Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Here’s something nice I’d never heard about

Martin Arthur Couney was a man who claimed to be a trained medical doctor and turned premature babies into sideshow attractions, and by doing so he saved the lives of over 6,000 of them.

This is an answer to the Quora question: Who’s someone no one has ever heard of, but who saved many lives?

Martin Arthur Couney was a German-Jewish immigrant who moved to the US around 1903, realized that hospitals weren’t using incubators for preemie babies, and started a “sideshow” of preemie babies in incubators. He charged 25 cents for people to come into his spotless wards and look at the babies. People would come back over and over to look at their favorite babies, apparently, no doubt rooting for them to thrive. Which many did. Courney used the money that came in via admittance fees for the “sideshow” to pay wetnurses and regular nurses and thereby saved a whole bunch of babies that would otherwise have died.

So … I had no idea. That’s really neat! Click through and read the post if you have time. What a guy Martin Arthur Couney was! What an odd set of skills must have come together in this person, for him to set something like that up and then maintain it against all kinds of opposition until hospitals started handling premature babies more effectively.

This reminds me of another person who saved a lot of lives but isn’t all that well known — Paul Brand. I read a biography of him once and was so impressed because his work, and that of his wife, basically turned leprosy from A Curse That Destroyed Your Life into a disease that could be effectively treated. Let me see. Oh, yes, the book I read was The Gift of Pain. A very worthwhile book.

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Bridge of Birds podcast

Elaine T mentions Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds as an example of a novel with a great ending. Yes, that’s true, and I’m glad you mentioned this book, Elaine, because I’ve recently started listening to a podcast that is essentially an informal, but quite good, reading of the book.

The podcast is Forgotten Classics.

Bridge of Birds, if you would like to listen to it, starts with episode 168 and goes from there through episode 191, but not quite inclusive, as other works are interspersed with this one.

After this, I will also listen to another book on this podcast — Rumer Godden’s China Court, which I read a long time ago and have forgotten practically everything about, except I know I liked it. I really enjoy Godden’s novels, some of the very few literary novels I’ve not only read, but tracked down and added to my library.

But first, I’m definitely looking forward to getting reacquainted with Number Ten Ox and Master Li.

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“The End”

From Jane Friedman’s blog: Finding Your Way to the End

From the post: “I love what Jane Smiley says about finishing the rough draft of a novel in her excellent tome, 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel …To write through to the end of the rough draft, in spite of time constraints, second thoughts, self-doubts, and judgments of all kinds, is an act of faith that is invariably rewarded—the rough draft of a novel is the absolute paradigm of something that comes from nothing.

Wow, what a great quote! I love that. I mean, obviously I would, but I do. That’s my bolding. That’s the part that’s so perfectly true. I’m not sure about the invariably rewarded part; that might be a little iffy.

But it’s interesting to me that the post is actually discussing problems that arise when finishing your novel and methods you can use to get the ending written.

I’m trying to think of a book of mine where the ending was the hard part. … …. … Nope, I don’t think that has ever happened to me.

Which is not to say that I haven’t gazed thoughtfully at the screen for minute after minute, adding a few words or sentences and taking them out again. But to write the last few pages and especially the last few paragraphs of a novel generally takes me minutes that add up to, oh, less than an hour, not days or weeks or whatever.

I specifically remember writing the last paragraphs of TUYO. I remember that because relatives were visiting — it must have been within a day or so of my dad’s 85th birthday, because that was a couple of years ago and several uncles and aunts came for the occasion. And I said to one of my aunts, “Okay, I’ll see you at lunchtime, I’ve got to go write the ending to a book.” Then I strolled across the street back to my house, sat down, opened up the file, gazed at the screen for a bit, and wrote the ending. And sure, I fiddled with it a bit after that, but that was basically the ending that exists in the final version. That’s about how long it took to write: from late morning to lunchtime.

But, well, I like endings. Beginnings and building action and denouements and endings. Those are usually the parts I like best.

Let’s see what the post says about this …

  1. Settle for a placeholder: Don’t press for profundity or go back to the beginning and start revising. Don’t leave the ending for later. Instead, settle for a placeholder this time around.
  2. Please yourself:  Pleasing yourself is paramount because in doing so, you are likely to interest a select group of others, those whose reading preferences are like yours.
  3. Please the reader: John Dufresne counsels leaving “the reader with a compelling, sensual image of the central character, if that’s appropriate, or of the setting, one that is so resonant and arresting that it stays with us when we close the book.”

