Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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A chill goes down my spine

When I think of being forced to read my most-disliked book of all time, Madame Bovary. 

Here is a post that I can sympathize with, at the Paris Review: Obligatory Reading

I still remember the day when the teacher turned to the chalkboard and wrote the words test, next, Friday, Madame, Bovary, Gustave, Flaubert, French. With each word, the silence grew, and by the end, the only sound was the sad squeaking of the chalk. 

It’s like the start of a horror novel, it really is.

… except the author of the post now likes the book fine and re-reads it every year.


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At tor.com, Liz Bourke reviews the final Murderbot novella, “Exit Strategy,” which as it happens I read last night.

It turns out that starting this novella last night half an hour before I wanted to turn the lights out was, um, optimistic. It’s a fast-paced little sucker and I couldn’t put it down until Dr Mensah was rescued. Which is not the end – wow, do things pick up again after that — but at least it was a reasonable place to pause.

Liz says:

Exit Strategy becomes even more of a joy to read in the emotional climax and dénouement, after the shooting is done and Murderbot is putting itself back together and having conversations while the Murderbot equivalent of woozy and concussed.  …

This is a fast, fun, and funny novella that, at its heart, is about personhood, independence, and selfhood: about autonomy, trust, and kindness, as well as anxiety, frustration, and anger. At its heart, Exit Strategy is a kind story, and a hopeful one…

The whole series is kind and hopeful, with any number of decent people shown against in a broader society that is often anything but decent. 

I especially love denouements and this series definitely needed one — it was crucial to let the reader see Murderbot get things straightened out with Dr. Mensah. She is the heart of the kindness in this story; without her, I’m sure Murderbot still wouldn’t have gone on a killing spree, but I doubt very much it would have made the same choices or developed in the way that it did through the novellas.

I can’t wait for the novel. Personally, I would especially like to see ART again, but I’m sure I’ll be happy with whatever direction Martha Wells takes this story.

I believe the expected publication date is 2020.

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Writing career as RPG

From Terrible Minds: 

One does not win this game.

One simply tries to stay in the game.

Again, we return to the RPG metaphor — yes, once you’ve whacked enough rats, and earned enough Publishing XP, you are granted access to a new land. You have a Shiny New Word Sword.


One thing, though —

Your problems have leveled up with you. You have new skills, new cred, new weapons, but you also have new problems. You’re not just playing D&D anymore, now it’s Advanced D&D. Success breeds new concerns…. 

There is no comfortable plateau in a writing career.

As always from Chuck Wendig, a fun post to read. 

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Do you read the epigraph?

At tor.com, this: Always read the epigraph


I see you there, with that novel in your hand. Turning to page 1… Well, I’m here to tell you to turn that page back in the other direction and take a look at what you might find lurking in the front matter of the book. … I’m talking about the epigraph. The little (often italicized) sayings or quotations nestled in the very beginning, right before the action starts: right ahead of that opening paragraph on page 1 you were about to read.

And then an argument for the importance of the epigraph, which of course are those little italicized quotes or whatever that often open fantasy (or other) novels.

I’ve never done epigraphs. Well, actually, now that I think of it, once I did start each chapter of a book with a quote, but that book is unpublished. Maybe someday I’ll revise the heck out of it and publish it, and in that case, sure, I really do like the quotes I chose. I will just add that selecting neat quotes for each chapter is a fine, fine way to waste an incredible amount of time you might otherwise spend productively.

So, here is an example from the tor.com post:

Neverwhere opens with a pair of epigraphs: a short quote from a G. K. Chesterton story and three stanzas of a traditional Yorkshire funeral chant.

I have never been to St. John’s Wood. I dare not. I should be afraid of the innumerable night of fir trees, afraid to come upon a blood red cup and the beating of the wings of the Eagle.

–The Napoleon of Notting Hill, G. K. Chesterton

I have to say, that is exceedingly evocative. I’ve got The Napoleon of Notting Hill on my shelves, but I don’t think I’ve ever read it. It sure provided an excellent epigraph …

… which I feel would be better read after the novel rather than, or perhaps in addition to, before the novel. It’s a lovely quote. Reading it before the novel sets the tone, but tells you nothing whatsoever. Maybe that is the best use of an epigraph. It seems to me, though, that reading this quote after reading the novel would provide a good finish: a sense of completion as you think, Yes, that’s perfect. Hopefully for the second time, as it would be nice to have that exact same thought as you read the last lines of the novel.

