Archive for the Blog Category

Resources for writers

September 30th, 2014

Okay, first, a day or so ago Martha Wells mentioned she has this page on Twitter, and I went and looked at it and I think it is helpful. It’s a bunch of links to posts that ought to be useful for new writers. If you go to her website, you can get to this page by clicking on “Resources” over on the sidebar, but I thought I would provide the direct link here.

One of my personal favorites is “Being good can be a shortcut. There is no shortcut to being good” by Scott Lynch. I will say that I do not get approached by people wanting The Secret Handshake all that often, but it does happen. I like snarky posts, so I enjoyed Scott Lynch’s post.

And it’s too bad I didn’t know about Jim Hines’ First Novel Survey until it was over, because I wouldn’t have minded being a data point. It’s a survey on how over 200 published writers made their first novel sale. I will just add here that 1) I made my first novel sale with zero short fiction credits; 2) I made my first novel sale with zero contacts with agents and editors; and 3) I have never participated in critique groups or writers’ groups. You can add me to all the appropriate categories.

While on the subject of websites that are good resources for writers, another one I really like is Marie Brennen’s website, Swan Tower. If you click under “essays,” you will find many excellent posts on the craft, business, and philosophy of writing. These essays are well worth checking out, though as far as I know Marie does not update them very often. There are really too many good essays to pick out any in particular. I tried just now, but then I gave up. Just click over and scan through the topics yourself.

When people ask me for websites that offer good information for writers, I still recommend Janet Reid’s website, which as you may know is mostly about the query process, but does have posts on other topics fairly frequently.

For information about one author’s success via self-publishing, I like Lindsay Buroker’s website. She is very upfront about what she has done to promote her books, what pricing strategies she has tried, all that stuff.

I will add, I think posts about How to Write — How to do worldbuilding, how to create strong characters, how to plot, all that — are essentially useless. It is mildly interesting to hear about how someone else does it, but everyone is so different, whatever they suggest is not likely to relate in any way to how you personally write. So I have no links to that sort of post. There sure are a lot of such links on Twitter, though, at least if you follow a lot of writers, so I guess many people like writing How to Write posts. Me, I need to start following more dog people or home bakers, because at the moment my twitter stream is a perhaps a little top heavy with writing tweets and book recommendations.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on September 30th, 2014

Finished!

September 29th, 2014

Always nice to tie up a manuscript and send it off! I always enjoy it as much as possible, since it happens at least twice per book (and sometimes more).

Revising KEHERA was kind of a big job and in fact I thought of a loose end I didn’t tie off properly just a minute ago. I should add a couple sentences. But BASICALLY, it is finished. It will go back to Caitlin for comments. I took a lot of her suggestions but not all; my feeling is the book works pretty well now but may seem a bit choppy toward the end. My feeling is not reliable at this point, though, which is why the manuscript goes back to Caitlin. Very likely I will wind up doing a bit more with it.

But not this week!

My hope right now is to take October off (essentially). I have an awful lot lined up to do, but I am due a month off and I’m taking it.

So, taking time off!

What I REALLY want to read is more Raksura stories, but since I’m out, I will have to read other stuff. Luckily other stuff is not in short supply. Even though I have a lot of titles on my Kindle that I would love to read, I really must read at least half a dozen titles from my physical TBR shelves, because those shelves are overflowing (again).

So now I’m in the middle of FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK. I loved Melina Marchetta’s contemporaries. I know some of you commented that you were not keen on her fantasy, but I’m always interested in exploring an author’s work once I start reading her books. I had trouble getting into each of her contemporary titles, so though FINNIKIN has also been tough to get into, I am going on with it. It’s got a horribly brutal backstory which is definitely causing me to stay a bit distant from the story out of self-protection. Therefore, I’m sort of liking it, but in a distant, more intellectual way. I’m not very emotionally involved. I am pretty sure I will be giving this book away, because I’m pretty sure I will not want to re-read it. But I’m only halfway through the book and it’s possible the ending will be so brilliant it will change my whole perception of the story and make it a keeper.

