Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Other novels called “Copper Mountain”

Pete’s comment that there are a bunch of steamy romances called COPPER MOUNTAIN made me laugh — and wonder just how many there might be, and what other novels might have that title.

Which, yes, I suppose I should have Googled before picking that title, but it’s all right, especially since my COPPER MOUNTAIN is part of a series.

Anyway, in case you are curious, there are a whole bunch of cowboy romances in the Copper Mountain Rodeo series, starting with this one:

Chelsea Collier wants nothing more than to save the old depot built by her railway baron ancestor and turn it into a museum—until it’s sold out from under her.

Jasper Flint made himself filthy rich in the Texas oil business by the age of 35. Now he wants a quieter life and building a microbrewery in Marietta, Montana is the perfect project.

Oh, one of THOSE male leads — young, handsome (I assume), no doubt witty, and also SUPER RICH. I always feel that is an unnecessary step too far in a romance. I’m generally inclined to say: pick three of the four, and if you’re going to ditch one, make it the Amazingly Rich trope because that is actually annoying as well as unnecessary.

The Copper Mountain Rodeo series actually includes romances by multiple authors, so no doubt the novels vary in many ways, but I expect they’re all along the same lines.

Then there is a series by Jeannie Watt called the 78th Copper Mountain Rodeo series, and ANOTHER series, this one by Sinclair Jayne, called the 79th Copper Mountain rodeo series. Ah, yes, I see that this is probably the same kind of multi-authored themed romance series

All the above probably explains why Pete saw so many Copper Mountain romances on Goodreads.

In addition, there’s this:

This one isn’t a romance, though, or at least not the same kind of romance. The description on Amazon:

Talented in business and the arts, Lera risks her life to escape an abusive husband so she can keep her unborn baby, find meaning in her life and win the man she should have married — a doctor who cannot remember his past. Romantic suspense set in Gunnison, Colorado.

I point to this one only to say that not EVERY other novel called Copper Mountain is a steamy cowboy romance.

Not that there’s anything wrong with cowboy romances, of course! But if I were pointing out one of those, I would be pointing to one that was heavy on the historical setting and light on the steam; eg, Softly Falling by Carla Kelly.

Come to think of it, maybe it’s about time for me to pick up another romance novel by Carla Kelly. Even though I don’t believe she’s written one called COPPER MOUNTAIN.

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Copper Mountain

Oh, look, in order to proceed with the KDP process, I need back cover description for Copper Mountain!

Since this is the 4th novel in the series, it hardly seems necessary to go overboard with the description. Probably relatively few people will look at this book unless they already know they like the series. Still, let me just see here … short, pithy, reasonably accurate …

Here’s my first try at back cover copy:

There’s a demon asleep beneath Copper Mountain in Colorado. Sooner or later, it’s going to wake up.

Colonel Herrod of the Special Forces has more than one plan for dealing with the demon. Unscrupulous black witches hope to use long-forgotten magic to harness its power. But Miguel Toland is pretty sure that no matter what else might happen, eventually Dimilioc is going to have to deal with that demon . . . and it looks like that means he’s going to have to deal with it himself.

No matter what the cost.

An unusually large number of you have read a version of this book, so you may well be able to offer educated opinions about how to improve the above description.

If you read any version of this story, you’re in the acknowledgements, but let me just mention that I REALLY appreciate your comments about this manuscript. Your feedback caused me to delete, add or alter many scenes; smooth out a whoooole bunch of details; and (as always) clear out innumerable typos. COPPER MOUNTAIN is a much stronger story because of your input. Thank you all!

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First Paragraphs: Doing it with feeling

So, the other day I posted a link to an article which picked out six first paragraphs of various SFF books and argued that these paragraphs work because, rather than focusing on neutral details of setting or clothing or whatever, they all give the reader, right away, a hint of the protagonist’s emotions and feelings.

I’m not sure that this is the rule, or even a rule, for successful first paragraphs — especially after seeing all your comments to that post! Obviously it’s more than possible to write an opening that works well by establishing setting and mood, or worldbuilding and tone, or however one might put that. I was also interested to see, in your comments, several first paragraphs that work by inviting the reader to share a joke with the author, which is honestly what I think is happening in the opening of Northanger Abbey, for example.

