Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Well, yes and no

Kristen Nelson has this interesting post up about hitting the middle of your book, and how that is a wall you have to scale. Or a swamp you have to wade through, or whatever metaphor you prefer:

Ms. Cremer said that all writers need to remember this (and I’m going to paraphrase here): when she starts a project, she’s just so in-love with it, she can’t wait to sit down and write it. She’s excited. The words fly onto the page. Every idea, every bit of dialogue she writes is a gem. Then she hits word 20,001. Bam. The wall. And it happens every time. Then she has to force herself to sit down to write each day, none of the scenes come easily, she ends up deleting half the dialogue. In other words, she has to slog through the next 20,000 words until she breaks through to the ending section.

It happens to her with every manuscript she writes. And even more astonishing? Every other author on the panel agreed with her. They had never thought of it that way but it was so true!

Well, I wasn’t there, of course, but I only *almost* agree with these four authors. For me, it’s 40,001, because my natural length seems to be (sigh) 120,000 words. I’m always trying to shorten, shorten, shorten. It’s true that those chapters I wind up cutting entirely are usually from the middle third of the book, though.

Actually, my experience is that you hit the wall at different points, and get to the top of it at different points, too. If you’re lucky, that slog through the middle actually comprises less than a third of the book. I’ve been lucky like that once, where nearly the whole book was a pleasure to write. And at least once, at least 3/4 of a book was a total slog.

Luckily, I don’t think readers can tell from the outside which book is which. (Want to guess? Which of my books do you think “wrote itself” and which did I have to hammer out of the aether by brute force?)

That’s probably the best reason to make yourself finish a book: just so you know you CAN finish, even when it’s a matter of brute force. Knowing I’ve had a tough slog to get through a manuscript before gives me a quite reassuring conviction that I can do it again, if necessary.

But I’m still hoping that the second BLACK DOG book is the kind that writes itself! I guess I need to think about starting that soon, but hey, gotta have priorities: it’s very important right now to play with my new Kindle.

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This is nice to see —

Anew review of LAND OF THE BURNING SANDS, from Heidi over at Bunbury in the Stacks.

Always a pleasure to see a nice review of one of my books at a blog that’s one of my regular stops in the blogosphere. It was Heidi’s review more than any other which made me want to read Andrea Höst’s AND ALL THE STARS, for example.

It’s fascinating to see everyone’s different take on the Griffin Mage trilogy. Those are the ones that get the most variable responses. I’ll be watching with interest to see what Heidi thinks of EARTH. If I had to pick one, though, SANDS is definitely my favorite of the trilogy. Out of curiosity, which one was your favorite?

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Recent Reading: A Natural History of Dragons

A fabulous cover, right? Or is that just me?

What a pleasure this book is, from front to back. This is one you really should get in paper, because it’s beautifully designed. How did Brennen manage to luck out with internal art? I didn’t think publishers EVER put artwork in any adult fantasy, I though it was a MG perk, but no! We have lovely pencil drawings all through. And the pages are sort of rough, like you might see in a book written during an earlier era. Honestly, it’s just marvelous attention to detail — kudos to Tor for bringing out such a lovely book.

Now, this is not as “big” a book as I really expected — It covers Isabella’s childhood (fairly briefly), her “Season” in London (briefly) (not called London, but I forget what the city is called), her marriage (briefly), and her very first expedition, with her husband, to study dragons (at some length). Yet she’s writing it from way in the future, when she’s an old woman, and all through there are implications that she later made very important discoveries that had a huge impact on her society and on the world. We barely get a glimpse of what some of those discoveries might entail, and in fact the hints given in this book might be misleading, that wouldn’t surprise me at all. But the effect of all those hints is to make this book read like the first in a series. Not that there’s a cliffhanger or anything, but there’s so MUCH room to go on. There’s no hint in the book that a series is planned, but I sure hope so, because I would LOVE to see more of this world and of Isabella’s later adventures!

I said the city isn’t really London, right? Well, it won’t surprise you to know, given that Brennen also wrote MIDNIGHT NEVER COME and that series, that it might as well be. Isabella is plainly growing up in England, called Scirland, and this first expedition of hers is set in what is for all intents and purposes Eastern Europe somewhere. Somewhere fairly recently conquered by an analog of Russia, so think Poland, that’s probably about right. Brennen does a great job capturing the flavor of the English (or Skirling, whatever) countryside, and then of the Eastern European village.

