Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Yep, still spring —

So I’m planting more beets (for Mom; I hate beets) and putting the trellis up for the peas and wishing it was time to start squashes and melons and corn and all that good stuff.

Also, spent all day yesterday transplanting the heucheras and astilbes that last year were buried underneath hostas that got bigger than expected. This year everybody should have room to stretch out.

Weeding is neverending. Removing all the dead stems from the chrysanthemums and sedums and everything just SEEMS like a neverending chore, but weeding really IS.

New plants are going to arrive shortly — I ordered a ‘Butterfly’ magnolia and some ‘Honeycomb’ buddleias and more astilbes and, I don’t know, some other stuff.

Also! My friend Deb talked me into entering two of my girls in rally and obedience at the CKCSC specialty in Chicago in three weeks! I haven’t worked with them at all in about eight months! But Deb is right, it’s important to support the performance stuff at the Cavalier specialties. Just hope my girls don’t make me look like an idiot. I’m entering the most experienced ones, so hopefully they’ll both polish off another one or two titles each so I can brag about them.

Also! I got stuck on the ms I was working on and haven’t touched it in a week, and honestly, does it sound like I have time and energy to work on something?

But in fact I am sticking to reading books I have read before and don’t find that compelling. And I’ve put the one project aside and am starting to think about something else. So probably in the coming week I really will start doing something productive. Maybe. Probably. Maybe. We’ll see! I’m thinking about a brand-new YA. I think I kinda have the opening scene in my head. Maybe I’ll open up a new file and just see if it flows . . .

Meanwhile! Back to weeding. Gotta clear out that bed by the driveway where I usually grow annuals. What an eyesore right now! I want something beautiful to look at out my front windows — preferably before the peonies and rugosa roses start blooming.

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This is kinda cool —

An infographic from Goodreads, showing the popularity of dystopian fiction.

The graphic is here.

Now, a question immediately arises: Is it true that dystopian fiction is super-popular right now? Or is it possible that because THE HUNGER GAMES was such a breakaway hit (and deserved to be), and because of a handful of other successful, popular dystopian titles published around the same time . . . we are now seeing a major trend to DESCRIBE a book as dystopian? A book that might very well simply have been called “science fiction” five or ten years ago?

How about INCARCERON? Dystopia? Or SF? (Or fantasy-SF blend?) Sure, TODAY it is called a dystopian novel. But is that how you would have thought of it five years ago?

How about I AM NUMBER FOUR? Nothing about that strikes me as dystopian — it’s straight up science fiction. But it was published recently! So hey, must be dystopian because that’s what sells!

Goodreads has a list that includes ENDER’S GAME as a dystopian novel. Are you kidding me? It’s a great story, but a dystopia? No way. Here the current preoccupation with dystopias reaches backward to claim victims from the past.

You know what I think is totally, utterly crucial to a dystopian novel? You have just GOT to have a truly oppressive society. You MUST. And if the surrounding society does not fit the bill, then what you have is NOT a dystopian novel.

I’d even separate out post-apocalyptic novels: a society that has just totally collapsed, leading to anarchy and horror? NOT a dystopia.

So if it were me . . . I’d want to see the data that infographic is based on. I’m sure the WORD dystopia is a lot more common today than a few years ago. But not so sure dystopian novels are really through the roof to quite that extent.

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You know what’s changed?

The “Books” page on this very website, that’s what.

Having totally failed to bludgeon WordPress into doing what it was told — I mean, tell it to put a picture on the left and it would drop it in just anywhere, a phenomenon which indeed is occurring again in this actual blog post, but for one post I don’t care enough to figure out how to fix it.

Anyway, Felice at Orbit got WordPress to sit up and beg when SHE held up a cookie.

So the “Books” page now looks much better! With buy links and everything! I specifically asked Felice to make sure all the books are shown in strict reverse chronological order, most recent on top. All taken care of!

I did want to show the German editions and the audiobook editions and everything all on the one page, but it got awfully cluttered, so we agreed to let people click through on the Griffin Mage books to see the specialized editions.