It is true, though, that when the first paragraphs set the scene or establish a mood, that is often going to be something that carries over into establishing the protagonist as a person. I mean, the setting is often or usually going to be established through the protagonist’s reactions to it, not just painted in like a backdrop. Or if the first paragraphs build mood, then that mood is probably in some way a reflection of the protagonist’s emotional state or general character. That is true, for example, in this paragraph:

The wind began in the land that was once called Elsweyr, born out of the desert badlands. It raced north, ruffling the fur of the soldiers who patrolled the border with the Empire. Raj’haara had been gazing south, towards the village from which she hailed, as the wind came upon her. She tasted the flavors of home, sun and stone and bright sweet sugar, and then the wind was gone. She turned back to the north with a sigh, and resumed her watch, lest the Empire break their fragile peace.

There’s a sense of wistfulness or loss here. It’s not just a scene; it’s also, even primarily, Raj’haara’s response to the scene. Plus it’s setting the stage for the plot; the reader is probably safe to assume the fragile peace will be broken.

So let’s take a look at some first paragraphs, chosen not quite at random.

1. In honor of the recent release of the latest Foreigner book, here’s the first paragraph of the first Foreigner book – that is, of Foreigner itself. I’ve read this book several times, but not lately. Let’s just see how it starts …

It was the deep dark, unexplored except for robotic visitors. The mass that existed here was Earth’s second stepping-stone toward a strand of promising stars; and, for the first manned ship to drop into its influence, the mass point was a lonely place, void of the electromagnetic chaff that filled human space, the gossip and chatter of trade, the instructions of human control to ships and crews, the fast, sporadic communication of machine talking to machine. Here, on the radiation of the mass the distant stars, and the background whisper of existence itself rubbed up against the sensors with force enough to attract attention.

No protagonist yet in sight! Let me see – Phoenix herself is treated almost as the protagonist in the third paragraph. Taylor, the pilot when the trip goes wrong, briefly takes the pov. This is really a prologue: we have fourteen pages of Phoenix taking a wrong turn and her crew discovering she is lost. I had not quite forgotten that this novel has, essentially, a series of short prologues. Phoenix getting lost, that’s one. An ateva named Manadgi sneaks up and basically kidnaps a human, shortly after the Landing, so he and his people can find out what humans are like and what they intend – that’s another short prologue. Ian Bretano, the human who gets kidnapped, gives us his point of view in a continuation of the second prologue. Then we jump past the rest of the first contact and the settlement and the War of the Landing and everything to do with all that and finally pick up with the present day and Bren on p. 47. Let’s look at that first paragraph:

The air moved sluggishly through the open garden lattice, heavy with the perfume of the night-blooming vines outside the bedroom. An o’oi-ana went click-click, and called again, the harbinger of rain, while Bren lay awake, thinking that if he were wise, he would get up and close the lattice and the doors before he fell asleep. The wind would shift. The sea air would come and cool the room. The vents were enough to let it in. But it was a lethargic, muggy night, and he waited for that nightly reverse of the wind from the east to the wet, waited as the first flickers of lightning cast the shadow of the lattice on the stirring gauze of the curtain.

Well, what do you think? What I think is, after all that prologue-y stuff, the first paragraph of the actual story is meant to establish, not Bren’s emotional response to the setting, but his comfort with and familiarity with the setting. This is his world. He knows it intimately. Humans were newcomers to the world, but Bren is not a newcomer at all; this is his home.

Two short paragraphs later, there’s a shadow on the terrace, an intruder, and Bren shoots at this intruder with the gun he isn’t supposed to have, and the actual story is underway. But here in this first paragraph, we have the setting, with the protagonist firmly in place within that setting. The paragraph serves to evoke a feeling of comfort and of being at home. The next few paragraphs draw the reader forward by presenting a dangerous intrusion into this calm and comfortable evening.

All right, moving on.

2. In honor of the soon-to-be-released Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein, here’s the first paragraph of the related novel Rose Under Fire.

I just got back from Celia Forester’s funeral. I’m supposed to be writing up an official report for the Tempest she flew into the ground, since she’s obviously not going to write it herself and I saw it happen. Also because I feel responsible. I know it wasn’t my fault – I really do know that now. But I briefed her. We both had Tempests to deliver, and I’d flown one a couple of times before. Celia hadn’t. She took off ten minutes after me. If she’d taken off first, we might both still be alive.

