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Revision update

October 29th, 2014

You wouldn’t think it was possible to end a sentence without a period. Just a blank space Followed by a new sentence. But this is surprisingly easy to do. Not like you see it ever page, but more than once per manuscript is not unusual.

Hey, did you notice the typo in that sentence? It’s amazingly easy to type “ever” when you mean “every,” and even easier to make the reverse mistake. Those terminal letters that OUGHT to be there just flow out of your fingers. Generally you catch this, but not always.

If you rewrited a sentence, it’s possible to wind up with an abomination where the verb is in the wrong tense. Just every now and then it will slip by despite re-reading. This is especially possible if you are happy with the scene and don’t re-read it carefully.

My laptop keyboard is getting pickier about how hard you hit the keys, and frequently the “s” doesn’t appear at the end of a plural word because I haven’t hit the key hard enough. I have to hit the “t” a bit harder than other letters, and so I’m constantly typing I instead of it. (Autocorrect capitalizes the I when the t doesn’t appear.) Also, I randomly hit the “k” when reaching for other keys. If I’m tired, I can easliy reverse letters or type “pebble” when I meant “people.” Generally I backspace and fix this kind of thing right away — sometimes I seem to spend as much time backspacing as moving forward — but every now and then a typo will slip through.

Still, I’m pretty happy with how this revision is going.

There were no copy-edit types of corrections for the first 83 pages, and no substantive suggestions until p. 121. That’s pretty good! The number of “Great!” and “Hah!” notations outnumbers the typos by a good margin, so that’s satisfying.

I’ve done a full sweep through the manuscript to address big points, and some of those big points will get revisited again before I declare myself to be finished because when you get suggestions like “Can you increase tension between these two characters toward the beginning?” and “Can you keep Keri more vulnerable and flawed through the middle?”, it’s hard to know when you’ve done enough.

Clarity issues — “Wait, how does this make sense?” — are usually easier to address. Sometimes I must make up something brand new to explain why something makes sense because in fact it didn’t but I don’t want to change that plot point. Sometimes I just need to add a sentence to clarify something I already understood myself. Both kinds of clarity adjustments are simple because one or two sentences in the text will do it. You see how different that is from “Make this character more vulnerable through the middle,” which makes you reread and tweak a huge swath of the verbiage. I’m never sure I’ve done that well enough until my editor gives the revised manuscript a thumb’s-up.

But for now I’m still making fast progress just going through the printed manuscript and tweaking in response to my editor’s many hand-penciled comments. It’s satisfying because it is going fast and so far every tweak has been easy. Plus I find I like the story myself, always very reassuring at this stage. I could probably finish this revision by Monday, but I think I will finish it, then go to the World Fantasy Convention, then come back and read through it one more time with an eye to fiddling with those more nebulous big-scale tweaks. Then I can send it around the middle of November, comfortably ahead of my editor’s request for getting it back to her by the middle of December. THEN I can go on with other projects.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 29th, 2014
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Quick! Who are some great characters with disabilities?

October 28th, 2014

So, I’m going to WindyCon this year, and I’ve been put on a panel about writing characters with disabilities. Which is great in one way, because I really admire an author who can do a good job with this. And peculiar in another way, because I haven’t managed to do that myself. It’s in the (large) category of things I would like to do but haven’t tried yet, along with write a book with an older female protagonist and write a book set in an alternate Ottoman Empire.

Anyway, back to characters with disabilities. The thing which is most important is to have the character be a great character full stop, and then also have a disability. I personally don’t like it if the person has a disability to start with and is then magically “cured”, because unless that’s handled extremely well, it sends a strong message that you’re not worth much unless you’re physically perfect.

So!

Speed of Dark

One of the most brilliant books ever, far and away the best thing Elizabeth Moon’s ever done.

And

Five Flavors

A contemporary YA with an excellent protagonist who is deaf.

I can think of other examples that did not work as well for me as the two titles above, though not many. But what I’m most interested in is any titles you all can think of where the author handled a character with a disability with grace and skill. Oh, wait, I’m also interested in examples where the author might not have pulled this off quite as well.

Step right up with your suggestions, please! I would like to read a good handful more titles before WindyCon, which is only a few weeks.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 28th, 2014
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Learning history via YA fiction –

October 28th, 2014

I have long believed that the best way to learn about history is via historical fiction. Lots of it is meticulously researched, and nearly all of it will do something that no textbook can — it will give you the flavor of life in that period and make you care about the people who lived then.

