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Recent Reading: A POINT OF HONOR by Dorothy J Heydt

April 25th, 2015

So, as you may recall, Dorothy J Heydt is the real name of “Katherine Blake.” Under the former name, Heydt wrote POINT OF HONOR, which came out in 1998 from, let’s see here, DAW. Under the latter name, she wrote AN INTERIOR LIFE which came out in 1990 from Baen. Heydt didn’t write any other novels, though I gather she wrote a fair number of short stories.



Now, as it happens, I first read AN INTERIOR LIFE a long time ago. I bet I read it the year it came out, though I don’t remember for sure. I’ve read it several times since then, and as I say, it’s unusual – structurally unusual. I’ve mentioned it before, but let me reprise briefly here: There are two very distinct plotlines that are hardly connected at all: in one we have Sue, a wife and mother in a contemporary setting, involved with deciding what to cook for dinner and what color to paint the living room, and her family; and then in the other we have Marianella and Lady Amalia and a bunch of others in a fantasy setting where the Darkness is encroaching on the lands of men. Sue can see and talk to and more or less share in the experiences of Marianella and the others, and many of them can talk to her, but basically the two worlds are separate at the beginning, separate all through the story, and separate at the end. Sue plays no role at all in the excitement that takes place in the fantasy world, and Marianella and the rest play essentially no active role in Sue’s life, either, though they influence her growing interest in music and so forth.

So, that’s certainly different. Juxtaposing the two storylines like that somehow infuses Sue’s ordinary life with interest and I find it the more appealing of the two stories. I can hardly imagine how Heydt got this book past her Baen editor, except I guess the editor had the same reaction I did – “Strange how this works when by all rights shouldn’t, but hey, here it is, working.”

Now, I didn’t hear about Dorothy Heydt being the real name of Katherine Blake for a long time, but when I found out, I picked up A POINT OF HONOR. Well, I thought it would be a definite contrast to the other books I’ve read recently, especially ICE CREAM STAR, so I picked it up off my TBR pile and gave it a try. It turned out to be a good choice – it was easy to read, easy to enjoy, and I wound up liking it a lot.

It’s a virtual reality story, with a near-ish future world as the frame setting and a variety of interconnected fantasy-esque worlds in the VR setting. The pov protagonist is Mary Craven, an interesting choice of names for a character who is pretty much defined by her fearlessness. “Inside,” she is known by the more appropriate name of Sir Mary de Courcy, and she has just won the championship of the Winchester Lists in a jousting VR setting.

This book has a lot of flaws, which are mostly interesting flaws that don’t detract very much at all from the reading experience. The actual writing is solid and I liked Mary a lot, and also Greg, the male lead. He’s a “Lord of the Lists” – a programmer of the VR realities, who can look past the outward VR setting to the code beneath, and program on the fly if necessary. In other words, when they’re “inside,” Mary is a knight and Greg is a wizard.

The basic plot concerns Mary finding herself the target of one murder attempt after another and helping Greg figure out why and track down the culprits. I say “helping Greg” because Mary herself, though the pov protagonist, plays a very, very subsidiary role in driving the plot. For the longest time, I could not imagine why Greg needed her help at all, except that I supposed he just liked having company on his quest. Much farther into the story, it finally starts to look like he does actually need her help, but wow, he is a very powerful wizard / sharp programmer. So that’s a flaw, if you like: the protagonist not driving the plot. Making sure your protagonist does drive the plot is a very basic thing, a real fundamental.* So this struck me as kind of like what was going on with Sue in AN INTERIOR LIFE, right? Because Sue did not actually influence the plot in the fantasy half of the story, yet it didn’t seem to matter much to the readability of the story. In the same way, though Mary does not really have a very important role in driving her plot, the story is still perfectly readable and enjoyable.

You remember how Sue connects with Marianella because she just does, with no explanation given? Well, Mary connects with Greg in kind of that way. When Greg first contacts Mary, with this, “Hey, please come “inside” to talk to me even though you’ve just been attacked and don’t know me a bit,” she basically just goes, “Sure, why not?” To me, this decision cried out for more of a justification than just The Author Wants You Two To Get Together, but really, that was all there was. I mean, there is a slow romance between them, though I must say their relationship develops with quite restrained sexual energy by current standards – almost no thoughts about how hot / beautiful / physically splendid the other person is, very little physical awareness overall. (This is not a criticism; I like a restrained romance and seriously dislike the “he’s SO super-hot” modern male lead we see so often these days.)