Well, now. No argument with this one. This is definitely an opening paragraph that uses the emotions of the protagonist to draw in the reader. I know it wasn’t my fault – I really do know that now. Powerful! No surprise, as there are hardly any novels I can think of that are more emotionally powerful than these WWII historicals by Elizabeth Wein. In a historical setting like this one, the reader has to be introduced to the world in almost the same way as in an SFF world, but this paragraph is doing the heavy lifting with the protagonist’s emotions, not (yet) by giving us any sensory feel for the world. This could hardly be more different from the beginning of Bren’s story in Foreigner.

3. In honor of the very-soon-to-be-released Return of the Thief, here’s the first paragraph of The Queen of Attolia.

He was asleep, but woke at the sound of the key turning in the lock. The storage room held winter linens, and no one should have been interested in it in the middle of summer, and certainly not in the middle of the night. By the time the door was open, he had slipped through a square hole in the stones of the wall and soundlessly closed the metal door that covered it. He was in the narrow tunnel that connected a stoking room to the hypocaust of a minor audience chamber down the corridor. The door he’d crawled through was intended to allow smoke into the storage room to fumigate the linens. Moving quietly, he inched down the tunnel to the open space of the hypocaust. Squat pillars held the stone floor above him. There wasn’t room to sit up, so he lay on his back and listened to the thumping noises, like drumbeats, as people hurried over the floor of the audience chamber above his head. They could only be looking for him, but he wasn’t particularly worried. He’d hidden before in the spaces under the floor of the palace. His people had used the tunnels of the hypocausts to hide in since the invaders had built them to heat their new buildings hundreds of years earlier.

Whew! That’s a long opening paragraph! The main function of this paragraph is to get the plot off to a fast start and begin to build the setting, but we do get entry to the protagonist’s feelings as well – a general sense of his competence. He woke instantly even though there was no reason to expect anyone to come searching for him, and though people are in fact searching for him, he isn’t particularly worried. That isn’t going to last, of course, as we know if we’ve read the story before.

Lots of details of the setting here. There’s a lot more of the setting than the protagonist’s emotions; and I would say that this paragraph does not really evoke a mood, either. The tension here is part of the plot, not part of the mood or feel of the story. I would say this paragraph is meant to set the scene and give us a general sense that there is history here, history and a broader context. This is a worldbuilding, plot-driving paragraph.

One more:

4. In honor of T. Kingfisher’s not-quite-released new novel The Hollow Places, here’s the opening of her recent The Twisted Ones:

I am going to try to start at the beginning, even though I know you won’t believe me.

It’s okay. I wouldn’t believe me either. Everything I have to say seems completely barking mad. I’ve run it through my mind over and over, trying to find a way to turn it around so that it all sounds quite normal and sensible, and of course there isn’t one.

No setting at all! I like that because it is such a contrast to most of the other paragraphs at which we’ve been looking. This is nothing but mood! Well, mood and voice. Anyway, it’s an opening that says horror novel here and does absolutely nothing about worldbuilding except use a contemporary voice to let the reader know this is essentially a contemporary-ish setting.

So these four novel openings actually do a great job of showcasing an amazingly broad spectrum of types of successful openings, thus warning us all against drawing firm conclusions about what works in a first paragraph. I suppose we could categorize opening paragraphs this way:

a) Draws in the reader by showing the emotions of the protagonist and inviting a sympathetic response from the reader.

b) Draws in the reader by offering a puzzle or question.

c) Draws in the reader by establishing a tone or mood.

d) Draws in the reader by creating the world and inviting the reader to look around.

e) Draws in the reader by starting the plot and urging the reader to see what happens next.

And, although most well-written novels may do all or most of those things within the first few pages, many are doing only one of those things in the first paragraph.

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First paragraphs

In a recent comment, Pete Mack provided an “anti-Bulwer Lytton paragraph” — the first paragraph from a Raymond Chandler noir dectective novel:

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”

So, sure, let’s pause for a moment and take a look at anti-Bulwer Lytton paragraphs. Rather than taking time right now to go through my own library, I will cheat and link this post: IN SEARCH OF THE FIRST PARAGRAPH, from the Fantasy Author’s Handbook blog. This post provides a nice selection of good opening paragraphs from SFF novels, in the context of discussing what does and doesn’t work well in such a paragraph.

