Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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When do you need an editor?

Is the question posed here, at Alan Rinzler’s blog The Book Deal. Now, Rinzler is an editor, and he says there are three stages at which a writer consults him about editing:

a) Before really starting the book.

This, not to put too find a point on it, strikes me as a bit strange. Not that I don’t get why someone might want to think about the issues raised, like first or third person and how to incorporate the backstory and how to end the book. But, honestly, an editor? Why not just try writing scenes in first and third and see what you like? Just incorporate the backstory, there’s no point talking about how to do it, just do it. And, you know, when you get to the ending, stop.

I know I’m making things sound easier or at least more straightforward than they are. But, honestly, I think you learn about this kind of thing by reading and seeing how great writers do it, and then by actually doing it yourself, not by talking about it. Even with a professional.

b) While the book is in process.

While this doesn’t exactly seem nuts, I have to say, you could not pay me enough to let somebody look at a manuscript in progress. (Well, I mean, you could, but it would take a pretty substantial payment.) I’m very uncomfortable having people read bits and pieces while the book is still being written. Plus, it’s going to change and change again and acquire bits and lose bits and . . . no. Just no.

This is one reason I would never join a crit group, especially one where members are expected to submit a chapter at a time for critiques. No way!

c) After the book is finished.

There you go! This is when feedback actually becomes important!

Rinzler says:

“In a full developmental edit, I go through the entire manuscript several times, offering specific page-by-page recommendations, alterations in the plot, concept, character development and visual descriptions, small and large structural shifts, fine tuning the pacing and literary style. I insert tracked changes that indicate deletions within the sentence, or entire paragraphs, sections or chapters. I suggest new language for polish and clarity.”

Whoa. Reading something like this makes me feel great about the comments I get back from my (very much appreciated) first readers! And later from my editors! My agent comments about pacing, my brother about logical problems with the story, everyone about character issues . . . but I am grateful that nobody EVER seems to feel the need to mess with my sentences, paragraphs, or general style. Or descriptive scenes (other than to cut some description). Or overall plot. Or basic characterization.

I’m glad to come across this post right now, while I’m revising. Makes me feel like it’s not such a big job after all!

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The Revision is progressing . . .

But I am now thinking Dec 1st is probably not going to happen.

Yes, Thanksgiving got in the way a bit! I did get some work done, it’s important not to skid entirely to a halt with something like this because for me it’s too hard to get going again later. But I’m not going to entirely ignore Thanksgiving either, right? So it did slow down the revision.

But! I am revising chapter-by-chapter and I am up to Chapter 10, so progress! I kind of think I will make it right through Chapter 12 tonight. There are 18 chapters at the moment, but I think I am going to cut & combine chapters 10 and 11. Caitlin (my agent) thinks the pace drags through there and I’m sure she’s right.

It’s Caitlin who gives me specific chapter-by-chapter comments, which is VERY HELPFUL, though (I must confess) I don’t always take every single one of her suggestions. For example, I’m not cutting chapter the whole of chapter ten because I do think a particular line in that chapter is important to provide impact to later interactions between Oressa and Gajdosik. But, cutting the chapter down, that I can do, thus trying to ensure that the pacing keeps its . . . um . . . pace.

I’m using Caitlin’s comments as the backbone of the revision, then other, more general comments I’m sort of holding in my head and adjusting the ms. accordingly as I go. This means I’ll inevitably lose sight of some of the important world-building and character-building comments, so at the end, I’ll re-read the more general comments and make sure all of that has been addressed — nipping here, tucking there. Then the last step, if I can stand it, is going through the whole thing one more time right from the top and trying to ensure that it’s all completely consistent from front to back.

So! I’m pretty happy with how it’s going, and even happier that the end is sort of more or less nearly in sight.

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A great way to end the year —

THE FLOATING ISLANDS made the Kirkus list for best children’s books in 2011!

So naturally I clicked over to the list and counted. Looks like they selected 66 books, all the way from little-kid’s-picture-books to YAs like ISLANDS.

