Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Goodreads giveaway —

btw, just letting you all know, the Goodreads Giveaway for HOUSE OF SHADOWS is about to expire!

You have about a 1.5% chance of winning at the moment — looks like about 1500 people have entered so far and I’m giving away 10 copies.

I’m going to play with Goodreads giveaways more in the near future, though. Like try one signed copy and run the giveaway for 3 days, different variants like that. Plus I have lots of copies of other books I could give away. PLUS German copies of LORD OF THE CHANGING WINDS, I should do a giveaway for those because why not? I only want one for display purposes anyway.

The Terrible Goodreads Bully Kerfluffle is quite something, while I’m on the subject of Goodreads. Have you heard about that? Like, some Goodreads authors are going after people who have posted negative reviews. Which would be bad enough. But they are doing it by, get this, posting their personal info and encouraging people to hunt them down in real life.

I know it sounds totally unbelievable.

And the confusion between “bullying” and “writing negative reviews” is JUST SO WEIRD. Especially when the only people ACTUALLY bullying anybody are the INSANE authors, which you would think would be instantly obvious to anybody?

My favorite take is Scalzi’s. My favorite bit of his post is:

When I need your help with a negative review, I will ask for it.

If I don’t ask for it, I don’t need your help.

If I do ask for it, you should consider me temporarily out of my head and ignore me.

Yeah, ya think?

Anyway, my personal means of handling anything less than a four-star review on Goodreads is . . . not to read it. Radical, I know. If you’ve posted a four- or five-star review on Goodreads or Amazon? I have probably read it several times so far, and will probably read it several times more in the near future. Thanks so much! Keep it up!

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My public service for the week —

Which does not involve writing or books but does involve (you can probably see this coming) BAKING!

Because it has occurred to me that my mother’s recipe for 100% whole wheat bread is just way, way better than any other recipe for 100% whole wheat bread I have ever tasted. So I will share it with you, in case you too were under the impression that a 100% whole wheat loaf just has to be dense, heavy, and off-flavored.

I don’t know why this recipe works so well, by the way. Orange juice is often added to whole wheat bread to prevent the off-flavor that you get with ordinary whole wheat flour, especially if it’s gone stale, and I certainly suggest you try replacing some of the liquid with orange juice in other whole-wheat recipes. But this recipe doesn’t need that. And white whole wheat never tastes “off”, but this recipe uses ordinary whole wheat, so that’s not it. Maybe it has EXACTLY the right amount of honey?

Anyway, here it is:

Honey Whole-Wheat Bread

4 1/2 tsp bread machine yeast (my mother uses active dry yeast)
1/3 C honey
1/4 C butter or margarine (my mother always uses margarine)
2 tsp salt
2 1/4 C warm water
5 to 5 1/2 C whole-wheat flour

My mother’s directions: put everything in the bread machine, select “whole wheat” and hit go.

I use a bread machine, too. But if you’re into making your own bread, then hey, you already know how! Onward!

But, briefly: stir everything together, starting with four cups of flour. Knead, adding flour as you go, for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and not tacky. Place in oiled bowl, cover, place in a warm location, and let rise an hour or until an indentation you make with your thumb stays indented. Shape into two loaves, place in two oiled loaf pans, cover again, let rise another hour, until dough has about doubled. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool a few minutes in pans, turn out onto racks, and cool completely before cutting.

This is an excellent bread for sandwiches or toast. My mother hardly ever makes any other kind of bread now, except for things like cinnamon rolls.

Okay, and now, here is my VERY FAVORITE BROWNIE RECIPE FOR POTLUCKS. I made these last weekend for a potluck, so I had the recipe pulled out.

There’re lots of good brownie recipes, right? But this one is easy and reliable, looks pretty, tastes great, has lots of kid-appeal, and tends to work both for people who like fudgy and people who like cakey brownies. It makes a moist cakey type of brownie, btw, just so you know what to expect.

Plus, these brownies freeze really well. In fact, they’re quite good directly out of the freezer, though if you have the patience, they’re better at room temperature. One warning, though: don’t take these to an OUTDOOR potluck in JULY, because the middle layer will melt and the tops will slide off. Naturally I am too clever to discover this by personal experience.