I’ve also got RANGE OF GHOSTS on my table upstairs. I own the whole trilogy, so unless I change my mind, I will next re-read RANGE OF GHOSTS and then go on with the other two books. There’s plenty of brutality in that one, too, but it’s not the same as the grinding despair that fills FINNIKIN’s backstory.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on September 29th, 2014

Oh, look, aliens!

September 26th, 2014

This looks really interesting!

Darkling-Sea

The link will take you to a review by Jo Walton at tor.com. Here’s the bit that caught my eye:

What’s better than a first novel with awesome aliens that includes really well done alien points of view? A first novel with two lots of different awesome aliens that includes two different alien points of view!

My immediate response: must read this.

Walton goes on: There’s a human expedition to Ilmatar, which an alien Europa—a planet with an ocean under the ice. The solar system of today is in many ways more exciting than the solar system we imagined before we sent robots out to explore it for us, and one of the surprises was the oceans under the ice on the Galilean moons. Cambias has clearly thought a lot about what an ocean like that might be like, because there are aliens in Ilumatar, living around hot vents, aliens who may have a million years of history, but who are living in pitch dark icy water and who are very very alien, but also absolutely adorable. We see them from their own point of view, as well as from the point of view of the humans studying them. And then, as the humans are starting to study the Ilmatarans at a safe distance, another set of aliens shows up, the Sholen, more advanced than humanity, and quite sure that they know best. And all of them, in their own very different ways, are scientists.

And there you go. I don’t always agree with Jo Walton’s take on specific books, but this? This is definitely right up my alley. I’m picking it up right now.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on September 26th, 2014

Recent listening: Authors with multiple writing personas?

September 25th, 2014

Okay, listen, if I didn’t know that Mira Grant and Seanan McGuire were the same person? I would never believe they were the same person. Let’s have a little compare and contrast moment:

EXHIBIT A

Feed

This book is beautifully written, with invisible prose and a compelling narrative voice. The overall plot has major believability issues and I had problems with aspects of the characterization, but the actual writing is very good indeed. The characters are driven forward by the action and act (mostly) in what seem to be believable, realistic ways. Well, realistic and believable if you discount the Massive Conspiracy and a few other important details — I did say I had believability issues with the plot. Also, FEED is ambitious in how it tries to combine current political and technological trends with the Zombie Apocalypse. I thought it deserved its Hugo nomination.

EXHIBIT B

Untitled-10

This book has writing which is often clunky. We frequently get things like “The question preying on their minds” when referring to a question that “they” learned about only 30 seconds ago. Does that phrase not mean what I think it means? The narrative voice — also, like FEED, a first-person voice — tries for snarky but comes across as both whiny and predictable. The characters do eyerollingly stupid things that make no sense at all, even in the world as established. The worldbuilding and plot also comes across as thoroughly predictable, derivative and boring.

What I don’t know is whether the difference in writing is as extreme as it seemed to me, because I read FEED, but I listened to the audio version of DISCOUNT ARMAGEDDON. Listening is slow, so maybe I noticed clunkiness that I would have read across in print? I didn’t care for the narrator’s voice, so maybe that is why I thought the protagonist seemed whiny?

I imagine the author wrote this UF to relax and have fun, but . . . the writing seemed so different! And nothing like as good. Plus, I stand by derivative and predictable. I swear, I don’t think there were more than ten words in the whole book that I didn’t see coming. Okay, the mice were cute. But basically everything about this story seemed completely predictable — and I’m hardly that well-read in UF in general.

Okay, now what I wonder is: Have you seen other authors who seem to have entirely different personalities and skill levels when they write in different series? Because I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. I had no trouble recognizing that Barbara Hamilton was really Barbara Hambly. Her phrasing and characterization are so recognizable! I can tell CJ Cherryh at a glance, whether she’s writing her FOREIGNER series or high fantasy. But this time? This time I can’t believe these books were written by the same person, even though I know they were.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on September 25th, 2014

Re-reading

September 24th, 2014

Do you re-read books you enjoy? Chachic has a post on this at her blog today. I’m glad to see she has made time for re-reading this year, because it’s hard to think of a greater pleasure than re-reading wonderful books.