Well, those sound like good tidbits of advice to me. Although … I have to say, an ending you know is a temporary placeholder does look to me a lot like not having an ending.

I agree that pleasing yourself is crucial, for exactly the reason given, and for other reasons.

I like the idea of ending with a compelling image of the central character and/or the setting. Actually, I think that’s how I ended both TUYO and TARASHANA.

Anyway, this is a decent post — short, but nice for prompting thoughts about endings and what makes a good ending.

I have a few candidates for excellent endings:

A) I just re-read Sharon Shinn’s Fortune and Fate. This is one of my favorites of hers, and I re-read it just now because I told Sharon I stole three words, embedded in one line, from this book and I bet she would recognize it when she got to it.

“It’s a brief phrase, but it changes the protagonist’s emotional landscape, just like in F&F,” I said. “You’ll totally recognize it.” I was right, too. She sent me a “There! That line!” email when she got to it, and told me the story of coming up with that line herself. and why she had found it so powerful. So did I, which is why I picked it up and used it in a similar, if not identical, context.

It’s not actually a spoiler as long as I take it completely out of context, so I’ll tell you, it’s when one of the important secondary characters says to Ryo, “But Ryo, I think you already have.”

I bring all this up so I can say that I love the ending paragraphs of Fortune and Fate. Just lovely.

B) Patricia McKillip’s The Book of Atrix Wolfe always leaps to mind for me for examples of perfect endings. The last line of the novel is just to die for. But you must, must, must read the whole thing first. That line loses its impact read in isolation.

C) The Scouring of the Shire is an absolutely crucial ending for TLotR, and I will always be sorry Jackson left it off, even though I understand perfectly well that including it would have made the movie too long. Personally, I would have cut elsewhere and put it in.

How about you? What’s an example of an ending section, scene, paragraph, or line that seems particularly perfect to you?

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Hitting “publish” today

If you’ve been waiting for the paperback edition of Tarashana, I’ll be hitting “publish” on that edition sometime in the next few minutes.

So, in the next day or so, this edition should be available —

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Recent posts should now appear

Of course, if there’s still a problem, you may not see THIS post, at least at first.

However, if you do notice that you continue to have a problem with recent posts not showing up, please do let me know, because that is hopefully now fixed.

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Stickiness

From Writer Unboxed: Is It Sticky?

I’ve come to think of those ideas, the ones that should be written, as Sticky. Not like the mess your children leave behind after being fed, but sticky in the brain. An idea that won’t let you go, that you can’t move on from. One that haunts your dreams and your quiet times, that demands to be told.

For me, it’s not ideas. Or not the thing I think of when I hear the word “ideas.” To me, an idea for a novel implies a plot element, though actually, considering it now, I don’t suppose that is necessarily so. An idea for a novel could be a character, I suppose, or something else.

Anyway, for me, the “sticky” thing is almost always a scene, complete with setting and important characters and dialogue. The whole scene or a big chunk of it, not exactly as it will appear in the finished book, but nearly. A scene like that is the thing that haunts dreams and quiet times and … I wouldn’t exactly say demands to be told. I would say, That is compelling and that I most enjoy writing and that I frame the rest of the story around.

For me, the initial scene and some of the initial dialogue in TUYO was like that. So was the first night after Ryo and Aras crossed into the winter country. In fact, when I wrote TUYO, I jumped forward from the time they first encounter the actual antagonist to the moment they crossed the river and wrote most of the second half of the book before I came back and wrote those chapters in the middle.

In NIKOLES, most of Chapter 6 was the “sticky” scene. I wrote the whole story around that chapter. In fact, I think I wrote the opening scene, then most of Chapter 6, then the rest of Part I, then Part II.

I’m listening to the audio version of NIKOLES now, and wow, yes, Chapter 6 is still my favorite. Aras gets SUCH a chance to shine, in a very quiet, decisive way. It’s not an action scene … you know, I’m just now realizing that very few if any “sticky” scenes are action scenes. They’re all character scenes. I always have to work out action scenes when I get to them.

In TARASHANA, the “sticky” part included the first scenes with Tano. I wasn’t sure the Ryo-Tano plotline would work for readers until I started getting reactions from first readers — I knew very well I had made that plotline just as important as the Ryo-Aras plotline and I wasn’t sure how that would work for readers. But those early scenes with Tano were extremely complete and compelling to me. before I started writing. I didn’t write them first, but I wrote toward those scenes and then away from them.

