. I didn’t know that. Have I heard the term before and it went wooosh over my head, or have I just mostly heard people say “elevator pitch”?

If you aren’t familiar with either term, then basically an elevator pitch is a one-sentence hook for your novel that kind of goes Protagonist Needs Something But Can She Overcome Obstacle?

A while back, Nathan Bransford had a good post about writing one-sentence pitches. He basically summarizes the elevator pitch as “When OPENING CONFLICT happens to CHARACTER(s), they have OVERCOME CONFLICT to COMPLETE QUEST.”

Here is Chuck Wendig’s cool recent post on loglines, which I just spotted.

The interestingness of this particular post comes in the comments, where writers present sample loglines — I’m thinking I prefer the term elevator pitch — and other commenters critique or comment.

I have tried writing elevator pitches for my books as an exercise and it is hard but interesting, plus people sure do ask you what your new book is about and believe me, that is IMPOSSIBLE to answer without boring them to tears if you try to actually describe your book. Never do that. Instead, it’s nice to have a prepared and memorized elevator pitch you can trot out for the occasion.

And you know what else? It’s a great logline that you need if you are mentioning your book or someone else’s book on Twitter. Because really, people, if you follow authors / bloggers / readers you see a whole lot of the YOU MUST BUY THIS GREAT BOOK I LOVED IT types of tweets, and first they all blur together and then they all get tuned out, unless a personal friend is tweeting about their own book or there’s some other special reason a particular comment catches your eye.

But one way to have a single book recommendation stand out from the crowd is to have exactly the right kind of logline.

I’m a sucker for superhero stories, so I like this one: “A couple of supervillains fall in love while fighting to reluctantly free a city from the tyranny of superheroes.” Nonperfect, but catchy.

Here’s one that’s very short but also catchy: “A black ops assassin atones for his brutal past by helping an alien abductee escape her fate.” I would take a second look if someone described a book to me that way.

If you have a minute, click over to Chuck’s post and let me know which potential logline, if any, would most make you take a second look at a book.

Also, this post reminds me of the long-running website QueryShark, only of course at QueryShark, Janet Reid focuses on queries. If you’ve never clicked over to that site, it can be fun to read through and interesting to see how one agent responds to specific elements of queries.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 11th, 2014

Whew –

April 11th, 2014

Here’s the first review of The Islands of Chaldea that I’ve seen posted by someone I follow. And it’s positive. Good to know. It would be so disappointing if DWJ’s last unfinished book was weak.

Brandy says, “While not as wonderful as my favorite DWJ books, it is still very good. And a not as a good as the best DWJ is still far superior to almost everything else.”

As I said, whew! The book will be hitting shelves on April 22nd. I feel no special need to pick it up immediately, but I’m glad to know it’s waiting for when I have time.

On a completely different note, and more disappointingly, the performance classes at this weekend’s CKCSC show were canceled because too few people entered. That means I get to keep the trophies for another year, but I fully intended to win them back fair and square, so I’m disappointed I won’t have the chance. I wasn’t dead sure Honey could have won the High in Novice Class trophy, but unless I did something stupid like walk past a sign (not without precedent), Pippa was all but a sure thing for the High in Rally Trial trophy. Phooey.

In the breed ring, I was only going to show Pippa one day in Veterans, and it’s not worth going just for that, so I’m staying home. The weather looks like it will be nice, at least, so that’s gardening / hiking / farmer’s market / whatever.

I do expect to show Kenya and Honey in the AKC breed ring in upcoming shows, though. I’ve decided I really do want to finish championships on them both. It would be very nice to just hurry up and finish at least one of them in May. I’m entering at least seven shows (three weekends). Honey needs six singles to finish, Kenya needs five. I would prefer small entries since the girls only need singles. I’m having to remind myself that even if the entry is small, it doesn’t NECESSARILY mean one of my girls will win. Even so, after Honey’s picking up three majors from the puppy classes last year, it’s hard to believe she won’t be able to pick up some points at these shows, too.

It’s pretty traditional to have to really work to get that one last point, though.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 11th, 2014

A geologic history of Westeros –

April 10th, 2014

No, really.

Start with a supercontinent and off you go:

Geologic events occurring XX million years ago (Mya) on Westeros:
(today) The size of the Game of Thrones planet
(25 Mya) The Earth split Westeros from Essos
(30-40 Mya) When Dorne boiled
(40 Mya) Land of ice
(60-80 Mya) The rise of the Black Mountains
(80-100 Mya) As the Moon rose, so did the Lannisters
(300 Mya) Diving the tropical reefs of Winterfell
(450 Mya) The sand ran red
(500 Mya) The first mountains

I quit reading GAME OF THRONES several books ago and I’m not very interested in Westeros as such. I may never read the rest of the series, though I would appreciate a full summary when it’s finally finished so I can see if I’m right about my predictions about what’s going to happen.