Also, I found out that all three books of the trilogy are out in German — though Books Two and Three only in Kindle. Still, very cool. I like their covers:

Herr Der Winde

Land des Feuers

Gesetz der Erde

Are those pretty or what? I kind of like that they are totally different from the Orbit covers. I think I also like the sort of almost-but-not-quite abstract quality of the griffins and backgrounds and everything.

Pity I don’t read German. I mean, just barely enough to figure out which cover goes to which book. Obviously if you happen to be learning German and want books to practice with, these would be a great choice!

Now, just waiting for HOUSE OF SHADOWS to actually join the rest out in the world . . . right now it just sits on top of the “Books” page like kind of a tease.

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House of Shadows

House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier
Orphaned, two sisters are left to find their own fortunes.

Sweet and proper, Karah’s future seems secure at a glamorous Flower House. She could be pampered for the rest of her life… if she agrees to play their game.

Nemienne, neither sweet nor proper, has fewer choices. Left with no alternative, she accepts a mysterious mage’s offer of an apprenticeship. Agreeing means a home and survival, but can Nemienne trust the mage?

With the arrival of a foreign bard into the quiet city, dangerous secrets are unearthed, and both sisters find themselves at the center of a plot that threatens not only to upset their newly found lives, but also to destroy their kingdom.

Book Details:

Genre: Fantasy

North American Print Edition

Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 9780316072779
Format: Paperback
R.R.P.: US$14.99 / CAN$16.50


ISBN: 9780316126250
R.R.P.: £7.99 / US$6.99 / CAN$6.99

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Buying Info:

North American Print & Ebook

Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | BarnesandNoble.com | IndieBound.org

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Discuss and Review House of Shadows at Goodreads.com

Read an Extract:

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Praise and Reviews:

“Absolutely recommended, especially for those who like strong heroines, and undoubtedly House of Shadows makes my list of notable reads of 2012.”
– Thea, The Book Smugglers

“I loved House of Shadows. The characters, writing, and magic captivated me, but there was a lot to love in the details as well – the dragon, the cats who are characters in their own right, female characters with different situations and types of inner strength, and just a little bit of romance.”
– Kristen, Fantasy Book Cafe

“I adored this book and I couldn’t put it down. It starts off on a fairy-tale esque tone and becomes a magical yet grounded fantasy adventure with great female characters and brilliant settings.”
– Anna, Pocketful of Books

“Straddling the line between adult and YA, House of Shadows is a beautiful fantasy world with crossover potential that draws from Eastern influences, geisha, and the presence of shadows. It highlights the concept that light and shadows must exist in tandem, and that the dark does not have to give way to corruption. Definitely recommended.”
– Heidi, Bunbury in the Stacks

House of Shadows is a true fantasy story … I love when a fantasy story has great characters – really great characters – especially strong female leading characters that not only make good decisions but show growth over the story, even when they start out strong. I love when a fantasy story takes a few twists and turns and ends up in unexpected places with the plot. And for everything that is pure and lovely, I adore when a fantasy story has dragons in it.”
– Asheley, Into the Hall of Books

“…a beautifully realized tale of three young lives intersecting in a magical city where the shadows of the past threaten the tenuous peace of the present … Especially and whole-heartedly recommended to fans of Patricia McKillip.”
Charlotte’s Library

House of Shadows feels gravely atmospheric and stylized. The book is marked by ritualized storytelling and plot evolution — as if the author were an Indonesian shadow puppeteer. Rachel Neumeier has written an intricate fantasy world, and I’m happy to get the sense that a sequel might be in the works.”
– Kate Coombs, The Book Aunt

House of Shadows is most definitely a political fantasy novel – and its plot is impeccably crafted – but its strength lies in its characters, world, and ability to suck you in. It is far deeper than most may give it credit for and it leaves you feeling almost imperceptibly wiser. ”
– Keertana, Ivy Book Bindings

“…a very satisfying book, with plenty of political machinations … and a nice hint of romance. There were some lovely moments as well, especially the descriptions of Taudde’s magic.”
– Maureen, By Singing Light

“…exactly what I needed, it’s the kind of epic fantasy that I enjoy reading. Magic, intrigue, a world I can get lost in and characters I had fun getting to know.”
– Chachic, Chachic’s Book Nook

House of Shadows is what you get when you blend Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha with sorcery and dragons.”
– Grace Troxel, Books Without Any Pictures