More than that, I thought some aspects of the fantasy plotline from AN INTERIOR LIFE were highly predictable. So were some of the plot twists of A POINT OF HONOR. The identity of the actual bad guy is not in the least surprising; the identity of the minor sidekick bad guy is also rather obvious, at least in general terms. So, as far as WOW DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING, well, no, not so much.

So you see what I mean about flaws.

Yet none of this – none of it – interferes particularly with the reading experience. The setting is a pleasure to read about, the way Heydt handles the VR thing is really a lot of fun – I haven’t read enough VR stuff to be at all bored by it – Mary is a good enough protagonist to carry the story, Greg is a calmly proficient wizard/programmer, and the reader is just carried gently along from front to back without a lot of tension about how the story is ultimately going to end. A pleasant, thoroughly readable, low-tension story is just the sort that becomes a comfort read for me, so I fully expect to revisit this one in the future.

*Another book where the putative protagonists basically don’t influence the plot is THE BELL AT SEELY HEAD by Patricia McKillip, so you do see a story like this from time to time and obviously a good-enough writer can pull it off. Are there any other books you can think of where the protagonist(s) do not really drive the plot?

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 25th, 2015
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Stuff to do while waiting for one of those slow writers to finish a series

April 24th, 2015

It should be illegal for writers to take more than a year to bring out a trilogy, right? Or three years for a seven-book series, say, because we wouldn’t want to rush them.


Anyway, here’s a post from Book Riot about how to kill time while waiting and waiting and waiting for the next book in your favorite series.

My favorite suggestion is when Susie Rodarme says, Create puppets for every character in the books and put on a puppet show for friends who haven’t read the series. It’s definitely okay if you lure them to you with the pretense of “going out for dinner” or “I need to go to the hospital, can you drive me?”

Yep, pretty sure this one never occurred to me. I am not really an arts-and-crafts sort of person, so, yeah, no puppets. Anyway, fun list.

My actual solution: don’t start the series until it’s finished. This never actually works, especially since publishers don’t warn you when a book is the first one in a new series. So my REAL actual solution: don’t read the second book until the series is finished. I’m a lot more successful at that strategy. Then when the series is out, start over and re-read the first book and then go on.

The plus to reading the first book, then buying the others as they come out, then starting at the front and reading the whole thing is: the author needs you to buy the books as you come out, but you need to be fairly sure you will like the books. So, read the first one and then wait to read the rest. Not a perfect solution, but it works fairly well for me.

The minus: the number of series that I haven’t got around to reading even though they’re complete and I have all the books on my shelves/on my Kindle right now: more than one. Or two. The Raven Boys series is going to be another like that, I expect, when the last book hits the shelves this fall. Hey, if it turns out to be a five-book series instead of four, someone warn me, okay?

How about you all? Do you have a preferred way to handle series? Read ‘em all as they come out, avoid series completely, what?

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 24th, 2015
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Self-published fantasy book challenge: update

April 23rd, 2015

I see that Mark Lawrence has announced that the time is 25% up for his challenge:

So, we’re 25% of the way through phase 1 of the Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off and I’ve taken the opportunity to check in with our ten bloggers / teams to see how things stand. I wanted to see if everyone was happy that they were on course to pick their single champion for phase 2 by September 1st, or if not ‘on course’ still confident that they could meet that deadline. I offered to ask one or more of our reserve bloggers to help share the load if anyone was under too much pressure – real life happens, and 26 books is a lot.

The TL:DR is: Everyone is fine, no help needed, they’ll be done by September or before.

Pretty impressive, actually. Lawrence provides specifics and links at his site.

One bloggers that I specifically noticed was Ria’s first set of DNF titles at Bibliotropic It’s an interesting set because she has one DNF for not-for-me reasons plus maybe writing quality, one DNF because it was the second book of a trilogy and she liked it but found it did not stand alone, and one DNF for writing quality straight up.