But this geological extrapolation is pretty keen.

“Knowing that the Black Mountains are 60-80 million years old, we therefore surmise that the Mountains of the Moon are 80-100 million years old, comparable to the Canadian Rocky Mountains in North America. The Moon Orogeny is more complex than the Black Orogeny, and we propose that the Mountains of the Moon formed in two stages: 1) early subduction of the microplate beneath southern Westeros, and 2) later continental collision between northern and southern Westeros.”

See? Isn’t that keen?

It reminds me of this, uh, study, of the vampire ecology in Buffy.

“Now that we have a model, we can start trying out some assumptions (or, if we’re lucky, actual measurements) for the various parameters. To start with, we know from the sign in “Lover’s Walk” that the human population of Sunnydale is 38,500. We also know that the town of Berkeley, CA has a population of about 100,000. Since Berkeley is also a town with a UC campus, and is furthermore a town that has been more or less completely urbanized (the population has been stable or dropping slightly for about 25 years), we will take 100,000 as the carrying capacity for a California university town.”

Fun with science! Enjoy.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 10th, 2014

Recent Reading: Night Broken

April 10th, 2014

Yes, okay, I paused my own work to read NIGHT BROKEN, but a) Wednesday is busy anyway, not a good day to get work done; and b) I always meant to go ahead and read NIGHT BROKEN anyway.

night broken_front mech.indd

I liked it. It didn’t seem as big and important as some of the other recent Mercy Thompson books — it was basically a monster-shows-up-we-must-kill-the-monster story. But I liked it quite a bit. In some ways I think I liked it because it didn‘t try to do big things.

Big things I would have hated: If Christy had managed to screw up the relationship between Mercy and Adam, I would have been furious. I appreciated Briggs deliberately making it clear this wasn’t a problem whenever the reader might have started to get worried. I did not want a relationship-gets-screwed-up story, even if the relationship got straightened out at the end. So: Briggs made the right call on that one, as far as I’m concerned.

Big things I would have liked: More stuff to advance the fae-at-war-with-US plotline that got started in a previous book. Yes, there was a nudge in this direction, but plainly that was a set up for a future book. The thing with Beauclare (the Gray Lord who got pissed off and declared war, if you don’t remember) is plainly in this book to reassure the reader that Briggs hasn’t just forgotten about that, but nothing about that plotline was actually necessary for this book. I mean, Briggs worked that in so it is connected, but only as a nod to plot coherence, rather than as essential to real plot coherence.

Things I was not happy about: Most authors do not kill dogs. In this one, Briggs kills a lot of dogs. :( Worse, she sets it up so the dogs’ owner is forced to kill his own dogs. Doubleplus :(

Things that compensated for the above: That set-up sure explains why Joel could tear himself free of the monster’s influence given half a chance. Talk about motivation.

Things I don’t understand: I have seen various commenters who declare that all the woman characters in this series are bitchy, mean, petty, etc except for Mercy herself. Fine, but this complaint should not apply to Christy, who has been presented that way from the start — it is important to establishing Jesse’s relationships with her dad and with Mercy and I thought Briggs was actually a bit nicer to Christy than she deserved.

But complaining about all the other female characters is becoming more obviously unfair. Surely no one can miss how Honey is a female character — and a feminine woman character too, no grease under her fingernails — who is also being developed into a real character with brains, strength, and complexity. I love the direction Briggs is taking with her. I always thought Honey had it in her! Go, Honey! I am absolutely certain Honey is going to get more and more important to the pack and play a major role in upending certain not-very-nice pack traditions.

Things I do understand: I have seen various commenters who have been left with a very bad taste in their mouths regarding various other members of the Columbia River Pack. Well, no kidding. Bad show by all kinds of people who should darn well know better. If they don’t know better now, there’s just no hope for them.

Final thoughts: A solid and enjoyable story. I’m looking forward very much to seeing where the series goes from here.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 10th, 2014

This is a . . . banana?

April 9th, 2014

Here’s something you don’t see every day:


Everyone needs a hobby, right? Turning bananas into art is Keisuke Yamada’s hobby, apparently. No word about whether he plans to eventually branch out into less-perishable media.

See what you miss if you don’t follow Twitter?

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 9th, 2014

Janet Reid on agent burnout

April 9th, 2014

Nice post up today over at Janet Reid’s main site,on agent burnout.

A while back I posted a question from a writer who seriously wondered if her agent was dead or abducted by aliens (no contact for months on end.)