Chocolate Crunch Brownies

1 C butter
2 C sugar
4 eggs
6 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 C flour
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt

7 oz jar marshmallow creme

1 C peanut butter, any kind
12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 C crisp rice cereal

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in eggs. Stir in cocoa, flour, vanilla, and salt. Spread in 13 x 9 inch pan that has been oiled or lined with foil (and then the foil greased). Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, until a tester comes out clean or nearly clean. Cool completely in pan.

Spread marshmallow creme over brownie layer.

Melt peanut butter and chocolate chips in the microwave, stirring frequently. Stir until smooth. Stir in crisp rice cereal. Spread over marshmallow layer. Chill.

Lift brownies out of pan with foil and slice into small brownies, or cut in pan — if you didn’t use foil, they will still cut and lift out easily if they are cold. Arrange on nice plate. Serve to widespread enthusiastic acclaim.

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When page counts are not your friend —

You know what? I just hit 100k words on my work in progress! And it isn’t done! It isn’t close to done enough to reach 100k. Oh, the agony!

Actually, I am pretty calm about overshooting on length. I almost always do overshoot, sometimes seriously; I always have to go back and trim. I remember cutting 20% of CITY, for example. And 100 pp off the third Griffin Mage book (yes, exactly 100 pages, by pure chance. I swear it just worked out that way).

I think I’m going to overshoot pretty far this time, though hopefully not by a full 100 pages (that’s about 32,000 words, btw). I would like the full, finished length to be no more than 110,000 words; hopefully I won’t exceed that by TOO much before typing THE END and starting to cut. There are some scenes that could go, I think, but I like some of them, so I don’t know. Just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, yes, it is actually pretty cool to hit 100k words. You know at that point you have Been Writing. Look, even if it isn’t quite finished, there is A Book sitting right there. You’re definitely on the downhill side of the job when you hit the 100k mark!

Plus, I’ve hit this great scene I’ve really been looking forward to! I worked till 11:00 PM last night, which is late for me since I get up at 5:30 AM. If only I had this week entirely off, I would plunge into the endgame of this book and finish it off with a flourish by Friday. Alas, life is in the way; stuff to do, people to see, can’t just ignore the world, tempting though it is.

I have turned the ringers off on my phones, though. And don’t expect me to check in on Twitter too much for the next few days. #amwriting

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In other news —

Not related in ANY WAY to gender issues —

Guess what just came out?

DEEP SKY by Patrick Lee

I read it last night in one fell swoop. Man, can that guy write a thriller! These are SF thrillers, and if there are implausible bits, you sure don’t have time to notice them in the midst of the action. My favorite of the trilogy is probably the second book, GHOST COUNTRY. Especially that scene at the airport — wow. I’m re-reading it now.

Isn’t it interesting that it’s the second book I liked the best, btw? When everybody usually expects the second book of a trilogy to be the weakest? I can think of three other trilogies where I really liked the second book the best:

THE TRUTHTELLER’S TALE by Sharon Shin was my favorite of that trilogy,

STAY was my favorite of that thriller/mystery triology by Griffith,

and actually, if I’m allowed to pick one of my own books, BURNING SANDS was my favorite of the Griffin Mage trilogy. I’d actually be interested to know, given that you’ve read the Griffin Mage trilogy, which one of the three would be your pick?

Any other trilogies where you prefer the second book? Or where you just think the second book was really strong?

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I’ve read twenty of these books —

But who gets to decide what’s “great” and deserves inclusion in this list?

And why why WHY do we need to know who wrote a book before we can decide whether it’s worth reading?

I can’t believe how huge the focus on gender is this year. Maybe it’s been this way for ages but I didn’t notice till I started using twitter?

I bet we could ALL put together a COMPLETELY different list of “fifty great books by female authors.” And then “fifty great books by male authors.” With relatively little overlap, too. And with what possibly justification could you say that any one of those lists have priority over the others?

Except that naturally MY lists would include the BEST books.

ps — hey, just realized, I’m not on that list! QED it is clearly not a legitimate list!

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Another review —

And you can bet this one was important to me, because seriously, The Book Smugglers is the single review site I check almost every day. Thea’s taste is very close to mine, and when Ana gives a book I wouldn’t ordinary notice a nine or ten and I pick up a copy, well, I’m always glad to have stepped outside my normal preferences. (Ana reads a lot more contemporary YA than I do, for example, and was responsible for my reading THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, one of my favorite books from last year.)