“Neumeier has written a story of two young girls, placed in the midst of change and conflict, who are able (each in their own way) to play an important part in resolving that conflict. And yes, there is a prince. And a dragon. Beautifully told – highly recommended. – See more at: http://www.chaoticcompendiums.com/2012/08/book-review-house-of-shadows-by-rachel_24.html#sthash.BClKYsS8.dpuf”
– Caitlin Martin, Chaotic Compendiums

“I truly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre!”
– Kelly, Reading With Martinis

House of Shadows possess certain qualities of mystery and intrigue, but the driving force came from the characters and their individual, detailed stories. Despite the multiple narratives and points of view the author miraculously pulled it all together for a very climatic ending.”
– Gina, My Precious

“All of the characters are well developed and complex, while magic, naturally, is an inherent part of the story, so is love and trust. Neumeier does an excellent job of carefully nurturing the plot and characters into fruition. Her descriptions are simply lyrical.”
– Lori L, She Treads Softly

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Recent reading

So, just finished Deb Coates’ debut novel, WIDE OPEN. I’d put a picture of the cover here if I could figure out how to open two windows at once on this new laptop, which is a ridiculous problem, I know! Because obviously there must be a perfectly simple way to do this. I will call the place I got it and ask them one of these days. In the meantime, google WIDE OPEN because that’s a pretty nice and quite unusual cover, you should take look at it.

Now, Deb and I have the same agent, and I’ve met Deb a couple of times, and hey! She’s a dog person! She actually owns a GERMAN PINSCHER. You know nobody just stumbles into owning a German Pinscher. You have to be a real dog person to even know they exist. She also has a Rottweiler, btw, so naturally I told her she ought to get a black-and-tan Min Pin, too, just to complete the set.

Anyway, naturally I wanted to love her book!

Whew! Because I did. WIDE OPEN’s being marketed as an urban fantasy — well, contemporary, because it sure isn’t urban — or a paranormal, and of course that’s no surprise because paranormal is so hot hot hot right now, but this one really isn’t very paranormal-ish. The romance is not central enough and it’s not woman-with-psychic-powers-meets-super-hottie anyway. Instead, the main character, Hallie, is recently bereaved (her sister has just died), grieving, angry, and pretty well hair-triggered — I liked her very much. And the romantic lead? He gets called “The Boy Deputy” by everyone in town because he’s so baby-faced. (Hilarious!)

And my favorite secondary character? Hallie’s father. Talk about the strong silent type, emphasis on the silent. I mean, here’s a line I just loved:

. . . while women organized the kitchen or the laundry or feed for the horses and men walked across the fields, looking for her father so they could lean against fences and never say a word.

Isn’t that great? I love the relationship between Hallie and her dad — I really look forward to seeing that subtle relationship develop in the next book (this one’s self contained but there will be at least two more).

And the setting! I’m SUCH a sucker for setting! South Dakota! Who sets a book in Big Sky country? I mean, other than westerns, and they’re not contemporary. LOVED the setting. Deb caught it just so well, it’s a real You Are There setting. Excellent dialogue, too, which I really admire. Deb really captured the clumsy stumbling dialogue that really happens in charged, intense situations. Like here, where Hallie calls a dead man’s fiancee to tell her about his death, and the fiancee says:

“He was the only guy I ever dated,” she said. “Because I’m not — No one ever — I’m not pretty,” she stated flatly. “It was a blind date that first time. My cousin fixed us up. And it was so embarrassing and kind of awful, but he was sweet about it, you know? I didn’t thnk he’d call, but he did — the next day even. And I liked him. I — he was the best guy. But I never knew, I couldn’t ask him, because why? Why would he go out with me? I don’t understand.”

I just loved that scene. It’s not an important scene, but it works really really well. And that’s typical.

So the identity of the bad guy is obvious and the bad guy himself is pretty ho-hum, for me anyway, but it’s the rest of the story which makes this book.

So I wouldn’t recommend this one to my mother, because one cuss word and she’s done with a book, you have no idea, but if that doesn’t bother you the way it does her, then hey! Ghosts, South Dakota, excellent characters, great dialogue, good solid writing — if that sounds like you, you might keep an eye out for this one.