I’m always absolutely stunned to find out that there are people who do not re-read books. I re-read when:

a) I just finished one book by an author and do not want to leave the world. For example, after reading STORIES OF THE RAKSURA, I went back and re-read bits of the three novels. I actually re-read the whole trilogy pretty recently, either earlier this year or late last year, so I just re-read little bits this time.

b) I’m working on a manuscript and don’t need to be distracted. For example, I re-read all the SHADOW UNIT books in April, when I was actually working very hard on KEHERA. I didn’t read anything else at all during that month.

c) I want a comfort read, so I reach for, say, TROUBLED WATERS or BEAUTY. Sometimes you don’t want to learn about an exciting new world and worry over the fate of the protagonists. Sometimes you just want to relax into a familiar world and enjoy watching everything work out for all the characters.

d) I happen to think how cool a particular book is, take it off the shelf and open it randomly, read a few lines, and then wind up reading the whole thing. For example, I can’t touch THE SPEED OF DARK without re-reading it from front to back.

e) I am about to start the second or third book of a series, but it’s been a while since I read the first book, so I go back and re-read it first. This is going to happen with, for example, Rae Carson’s THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, because someday I will want to read the rest of that trilogy, and I will definitely need to re-read the first book first.

So, as you might imagine, I re-read a lot of books. I don’t think there’s ever been a year when I re-read more books than I read new-for-the-first-time, but I wouldn’t swear to it. How about you?

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on September 24th, 2014

Divergent opinions –

September 24th, 2014

Which is to say, not opinions about the book DIVERGENT, which I liked, btw, but I don’t really intend to go on with the series. I know a lot of people just loved DIVERGENT, but for me it was just okay. This is mostly because of the worldbuilding, which was profoundly silly. I don’t know whether the author realized that the backstory for How The World Got That Way was ridiculous and always had in mind the Real Story, which was later revealed; but the idea of people dividing into castes based on fearlessness, self-abnegation, etc was, yes, silly.

Okay, that is actually a lead in to this post by Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds. Chuck asks:

1.) What book do you love that other people seem to hate?

2.) What book do you hate that other people seem to love?

I don’t just want names and authors listed — I’d love to hear your reasons.

And then there are 159 comments. To which I did not contribute, because there are already so many comments that adding another seems superfluous. But they are interesting, which is why I provide the link. Of course it is not in the least surprising that one person declares MOBY DICK is a great book and another that MOBY DICK is unreadable; that is exactly what we expect. But it is still interesting to read through the comments and see what people are picking for both categories and the reasons they’re giving.

Which leads me to this post by John Wright:

If you only write one book in your whole life, and only sell 600 copies or less, nonetheless, I assure you, I solemnly assure you, that this book will be someone’s absolutely favorite book of all time, and it will come to him on some dark day and give him sunlight, and open his eyes and fill his heart and make him see things in life even you never suspected, and will be his most precious tale, and it will live in his heart like the Book of Gold.

I saw a link to that post somewhere, and that bit really leaped out at me.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on September 24th, 2014

Exciting weekend!

September 22nd, 2014

Finally! Kenya is now a “well-balanced dog” — which means, titles on both ends. (She is well balanced in the other sense as well: good angulation in both front and back.)

In other words: AKC and International Champion Roycroft Kenya Cameroon RN RA C-RN C-RA

It took her five years to get that AKC championship! FIVE. YEARS. Or nearly. Call it four and a half.

It took Kenya much longer than it should have to finish because she *hated* showing when she was a puppy. She pulled hard toward the gate, she tried to leap off the table when the judge approached, she wouldn’t stand still for more than a second, she was dreadful. If I’d raised her from a baby, I don’t imagine it would have been quite so bad, but I doubt she would have had a very showy attitude even then.

Kenya's first point -- she was about a year old

Kenya’s first point — she was about a year old

In handling class, I had people walk up and hand her a cookie and walk away without speaking to her or touching her, and she gradually improved. I was very careful when I started asking people to touch her lightly on the back or on the cheek — with a treat both before and after the touch. A bad judge could set her back and I always asked other competitors what the judges were like. I learned to appreciate kind judges with a reassuring touch! That is seldom a concern for a Cavalier, but it was for Kenya. I learned to never, ever let anybody else take her in the ring for me.