The tor.com post is specifically about epigraphs in fantasy novels, which I’m not sure I like. In a historical fantasy: yes. In a contemporary fantasy: sure. In a secondary world fantasy, using a quote from a real book as an epigraph seems very jarring to me.

Using an epigraph from a work created within the secondary world can be clever and appropriate, depending on the work on question. That’s the kind picked out in the post when discussing A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin:

We be light, we be life, we be fire!
We sing electric flame, we rumble underground wind, we dance heaven!
Come be we and be free!
We be blue electric angels

I’m not sure what I think of this precise example, but if the author creates good fictional epigraphs, I really like it. I do think it’s more suited to a story that has a historical feel to it, even if the novel is not actually based on any real historical period. Those are the sorts of novels that feel like they ought to start with quotes from important historical works, whether real or fictional.

Do you read epigraphs?

As a reader, epigraphs I may like and almost always read: Short, and poetic or evocative. Epigraphs I don’t like and probably won’t read: Long, or multiple different quotes. In the later case, I feel like, Oh, come on, let’s get to the story already! 

Here is a different post about epigraphs that I like because the author feels the same way I do about them: that they perhaps belong at the end rather than at the beginning:

[O]ne wonders why epigraphs are always at the beginning of the book. Some stories end and make you want to hold the book to your chest and absorb it directly into your very soul. How moving it would be to me to finish a book and turn the page, sad that it’s all over and read an epigraph that reflects on all that’s come before.

Yes, see there? You want to hold the book to your chest and absorb it directly into your very soul. Exactly!

I’ve never ended a book with an epigraph any more than I’ve begun one that way. But if I wrote the right kind of book, now I kind of want to.

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Finished! Unexpectedly

So, back on August 18th, as you may possibly recall, I posted that I’d finished a manuscript but needed to revise it. You all liked the scene I posted from that book, so that made me happy. It did need a good bit of revision, and in a perfect world I would have stepped back for about two months before starting that. In this imperfect world, I thought maybe two weeks or so would do.

Ordinarily I would read a lot of books over that two week period, but I’d had this other idea for a completely different book in my head for a little while, so I thought, what the heck, I would write fifty or so pages of that one and when I got stuck, suddenly revising the first book would look very attractive. It’s just a general truth of the universe that when you’re writing a first draft, you feel like revision would be easy; and when you’re revising, writing a draft seems like it would be easy; so why not take advantage of that phenomenon, right?

Well, I did not get stuck on the new WIP. Instead, I got obsessive.

This has happened to me before, but never as strongly nor for nearly as long. Here we are, 40 days later, and I have a brand-new complete novel sitting here. I really, really did not expect that to happen. It’s not even a short novel. No. It is a loooong novel: 201,000 words. That is, as rapid arithmetic will show you, an average of 5000 words per day, or a bit over 15 pages per day. During the school year, no less. I was routinely hitting three to five thousand words on weekdays.  I do work part time, but . . . not that part time. 

You might be wondering what this was like. Even if you’re not, I’ll tell you. Those of you who know me best (Hi, Craig!) will know how out of the ordinary some of this is:

I normally go to bed before ten. I couldn’t get to sleep because the WIP wouldn’t turn off, so I thought what the heck and stayed up much later to work on it. The dogs get a biscuit at bedtime, so they start pushing me about turning things off and going downstairs around eight thirty. I started making them stay up till nine, then putting them all to bed, then coming back upstairs and working till roughly eleven, sometimes later.

I normally get up between 4:30 and 5:15. My alarm is set for 5:15, but it very seldom wakes me up. You would think that since I was suddenly going to bed later, I would wake up later. No. I woke up even earlier than usual, and the WIP was immediately in my head, so there was no chance of going back to sleep. Many mornings, if you call it “morning” when it is still practically the middle of the night, I got up around 4:00.  I even felt happy to have extra time in the morning to write.

