Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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You’ve probably already seen this, right?

The magical baby tapir?

If not, you really must click through.

And this link did improve my day, actually. Especially with the captions added to the pictures.

The best line — as opposed to the cutest image — is the bit about “miracularious little sepia watermelons.” Tell me that doesn’t leave you smiling!

The phrase also makes me think about metaphors and similes and what works. I’m still listening to Terry Pratchett’s WINTERSMITH, and something I keep noticing is his use of brilliant metaphors. Unfortunately, since I’m listening to the book instead of reading it, it’s hard for me to remember specific examples. But there was a great line about how Tiffany hated closing the eyes of a dead person, because it was like killing them again.

Which is not nearly as cute as the sepia watermelon, but it was a great simile — that’ why it stuck with me.

Enjoy the baby tapir!

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Now THIS is worthwhile: short stories all collected for you —

In case you want to think about nominating any for the Hugo, say. These are all 2012 short stories. All short forms, so novellas are included.

Obviously they are going to follow one person’s taste: these are the stories Rachel Swirsky liked best this year. She says she read over 500 short stories this year! I can’t even imagine!

Even if my taste turns out not to run parallel with Rachel Swirsky’s, this is still a very useful list for me, considering that without it I would neither read nor nominate any short-form fiction at all. And hey! There actually is still time to nominate!

Incidentally, yes, I have revised the first four chapters of my manuscript this weekend. Mostly today. The rain was helpful. I’m about 1/5 done with this first pass. So I think I’m on target to finish this revision this month. Yay!

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The Craft of Writing

Further thoughts on revision —

— Or: Why your editor’s (and readers’) reactions to characters in your novel may be unexpected.

I was thinking about how often Caitlin’s comments could be boiled down to: Your character needs to show more emotion in this scene.

This is not an unfamiliar comment. My Knopf editor asked me to do something similar, asking: Can you put the reader more into your protagonist’s head?

I do work on this. Honest.

But this morning these ideas sort of struck a note of familiarity. Ah hah! I exclaimed at last, and went looking for this essay.

It’s an essay by Marie Brennan on the trouble the author, as an introvert, can have in getting across a character’s reactions to the readers. And of course, you won’t succeed with all readers, so there’s no sense worrying about it.

I’m not trying to imply that all authors are introverts, btw. Just that this paticular issue might be something that applies to authors who are.

Brennen says: “Some readers love my characters for their believability or depth, while others dismiss them as lifeless cardboard. . . . as I am a fairly reserved person, my characters’ idea of demonstrative floods of emotion may not look like much to the extroverts out there.”

And there you go. Doesn’t that make so much sense? Especially when you add to it the obvious truth that the author knows what is in her characters’ heads whether they wear their hearts on their sleeves or not?

Brennen adds: “So I, not really being the sort to wave flags when I’m excited or angry or whatever, don’t tend to wave them for my characters, either. Or rather, I do — by my standards of measurement. And maybe if you’re a similar sort of person, then the things I intend to be flags register as such, and voila, you see depth of emotion. But people who are more used to wearing their hearts on their sleeves will only see a faint tick on the psychological seismograph, and think the character is made out of wood.”

I could hardly put it better. And yes, Brennen adds that this isn’t going to be the full explanation for how differently various readers perceive characterization in any particular book. Of course that’s true. But the idea really resonates with me.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I still haven’t gotten to her book, MIDNIGHT NEVER COME, which is down on my TBR shelves and has been for literally years. I swear I will get to it this year. Probably. For me, stand-alones filter toward the top of the pile and series fall toward the bottom, especially if the last book of the series isn’t out yet. I just don’t always have TIME to read a whole trilogy, if I’m supposed to be working on a project of my own. Even though I read fast.

Anybody read Brennen’s series? (Probably everybody but me, right?) What did you think of it? Her Swan Tower essays are good enough that I’m pretty confident I’ll really enjoy her books.

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

Revision letters sometimes take over your life

I’m sure you’re all fascinated by the revision process, right?

Right?

Well, I know some of you are writers or know writers or want to be writers, and I thought you might be interested in some real specifics about the revision process. My revision process, anyway.

Besides, it’s the other main thing taking over my life for the rest of this month. In fact, I should be working on this revision right now, obviously, rather than doing internet stuff. But! Soon! It’ll just take a minute to write this post!

So, anyway: what I have here is a five-page letter from my agent. This is not this manuscript’s first revision, either: this is the second. I can’t remember how long the first revision letter was. The only thing I remember specifically from the first letter is that Caitlin (my agent) said: “I feel like this story doesn’t really start till Chapter 7.” I also remember that I wound up cutting Chapters 5 and 6 entirely during the first revision. That’s just as dramatic as it sounds. I thought maybe I’d work bits of those deleted chapters back into the manuscript, but basically didn’t wind up using anything from them.