If you’ve read MIDNIGHT NEVER COME, which I just did, I would say that Isabella is a more immediately sympathetic protagonist than either of the protagonists in MIDNIGHT (though they grow on you). Also, this book moves more quickly, and the protagonist’s first-person voice is really appealing. Isabella describes her leading characteristic as “deranged practicality” — which pretty well describes her occasionally, um, less well-considered actions, and also how she gets out of the sometimes startling situations those actions get her into.

As it happens, I’ve been dipping in and out of a book called Camps and Trails in China: A Narrative of Exploration, Adventure, and Sport in Little Known China, by Roy Chapman Andrews, which is in fact exactly the sort of book, for real, that Brennen’s A NATURAL HISTORY purports to be. Andrews, who collected for and was I think the curator of the American Museum of Natural History, was writing in the 1920s. And as it happens, he traveled on these expeditions with his wife, Yvette. It’s really entertaining to see how Brennen captured a similar tone for Isabella, compared to Yvette’s real journal entries, which are sometimes quoted by her husband.

It’s also entertaining to see how Brennen nods to modern sensibilities: on Isabella’s expedition, they kill ONE dragon for study, and she defends this to her readers. On a REAL collecting expedition, such as Chapman’s, they kill LOTS of animals, with an eye both to study and to museum displays, only of course Chapman doesn’t feel the need to defend this at all. And one could in fact wish for a little more sensitivity to the natives on the part of Chapman, whereas naturally during her expedition, Isabella learns to respect the native people.

I don’t mean to imply that any of this is heavy-handed or anything. Brennen did a great job weaving this story together so that it would appeal to modern readers, have a smooth and complete story arc, and yet remain true to the tone of a turn-of-the-century scientific expedition. It’s just that reading one of Chapman’s books at the same time really highlights how different modern sensibilities really are, from those of the previous era.

So, anyway — a beautiful book, a fine story, what’s not to love? If you enjoy fantasy, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this — and if, like me, you happen to particularly enjoy the (rare) intersection between natural history and fantasy, then you MUST pick this up. A real paper copy! You won’t regret it.

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My new Kindle hasn’t even arrived —

And already I’ve bought a dozen books! Wow, this is so easy! (The books are going on my phone for now, btw; in theory I COULD read all ebooks on my phone and not get a Kindle, but — and I know opinions vary — after reading AND ALL THE STARS on my phone, I know I would prefer a bigger screen.)

Anyway! So far, I’ve got the Touchstone trilogy by Andrea Höst, plus the Medair duology. These were not at all expensive, I expect because Höst is self-published. Then I got the Ile-Rien trilogy by Martha Wells, also CITY OF BONES and ELEMENT OF FIRE. I need to see what of hers I have downstairs; I know I have DEATH OF THE NECROMANCER down there, but I might have more and I’m too lazy to go look right not. I’m pretty sure I will want to pick up the rest of hers in one form or another.

Then I got some books I’ve had my eye on for a while: ABOVE by Leah Bobet, THE BOY AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Greg van Eekhout, GRAVE MERCY by RL LaFevers. And CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, but don’t hold your breath for me to read that one. And JILL THE RECKLESS by Wodehouse — so, yes, I see there are quite a few good things that are free.

OH MY GOD I can see the TBR pile expanding before my eyes! It is becoming a monster!

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I finally broke down —

And bought a Kindle. Am I going to love it? Please say yes.

I needed one with 3G connectivity, not just wi-fi, because I don’t have a router in my house. And I doubt very much whether my connection is ever good enough to stream anything. So, no Kindle Fire even though those do sound snazzy. But the read-to-me function sounds great, since who wants to stop in the middle of the chapter just to wash dishes, right? So I wound up getting a Kindle Keyboard, even though I think the Kindle Paperwhite is significantly more attractive. I hope I wind up liking the keyboard.

I had no idea there were so many different kinds of Kindles till I started seriously looking at them.

I don’t plan to load my new Kindle up with ten thousand books I won’t read, tempting though all those free books may be. No. It’s not a fair trial unless I load it up with a couple of dozen books I WILL read. I’ll just go through my wishlist and add a bunch. And things like Martha Wells’ backlist, stuff like that. That’ll be the fun part!

I can’t even imagine what this is going to do to my TBR pile. I think it will probably expand toward infinity. First World Problems, right?

Anyway! The Kindle is supposed to arrive Saturday. I am going to try to get this final revision of THE MOUNTAIN OF KEPT MEMORY done by then so I have nothing distracting me from the Kindle. Other than, you know, life.

