Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Favorite Wrinkle in Time moments

Here’s a post that caught my eye: Utah teachers share fave ‘Wrinkle in Time’ moments

Holmstead said that before the students start a new chapter, she has them look at the chapter title and share their thoughts. Then they start reading. Every reader has his or her own image of the scenes and characters, and Holmstead said she keeps hers to herself. She wants to know what connections her students are making, and what kinds of images the book conjures for her young readers. These images, she explained, have changed considerably through the years….“I think it’s because of media, and a lot of different movies that have come out,” she said. “You’ve got all your ‘Transformers’ and ‘Avengers,’ and all these different movies. I didn’t have that growing up, so they see the Earth and they see beyond. It was such a foreign, far-reaching concept when I was their age. It’s not to them.”

I can tell you what moment stuck with me most strongly from Wrinkle in Time: the image of all the little boys bouncing their balls in time. I’m sure you remember the one boy who dropped his ball and was punished for it.

I’m not alone in finding that scene outstandingly creepy. Did you see this bit about a publicity stunt for the movie?

In the bouncing-ball clip, the audience can see Bellamy Young (you’ll recognize her from Scandal) standing on a perfect Technicolor suburban cul-de-sac as the neighborhood kids bounce balls together. It seems normal, except they’re all doing it at the exact same time, using the exact same rhythm, and they’ve all got spaced-out, vacant expressions on their faces. The same thing played out at various locations at Comic-Con, with Disney’s legion of kiddos bouncing their balls in unison around the expo.

Yep, creepy.

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There are no universal rules for writers

Here is a post at Writer’s Write: John Grisham’s 8 Do’s And Don’ts For Popular Fiction.

Here are the 8 rules, mostly stripped down to just the rule itself. For the comments under each rule, click through to the post.

1. Do — Write A Page Every Day

2. Don’t — Write The First Scene Until You Know The Last

This necessitates the use of a dreaded device commonly called an outline. Virtually all writers hate that word. I have yet to meet one 
who admits to using an outline.

Plotting takes careful planning. Writers waste years pursuing stories that eventually don’t work.

3. Do — Write Your One Page Each Day At The Same Place And Time

4. Don’t — Write A Prologue

5. Do — Use Quotation Marks With Dialogue

6. Don’t — Keep A Thesaurus Within Reaching Distance

7. Do — Read Each Sentence At Least Three Times In Search Of Words To Cut

8. Don’t — Introduce 20 Characters In The First Chapter

Several of these are questionable, but the one I bolded above is soooo easy for outliners to spit out — You must outline the complete book before you start writing! This method is the only one that works! — and so annoying to those of us who don’t (sometimes can’t) do this.

In a few weeks, when you read Shadow Twin, you will hopefully find that the plot possesses reasonable coherence. In case this sort of thing interests you, I will just tell you up front that I literally did not know what the climactic scenes would involve until I was 100,000 words in. I remember clearly the moment when the ending of the book suddenly fell into place. It did not take very long at all to go back and nudge the earlier part of the book so that it would be in line with the ending.

As for the very last scene, I wrote that way after finishing the book, after Laura Florand told me she found the ending of the earlier draft too abrupt.

Also, this morning I roughly outlined the 4th book of the series, Copper Mountain. Except for the ending. I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end. I decline to worry about this, no matter who assures me that I’m Doing It Wrong if I don’t have a clear view of the last scene when I write the first.

One last note, though.

I did write the entire sequel to House of Shadows because I had the ending scene in mind and wanted to write that particular scene. If you happen to remember that as you read that Door Into Light, maybe you’ll remember this post, compare it to Shadow Twin, and decide for yourself whether you think the books differ dramatically in their respective tightness of plotting. If anything, I would say, Door Into Light is substantially less tight in plotting than Shadow Twin — but read them both and decide for yourself.


Also! To go back to the full list of eight rules: Why bother with a rule about using quote marks in dialogue? Who out there is not using quote marks in dialogue? (Other than Cormac McCarthy.) That does not strike me as super-important rule to put out there if you’re trying to come up with eight important rules for writers.

Look, I hate to criticize without trying to be helpful, so I will just provide a better, more universal set of 8 rules for writers who want to be successful:

1) Finish at least some of the stories you start.