Anyway! Thea’s review is here. I’m very pleased by her rating of “8”, because she sure calls ’em as she sees ’em.

I also have a guest post up at The Book Smugglers, here.

It’s connected to a giveaway, so if you happen to want a second copy of HOUSE OF SHADOWS, go right ahead and enter. There’s a quiz question attached, so whether you enter the giveaway or not, I’d like to know:

Given two books that you expect to be about equally good, perhaps even two books by the same author, which would you reach for first: a novel with a familiar medieval-European type of setting, or one set somewhere more exotic, such as an alternate China or Ottoman Turkey or Africa or someplace?

I’m really interested to know how people answer this question! Please leave a comment here if you don’t enter The Book Smuggler’s giveaway.

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Recent Reading

I was SO not in the moon to write this weekend. No particular reason, just one of those things. Eventually I will push through the first half of this chapter and then I have a previously-cut scene to plug in and can get on, and then everything will be fine. In the meantime, I must admit I kinda made inroads on my TBR pile instead of working.

And I wish I’d enjoyed it more.

First! Bookending this little dive into my TBR pile were a couple of books I really enjoyed! So let me start with those:

ALMOST PERFECT by Brian Katcher was in fact almost perfect. In fact, I’m having a hard time thinking of anything about it that WASN’T perfect! It’s a contemporary YA, not a category I’m much interested in, but in fact the author handed me a copy of this book last year at a convention, and I just got around to reading it, and, well, it’s really really good.

The writing is excellent. I even liked the prologue, and I hate prologues! The dialogue is excellent. There are some HILARIOUS scenes that are just brilliant, I’m thinking of the bit with the McDonald’s toys; if you’ve read it you know what I mean! There were several lines that made me laugh out loud (really!).

The characterization is really excellent, not just the main characters but right down the line to the secondary and even the minor characters.

The plot? Well, here’s what School Library Journal says:

“A small-town Missouri boy’s world is rocked when he falls for the new girl at school, and she eventually confesses that she is a biological male. . . A remarkably “clean” book dealing with sexuality and identity, this is neither preachy nor didactic . . .”

And there you go! I know, can you believe a book with this kind of subject wouldn’t come across as preachy? But it really doesn’t. That’s how well-written it is.

And then last night? When I didn’t want to actually work on anything, I read Sharon Shinn’s book GATEWAY. It’s a minor work, in my opinion, but it is of course well written (I mean, it IS Shinn) and nicely put together. And I read it because I really, really wanted a book I would enjoy. Because in between, I tried a mystery I didn’t like (too many characters were really just unpleasant people and I got tired of it). I quit about a third of the way through. And then I tried SILVER PHOENIX by Pon, and I wanted to really like it, and I did actually enjoy some of the details, but the characters seemed so simplistic to me, and the plot seemed very episodic rather than flowing from front to back, and the writing was okay but (to me) not outstanding, and I wound up being kinda disappointed.

And then I read this one:

Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole.

Okay, I am not normally inclined to review books unless I like them. I mean, I don’t much care for negative reviews myself, right? And I hate to make someone else feel bad. And what if I run into the author at a convention sometime? Awkward much?

But there are limits, and this book ticked me off because of its wasted potential. Nothing wrong with the concept or the world, but . . .
Well, suppose you read the following first paragraphs of a novel:

The monitor showed a silent video feed from a high school security camera. On it, a young boy stood in a school auditorium. A long-sleeved black T-shirt covered his skinny chest. Silver chains connected rings in his ears, nose, and lips. His hair was a spray of mousse and color.

He was wreathed in a bright ball of fire.

Billowing smoke clouded the camera feed, but Britton could see the boy stretch out a hand, flames jetting past the camera’s range, engulfing fleeing students, who rolled away, beating at their hair and clothing. People were running, screaming.

Beside the boy stood a chubby girl, her dyed-black hair matching her lipstick and eye makeup. She spread her arms.

The flames around the boy pulsed in time with her motions, forming two man-sized peaks of flame. The fire elementals danced among the students, burning as they went. Britton watched as the elementals multiplied – four, then six. Wires sparked as the fire reached the stage. The girl’s magic touched them as well, the electricity forming dancing human shapes, elementals of sizzling energy. They lit among the students, fingertips crackling arcs of dazzling blue lightning.