The introvert/extrovert thing is plaguing me, I think, because here’s Caitlin: “Maybe you can go through the whole story and every time Oressa thinks about anything, decide whether she should react emotionally instead with self-control and logic.” And here’s me, reading through the manuscript: “But she DOES react emotionally! All the time!”

However, once more from the top and I’ll see if I can possibly put her heart more out there on her sleeve.

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Puppy update — with a semi-cute picture.

One week old

Okay, so! I don’t think one puppy update per week is overdoing it, right? I’m calling this a semi-cute picture because I know very well that the REAL cuteness doesn’t start until the eyes open; another two weeks or so. (Maximum cuteness is between 5 and 10 weeks, imo.)

You’ll be glad to know that Puppy H is doing pretty well! She is up to 11 1/2 oz today. She was quite slow to start gaining weight and even now tends to hit stretches where she quits gaining or even loses a little. I’ve been supporting her with 3-4 cc of formula to get her going again, a couple of times per day. That is not very much. A ten-oz orphan puppy would be getting 10 cc of formula six times a day, so you see that six to eight ccs total in one day is truly not very much. Even so, I sure don’t want to discourage Kenya from producing milk, so I think tomorrow, instead of formula, I will try using dabs of glucose to punch up the baby’s energy level if she seems to be slacking off on her job of nursing.

Anyway, she’s looking nice and plump. Even if I have to continue with the formula, there’s no real reason to expect that to be a big deal. It’s amazing how soon you can start a puppy on real food if necessary, though usually I don’t bother offering real food till I’m pretty sure the puppy will be enthusiastic; eg, about five weeks. That’s pretty late to start a puppy on real food, but hey, I’ve never had my one- or two- or at most three-puppy litters be a big drain on their mothers.

Public service announcement, btw: a puppy may be weaned at five weeks, but it is NOT ready to leave its mother and littermates until SEVEN weeks at the VERY EARLIEST. Not that it can’t work out, but you get more psychological problems in puppies re-homed too early; very predictably. Problems with bite strength (they bite too hard) and seperation anxiety and lack of ability to socialize with other dogs properly. If you know how and you’re quick about it, you can teach a baby about bite strength, but they ought to learn that from their littermates, not from you. The anxiety thing, eh. Puppies are just not psychologically prepared to leave their mothers that early.

Plus, any breeder who would sell a five-week-old baby is either ignorant or indifferent, possibly both; not the best person to buy a puppy from.

Plus, honestly, I don’t expect my puppies to be all-the-way weaned until they’re six or seven weeks old. Cavalier mothers are usually pretty tolerant of their bratty offspring, and I’m not going to separate them to force the issue. They’ll all be weaned eventually, so as long as the mother’s in good condition, what difference does it make?

Anyway!

Number of times I’ve lifted Kenya off her baby when she sat on her: twice. Three times if you count the time she rolled over on the baby’s head and didn’t seem to notice. How the mother can be that oblivious, I’m not sure. Even the quite muffled cheeping of the sat-upon puppy can wake me right up. This is one big reason that I sleep in the puppy room.

Number of times I’ve rescued the puppy from the wrong side of her mom and put her back on the milk-producing side: four.

Number of times I’ve dropped a towel on top of a cold and cheeping puppy: lots. At least six dozen times over the first 72 hours? Seriously, something like that. Less often now. A puppy without littermates to cuddle up with is a lot more liable to chilling. The baby is becoming less susceptible to cold now, as she puts on body fat and also as her ability to control her own body temperature improves. Plus she can creep around like anything, which means she can reach the warm side of the whelping box when she needs to.

Two more weeks till she’s really safe from chills! This is the other big reason I will be asking my mother to keep a close eye on her when I go back to work (Friday).

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On the importance of genre —

Which I know has been DONE TO DEATH as a topic, but

a) I like this post on genre over at Omnivoracious, and

b) As it happens, I was recently, for no reason in particular, trying to sort out all the different SFF subgenres that exist. (What? Pointless hobbies can be fun, too!)

I particularly liked this bit from the Omnivoracious post:

Genre Helps Discoverability

This hankering for a certain kind of thing, which afflicts books as well as food, makes discoverability key. And that? Is where genre is a Viking. I mean, could you imagine if all food looked exactly the same on the outside? Every piece a spherical white blob with absolutely no identifying marks? And the only thing you know is that some taste like kimchi and others like bananas foster—but there are no ways to know which are which? Yeah. That would give a whole new meaning to the profession of “food tasters.”