My favorite of their choices — in the category of “beautiful writing that would make me run screaming from this book” — is this one:

Last Dragon by J.M. McDermott

My fingers are like spiders drifting over memories in my webbed brain. The husks of the dead gaze up at me, and my teeth sink in and I speak their ghosts. But it’s all mixed up in my head. I can’t separate lines from lines, or people from people. Everything is in this web, Esumi. Even you. Even me. Slowly the meat falls from the bones until only sunken cheeks and empty space between the filaments remind me that a person was there, in my head. The ghosts all fade the same way. They fade together. Your face fades into the face of my husband and the dying screams of my daughter. Esumi, your face is Seth’s face, and the face of the golem.

Aaaah! No way would I read this book, but that sure is beautiful writing.

The post then goes on to attempt to pin down what fails and what succeeds in an opening:

The first paragraph of so many well-intentioned manuscripts begins with the author either lovingly describing the weather or other physical conditions of the setting, or describing in equally loving detail what the hero is wearing. Truly bad attempts managed both a weather report and fashion report in one opening paragraph.

Where is your character (and for Clarke, English magic was as much a character as Strange or Norrell) at the beginning of your story—not physically, but emotionally? Details may be sprinkled in, but all of these paragraphs are about feelings.

Interesting observation! Over the weekend, maybe I will take a look at some of the books in my library and see if I think their opening paragraphs are about feelings and where the protagonist is emotionally.

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Here’s a pretty good post that uses three specific novels-in-progress to describe the process of revision.

1.The big issue I saw in the early draft: The protagonist’s efforts to manifest his powers on Earth were largely fruitless until near the end, which threw the pacing off—and when he told people about that second world he’d traveled to, no one seemed quite as skeptical as they should have been. The evidence tying the protagonist to his best friend’s disappearance also seemed pretty flimsy, so the threat of him being found guilty of her murder didn’t seem all that convincing.

2.The big issue I saw in the early draft: The protagonist appeared to have a big realization at the end that was all about the power of self-love, but there was very little at the beginning to suggest that this was even an issue in her life. In fact, at the beginning of this novel, the protagonist seemed pretty happy—until some trouble came along to destabilize her work life.

3.The big issue I saw in the early draft: There wasn’t enough focus on the POV of the protagonist for the reader to really identify with him and his struggles—the author seemed more interested in exploring this fantasy world than he was in actually telling the protagonist’s story.

Considerably more details about each at the linked post.

I’m wincing a little while reading through these comments about revision because these “big issues” ring thoroughly true. These are exactly the sort of comments that are (a) really helpful, and (b) going to make you spend a good deal of time revising your novel.

If you’re stuck with revision, or wondering what sort of editorial comments would help, then this sort of analysis of your manuscript is probably exactly what you need.

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Recent Reading: Divergence by CJC

So, here we are, the … 21st? Yes, 21st book in the Foreigner series.

As you may recall, I was not impressed by the 20th book, Resurgence.

The full sequence of the recent books is not tracking the trilogy model; that system broke down several books ago, which was signaled by the change in titles from titles that were words ending in -or and -er to titles that are words ending in -ence. So the current series includes Convergence, Emergence, Resurgence, and now Divergence. There will obviously be at least one more in this arc, after which who knows.

Now, I liked Convergence and Emergence a lot, and then as you know tripped HARD over a continuity problem between the end of Emergence and Resurgence, as Nomari was very definitely confirmed as lord of Ajuri at the end of Emergence and very definitely had not yet been confirmed in Resurgence.

I did not expect Cherryh to fix this — it is unfixable — so I went into Divergence with a gritted-teeth determination to tolerate this problem and pretend I never noticed the continuity problem. This, combined with a more active, fun plot, enabled me to enjoy Divergence much more than Resurgence. There is, however, a continuing problem with Nomari that got in my way through the whole book, which I will now share with you, so if it wasn’t bothering you and now it does, sorry, but here we go:

Nomari is three years older than Cajeiri’s mother. Yes, we are told this explicitly. I reread all the books of this arc, so I noted this speficially.

Damiri is, at a minimum, 28 years old. That assumes she married Tabini at 18 and had Cajeiri almost at once. This makes Nomari a minimum of 31. He could well be older than that, but he cannot be significantly younger.