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No, no, not MY advice to YOU, because I’m not convinced that’s helpful. At least not writing advice. Always happy to offer advice about cakes (of course you should make one tonight!) or dogs (No, of course you should not leap casually into breeding your Yorkie — do you KNOW what kinds of things can go wrong? I would be happy to tell you, at great length.)

But, what I mean is, there sure is a lot of writing advice out there. Like here, for example, a post about whether you should follow “the rules” when writing. It’s a good post, nothing wrong with it, don’t get me wrong. I agree with it, mostly.

But advice. There’s so much of it out there. Seems like every time you turn around, somebody’s explaining how to give your characters more depth or increase your sales or whatever.

Well, it’s nice to understand where a rule comes from and what it’s for and what happens when you bend it or break it or turn it upside down. But I’m not sure there’s a single rule out there that’s, like, really a RULE that you HAVE to follow in order to succeed. And I think that’s true at the craft level (Never Use Adverbs) or at the artistic level (Never Have More Than One POV Character Per Chapter). AND at the get-it-written level (Write Every Single Day). I don’t follow any of those rules, personally, even though I try not to use too may adverbs and a don’t USUALLY have more than POV character per chapter. And when I’m trying to meet a deadline, I do write every day. Well, mostly.

Now, the post I cited? The autor says: When it comes to craft, I believe that there is at least one hard-and-fast rule that ought to be followed by everyone; newbies and crusty, experienced types alike:

“Omit needless words.” Strunk & White, The Elements of Style, 4th ed., p. 23

I cannot say it any better. All of your words should matter. Cut filler, as this only distances your reader from the meat of your story.

Aaand . . . I’m all for rules, in moderation, but you know what? I don’t think I agree that this one is any more universal than a “limit your adverbs” rule. But then, I am not the world’s biggest fan of Strunk and White. Really. Ever happened across the post “Fifty Years of Stupid Grammar Advice”? Because I checked, and the author of that one — google it, okay? — is right: Strunk and White don’t seem able to tell the difference between the past tense and the passive voice, and this does not lead to confidence about the rest of their prescriptions and proscriptions.

But the author of the post I linked above also says this about craft: “There are also many rules that, in my opinion, are best followed by those seeking to learn the craft. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard new authors object to a critique with something along the lines of, “Frank Herbert shifts point-of-view multiple times on one page in Dune, so it can so be done!” Well, yes, it can, but not necessarily by you. Not yet. The problem is this: many writers who respond this way weren’t even aware they were shifting point-of-view, let alone doing it for specific effect and in a way important to their story.”

And I think that’s a great way to think about rules and who should break ’em. You get to do it if you know what you’re doing and why and if you can make it work. If you can’t tell whether it works, well, that’s why you need good, critical, analytical readers.

But I think that’s true not just for rules about the craft of writing,, but for all rules about writing. If it works for you to write seventy pages of a manuscript and then set it aside and not even touch a keyboard for the next two months . . . well, it’s not that I disagree with the butt-in-chair rule, but on the other hand, I’ve done exactly that. Once at a convention I was the only person in the room who didn’t raise her hand when asked “Do you write every day?” Because I don’t.

Just thought I’d mention that in case you also don’t and you were wondering if you were breaking a law of nature.

So: advice! Do you find it helpful, or do you think that by the time you’re ready to write a good book, you’ll be doing it by feel, not by thinking about rules? And can writing advice, no matter how good, actually get you to that point?

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And Cake! / Blog

New great books to read! Plus cake!

FAIR GAME finally arrived. Yay! It only took SIX DAYS instead of two, but hey, I don’t expect that will happen very often, and Amazon did give me a $5 coupon, so I can’t complain.

Anyway, of course I enjoyed it — I always enjoy Patricia Briggs’ werewolf books. The bad guy was more than a tad obvious, but it’s not like I was reading it for the mystery, right? And Charles’ problem seemed a little too easily resolved. But I liked Anna’s attitude when she was in trouble at the end. Good for her, not being a victim.

I have to say, if I’d been on that jury, I’d have hung it till Kingdom Come before I let that guy off for torturing and raping and murdering dozens of people. Are you kidding me? So I’m not sure I believe in the jury verdict, although of course Briggs needed to do it that wa if she wanted to do the next bit, which, whoa, that ending certainly throws a HUGE spanner in the gears. Wow.

