Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Covers for McKinley’s Sunshine

Here is the chandelier cover referenced in the comments to the last post:

I like it okay, but to me it hardly has any more relevance to the story than the cup of blood:

Here is a YELLOW cover that mainly strikes me as YELLOW. It does not seem the least bit connected to the story. Sure, there’s a girl, but she could be anybody. Mostly it is just YELLOW.

Here is a haunted house that is related to the opening scene, but does not actually suit the story any better than the others:

Here is a remarkably monochrome cover:

Here is the one I think best expresses the story, though still it completely ignores the bakery and feeding-people-you-love aspects:

A variation on that theme:

I don’t know what scene I would choose to illustrate for the perfect Sunshine cover. I don’t really agree with all these cover artists that the book is truly horror — I think I would call it dark fantasy — so the haunted house covers and especially the cup of blood don’t fit. How would you combine baking with vampires? Tricky, which is I suppose why no one has yet attempted that combination.

Anyway, which cover do you like best as a cover for a horror novel, not necessarily Sunshine? And which do you think actually fits Sunshine, if any?

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Name that genre

Here’s a post by Jill Zeller at Book View Cafe: Difficulties with genre.

I have struggled with identifying genres for my novels and short stories. As an indie publisher, having never sold a novel to New York and only a dozen or so short stories to “pro” markets and others, I am in my own genre-identifying boat, and always lost at sea….

My fantasy–those with younger protagonists are written as Hunter Morrison–is “fiction with a twist”. In contemporary settings, fantastical elements of my own design are in play. There might be witches, ghosts or mages, but the Fae, vampirific communities, or rural settings in alternate worlds never appear. Generally my protags are ordinary citizens living in cities and small towns of twenty-first century America, with special powers they have grown up knowing about and using in small and convenient ways, and who, painfully and with sacrifice, come to understand that their abilities are far more powerful than they ever imagined. Indeed, their actions and choices with this knowledge generally leads to averting widespread destruction. And, romantic threads are always woven through.

Well, I haven’t read any of Zeller’s books, but this sounds to me like a pretty easy call. I say that this description fits contemporary fantasy. That’s the genre. The thread of romance makes no difference whatsoever.

Now, if this was a primary feature rather than a thread, I might call it fantasy romance … but I would probably still just call it contemporary fantasy, just as I call Sharon Shinn’s Blessings books secondary world fantasy.

Now, Zeller agrees that “contemporary fantasy” is often the label she picks.

What do I say when called upon to write a blurb for marketing or the back cover? Mostly I fall back on contemporary fantasy but that doesn’t feel quite right.

It feels right to me. Because as far as I’m concerned, that is a big, highly variable genre. Or subgenre. Whatever you want to call it.

This makes me want to establish, or at least hint at, the variability of contemporary fantasy. So:

a) On one end, blending gently into magical realism: Sarah Addison Allen. The world is barely distinguishable from our world, but there are distinct traces of magic, which are recognized as unusual by the people who have these gifts or who are affected by them.

b) We also have novels like Bone Gap, which are very much set in our world, only with mythology underlying or hidden behind the contemporary world. The Raven Boys would also fit in this sub-sub-category.

c) Then we progress through novels like The City and the City, where the world is contemporary, sort of. But sort of not. The Scorpio Races would also fit here. I guess here I am thinking about stories where the world is in fact contemporary, except for the specific location where the story is set.

d) And then we have worlds that are hardly contemporary at all because the changes turn out to be so extensive, such as Sunshine by McKinley.

Sunshine’s got a new cover, I notice. What do you think?

I don’t know, I sort of like it, but I don’t think it necessarily fits the book very well.

Anyway, then contemporary fantasy grades off into Urban Fantasy and Paranormal, which to me are virtually the same subgenre but with more of an emphasis on romance in the latter.

What do you think? Do all those types of stories seem to fit easily into contemporary fantasy? Or are we getting too far from “contemporary” when we reach books like Sunshine?

Here’s what Amazon says about one of Zeller’s books, Finding the Eye:

Using a peculiar camera she found, Maxine Nutbeam photographs her cousin’s life-sized horse sculpture and it comes to life. Coming from a long line of Nutbeams possessing erratic, careless magical abilities, Maxine encounters the camera’s owner Dante, whose supernatural skills as a Time Mage surpass even Maxine’s vivid imaginings. Rushed headlong into sorcery, danger and chaos, Maxine uncovers her mother’s secret and the mystery of her own birth. She is having the time of her life, but time is running out.

