Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Embrace Winter

Here’s a post that I will try to embrace: Embrace Your Friend, the Freezing Cold Temperature

Being cold and wishing for summer is an essential part of winter. It’s what makes summer so sweet. It’s helps make life feel lived. If you never curse the painful sting of winter’s cold kiss, can you really tolerate the annoying burn of summer’s hot sun? …

The cold is nice. You get to wear so many of your clothes. You get to come in from the cold and feel the warm air of indoors sooth your frozen skin. You get to take a deep breath and feel the fresh air in your lungs. You get to smell exhaust from a car, a good smell that smells best in cold air. You get to say “omggg it’s so cold!!,” and isn’t that fun? You get to have a very cold day.

Please don’t wish the cold away unthinkingly. Soon it will be very hot, and then, sometime after that, we will be dead.

Well, that went suddenly deep.

And no, car exhaust is definitely not a nice smell; just no.

But okay, yes, fine. I will now attempt to embrace being cold and wishing for summer; I will appreciate wearing all the nice sweaters and tall boots that I really do love; and I will remember that snow is really pretty. That gives me three things to appreciate.

Which is timely, because today it (a) first rained to remove all the pretty snow; (b) suddenly dropped 20 degrees and skidded through freezing rain and ice on its way to a sort of misty snow, which I’m going to have to drive in; and (c) it’s omgggg so cold! And the dogs and I would really prefer to have weather in which we can actually go for walks.

They did have fun coming in last night and running mad circles around the couch, mostly if not universally missing the laptop power cord and other hazards, so there’s that.

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Recent reading: Confidence Tricks by Tamara Morgan

I’ve had this one on my Kindle for some time and didn’t really expect to like it, so consistent my beginning-of-the-year attempt to whittle down the TBR pile at a brisker-than-usual pace, I gave it a try. I figured I’d read a chapter or two and ditch it.

Nope. Turned out I really liked it.

So, Confidence Tricks.

Incredibly typical romance cover, with the added detail that her attention is clearly more on the fact that she’s picking his pocket than on him. Still, basically, shirtless dude, embrace, yeah, this is your basic romance cover. Certainly the cover is not the draw, at least not for me.

Here’s part of the Goodreads description:

Asprey Charles has always assumed he would one day take his place in the family art appraisal and insurance firm. “His place” meaning he plans to continue to enjoy his playboy lifestyle, lavish money on his Cessna, and shirk every responsibility that dares come his way.

But when a life of crime is thrust upon him, he is just as happy to slip on a mask and cape and play a highwayman rogue. After all, life is one big game—and he excels at playing.

Poppy Donovan vows that her recent release from jail will be her last—no more crime, no more cons. But when she learns that her grandmother lost her savings to a low-life financial advisor, she’s forced to do just one more job.

Fine, whatever. The description is not a turn-off; in fact, there are things I like about it. But for me it’s not especially a draw, either. Plainly I picked this book up because of someone’s recommendation, don’t remember whose. Then the opening suggested that the book might well be too light and fluffy for me and I let it sink down toward the bottom of the TBR pile.

Turned out it’s not too light and fluffy, except for the beginning. Instead, it’s witty and humorous. There’s plenty of depth to the characters and plenty of unexpected turns in the plot, and yep, really enjoyed it.

Here’s a characteristic tidbit that shows off both the wit and the characters: Asprey is inviting Poppy out on a date … to help him steal his brother’s espresso maker. (This will be the sixth time he’s stolen the same model espresso maker from his brother.)

“If I get the machine first, you can ask me anything about what Graff and Tiffany and I are doing.”

That was almost too good to be true. “And you’ll tell me the truth no matter what?”

“Unless you’d rather do something else,” he offered. “Drink a nice Pinot and discuss French cheeses.”

“Oh, I”m in.” There was no use pretending this wasn’t exactly how she wanted to spend the evening. Her, Asprey, a good challenge, better stakes. “But if I find out you cheated, I get two questions.”