Okay! On to the cake!

It was Dad’s birthday a few days ago, and this chocolate-peanut-butter cake is what I made. I combined a couple of recipes and then fiddled around a bit to make this one. Dad says that as he’s gotten older, he’s stopped liking really intense chocolate, so I deliberately toned the chocolate down, using a little less cocoa than indicated for the cake and semisweet instead of bittersweet for the icing. And he loves peanut butter. This cake came out REALLY good, with a great moist crumb and just the right amount of peanut buter. I admit that whenever I happened to stroll through Mom’s kitchen, I would sneak another little tiny slice.

There really aren’t any eggs in this cake, so don’t think I left ’em out accidentally. The vegetable oil provides the moisture and fat and the baking soda give it lift. This cake is from Bon Appetit Jan 2009, except for the peanut butter cups, which are my addition. (Why, yes, I have hundreds of interesting magazine recipes indexed so I can find ones I’m interested in when I want to. Why do you ask?) (This one is filed under Fancy Cakes, of course.)

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cake

3 C all purpose flour
2 C sugar
2/3 C cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 C water
2/3 C veg oil
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 tsp vanilla
8 oz peanut butter cups, all but five or so chopped.

This is a super easy cake, really a one-bowl cake. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine the water, oil, vinegar and vanilla and whisk into flour mixture, whisking until smooth. Pour most of the batter into two 9″ cake pans that you have lined with circles of parchment paper. Sprinkle the chopped peanut butter cups over and then spoon the rest of the batter over the candy. Bake at 350 degrees for 24-28 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool 10 minutes and turn out cakes onto racks. Cool completely. Obviously it’s fine if the surface of the cakes aren’t smooth because of the peanut butter cups — which mine weren’t — because you’re going to frost the cake anyway.

Now, I made the frosting based on a totally different recipe, and then fiddled with that, thus:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting

8 oz semisweet chocolate — the recipe said milk chocolate, but come on, are you kidding?
4 oz cream cheese — I added this to help thicken the frosting
1 C cream — without the cream cheese, to me, the frosting seemed too thin.
2/3 C peanut butter — the recipe specified 1/2 C but I put in more than that.
1 C powdered sugar — the recipe didn’t call for any additional sugar, but Dad likes sweeter frosting.

Put all frosting ingredients in a microwavable bowl and microwave, stirring frequently, until everything is melted enough that you can whisk until it’s smooth. I found it necessary to chill the frosting for half an hour or an hour before frosting the cake — sorry, I didn’t time the chilling.

Frost the cake. There! All done! Except go get those few reserved peanut butter cups, cut them in halves or quarters, and use them to decorate the cake. Birthday candles optional.

This made a bit more frosting than necessary. Either slather it on or, hey, just eat the extra with a spoon. It’s quite good and not too sweet despite the extra sugar. Mmm.

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Spring has thoroughly sprung!

Which is fitting, because, after all, it IS spring break. I plan to write 50+ pp of something but I’m not prepared to talk about that yet. I did get 10 pp done today. (That’s 3400 words if you think in words.) It wasn’t even hard. I mean, I spend a lot of time still just sitting in the puppy room keeping an eye on Kenya, so hey! Might as well get some work done, right?

I did get the peas planted today, though. Also beets and daikon radishes. (Mom kept an eye on Kenya for me.) Tomorrow, more seeds! Not sure what till I shuffle through the packets and see what I have set out for this spring.

Also, I did take time to walk around the arboretum. (I mean my personal arboretum, here, not an official one — it’s a fenced acre-and-a-half where I try to keep design principles in mind as I plant stuff. Trees and shrubs and tough flowers that are not likely to be bothered by dogs crashing through them. Or not too bothered. So, here’s what I found in bloom today: The black pussy willow (brand new, just knee high, but very promising). The star magnolia, saucer magnolia, magnolia ‘Ann’, and the loebneri magnolia — yay for magnolias, and no frost likely before they’re done! Yet to come, I have a Magnolia sieboldii and a Yulan magnolia and a big (well, big compared to the others) southern magnolia. Plus I ordered Magnolia ‘Butterfly’ for this spring. You can probably tell I have a thing for magnolias.