To me that looks like it definitely fits into contemporary fantasy without any trouble.

Has anybody happened to try this one? I’m not (in general) crazy about time travel elements in most stories. Also, the name “Nutbeam” turns me off — it sounds just too silly. But I do like the idea of the sculpture coming to life.

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Entertaining and occasionally disturbing Quora questions

Let me share a few Quora questions I’ve seen during the past few days:

What if the bird cage is outside?

So entirely impossible to answer.

This question illustrates the importance of framing your actual question in some reasonably precise way if you want a helpful response. What this indicates to me is that teachers should be helping students frame their questions better, rather than guessing at what the students mean and not asking them to be more precise and clear. You can look up a lot of stuff online, but not if you can’t sort out what you want to know better than this.

What happens if you don’t do a good job in your human life? Do you reincarnate as a cow?

I was tempted to provide an answer, but I refrained. Besides, maybe you do come back as a cow.

I can tell you for sure that cows who have lived a good life get reincarnated as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. That is the only reasonable explanation for how keen the spaniels are to eat grass.

Squirrels, too, maybe, given Dora’s determination to eat acorns.

Here’s another Quora question from a day or so ago:

What order, family, and genus would dragons be in if they existed? Would they have their own?

I liked that one a lot, and answered it. (I said they should be in their own class if they can breath fire or have six limbs, as I recall) I also recommended Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons to the person who posed the question.

Several questions besides this one looked like worldbuilding for a fantasy or SF world to me. Of course I may be biased to see that kind of intention behind this sort of question. But when someone asks what humans would be like if they had evolved from herbivores, I feel that is a very SF-type of question.

Here’s the one that was most disturbing:

I found a weak-looking eagle on the brink of death while I was on a hike in the woods. Should I help it break its beak, pluck out its feathers, and pull out its talons to extend its life?

I answered that one too. Not very patiently. I should compose a macro that says: TORTURING ANIMALS IS BAD. DO NOT DO THIS. I have used an answer of that kind three or four times at least, so far. Some people seem to have appalling ideas about what is appropriate to do to or with animals.

Had you heard of the myth that the questioner apparently believes? Snopes refers to it here.

Of course I have also seen many perfectly appropriate and useful questions about grammar! Those are quite relaxing after the awful ones about eagles.

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So, I’m reading a nonfiction book by a psychologist, about his work with various patients. It’s an older book, published in 1988, but of course that does not in any way invalidate the observations and comments of the psychologist, so as nonfiction goes, this doesn’t come across as very dated.

The reason I bring this up is that every chapter starts with an inkblot. They’re not discussed or important, they’re just there as artwork. And they aren’t the official inkblots, which are shown here if you are interested. They’re just random inkblot shapes, as far as I know.

What struck me, about three chapters in, is that … I seem to be a more positive person than I thought I was. I mean, there are times I feel pretty cynical. Yet my first impressions kept being things like:

A beaver juggling four balls.

A giant panda.

Two birds flying upward.

A glamorous woman wearing one of those amazing big hats.

… and so on. Mostly animals, and every single one cheerful. I saw stuff like that even if I had to ignore half the ink in order to see those images. If I were talking to a shrink, I’d have to say apologetically, “But I have no idea about these big round lumps down here.”

I don’t generally see things in clouds, but if I did, I expect they’d be cheerful animals as well.

It’s a puma kitten.

Yes, yes, definitely a happy puma kitten.

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If you found that earlier post about the murder trial interesting —

If you found that earlier post about the murder trial interesting, and that post sure got a lot of comments — here is part two.

I left off last time having talked about the procedure of the courtroom and what I’d learned. Now I’ll move on to the evidence.

The first person on the stand that I got to see was the assistant coroner. She got asked a lot of questions about her experience and her qualifications to testify, and then the questions turned to the body. They showed pictures of the body on a monitor, which was facing the jury so I couldn’t see it that well.

It was already established that Jason had emptied the magazine of his automatic pistol into Sparky. I can’t tell you what caliber, but I believe it was probably a .9 mm or a .45. I believe he fired eight shots total.

According to the coroner’s testimony, the first bullet went into her left shoulder at an angle. That’s the shot that killed her, going to her heart. After that, she was shot seven more times in the back.