The other I particularly noticed was Fantasy Book Critic, who is taking an interesting approach to reading 26 titles: reading a set and advancing the best of those, then repeat with another set. That seems like it might be a useful strategy, but it wouldn’t work for me — I would be wary of getting a whole set with nothing I felt was worth moving to the next round, or a single set with multiple titles I really liked.

Let me see, let me see . . . . okay, on thirty seconds consideration, my feeling is that if I were reading to pick the best out of 26 entries, I would rapidly read one to five pages of each and immediately cut the pile in half on that basis. Then I would read the set of books I thought looked more promising.

Does that seem fair? Not sure, but maybe? I think you can immediately judge writing quality (I mean, typos, grammatical errors, sentences that don’t make sense, words that are the wrong choices, etc). You hardly need to read anything to see that. Then aside from typos and errors, you have stilted, boring, or unbelievable dialogue. Or, say, pov that doesn’t seem anchored to the character that’s supposed to be the pov character — I don’t mean deliberate omniscient, but the kind of thing where the author doesn’t seem to understand how to be in one pov and is making mistakes. That kind of thing also is very obvious within a few pages. If I had bought a book, I might give it a few more pages, but for a challenge, I don’t know, probably five pages or so.

I don’t mean to say Cut the List In Half No Ifs Ands or Buts. If I actually thought 15 or 20 of the books seemed promising after five pages, fine, I’d read more of all of those.

Then what? Read the ones that grabbed you the most first? Maybe. That would set the level for every other book in the challenge. Can you beat A? No? Then never mind. You might be able to rapidly thin the pile based just on that question, even if it means not finishing all the other solid contenders.

It would kill me if I had four books out of 26 that I just loved, but could only send one forward into the next round. Aargh! I would hate that. Of course you can talk about and promote all the books you like, so that’s something.

Plus if I read a book and hated it but thought it was actually a great book, then what? That could be like putting The Three-Body Problem against, well, say, Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs. The former is almost certainly more ambitious, broader in scope, addresses more big issues, etc. For all I know it’s also better written — Dead Heat has some clunky-prose moments. But if I could hardly stand to read the “better” book, what then? Which would I put forward if I had this kind of extreme contrast?

Don’t know, don’t know. It would be tough. As we get closer to the final selections for Lawrence’s Challenge, it will be really interesting to see how many of the participating bloggers have to address questions like this and how they make up their minds. Since they’re all bloggers, I trust they’ll all blog about it.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 23rd, 2015
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Oh, hey, a Galaxy Quest reboot

April 22nd, 2015

I know at least one of you is a Galaxy Quest fan, so you may want to check this out: According to, Paramount Television is working to bring a Galaxy Quest spinoff series to TV.

According to Variety, Paramount Television is working with Robert Gordon, who co-wrote the movie, and director Dean Parisot to bring Galaxy Quest in all of its layers to the small screen.

It’s unclear if the idea for the series is to have it be a weekly show-within-a-show where we get to watch the squabbling cast shoot their soon-to-be-classic series, or if the TV show will follow the movie—that is, with the washed-up actors getting contacted by aliens who believe that Galaxy Quest is real. Maybe both?

I liked Galaxy Quest quite a bit. I doubt very much I’ll get cable in order to watch this, but eventually I might pick up a TV series in DVD form.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 22nd, 2015
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Self-publishing update

April 22nd, 2015

So, how long has it been since I tossed the Black Dog Short Stories into the wild? A week or two, right?


I believe the version now up everywhere is the corrected, final version, with a table of contents that has live links and everything. I expected to make mistakes when releasing this collection, but basically the table of contents thing was about it for serious glitches and now I have figured that out, so it should all be good for future self-published works.

Evidently Amazon will notify you about changes only if they think (or their algorithm thinks) that the changes are significant enough to bother with. But you may be able to go to their website and look under Manage Content and get the corrected version. You might try that if you wish, and if you do, please let me know if that worked for you.