I started taking 1 1/2 benadryl and 7 mg melatonin at bedtime to try to get more sleep. It didn’t really work. Yes, I did get a lot more headaches than usual, but not as many as I ought to have, because lack of sleep is definitely a trigger for me. Excedrin luckily controlled most of the headaches, which occurred roughly every third day for this whole period.

I normally have a lot of trouble getting anything much done from 3:00 in the afternoon until at least 5:00 or 6:00. That is a low-energy period for me. I had no trouble whatsoever working during the afternoons during this period.

I normally like cooking. I made almost nothing remotely interesting during this period. Whenever my mother said, Oh, I made xyz, would you like some? I said Yes, thanks! Normally we don’t really share that much food because I make much spicier food than she does and also I am often trying to stay away from carbs. During the whole of this period, I didn’t care about any of that.

I normally take the dogs out for a walk at dawn when it’s hot: three sets of dogs is 45 minutes for me. That’s not exercise for them, but it is for me and they enjoy it. If the weather is cooler, I like to take them out to run in what we call the Arboretum, a fenced acre and a half, in the afternoon. I kept this up because the dogs shouldn’t have to forego their fun just because I’m obsessed, but I was happy to have rainy days. Also, I entirely stopped listening to podcasts or looking at the internet on my phone while walking the dogs. Instead I listened to music and thought about my WIP.

I read no books of any kind during this entire period. All my time went into writing. During meals, I read bits I had previously written. 

…. I think that pretty much gives you an idea of how different this experience was than ordinary writing, where I set a minimum daily wordcount and more or less stick to it. 

I once wrote the last 220 pp of a book in 19 days. That was similar, but obviously less intense, especially since that was not during the school year. I had another similar fast, intense 200 pages during Shadow Twin. But this, no. This was different.

What made it different? I’m not sure. But this is a very, very simple story in some ways. The heart of the story is the relationship between two characters. It is not a romance. I was even almost sort of tempted, but no. American culture is so sexualized already; I’m with Nicole Kornher-Stace here, why promote the idea that all intense relationships must be sexual? So, no.

There is just one pov protagonist, who carries the story throughout. There is just one very important non-pov protagonist. Normally I would define a character as secondary if he never picks up the pov. Not this time. All the other characters are quite secondary. 

The plot is very simple in some ways. You all suggested the main fantasy element to me in a relatively recent post and discussion about, uh, stuff. I could tell you explicitly, but it would be quite a spoiler, so I’m not sure I should. Although it’s the kind of spoiler the reader might enjoy: you would know something important and get to watch the protagonist figure it out. I would enjoy that personally.

This particular fantasy element established the main tension in the story and also provided the antagonist and the plot. Nothing else is remotely as important.

So, yes, a simple story in some ways. But very intense, for me and hopefully for readers as well.

Would I want to do this again, feel like this again? … Maybe? Every couple of years? I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. Plus I wrote 200,000 words! In 40 days! But, you know, it was an obsession. It interfered with everything else in my life. That was okay, because my life is very calm and boring and I don’t have young children — I suppose if I did the experience would have been self-limiting. But still … once every couple of years would probably be better than anything more frequent. 

How I feel now: sorry it’s over. Relieved it’s over. And looking forward to getting more sleep.

The next step: Dotting a few i’s and crossing a few t’s. Then I will send it to my agent, marking the 14,000 words that I know would probably come out if it were traditionally published. It could tighten up elsewhere as well, no doubt. If she loves it and places it in a fine new home, great. Otherwise, I will self-publish it, of course, and in that case I will probably do relatively little cutting. I can see perfectly well that some chapters could fall out, but I like those chapters. I like practically the whole thing. Even the slowish transition scenes feel okay to me.

Now, after all that, I expect you would probably like to take a look at the opening scene. Here it is:



            Beside the coals of the dying fire, within the trampled borders of our abandoned camp, surrounded by the great forest of the winter country, I waited for a terrible death.

