Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Progress report

Okay! We’re halfway through April. That was fast. I’m feeling pretty happy with the month so far.

First, I’m still fiddling around with proofreading for the Death’s Lady trilogy. I’m trying something new — I’m re-reading a clean copy in paper with a pencil in my hand. This is just like going over page proofs from a traditional publisher. I’m therefore actually making a relatively large-ish number of very small changes, plus I’ve caught just a few actual mistakes. Judging form Tarashana, I ought to catch about 30 typos per 900 (Kindle adjusted) pages, or pretty close to three per 100 pages. I’ll be curious how close that is to reality. Also, I’ll be curious if you all catch any after all this. I’m hoping that your collective sharp eyes catch fewer than five for the whole trilogy, but we’ll see.

The above is going to take a little while. I’m doing it largely right before bed, instead of reading other stuff for fun. So I’ll put these books up for pre-order in a few days, but most likely I’ll select the middle of May as the actual release date. That should give me ample time to finish up proofing even though I’m also working on other things.

Second, I finished The Kids’ Story for the upcoming Black Dog collection this morning. (Beats me what the actual title will be.) I wrote 50 pages or so, and then I wasn’t sure I took the plot in quite the right direction, so I paused. I got back to it this week and finished it up at 80 pp, or about 25,000 words. That’s a good length — close to the length I prefer for these stories. The story opens practically the minute Tommy’s first story closes and covers his first 24 hours with Dimilioc. He has an eventful 24 hours, I must say, and the story sets up two plot elements that will be further developed in Silver Circle. I mean, unless I change my mind. But it’s nice to use the stories to set things up for the next novel.

I am a bit peeved that two of the stories in the 3rd collection take place after Copper Mountain. That wasn’t my intention! I prefer to have all the stories in a collection take place between the books, except for prequels that happened a long time ago. Initially, I thought I would be setting Copper Mountain some time after Shadow Twin, but that’s not how it worked out. This time, Silver Circle really should take place a good while after Copper Mountain, so there’s plenty of time for other stuff to happen. Tommy joining Dimilioc is one of those things. It wasn’t going to be an important thing, except for him, but now it kind of is because of the other stuff that happens. I have also now hinted around something that Thaddeus has been doing, so I need to decide what that was and write a story from his pov about that.

Next up, though, is taking a good look at the comments I have here about this one SF novel, working title No Foreign Sky, and seeing what I can do with that in the next couple of weeks. I’ve read the comments through twice, and this revision may be a little more extensive than I was hoping, but a lot of it involves cutting, which is (a) not fun, but (b) often not that time consuming. I will probably take a stab at this over the weekend and see how it goes.

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Should you write every day?

A good post from Chuck Wendig: Should Writers Write Every Day?

Here’s the money quote:

The greatest advice I think I offer to writers these days is to Know Thyself. Which is to say, figure out who you are as a writer. Your processes are your own to discover. Your voice is your own to seek and to find. Who you are and what you write and further, how you write, is something literally nobody else can tell you. So, should you write every day? Some will tell you YES YES YES, some will tell you NO NO NO, but the answer is, well, shit, I dunno. It’s both. It’s neither. All/none of the above. Maybe it’ll help you. Maybe it’ll hurt you. Maybe it’ll do the one until it does the other, because things work… until they don’t. 

Yep, that.

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Writing in a pov not your own

At Kill Zone Blog, this post from James Scott Bell: Writing in a Point of View Not Your Own

Turns out Bell has a series of novellas about “a crime-fighting nun, Sister Justicia Marie of the Sisters of Perpetual Justice.”

I’ve written here before about the genesis of this character. How my son, who loves plays on words, said I should write about a nun who fights crime with martial arts skills. “You could call it Force of Habit.”

He smiled. I smiled. And then I said, “I think I’ll do it.” …

Having never been a nun…or a woman…I gravitated toward Third Person from the jump. That does not mean I couldn’t take a stab at First Person. Unlike some of the “wisdom” of the age, I say let a writer do what he or she will and let the market decide. I just felt more comfortable in Third.