This infographic, which I found via tor.com, is one heck of a resource for anybody who loves historical fiction and historical fantasy! I love how it sets titles into place between real events, so that we can get a clear picture of “when we are” in each book.

Like, here’s the birth of Aristotle, and here is the destruction of Pompeii, and SPHINX’S PRINCESS by Esther Friesner is right in between the two events.

The timeline goes from the Bronze Age right up to the 1990s. Very impressive! Click through and then click on the image to blow it up to a beautiful scrollable graphic.

I must admit that I have read hardly any of the books that are listed here. Oh, there’s CODE NAME VERITY! That one I’ve read.

Things that would make this infographic even better:

Include adult fiction! Of course there are an infinite number of Regency romances, but beyond that, how about Barbara Hambly’s A FREE MAN OF COLOR? That series would belong in the 1830s slot, and her Ysidro novels would cover the early 1900s. Of course her “Hamilton” mysteries would also fit in this timeline very well, set right before the Revolutionary War.

Hambly is, as you can see, the one author who springs to me as best bringing historical eras to life. What’s your favorite YA or adult title that you’d most like to see on this timeline?

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 28th, 2014
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Characters to dress up as for Halloween

October 28th, 2014

I don’t do costumes! Except on *very rare* occasions. I just don’t.

But!

I really love this blog post on different fantasy characters a girl might dress up as. I’ve only read a few of the books mentioned, though all are at least on my radar and some are actually on my TBR pile. We have Cath from FANGIRL and Tamara Pierce’s Alanna and Maggie Stiefvater’s Blue Sargent and Elizabeth Bennett from (obviously) PRIDE AND PREJUDICE — those are the ones I’m actually familiar with. And a bunch of others that I don’t (yet) know.

What makes this post, at the Writer of Wrongs blog, special: pictures of the costume components and accessories for all the costumes!

I especially love Lola Nolan’s boots. Those boots make me want to read LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR. That cloak or coat or whatever it is is also extremely snazzy.

And Celaena Sardothien’s deer pendant from Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas! What a cool pendant! I love it!

And check out how to turn your arm into a cyborg arm for CINDER by Marissa Meyer. Very cool, but it would require a steady hand and more artistic ability than I think I have.

Anyway, check out the post. It’s almost enough to make me want to put together a real costume this Halloween.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 28th, 2014
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Well, that was a surprise: WRITTEN IN RED by Anne Bishop

October 27th, 2014

I got a good bit of work done this weekend on my current revision. I really did! But it was no thanks to Anne Bishop, whose WRITTEN IN RED was a whole lot more distracting than I anticipated. I did nothing useful Friday evening because I HAD to keep turning pages! And the moment I finished it, I HAD to get the second book, MURDER OF CROWS, and start that one.

WrittenInRedMurderOfCrows

I also preordered the third book, but it doesn’t come out till March, which suddenly seems farther away because I WANT IT NOW!

Ahem.

Okay, I’ve been working my way through all those UF titles I’d accumulated, and they were all basically just okay for me. (I haven’t read the one by Jacqueline Carey yet.)

Then I got to WRITTEN IN RED, and despite the unnecessary infodumpy prologue, I was unexpectedly hooked as soon as I got into the story.

There are, I will just mention, also a handful of infodumpy bits of dialogue that are very nearly on a par with, “As you know, Monty, there are only four really big cities on the whole North American continent.” To which the only proper response would have been, “Uh, yeah, I do know, so why are you telling me this?” So now and then a bit of worldbuilding background really could have been worked in more subtly. However, this didn’t happen that often or take up that much space, so those bits of stiff dialogue didn’t really get in the way of enjoying the story.

This is a rare creature for a UF novel: third person with multiple points of view. It also has no romance to speak of, Others that are emphatically not human and not integrated into human society at all, and a world where history has unrolled in a quite different way from ours. I loved it, obviously.

I like Meg a lot, and her weird background makes her a good protagonist — she is naive about the world for good reasons, so when her take on something is out of the ordinary or when someone explains something to her, it seems natural. Plus she is just a nice person. I was so charmed by the scarf she got for Winter! I could actually almost buy into how central she becomes to everyone else in the story. If she’d been handled even a bit less deftly, she would have become a terrible Mary Sue-ish type, but I don’t think she did.

I like Monty a lot. I always like The Good Cop, and in this world, good police work takes on a new context, since Monty’s unit is basically all about making sure town authorities cooperate with the Others to avoid having their town wiped off the map.