Kenya as a youngster

Kenya as a youngster

Luckily Kenya is extremely food motivated! I gave her *tons* of treats while in the ring, just one treat after another. Last year she had improved to the point that she finally started winning consistently. This year she was wonderful. She still didn’t like going, but once at a show, she wanted me to take her out and give her lots of cookies. She also happened to grow a great coat just in time for the show season. She won’t exercise on her own, and like many of us, she tends to be on the chunky side, so I walked her briskly for a mile every day to keep her toned up.

Well, now she can sit on a cushion at home while other girls go off with me to shows. I will continue to cruelly haul her off the the park from time to time, but that’s it.

Oh, I will just add, I don’t have the win photo yet, but she finished off her championship by winning Best of Opposite Sex over two finished champion girls, one of which was a Grand Champion. I’m just saying.

I’m just grateful that unlike my two older girl (Pippa and Adora, who are both beautiful and much showier) Kenya did NOT lose teeth or (worse) get pyometra while working on her championship. Having to spay a lovely young girl because of pyo is THE WORST. Kenya has been a horrible producer, but I will nevertheless cross my fingers and breed her one more time, next July when Ish is old enough, and hope to get one truly beautiful male puppy. One truly beautiful male puppy who will, like Kenya’s father, grow up to live basically forever and sire puppies who will do the same.

Incidentally, Kenya’s daughter Honey also had a good weekend, and now needs just one point to finish her AKC championship. Honey did it the right way, winning her majors out of the puppy classes and just whittling down the single points this year.

Kenya a few weeks ago

Kenya a few weeks ago

Kenya a few week ago

Kenya a few weeks ago

Much happier to just stay home!

Much happier to just stay home!

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on September 22nd, 2014

Clunky prose vs predictable/uninteresting prose

September 18th, 2014

A week or two ago, when I first posted about Lindsay Buroker’s EMPEROR’S EDGE series, a commenter named Kim said that she tried the first book but found the prose unreadably “clunky.”

Huh, I said, and started to pay attention to whichever of Buroker’s books I was on at the time, to see what was “clunky” about the prose. And I found out something really interesting about myself as a reader! Which only goes to show, because I wouldn’t have thought there were many surprises left in that direction.

Here is what I realized: clunky writing does not bother me all that much in a story which is fast paced and has snappy dialogue. If those elements are in place, I can and do read right over writing that is unquestionably clunky.

I am defining “clunky,” btw, as prose that sometimes shows wrong word choices, wrong verb tense choices, awkward phrasing, etc — the sorts of things that prevent the reading experience from being smooth. For me, the opposite of clunky prose is not necessarily beautiful prose, but invisible prose. Also, I’m defining “snappy dialogue” as involving unpredictability and humor. The opposite of snappy is boring, trite, or predictable.

I was surprised to find that under the right circumstances, I can read past some clunky writing in an otherwise good book. Probably there are limits — I’m sure there are limits — but I would have thought that clunky prose would bother me all the time no matter what, whereas it turns out this is not the case.

So I went back to a book which a lot of other people have liked but which I found impossible to finish, STOLEN SONGBIRD by Danielle Jensen. Even after a real try at getting into it, I found it unreadable. Part of this was a protagonist who to me seemed annoyingly incompetent and histrionic, but a lot of the problem was the actual writing. And I realized that what actually bothers me more than clunky writing is predictable, uninteresting writing, especially dialogue. I had not realized this. To illustrate what I mean, let me contrast these two books. But let me start by emphasizing that:

a) I really like Buroker’s EMPEROR’S EDGE series! Enough to read eight books and a scattering of novellas and short stories.

b) Many reviewers I respect, and with whose taste I often agree, loved Jensen’s STOLEN SONGBIRD. Kristen at Fantasy Book Cafe gave it an 8 out of 10. Ria at Bibliotropic refers to the writing as “engaging and fluid.”

Thus indicating once more that, as we are all aware, readers’ mileage will vary when it comes to all kinds of writing.

Okay, so having said that, here is a tidbit from BENEATH THE SURFACE, The Emperor’s Edge 5.5:

Tactfully, Evrial decided not to mention that Amaranthe and her team had committed numerous crimes, crimes that might have one day been justified if it’d come out that they’d been working to protect the rightful emperor from assassins and usurpers, but that now that Sespian was just one of more than a half-dozen people with enough royal blood to make a claim on the throne . . .