Well, that’s a kind of fun idea for a series of thrillers or mysteries or whatever. There’s a link here to the upcoming collection of Bell’s novellas about Sister Justicia Marie, at a very good price, too. Dorothy Gilman did something of the same sort with A Nun in the Closet. That was a good story. I think I’ll go ahead and preorder this Sister Justicia collection; sounds like fun.

But I think this “can you write in a pov not your own” question has GOT to be a question asked by writers of contemporary fiction. Especially because Bell declares that research is key! Go interview some nuns! That’s fine if you’re writing a story set in this world, but I can’t be the only fantasy author who chuckles at that idea.

Let me see. Male pov protagonists …

The Floating Islands … Alas, I’ve never been able to use dragon magic to fly.

Black Dog … I’m not a werewolf of any sort.

The Land of Burning Sands … I’m not a male slave with a gift for making things.

Winter of Ice and Iron … I’m not a duke, and thank heaven I don’t share my soul with a powerful genius loci.

And, of course,

Tuyo … which I wrote in the first person even though I’m not a male warrior from a warrior culture.

So, yes, pretty sure it can be done, and done well.

I don’t think research is key. I mean, how could it be? I think having lived life and having formed a general idea about how people behave now and how people have behaved in other cultures — that’s the key. Plus, especially for Tuyo, which is admittedly somewhat idealized, a pretty clear picture of how people ought to behave.

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While on the subject of mysteries —

So, yesterday, I posted a link to a Book Riot post about fantasy mysteries and added a couple more to the list, including a Sherlock Holmes homage by Katherine Addison.

Today, continuing the them, I’d like to point to this post at Crime Reads: THE 100 BEST, WORST, AND STRANGEST SHERLOCK HOLMES PORTRAYALS OF ALL-TIME, RANKED

Wow! is my immediate response. Who knew there had been so many Sherlock Holmes portrayals that somebody could rank a hundred of them?

Even though I’m admittedly not a particular fan of Sherlock Holmes, this post is immediately intriguing. Who’s the best? Even more interesting, who’s the worst? Since I don’t have a horse in this race, I can look at this list with perfect equanimity.

Okay, the worst:

100. Henry Cavill, Enola Holmes (2020)

Henry Cavill’s Holmes, a distant older brother to the plucky teenage protagonist Enola (Millie Bobby Brown), is brawny, stony, stiff, and altogether dull. In a performance that consists mostly of staring out from windows and filling out a navy double-breasted frock coat, nothing about Cavill’s performance suggests intelligence or even rumination of any kind. Interestingly, Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate sued the film for making Holmes appear too sensitive, which is funny, because I’ve seen calabash pipes with greater depth.

And the best:

1. Jeremy Brett, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984-1985), etc.

 I think first place has to go to Jeremy Brett, whose long-running Holmes (from 1984 to 1994) is both serious and brilliantly diagnostic while also being a tiny bit absurd (Brett’s Holmes, though rather unsmiling, does lean into Holmes’s nutty penchant for disguise and performance). He might be a flash more arrogant than Doyle’s Holmes, but he’s never overweening; he’ll even occasionally burst out laughing or grin with excitement. He also says great things like: “You are the stormy petrel of crime, Watson.” A faultless performance. CASE. CLOSED.

I have to admit, I love the line: You are the stormy petrel of crime, Watson.

Click through if you’d like to see the 98 other Sherlocks ranked in between.

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Oh, hey, look at this!

The Goblin Emperor came out in, looks like 2014. I knew it was some years ago. As you all have probably noticed, I loved this book. I still love it. I’ve read it many times, and these days generally read parts of it rather than the whole thing straight through.

Way back, a year or so after The Goblin Emperor came out, I saw hints that Katherine Addison was writing a sequel. I eventually gave up on ever seeing that actually in print, though, and figured that one thing or another had derailed it. Too bad! But it happens.

Well, the sequel is now up on Amazon, available for preorder. It’s coming out pretty soon — looks like June — so that’s fantastic.