I like Simon Wolfgard a lot, particularly how non-human he is. I like the background of the shapeshifters among the Others and the explanation for why they can take the different forms they do. I like how confused he is by the strange concept of a nonedible human friend. I like his puppy, and I love how Meg got that traumatized youngster out of that crate.

I enjoyed the interweaving of all these characters. This worked well for me

The worldbuilding is wild. Bishop sure let herself go when she designed the different types of Others and set up her world’s history. I almost kind of sort of believe in how she set it up, which is quite an accomplishment, because the Elementals in particular would turn into a complete mess in a less well-written book.

And this series does have good writing. I think Bishop has improved quite a bit since the Black Jewels series. I thought that series was amazingly catchy and readable, but I wouldn’t have called it flawless. I think almost everything about the Others series is better — writing, plotting, worldbuilding, characterization, all of it. The interaction between the human characters and the nonhuman characters is fun to read about; they really don’t understand each other at all. The day-to-day details about Meg’s life are fun to read about; it’s always interesting when an author makes ordinary life interesting. And then, of course, stuff starts happening and we find out more about why Meg is special and, well, as I said, it got pretty distracting. I’ve preordered the third book, and I hope Anne Bishop keeps going with this series for a while!

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 27th, 2014
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Oh, hey, neat news about Robin McKinley –

October 24th, 2014

No, no, not the release of the second part of PEGASUS. Sorry.

But I see, via Fantasy Book Cafe, that eight of her titles are being reissued as ebooks.

Apparently PEGASUS is not one of the eight. That’s not surprising, I guess. But it’s good to see many of her titles hitting the virtual shelves.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 24th, 2014
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Things that just don’t work for me: ineffectual protagonists

October 23rd, 2014

So, Shannon Hale’s THE GOOSE GIRL.

Goose Girl

This was recommended to me by any number of people. I just finished listening to it last night. And I liked it. I really did. But.

The thing is, Hale’s story keeps closely to the original Brothers Grimm fairy tale. This plot requires a somewhat helpless heroine, which would be a problem to overcome right there. But then where there are departures from the original plot, they make the “helpless heroine” problem worse, not better.

A small but very important difference is that in the original fairy tale, when the lady-in-waiting forces the princess to switch places with her, the princess actually takes an oath not to tell anybody the truth. In Hale’s version, the princess (Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, love the name!!!) doesn’t take such an oath, and so when she vacillates and hesitates and wavers and never tells the king what happened even though she has several difference chances to do so, it is hard to excuse her.

Yes, Ani is shy and tongue-tied. We get that. That is well established beforehand. Even so, when push comes to shove and she’s right there in front of the king and she looses her nerve, I couldn’t help but feel like, Really? Are you serious? And then she spends about a year not doing anything effective. She doesn’t save her horse Falada — which is true to the fairy tale, but really? You let your enemies kill your horse? Seriously? She runs away, she is saved by strangers, she runs away again and hides and is caught and is saved again by strangers and in all this time she does nothing whatsoever to foil the bad guys (other than hide and survive). She finds out her maid, the false princess, is planning to start a war and destroy her home country in order to cover up her treachery, and does absolutely nothing about this for months — months! — while her enemy’s plans go forward.

It’s true that when she does eventually tell the king the truth, naturally at the very last moment, he doesn’t believe her. But that requires the king to be a total idiot, so much so that my suspension of disbelief stumbled hard. He is not presented earlier in the story as a fool, so it seem obvious that if Ani had told him the truth right at the beginning, he would have investigated — just her hair would have been plenty to require an investigation! — proof would in fact have been easy to come by, and poof, the story would be much shorter and less tense. Her horse wouldn’t have been killed, her enemies would have been defeated, and everybody would have lived happily ever after with no need for geese.

I did have other problems with the story, like why include the animal speaking anyway since that was never important? What about her mother’s handkerchief? But basically I was bothered by the Ani’s helplessness.

I have had this exact problem with other stories that I ought to have loved. The one that comes to mind is another fairy tale retelling: WILDWOOD DANCING by Juliet Marillier, an author I love, btw.

Wildwood

I fell so in love with Marillier’s writing in DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST, which is a very beautiful retelling of The Seven Swans. I loved the sequels, too. But WILDWOOD DANCING (The Twelve Dancing Princesses) was ruined for me by the complete ineffectual handwringing helplessness of the protagonist, Jena. When Jena’s cousin Cezar begins to take over everything Jena loves, no one but Jena sees what he’s doing and where it will lead. Jena sees all this clearly, and does nothing at all to stop him. For months and months, she frets and worries and agonizes and completely fails to do anything whatsoever that is in any way useful.