Now that I think I have a decent idea of what I’m doing, here is how the self-publishing thing actually works:

For PURE MAGIC, here is what I am putting in the Kindle file before loading it, in this order:

Title page
Description (aka back cover copy); since there’s no back cover on an ebook, I like to have it in the front somewhere.
Copyright page
Other Works By page
Praise For page
Table of Contents
The actual content

The second-hardest part was picking and choosing which quotes to include on the Praise For page. Thank you to all book bloggers who ever reviewed anything of mine. I love you all. It was tough to choose just one or two quotes for each book, but as a reader I think Praise For pages that go on and on and on are tedious. (As a writer, there’s no such thing as too many glowing reviews, believe me.) Starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist got priority. Other than that, a lot depended on what seemed to make a good sound-bite.

The hardest part, not yet done, is choosing a reasonable title for the third Black Dog book in order to list it on the Other Works By page. It would be ridiculous to leave The Third Book off since it will be part of the same series and readers had better know it’s in the works, but I do not have a title for it yet and I’m finding it very difficult to think of anything acceptable. I have less than three weeks to think of something that will do and get it on there, and it’s worse because I’m not sure it will be possible to change it later if I think of something three orders of magnitude better, if it’s already been listed in PURE MAGIC under whatever title.

Anyway, title woes aside, here is what the file looks like for Draft to Digital; it’s the same as the above but I’m striking through anything that DtoD puts in automatically:

Title page
Description (aka back cover copy)
Copyright page
Other Work By page
Praise For page.
Table of Contents
The actual content

Now, in case you find it useful, here is a link that explains how to insert a Table of Contents with live links into a Word document. And below, a shorter version listing all the steps:

Create a Table of Contents in Word

Complete steps
1. Open your book in Microsoft Word.
2. Click “Home.”
3. Go to the first item you want in your table of contents, and select it by clicking it with your mouse cursor.
4. At the top of the window, click a formatting style. This applies the style to the chapter header.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for all the remaining chapter headers in your book.
6. Create a blank page before your book’s content where Word will put the Table of Contents.
7. At the top of the window, click “References,” and click “Table of Contents.”
8. Choose a Table of Contents style that you like from the menu.
9. You should now have a Table of Contents with working links to each chapter in your book.
10. Select the page numbers and leading dots (“……”), right-click them, and click “Cut.”

There you go, that is how you do a Table of Contents that will work for Kindle Direct Publishing. Incidentally, I found it quite tricky to select the dots and page numbers. One wants to get rid of those because readers can change the font size and everything for a Kindle ebook, so page numbers don’t really apply. I found it tricky to select the dots and numbers without selecting the entire chapter accidentally. Some of the dots-and-page-numbers could be removed ONLY by using the “cut” function, just as the directions indicate, but sometimes the backspace or delete actually worked better than “cut” to select the stuff to get rid of. It was a fiddly, annoying sort of job.

Other fiddly stuff:

I am told that some of the indents in the short stories came out different than others on the Kindle version. Well, I don’t know why. You can use the Find and Replace functions to find all tabs and replace them with five spaces, which is what I did before moving on with the publication process, because I am never, ever going to paragraph by hitting the space bar five times. My best guess is that I did that in the short stories, but then messed around with the content a bit and forgot about the indenting and put in a couple of tabs. But I don’t know. I will do another find-and-replace on PURE MAGIC to make as sure as possible that all the indents look the same in the book.

I downloaded a Kindle version of the short stories and looked at it and the line spacing looks fine to me, but the indents in general are deeper than I would like. I may fiddle around with different kinds of indents and see what happens, but on the other hand, really, one does see different indent depths and it doesn’t make much difference as long they’re not crazy-weird.

CreateSpace: you may have noticed that I haven’t ever tried to use CreateSpace yet. So I will do my best to make sure the paper version of PURE MAGIC looks fine, but, well, anyway, I hope there aren’t any snags. It’s not like Amazon isn’t trying to accommodate self-publishers who don’t really know much about computers and stuff, so hopefully it will be very easy once you have a correct ebook version already in place.

Oh, and I have no idea yet how to look at sales for Kindle ebooks. Sales are easy to find in Draft to Digital, but I still need to figure that out for Kindle. My Author whatchamacallit page — Author Central, that’s right — shows Bookscan sales data for my titles, but Bookscan does not pick up ebook sales and very specifically does not pick up Kindle sales. There must obviously be a way. No rush to figure it out: dwelling on sales will only make you crazy.