Hah! That is such a fun analogy! It’s a bit like the Harry Potter any-flavor beans, only for all food — scary thought!

And the take-home message from the Omnivoracious post, also nicely put:

Genre was never intended to be used as how-to guidelines, or enforced as stringent limitations (sorry, can’t publish your story: needs more elves!). It’s really just to help readers identify books they might like. But, as harsh as that sounds, this is really awesome news. It means that you have a ton of available space to explore with innovative characters, your own unique writing style, and whatever crazy plots you dreamed up but haven’t seen yet.

So — if you were going to try to describe what genre your newly completed manuscript falls into, what would you say? I mean, you could say: It’s like Patrick Lee’s THE BREACH meets THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO, and that would certainly give us a startling but fairly precise idea of what your book is like, or what you hope it’s like. And the idea it would give us is: a thriller with at least one uber-competent main character and with SF and mystery elements.

Which is to say, we would be pegging your manuscript by genre.

So: subgenres. Here are the ones I came up with. I think I got them ALL. Maybe.

Epic fantasy (old style: Tolkien; modern: GRR Martin)

Heroic fantasy / sword-and-sorcery (Fritz Leiber)

High fantasy (The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon)

Lyrical fantasy (Patricia McKillip, for example; and MAN are people overusing the term “lyrical” these days; PANTOMIME by Laura Lam got described as “lyrical” and it is not.)

Contemporary fantasy (Wide Open by Deb Coates)

Urban fantasy (everything, these days)

Paranormal (everything else these days)

Magical Realism (The Girl Who Chased The Moon by Sarah Addison Allen)

Fairytale (The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell)

Supernatural fantasy (I have Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series in mind here, not sure if it’s a good example, though.)

Gothic fantasy (which to me means castles and haunted forests and dead wives in walled-up rooms and, you know, Gothic.)

Historical fantasy (Lord of the Two Lands by Judith Tarr)

Alternate history (SM Stirling)

Gaslamp fantasy (Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio)

Steampunk (Airborn by Kenneth Oppel)

Dark fantasy (The Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swanwick)

Lovecraftian (not my thing, but does it need an example? I mean, Lovecraft.)

Horror

Slipstream (where fantasy meets literary; I’ve heard The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold described as Slipstream, but I don’t know that I agree. I think maybe Slipstream might be a term used by people who like the literary genre to describe fantasy they actually like, because they don’t want to admit it’s fantasy? That’s just a guess.)

Science fantasy (The Warlock in Spite of Himself by Christopher Stasheff)

Hard science fiction (Kim Stanley Robinson)

Space Opera (Lois McMaster Bujold)

Military science fiction (The Valor series by Tonya Huff)

Cyberpunk (Snow Crash by Neal Stevenson)

Psychological science fiction (The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon)

Sociological science fiction (The Foreigner series by CJ Cherryh)

First contact science fiction (The Demu trilogy by FM Busby)

Alien invasion (And All The Stars by Andrea Host)

Post-apocalyptic (Alas Babylon by Pat Frank)

Dystopia (everything other than paranormal and urban fantasy, it seems like)

Time Travel (my favorite recently is Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card)

How about it? Anything I obviously missed?

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The importance of tedious line-editing

Wow, I had no idea how many times I used the word “very.”

Now, of course, I don’t mind using adverbs, in reasonable moderation. Certainly more than some people use. And “very” is exactly the right word sometimes, because people do use the word when they’re talking, right? Sometimes it just sounds right in dialogue. Plus you get phrases like “the very edge of the cliff”, where “very” is clearly irreplaceable. But, still, I think I removed over half of all instances of the word.

Only about a tenth of the semicolons, though. I actually thought most of those were good where they were. And I didn’t take out more than about a fifth of all the dashes. Especially the parenthetical dashes. I nearly always dislike parentheses in fiction, and a lot of the time parenthetical commas don’t work right. Hence the dashes. Plus how else are you going to show that someone got interrupted, or interrupted herself? Ellipses have a completely different feel.

The “find” command is so handy for this kind of super-boring nitpicky editing. But you know what I long for that I don’t have? I want a function that will show you every time you use the same word more than, say, twice in three paragraphs. I have no idea how you could write that kind of program, though, because obviously you’d need to exclude tons of little words: articles like “a” and “the”, pronouns, conjunctions. But it would be SO HANDY to be able to notice that you used the word “very” twice in two sentences, or had someone say something “quietly” three times on the same page, or all those other repetitions that look so horrifically stupid in the final version.