            I had been waiting since midmorning. Shadows stretched out in the late afternoon. Soon dusk would fold itself across the land. The Lau must be close now. I faced south, so that my death would not ride up behind me on his tall horse and see my back and think that I was afraid to face him. I was afraid, but I was not such a coward that I would forget my pride before I even glimpsed the knife.

            Also, I faced south so that I would not have to look at the trail my brother had left as he led our defeated warriors, at their best limping pace, away from this camp and toward home. Even kneeling beside the fire, I would be able to see the trampled snow stretch away into the empty forest. I did not want to see that trail. I did not want to remember my brother striding away, leaving me behind.

            That might have been a different kind of cowardice. But I could only face one direction. So I faced south. I would not look over my shoulder to the north even now, long after the muffled sounds of pony hooves and creaking leather had died away in the distance.

            When we ride out from our homes, we sing. We have many songs of battle and courage and victory. We sing those at the beginning of a raid or on the way home afterward, our ponies laden with good things, driving our new cattle before us.

            We have other songs. We sing to the Dawn Sisters when they rise and to Sun when he returns after the long dark. Our women sing to announce the birth of a son, and they sing harvest songs as they scythe and thresh the grain. But we have no songs for defeat. No one sang among the men my brother led away. We had gained nothing and lost much, and might lose everything that remained if the Lau refused to be contented with my death.

            I was glad no one had sung as they left me . I would not have wanted to listen to the voices of my people fade into the distance.

            The fire burned low. My brother had built it up with his own hands before he had led our warriors away. Now it was only coals, and the cold pressed against my back. The wind came from the north, and a little from the east. I wished I could build the fire up again. Mostly that was what I thought about: that the wind was cold and that I wished I could reach the small remaining store of wood. That was as close to thinking about nothing as I could come. It was better than thinking about my brother, or what our father might do when he heard of our defeat. It was much better than thinking about the Lau, who would surely come soon. I hoped they came before the fire burned out, or I might freeze to death before they found me.

            I tried not to hope that I would freeze before they found me.

            Then I heard them, the hoof beats of their horses and the jingle of their harness, and there was no more time for hope. I held very still, as a rabbit who hears the wolf, though of course stillness would not protect me now. Nothing would protect me. I was not here to be protected.

            They came on their tall horses, riding between the great spruces and firs. Two at first, wary of ambush even though they must have seen there was nothing left of our camp except the trampled snow, and the fire, and me. Those two looked at me and at the camp. I raised my hands to show the thongs that bound my wrists and bound me to the stake that had been driven into the frozen earth – to show that I was tuyo, left here for them. I had thought I would stand up to meet them. The thongs were long enough to let me stand up. But the strength had run out of me when I saw them, and I did not think I would be able to get up. I would have been ashamed to try and fail. I stayed where I was, on my knees.

            The two Lau warriors rode away again. Then others came. Ten, twenty. Twice twenty. More than that. And even this was only the vanguard. They rode through the remnants of our camp and around it, and around the fire, and around me, and a little distance the way my brother had gone. Then they all came back and some of them rode to the fire and circled around me, not many paces away. They looked down at me, tall dark men on tall dark horses, with the Sun device of the summer country on its pole snapping overhead in the wind, and I looked back at them and did not bow my head. Pride shows itself in strange ways. I did not have the courage to stand up and face them on my feet, but I would not look away, nor cower before they even touched me.

            Even though they were all mounted, they carried the straight, short swords and long rectangular shields they fight with – they do not fight from horseback, the Lau, but on foot, in tight ranks. They are not a brave people, but we Ugaro never face them on foot, for we learned long ago we cannot win that way. There are too many. They do not need to be brave. We do not face them at all if we can help it, but raid quickly and get away before Lau soldiers can come up on us. When we fight them, we try to take them by surprise and we are quick, striking before they can form up into their squares. We attack from a distance, with bows, because our archers are better than theirs, and then we ride away and disappear into the cold forests of our winter country. The Lau seldom pursue us across the river that marks the border between the winter country and the summer country. But this time they had. Our raid had broken against their ambush, and when we had fled, they had pursued us. We could not outpace them. So my brother had left me for them. Now they were here.

