Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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A very nice weekend . . .

It took me two trips to carry in all the ribbons — literally. Slithery little things, hard to hang onto. My beautiful smart girls won thirty ribbons all put together!

I figured it out this morning: I had fifteen rally / obedience entries total and got twelve green qualifying ribbons, eleven colored (placement) ribbons to go with them, two NQs (nonqualifying scores) and once I pulled a girl — didn’t show her even though she was entered.

So! Check it out!

Eve (14 months)

This is the youngster, Eve. She was entered in Novice Rally all three days — she was way too excited the first day (but qualified), and did a great job the other two days because I took the time to calm her down before we went in the ring. That big ribbon is her high-in-rally-trial ribbon, which she got with a very nice score, I think 97 but I forgot to write it down. She was also in the Graduate Puppy class in the breed ring, but is really not pretty and feminine enough to win in the CKCSC, so she didn’t place. It was a big class and had some nice puppies in it, so no surprise there. She showed very well and ought to do okay in the AKC.

Kenya, 19 months

Kenya is very hard to show, such a distractable little creature! She did fine in Novice Rally the first day and finished her C-RN title, but honestly the only reason she got that high-in-trial ribbon is because I lost too many handler-error points with the more experienced girls. She didn’t do very well in the Advanced ring on Saturday and I pulled her on Sunday rather than let her practice badly. But she showed beautifully in the conformation ring, not a given for Kenya, but she was lovely and happy! Unfortunately it was a very large class and she didn’t place, although I really hoped she would and thought she might. She is very pretty, she honestly is, and I did get lots of nice comments about her from people who watched her.

Pippa, 5 years

Now, Pippa is a wonderful show dog! She doesn’t show in the breed ring, although she’s very beautiful, because she’s spayed. She finished off her CKCSC rally novice title, started her CKCSC rally advanced title, got a very well-deserved high-in-rally-trial ribbon on Sunday with a beautiful performance — luckily that was the day her breeder was watching — and finished her CKCSC CD title.

And last but not least!

Adora, 4 years

See those blue ribbons? My lovely Adora is now OFFICIALLY beautiful! She won the Special Limit Ruby class all three days AND won Best Ruby Bitch on Friday — beating out a really very nice ruby girl who got a major on Sunday, so that was really nice!

She also did great in Rally and got her first CD leg — way to go, Adora! Formal obedience is hard and this was her first time in the ring and she was wonderful! Those red second-place ribbons don’t reflect her performance, but mine: she’d have got high-in-trial at least once if I hadn’t lost her a lot of points with handler errors.

But the breed wins were a special pleasure and I’m very happy Adora got this well-deserved recognition!

WHEW! I’m taking today to decompress . . . tomorrow is soon enough to start working on the manuscript revision that’s next on my writerly schedule.

I didn’t get all the prizes in the girl’s pictures — so one more picture:

See, the theme was “My Pride And Joy”, which is the title of this painting. My girls won lots of marble tiles with this image, plus the marble canister and the clock, so I bid on the print during the silent auction and got that, too. They’ll all look very nice in my plant room. Plus! About a million stuffed toys and show leads and whatnot. Good job, puppies!

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Busy weekend ahead!

The St Louis Cavalier Specialty! Which I bet is going to fall across the very hottest days of the year, which is kind of a tradition for the July specialty. At least we don’t have to worry about ice storms, which, as I recall, were a major concern the last time the St. Louis show fell in December. Plus it’s only an hour and half drive, not nearly as far as when the July show is set in Indy or Chicago.

I’m showing four dogs: Pippa, Adora, Kenya, and Eve. Everybody but Pippa is showing in the breed ring, all four in Rally, and Pippa and Adora in formal obedience. Plus there’s a training seminar on Friday, plus the heart and eye clinics on Saturday! Plus, friends to go out to dinner with, very important. Oh, yes, busy busy busy.

My goal is to come home with ALL of the ribbons in Rally on at least one day. Plus to have my girls qualify in formal obedience — it’ll be Adora’s first time in the formal obedience ring.

Plus I would really like to have at least one of my girls win a class in the breed ring on at least one day. The competitor has way more control over what happens in the performance rings; nothing can guarantee what the judge will do in the conformation ring.