When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had set the bombs that killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his father’s Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it. He lost his place as a retainer of his cousin the former Empress, and made far too many enemies among the many factions vying for power in the new Court. The favor of the Emperor is a dangerous coin.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly. As a Witness for the Dead, he can, sometimes, speak to the recently dead: see the last thing they saw, know the last thought they had, experience the last thing they felt. It is his duty use that ability to resolve disputes, to ascertain the intent of the dead, to find the killers of the murdered.

Now Celehar’s skills lead him out of the quiet and into a morass of treachery, murder, and injustice. No matter his own background with the imperial house, Celehar will stand with the commoners, and possibly find a light in the darkness.

This is not quite the sequel I most wanted — I would have liked a sequel that focused on the soon-to-be Empress — but I’ll take it. I do hope we actually get to see Maia again.

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Fantasy Mysteries

Here’s a Book Riot post: 15 FANTASY MYSTERY BOOKS FOR READERS CRAVING A MAGICAL WHODUNIT

Remarkably, I’ve read a reasonable proportion of the books on this list — a third. I’m rarely familiar with the titles picked out for Book Riot posts, but this is an exception. Besides that, I even agree that these books are good choices. Especially Sorcery and Cecelia, which as you all know (right?) is totally charming.

However, this is one of those lists where I can immediately think of a bunch of others. Let me see …

Okay:

1) The Inspector Chen novels by Liz Williams. Such an amazing setting, although I will always regret not getting to see the prequel moment when Inspector Chen meets and falls in love with his demon wife.

2) Shadow of the City by R Morgan. A police procedure tucked into an even more amazing setting.

3) The Sherlock Holmes homage, The Angel of the Crows, by Katherine Addison. I haven’t read it, and don’t plan to — I’m not a Sherlock Holmes fan — but hey, it certainly fits the category.

4) The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard, which certainly has the prettiest cover of the lot:

5. The Beka Cooper series by Tamora Pierce, which I loved, so if you’ve never read them, well, if you’re looking for some longer, slower-paced, fantasy-mysteries, here you go.

I’m sure there are a zillion others. If you’ve got a favorite fantasy mystery, please drop it in the comments!

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Doughnuts

Okay, so, last week, I made doughnuts because I just had a real desire for doughnuts. I made cake doughnuts, which personally I prefer to yeast doughnuts. I couldn’t find the recipe I prefer, so I looked up a different recipe and used that. It was a recipe for sour-cream doughnuts from a well-known cookbook author.

They were terrible.

They were so, so bad that I’m reluctant to tell you where I got the recipe, in case it was all my fault somehow and I would unfairly be tarring the recipe. They were super oily, even though YES I had the oil hot enough, and they weren’t sweet enough, and they were dry-textured, and basically they were just awful. Considering the recipe in retrospect, I can’t see why they would have been that bad or what I could have done that wrong, but who knows. I will say, they were so terrible that I wound up eating just one and then giving the rest, about eleven, to the dogs. Not all at once, of course; I don’t want to give a dog pancreatitis or anything, but each dog got about a third of a doughnut per day for several days. They thought they were pretty edible, at least, so that was something, I guess.

So that made me pretty mad, obviously. Nothing like having a craving for doughnuts and making doughnuts and then feeding them to the dogs. Obviously that was not a satisfactory outcome. So, since I couldn’t find the recipe I KNOW I copied and have somewhere — it should be in the “doughnuts and fritters” section of my recipe file, but no — I poked around on Google till I found it. Then I made doughnuts again this morning. They were perfect.

Therefore, here: The cake doughnut recipe that works, and thank you, Bon Appetit, for providing this recipe, which does in fact make the best cake doughnuts I’ve ever personally made.

I made half the recipe. This made six plus two doughnut holes, which was enough for me plus all the spaniels — they got to share a couple, not because the doughnuts weren’t good, but because I don’t like leftover doughnuts.