The two of them trade questions and answers for the rest of the story, which Morgan uses cleverly to reveal plot and character. The romance is fairly slow-build and pretty believable. Both characters are definitely likable, though at times I did feel that Poppy was being too hard on Asprey. Granted, he plays the insouciant rich playboy pretty convincingly. Still.

The ending had one element I liked, but to say anything about it would constitute a spoiler. Fundamentally a good resolution, though presented at a rather brisk pace considering the relatively slowish pace of the first 7/8ths of the story.

Bottom line: I immediately picked up another book by Tamara Morgon when I finished this story.

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I’m intrigued by what counts as “wasting time”

Here’s a post at the NY Post about reading: Most Americans try to make time to read every day.

A new study of 2,000 Americans found that as many as 86 percent feel they make a conscious effort to read in some way every day.

First: Well, good.

Second: Two thousand is not very many. Which two thousand people did you survey? Urban, rural, young, old, and on and on.

Also: 26 percent of those studied feel they haven’t managed to read a full book in the past year. … Some of the main barriers to reading more were found to be scrolling through social media (49 percent), playing games on a phone (30 percent) and watching TV shows (29 percent) – all things Americans reported “wasting” their time on.

So this is self-perception that you’re wasting your time. That seems odd to me, as if you truly perceive television as a waste of time, why are you doing it? If it’s something you enjoy, is that actually a waste? More than reading a novel?

I mean, I basically don’t watch TV, but I know I’m missing out on some good stuff. I just enjoy reading more than watching TV. That doesn’t mean I don’t realize I’m missing out. I wouldn’t say someone is wasting their time watching TV unless they just sit there gazing at the screen for hours even though they don’t enjoy it.

I think this caught my attention because I know multiple authors who spend quite a bit of time playing video games, and that strikes me as similar: it could be a waste of time, but is that a fair characterization if you enjoy it? Even if it doesn’t lead to you writing, say, The Starfighter Invitation?

The most popular books mentioned include:

  1. “In Death” by J.D. Robb
  2. “Jack Reacher” by Lee Child
  3. “Robert Langdon” by Dan Brown

So that doesn’t seem to me to count as the kind of novel that most people would consider to be “worthy” of a lot of time. Is anything by Dan Brown more “worth” an investment of time than The Good Place or one of the other excellent current TV shows?

I will add that right there with the other activities that are perceived as a waste of time: sitting in traffic. This is surely not a comparable activity? NO ONE ever sits in traffic voluntarily. No one in the history of the world has ever said, “I could read JD Robb’s new book, but you know what, I’ll just go out and sit in traffic instead.” What a strange thing to include.

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Dancing with your shadow

Here’s a delightful performance by Lindsey Stirling. If you’re not familiar with her — I wasn’t until recently — check this out and see what you think.

I have one of her CDs now, because even without her visual performance, Stirling’s music turns out to be exactly what I like as background music for writing: mostly instrumental, active, strong rhythm. I expect I’ll be picking up other CDs as well.

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Rendering accents in dialogue

At Kill Zone Blog: Rendering dialects and accents.

But what if you do want the character to have a heavy accent? Be clever about it. Give the reader an indication of the speech pattern the first time the character speaks, then use a few sprinkles of it every now and then as a reminder.

For instance, you can do a dialect-heavy first line and then pull it back in subsequent lines. Liz Curtis Higgs does this in Thorn in My Heart, a novel set in 18th century Scotland. A local shepherd greets a lost horseman with:

“D’ye ken whaur ye’re goin’, lad?”

You have to look that over a couple of times, but that’s what Higgs wants you to do. The heavy brogue is now implanted in our minds. After that she keeps the odd spellings to a minimum.

Good suggestion: start heavy, then go light.

Other good suggestions in the post.

Word choice is obviously another way of indicating accents without messing with the spelling — the post refers to that as well — or, in secondary world fantasy, with clarifying to the reader that different characters come from different cultures or different linguistic backgrounds, or both.

