Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Finished!

Again!

With the BLACK DOG manuscript, YA version.

My two options now are:

a) obsess endlessly in my own insular bubble — does it work? Is there enough romance? [Insert infinite series of “does it work?” questions here.] Or

b) send the manuscript to Caitlin (my agent) and get her take on it. Much more practical! So off it went this morning.

Whew! Any further revision now should be based on specific critiques and aimed at specific objectives and quite possibly notated with specific page numbers. This is quite a lot easier to deal with than continuing to work on my own.

I don’t mean that I stopped before polishing. I trust we all understand how important it is to polish up a manuscript to the best of your ability before tossing it out into the world. But ‘the best of your ability’ doesn’t mean ‘obsess over this thing for a decade’ either. Drag your heels like that and you’ll never get to write FINISHED on anything!

Up next!

Taking off the rest of August . . . lessee, that’s three days, including today. Got four books I want to read before starting anything else:

Sarah Prineas’ The Magic Thief: Lost and TMT: Found.

I read the first book a year or so ago. Middle grade fantasy, which is an interesting contrast to YA. I enjoyed it very much, especially the main character, and btw Diana Wynne Jones herself provided a laudatory quote, so enough said! I wanted some enjoyable fast light books to read because after finishing a revision I’m not in the mood for, you know, War And Peace.

After that, I think Nicola Griffith’s STAY and ALWAYS, the sequels to THE BLUE PLACE. Wow, does Griffith get bad covers. Honestly, what are her publishers thinking? But I am SO looking forward to these — though they will not be fast or light. Enjoyable, though, I hope! Griffith is a wonderful writer and I expect both the quality of the writing and the quality of the storytelling to be top-notch.

After that . . . to the salt mines. Got another YA fantasy to revise . . . want to cut one protagonist’s pov down to the bare bones, pretty much hand off the story to the other protagonist. I LOVE some of the scenes that will be going away. Oh, I am telling you, there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Plus I’m afraid it will be harder in practice than I just made it sound. I mean, in real practical terms, aside from the weeping.

But, taking the (paltry) rest of August off first! Maybe even the rest of this week!

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You don’t see that very often

So on the way to work this morning?

Guy in SUV herding a stray calf home along the highway. Luckily it’s a backroads kind of highway; with luck, I’ll be the only car they both met on the way home. Both the guy and the calf sort of looked like they’d done this before. Maybe the calf is an escape artist?

This wasn’t a little baby calf, but still, cute, for a cow. Black with a white face. Guess that means it was a black hereford, which are pretty common around here. Wish I’d had my camera!

Last time I saw livestock on that highway? It was a black angus bull and he tossed his head and thought about attacking my car. Made me wonder if in cow country there’s a special way to blink your lights that means Bull On Highway.

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Viciousness online

I almost agree with this, but not quite.

It’s all very well to suggest we might all be nice to children:

“Making fun of people has become a part of our culture, and I’m not expecting to change that. But I am sincerely asking that everybody stop with the kids – and I mean all kids, from Justin Bieber to Rebecca Black.”

Apparently Rebecca Black is a kid who had a song recorded, didn’t do it well, and wound up on the receiving end of tons and tons of vicious hatemail and derision. That is ugly and I hope everyone who participated felt at least a little uncomfortable with the pile-on even while posting, and ashamed afterward.

But!

The mob thing is no prettier when it’s aimed at adults. Really.

“This is a person who just wanted to have their book out there and has the same hopes and dreams as any other writer. Some rude Internet behavior negates all of that? People will ridicule her and scorch the Earth and trash what this author has built in the name of teaching a lesson?”

Jacqueline Howett behaved not just like an idiot, and not just like a rude thin-skinned idiot . . . she behaved like an unbalanced person. It’s a pity that hundreds or thousands of people thought the appropriate response to this was to form a mob. And it wasn’t any nicer because she’s an adult.