            I knew immediately which must be the warleader of the Lau troop. The Lau mark their warleaders with silver. He had a silver falcon on the breast of his coat, and silver wire worked into the backs of his gloves and the tops of his boots, and he did not carry a shield, but a slender black stick about as long as a man’s forearm, with silver wire spiraling around its length. His horse was the color the Lau call fire bay and we call blood bay, and there were silver studs set into its bridle. It was a fine horse. The Lau breed very fine horses, but they belong to the summer country. They are too long-legged and too thin-skinned for the cold of Ugaro lands.

            Like their horses, the Lau belong to the summer country. They are also long-legged and thin-skinned, and they like the cold no better. They are a tall and graceful people, the Lau, with smooth brown skin and black hair, curlier than the straight hair of my people. Lau men often grow beards, thicker than the wispy beards Ugaro men sometimes grow, but they shave them very short, just to outline the jaw and mouth. This warleader had a beard like that. He had cut his hair very short to match, as the Lau do, or sometimes they braid their hair back so that it might as well be short. No Ugaro man would do such a thing; for us, hair cut so short is a mark of shame. We tie our hair back or leave it loose, but we do not cut it.

            I saw, when the warleader dismounted to look at me more closely, that he was even taller than most of people. He looked cruel to me, with a hard set to his mouth and watchful eyes. My belly clenched tight. My mouth was too dry to speak. I held up my hands to show the thongs, though I knew he had already seen them.

His first words were not what I had expected. I have no idea what I had expected, but what he said was, “Staked out like a goat for the mountain lions! It is not the sort of bait I’d expect in a trap for men.” He looked at one of his men. “You’ve made certain there’s no ambush? Of course. Well, there’s certainly there’s no trace of magic.” His eyes came back to me.

His voice was deeper than I had expected from a Lau. He came down on the ends of his words more sharply and crisply than my older sister, from whom I had learned the tongue. She had taught me darau because she wished to teach me and I wished to learn it, though such a skill, as with everything to do with trade, is more fit for women than for men. My father did not object. It is useful if some warriors speak a little darau, so they can escort the women who will trade; and he did not care much what his younger sons did when they were children, being more concerned with his sons who were already men.

            Now I was very grateful that I had learned it, though I did not expect it to matter for very long. Only I had not realized that the sound of it could be so different than the speech I had learned.

But I could understand his words, thought I had to think about the sound of them for a moment because the difference had taken me by surprise and because his words made no sense to me at first. When I was sure I had understood him, I said, speaking carefully, “Lord, there is no ambush. Certainly there is no sorcery.” He had used a different word, but I only used the one I knew. It had not occurred to me the Lau would not know what I was – far less that they would think of sorcery. I had never heard of a sorcerer among my people; and if one should be born, he would be put to death as soon as his father or his lord learned what he was.

            I said, “I am . . .” I struggled with it. I had not expected to have to explain, and it was hard for me to say it. But I got it out at last. “I am tuyo.”

            He was looking at me in obvious surprise, whether at my words or that I had spoken in darau. I tried to think of the darau word for tuyo and could not. I could feel my face getting hot – a strange reason for shame, yes. But I had been proud of my ability to speak darau, and now failed in nearly my first sentence to this warleader. Bowing my head, I said, “I am here for you. For you to . . . ” the word kill did not seem adequate. “For you to take vengeance upon. For your anger.”

            The warleader stared at me. For a moment the silence was almost complete. A horse picked up one foot and set it down again, and the wind blew across the snow, and harness creaked as a man shifted his weight. Far away a fox yipped, calling to its mate. Other than that, there was no sound. The land was shadowed lavender with dusk, and the wind was cold.

            The man the warleader had addressed spoke at last. “I’ve never heard of an Ugaro magician, far less an Ugaro sorcerer, and if an ambush was planned, I don’t know what they’d be waiting for. Full dark, maybe. But they’re in no shape for clever ambushes . . . ” A slight pause. “Or I’d have thought not.”

            The warleader glanced at the man, acknowledging what he had said. “No,” he agreed. “I do think that’s unlikely.” Then he said to me, “Stand up. Can you stand?”
            So then I had to get up. I concentrated on the stiffness that had come to my knees because I had been kneeling for a long time in the cold and not on the weakness that was fear. I stood up and my legs did not give way, for which I was grateful.