The Kirkus editor, Vicky Smith, says: “Here you will find books that will thrill, tickle, stimulate, soothe and enlighten kids from the very youngest to early teens. There are heartfelt explorations of the natural world and loving celebrations of the closeness of family, ruminative picture books and adventures to get the blood pounding. And three, count them, three novels featuring talking mice.”

Talking mice actually sound pretty neat, but what I can’t help pointing out is that, what with all those picture books, there must have been plenty of competition for the few YA slots. Quite an honor to have ISLANDS make the list!

And! ISLANDS is listed under no fewer than four categories:

Fantasy and Science Fiction
Novels with Great Boy Characters
Novels with Great Girl Characters
Adrenalin Rushes

How about that?

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I hate revisions —

Although not as much when I actually start them as when I’m dragging my feet avoiding them.

Anyway, finally started making real progress on this latest revision this weekend. Finally. The weather was helpfully dismal all weekend, a big advantage.

So far I’ve speeded up the first chapter, moved the announcement of the Tamaristan invasion up into the very first scene, cut the first bit of the second chapter and tentatively made it into a (short!) prologue . . . if I leave it there, I guess I will have to quit claiming to hate all prologues on principle . . . the best post about prologues I know of is here.

So I guess at least I can still claim to hate BAD prologues, even if I actually use another one myself.

Also! I a keen little epiphany about how to make a tiny little change that totally explains why the Kieba choses Erest as her student. Hah!

Meanwhile, lots of detail work and streamlining. I’m TRYING to cut the third chapter, but you know what? That is not easy to do.

Hopefully I’ll still get it all done by December 1st. Even though this is a short month and contains Thanksgiving.

It’s certainly easier than joining in with NaNoWriMo, anyway.

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Diana Wynne Jones —

Is a name I’m sure everybody recognizes, right?

Right?

Okay, then.

There was an “in memorium” panel on Diana Wynne Jones’ writing and influence at the World Fantasy Convention, which was (I’m happy to say) well attended. The panel was touching and also informative. In particular, I found out two things, one of interest only to myself and one of general interest. In order:

a) My personal library is amazingly lacking in Diana Wynne Jones’ books. Who knew I had only about 2/3 of her titles? In particular (does this surprise you?) the panelists for the memorial panel all choose ARCHER’S GOON as their personal favorite, and I said Really? because I only read that once when I was a kid and it didn’t stand out for me then. But it’s been a long time. So I ordered that, plus most of the rest I don’t have, and thus I just had eight or ten or whatever of her books arrive on my doorstep. Yay! Not that I have time to read them right now because I want to finish this revision before December. But still!

b) Aaaand . . . did you know there’s a sort of autobiography or something coming out next year? Called REFLECTIONS: ON THE MAGIC OF WRITING. It’s supposed to contain essays about her time as a student of Tolkein’s AND CS Lewis’s. Don’t know what else. But I’ll be keeping an eye out for it!

So that is my public service announcement for the day! Because I am sure you will all want to check that out, too, when it hits the shelves!

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The Griffin Omnibus —

Is officially out as of today!

Which, btw, Orbit did another copy editing pass through it, and so did I, and as far as I know THIS edition is completely and totally error free! Plus I smoothed out the text here and there in very minor ways that I’m sure no one will notice, probably not even me. Still, love this edition! Plus, it’s just cool to pick up a thousand page book and know I wrote it. Wow. A thousand pages.

Thea at The Book Smugglers kindly arranged to do her review of Books 2 and 3 of The Griffin Mage trilogy today.

Thanks, Thea!

And the review is here, so check it out if you have a minute.

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Check this out —

You know, I am really enjoying reading the essays over

here

This is Marie Brennan’s site. You know, author of MIDNIGHT NEVER COME? Which, actually, I haven’t read yet. It’s on my TBR pile! Great title and good reviews from people I trust . . . but you know why I actually wound up buying the book?

Because I like the essays at her website, that’s why.

They’re good essays. Really.

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MG vs YA

So, I recently tossed off the notion that there’s really no difference between Middle Grade (technically meant for kids aged 8 to 12) and Young Adult (technically meant for ages 12 and up). Or at least I suggested that there’s plenty of overlap and that books get miscategorized and that the putative division isn’t actually very helpful in directing readers to books they would enjoy, anyway.