Anyway, after THIS revision, the manuscript will FINALLY go to my editor, who will take a look at it for the first time. She is quite the perfectionist, which is something I like AFTER she accepts a manuscript of mine, but it means both Caitlin and I think it’s REALLY IMPORTANT that the manuscript be just as perfect as possible before she sees it. Luckily Caitlin used to be an editor and has excellent editorial chops, so her comments are usually super-helpful. All I give her to work with is vague questions like “Does the romance between Him and Her work for you?” What she gives me back is a chapter-by-chapter analysis of what doesn’t work and specific suggestions for fixing things.

It’s not that she expects me to take every single detailed suggestion, btw. Sometimes I do something she didn’t suggest that I think will work better to fix the identified problem. Occasionally (rarely) I think over a suggestion and wind up not changing the manuscript at all because I think it works fine the way it is.

So! Here we go: “The opening scene is better, but it still feels too slow and lacks emotional or plot urgency. . . . It would help to give them a mission in the first chapter, they shouldn’t just be sight-seeing. Your protagonist should feel more about [her love-interest] in this scene, plus we need to see more about her difficulties adjusting to her new life. And this other boy has become a more important character; maybe he’s romantically interested in your protagonist too?” [All of this is paraphrased, I just summarized four paragraphs, but it’s pretty true to the meaning.]

“Can your protagonist be more active in defending her choices and defying everyone else to do what she believes is right? If she goes to [this place], there needs to be a reason for it — can she have a specific plan for something she needs to do there, but she is prevented? Can your protagonist be a little more verbal and defend her ideas more to everyone? She needs to be more passionate and intense about her feelings. When she can’t explain and is rebuked, then she can relapse into self-doubt. Right now she comes across as wishy-washy.”

“Could [the protagonist’s love interest] be more torn? He wants to support her but he can’t go against everyone else? This mistake could be what gives him strength and determination to follow his own beliefs later. Also, make your protagonist’s feelings about the way he doesn’t support her stronger and more explicit. She should be angry with him and hurt that he didn’t support her, even though she understands with her head why he didn’t.”

“Somehow in the events of Chapter 7, this big crisis gets lost. Then in Chapter 9, it gets lost again. It’s a nice bit of writing in Chapter 9, lots of info conveyed via dialogue, but I’d like to see more of your protagonist’s feelings as well. Also, maybe your protagonist could be the one to discover this particular crisis, which might happen a little later, thus providing action and hightened tension during what is otherwise a lull.” [She suggests a specific place where that might happen.]

“Chapters 12, 13, and 14 are excellent.” [These little comments are nice, you bet.]

“In Chapter 15, your protagonist should show more emotion, thinking about herself and [her love interest] and also worrying about her skills and whether she can do things she needs to do.”

“Chapter 16 is elegant and beautiful but lacks suspense. You don’t need to change what happens, but the tone should be different.” [Specific suggestions follow.]

Chapter 17: “Do we have to have your protagonist sulking in her rooms again? Also, we suddenly have a lot of secondary characters in this scene. Either use them earlier in the book or trim them down here.” [Caitlin’s tone is not quite this dictatorial, though.]

Chapter 21: “More romance, please! Let’s have a kiss at least! The lack of romance here is very disappointing!”

Okay, I’ve left a LOT out, obviously, but that should give you an idea. I hope I gave a reasonable impression about how specific Caitlin can be? This chapter-by-chapter analysis is extraordinarily helpful. I see that she has made specific comments about 11 out of 21 chapters, or roughly half the chapters. Many of the other chapters will need to be tweaked just because I’ll be changing stuff in the rest of the manuscript, but some will be barely touched compared to others. It does give me a nice sense of progress to skip ahead seventy pages now and then.

Q: So how does it feel to get a critique letter like this, with blunt comments like: This chapter lacks suspense or Your protagonist needs to quit sulking in her room or This lack of romance is very disappointing?

A: You hear so much about how an author feels outraged and furious at editorial comments and has to fight to be civil until she cools off and can think about things rationally. Well, maybe. I have a hard time even believing that (though multiple authors have specifically mentioned feeling that way).

IN GENERAL, I feel like whapping my forehead and exclaiming: Of course! How could I have missed that?

EVERY NOW AND THEN, I say to myself: Well, that specific suggestion won’t work, what else can I do that would fix this lull in the action?

VERY RARELY, I think: Ouch.

Caitlin balances the Ouch moments by saying things like This Chapter is excellent as is.