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The Canon of Great Books

Which books should be removed from the canon, Nathan asks?

Ooh! Ooh! I know!

Madam Bovary.

I was forced to read this horrible book TWICE in school. TWICE. Why did I actually read it? Why not just buy the cliff notes? At least the second time?

Some questions have no good answers.

Every single character in the book is disagreeable or pathetic or both. Mostly both. Every single thing that happens to anybody is disagreeable or pathetic or both. MOSTLY BOTH.

You realize, this is my memory of the book talking. I’m hardly going to go read it again to see how accurate my recollection is.

On Amazon right now, I see there are nine reviews of this book, at least the edition I clicked on. 3 of them are one-star reviews. 3 of them are four- or five-star reviews. I am certainly not going to add to the one-star reviews because who am I to say the book is ACTUALLY bad? All I can say is I personally really detested it. Twice.

On the other hand, can I vote for a book to be removed from the canon just because I loathed it? Sure. If a third of its readers hate it, why should it be imposed on college students everywhere? Let them all read books I love! Pride and Prejudice would be a MUCH BETTER CHOICE.

Seriously? How about if Lit teachers assigned books in pairs? Then students could read the first chapter of each and pick the one they want to read. Much better chance that you’ll be reading books that don’t actually make you feel actually nauseated every time you pick them up.

By the way? For making you actually WANT to read classics? Try reading Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer.

After reading that, I put a bunch of classics on my TBR pile . . . after being forced to read Madame Bovary made me take them off on just general principles.

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Every now and then —

I drop in at Amanda Hocking’s blog. You know, for a Famous Person who gets coopted to be an Example To Us All on a fairly frequent basis, she has a very balanced perspective.

I rather like this, for example.

Not that she reaches important conclusions, but she makes good comments. Like here:

I don’t know what this means, exactly, or what the answer to the problem is. Why teenage boys aren’t reading is actually a multifacted problem, and this answer isn’t as simple as changing the cover of a book. But Jo Rowling had to go by J. K. Rowling because the publisher didn’t think boys would read a book written by a girl.

I do think that this may be more of an intrinsic difference between boys and girls and less of a problem to solve, you know? Here’s an intriguing comment from Hocking’s blog:

It sounds like the issue is reading. My brother is turning into a bigger Jane Austen fan than me, but will he read one of her books? Noooo. My husband is an online news junkie and loves sci-fi – so long as it’s on NetFlix. He doesn’t read books, let alone Twilight, but he enjoyed the movie and couldn’t give a rats ass whether the book was written by a female, male or extraterrestrial so long as it’s entertaining.

Women, in general, are better at visualization. Books play like movies in our heads as we read them. A lot of guys don’t read that way.

Isn’t that an interesting suggestion? If true, it would certainly seem to follow that boys would read less than girls — intrinsically.

But if I had a boy-type kid, I’d have a lot of gross-humor and horror type books and comics and things lying around the house, if that’s what he liked.

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Some days are like this —

What I did yesterday instead of working on the ongoing revision of BLACK DOG:

a) Took dogs for run.

b) Went to work. You’d think I’d forget how to get to the campus after three weeks off, but I made it. Parking lots crammed because students haven’t started ditching classes yet.

c) Got home and gave dogs snack.

d) Made this cool eggplant dish to use up these great Japanese eggplants. Very quick and easy and not bad when nibbled. Put eggplant dish aside after nibbling.

e) Made these phyllo cheese straws because I happened to have feta around and wanted to use up the phyllo. Turned out all right. Made yogurt-garlic dip to go with them.

f) Took dogs for run. Turned out to be hotter than I thought. We all came home and collapsed in the air conditioning.

g) Made some pretty good zucchini fritters to use up yet another zucchini.

h) Prepared to work on revision at last, but Dara came and sprawled on my lap and said it was her turn for serious petting. Had to admit she was totally right. Read a Ngaio Marsh mystery instead of turning on laptop because I can read and pet dog at same time.

i) End result, zero work on revision.