            The warleader looked me up and down. “Tuyo,” he said. “Is that your name? Look at me.”

            “No, lord. It is not a name.” I straightened my shoulders and looked him in the face, as he had commanded, pretending I was not afraid. “My name is Ryo inGara. I am the second-youngest son of Sinowa inGara” I saw that he knew that name, and tipped my chin up in acknowledgment. “Yes. So I am given to you. I am for you, that you will be satisfied and seek no other vengeance. That is tuyo.” To be completely sure, I added, “The one given by the defeated, to appease the anger of the victor.”

            This time the pause was longer.

            Finally the warleader said, “You are a son of Sinowa inGara. Yet your people left you here, staked out this way, so that we would find you and kill you and not pursue them? This is the meaning of this word, tuyo.”

            From his tone, this might not have been a question. But he was looking at me. I said, “Yes, lord. That is . . . it is a custom of my people.” It was beginning to occur to me that it might not be a custom of his. I said urgently, “Lord. My brother does not want to fight you again. That is the meaning. You should not . . . he will not . . . my brother acknowledges you are the stronger, lord. He acknowledges you have won. You do not need to pursue him farther, nor seek other vengeance. That is why I was left for you.”

            “Your own brother left you. So that I would not pursue him.”

            “He didn’t want to. It must be someone important.” I could hardly believe I was defending my brother. I had cursed him when he had bound me in my place and left me there. I had blamed him for not taking the tuyo’s place himself. But he was older, and warleader, and we had gotten into so much trouble, and he had to get us out – them out. I had cursed him, and he had not answered me with a blow as I deserved, but only bowed his head and taken my words in silence. Later I had wished I had not cursed him. I had known all the time he had no choice. The men would not follow me. I was too young, and I was not him. The last words between brothers should not be bitter ones, and I had been wrong.

            I said, “He had to do it. He would not expect you to be satisfied by less. The tuyo must be someone whose death will content an enemy.”

            “I see.” The warleader looked at me for some time. Finally he said, “So your brother expects me to kill you and be satisfied. Then I am supposed to take my men and leave. Then – what? He will cross the river again to raid more farms and villages, and leave me another brother staked out like a goat when I come after him again? I think it would be much more efficient to go on, run your brother down now, and kill every man with him. Indeed, I see no reason to stop there. My king commanded me to put a stop to these raids. It’s plain our border will have no peace while your young men think of Lau farmers as sheep for their shearing.” He paused, cocking his head, inviting me to answer.

            My father says I have too much imagination, but even I could never have imagined that I might stand facing the Lau warleader and have to argue him into killing me.

            I said, watching the warleader’s face, “You do not need to . . . to go to the trouble, lord. My brother will not raid again. Neither will my father nor his allies raid again.” A dying man must not lie, even my misdirection or omission, so I added, “At least, not this season. Even next year, my father will not lightly send any of his warriors across your border. He will not do it, lord. My brother acknowledges you have defeated him. My father will acknowledge it. Neither of them will want to face you again. Not now. Not for a long time. You can tell your king this. It is true.” I took a breath, making sure I could speak steadily and knew all the words for what I would say. Then I said, “Any vengeance you would take on my people, you should take on me. Please, lord. Accept me as tuyo. Take what vengeance you desire for every blow my people have struck against yours, and be satisfied.”

            Again, a pause stretched out. Finally the warleader said, to a man of his, “Check again. The whole area. Be thorough.” Then he said to another man, “Have camp set up twenty lengths from this place. No. Forty.” Then, as most of his warriors went away to obey his commands, he tucked away the little stick, drew a knife instead, and stepped toward me.

            I thought maybe he might mean to cut my throat right there – I hoped he might, even though I had tried to explain that so quick a death was not expected for the tuyo.

            Instead, he cut the thong that bound me to the stake. Not the thong that bound my wrists. So I understood he would take me somewhere else and kill me there.

            He put the knife away, not having to look at the sheath while he slid it home. He said to one of the men who had remained with him, “Take him to my tent and hold him there.” Then he walked away.