I think this sentence could justifiably be called “clunky.” In case you are curious, here is how I would suggest rewording the sentence:

Tactfully, Evrial decided not to mention that Amaranthe and her team had committed numerous crimes, crimes that might one day prove to have been justified if it came out that they’d been working to protect the rightful emperor from assassins and usurpers. Although now that Sespian had been shown to be just one of more than half a dozen people with a possible claim on the throne . . .

So I think mainly this is a verb tense thing, and also I would cut that one long sentence in half. Not that I am unalterably opposed to long sentences, but in this case I don’t think the length is this sentence’s friend.

Now, here is a section that shows what I mean by fun, unexpected dialogue:

“Don’t misunderstand me,” Amaranthe said. “I certainly appreciate his solicitude, but I’m concerned he’s seeing me as some frail, broken being not capable of taking care of herself anymore.”
“Solicitude?” Evrial asked, her mind snagging on that word. “From . . . Sicarius?”
Amaranthe hesitated, as if she held some secret she wasn’t sure she should be sharing. “Not so as most people would notice it, but yes.”
That was hard to believe. “Was that [just now] an example of it?” . . .
“No, that was protective looming.”
“All right . . . ”
Amaranthe cleared her throat. “Enough girl talk. There are enemy cabins full of dastardly old ladies that we must infiltrate.”
“Unbelievable,” Evrial murmured.
“What is?”
“That you can say things like that and still get those men to rally behind you.”

Amaranthe frequently seems to really be enjoying herself with melodramatic lines that no one is expected to take seriously. This really appeals to me. I enjoy her melodrama right along with her. There are so many examples it’s hard to choose, but here’s another:

“I do not believe [Sespian] would accept a peace offering from me.”
Yes, although Sespian hadn’t pulled any more weapons on Sicarius, their new relationship wasn’t off to a brilliant start. . . . “You have to keep trying,” Amaranthe said. “Be friendly in the face of his dark glares, and he’ll eventually grow weary of rejecting you. Why, just look at us. In a short ten months of sparkling smiles and effervescent one-sided conversations, I thawed your icy exterior and got you to profess your undying love for me.”
Sicarius blinked slowly.
“It’s possible we remember the events a little differently,” Amaranthe said. “The female mind has an interesting way of filtering reality.”
“Yours certainly does,” Sicarius said, a hint of dry humor finally infusing his tone.

But it’s not just Amaranthe. Everyone gets to have fun dialogue. Even Sicarius, who barely says anything, but certainly everyone else. This, I’m almost sure, is what carries me through the story.

In contrast, check out this bit from near the beginning of STOLEN SONGBIRD:

A cloaked rider blocked the road.
My heart leapt. Fleur wheeled around and I laid the ends of my reins to her haunches. “Hah!” I shouted as she surged forward.
“Cécile! Cécile, wait! It’s me!”
A familiar voice. Gentler this time, I reined in and looked over my shoulder. “Luc?”
“Yes, it’s me, Cécile.” He trotted over to me, pulling back his hood to reveal his face.
“What are you doing sneaking about like that?” I asked. “You scared the wits out of me.”
He shrugged. “I wasn’t certain it was you at first. Sorry about the eggs [you dropped].”
An apology that didn’t explain at all why he’d been lurking in the bushes in the first place.
“I haven’t seen you in quite some time. Where have you been?” I asked the question even though I knew the answer. His father was gameskeeper on an estate not far from our farm, but several months ago, Luc had taken off for Trianon. My brother and other townsfolk had caught wind that Luc had had a bit of luck betting on the horses and playing at cards, and was now living the high life spending his winnings.
“Here and there,” he said, riding around me in a circle. “The gossips say you’re moving to Trianon to live with your mother.”
“Her carriage is coming for me tomorrow.”
“You’ll be singing then. On stage?”
“Yes.”
He smiled. “You always did have the voice of an angel.”
“I need to get home,” I said. “My gran’s expecting me – my father, too.” I hesitated and looked down the road. “You may ride with me, if you like.” I rather hoped he wouldn’t accept, but riding was better than standing here alone with him.
“Today is your birthday, isn’t it?” His horse sidled tight against mine
I frowned. “Yes.”
“Seventeen. You’re a woman now.” He looked me up and down as though inspecting something that could be bought and sold. A horse at market. Or something worse. He chuckled softly to himself and I cringed.
“What’s so funny?” My heart raced, my instincts telling me that something was terribly wrong. Please, someone come down the road.