In Divergence, there is great concern that Nomari and an unsuitable girl may be attracted to each other. She is 16. These two are referred to repeatedly, by Bren, not just by the Dowager, as “the young people.” This is just weird.

I am perfectly aware that in many or most human societies throughout history, girls of twelve or thirteen or fourteen routinely married young men in their late twenties and early thirties. Maybe this is typical of the atevi as well and we just have never seen enough of their marriage customs to know that. But it doesn’t matter. If Nomari is twice the girl’s age, it is just weird to call them “the young people” as though they are both teenagers. It is especially weird for Bren to do that, since he cannot be that much older than Nomari. It seems to me that CJC just decided, arbitrarily and for no reason at all, to age Nomari sharply downward and declare that he is in his early twenties. This was completely unnecessary, as she could have kept the exact same plot and aged the girl upward. Instead of a sixteen-year-old girl, she could have been a particularly shy, protected woman of twenty-four or so and that would have worked exactly as well!

So … FINE. Yes, I am unhappy by what appears to be real, continuing, carelessness from CJC or from her editor(s) or both. If you, as the author, change your mind, I think you have to do a much better job than this of fixing the continuity problems that you’ve created. But FINE. I will still go on with the series. A lot more happened in this book than the previous one, and I did manage to set aside my problems with this arc of the series and enjoy the story.

But I will never not be gritting my teeth during re-reads.

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The Bulwer Lytton Winners for 2020

Oh, I’m glad I happened to spot a link to this post!

I’m absolutely certain you all want to see the winners for the Bulwer Lytton Contest this year.

Here is the Grand Prize winner:

Her Dear John missive flapped unambiguously in the windy breeze, hanging like a pizza menu on the doorknob of my mind.

Lisa Kluber, San Francisco, CA

There are, of course, lots of other winners. Let me see … quite a few fun entries … I like this one, from the Romance category —

It had been fifty-seven days since Madi left him, and still her stinging parting words slithered through Brett’s mind and echoed jarringly in the emptiness of his life like a half-frozen iguana falling out of a tree in an unseasonable Cozumel cold snap.

Lisa Hanks, Euless, TX

Here, I think, is my actual favorite:

“Dilly, Dilly,” Nelda sobbed, “Tell me you still care, Dilly,” as his blood spurted rhythmically onto her freshly-starched, pink pinafore—the one given to her on her 16th birthday by her maternal grandmother, Nana Gertrude, the one she had worn the previous Sunday to the witch dunking, the one she swore never to stain— which was now permanently stained, but she mused that it didn’t matter since it was in the same color family.

Pat DuVal, Arlington, VA

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Tolkien Week

I am, as a rule, both unimpressed by and unaware of the various This Days and That Weeks and so on. Who can keep track? Who cares?

But since I happened across this post at tor.com, sure, fine, it’s Tolkien Week this week, so have a post on hobbits. I mean, who doesn’t like hobbits, right? That line about second breakfast may be the most memorable line in the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, complete with Pippin’s firm little nod that says This argument is unassailable.

  • Aragorn : Gentlemen, we do not stop ’til nightfall.
  • Pippin : What about breakfast?
  • Aragorn You’ve already had it.
  • Pippin We’ve had one, yes. What about second breakfast?

Anyway, hobbits! The post at tor.com is satisfyingly long and goes into some depth about the origin of hobbits and their role in the Lord of the Rings:

Hobbits are beneath the notice of so many, right? We see it with the good guys and the bad guys alike. The Elves in Lothlórien know of them, but thought them long gone from Middle-earth (say, was Galadriel keeping her people in the dark about them?). To the Men of Rohan and Gondor they are halflings, “little people in old songs and children’s tales.” The three trolls don’t know what Bilbo is. Smaug’s never smelled one before. The Ringwraiths are sent to discover them because they’re an unknown quantity to their master. Sauron overlooks Hobbits big time, to his own uttermost ruin. Even Saruman, who at least knew about the Shire for far longer than his secret rival in Mordor, couldn’t be bothered with them until it was too late. 

Yet we, Tolkien’s readers, find Hobbits anything but inconspicuous. They are the story. They are our eyes on the wonders and terrors of Middle-earth outside their borders...

Click through if you have a minute, and happen to want to pretend that Tolkien Week is a real thing.