Lemon-glazed Yogurt Doughnuts

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1 C flour

1/2 tsp kosher salt (or a very scant 1/2 tsp regular salt)

1 egg yolk

1/2 C plain full-fat Greek yogurt

1/4 C sugar

1 T melted butter

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 C powdered sugar

Zest from one lemon (Bon Appetit) or a T lemon juice (what I generally used) — optional

Enough water to make a glaze

Start the oil heating. I don’t really think about it much, but I guess it’s about three inches of oil in a medium-sized saucepan. Or, you know, a whole big bottle of canola oil, more or less. I turn the burner on medium-high when I start mixing the dough and by the time I have the first doughnuts cut out, the oil is about the right temperature. Which is to say, 350 degrees. Keep an eye on it and move the pan off the burner if the temp gets ahead of you.

Whisk together dry ingredients. Whisk together egg yolk, yogurt, sugar, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir the dry mixture into the wet mixture. Stir to combine. Drop the dough onto a heavily floured piece of waxed paper, dust heavily with more flower, flatten slightly with your hands, top with another sheet of waxed paper. Get a ruler and roll the dough out to 1/2 inch thickness. It’s hard to believe how thick that is, so really, get a ruler and measure before you think you should. Cut out doughnuts with whatever you use for the purpose — I use a three-inch round cookie cutter, and then a little cookie cutter for the centers. You can use two jars of the right sizes or whatever you have handy.

I find that I can cut three doughnuts from the dough, then two more when I re-roll the dough, then one more when I re-roll it again. Then I form the scraps into two or three “doughnut holes.”

Check the oil temp. If it’s just above 350, that’s ideal. If it’s high, but not that high, move the pan off the heat before you start and let the doughnuts bring the temp down. Anyway, add three doughnuts and fry for two minutes per side, more or less. I find this dough is quite accommodating and won’t overcook easily. Even if the oil temp drops a bit below where you want it, they don’t get oily, either. Still, 350 is ideal if you can keep the oil at just about that temperature. Remove to paper towels and fry the rest of the doughnuts.

Make the glaze, if you haven’t already done so. Whisk together the powdered sugar, lemon zest and/or juice if you’re using that, and enough water to make a fairly thin glaze. These doughnuts are fine with just a powdered sugar glaze; the lemon is purely optional. I didn’t have any lemons around this morning and just used a plain glaze.

These doughnuts were perfect. I’ve made them three or four times over the past year or so, and they are always perfect.

If you happen to have a favorite, reliable doughnut (or fritter) recipe, by all means drop it in the comments.

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Wild cook or precise baker?

At Kill Zone Blog, a post by PJ Parrish: What Kind Of Writer Are You? Wild Cook Or Precise Baker?

Ooh, an extended cooking metaphor for writing! Go for it!

I love to cook. I love the whole process of finding a new recipe or riffing on an old one. I love shopping for ingredients or adlibbing and using, say, dill for chives. I love making a hot mess in the kitchen, knowing that a detour can sometimes lead to delicious surprises, …

I hate to bake. I hate the precision of it. I hate the math required to make a souffle rise. I hate having to follow exact directions with no room for error or surprise. The last time I tried to bake a cake I almost burned down the kitchen because I didn’t have any parchment paper and thought — “Wax paper! Why not?”

I laughed at that bit. Yes, that is exactly why not to put waxed paper in the oven. Actually, I’m just realizing this minute that I don’t actually know why parchment paper doesn’t catch fire in the oven. Hmm, maybe I should look that up sometime.

This metaphor may wind up working fine for writing, but actually, unlike Parrish, I like both cooking AND baking. Also, I’ve been baking for a lot of years and actually I don’t hesitate to mess around with recipes for cakes or cookies. After you’ve been baking for a while, you get to more or less know what is likely to happen if you substitute butter/margarine/oil/shortening in a cookie or cake recipe, or whatever.

I imagine Parrish is going to say that cooks are like organic writers and bakers are like outliners, but let’s see …

You can probably guess that I am devoted pantser. I never outline. I plan oh, maybe four chapters ahead and often deviate from that as the plot moves me. I don’t keep any records of word counts and have no set goals for daily or weekly output. 