Okay, your reaction is:

a) Those poor kids are just scared and confused, that’s why they’re burning their classmates alive.

b) My God, a magical Columbine – someone needs to take out those little sociopaths, quick before the body count hits triple digits!

Would it surprise you to know that the protagonist goes for option “a”?

They want me to kill a child, Lieutenant Oscar Britton thought.

And from the rest of the chapter and, indeed, the book, it’s perfectly clear the author, Myke Cole, also goes for “a”, and expects the reader to as well. So right from the beginning, Cole loses me – I’m having a problem with suspension of disbelief. I am totally out of sympathy with the protagonist, because are you kidding me?

And this problem with implausibly weird reactions go straight through the book from beginning to end.

Like, suppose you want to get somebody who’s manifested a forbidden magical talent to surrender to you so that you can train him to use his talent in a secret war. You know that it’s widely believed that people who manifest talents like this are taken away and killed, but this is actually not true. So, when you have tracked down this guy with his extremely valuable (if forbidden) talent, and he says, “You’re going to kill me anyway,” you respond:

a) “That’s for a court-martial to decide. Get on your knees and put your hands behind your head.”

b) “Oscar, I know that’s what everybody believes, but I swear to you, it’s not true. You’ve already accidentally killed people; you know you’re too dangerous to be out on your own. The truth is, you just need to switch from the regular army to, well, let’s say special forces. You can learn to control your talent. Just settle down and we’ll get you out of this mess, I promise you.”

You’d think “b”, right? Nope, the government guy in charge of bringing Oscar in goes straight for “a”, which results in Oscar running and various assorted mayhem before he’s finally caught.

Not only that, but even though Oscar’s longing for a place to belong and a sense that he’s doing something worthwhile? Every single authority figure goes out of his way to make it clear that to them and to the supernatural branch of the army, Oscar’s just a slave and a tool. Why do all the officers treat their people like this? Even though it is clearly not very practical if what you want is willing, dedicated people working for you? Ummm . . . because they’re nuts?

Also! Can we have characters with layers? Complicated motivations? No, we cannot. The guys who seem like they might be rough around the edges but maybe they have a heart of gold? Nope, they’re just straight-up bad guys. You want to be a good guy? You’re just nice right from the first moment you walk on stage. And also stupid! Spoiler here, so stop here if you care about that:

Honest to God, my dog, with a brain the size of a walnut, could tell that letting the creepy scary evil Scylla loose would be a really bad idea. Like, a really really bad idea. But it never crosses Oscar’s mind that she might possibly slaughter people like cattle, even though, hello, she said she thought of normal people like animals. And he let her loose anyway? Good Lord above, what a shock that things didn’t work out! Oscar is just so STUPID. And vacillating. Like, decide what you want already! And then STICK TO IT!

This book picked up a couple of amazing blurbs, like “Hands down, the best military fantasy I’ve ever read,” and I can only say, seriously? Or is this the only military fantasy you’ve ever read? SHADOW OPS takes place in an technologically advanced alternate contemporary world, and that may make it unique among military fantasies. Can anybody think of any other fantasies which combine attack helicopters and magic and could fall into the same category of military fantasy as Cole’s book?

Because if not, if this is the best military fantasy out there, then I suggest sticking to military SF and heading straight to Tanya Huff’s VALOR series, which, I am not kidding you, is just infinitely better.

So, you can see why after that I went for an author I knew and trusted, like Shinn. This is the second time this year I’ve been seriously disappointed by a book I got from the SFBC on the basis of their description, and you know what? I think I’ll be sticking to books recommended by actual people for a while. Like people who comment here!

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Happy 4th of July!

No fireworks for us . . . way way way too dry, since we haven’t had any significant rainfall since early April. [Snipping a rant on the weather here.]

Anyway, as a 4th of July, not too bad. Hot, but hello, July. I made potato salad, we had burgers . . . all very traditionally American.

And I did write fifteen pages! Now up to 80,000 words, which is about 245 pages. Can I finish the book with a mere 20,000 more words? No. Can I finish it in 40,000? I’m hoping so. Then I’ll go through and cut. My aim is to hit around 100,000 words for the finished book.