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Futura in YA titles

Here’s a post on covers of YA novels. The post covers the EVERYTHING IS BLACK phase, the girls-in-ballroom-gowns phase, the drowned-girl phase, and the illustrated cover phase, ongoing now.

The post then moves on to discuss the current trend for very large centered titles that take up a lot of the cover, in sans sarif fonts, especially (I guess) Futura. Also that the titles are not tilted and there is no drop shadow.

Like these:

The argument is that these titles are easier to read in thumbnail form than sarif titles, titles with drop shadows, smaller titles, etc. Although plausible in theory, I would like to point out that this cannot be the reason.

Of the 24 covers presented above, at least 7, which is roughly a third, have titles that are hard to read. The only ones that are really easy to read are the ones where the titles do not walk down the entire vertical cover and also WE USED TO BE FRIENDS, where the background is ultra simple.

WATCH OVER ME is one of the hardest, as the pale letters wash out against the pale background colors. The blue letters of ALL OUR WORST IDEAS is tough to read against the blues of the cover. The “here” in YOU WERE NEVER HERE is nearly invisible to a first glance.

Go back and look at YOU WERE NEVER HERE. Did you see the girl’s face at first? Am I the only one who didn’t see the face at all to begin with? Just curious. To me, perhaps because I was looking at the title, it was just blurred background colors until suddenly the face appeared.

But that’s not the point. The point is, are those titles really easier to read than this one?

In this cover, the title is big, but very much sarif, and confined to the bottom of the cover. As the letters are pale against a dark background, and the title is all in one place and you don’t have to search for it, I’d say the title is a lot easier to read than many of the ones above.

Here’s another:

Yellow against yellow, but the drop shadow, specifically noted as absent in all the examples above, makes these letters stand out. They are front and center, but not floating in front of an image. Also, putting the title in one confined place makes it easy to find and read. This title is a hundred times easier to read than most of the ones that are supposedly made to be easy to read.

Here’s another:

The title is small, confined to the bottom of the cover, and SO much easier to read than the ones that come down the middle of the page.

No, as far as I’m concerned, readability at thumbnail size CANNOT be the reason for the trend in title size, font, and placement in those covers. That is therefore just another trend, like the Drowned Girls trend … which I notice has not entirely ended. Three Drowned Girls out of 24 — if the girl in WATCH OVER ME isn’t underwater, then what’s with her hair? — and if she’s drowned, then that’s 12.5% Drowned Girl covers. I would be fine if that trend ended at once. I’ve never seen the appeal.

I also don’t see the appeal of dropping the title a word at a time down the entire front of the book. As I conclude that’s just a trend, I can hope the trend will become soon become less prevalent.

One final note: I missed this at first, but one of those covers above is by Elizabeth Wein — THE ENIGMA GAME. I’m glad to see that one has a title that is easy to read. Here’s the description:

Facing a seemingly endless war, fifteen-year-old Louisa Adair wants to fight back, make a difference, do something — anything — to escape the Blitz and the ghosts of her parents, who were killed by enemy action. But when she accepts a position caring for an elderly German woman in the small village of Windyedge, Scotland, it hardly seems like a meaningful contribution. Still, the war feels closer than ever in Windyedge, where Ellen McEwen, a volunteer driver with the Royal Air Force, and Jamie Beaufort-Stuart, a flight leader for the 648 Squadron, are facing a barrage of unbreakable code and enemy attacks they can’t anticipate.
Their paths converge when a German pilot lands in Windyedge under mysterious circumstances and plants a key that leads Louisa to an unparalleled discovery: an Enigma machine that translates German code. Louisa, Ellen, and Jamie must work together to unravel a puzzle that could turn the tide of the war — but doing so will put them directly in the cross-hairs of the enemy.

This story is connected to Code Name Verity. It’s not quite out, but nearly — scheduled for release in early November. Just thought I’d point that out, as surely some of you are fans of Elizabeth Wein, as I am.

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Unforgettable antagonists


Sure, I’ll bite! Go ahead, who are the most unforgettable antagonists in fiction?

Before looking at the list given in the linked post, I should probably mention that (a) I’m not always that interested in the antagonist; and (b) actually, one of the tropes I like best is the fairly rare antagonist-to-ally trope. That requires an antagonist who isn’t a terrible person; eg, Inspector Ronsarde is a great antagonist for Nicholas Valiarde in The Death of the Necromancer. The real enemy in that book is, of course, the necromancer. He is not nearly as interesting or fun to read about as Ronsarde. All the scenes I’ve bookmarked in that novel involve Ronsarde and Nicholas interacting.