So, yes, Eric is totally right, in order to get stuff written you have to settle down and write it . . . but some days it just doesn’t happen.

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Revision update!

Not done!

But closing in on the end of BLACK DOG, my paranormal YA werewolf story. Somehow it feels like I’ve been here before. Which, of course, I totally have.

I will probably finish (again) about Wednesday — nine days longer than I thought it would take. Not dreadful, but I did hope to get it all the way done before classes started. Sigh.

So! Thinking about the revision process:

Type a) writing new material, like a whole new chapter, even — easy, fun, fast.

Type b) making major changes, like adding a new character or taking out an old character or combining two characters or adding a major plot twist or whatever — not as easy, but not too disagreeable; fast-ish.

Type c) going through the whole ms while making an infinite series of judgment calls about whether each character “works” in each scene and whether each character arc is clear and whether you’re enough “in the head” of each viewpoint character — hard, tedious, totally not fun at all, sloooooow.

Probably not a coincidence that the part I hate doing takes much longer to get through!

I know from experience that I will wind up not sure whether the characters work well enough — should I fiddle some MORE with the character? I have a hard time saying Enough! and throwing my ms. to the sharks. However, as I say, I expect to declare myself finished Enough! with this one about Wednesday.

I am always very pleased, btw, when a REAL reader contacts me and says how great the characters are and how they fell in love with _______. Love that! Major validation! Not that I turn down compliments on other aspects of a book, mind you.

On the subject of revisions, check this out: THE INTERN.

A little while ago, INTERN heard from a writer-friend who had just gotten his first-ever revision letter from his agent.

“She started out by saying what an amazing concept I have and how much she adores the novel. Then she basically said the entire plot doesn’t make sense, the ending is one giant cliché, and she almost stopped reading after two pages because the first chapter’s so bad.”

How, wondered INTERN’s writer-friend, did his agent decide to sign him at all, when the manuscript was rife with so many embarrassing problems?

INTERN encouraged him to ask his agent this very question. A few days later, INTERN heard from him again: “She just fell in love with the concept.”

INTERN has heard similar stories from other first-time novelists, often substituting “voice” or “writing style” for “concept.” Conventional wisdom states that your manuscript should be as perfect as possible before going on the hunt for an agent. In truth, though, plenty of less-than-perfect manuscripts find representation—as long as they’re less-than-perfect in the right way.

I’m glad to say that my editorial comments have never been quite that comprehensive! But that’s a useful way of thinking about manuscripts, isn’t it? We all need help prying our fingers off a ms. and letting it go. Sheer boredom with it helps get the job done for me, but it helps to think it’s okay to be less than perfect! Throw that ms. to the sharks and find out if it’s less than perfect in the right way!

So, anyway — looking forward to a short break before starting Fall’s Revision #2!

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For later perusal . . .

Like, when I have time, which I do not right now, because I am in the awesome state of actually wanting to revise my WIP!

Thinking about the current scene I’m working on … even while pulling weeds! (It rained, which in August is God’s way of telling you you MUST weed NOW, so there’s no choice about that. I can tear myself away from the laptop for an hour a day, right?)

Not actually thinking about the current scene while working with Adora, who’s showing in competitive obedience in a week and MUST PRACTICE. No, for fifteen minutes I actually focus on my beautiful ruby girl! But I AM thinking about that scene while driving to the college to practice and then while driving home.

And email and the internet? Gotta check what’s going on, but not much enthusiasm for extended browsing! So, outta here!

But this still looks like a good and useful link (hattip, Nathan Bransford) and I will read ALL the stuff people are saying about marketing their books the VERY NEXT TIME I COME UP FOR AIR. Should be next week sometime. See you!

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As always . . .

As has been known to happen from time to time, Nathan gives good advice.