The, um, the essential problem faced by Ryo and Aras in TARASHANA — I’m trying to be entirely spoiler-free here — was also very clear to me, but not as a complete scene or multiple scenes. In contrast, practically every scene involving Tano was complete in my head long before I wrote it.

A couple people have asked me if I’ve started the sequels. The answer is: No, and also Yes.

No, I haven’t written a single word of either Book 4 (offset novel) or Book 5 (direct sequel). I am busy doing other things. I have a couple of pages of notes, that’s all. But an astounding number of scenes are essentially complete in my head. These scenes are the “sticky” ones that will, first, encourage me to not lose enthusiasm before I have a chance to start these books, and second, help me frame the stories as I first move toward one such scene and then from that one toward the next.

I will just pause here to mention that another source of continuing enthusiasm is positive reviews. I’m just saying.

Anyway, the linked post also draws a line between “stickiness” and motivation:

Sticky ideas are also motivating to writers. For instance, Elyssa Friedland (The Floating Feldmans and The Last Summer at the Golden Hotel), says that she “feels a certain excitement in my fingertips when I’m writing an idea that has sticking power. Bursts of inspiration come to me—characters spring alive, plot points materialize out of thin air.”

Oh, I like this post now! It’s honestly a lot like that, or it can be. Sometimes amazingly important plot points really do seem to materialize out of thin air, even though I had no idea about them until they materialized. A startling amount of the end of TARASHANA was like that, including, hmm. Never mind. I can’t think of any way to be elliptical enough. I’ll just say, practically everything after Ryo has that conversation with Darra and goes to talk it over with Lalani. Nearly everything past that point sprang out of thin air when I got there — then instantly seemed both obvious and essential.

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Progress report

Well, I hardly know whether to say that spring break was productive. I mean … sort of?

I did take every dog to the vet for annual exams and vaccinations and whatever. That interrupted four mornings. I took two of them to the cardiologist for clearances — oh, I should add, Ish is still clear, yay! He is seven. I thought he was because my own personal vet didn’t hear anything, but it’s good to have a cardiologist confirm he is clear. I want to breed him this year, plus I want to make him available for someone I know who will be wanting to breed her girl later this year, so that was important. Anyway, that required a trip to St Louis, which was a much longer additional interruption.

Ish is soooo glamorous:

So, anyway.

Moving on to the actual projects in hand, I was really, really unenthused about correcting typos in the Death’s Lady trilogy — deeply boring, plus annoying when someone (Hi, Kim!) points out flaws that plainly do need to be fixed. So I put that off and wrote 50 pages of a story involving Tommy’s introduction to Dimilioc. That went nicely until I got to a particular scene and then thought, Hmm, not sure I like this, maybe I should take out this scene and go in a slightly different direction. So rather than pushing onward, I stopped and set that aside.

Then, having only two days of spring break left, I finally and very reluctantly opened up Death’s Lady Book 2 and corrected approximately one million typos (Thanks, Linda! Ninety percent of the typos you caught were unique) and made nearly all the alterations Kim suggested.

Then, last night, I finally had that in shape to start re-reading the whole thing one more time from the top, keeping in mind the comments Kim and Linda and Elaine all made. I’m doing quite a significant amount of line-editing, AGAIN, but I must say, this part is not nearly as deadly dull as fixing typos.

So anyway, I have read through approximately 15% of the Book 2 manuscript and hopefully will read through the rest of it in the next few days. Then I will put the new improved version back into the KDP template, create a proof copy, and hand that to my mother to read for typos while I do the same thing to Book 3.

I’m still aiming for April 15th for the release date, but if I miss that by a week … or two … I won’t agonize over it. If I figure out what I want to do with that Black Dog story in the meantime, I will drop the Death’s Lady trilogy for a couple of days and finish the story. I will feel more comfortable about the 4th Black Dog story collection when I have two novellas written and polished and ready to go. I’m sure I can hit an October release date for that with no trouble, but I would be happier if I have it ready far, far in advance of October.

Yes, the year still seems to be moving uncomfortably fast.

Also, the Yulan magnolia is blooming:

Welcome to spring!