Of course the reader knows that at the end, Jena will suddenly step up and do something heroic. But three hundred and fifty pages of helpless inefficacy is so terribly, terribly frustrating to read about. If you’re the protagonist, then it’s your job to to do something clever to foil the bad guys. Then other stuff goes wrong and gives you another problem to solve. But it is not okay to just stand there and bewail whatever evil is happening right before your eyes and do nothing to stop it.

I mean, can you imagine Miles Vorkosigan just sitting there for months while the bad guys stomp around doing anything they want and having everything their way? It is to laugh, right?

Is it possible that some readers feel that passivity and helplessness can be attractive and sympathetic? In SFF, ineffectuality seems to me to be strictly a thing for the occasional female protagonist. Outside SFF, I can think of passive male protagonists. I think the romantic antihero as exemplified by Young Werther is passive and helpless in a very similar way — and even more frustrating to read about without the SFF setting.

Anyway, SFF or not, I’m pretty sure there is nothing at all a writer can do to make me like an ineffectual protagonist.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 23rd, 2014
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How to handle negative reviews

October 22nd, 2014

Chuck Wendig has an entertaining post up: Five ways to respond to a negative review: a helpful guide. Funny! Also topical, as it happens. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that Chuck posted about negative reviews this week!

Those of you who aren’t in the writer/blogger Twitter stream and who don’t happen to follow the right blogs, might have missed this thing where an author named Katherine Hale tracked down a particular reviewer and stalked her — went to her actual house, called her at home and at work, etc. It was big news on my Twitter a couple days ago, and no wonder.

Personally, I think Hale actually must be suffering from some kind of emotional dysfunction, not that I’m a psychiatrist, but read the article if you like and I think you’ll agree that her actions and thoughts were not normal throughout any part of the story she relates. From obsessively making corrections to finished work already on the shelf, through tweeting while drunk, right along to actually getting stalkery and scary. It was all rather disturbing. I don’t think it’s appropriate to pile on Hale, though, since she does in fact appear to be actually crazy. (I do think it would be perfectly appropriate for the blogger to press criminal charges, since being crazy does not mean you get to stalk people and it might be a good idea for the blogger to hire a lawyer and forcibly point this out.) But the great villain of the piece is actually The Guardian, which saw fit, for some reason, to publish Hale’s article as though it approves of stalking. Some editor there seems to think it’s keen to let an author publish an article gloating about her actually illegal stalking activities, which is . . . words fail me.

Anyway, back to Chuck’s post, here is a short version of his advice regarding negative reviews. The actual post is much longer because, you know, this *is* Chuck Wendig and brevity is not his thing.

1. Do Nothing. Bad reviews happen.

2. Hey, No, Seriously, Do Nothing. Wait, why are we still here?

3. Goddamnit, I Just Told You — Hey, Where Are You Going? Whoa, whoa, whoa. Where are you going? What are you planning on doing?

4. Fine, Slake Your Rage In Proper Rage-Slaking Ways. This review is like a seed stuck in your teeth, isn’t it? Fine. Fine. Invoke your rage. Quietly.

5. Oh, For The Sake Of Sweet Saint Fuck, You’re Gonna Respond, Aren’t You? No no no no noooooo – You’re doing it anyway, aren’t you?

And then he provides advice for how to minimize the potential fallout if you do respond to a negative review.

Which is all very well and good, but I have slightly different advice.

1. If you see one, two, or maybe even three stars on a review, don’t read it.

There, problem solved. Now there is no need to go on to Chuck’s Helpful Guide.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 22nd, 2014
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Series I’d like to start . . . or finish!

October 21st, 2014

Okay, I saw this link to the Top Ten Tuesday topic over at Shae Has Left the Room: Series you have that you would love to start, but haven’t. It caught my eye partly because of just reading THE THOUSAND NAMES, so hey! That’s one series I actually *have* started, and only a year after the first book came out, so that’s not bad!

The entry on Shae’s list that would also be on mine is DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Lani Taylor.

Daughter

I must admit that I have had this book on my TBR shelves for two years and counting, and the whole trilogy is now out, and I’ve heard great things about it, and yet I haven’t yet picked it up.