But if you’ve bought Black Dog Short Stories? Thanks!

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 22nd, 2015
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Top Ten Favorite Authors

April 22nd, 2015

I saw this top-ten list at Random Musings and thought it would be fun to see if I could possibly, possibly, pick ten favorite authors and then stop.

To make it easier, I’m imposing a single rule: I can’t put an author on here unless I’ve read eight or more of their books. That means if an author hasn’t written at least eight books, they’re not being considered for inclusion. That simplifies things quite a bit, really. Maybe I should do another list for authors-I-love-but-I’ve-read-only-a-couple-books-by-them. But I think that sort of falls into Favorite Book territory, rather than Favorite Authors.

So, favorite authors. I bet you can fill it at least part of my list yourselves because I talk about some of these authors a lot. But let’s just see.

In the order they occur to me:

1. CJ Cherryh. Cherryh has written . . . uh . . . about five books I didn’t like? Those Russian ones, mostly, and a couple of others I am not very interested in revisiting. And about what, maybe forty that I did like, and a lot of those I really love. Something like that. How could she not be first on my list? I’m showing this particular cover not because it’s my favorite one of her books ever, though of course I love the whole Foreigner series, but because it’s one of my favorite of her covers ever. Just love this one.


2. Martha Wells. I’ve loved or really liked all her books except one. Oh, and I couldn’t get into the Star Wars tie-in when I tried it. I may try it again, but I’m honestly not a big Star Wars fan, so a tie-in for that world is an uphill thing for me. This cover, I picked because I’m trying to remember to read the Nicholas short story in it. I think it’s the only new-to-me story in the collection, but I do want to read it!


3. Andrea K Höst. I’ve loved or really liked all her books so far. I haven’t read three of hers, but so far that’s an amazingly consistent record. I’m showing the cover of Pyramids because it’s her newest, but I’m a lot more likely to read Hunting or Stained Glass Monsters next because I know Pyramids is part of a five-book series and, well, maybe I’ll just wait till it’s closer to being finished.


4. DWJ. One or two of Diana Wynne Jones’ books are . . . just strange. (Hexwood, The Time of the Ghost.) But basically, wow, what a writer. The cover below is far from my favorite ever, but I’m pretty sure this was the very first DWJ book I ever picked up.


5. Patricia McKillip. I can’t imagine why it took me five slots before I thought of her. The greatest fantasy writer ever. I thoroughly disliked one of hers (Solstice Wood), which only goes to show. But still. The Riddlemaster Trilogy has got to be on my Top Ten All Books Ever list.


6. Barbara Hambly. I’ve disliked quite a few of her books (those Nazi ones, ugh, and I’m sorry but Mother of Winter was pretty dreadful), but on the other hand I really love a lot of her books, so it kind of evens out. She’s just written so many books that you can give her, oh, at least half a dozen you really dislike and there are still a lot of others to love. Plus she writes one of my favorite vampires series (Ysidro), and my all-time favorite mystery series (Benjamin January).


7. Lois McMaster Bujold. Because, hey, obviously.


8. Gillian Bradshaw. I wasn’t a big fan of her Arthurian trilogy, and there have been one or two others that didn’t really do it for me, but then she’s written a lot and some of hers are on my all-time-favorite-books-ever list. Like Beacon of Alexandria. What a book. But I’m not even sure it’s my favorite of hers. Hard to choose.


9. Sharon Shinn. A lot of hers are comfort reads for me. The shifter ones are a bit emotionally overwrought, but on the other hand some of her titles (The Shapechanger’s Wife) are as nearly perfect as makes no difference.


10. Guy Gavriel Kay. I haven’t read quite all of his . . . and okay, fine, River of Stars was too tragic for me. But such beautiful writing.


There, that’s ten. That wasn’t so hard, though it actually is a bit painful leaving out a couple of others that also come to mind. The other kind of list, picking out of the vast universe of all books/authors ever, *that* would be impossible.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 22nd, 2015
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Recent Reading: The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman

April 21st, 2015


Okay, I would rate ICE CREAM STAR as a five out of five. But I rate lots of books five out of five, because for me a five-point rating system compresses the top and bottom books.

