Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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A beginner’s guide to Gothic fantasy

From Book Riot, this post: A beginner’s guide to Gothic fantasy.

Well, it’s nearly Halloween, so why not, right? Here’s how this post defines Gothic Fantasy:

Gothic literature emerged in Europe in the late 18th century from the romantic literary movement. It’s characterized by passionate emotion—pleasure and terror alike, darkly lush scenery, macabre elements, and an eerie atmosphere. Gothic fantasy is a sub-genre of both gothic fiction and fantasy, and a strict definition is difficult to pin down.

Oh, interesting. Passionate emotion! I hadn’t thought of angst as an important criterion for this subgenre, but maybe it is. That does fit Catherine’s personality in Northanger Abbey. Sure, I can go with this whole definition.

I’ve never actually read ANY of the books on this list, which is perhaps because I’m not that into horror, don’t particularly lean toward macabre elements, and possibly because I’ve very definitely not into angst. Eerie atmosphere is fine, though as is darkly lush scenery.

This one sounds almost like something I might like:

HOUSE OF SALT AND SORROWS BY ERIN A. CRAIG

“In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.” A creepy retelling of Twelve Dancing Princesses comes alive in this gothic young adult fantasy with teenaged Annaleigh and her sisters. In a manor by the sea, Annaleigh lives with her dad, stepmother, and sisters. One by one, the sisters are dying in increasingly tragic and untimely deaths. Annaleigh’s nights are disturbed by strange visions and ghosts, and when she finds out that her sisters have been sneaking out of the manor at night to attend mysterious balls, she isn’t sure whether to join them or stop them. Annaleigh must figure out who her sisters have been dancing with and the meaning of her ghostly visions before the curse claims her next.

I particularly like the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale, but a version where many of the sisters die increasingly tragic deaths might not be quite what I would prefer. Still, this one does sound like a possibility.

Here’s one I have read and liked:

I listened to this as an audiobook, a form it fitted pretty well even for me, and the slow pace of an audiobook doesn’t always work for me. I found the style quite appealing — lush and eerie, just as the definition above suggests.

A Gothic fantasy might be fun to read for Halloween. If anybody has a recommendation that fits the form, drop it in the comments, please!

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Nine authors we’d take a writing seminar from

At Book Riot: 9 FANTASTIC AUTHORS WE’D TAKE A WRITING SEMINAR FROM

Which is a neat idea for a post! Did anybody else instantly want to re-write that title as “Nine fantastic authors from whom we’d take a writing seminar”? Because I did. I like a more formal style — mostly — except sometimes in dialogue, depending on who is speaking. That means I’m one of the people who prefers to tuck the preposition into the middle of the sentence, generally, rather than letting it hang off the end.

I can immediately think of a good handful of fantastic authors who might be able to run an amazing seminar, depending on whether they can teach something about style and narrative structure, which I imagine is not necessarily going to be the case. Still.

I would bet that zero of the authors mentioned by this Book Riot post would be on my personal list, but let’s take a look …

Oh, nope, I was wrong. I both recognize and agree with their third choice: Suzannah Clarke, author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I have to look closely at the spelling of the names in that title every single time or I misspell one or the other, so not sure I’d go to Clarke for advice on writing titles. Plus I doubt I will ever re-read this book. But the writing is absolutely beautiful.

Ah, and the fourth name is Jim Butcher! I didn’t see that coming. I’ve only ever read one Dresden Files novel. It was fine, but I haven’t read any more, partly because there are so many. Anyway, here’s what the post says about Butcher: Butcher is a master of pacing and constantly raising the stakes. In every Dresden Files novel, Butcher is able to pile on problems and enemies, effectively working Harry Dresden into a seemingly insurmountable corner before Harry battles his way out. 

Okay, that’s fair — quite a few authors are good at that — I’ll see in a minute if I can think of a couple more names for this.

Those are the two names I recognize, but this post makes a good case for each author it singles out. Click through and read the rest if you’ve got a minute.

Now, here are some names that leaped to my mind for this topic:

1) Nicola Griffith. Beautiful style at the sentence level plus writing that is almost a sensory experience. I don’t know of anyone who does better at creating a sensual world using nothing but words on a page. HILD can also stand up with Clarke’s JS&MN for amazing narrative structure, plus I personally liked it better and will reread it eventually.

2) Since we’re talking about tension and piling up obstacles, how about CS Forester, author of the Horatio Hornblower novels? I recently read The Good Shepherd. Wow, is that a nonstop-tension story. It all takes place over a couple of days as a battleship commander escorts ships through sub-infested waters during WWII.