Too many phrases in this are cliched for my taste. My heart leapt, you scared the wits out of me, living the high life, the voice of an angel. Besides the cliches, every line seems predictable and boring.

The heroine also seems like kind of an idiot, though I’m not sure that comes through in this snippet. She’s scared, but she nevertheless pauses and chats. When Luc assaults her, as he does a moment later, she is ineffectual in her response. Ineffectual and emotional are two qualities she has in spades, and I just don’t like her. But that’s not the biggest problem I had when I tried to get into the story; the uninteresting writing was the bigger problem. I read about 100 pages of this book before giving up. Then I gave it to a friend for his teenage daughter. I hope she loves it, and I do think she will, but it’s not for me.

So, anyway. Thoughts on clunky and awkward vs boring and predictable? Have you ever noticed that one type of writing bothers you more than the other? If you’d declare that both bother you equally, are you sure? If you haven’t tried THE EMPEROR’S EDGE, let me remind you that it’s free on Kindle. If you do try it, let me know what you think: do you find it catchy, or is it not for you?

Now that I try, I can think of other authors whose stories I enjoy even though their writing isn’t necessarily that good. How about you?

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Posted in: Blog, The Craft of Writing by Rachel on September 18th, 2014

Ten things not to say to a writer –

September 17th, 2014

This post by Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds is funny. A bit rude, yes, but funny: very typical of the special Chuck Wendig subgenre of blog posts.

The tenth thing not to say — “We’re out of coffee” — doesn’t resonate with me, because I drink, get this . . . water. I don’t like coffee. Or tea. I loathe soda. I hate beer. (I KNOW, right? But it’s true.)

Granted, reading Laura Florand’s THE CHOCOLATE KISS did force me to make hot chocolate — with milk and A LOT of dark chocolate and just enough sugar and, oh look, it’s fifty degrees today, just right for hot chocolate!

Ahem. Back to the topic.

The number one thing not to say to a writer, imo — and btw I am absolutely certain not one of you has ever said this to anybody — is:

I DON’T READ.

You know what? Sometimes when I say I’m a writer, someone does say this. It always takes me thoroughly aback. That is a whole different kind of person there. I’ve also had students who told me they never ever read a book that wasn’t assigned in school. I remember the exact moment I first heard a student say this! I was like, HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE????

??????????

Chuck’s response: Never, ever, ever tell a writer this. Just don’t do it. Don’t tell an architect you don’t enter buildings. Don’t tell an arborist, “I totally hate trees. And nature in general. When I see trees, I cut them down just so I don’t have to look at their dumb tree faces and their stupid asshole branches anymore.” I mean, really, you don’t read? It’s just — whhh — what is wrong with you?

My own response: I admit I would be more likely to produce only a stunned look, and maybe a weak, “Oh?” Because I am not at my scintillating best when stunned, and although I have heard this at least a dozen times, it always stuns me afresh.

Okay, actually, I like the whole post, it’s funny and there’s an element of truth to all the entries. I think I’ve heard all of those comments, in fact, minus the coffee one. So if you have a minute, you should click through and read the whole thing. As is his custom, Chuck is rather brutal where that is appropriate, but quite kind when kindness is actually called for.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on September 17th, 2014

Oh, hey, here’s an interesting new title by Jane Yolan –

September 17th, 2014

Centaur

Over at tor.com, we have a brief synopsis and an excerpt from a new book by Jane Yolan. I have a number of titles by Yolan — for me, SISTER LIGHT, SISTER DARK was the most interesting, though I’m not sure it’s my favorite.

I like centaurs — and I like this idea of one of your mares having a centaur foal. Wouldn’t THAT be surprising!

Anyway, I see CENTAUR RISING is coming out in October. I’ll be interested in taking a look at it when it hits the shelves.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on September 17th, 2014