2) Don’t slavishly follow any rules for writers, even the ones promulgated by famous bestselling authors.

3) But do have a decent grasp of standard grammar and break grammatical rules with intent, not by accident.

4) Read a lot in your chosen genre.

5) Read a lot outside your chosen genre.

6) Read nonfiction to deepen your worldbuilding, if that matters to you.

7) Don’t expect your tenth book to be easier to write than your first.

8) Don’t focus on negative reviews.

There you go: Eight rules that I think are a lot more universal — if only because fewer of them are prescriptions and proscriptions about the actual writing process. Those are just always going to be iffy.

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

Saying nothing

From Kill Zone Blog: How Should a Character Say Nothing?

Reacher said nothing has become a Lee Child signature. …I’m sure he puts it in with a bit of a wink and a smile.

In fact, the phrase is now so familiar that the recent book by Andy Martin chronicling Lee’s writing of Make Me is titled Reacher Said Nothing. In the book Lee explains that Reacher “often says nothing. He shouldn’t have to be wisecracking all the time. He’s not into witty repartee. He’s supposed to do things.”

Nothing wrong with that. And though I personally love witty repartee, there are times when a character should stay silent.

How do we do that effectively? X said nothing is an option. I’ve certainly used it myself. But lately I’ve begun to consider other ways.

This is a pretty good post about how to handle a character who is in fact not saying anything.

James Scott Bell identifies four methods for handling silence, all of which are good, effective techniques. I use them all, but I’ve never thought about them before. Here they are:

1) Reacher said nothing.

There’s nothing wrong with “X said nothing.” Sometimes that’s exactly what you want to use.

2) The action beat — The character can do something rather than say something. Bell cites Hemingway’s exchange in “Soldier’s Home,” where the mother says, “I pray for you all day long, Harold.” Then Harold looks at the bacon fat hardening on his plate.

The character can look at anything. You can create a whole different feel depending on what your character looks at. He might look out the window, which gives you one idea of what he’s like; or he might look at his feet, which obviously gives you a whole different idea. Especially if he sighs with boredom in the first instance, say.

3) The thought beat — The character can think something rather than say anything out loud. Here Bell uses the example of a direct thought set into the text in italics –as in one character saying accusingly “You mean to stand there and look me in the eye and pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about?” and the second character thinking Uh oh. He knows.

I don’t usually find myself doing this, though I’m sure I have used a direct italicized thought occasionally. I think this can sound artificial or weird somehow, though I’m equally sure some authors make it sound perfectly natural and smooth. Lois McMaster Bujold drops an occasional single silent word into dialogue, usually or always when a point-of-view character is trying to think of a different word. The sort of situation where someone might say something like, “I’ve just been admiring the –” depraved — “sophisticated decorating choices you’ve made for this room.” She does a great job with those little asides.

4) The perception beat — The character notices something rather than saying anything. Bell uses this example:

“You mean to stand there and look me in the eye and pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about?”

Bill looked at the scuff marks on the floor.

I don’t know. This looks a lot like the action beat. Not sure I think it’s very distinctive. Can perception be used without having your protagonist look at anything? Let’s see:

“You mean to stand there and look me in the eye and pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about?”

Bill couldn’t believe Alex’s smugly satisfied tone.

There. That’s a perception or perhaps reaction beat. I’d expect it to be followed by more of a reaction or perhaps a stronger action of some kind.

Now, this all makes me think of Deb Coates’ Wide Open series, where Hallie’s father is basically inarticulate and Coates builds his character with his silence, which is at least as demanding as building a character through witty repartee. He is actually one of my favorite secondary character in the series.

This is a bit different from handling moments of silence from the protagonist, but it’s another component of handling a character who isn’t saying anything.