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Character change

From Writers Unboxed, this: Emma vs Hamlet: Two Approaches to Dramatizing Character Change

No question so focuses the mind of a writer beginning to draft a scene—or the series of scenes that will comprise their story—as what do the characters want. The question instantly begs a slew of others: Why do they want it? Do they themselves know? How? With what degree of clarity, certainty, or honesty? What if they’re mistaken? Worse—what if they’re actively deluding themselves?

I’m not sure I have ever started a book by asking myself those questions. I think by the time I’m through the first couple of chapters, I probably know, but I haven’t framed it that way.

I am almost certain I’ve never deliberately chosen to write a character who was actively deluding herself about what she wanted. The closest I’ve come to that is probably Oressa in The Mountain of Kept Memory. Oressa thinks she wants to stay unobtrusive, but given a shove, it turns out that’s not really what she wants.

Or, actually, maybe Meridy in The White Road of the Moon. That’s a bit the same, although in that case, Meridy thinks she’s more self-contained, or perhaps thinks she ought to be more self-contained, than is actually the case.

Anyway, interesting idea for a post!

A classic example: Jane Austen’s Emma. When Emma, the match-making busybody, realizes that she is wildly mistaken in her beliefs about the other characters, she descends into a paralysis of self-questioning doubt. Mr. Knightly kindly guides her toward the truth, and the story comes to a happy end, with multiple well-paired marriages. 

… Instead, we all too often find ourselves in Hamlet’s shoes, weighing incompatible options, unable to decide, all too aware that whatever we choose the consequences are to some extent unpredictable, and that nothing will put a definitive end to our “problem.”

This is a long post, but well worth a look.

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Gentle Writing Advice

Here’s a post you may enjoy, from Terrible Minds:

If you follow me on Twitter (you fool), you may have seen that I have been doing a thread over there of so-called GENTLE WRITING ADVICE. (That thread is here.)

And I just wanted to talk about, for a moment, why I’m doing that.

And this part right here made me laugh:

How many times must we be told that adverbs are BAD BAD BAD (even though adverbs are a necessary part of language that includes words like “often” and “everywhere” and “after”). Or how if you use dialogue tags other than ‘said,’ you’ll get a chafing thigh rash? I mean, sure, yes, okay, if you write —

“I went to the mall!” Derek yammered hydroponically

— then you deserve the side-eye from an editor, but that’s not because of adverbs or dialogue tags, it’s because you wrote a… ennhyeah, a not-great sentence. You eschewed clarity in favor of stunt writing. Stunt writing is okay sometimes. But sacrificing clarity, probably not. But again, the problem there isn’t adverbs or dialogue tags, and assigning writing advice to tackle those specific things is not necessarily helpful. It demonizes the wrong stuff.

Yammered hydroponically! Ha ha ha!

It’s been a while since I glanced at the Terrible Minds blog, but I’ll have to remember to do that more often. In the meantime, here you go, click through if you have a moment and read the whole thing.

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Yes, you should tell me about typos

So, three of you (so far) have sent me an email to let me know about typos. Two of you wondered if it’s possible or a lot of trouble to correct typos after the book is published.

Yes, you should send me lists of typos you find, if you are so inclined. I greatly appreciate it. No, it isn’t much trouble to fix them. I just correct them, load the manuscript, check it quickly, and hit “publish.” About 12 hours later I get a “Your book has been published” notice, which means the corrected version is now the one that’s on Amazon’s site. As far as I know, there’s no interruption in the book’s availability.

In case you’re interested:

Tawen spotted five typos, four unique.

Elaine T spotted six typos, five unique.

Linda S queried thirty-five typos (!), thirty unique. A couple I decided to leave as-is. The others were true typos or I decided to change them as Linda suggested. Yes, despite Linda’s keen eye, both Tawen and Elaine spotted some that Linda missed.

*I* have spotted six more typos no one else seems to have noticed, plus a good dozen repeated words and phrases.

A good handful of these were already corrected in the paperback version, but — amazingly, or at least I am amazed — not in the kindle version. So obviously I fixed them in the paperback version and somehow did not get them fixed in the kindle version. That’s really maddening in a whole different way.

All of these should be corrected now, for values of “now” that include “as soon as KDP puts the changes through.” Tomorrow or in a few days, if you want to, you should be able to go to Amazon, click on “content and devices,” scroll down, find Tarashana, and hit the “updates available” button under the title. That ought to replace the current version you have on your device with the updated version. If there isn’t an “updates available” button available by the end of the week, you might let me know, since I think there ought to be.

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