Also, I think I probably often prefer depersonalized antagonists, like the environment itself, rather than a bad guy.

So maybe I’m not the very best person to think about making a list of great antagonists! Even so, if I tried for a list of great antagonists, I wouldn’t stop short at nine! No matter who is on this list, I’m going to feel compelled to try to come up with one more memorable antagonist in order to bring that list to a nice, even ten.

Now, to be memorable, it seems to me an antagonist who is a person needs to be interesting in some way. That lets out evil antagonists like, say, Sauron, who really is not at all interesting. Dangerous, sure, but not interesting. Saruman is more interesting than Sauron, though that doesn’t mean he’s interesting — it’s not a high bar.

A more interesting antagonist … let me see … all right, how about General Woundwort in Watership Down? He’s evil, no question, but you can sympathize with what he was trying to do as he created a totalitarian society and crushed his people beneath his iron paw.

So that’s my pick for a memorable antagonist! I bet that is not one of the ones on this list from Crime Reads, but let’s see …

1) Rebecca, from the book by DuMaurier. Okay, that’s fair.

2) The Storm, from The Perfect Storm. All right! That’s a great choice. Glad to see they’re picking some depersonalized antagonists. We could undoubtedly do a top ten list just with examples of Nature As The Antagonist. No shortage of outstanding examples, that’s for sure. I’ve never read The Perfect Storm, but I bet I would like it.

3) Cujo. Oh, no no no. No.

Listen, you cannot pick a sick dog as a great antagonist. How can anybody not feel sorry for the dog? Also, the protagonist — can’t remember her name — is such a wimp! I’m getting angry again just thinking about this book. Put me in that car and I could handle that dog, I don’t care how big he was. Poor Cujo! I wouldn’t have wanted to kill him, but I would have done it. And so would you. A reasonably intelligent, able-bodied adult human with all the time in the world and everything in the car to work with could absolutely kill a big SICK dog who has already been weakened by the disease and thirst.

I’m inclined to be done with this list right now.

You know what, I’m going to just poke around for a minute …

Okay, here is a different list about antagonists:

MIND MELD: Who Are Your Favorite Villains In Fantasy And Science Fiction?

That’s more like it! Let’s focus on SFF and see about picking out some antagonists. Since the post is about villains, there won’t be any Nature-as-Antagonist, which is too bad, but with any luck we won’t be seeing Cujo again either, so there’s pluses and minuses.

Here in this post, we have … let me see … Scott Lynch, Helen Lowe, Howard Andrew Jones, and twelve others pick out some of their favorite villains in SFF. (There are so many authors who contributed to this post, I’m just naming the ones I’ve read stuff by.)

Oh ho, we do get Nature As Antagonist! — here’s someone, Shaun Duke, picking out “nature” in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I’ve read that one! It’s the one where McCarthy plays with punctuation. Very literary. Very dark. There is a tiny, tiny glimmer of light in the darkness, right at the end, or that book would be unendurable. It almost is anyway.

Anyway, glad to see Nature As Antagonist. Plenty of post-apocalyptic novels where that’s a feature.

Hah! LB Gale picks various others AND General Woundwort from Watership Down! Good for her.

Ah, Helen Lowe picks out Galadan in GGK’s Fionavar trilogy. I should have thought of him! Great choice! I love the little redemption arc he gets right at the end.

I’ll be darned, here’s something you don’t see every day — Ian Sales is picking out an antagonist from The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley. I always think of Varley when I think of authors who are all but forgotten today, but should absolutely be brought back into the public eye. Though this title isn’t my favorite of his and I have to admit I do not remember the antagonist at all.

All right, I’ll stop there — lots (lots!) more at the linked post.

I’ll end by saying that my favorite villain from my own books remains Lelienne from The City in the Lake. She’s really creepy and honestly quite inhuman. It’s like you know she has motivations, but they are so weird it’s hard to decide what they might be. Or that’s how I think about her, anyway.

If you’ve got a favorite villain (or other antagonist) from one of my books or any SFF novel, or both, drop some names in the comments!

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