Out of ten, I would rate ICE CREAM STAR a nine out of ten, because there is going to be a direct sequel. Without a direct sequel, I would rate it an eight out of ten, because the ending is definitely extremely abrupt and chopped-off. I am knocking a point off for that even with the sequel.


Other criticisms: The official title is unnecessarily long and cumbersome. “Ice Cream Star” would have been perfectly appropriate. “In the Country of Ice Cream Star” adds pointless words. Other than that trivial point . . . uh . . . I can’t think of a lot of points to criticize. Oh, here’s one: Ice Cream Star is a bit too good to be true. She’s beautiful, courageous, loyal, intelligent, compassionate, a friend to every stray puppy, etc. Did I mention beautiful? All the important guys who aren’t related to her are in love with her.

What we’re seeing here is that Newman was specifically writing in the heroic tradition, and so she made Ice Cream Star into a heroic hero. Not to be redundant, but you know what I mean: larger than life, better than life — you know: heroic. The fact is, I like heroic larger-than-life heroes. Also, Newman is good enough to pull this off.

Hey, did I mention that the ending is chopped off? Publishers: please please PLEASE indicate somewhere on the book that it is part of a series. This first-book-but-we’re-not-telling strategy is NOT a good thing for readers and is a decidedly bad thing for authors. Cut it out. JUST STOP.

Well, unfortunately, none of us can actually make publishers quit it. Moving on, moving on.

Taken as the first book of a series, ICE CREAM STAR is a spectacular work. The language — Ice Cream’s language — is as different from modern standard English as you’d see in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Yet it feels organic and real. Lyrical, even. “All madden as I come along, is pointing fingers, grinning strange, and we walk through their skree that swell against the buildings’ rocky flanks. On the street be scattern flowers, whitish petals shivering and drifting in the wind. My ankles feel like angry water, but I walk correct. Concentrate upon the cutting bother of the heely shoes, and go with feary upright step, longing that I been a rifle child, ain’t got this pinching dress and freezing arms and death and death.”

Read all 600 pages of this book and you would be able to get by in this dialect. It gets into your head. Or it least, it did mine.

Okay, what you should know about this book before you pick it up:

It’s not a dystopia. There is no single horrible repressive government that is oppressing the people. It is postapocalyptic, and the US suffered more of an apocalypse than various other countries. You already know, I expect, that in any country that doesn’t have the cure for the posies (a form of cancer, evidently), everyone dies at around 20 years of age. Obviously this had a whole lot of really terrible effects. The world of Ice Cream Star is brutal. Brutal.

There are a lot of horrible repressive governments oppressing different segments of the population, I should add.

Ice Cream’s own people, the Sengels, really an extended family, are okay. The Lowells, pretty much a clan, are fine. The Christings are . . . pretty much okay, I suppose.

The Armies are horrible.

The Marianos are horrible.

The Roos are way beyond horrible.


At the end of the book, most of the secondary characters (and virtually the enormous entire supporting cast) are dead or enslaved and the Roos have basically won. The very short snippet at the end suggests that There Is Still Hope, but one can hardly see how we are going to get to a decent place from where we are left. I sort of have faith that Newman has a decent ending in mind? She is, after all, writing an adventure story in the heroic tradition. But, whoa.

In an interview, Sandra Newman says, “Ice Cream’s world isn’t miserable or oppressive or bleak. It’s actually a lot of fun, and people are more free than they are in our world. Even though Ice Cream’s world is spectacularly dangerous, I kind of wish I lived there.”

To which my only possible response is: then you’re insane, because though this could be sort of true for the Sengels, it is spectacularly untrue for almost everyone else. This story shows us exactly what the world is like when civilization falls and barbarians take over. If this book doesn’t give you an intense appreciation for living in a modern first-world country, nothing will.

Despite its brutality and horror, the book is brilliantly written and even, I would say, fundamentally positive — because of Ice Cream Star, who remains heroic through everything and does not give up; and also because of a powerful underlying theme of redemption that runs through the whole book.

Would I recommend this book to others? Yes. It is breathtakingly written and not wholly tragic.

Will I nominate it for awards next year? Yes. It is an ambitious work that, I think, almost entirely succeeds at what it is trying to do.