Copy editors do look for this kind of stuff, by the way. I just want something more foolproof than the human eye, even the skilled and dedicated human eye.

Anyway: done now! The WIP manuscript went off to my agent ten minutes ago. This the version that will go to my editor. Fingers crossed that she’ll love it!

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Recent Reading: And All The Stars

Okay, yeah, I finally read my first self-published book. Well, almost my first. Actually my second. The first was okay, more or less, in a decidedly mediocre kind of way. But this one was excellent. I picked it up primarily because of “>this review, by Heidi over at Bunbury in the Stacks. I’d seen a couple other reviews, but this one tipped me over the edge, especially when I happened across an offer of the title in kindle format for 99c. I mean, at that price, there’s no actual risk involved in the purchase, right?

Heidi winds her review up by saying, “I laughed, I teared up, I got very angry, I fist pumped, and I even slow clapped un-ironically, and at the end of the day there isn’t much more you can ask for from a book.”

Yeah, I feel the same way!

Here’s the back cover copy for AND ALL THE STARS:

Come for the apocalypse.
Stay for cupcakes.
Die for love.

Madeleine Cost is working to become the youngest person ever to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. Her elusive cousin Tyler is the perfect subject: androgynous, beautiful, and famous. All she needs to do is pin him down for the sittings.

None of her plans factored in the Spires: featureless, impossible, spearing into the hearts of cities across the world – and spraying clouds of sparkling dust into the wind.

Is it an alien invasion? Germ warfare? They are questions everyone on Earth would like answered, but Madeleine has a more immediate problem. At Ground Zero of the Sydney Spire, beneath the collapsed ruin of St James Station, she must make it to the surface before she can hope to find out if the world is ending.

I LOVE that three-line teaser at the beginning! And it’s even accurate, because there ARE cupcakes, though possibly not all that front-and-center, but still.

This back cover copy is inaccurate only in that it implies that Maddie’s struggle to get to the surface will be this huge big thing. Well, no. She’s out right away, after which we find out that the world might in fact be ending, more or less.

I really enjoyed this alien invasion. I don’t know what to compare it to. It sure wasn’t your ordinary vision of an alien invasion, presuming you have a vision of what an ‘ordinary’ alien invasion should be like. Anyway, there are all these twists! You say to yourself: Okay, THIS is what they have to deal with. And then everything changes. That happens more than once. I can’t believe anybody would see these twists coming, and yet the most unexpected twist IS foreshadowed, you just miss it in the action.

I really loved the characterization, too. You know what this book reminded me of? John Marsden’s TOMORROW series, that starts with TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN. Which is pretty impressive right there, because that is a fabulous, fabulous series. And it’s not the Australian setting which makes Höst’s book seem like a natural companion to Marsden’s series: it’s the great job writing a bunch of teenagers striving to save the world. Except Höst does it all in one book, and her epilogue shows a happier ending. I don’t mean the whole thing is happy-happy-joy-joy, because no. There are certainly dark moments. But overall, you are going to find that this story has a very positive vibe.

Plus, the writing is excellent. Lots of wonderful dialogue — I hardly know what to pick. I laughed out loud when one character says shakily to another, “I almost wish she’d come at us yelling ‘Brainnnsss!’ Then I could justify running away.” No kidding, Noi, that was one creepy lady.

There are lots of wonderful moments where the characters play off one another; nice, vivid descriptions that don’t slow down the action; just plain good writing all through. No need to be worried about typos in this self-pubbed title: I noticed four missing commas and that’s it. Pretty impressive given the layer and layers of line editing it takes to clean up a manuscript.

So, anyway, yeah, this is a great book. On her site, Andrea Höst says she self-pubbed because “I wasn’t able to get anyone else to publish me.” Seriously, that’s amazing, and not in a good way. If you drop over at her site and read the “gory details” of her interaction with an unnamed publisher, well. I mean. I seem to be literally speechless.

I didn’t read that many 2012 books, and I think I will in fact nominate this one for the Hugo. I don’t know that it’s seminal or anything (what DOES make a novel ‘important’?), but it’s very good, it’s SF, and I think it would be nice to go ahead and set a precedent of having a really good self-pubbed title on the ballot for a major award.

The only unfortunate thing is that I now have EVEN MORE BOOKS to add to the TBR shelves. What with Höst’s backlist, and Martha Wells’ backlist, well. I don’t think I’ll be running short of reading material any time soon.

Okay, that’s the last book I plan to read until I get this ms. revision ALL THE WAY DONE.

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