I absolutely do not write every single day. Although, I have to say, unlike Nathan, I certainly do write a lot of days in a row — when I’m writing. When I’m working, I’m working, and during those periods, I write every day or at least almost every day, for hours a day — sometimes lots of hours a day.

But when I reach a stopping point with a manuscript, I stop writing, full stop, and read a lot of books. And I enjoy it. I may well dread picking up that manuscript again to do the next necessary part (revision, second revision, take care of editorial comments, whatever), but I set a date my break will be over and on that date I get back to work.

And believe me, the dogs provide me with lots and lots of distractions. But it’s amazing how often I shut down the laptop, tuck a bag o’ treats in my pocket, head out to walk dogs — and immediately work out a writing problem that’s had me stymied. Those are the useful distractions!

I do turn the ringer off on the phone when I’m working. Some kinds of distractions are not very useful! I’ll turn it back on in a few weeks. In the meantime, sorry, don’t bother calling, I’m not picking up.

Today’s work so far — yep, I’m definitely putting a new chapter in the front of Black Dog. Definitely going to finish that tonight. Then onward to the revisions! I’m actually enjoying this so far. Whenever I shut the laptop, I really want to open it back up. Always good when the work flows!

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Additional tips from the show —

1. Even a king-sized bed doesn’t mean you have more room yourself. All your dogs want to sleep right next to you, thus squeezing you onto one edge until you’re in danger of falling off the bed in the middle of the night.

2. The food network can be addictive! Good thing I don’t have cable, or I’d spend all my time watching Iron Chef episodes. I wonder if those are available on DVD? But if I bought them, I’d spend all my time watching them . . .

Plus, there was this interesting recipe for Shaker Lemon Pie. Used whole Meyer lemons, sliced ultra-thin, and the cook added vodka to the pie crust. Isn’t that a neat idea? The vodka supposedly cooks off as the pie bakes, so you wind up with an extremely flaky crust. I need to remember to try this.

3. You can get used to walking your dogs on a 45 degree slope amazingly fast, if that’s the only place available to walk them.

4. It is totally crucial to pack along some breakfast bars and good pretzels or whatever you like as snack food, even if the hotel has good food (which it did). This will save you if you need to start showing in performance super early in the morning and then need to touch up ears and feet before you show in the breed ring. No time for breakfast or lunch!

5. Although for the first time EVER I took a look at Adora during the lunch break on Friday and said, “You know what? You’re perfect right now.” And so I didn’t even do her ears or put the drying coat on her to flatten her coat. Nothing. And she went on to win best ruby girl in show, so I was right!

6. It will ALWAYS take a minimum of three hours for the banquet and auction on Saturday night. Probably more. Give your dogs good chew toys and don’t even try to keep them calm when you (finally!) get back to your room way past their normal bedtime. They are going to bark hysterically. Just let it go.

7. It’s probably okay if you forget to give your nervous dog dramamine for the trip home. After three days of showing, she’ll just fall into a coma the moment you get onto the highway and barely twitch till you pull into your driveway.

8. It is way, way more pleasant to have a hour and a half drive home than a six hour drive. Too bad the July show isn’t in St Louis every year!

Other news:

Yes, I’m starting the revision of Black Dog. I’m switching the first couple of scenes into Natividad’s point of view and adding a bit to the first chapter . . . I have that partly done now . . . probably I’ll break the chapter up and start Alejandro’s point of view in Chapter 2. I should have that done by the end of tomorrow, I hope.

As I go, I’ll be revising the ages of some of the characters (downward, because the idea is to drop this story more firmly onto the YA side of the line) and making various revisions to the plot. Don’t want to actually provide spoilers as such, so can’t say too much about that. Not that anything would make sense if you haven’t read the story, I guess, but still.

I’m feeling pretty good about this revision right now. Hope I still feel that way in a few weeks!

Meanwhile, the heat’s supposed to break in the next few days! Can’t wait for that!

Now, gotta go make the eggplant fries from my latest issue of Saveur — they sound great!

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