3) CJ Cherryh. She could discuss developing and writing alien species. No one does that better.

4) Ilona Andrews. They could talk about writing witty dialogue. While we’re on the subject of witty dialogue, Lindsey Buroker could also handle that topic in a seminar. Personally, I think that kind of dialogue is a knack, rather than something that can be taught. But if there are ways to learn to do it, I wouldn’t mind learning how.

5) Alice Degan / AJ Demas could be a good choice. Her One Night in Boukos showcases worldbuilding, witty dialogue, quick pacing, and a light tone laid across deeper themes.

What authors spring to mind for you, if you got to line up writing instructors at a seminar?

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Two [grammatical concepts] walk into a bar …

My (younger) brother sent this to me via Facebook and I am quite certain you’ll enjoy it. When I took a stab at finding the original post, I found that this list of jokes has been published lots and lots of times, so you may have seen it before. If so, I bet you still enjoy revisiting it. Here is a tiny handful of my favorites. but click through for the full list, which is way more extensive:

A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.

Hyperbole totally rips into this insane bar and absolutely destroys everything.

A mixed metaphor walks into a bar, seeing the handwriting on the wall but hoping to nip it in the bud.

Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They converse. They depart.

Falling slowly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapses to the bar floor.

I had to look up “chiasmus.” I mean, it’s clear from context, but I’ve never heard the term before, as far as I can remember. According to Google:

noun

  1. a rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order, in the same or a modified form; e.g. ‘Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.’.

As I said, obvious from context. But had any of you encountered the term before?

This is three new-to-me words in two days — xyresic and fasciculating and now chiasmus. That’s an unusual frequency of new-to-me words!

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Flash fiction

At this link, you’ll find some flash fiction entries from one of Janet Reid’s contests. In these contests, she assigns a small number of required words and then everyone goes to town creating short-short entries that use those words.

Here’s my favorite:

Timothy Lowe

So much depends upon the
Cold
Blue
Shivering shadows

So much depends upon
Tamperproof:
Oxazepam in the morning
Clozapine at night
Beds unmade
In the evening shade
of
My mother’s
Cold
Blue
Shivering smile

So much depends upon
Loss,
That fucking word
The not-heard
Shard
Of
Memory lost,
Of
Years spent
Tossed
By gutless words

(You never heard) like

Cognition
Recognition
Dementia
Alzheimer’s

So much depends upon
Fate
My father
His oxygen taken
Stolen like breath
From a
Cold
Blue
Shivering

Dawn

Wow. Stark.

You can click through to read other entries, all of which are prose rather than poems, and see if one of the others is your favorite.

But I actually pulled out this post for a different reason. Janet adds:

Words I had to look up

dysoxic-Ash Complin
xyresic-Brigid
desoxy-Tess Rook

fasciculating-RosannaM
xanthic-Megan V
rimed-NLiu

And that caught my eye, because vocabulary always catches my eye. How many of those words did you already know? I knew two — Xanthic and Rimed. Two others are really the same word — Dysoxic and Desoxy — and if you think of chemistry, you will at once see what they mean. I didn’t get that at first, but the instant I looked up “Dysoxic,” I said, Of course, duh.

That leaves “Xyresic” and “Fasciculating,” and of the two, I am most likely to use “Xyresic” myself someday. It’s a great word that has a cool meaning.

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Killer first line

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

This is evidently the first line of Iain Banks’ 1992 novel The Crow Road, which I haven’t read, but after that first line, maybe I should take a look at the novel. Have any of you read it?

This post at tor.com takes a close look at the books written by “Iain Banks” versus “Iain M Banks.” You all probably knew that the latter, author of the Culture series is the same person as the former literary author. I haven’t read much by either name, just a couple Culture novels.

From the linked post: Banks himself never had any time for what he considered ‘bullshit’ mainstream snobbery, and was always clear that he brought the same skill and effort to both of his careers, famously stating that: ‘The difference is entirely one of setting.’

Interesting! Because I would have thought that the post-scarcity utopian setting of the Culture novels would have a huge effect on the plot and characters, so much so that it would be impossible to say something that dismissed the difference between mainstream and SF as “entirely” setting.

Here’s what the author of this post has to say about The Crow Road:

The Crow Road is a mystery thriller that masquerades as a bildungsroman, that in turn masquerades as a family saga, and yet at its heart is perhaps more like a science fiction novel than anything else: it deals with the biggest of ideas and questions through the most intriguing of characters, and it is smart and funny to boot.