I was startled recently to discover that my brother, when he read my recent WIP (Tuyo, the obsessive one, if you’re curious), didn’t notice that the main protagonist never uses contractions no matter what language he’s speaking, or that no one uses contractions when speaking taksu. Only native speakers of darau use contractions, and only in their own language. Taksu obviously just does not include the option.

Word choices and sentence structure are also different for the two languages. I have faith that the reader will feel the difference, even if he or she doesn’t consciously notice them. That’s another way to handle linguistic variation, without having to mess around with spelling at all.

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And for something completely different

Here at Terrible Minds, we have Chuck Wendig ranking apples. Not even heirloom apples, but ordinary apples you might well find in your local grocery store.

But hey, it’s a fun post.

Now we’re getting somewhere. I really liked the Opal. Very, very crisp apple with this incredibly breaking texture that called to mind the feeling of using your teeth to break off a piece of good dark chocolate. Strong scent of pear-pineapple which is met by an equally fruity flavor profile. Also in times of great need, Opal turns into a Mighty Apple Princess and will fight on your behalf, for your honor, for the Kingdom of Fruitonia. True story, don’t @ me.

Spoiler: the apple he puts right at the top is Pink Lady. I mention this because:

a) my crisper drawers are currently jam-packed with Pink Lady apples, though just this week I managed to eat the last of the Pink Ladies that were overflow, so at least all the remaining apples are actually in the crisper drawers. Now just lettuce and spinach and scallions and cabbage are dotted on random shelves of the fridge. Progress!

b) Pink Lady is hands down my best apple tree. It produces well, every single year. The fruits are medium-smallish, but not a bad size. They often have a little blemish or two, but they’re not too bad about that kind of thing. They store very, very well in the fridge and adequately at cool room temperature.

c) They taste much better a month after picking than they do right off the tree.

d) They taste waaaaay better off the tree than they do out of the store, though the difference is actually not as extreme as for a few other varieties, including, for example, Fuji. For me, Fuji apples from the store are much too sweet and single-note. A Fuji apple right off the tree is so much better there is just no comparison. On the other hand, the tree is not very productive and the apples it produces are quite damage-prone.

e) After more than a decade of dealing with fruit trees, I definitely think apples are dramatically easier in MO, and therefore probably in similar states, than any stone fruit. I’m just saying. One more tidbit of unreality in fantasy novels is that in the real world, you can absolutely lose the whole peach crop to brown rot. Never heard a complaint about diseases and pests hitting fruit in a novel, even the ones where fruit trees make an appearance.

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Oh, hey, good news from Bujold

Here’s a tor.com column by Alan Brown about LMB’s Sharing Knife series.

The column is fine, though Beguilement is certainly not my favorite in the four-book series (and may not be Brown’s favorite either, but he sure liked it a whole bunch.)

But here’s the important bit:


A few weeks ago, on Christmas Day, Bujold announced on her blog that “I am pleased to report that I have finished the first draft of a new novella in the world of The Sharing Knife. Functionally a novella, anyway; its length, at the moment, is a tad over 49,000 words, so it’s technically a short novel.”

I would not personally call 49,000 words any kind of novel (and I don’t think LMB really would either, or she wouldn’t have said “technically.” No matter where the technical lines are drawn, 49,000 words is a novella. On the other hand, I will be right there for a Sharing Knife novella, especially if it is set after the four books, because in my opinion this series got decidedly better as it went on.

Best line in the whole series: “No one said anything about giant bats!”

Anyway:

a) Beguilement — a nice story, a sweet romance, I liked it a lot. This book immediately became a comfort read, one I reach again for if I have a bad cold and don’t feel like reading anything challenging, but need a warm, fuzzy novel that I know well and still enjoy.

b) Legacy — I wasn’t a huuuuge fan of Fawn’s family, but I loathed Dag’s toxic family. Some parts of this book are just painful to read. I still like the book okay, but.

c) Passage — Now we’re talking! Fun slice-of-life river trip, interrupted by the occasional need to deal with some minor (or major) crisis.

d) Horizon — I really like seeing Dag get his life actually in order, make those big, important decisions about what direction he’s going to take. I liked Arkady, I liked Dag’s niece, whose name I’m temporarily forgetting; I liked the whole book a ton. Plus giant bats!