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Worldbuilding with language

Macsbrains posted this link in a comment to the silent-letters-in-English post: More than anyone ever needed to know about the kanji for phosphorus

It is a delightful post even if you start off knowing nothing whatsoever about Japanese kanji, which was my starting point. Here is part of the post:

When Japan decided it needed a kanji for the element phosphorus, it just repurposed 燐, which originally referred to any sort of mysterious ghost light–foxfire, will-o’-the-wisps etc. You can remember 燐 because the left half is the fire radical 火 and the right half is clearly the spawn of Satan the same phonetic element used in 隣 (リン、となり neighboring). That right half is made up of 米 (uncooked rice) and 舛 (a picture of two feet pointing different ways, like the bottom half of the kanji 舞 “dance”).

No but seriously why is there rice in there?

My kanji dictionary tells me it wasn’t always rice. It started out as 炎 (flames) and got simplified weird….

Somewhere along the line someone was like WTF I DON’T HAVE ROOM TO WRITE ALL THIS FIRE and wrote 米 instead. Then someone else was like WTF WHY DOESN’T THIS HAVE THE FIRE RADICAL and stuck more fire on there.

… And although I don’t know anything about Japanese kanji (a tiny bit more than I did before reading this post, though!) I love this historical oddity of a kanji starting off with the brush strokes for fire, being simplified so that it looked like rice, and then later someone saying “Why rice? Don’t we need fire? and putting fire back in so now the kanji includes both rice and fire…

This reminds me a bit of this moment in Steven Brust’s The Phoenix Guards series:

What followed was ten years of almost constant war between the Dragonlords of the Empire and the Easterners, during which the Easterners occupied the area and fought from the surrounding mountains. The Serioli, who departed the area to avoid any of the unfortunate incidents that war can produce, left only their name for the place, which was “Ben,” meaning “ford” in their language. The Easterners called the place “Ben Ford,” or, in the Eastern tongue, “Ben gazlo.”

After ten years of fierce battle, the Imperial Army won a great victory on the spot, driving the Easterners well back into the mountains. The Dragonlords who had found the place, then, began calling it “Bengazlo Ford.” The Dragons, wishing to waste as little time on speech as possible, shortened this to Benglo Ford, or in the tongue of the Dragon, which was still in use at the time, “Benglo ara.” Eventually, over the course of the millennia, the tongue of the Dragon fell out of use, and the Northwestern language gained preeminence, which rendered the location Bengloara Ford, which was eventually shortened to Bengloarafurd. The river crossing became the Bengloarafurd Ford, which name it held until after the Interregnum when the river was dredged and the Bengloarafurd Bridge was built. Should anyone be interested in finding this delightful city, it still stands, but the city was renamed Troe after the engineer who built the bridge, either because the citizens were proud of their new landmark, or because the engineer’s name was short.

Which is surely more extreme than anything in the real world (probably? Maybe?), but is deeply amusing. To me this seems reminiscent of the thing with fire-rice-fire in the Japanese kanji described above.

Language is a wonderful thing.

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A little busy this past weekend

Just so you know why I didn’t have time to write a real post, or even poke around for something cool to draw to your attention:

Conner and Kimmie before this weekend’s show. They had a bath Friday evening. On Saturday morning, I misted their coats, smoothed down the fur, and put on these drying coats — their coats are meant to be flat and straight, not sticking up in little tufts all over the place. After lots of rain, Conner’s coat in particular was not lying properly flat.

I didn’t put them in this crate, by the way. I turned around and they had both gone in there.

The bath-and-misting-and-drying-coat thing was then repeated for Sunday. On Sunday, they had to be in the ring (an hour and a half away) at 8:00 AM. I was up at four and on the road at six.

Here are the results of the weekend’s shows:

Conner got Winners Dog on Saturday, plus Best of Winners, so that was a point for him. He got Reserve Sunday, so no point for him that day. The same near-age-mate has beaten him three times now (and he’s beaten that dog once), so he is three points behind Kimmie.

Kimmie got Winners Bitch and Best of Opposite Sex both days, which takes her up to nine points, which is all the singles she can use. Now she needs majors. She has been in the running for one point at nine shows and she has gotten Winners Bitch and the point in all nine. She is doing just great in the puppy classes and I would like to try for majors quick before she ages out of the puppy classes. It’s not that she isn’t beating older girls right now, she certainly is, but she might have a harder time beating them if it’s not clear to the judge how young she is. Being in the puppy classes means not having to have so much coat!