In my reply I mentioned that kind of thing has been happening more often. That observation sparked some interest and some requests for elaboration. …

What this is has a name: burnout. Agenting is a job that’s ripe for burnout for two reasons:

1. Almost nothing is under our direct control
2. Almost nothing is ever finished

And she goes into how many younger agents may not have the background and support they need to be able to handle the crazy things that evidently happen. Also, this, about how things are never actually finished:

When I say nothing is ever finished, let me just illustrate that with an example from this weekend: I read a manuscript (which was very good) and sent the author (my client) a series of notes. He’ll make changes, then send the ms to his editor. Done? Not even close. When this goes to edits/copyedits/production/publication there will be lots of things to do and problems to address. The work is never ever done and that can be daunting because it’s really hard to take time off, or even step back sometimes knowing that the work is just going to stack up.

Now, the editing end of things, which Janet is empathizing in the bit I quoted above, is not the part I would actually hate dealing with. I’m no great shakes as an editor, but at least working with the actual ms is something I do not loathe.

Stuff I would totally loathe dealing with:

a) figuring out the contract and what’s normal and what should be argued about etc etc etc. On a scale of one to ten, I would hate dealing with that at about an seven. Or an eight. Eight and a half.

b) calling people at the publishing house every other day for months nagging about things. On a scale of one to ten, I would hate dealing with that at about a hundred and five.

So, yeah, thank heaven for Caitlin. Who I trust will never, ever even flirt with the edges of burnout.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 9th, 2014

Sherwood Smith: turn offs and turn ons

April 8th, 2014

I like this pair of posts by Sherwood Smith: Top Ten things she is tired of reading about in fantasy novels, and now a new companion post: Top Ten things she likes to see in fantasy novels.

Post The First: I wouldn’t personally pick exactly the same Top Ten Tropes I Hate list. For example, #2. I really liked I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER. Come to think of it, I really liked the first season of CRIMINAL MINDS, too. And right now in between working on This Huge Revision, I am re-reading tiny bits of the Shadow Unit shared world thing by Emma Bull and Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear and everyone else I am temporarily forgetting, which btw if you just bought a Kindle, you should really try the Shadow Unit series (I’m talking to you, Craig).

I agree that it takes a special writer to pull off Magical Animal Companions (#10). Not exactly for the same reason that Smith mentions, though partly that. For me, the biggest problem is that the Magical Animal Companion is like a robot. Perfectly trained. Perfectly reliable. It has no personality because it is a robot, not an animal — and certainly not a companion. But when an author DOES pull off a great animal secondary character, then I LOVE that. (I bet Sherwood Smith does, too.) (Speaking of Book View Cafe, I like Duranna Durgin’s corgi).

Okay, but. HERE are the items in the list I would like to get behind and push. I would be happier if I never again saw:

7. Evial Red Priests. I get it that a lot of writers hate organized religion. But I’ve gotten it for forty years. It’s not news, nor is it shocking or edgy. There are far too many books in which the entire purpose of the church is oppression and nothing else–no liturgy, poetry, music, art, plays, debate, no social services, however rudimentary. No sense that there are good or indifferent priests, creative ones, visionary ones, savvy ones, conflicted ones–they all seem to be child-molesting, racist, sexist, narrow-minded nasties. And our heroes are heroes because they are postmodern determinists. I particularly dislike that trope in historical novels: the heroes are all enlightened postmoderns, and the villains believe in that particular era’s paradigm.

8. Primitive Utopias. ….Primitive life isn’t comfortable, it’s maybe a step above basic survival. Primitive life means it’s hard to keep clean, hard to keep warm, hard to stay fed without something really nasty getting in your innards, and then you really wish the facilities weren’t primitive. A realistic primitive life story might gain more of my respect–but not my interest. I have to admit my interests lie with art and with evolving civilization.

Yeah, what she said. Absolutely.

Okay, now, stuff Sherwood Smith picks out that she likes: disguises, amnesia, intrigues, capers.

For me personally, amnesia is not a Thing. Disguises, though. I like the girl-dressing-as-boy trope. No reason really, I just do. Luckily a lot of other authors like that one, too.

Plus, Sherwood mentions amazing plot twists as a Thing. Yeah, not actually necessary, but if the author really pulls it off, it can be amazing.

And this:

I like my protagonists to have a moral code, maybe even a sense of honor, though it isn’t easy or convenient, and the numinous is going to catch my heart every time.

Yes. This.

I have two more books by Sherwood Smith on my Kindle, btw. Or, I don’t know, maybe three? I know one is A POSSE OF PRINCESSES, but I can’t remember the others. When I eventually read them, I’m sure I’ll be asking all of you where I should go next. Big backlist from Smith, I know.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 8th, 2014