Also the apricots and J. plums in the orchard are flowering like mad, plus the daffodils, crocuses, and vinca minor. I’m sure forsythia is blooming, but I don’t have any. But I do have Cornus mas, and that is blooming. Little bitty plants, so not much of a show yet.

Also! Now that I’m less nervous about the puppy (though of course things can go wrong even yet!), but time to think about names. Show names and call names. It’s my G litter, so G names. I was talking to a friend about poor Kenya’s disaster and the one puppy we got, and she proposed Anara Give Me A Break, which is funny and perfectly suitable for a show name. I’m also thinking of:

Golden Rule
Grace Note
Guilder Rose
Ganache (I’ve been baking)

Or even a human name! Not, however, anything you would probably name your daughter today. Something like:

Gwenhwyfar (though that’s kind of tragic with all the King Arthur connotations), or
Gwenaelle (which means ‘blessed’ or ‘generous’)

Or something with a fantasy tone, like Galadriel.

No idea what I’ll actually call the puppy. I’m not too keen on Gay or Gwennie or Goldie (ick!) or even Grace or Gil. Just have to think about it.

Tomorrow — ten more pages! Plus WHEN is Patricia Briggs’ new book going to arrive? It should have been here DAYS ago. I’m peeved: what the heck is Amazon Prime for if it’s going to take five days (or more) for a book to arrive? Next internet stop, Amazon, so I can complain.

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Puppy update and historical novels

First! I retired the feeding tube and threw the rest of the formula away FOUR DAYS AGO. Yay! The puppy is absolutely thriving. She’s gaining an ounce a day – and think about that for a moment: when a six ounce puppy gains an ounce in 24 hours,her weight has gone up by a whopping 16%. Wow.

Anyway, a healthy puppy is supposed to double its weight in 7 to 10 days, and Little Puppy G has done exactly that. She was 4.25 oz at the time of the section and today, seven days later, she is 8.5 oz. She is now the proper size for a newborn puppy, only fatter. There should be a picture up on my other website (www.anaracavaliers.com) in the next day or so if you’re curious. Also, just in case you have a burning desire to know this, puppies are basically out of danger when they reach three weeks (Or I expect three weeks and five days for my preemie), though since I’m not sure this one got sufficient colostrum, in her case I won’t be really happy till she’s had her first vaccination. I usually name them and register them they’re four weeks old.

Now! I love really good historical novels, which are just like fantasies, only, you know, without the magic. And my favorite historical writer is Gillian Bradshaw. Anybody want to weigh in with a really good historical author?

Bradshaw mostly sets her books in the classical era. My favorites are A BEACON AT ALEXANDRIA, THE SAND RECKONER, and CLEOPATRA’S HEIR, but I love nearly all her books, except if she’s the one who wrote that Arthurian trilogy early on in her career, I didn’t like that, but hey, can’t hold an early trilogy against a great author forever. The thing about Bradshaw is that she softens the attitudes of her main characters enough to make them sympathetic to modern sensibilities while still managing to hold onto the flavor of a substantially more brutal era. (I didn’t make that up; my brother-the-history-expert pointed it out.) Great characterization, good plots, great writing, and the occasional scene that sends shivers down your spine. I’m thinking here of a climactic scene in CLEOPATRA’S HEIR.

Anyway, just read IMPERIAL PURPLE, and although it didn’t unseat one any of the ones in my top three, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Also! I have finally managed to get some work of my own done, too. This is wholly due to Kenya settling down a bit and her puppy becoming more robust. Should be possible to really get ahead on some project or other over spring break, which technically starts next week although of course I stayed home all last week with the puppy. The weather’s too beautiful to stay in with a laptop, except that I’m stuck in here to keep an eye on the puppy anyway, so that’s useful even if I’m dying to grab a couple of dogs and hit the hiking trails. Hopefully I will be able to post a tidbit from this particular WIP in the next week or so.