I’m not sure where to take her to try for majors, so for the first time ever I am talking to a professional handler about possibly taking Kimmie for a few carefully selected weekends. A pro goes to a lot more shows that are farther away and potentially bigger. We’ll see! Kimmie and Conner are both entered again at the end of the month and we will meet this professional handler then. I want her with a handler who will treat her like the pet she is, not like a kennel dog.

Meanwhile, Conner and Kimmie back home, hoping for low-flying birds and slow squirrels:

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What good are silent letters?

Recently I came across a fascinating if brief question-and-answer about silent letters in English, as in the b in “debt,” for example.

Here is the bit I particularly want to pull out:

One important and often overlooked reason for having silent letters in the spelling of English words is because spelling in English is meant to do much more than tell you how to pronounce a word. For one thing, it can also tell you about the history of the word, its origins and its evolution. Not all languages have this property in their written forms, but English does.

It can also serve to create heterographs out of homophones, which helps when reading. For example, consider the word pronounced /raɪt/. That can be any of:


As soon as you see it on the printed page, you know which of those four words it is. You don’t have to puzzle it out. This increases reading speed and proficiency.

Hah, always knew there was a good reason not to rail against weird spelling in English.

Now, I will add, if you think this


is confusing or awkward as a pronunciation guide, you should definitely click through and glance at the much (much) more extensive discussion of the pronunciation of “right” (etc) when you add in elements like accent and dialect.

The post concludes thus:

As you can see from the list above, you do not have to spell English with “silent” letters. However, when you really do go to the trouble to spell it out phonetically, you thereby:

Cut yourself off from all your literature, so you can kiss your culture goodbye.

Make it impossible to distinguish homophones.

Disconnect a word’s history from its spelling.

Force people to learn a much larger alphabet, one that requires several hundred letters — have fun typing those, too.

Make it so that you can no longer communicate with anybody who lives two miles away, let alone two (or twelve!) thousand miles away.

But because English has silent letters, none of that applies. This is a blessing, you know. You should be happy nearly to the point of being overjoyed that English has silent letters. They are a major win, and without them, we would all be lost.

There’s no point in my trying to improve on that heartfelt declaration, so I just produce it here for you all to enjoy. If you have a moment, you should certainly click through and read the whole thing.

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The sudden urge to buy a book

For the last several days I’ve had the sudden and general urge to buy a new book. I’ve stopped off at a few bookstores around the city, and while I’ve looked at hundreds and hundreds of books in that time, I have not found the one book that will satisfy my urge. It’s not as if I don’t have anything to read; there’s a tower of perfectly good unread books next to my bed, not to mention the shelves of books in the living room I’ve been meaning to reread. I find myself, maddeningly, hungry for the next one, as yet unknown. I no longer try to analyze this hunger; I capitulated long ago to the book lust that’s afflicted me most of my life. I know enough about the course of the disease to know I’ll discover something soon.

Lewis Buzbee, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History

I saw this at The Passive Voice blog, because The Passive Guy drops random quotes onto his site from time to time.

It made me laugh because of course it’s so true. Though for quite some time I’ve lived in an area where the nearest bookstore is 80 miles away, so just dropping by is out of the question. Nevertheless, it’s so true that sometimes I stand in front of my (heavily loaded) TBR shelves and just don’t want to read any of those books.

This is my version of a reading slump — a term I’ve heard from book bloggers when nothing much appeals to them. Apparently this can go on for quite a while for some people, which certainly sounds like not much fun.

For me, I find there are three good solutions to a reading slump, aka a desire to buy a new book except I don’t know what I want to read:

1) Re-read something. Or a whole series. Hence the “top-ten to re-read forever” types of lists; those are pretty likely to be just what I reach for during a reading slump.

2) Read something new to me by Ilona Andrews or Patricia Briggs. Particularly the former. Ilona Andrews’ books are always so catchy.

3) Read some novel, most likely a YA novel, that everyone was talking about a couple years ago but I never got to. YA books are generally fast-paced. If I’m in a reading slump and not really in the mood to read anything, a YA novel is more likely to grab my attention quickly and pull me into the story even if I thought the book wasn’t quite what I was in the mood to read.