The new novella is apparently going to be called Knife Children.

There is zero information about it so far at Goodreads, just the cover and a publication date of Any Minute Now; ie, it says January 2019, but the story is not up at Amazon yet.

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More than you may want to know about the evolution of feathers

New discovery pushes origin of feathers back by 70 million years

In a new work published today in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, a team from Nanjing, Bristol, Cork, Beijing, Dublin, and Hong Kong show that pterosaurs had at least four types of feathers:

–          simple filaments (‘hairs’)

–          bundles of filaments

–          filaments with a tuft halfway down

–          down feathers.

“We focused on clear areas where the feathers did not overlap and where we could see their structure clearly. They even show fine details of melanosomes, which may have given the fluffy feathers a ginger colour. … we couldn’t find any anatomical evidence that the four pycnofibre types are in any way different from the feathers of birds and dinosaurs. Therefore, because they are the same, they must share an evolutionary origin, and that was about 250 million years ago, long before the origin of birds.”

I was taught that pterosaurs probably had fur, not feathers. Nope. Very snazzy revision to our understanding of the early evolution of feathers.

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Five animals that prove animal encyclopedias are written by practical jokers

Recently I have concluded that many animals probably do not really exist. They are simply images created to see how much weirdness people will swallow. For example, the maned wolf:

Do You Really Think This Exists?

You remember the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog? Well, then, come on, you just know some Monty Python fan probably made up this little antelope:

As If

And while we’re on the subject of unbelievable teeth, there’s this:

Seriously?

Yes, the upper teeth grow right up through the snout, piercing the skin. See how they curve back? Yes, they can actually keep growing and pierce the skull. No, it’s not clear why tusks like this would be a good idea. Did evolution do this, or are the animals absolutely fictional?

And how about this?

Oh, Come On

If this animal appeared in a fantasy movie, you’d know it was a (pretty bad) special effect. Why believe in them just because you’re told that no, really, they exist? Suuuure. Have YOU ever seen a saiga antelope? Well, then.

The Uakari is even more obviously fictional:

Really a Captain America Villain

Got a favorite “fictional animal?” Drop it in the comments …

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Well, this is charming

I saw this via File 770:

The Fellowship of the Ring Finders

A man takes off his baseball glove in Central Park. His wedding ring slips off undetected and disappears into the grass. Hours pass before he notices that it’s missing.

A woman reacts in a fit of anger, tossing her engagement ring into the ocean. As it hits the water, pangs of regret settle in.

A tourist visiting Canada removes five sentimental rings to sanitize her hands while in a rental car. Later, when she steps out, they are sent sprawling into the snow, and she doesn’t realize they’re gone until she’s on the flight back home. …

Usually, stories of this variety almost always end in tears. Yet these three people found their lost rings, frantically Googling some iteration of I lost my wedding ring and stumbling upon a network of metal detectorists who help people locate their misplaced jewelry. They had found their way to the Ring Finders, a service that pairs these people with one of 430 sleuths stationed around the world.

Isn’t that delightful? Aren’t you happy a service like this exists? Someone had an idea for a new kind of business that does something nice for people who otherwise have no recourse. Some ring finders concentrate on requests that offer a reward, some do it for free, and the middleman website that connects those who lose rings with those who find them stays in business by charging finders a rather modest annual membership fee.

One reason the metal detectorists have such a surprisingly good track record is that, through practice, they’ve honed a strategy on how to find rings. “If I can’t find them, I’m not sure that they are where they think they are,” says Mike Fish, a ring hunter who lives in Anchorage, Alaska. The 71-year-old retired firefighter does request a small fee—chocolate-chip cookies.

Charming.

Also, I bet if people contacted this service and said please help me find my car keys, they could get someone to help with items beyond rings. I’m thinking of a friend who lost her keys at my place. We all searched and searched and I wound up loaning her my car until she could get another key (she lives an hour and a half away, so she really needed a car to get home).

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