After discussing the wounds and the likely order of them and which killed Sparky, it was time to move on to the cops who first on the scene. Jason was waiting outside for them. They secured him, and went inside. They found Sparky facedown, sort of slumped up against the back of the couch.

The prosecutor now had one of the detectives lie up against the Judge’s stand (I don’t really know what that’s called) to demonstrate how she was found to the jury. The cop adjusted the detective until the scene imitated how he’d found Sparky….

So they really do that kind of re-creation! Right there in the courtroom. I didn’t know that.

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Amazingly, not a question posed to Randall Monroe

What Would Happen If We Nuked the Bottom of the Ocean?

I really expected to end up here when I clicked on that link. But no. This headline takes you to a Popular Mechanics article, so this is apparently a real question.

… Well, sort of real.

What would happen if you detonated the most powerful nuclear weapon ever used at the deepest point on Earth? Would an enormous fireball consume the trench? Would the world crack open and would earthquakes and volcanoes tear the entire region apart? Would anyone even notice?

The YouTube channel Kurzgesagt decided to find out.

Oh, YouTube channel! That’s gotta be a great place to go to answer questions of this sort.

Also: the answer to this question — what would happen if you set off the most powerful nuke ever made at the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean? — is not exactly surprising.

Click through if you would like to check it out.

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Recent Reading: The Shadow Pavilion by Liz Williams

The Detective Chen novels by Liz Williams definitely improve as you go on with the series. The pacing gets faster — I perceive that as an improvement in this case, though as you may know, I don’t always object to a slow pace. Also, the world(s) improve, and although there are a good many pov characters, by this time you know them all and find it perhaps less jarring to switch from one to the next to the next.

There’s still a lot that goes on in the background, much of it out of sight of the reader, who just learns, for example, that No Ro Shi is one of China’s premier demon hunters and has apparently been around for some time because by the way, here he is.

That was how Inari, Chen’s wife, was introduced, you may recall. Oh, by the way, Chen’s wife is a demon. He rescued her from Hell. No need to explain how that happened. Her familiar is a badger who turns into a teapot. Let’s move on.

But by time you get to the 4th book, The Shadow Pavilion, you are probably going to be familiar enough with the world and the primary characters that this kind of thing is easier to take in stride. At least, that’s my perception.

I don’t have much to say about this particular book, except we see a lot more of Inari, there are a lot of tiger demons, and the badger gets a surprisingly large point-of-view role. I’ll wait for a real review until I read the fifth and final book. But I do want to share one tidbit from The Shadow Pavilion simply because it tickled my fancy:

The sky was lightening a little, but it was still night, and Inari took her tea into the main hall of the temple, sitting on a small bench to drink it. She took one of the limited selections of sacred texts from the wall cabinet and read it, or tried to. Such flowery fulsomeness! Praise to the late Emperor cascaded from the page, in a prose so extreme it formed an almost tangible perfume.

Perhaps it’s because I disliked the late Emperor so much that this struck me as especially entertaining.

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Good advice?

Offhand I would say this may fall into the category of “advice that is 100% unnecessary” —

Maybe You Were Thinking About Eating Raw Centipedes. Don’t.

From the NYT, no less.

[A] study published on Monday in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene describes two hospital patients — a mother and son — who ended up with rat lungworms in their brains after eating wild-caught centipedes the son had purchased at a farmer’s market.

Okay. Well. Remember: if you’re going to eat centipedes, they should be dried, powdered, or steeped in alcohol first.

I will definitely think of this next time anybody I know mentions “traditional medicine” or “ancient medical traditions.”

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Hugh d’Ambray’s theme song

Hugh d’Ambray, Preceptor of the Iron Dogs, is, as you may know, the protagonist of Ilona Andrews’ latest: Iron and Magic.

As you definitely know if you’ve been following the Kate Daniels series, Hugh d’Ambray is very much a bad guy; second in command after Roland himself. He’s Roland’s warlord — or he was, until he failed one big mission. As he notes in Iron and Magic, he hadn’t realized he only got to fail one time. Now, ditched by Roland, he’s in pretty bad shape.

But now the Iron Dogs are being hunted down and killed — his own small army, men who depend on him — so he has no choice but to pull himself together and defend himself and them, whatever it takes.

It’s interesting how the authors rehabilitate Hugh. They do it three steps:

a) They reveal the magic Roland always used to keep Hugh in line;

b) They take one particularly horrible thing Hugh did in an earlier book and reinterpret that scene in order to make Hugh less awful; and

c) They have him reconsider his priorities and reject Roland.