And I am ALWAYS grateful that Caitlin is there to tell me that something doesn’t work, rather than leaving a problem sitting in the story to be spotted by the editor — or worse, by the readers. This is particularly important with later drafts, where overfamiliarity generally makes it really hard for me to tell whether something works or doesn’t work.

Okay! Writing this post took AN HOUR. Back to the revision!

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A tense ten days coming up

Because have I mentioned that Kenya’s pregnancy has acquired, uh, complications? Actually, I strongly, strongly suspect that the uterine infection that killed all but one of her puppies last year never really cleared up all the way. Because it defies belief that she would by chance have another infection this year. Anyway, I caught it early because I was paranoid and started running white cell counts two weeks ago. So, yes, infection; but Kenya is on antibiotics that my reproductive vet swears are safe, and as of this morning, her puppies — she has four — are all alive and their heart rates are all good, so they don’t appear to be in distress.

Yet, anyway.

She’s due on the 21st, which also happens to be the day before my birthday. I certainly know what I want for my birthday! I have no intention of letting Kenya go all the way to term, though. I’m sure I will be running more ultrasounds between now and then, but I definitely will be taking the puppies by section no later than the 19th, and maybe the 18th — even if there is no overt signs of trouble. Because though I am praying there will be no SIGNS of trouble, I am pretty damn sure trouble is lurking.

So wish me luck, please!

Now: does this sort of thing interfere with getting actual work done? (I am revising a ms now, or will be in a minute.) No, not really. If I was watching the puppies fade day by day, that would be different, but having just seen this morning that they look all right, I’m good for the next couple of days.

You know what does interfere with getting work done, though? The three hours out of my life that I have to spend driving to and from the reproductive vet. An extra hour today because he was doing an emergency c-section for someone else this morning (and they got two live puppies out of three, so it could have been worse).

I am listening to Pratchett’s WINTERSMITH for these trips. This is the third Tiffany Aching story. Tiffany has been acting like rather an idiot so far in this one, but I have quite a lot of trust in Pratchett, so I’m enjoying the story now and expect to enjoy it more as it really gets going.

12 (or at least 10) days to go!

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Okay, got some interesting free stuff available today —

No, not from me, but definitely worth a look:

If you, like me, are a fan of the Raksura trilogy by Martha Wells? Check this out. It’s a little Raksura short story, just to tide you over till the four novellas come out later this year. By then I should have a kindle, which should save me from having to read them on my phone!

Also, as you’ll see if you click over, Martha Wells is offering some giveaway ARCs for her newest book, a YA called Emilie and the Hollow World. I’m not entering the giveaway; ARCs are all very well, but honestly I would just as soon wait and pick this one up when it’s out for real. ARCs sometimes have typos, and I don’t mind waiting.

I have to admit, I haven’t actually READ any more of Wells’ backlist. But I have several on my actual for-real physical TBR shelves downstairs, so it’s just a matter of time. I don’t think she’s written YA before? I’m looking forward to EMILIE.

Okay, also! While we’re on the subject of exciting short stories available online today? Check this out, too, from Apex. I haven’t read it yet, but there’s a Patricia McKillip Patricia Wrede short story available there. Also a short story from Merrie Haskell — you might have read her book THE PRINCESS CURSE? I really enjoyed it, and I know she has a new book due out any time now.

Does anybody know how Apex works? I am surprised to find they’re posting their stories and articles free like this. I’m not ordinarily into short stories, but hey, exceptions abound, and I’m going to copy these to read later.

Enjoy!

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How to survive the zombie apocalypse

This was the title of the best — most entertaining, anyway — student “process” paper I’ve ever seen. (I don’t spend a lot of time working with English students, actually, but the occasional paper makes a nice break from math and chemistry.)

Most students write a process essay about how to braid their daughter’s hair, how to gig frogs (that was a pretty good one, partly because it was so unexpected from the well-dressed older woman who wrote it), how to win at poker, and, of course, the ever-popular how to make chocolate chip cookies. (Many instructors won’t allow recipes, and no wonder, because great as recipes can be, students seldom turn them into great papers.)

Well, the zombie apocalypse paper sprang to mind when I saw this: Sam Sheridan Gives Survival Tips for Characters in Disaster Movies — a post over at Omnivoracious.

It’s a fun post! You should check it out! What do you think, though, is it fair to say that the protagonist should leap into a speedboat and head out toward a tsunami? I’m pretty sure that would not have occurred to me.

Sometimes, though, don’t you find yourself just DYING to yell advice to a character on the big screen? For me it wasn’t a disaster movie, it was “Scream.” You know that scene at the beginning, where the girl in the house is on the phone with the killer? I couldn’t STAND it. I was all like, Put the phone down, you idiot, and hide! This is YOUR HOUSE. You must know great places to hide in it! Put! the! phone! down!