Actually not expecting much from my graduate puppy, Eve — she has freckles on her nose, and she’s on the big side for the breed. But Kenya, if she shows well — and she is FAR from reliable, she is SUCH a little flibbertigibbet — but, as I say, IF she shows well, she is lovely and typey and has beautiful movement. And Adora is quite nice, it all depends on who else is in the ring with her and what the judges like. There are some very nice rubies showing right now and Adora went out of coat just in time for this show, alas.

So — wish me luck!

I will be taking lots of books to read, in case I find time for ’em, and NOT my laptop. Last weekend of my personal break, so I plan to enjoy it! Back to work on Monday. Well . . . Tuesday at the VERY LATEST.

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Recent Reading: Books for Boys

Of course you hear all the time that boys don’t read. Too many appealing alternatives, too few men in their homes modeling reading, too many Plucky Girl Protagonists with Boy Sidekicks . . . too many sweet girl stories like Charlotte’s Web and too few gross boy books like Vlad the Impaler, parents and teachers just don’t think that the things boys do read (comics, game manuals, whatever) count as “real” reading . . . lots of suggestions!

There’s probably truth in every single one of those suggestions. Definitely there are HORDES of Ubercompetent Girl Protagonists in the big YA hits (The Hunger Games, Divergent, Eon, Graceling, the list just goes on and on and on) but darned few boys are primary protagonists (other than Harry Potter). Also tons of teachers seem to just love books that wallow in interpersonal relationship stuff and really loathe pure adventure stories, and it certainly makes sense that this would be a turn off for lots of boys.

Well, if you happen to be keeping an eye out for great YA books for boys*, then here’s a duology that for some reason hasn’t seemed to make it onto various lists of books for boys: Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn and Skybreaker.

Zeppelins! Pirates! Pretty heiresses with annoying chaperones, beautiful gypsy girls without the chaperones, monsters, ornithopters, treasure hunts, haunted airships, more pirates, and always lots of zeppelins!

These were great — lots of fun and well-written. I appreciated that the dangerous winged catlike animals were, you know, actually dangerous predators and not special telepathic friends.

Great books, really! Even for girls, but especially for boys.

* Also, by the way, my very own most recent book, THE FLOATING ISLANDS, also has a boy protagonist. Just saying.

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Guilt and relaxation

Way back when I was in grad school, somebody sent around a list of jokes of the “You know you’re a redneck” type — The “You know you’re a grad student when” list.

Naturally this is now available on the internet, so HERE if you are interested.

The funniest one is You wonder if APA style allows you to cite talking to yourself as ‘personal communication’. Ha ha ha ha ha! No, really, that’s funny! And at the time I really did explain to children who asked that I was in the 22nd grade.

But the one that has stuck in my head is this one:

You have accepted guilt as an inherent feature of relaxation.

Still true! It’s just a little ridiculous to feel guilty for taking a week off before starting a major revision — I mean, it’s not like I’m on a deadline! Who cares whether this revision is finished by the end of August or the end of September?

I value my work ethic, thank you. But every now and then I have to persuade myself that it really is perfectly okay to settle down for a week and read a lot of books! It even counts as professional development! Everybody knows that writers need to read a lot! So there, work ethic!

So over the past weekend, I read EON and EONA by Alison Goodman.

Sorry to say that I didn’t love these books as much as lots of other people. Yes, the world building was great; yes, the exploration of gender issues was interesting. But.

For me, the main problem was that I really thought Eona was dumb as a box of rocks. Actually, it seemed to me that nearly all the important characters were unforgivably stupid. Gosh, why do you suppose the lime juice might be bitter? Hello?

It was just utterly, totally, completely obvious what Lord Ido was up to. It was also obvious what Eon needed to do to stop him. And yet every single character flailed around in the dark as though these things were complete mysteries.

This was incredibly annoying.

I started to get more into it when Lord Ido’s character became more complicated (right at the end of EON) and I must say, the last two hundred pages of EONA were fabulous.

Question: Have reviewers tended to give this duology higher praise than it really deserves because the gender stuff is edgy in a way that appeals to them?

Answer: I dunno. Maybe unbelievably, even suicidally oblivious characters don’t bother a majority of YA reviewers, for some reason.