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Reader Preference Poll

In a secondary world where the military organization is not necessarily like American military organization but is not described in detail, what do you consider the preferable treatment of military ranks:

a) private, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, major, colonel, general

b) rank names that are taken from or based on some familiar-ish culture, such a prefect, centurion, tribune, ligatus, even if the culture is not similar to Rome

c)  rank names that are completely made up

d) a mix of some of the above, so that you would not object to made-up words for some ranks, used in combination with “captain” or other actual words for other ranks.

For no actual reason, I have been using (d) in my WIP. I have been getting less enthusiastic about this for some time. I don’t think I actually like it at all. At the end I can easily do a search-and-replace and turn all the familiar titles into created words, but should I?

The problem is, made-up names of ranks sound weird to me, especially combined with character names that are also not drawn from the English language. I feel as though things like “Amat Geras” are harder to read than “Sergeant Geras,” especially if the character is often addressed by title and name.

On the other hand, I didn’t feel this worked badly in The Mountain of Kept Memory, where the rank titles for the Tamaristans were not familiar words. But those titles were not used all that frequently in the story, so readers didn’t have to contend with seeing them all the time.

In Elizabeth Moon’s Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, the rank names were familiar words. Did anybody feel that made the world seem too familiar?

The problem with asking this question is that the world in that series is basically a straight European medieval world with elves, so it wasn’t meant to feel unfamiliar. Would you feel differently if the society was not as reminiscent of this familiar style of world?

Anybody got a good example of a military fantasy or any secondary world fantasy novel where  the rank names are both important and made up, and that actually worked well for you as a reader? If there are some, I can’t think of them — and I’ve kind of been trying — but I am probably missing some great examples.

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Theme song for the battle scene I wrote yesterday

I really do not like writing climactic battle scenes. (If you have never guessed that, good.) They’re hard. I have to get everyone in a plausible place for the things to happen that I want to happen, and it’s hard for me. Also, I just don’t much like writing those scenes.

Yesterday’s battle went badly wrong for the good guys at least twice and had three significant surprising moments; at least, I hope readers will find them surprising. Oddly enough, the twists all came out of plot elements laid down long, long before, even though I did not have any idea I would use those elements in those ways until about two or three days ago, when I finally worked out this final battle scene in my head. Remarkably, this tends to happen to me. I expect my subconscious mind does that, but I can’t tell it’s happening until I realize, Oh, right, that would actually work perfectly.

I probably don’t have to specifically add that in the end, the battle went seriously wrong for the bad guy, in a way he probably (definitely) did not see coming.

I am now writing the denouement. I can’t even express how much better I like writing the denouement than the battle. Every book is like that for me. I love denouements.

But for now, the battle: Snowy landscape; boreal forest; long stretch of open ground; bad guys in a pretty decent position, good guys in a fairly bad position; various important complications that have never complicated any battle scene in the real world.

This is the song I played on repeat for a lot of the time while I was writing this scene:

The Crüxshadows: “Winterborn”

Dry your eyes
And quietly bear this pain with pride
For heaven shall remember the silent and the brave
And promise me they will never see
The fear within our eyes
[My eyes are closed]
We will give strength to those who still remain

So bury fear, for fate draws near
And hide the signs of pain
With noble acts
The bravest souls endure the heart’s remains
Discard regret, that in this debt
A better world is made
That children of a newer day might rememberand avoid our fate

And in the fury of this darkest hour
We will be your light
You’ve asked me for my sacrifice
And I am winterborn
Without denying, a faith is come
That I have never known
I hear the angels call my name
And I am winterborn

Hold your head up high
For there is no greater love
Think of the faces of the people you defend
And promise me they will never see
The tears within our eyes
[My eyes are closed]
Although we are men with mortal sins
Angels never cry

And in the fury of this darkest hour
We will be your light
You’ve asked me for my sacrifice
And I am winterborn
Without denying, a faith in God
That I have never known
I hear the angels call my name
And I am winterborn

And in the fury of this darkest hour
I will be your light
A lifetime for this destiny
For I am winterborn

And in this moment
I will not run
It is my place to stand
We too shall carry hope
Within our bloodied hands

And in our dying
We’re more alive
Than we have ever been
I live for these few seconds
For I am winterborn

And in the fury of this darkest hour
We will be the light
You’ve asked me for my sacrifice
And I am winterborn
Without denying, a faith in man
That I have never known
I hear the angels call my name
And I am winterborn

Within this moment I am for you
Though better men have failed
I will give my life for love
For I am winterborn
And in my dying, I’m more alive
Than I have ever been
I will make this sacrifice
For I am winterborn

Here is the song, if you’d care to listen to it.