Alas, the girl doesn’t take my advice.

I wonder how many movies would actually be left, if the protagonist instantly whirled and took off like a scalded cat if someone pointed a gun at them, or said “Are you out of your mind?” when someone in their group suggested splitting up to explore the haunted house?

What’s your favorite (or should that be least favorite?) moment, when a character in a movie did something ridiculous despite all your good advice?

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Have Petard, Will Hoist —

Hah hah hah!

That’s a great title for a post, isn’t it? What it’s about, is Janet Reid ranting about how there’s no such category as “realistic fiction” and immediately being shown evidence that at least one bookstore doesn’t agree.

Which is funny. But . . . IS there such a category as “realistic fiction”? Not having seen what that bookstore included in that category, my guess is it includes Issues Books for Teenagers. (The sign in the store is aimed at teens.)

Me, I LOATHED all Issues Books with a burning white hot passion when I was a kid. But I certainly knew kids who loved Judy Blume, so there you go.

What *I* have noticed in YA/Teen sections in bookstores, is that those sections have been totally conquered by paranormal. The whole YA section, nothing but paranormals. And, oh, right, dystopias too. So my other guess is, this bookstore simply means “YA but not any flavor of fantasy/sf”. That could be a useful designation, for teens (or anyone else) who has maxed out on paranormal and/or dystopia for the next decade. (Which is not me. But I admit the paranormals all blur together a bit for me. And the dystopias.)

On the other hand, I would’ve said we already had a designation for the realistic fiction: We call that “Contemporary.”

Still like the “will hoist” line, though.

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I have no desire to go on a book tour —

And this is why!

Only it’s a funnier post than I would have written — starting from the very first line:

“There are a number of reasons authors such as myself go on book tours, all of them basically stupid.”

Okay, surely I’m not the only person who smiled at that? And the rest of the post, written by Adam Mansbach, who is in fact on a book tour with his new novel, RAGE IS BACK, which I’d never heard of. In case you haven’t heard of it either and, after reading this post, are curious, Amazon says:

“In this mind-bending journey through a subterranean world of epic heroes, villains, and eccentrics, Adam Mansbach balances an intricately plot­ted, high-stakes caper with a wildly inventive tale of time travel and shamanism, prodigal fathers and sons, and the hilariously intertwined realms of art, crime, and spirituality. Moving throughout New York City’s unseen com­munities, from the tunnel camps of the Mole People to the drug dens of Crown Heights, Rage Is Back is a kaleidoscopic tour de force from a writer at the top of his game.”

Which makes it sound kind of interesting, but doesn’t actually make me want to rush out and buy the book.

But the blog post almost does. Here, for example, is (part of) Mansbach’s take on a publisher’s typical publicity strategy:

“Send the author to bookstores in various cities, in the hopes that a local plutocrat might happen to wander by, glance through the plate glass window, notice that a person is standing inside reading aloud from a book, and be moved to come in and purchase 235 copies, thus amortizing the cost of the author’s flight and hotel.”

Which is funny! Okay, well, I thought so.

Anyway, tongue in cheek as this post is, it’s still pretty well expresses why I’m not wildly keen on setting up readings. Unless a bookstore REALLY promoted the event. Maybe someday!

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What do YOU think of the name “Katherine”?

This is a fun post, but a) I can’t say that I have noticed a great preponderance of Katherines in recent novels, or b) I also can’t say that the name “Katniss” struck me as a form of Katherine. Does that seem to be kind of reaching, or is that just me?

On the other hand, it’s quite true that Kate Daniels (whom you may know from Ilona Andrews’ novels) doesn’t really seem to me like a “Kate.” But then, Anita Blake never seemed much like an “Anita” to me either, back when I still read those. Come to think of it, Kelly Armstrong’s Elena never seemed like an “Elena” to me. I think this may say more about me than about naming conventions for kickass paranormal protagonists. I expect I just prefer character names that are, I don’t know, not the names of people I actually know? I suspect it’s just hard to come up with names that aren’t too screwy and yet are unusual enough to avoid sounding like eveybody’s best friend from college.

Anyway, let me just mention, one big advantage to writing a secondary world fantasy is you will never, ever have anybody complaining that your character just doesn’t feel like a “Kate” to them. I definitely have three times more trouble naming characters for any contemporary-ish story than I’ve ever had for a secondary world fantasy. And I just can’t call them all X, Y and Z and plug the names in later (I actually do know someone who does this, but . . . really?)

Here’s a question: Has a character ever been so badly named (for you) that it interfered with your enjoyment of a book?

For me the immediate answer is YES. Pug, in Raymond Feist’s Magician series. I mean . . . Pug? Pug?

How about you?

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