Will I read this book again myself? Maybe. I certainly won’t give it away just yet — though I may loan it out.

Will I read the sequel? Definitely. Especially if I see spoilers that make it clear that the ending of the sequel leaves the world in a better place than it is at the beginning. Which would not be hard.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 21st, 2015
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Finished! Again. For now.

April 20th, 2015

So, this morning I sent off the new version of THE MOUNTAIN OF KEPT MEMORY to my Saga editor, Navah. I read through the whole thing again over the long rainy weekend and actually . . . actually, I think it’s pretty good. Always reassuring to feel that way.

You may think that the most nervewracking moment in writing is when you finally see your baby hit the shelves. You have to just wait for reader reactions, and you never know! This is true, but. But, with a traditionally published book, at least, any new title has been through a lot of hands and you know that a) you like it; b) your agent likes it; c) your editor likes it; d) any beta readers you showed it to hopefully like it. This gives you some security when you let it go out into the wild.

So at least equally tense, at least for me, is the moment when I send a new manuscript to my agent, or a new or heavily revised manuscript to my editor. Those are important humps to get over. At least once, when Caitlin was slow to get back to me about a new manuscript, I was really concerned that she might not like it. (She was just busy.) (She always does get back to me fast if I actually ask a question.) My point here is, it’s hard for me to judge a new book, and hard to know whether other people will like it.

Oh, yeah, also, now that I think of it, I remember how worried I was about Justin in PURE MAGIC. I was all like, Is it okay to introduce a new primary character? I wasn’t at all sure that would work for people, but it turned out to be fine with everyone who’s read the book so far. I’m sure someone somewhere will just hate Justin, but so far, not a problem.

Anyway, so. Now I can check off MOUNTAIN for a month or so. I expect that in the absolute best case, Navah will probably have some suggestions. But still, finished with it for the moment.

So I thought, great, I could take a break until May and then resume work on THE WHITE ROAD OF THE MOON for Knopf. (Pause to consider: that one IS for Knopf, right? Haven’t gotten them mixed up, right? No, it’s definitely WHITE ROAD for Knopf.) (I live in fear of sending the wrong ms to an editor.) (Not a lot of fear, because that wouldn’t be the end of the world or anything, but it would be embarrassing.)

But then this morning it occurred to me, I did want to get the HOUSE OF SHADOWS sequel in order. Ouch. That may take the rest of April.

Well, we’ll see. First: I’m definitely going to finish ICE CREAM STAR.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 20th, 2015
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Recent Reading: SHIFTING SHADOWS by Patricia Briggs

April 20th, 2015

Interrupting one book to read another is very rare for me. Almost unheard of. In fact, stopping in the middle of one book to read something else almost always means the first one is a DNF because even if I meant to go back to it, I probably won’t.

But Newman’s ICE CREAM STAR is an exception. I’m halfway through it, and so far I’m really enjoying it, although it’s pretty intense. The setting is pretty brutal, as you might expect for a postapocalyptic everyone-dies-before-twenty kind of setting. Which turns out to not quite be true, but anyway, comments on that book when I’m actually finished with it.

I was talking to somebody on Friday about Patricia Briggs’ short story collection, SHIFTING SHADOWS, which I’ve never read. It turns out that I’ve only ever read one of the stories in that collection, and hearing that the whole collection is good, I went ahead and picked it up. Then, since I recently read the latest Alpha and Omega novel and was in the mood, I paused with ICE CREAM STAR and read Briggs’ collection right then.


And I was glad to find that all the stories are indeed good, solid stories. I didn’t keep track of which were new to the collection and which had been previously published, because as I said, all but one were new to me anyway. My favorites were Kara’s story, “Roses in Winter,” and Ben’s story, “Redemption.” Oh, and David Christianson’s story, too — “The Star of David.”

Briggs mentions in her notes about the stories that readers have kept asking and asking about Kara. The Kara I mean here is the little girl who was turned into a werewolf when she was ten or so. (I specify because Briggs has used the name three times now for minor characters.) Well, I, too, have really wanted to know what was going on with Kara. So this story was very satisfying. Especially since I’ve always liked Asil anyway.