Yep!

Being a cook-writer does have its problems. Recently, I had to toss out two chapters because I had fallen in love with a secondary character who had led my story off the rails. But a baker-writer friend of mine recently had to start his book over because, ten chapters in, he realized that he had dutifully followed his outline into a plot cul de sac.

Well, I get to be both. Given a choice, I prefer baking to cooking. But as you all know, I’m an organic writer — generally — rather than an outliner.

I sure do set daily goals and keep track of word counts, though! That is, I don’t bother with a daily wordcount goal unless I’m having trouble moving forward with a project or I’m under a deadline. But I find the growing wordcount of a novel very motivating. Look! Two weeks ago this manuscript was a tiny baby, 10,000 words! Today it’s at 30,000, growing pinfeathers and stretching its tiny wings! A thousand words a day doesn’t seem like much forward progress, but looking at the growing wordcount makes me feel like I’m getting somewhere.

Anyway, fun idea for a post, plus with a bonus recipe. Chicken with cream and white wine. Sounds good, too; and I think I have all the ingredients. Except a lemon for lemon juice, for which I could substitute sumac, which I do have. Who knows, I might actually make this tonight.

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Character development

Here’s a post at Women Writers, Women’s Books: THE IMPORTANCE OF CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

I find this post interesting because the author, Laurie Buchanan, approaches character development so very differently than I do.

Buchanan: Nailing a character’s appearance is vital.

Me: I don’t really have much of a picture of most of my characters. I have literally had editors ask for physical descriptions of the protagonist and realized, after flipping through half a finished manuscript, that I never described the protagonist in any but the vaguest possible terms. I’m questioning your use of the word “vital” here.

Buchanan: The character template is where I also note details about their childhood (good or bad), their parents (or whoever raised them), their siblings, and their childhood friends.

Me: Seriously?

Buchanan: As an author creates characters, it’s essential to ask if they’ve survived trauma, either physical or emotional. For example, are they a survivor of cancer, rape, domestic violence? Do they have PTSD—Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Do they suffer from depression, an eating disorder, or anxiety? If yes, how does their experience factor into their current life? 

Me: No, wait, seriously?

Buchanan: Is the character left or right-handed? Do they smoke? Do they drink? Do they have any addictions? What’s their personality type—introvert, extrovert, or ambivert? Are they opinionated? What’s their political affiliation?

Me: You’ve got to be kidding.

Now, the difference may not be as extreme as the above makes it sound. Perhaps Buchanan lays all this out in a notebook or file and I just have it in my head. I mean, I didn’t have to make notes about, say, Carissa Hammond’s backstory to know that she definitely has issues with past trauma. But … wow. This sounds so mechanical and, I don’t know, so artificial. Doing all this stuff with childhood friends and whether someone is left-handed before the character even appears … why? Are they opinionated? Well, good heavens, you’ll find that out when the character starts talking. Sitting down and deciding that a character is irritable or impatient or relaxed about life or whatever before you even start writing the book and before the character walks on stage just seems so odd.

Thus we once again see that the experience and practice of writing are highly variable.

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Progress Report: Finished!

Okay, first, I definitely had a strong immune response to the second vaccine, far (far!) more than to the first shot. As is expected, of course.

I meant at first to just go on with my regular day, but the crushing headache got too unpleasant to work through. So, Sarah, I greatly appreciate your pointing me to those links about painkillers after the vaccine maybe being okay. I just lived with the fever and headache and significant joint pain for exactly 24 hours post-shot, and then I said Enough is enough and took painkillers.

Unlike in a real illness, those painkillers knocked all the pain back almost at once rather than just taking the edge off. I felt almost back to normal half an hour after taking painkillers. That meant I actually did finish revising and line-editing the last part of the Tenai trilogy, so YAY FOR THAT. One … or two … proofreading passes, and it will be ready to go. Whew! April, what is it, ah, the eighth. Well, that’s not bad at all. The rest of the month should involve some fiddly work with the Death’s Lady trilogy, but I will largely be able to work on other things.

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