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Recent reading . . . and puppy update

So, first! Glad to say that I haven’t tube-fed the puppy for twenty-four hours and in that time she gained 3/4 oz all by her own efforts! Whew! I wouldn’t want to say that I’m now confident she’ll make it, because that would be quite the overstatement. But I will say, if nothing else goes wrong, she should make it. Technically she is now at term, because born one day early is considered full term. She does look better. And she is almost as big as Adora’s puppies were when they were born. I won’t provide a list of the things that could still go wrong, though, because a) it is a long list and would make for tedious typing and b) not very cheerful to dwell on anyway, right?

Now! Actually I have been doing a little writing, in fits and starts, when Kenya and the puppy are settled. Still straightening out the beginning of the Ottoman-ish adult fantasy. Thought I’d be done with that part by now, but hey, distraction and sleeplessness kind of interfere with writing. Not nearly as much as being distraught because of a dying puppy, though, so don’t think I’m complaining!

I’ve also been reading, naturally. Somebody was recently telling me large chunks of her life story — you know what I mean — and of course depending on the person that can be a horrifically dull kind of conversation. Not this time! It’s a story filled with major ups and serious whoa-that’s-awful downs and — most important — meaning, which is so often what life stories lack, right? I made a note to lend her one of my favorite books from last year, THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, by Jandy Nelson. I went so far as to get it off the shelf and bring it upstairs so I won’t forget. Then, of course, I read it again myself. It’s still amazing. But it also made me think about writing style and sort of connected back to the idea of purple prose. Because strained metaphors and stupid similes are sometimes considered to be another hallmark of purple prose, right?

I mean, SHATTER ME, by Tahereh Mafi, had quite a bit of buzz built up, and then I read a review of it by The Book Smugglers (just google it, okay? Remember, major bandwith issues when I post from home) and just decided right there not to read it. And one of things that most bothered Thea and Ana about SHATTER ME was the use of similes and metaphors that didn’t make sense. Like “I catch the rose petals as they fall from my cheeks, as they float around the frame of my body, as they cover me in something that feels like the absence of courage.” and “Hundreds of thousands of seconds pass and I can’t stop dying.”

And that was interesting, that those phrases struck The Book Smugglers as wrong and awkward and ridiculous rather than as, say, poetic. Because it was Ana’s extremely positive review of THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE that made me get that book even though I virtually never read contemporary YA, and there are plenty of metaphors and similes in that book, and they are wonderful. So then yesterday when I was re-reading THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, I found myself really noticing the incredibly apt similes and metaphors that add so much to this book. Like:

My voice sounds creaky, unused, like bats might fly out of my mouth.

Grief is a house where the chairs have forgotten how to hold us, the mirrors how to reflect us, the walls how to contain us. Grief is a house that disappears every time someone knocks on the door or rings the bell.

When I’m with him, there’s someone with me in my house of grief, someone who knows its architecture as I do.

Dusk splatters pink and orange across the sky, beginning its languorous summer stroll. I hear the river through the trees, sounding like possibility.

I can’t shove the dark out of my way.

I look into his sorrowless eyes and a door in my heart blows open. And when we kiss, I see that on the other side of that door is sky.

Nothing has been like this, nothing has made me feel like I do right now walking up the hill to Joe’s, like I have a window in my chest where sunlight is pouring in.

When Joe plays his horn I fall out of my chair and onto my knees. When he plays all the flowers swap colors and years and decades and centuries of rain pour back into the sky.

Our tongues have fallen madly in love and gotten married and moved to Paris.

Now, some of those are from actual poetry, because the protagonist scatters poetry all through the book. Which is not just an affectation, btw, because those scattered bits of poetry wind up being really important to the plot. But the thing is, every one of those similes and metaphors exactly fits the story and the moment. They are an integral part of the voice of the protagonist. Which is a fabulous voice, because this is a virtually flawless book.

So what makes the similes and metaphors work for THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE and not (remembering that I haven’t read it and am not personally judging its use of language) SHATTER ME?

And I think that connects with the purple prose thing: if you do it well, it sounds like poetry; if you do it wrong, it sounds ridiculous.

And I think what makes it work is aptness. I think you need to have readers notice your simile not because of the poetry in it — or not just because of the poetry in it — but because it is perfectly apt. You want readers to say: “I would never in a million years have put it like that but THAT IS SO PERFECT, that is exactly what it’s really like.”

And that is exactly my response as a reader to THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE.

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