What strategies do you all use to kick yourselves out of a reading slump? Or do you never suffer from the experience of looking at hundreds and hundreds of books without being able to find the one book that will satisfy your urge?

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Ten books I could re-read forever

At By Singing Light, Maureen has this post: Ten books I could re-read forever.

It’s a great topic! Also, I could easily steal three or four of Maureen’s books for my own similar list:

1. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
2. Queen of Atollia by MWT
3. The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy by Martha Wells

Big enthusiastic YES ME TOO to all of those.

I loved several of her other picks but I’m not sure I would re-read them very often. In ten or twenty years, sure, probably. Maybe. Some stories are so powerful I will probably walk in a wide circle around them for decades before I re-read them. (Elizabeth Wein, I’m looking at you.) Others I don’t expect I will ever re-read. (Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrill. Once was enough.)

I certainly could fill out my own top ten list, though! No problem with that — except preventing the list from turning into a top twenty list. Luckily it is easy to cheat by declaring that “other books by this author too” is a thing.

In the order in which titles (or series) occur to me:

4. The Touchstone trilogy by AKH

5. The Foreigner series by CJC

6. The Vorkosigan series

7. A Beacon at Alexandria (and others by Gillian Bradshaw)

8. The Book of Atrix Wolfe (and others by Patricia McKillip)

9. The Taltos series by Brust (except Teckla)

10. The Goblin Emperor. I don’t know why it took me so long to think of it, but it’s definitely a book I will re-read forever.

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It’s okay to hiss —

Your character can indeed hiss, as well as whisper, murmur, mutter, and so on — according to Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds.

Here I have been persuaded by various copy editors and demagogues that a character can’t hiss — unless the words in question include sibilants. But Chuck has convinced me otherwise. Like so:

Let’s assume that Merriam-Webster is a fair authority, yeah?

Go to their definition of hiss, please.

You will note that their definitions include:

1: to express disapproval of by hissing

2: to utter or whisper angrily or threateningly and with a hiss

Just in case we’re not clear, let’s look at their sample sentences, one of which is:

‘“Leave me alone!” he hissed.’

See? It’s okay. Some people get caught up in the literal definition where it requires sibilance — but even there, you’re in tricky territory, because writing fiction is not like writing a fucking software manual. Not everything has to be literal. If I say someone growled something, they don’t first have to be a wolf or a fucking Yeti to do that. When I say, “We dug up new information,” it doesn’t require a literal shovel, nor is a backhoe required when I say, “She dug the idea.” We all understand she liked the idea, not that she had to excavate it physically. And when we say that someone hissed something, we do not explicitly require them to have snakily-sibilantly-hissed it at them. Because language is a fucking playground and we can have some fun with it. We can attempt to evoke with metaphorical or phrasal verbs. Language is fluid. It shifts and changes. So must our expectations of it.

I never thought of hissed as in the same category as growled; ie, fair game no matter what words are coming out of the character’s mouth. But I think I will consider the word equally okay from now on.

What do you all think, would it bother you to have a character hiss without sibilants?

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Five Lost Cities

So, recently I had a chance to place a new board game called Ex Libris, in which players attempt to build a great library. All the cards have book titles on them; of these, one that stood out was a fat volume entitled Almost Forgotten Empires.

Almost sounds like a real book title, doesn’t it? After all, there’s no shortage of almost forgotten empires, right? Like the Sasanian Empire in what is now Iran, for example, or the kingdom of Aksum, which is featured in Elizabeth Wein’s wonderful Sunbird and related novels.

Well, here’s a recent post from The Guardian that’s a work along the same theme: Five lost cities of the world.

Here’s the one I found most intriguing:

Gedi, Kenya

Located on the Indian Ocean coast, 65 miles north of Mombasa among verdant forests, this settlement is thought to have been founded in the 12th century. Gedi had advanced features such as running water and flushing toilets. Archaeologists have found Ming Chinese vases and Venetian glass on the site, suggesting it was an important trading centre. Its abandonment five centuries later remains a mystery.

Interesting! I visited Mombasa once. No one mentioned Gedi. What a fascinating place to visit, and how interesting to imagine what the city and its world might have been like.

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