I like the above paragraph, which is delightful, but I would hardly define an SF novel as distinguished from other genres because it “deals with the biggest of ideas” etc. The SF genre IS defined by setting, not by the ideas and questions it explores, however big those might be.

It’s a longish post; click through if you have a minute and you can see whether you find the idea that setting is unimportant and really SF is whatever you say it is persuasive.

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The Literature Map

I’ve linked to this before, but forgot what it was called and haven’t looked at it for a good long time.

It’s a neat way of graphically representing “If you like this author, there’s a good chance you also like these authors.”

One funny detail: It’s a bit surprising “Michelle West” is so far away from “Michelle Sagara” — assuming they are really the same author.

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Situation vs Plot

Here’s a post at Anne R Allen’s blog: Situation Versus Plot

Have you ever had what you thought was a great idea for a novel, sat down and wrote madly for fifteen pages, and then it just… fizzled out? 

Hasn’t everybody?

Actually, no. On the rare-ish occasions where this happens, I get MUCH farther along than 15 pages before the story fizzles out. My current champion for “You got HOW far before getting stuck?” is a partial novel sitting there at 85,000 words.

I do have one that is much more recent that got stuck at a relatively trivial 50 pages, just barely enough to say that it’s started.

All of these are terribly frustrating, and in fact, yes, I think they may both be said to fall into the “Great situation, and what is the plot?” category of problem.

So, here is a clever, but perhaps overly simplistic, comment about this problem:

Unfortunately, one idea does not a novel make. You need at least two.

One idea is a situation. Two are a plot.

This post uses Jaws to illustrate the difference between a situation and a plot:

A great white shark preys upon the inhabitants of a beach town.

This is a situation.

Enter the complications: the police chief wants to close the beaches, but the mayor doesn’t want to lose tourist dollars during the busy summer holidays. The shark attacks are hushed up. It turns out the mayor has ties to the mafia, and the police chief’s wife is having an affair.

These complications are what the writer uses to build the situation into a plot.

This is a long post, but worth a look if you have time to click through.

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Reading patterns for five generations

Here’s an infographic that is kind of interesting.

Here’s a summary:

  • Gen Z prefers fantasy to other genres.
  • Millennials read more books than other generations.
  • Gen X reads more online news than other generations.
  • Baby Boomers rely on best-seller lists to find their books.
  • The Silent Generation spends the most time reading each day.
  • A preference for physical books spans all generations.

My first reaction: Oh, good, I’m glad Gen Z is into fantasy.

My second reaction: Wow, imagine on relying on best-seller lists for suggestions. Of course, even though my first thought is the NYT best-seller list, there are lots more lists that don’t focus so much on literary, such as the Amazon best-seller list and so on — right? Still, imagine making most of your reading choices by looking at those lists, any of them. What a strange idea. So few of those books would meet any specific person’s tastes, or so it seems to me.

My third reaction: Hello, of course the Silent Generation spends the most time reading. Retired people who have physical limitations are obviously going to spend more time reading. My dad reads basically all day every day, and thank heaven he likes books.

My fourth and strongest reaction: Really, people still read physical books? By preference?

I read physical books only when I have no choice / already have the physical edition. It is so much nicer not to have to pick up reading glasses that I will never again read a physical book by choice when I could get the ebook instead.

I am very puzzled by a few paragraphs where the text says, “As French readers get older, they are more likely to read for a hobby” and so on. French? What? The generation titles are specifically applied only to Americans, aren’t they? No one would say that someone in France is a Boomer or from the Silent Generation or whatever. I’m assuming “French” is an autocorrect error of some kind that for some reason wasn’t caught before someone hit “publish.” I wonder what the word is supposed to be? Anybody got a guess?

Anyway, the post is interesting, if you’ve got a few minutes to browse through the graphic.

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The best animal photographs of the year

I don’t know whether you have to register to see these photos, but here’s the National Geographic slideshow of the best animal photos of the year.

The Siberian tiger that won first place is not my favorite. I think it won because tigers are cool and Siberian tigers extra cool, but still, I wouldn’t have put that photo up for first place out of this batch of great photos.

The one with the grebes is possibly my favorite.

The wasp one is amazing.

That Pallas cat photo is going to take the internet by storm, or at least it ought to. That’s the best picture of Pallas cats I’ve ever seen, for sure.

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