Ben is a secondary character who has always been interesting and sympathetic. I’ve loved watching his slow recovery from his horribly background. This was a fun story with a lot of humor but also some depth to it.

David Christiansen is the guy who was turned into a werewolf overseas and didn’t learn how to control his wolf until tragedy had already happened. I always wanted to see more of him, too, and I’m really pleased to see him reconnect with his estranged daughter in this story.

The character I would have liked to see but didn’t get in this collection was Honey. Honey is one of the most interesting female characters in Mercy Thompson’s world, maybe the most interesting; certainly by far the most sympathetic female werewolf. On the other hand, given what was going on in NIGHT BROKEN, the most recent Mercy Thompson novel, I am virtually certain that Honey is going to take on a more front-and-center role in the ongoing novels. So, fine. I can wait.

Okay. Now I’m going back to ICE CREAM STAR. I need to finish it before I can start revising HOUSE OF SHADOWS — and I would kind of like to have that done before the beginning of May.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 20th, 2015
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Somehow it never occurred to me to sacrifice a goat

April 19th, 2015

Marie Bilodeau posts at Black Gate: The Definitive Guide to Selling Books sans InterWebs

Gather round, Authors of Yore, Authors of Now and Authors of Soon, and learn the true ways of book selling success. . . . Next time you do a signing in a bookstore, sacrifice the goat right in the middle of the aisle. The bleating will attract the curious. The gore will disorient them. Your crazed eyes will make them buy. . . . Add a bloodied knife, a ritual sacrifice and a crazed seller, and you’ve got yourself a guaranteed sale!

Well, okay, this crazy post *may* not offer the definitive answers to all your marketing needs. But it’s funny! Click through and read the whole thing. The comments are also good. Has there been any kind of study on the role of the trebuchet in bookselling? See there? Now that’s the kind of question you need in advice columns.

This goat-sacrifice post actually led me, by a circuitous route involving The Passive Voice, to this post, answering the longstanding question: can you actually make money selling used books for a penny on Amazon? I always wondered about that. I do buy used books, still. I buy used books for all kinds of reasons:

a) I am buying used copies of older edition algebra books to loan out to students who are trying to prep for a test or reviewing algebra before their class next semester (something I wish more students would do). I try to pay under a dollar (plus shipping and handling) because a largish percentage of my loaned-out books do not return and I’m using my own money. (This is not because my boss is cheap. It’s because dealing with purchase orders is a nuisance and my book budget doesn’t really notice half a dozen algebra books a year.)

b) The book is out of print and there is no Kindle edition.

c) I happen to wander by a used book store or a library sale.

d) There is an enormous difference in cost between the new book and a used copy, and the author is famous. JK Rowling or Steven King are not going to notice the loss of a sale, so I wouldn’t feel guilty buying a used copy of one of their books.

e) I am suspicious that I may not like the book. I bought A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear used because online reviews made me wary. Then I bought the second book on Kindle because I turned out to love the first.

I’m sure there are other reasons I might pick up a used book, but those are some of the most common.

But I always am amazed at how many books are listed on Amazon for a penny. It turns out that it works like this:

The price point is partly a result of the market’s downward pressure: at a certain level of supply and demand the race to the lowest price swiftly plummets to the bottom. What remains inflexible is the $3.99 fee Amazon charges the buyer for shipping. From that $4, Amazon takes what they call a “variable closing fee” of $1.35. They also charge the seller 15% of the item’s price – which in the case of a penny book is zero. That leaves $2.64 to cover postage, acquisition cost and overhead. “All told,” Mike Ward concedes, “we only make a few cents on a penny book sale like that.” Now that hardly seems like much, true. “But keep in mind,” he adds, “that last year we sold 11.5m books.”

Ah, yes, that does go some way toward explaining the phenomenon. Also, evidently there is a fairly important public service attitude involved in re-marketing used books rather than just sending them all to a landfill. There’s a quote from Better World Books that makes me glad they’re one of the used book venders I recognize by name.

Anyway: marketing! I doubt I will acquire a herd of goats for sacrifice, but if you’re an author and you try it, let me know how that works for you. Also the trebuchet thing. I expect the upkeep for a trebuchet would be less than for a herd of goats

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on April 19th, 2015
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