Also! I took a look at my reading list for the year, since we are now halfway through 2012, and man has the year gone by in a flash. Wow. But so far I’ve read:

10 vampire romances (9 by JR Ward and one by Angie Fox)
18 other fantasy novels
12 SF
5 literary (yes, I know what I say about literary fiction, but four were by Wodehouse and that’s different.)(The other was THE PLAINSMAN by Pearl Buck, and actually it was quite good, but again, Pearl Buck is not like reading modern literary.)
4 nonfiction
1 mystery
2 short story collections (which is a lot for me, since I don’t intrinsically like short stories).

What is that, 50 or so? Some of those were YA, I didn’t separate them out when I counted. In one month I must have been really busy — April shows that I didn’t buy or read ANY books. That doesn’t happen very often! I wonder what I was working on in April! Of course I was probably re-reading something, it’s not like I ever go through the day without reading of some kind, but I don’t usually add re-read books to the list.

My favorites for the year?

The whole Valor’s Choice series by Tanya Huff was the biggest surprise of the year. That’s military SF and it really changed how I feel about Tanya Huff. I don’t think I can have picked up her best fantasy novels in the past? Because she was not really an author I looked for, but I just loved the whole Valor series and I’m definitely right there for any others that come out — it’s plainly not finished yet.

My other top picks so far:

THE SCORPIO RACES by Stiefvater blew me away. And my other top pick would be THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, especially impressive because I think it was Carson’s debut.

And the three that I’m most looking forward to that I haven’t read yet? Those are easy picks for me, even though I don’t physically own any of them yet and one isn’t even out:

CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein. I think Wein is an amazing writer and the reviews I’ve seen from The Book Smugglers, including the one I linked to here, really make me want to read this. It’s epistolary and historical and it sounds amazing.

THE KILLING MOON by Jemisin. I haven’t actually read the review linked here — I don’t need to. And I haven’t put this book on my wishlist at Amazon because I’m not going to forget about it, and my wishlist is primarily meant to make sure I remember about books I want to get sometime. The moment I finish my current WIP, this (and its sequel) are the one I’ll reach for as a reward.

Aaand . . . Bujold’s newest! Out in November! I mean, Bujold! What else do I need to say?

Anybody else have three great books that spring to mind for this year so far? Or a couple that you’re just dying to get to?

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And my vote is —

Actually still almost a tossup between AMONG OTHERS by Walton and LEVIATHAN WAKES by Corey. I saw the ending coming for LW, but not the details of how it would work. I think that was pretty much a happy ending for Miller? More or less? Anyway, I’m putting EMBASSYTOWN third and I don’t care about the other two on the ballot. Just don’t think it’s appropriate to put a fragment of a series in for the award. Maybe they could add a category for Best Finished Series? And Martin could win that about twenty-five years from now, when he finally finishes his series.

For novellas, for me, the top three are:
1. The Man Who Bridged the Mist (link two posts down)
2. Silently And Very Fast
3. Kiss Me Twice (scroll down for the link)

For novelettes, for me a weak category, I’m picking:
1. Six Months, Three Days

and although I’m filling in the ballot, frankly none of the others much appealed to me, so I hope my pick wins.

For short stories, my picks are:
1. The Paper Menagerie, which I found genuinely moving.
2. The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees, which I thought was amusing. You can actually tell the bees are haplodiploid*, if you know how to read between the lines! Which is funny!
3. Movement, which I liked well enough.

And again, I’m filling out the full ballot, but really I’m not too blown away by this category in general. But you should keep in mind that I honestly don’t care much for short stories, so I may not be the best judge.

Aaand . . . one more link, for something quite different!

Charlotte, of Charlotte’s Library, offers a very nice review of HOUSE OF SHADOWS. I particularly liked the “Crisply professional” sentence followed by the “Utterly egocentric” review.

Ah, review time! Nothing like it! I will be quite nervous while waiting to see what people think, so a nice review like this one is a good way to start off!

* Haplodiploid species, which is to say bees and their relatives, have diploid females and haploid males. Want a son? Don’t fertilize the egg and presto! A boy. This has interesting behavioral and evolutionary consequences.

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