Certainly there’s more to it than just the age of the protagonist, though the protagonist is usually expected to be a couple of years older than the target audience. And I don’t think there’s necessarily a big difference in vocabulary and sentence complexity, either. (Not saying there can’t be a tendency to a somewhat wider vocabulary etc in the YA, but I don’t think it’s really that strong a tendency.)

Not like I’m really planning to arrive at the definitive, um, definitions for Middle Grade vs Young Adult, but how about the idea posited in the comments that YA has “more layers” and is more complicated than MG? That gets at the idea that MG stories have fewer developed subplots, with the example given (in Elaine’s comment) that in the YA ENTWINED, for example, “the father has his own journey and it’s shown enough for the reader to get it”, whereas in the MG THE PRINCESS CURSE “the father suddenly does something startling but we don’t see him grow into it”.

This is perfectly true. (And makes me want to read ENTWINED.) It’s also true that as an adult reader I would have liked to see more of the father and have the relationship between him and his daughter brought out more in THE PRINCESS CURSE. I think the father could have been a really compelling character if he’d gotten more screen-time, as it were. As a writer, I have to wonder whether there was more of that in there at one time and it was cut for length reasons? I’m thinking here of the tons of stuff cut from THE FLOATING ISLANDS.

So is it true that in general MG lacks substantive subplots? Is that the (one of the) major difference? What other criteria have been proposed to distinguish the two grades?

Here’s a take on that question (from a source that agrees that YAs often have more complicated plots):

Middle grade novels are characterized by the type of conflict encountered by the main character. Children in the primary grades are still focused inward, and the conflicts in their books reflect that. While themes range from friendship to school situations to relationships with siblings and peers, characters are learning how they operate within their own world. . . . Yes, your character needs to grow and change during the course of the book, but these changes are on the inside.

This is interesting, because I’ve certainly seen a totally different opinion elsewhere:

I think the stakes in middle-grade fiction probably tend to be a bit bigger. I think there might be a bit more world-saving in middle grade. . . . The stakes in my books tend to be kind of ridiculously high. . . . In The Boy at the End of the World, what’s at stake is the survival of the human species. The kids in my books are saving the world. They’re saving their friends, their families, their communities. Big, big, honkin’ big stakes. The challenge isn’t really raising the stakes as much as it is making sure I’m still telling stories about human beings.

This is Greg van Eekhout, here, in an interview that covered a lot of ground, so read the whole thing!

And of course in YA these days, romance is often expected to be a big deal, right? From the same interview, Carrie Vaughn says:

A more general take: the issue of romance comes up a lot in YA, and not just because of Twilight, but because it’s a really big deal for teens. When you’re 16 and falling in love for the first time, or having your heart broken for the first time, it’s epic. It’s huge. It feels like the world is shuddering on its axis. Because you’ve literally never felt anything like it before.

So in MG, the protagonist saves the world and in YA, the protagonist falls in love. Yes? No?

As it happens, I think it will be Earth-shatteringly terrible if YA gets subsumed as a special teen-girl-romance subgenre, not that I want to overstate or anything. So I would vote “No” to that one. But I would agree that romance can be an important subplot in YA whereas that is really not possible in MG. Not REALLY. Despite the sort of slow-motion romance in THE PRINCESS CURSE, which is obviously really going to be developing in the protagonist’s future, child-brides aside.

. . . Which takes us, however back to subplots and the idea that YAs have more complicated plot structures than MG. And what I might say is that, though the division between MG and YA still seems to me basically an artificial marketing idea rather than an actual division between two actual, distinct genres, an adult reader may be more likely to prefer stories with more developed subplots, and stories like that might find a broader readership. Maybe? And maybe that is one reason the Harry Potter series took off through the stratosphere? Because the initial story was very one-dimensional, but it didn’t stay that way. And thus it strikes readers as YA despite the simplicity of the writing and the save-the-world focus. (And, of course, the kids just got older over the course of the books . . . but not sure that’s what primarily drives the perception of this series as YA.)

Thoughts?

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