I knew the confrontation with Roland would have to happen at some point in Hugh’s trilogy, but I was a little surprised it happened in the first book. I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler, but if I’m going to comment on Hugh’s theme song, I’d give that away anyway. Because there’s no question about it: Cruxshadows’ “Quicksilver” expresses the exact theme of this book.

Here are part of the lyrics (click through and listen to the whole thing if you like. Or click here for the full lyrics). As you see, nothing could more perfectly express Hugh’s character arc in this book.

I should be ashamed for what you’ve done to me
It’s only happened because I let it be
But no more

You are not wrong, you who believe
Your will defines your destiny
But if you act in selfish fear
Then truth means nothing

You are not wrong if you perceive
The message veiled in mystery
But if we bury what we dream
We’re left with what remains…

I’m taking back my love, taking back my pride
Taking back my dreams and my life
This is the ground I will defend
On rage of angels bears the end

I’m taking back my hope, taking back my goals
Taking back my memories and my soul
This brand is forged to my crusade
Quicksilver, the future belongs to the brave

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New homes among the stars

Over at tor.com, this post by Adrian Tchaikovsky: Five Books That Find New Homes Among the Stars

When I was a kid you couldn’t move for stories where the alien-ness of the new world was the point. Certainly the ’70s equivalent of YA fiction was full of bold human explorers meeting weird planets and weirder inhabitants, even if a lot of those denizens turned out to be really very human indeed, except that some other apparent monster was their larval stage, say, or they had a symbiotic relationship with something interesting. And if you looked hard enough you could find, say, Lem’s Solaris, which is probably still the benchmark for the truly alien in fiction.

Either the alien planet trend went out of fashion, or those books just didn’t get written as much for adults, or else I just missed out a lot, but until relatively recently I just didn’t run into books about people encountering the alien on the alien’s home turf. In the last few years, though, there has been a distinct flowering (a particularly apt phrase in one case) of books about colonising the alien world, and the compromises we might have to make to do so….

Yes, I like this subgenre too. Let’s see what Tchaikovsky picks out:

1. Planetfall by Emma Newman

2. Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

3. Hidden Sun by Jaine Fenn

4. Semiosis by Sue Burke

5. Glorious Angels by Justina Robson

Yep, haven’t heard of any of them except Planetfall. No surprise: the number of recent-ish titles that I haven’t heard of is nigh unto infinite.

I rather like the sound of Hidden Sun:

Fenn’s upcoming release tells the story of a world some ways on from the starter colony of Planetfall. Here, humans have diverged into two definite populations: the more familiar Shadowkin are much like us, but cannot tolerate the direct sunlight of the world they’ve made their home. Out in the open live the Skykin, though, who have formed a symbiotic relationship with a native life form that alters them to better fit their harsh home. Hidden Sun is a cracking read, the first of an anticipated new series which obviously has a lot of secrets still to reveal.

Sounds pretty neat.

Now, there are endless older examples of this subgenre. Here are the five I thought of first:

1. Survivor by Octavia Butler. Certain problematic themes, but I like the book quite a bit and I’m glad I have a copy. Butler never approved a re-issue and physical copies are now very, very hard to come by. If you’ve never read it and you’d like to, you can find pdf copies online.

2. The Integral Trees by Larry Nivan

3. Dune by Frank Herbert

4. 40,000 in Gehenna by CJC.

5. Foreigner by CJC. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of that first. Maybe because the struggle to colonize the world is long over by the time the story opens. But this may be the only colonization story where humans don’t wind up the dominant species on the planet. Any other examples? Actually, Gehenna, above, might arguably be a second example of humans not being dominant, but it’s totally different.

I feel like there are lots more. Oh, here’s another humans-colonize-a-new-world story:

6. Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury. I liked it a lot, but I’ve only read it once.

And another:

7. The Word for World is Forest by Ursula LeGuin

Now that I’ve hit seven, I feel I should try to get to ten. So … let me see … okay:

8. Mother of Demons by Eric Flint. I liked this one a lot.

9. Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars by KSR. Conquering a new world through technology, no need to deal with aliens.

10. Freedom’s Landing by Anne McCaffery. Never actually read this one, but I know it starts with humans being picked up by aliens and dumped on a new world. Anybody read this? What did you think?

Any examples of this subgenre you’d like to contribute to the list? Drop ’em in the comments!

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