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Falling down the rabbit hole

From Book View Cafe, this post by  Phyllis Irene Radford: Research Rabbit Holes

Research can be a wonderful tool for bringing a sense of veritas to fiction writing. I had to research why glass would be the most precious commodity in the epic fantasy world of The Glass Dragon, when silicon is one of the most abundant elements in the known universe.

Research can also be an end in itself.

We all know people who have researched a book for ten years or more but can’t write the book because they haven’t done enough research. They could write a doctoral dissertation, but there is more to research to do for the fiction book.

I have a feeling that research addicts have fallen into more than one rabbit hole…

Don’t you like the idea of having to figure out why glass could be precious when silicon is super, super abundant? I think that sounds pretty neat.

My favorite completely useless tidbit I have ever encountered, for the Black Dog series: Did you know there are actually a lot of different kinds of marble, many of them quarried in Vermont? For example, it says here: 

The famous Danby Marble Quarry in Vermont’s Dorset Mountain has been producing breathtaking marble for over 100 years. In fact, it was the first marble quarry in the United States and it’s the largest underground marble quarry in the world!

There are eight different types of Danby Marble and some are said to rival the most beautiful Italian white marbles. One side of the quarry yields ImperialEureka, and Royal Danby marbles. On another front you’ll find Mountain WhiteOlympian WhiteMontClair, Crystal Stratus, and Applachian Gray….

This is not the sort of detail that’s likely to make it into a book, except maybe as a very tiny throwaway detail, but marble is such beautiful stone. 

Most entertaining research: I really enjoyed poking around looking for ways to blow cars up by shooting them. Spoiler: you really can’t unless you have a special gun or have prepared the car first. This segued into how to make explosives out of common household items. Probably I’m now on some watch list, who knows. Also, no, I didn’t personally confirm that you can make a napalm-like substance from sugar and citronella oil. It sounds reasonably plausible on the website I was reading, which was good enough for me.

Most extensive research: everything about materials science for Land of Burning Sands, obviously.  This was the book I used for that, which I had read for fun a year or two earlier, which is why I thought of that whole idea in the first place.

Most recent research: the construction of Mongol bows. Thanks, Google! I could have gone downstairs and picked up Gordon’s book again and looked it up, because he absolutely covers the topic of bow construction, but I didn’t really care about the details, just the basic materials used, so Google was faster.

Amount of time generally spent on research: For me, this is not really a rabbit hole. A few minutes, generally. If I’m looking at maps and calculating distances, or looking at the street view of a town, then longer, obviously, but not much longer. This is not the kind of thing I would get lost in.

If an author spends ten years researching something rather than writing,  I think you can fairly say that this person’s hobby is research, not writing. Or worldbuilding, not writing. And that’s fine! Look at Tolkien! Or for someone who never actually writes the novel, that’s fine too! Everyone needs a hobby. 

But if you fall too far down this rabbit hole, then yeah, you are not going to get the book written. 

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How to write the perfect sentence

At The Guardian, this:  How to write the perfect sentence.

Here is my favorite passage from this essay:

A sentence is much more than its literal meaning. It is a living line of words where logic and lyric meet – a piece of both sense and sound, albeit the sound is only heard in the reader’s head. Rookie sentence-writers are often too busy worrying about the something they are trying to say and don’t worry enough about how that something looks and sounds. They look straight past the words into the meaning that they have strong-armed into them. They fasten on content and forget about form – forgetting that content and form are the same thing, that what a sentence says is the same as how it says it.

There’s a lot more I’d like to excerpt from this article. Too much. If you are interested at all in the feel of sentences and what creates that feel, click through and read the whole thing.

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