Another book I have on my TBR shelves is THE DEMON KING by Cinda Williams Chima. The whole series — four books — is out, and yet have I read the first book? No. I actually feel a twinge of guilt when I look at it. It’s been out since 2009.

But you know what makes me feel even more guilty?

Not finding time to go on with a series that I *have* started, and really liked, and yet haven’t finished.

Like Rae Carson’s GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS. I loved the first book, I have the whole series, and yet have I gone on with the second? No. Aargh.

Almost the same is the PATHFINDER trilogy by Orson Scott Card. I loved how the first book played with time in so many different ways, and I do have the second book, but I haven’t read it even though the third is due out early next month, so this would be an okay time to go on.

On the other hand! I HAVE now read the first book of Eileen Wilks’ Lupi series, TEMPTING DANGER. Yay! That’s a different kind of list: Top ten books you have FINALLY gotten around to reading. Took me forever and a day to get to it. For me it was actually just okay, but I felt the same way about the first Kate Daniels’ books — I think it can take a few books for an UF series to hit its stride. It had some nice elements, especially Grandmother.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 21st, 2014
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Gritty fantasy vs Dark fantasy –

October 20th, 2014

Recently I said that THE THOUSAND NAMES by Django Wexler is a bit gritty, but less so than Scott Lynch’s books; and a bit dark, but less so than Brent Weeks’ books. And then I thought: I definitely define “gritty” and “dark” differently, but I’m not sure how broad the agreement is about what each term comprises. So then I googled “gritty fantasy” and decided that my definition is perhaps idiosyncratic, because the first several definitions I found did not seem right to me.

I don’t agree that “gritty” fantasy is “painted in shades of gray, realistic, with more gory violence and sex.” That, to me, is probably dark fantasy. Or, if the author defines realistic as “everything starts off shitty and then gets worse,” and treats rape as the dominant conception of sex in that world, then it’s probably grimdark.

Dark fantasy: There may not be a clear good guy vs bad guy type of arrangement, because the characters you’re supposed to root for are not that good and morality is painted as this relative concept. You would probably not find that the word “integrity” leaps to your mind as the defining characteristic of any character, but you do find yourself rooting for the protagonist to succeed, even if he is an assassin, as in Brent Weeks’ Nightangel trilogy.

Night Angel

Violence is probably widespread, detailed and explicit, but there is probably an aim to it as the protagonists are probably trying to achieve a worthwhile goal. Rape may occur, but is certainly not presented as the typical or desirable sort of sexual encounter. The protagonist is probably in love with someone and this gives rise to a positive relationship that strengthens both people involved.

I don’t know. Something like that.

Gritty fantasy: in high fantasy, nobody needs to slip off behind the bushes and pee. Women probably do not have periods. If there are beggars, they are not too repulsively pathetic. If there are street urchins, they are not actually starving. If there are thieves, they probably have heart of gold, or at least redeeming features of some kind.

In gritty fantasy, on the other hand, we have, uh, grit. The grime is added back into the world.

Thieves

Streets are filthy, and we get a good look at the sewage. Beggars have rotting fingers, and we get to smell the putrification. Poor families may sell a child to slavers, and may not feel especially bad about the necessity, either.

But this doesn’t mean that the author doesn’t show us the beauty in the world, too. The grittiness is another layer added to the world, a layer that is more or less elided in high fantasy.

Or so it seems to me.

So Grimdark = unrealistically grim and dark; elides beauty, honor, love, and any sense of the ineffable; both protagonists and the world wind up worse off at the end; also probably gritty.

Dark = not unrealistically grim; includes the beautiful as well as the horrible — see Locke Lamora’s relationship with Jean, for example; if the protagonist is worse off at the end, it’s because there’s a cliffhanger and another book is expected, because in the end the story will reach a satisfying conclusion. May or may not be gritty, because it’s perfectly possible for a story to be dark high fantasy.

Gritty = the grimy details of the world are shown, but the story may either be grimdark fantasy, dark fantasy, or adventure fantasy. You can’t tell just from the word “gritty.”

Now, if only everyone would adopt my definitions, think how much easier it would be for me to find the books I would most like to read! None of this conflating “gritty” and “dark” and “grimdark.” We could have a simple letter code, like moving ratings! Tuck a little GD or DK or GRT or HF in the corner of the cover. Wouldn’t that be handy! Clear up all that confusion in a heartbeat!

(Hah hah hah, no, just kidding, can you imagine the arguments about what rating any particular book deserved?)

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on October 20th, 2014
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