Note: For a great Chinese setting, I’d suggest UNDER HEAVEN by Kay and BRIDGE OF BIRDS by Hughart.

UNDER HEAVEN unrolls slowly and beautifully and offers exquisite prose and wonderful characters.

BRIDGE OF BIRDS is fast paced and utterly charming and has some of the greatest characters ever — especially Master Li, who has, he admits, a slight flaw in his character.

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In the Mail

So! How long will it take Amazon to deliver STAY and ALWAYS to my door? Because I am really pretty excited to go on with Aud’s story after THE BLUE PLACE.

Although if there is another tearjerker ending at the end of the third book? I will be peeved. (Don’t tell me, though, if you happen to know whether there is or not.)

Also got to take a look at what Amazon says about SLOW RIVER and AMMONITE. Oh, having done so, I see why I might have had the impression that THE BLUE PLACE was SF — these two really are SF. Not sure I’m in the mood right now, but I’ll have to remember they’re out there for later.

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The endless TBR stack

I’ve referred several times lately to my TBR pile, and I just thought it would be interesting to count the books in the stack and sort ’em out and see what’s there. There were 39 books yesterday morning, but it actually went up to 48 after a trip to Borders. And there’s one in the mail from Amazon. That’ll make 49.

I don’t even want to think about Borders going under, that really bites, but I do want to think about my TBR pile.

49 books. That’s a smallish pile for me. Actually it’s going to grow a bit in the immediate future because I definitely want a couple more books by Nicola Griffith, and I bet it doesn’t take me a couple of years to get to them, this time.

Here’s the current breakdown, which is moderately typical, I think:

31 Fantasy, breaking down this way:

22 adult fantasy titles
6 YA fantasy
1 short story collection
1 fairy tale retelling
1 paranormal
1 zombie

5 adult SF
3 mystery
1 historical
2 thriller
1 contemporary YA
1 literary
1 memoir
1 nonfiction

There, I think I got ’em all. The bias toward fantasy over SF is very typical, but there’s often less of a bias toward adult vs YA fantasy. I’ve been reading the YA stuff lately and so it’s been pulled out of the pile faster.

I really do like historicals, especially Gillian Bradshaw, and I’ve bought a couple by her recently, but I read ’em already — they never sit on the pile long — so having only one historical in there is a little misleading.

I know I keep saying how much I dislike literary fiction because so much of it is GRIM and DEPRESSING and it’s supposed to be all realistic and show you the misery hidden behind apparently normal but brittle facades and it’s all like, “But people really are like this, we’re just revealing the brutal truth of the human condition!”

And first of all I don’t think so and second who cares? I don’t read fiction to enjoy life-is-pointless messages, you know?

But the literary one on the pile is THE MAYTREES by Annie Dillard, which means I bet it’s actually like poetry loosely disguised as prose, right? Plus with themes that are (in the end) far more positive than a lot of the other literary stuff I’ve waded through in the past. I’ve read several books of hers, including that one that won the Pulitzer, you know, PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK, the one that is disguised as a set of nature essays but is really an extended reflection on the nature of God? And although I can now thank her for providing me with a couple of REALLY DISTURBING images that will haunt me forever (the moth, right? and that thing with the frog?), it was still a very beautiful book. So I’m not too worried about THE MAYTREES.

Not in the mood for it right now, no. But not worried.

I’m taking off the first three weeks of August (Summer classes end August 1st and the Fall semester starts August 22nd). I have a major revision of a new ms to work on in that time. Can I possibly FINISH the revision in a mere three weeks? We’ll find out when it comes to it, but I can tell you, I won’t be reading fiction in those weeks!

So how much of a dent in the TBR pile can I make BEFORE August? Here’s my chance to find out. I plan to enjoy it. And go through quite a lot of extremely good-quality very dark chocolate. Umm. Great chocolate and a great book: a killer combination.

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Recent Reading: The Blue Place

So, THE BLUE PLACE, by Nicola Griffith.

It’s a mystery! With suspense and some violence and a beautifully handled romance.

No doubt I could have found that out reading reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, but instead I found it out by, you know, reading the book. Definitely kind of weird not to know ahead of time.

It’s not a thriller because the action isn’t nonstop and the stakes don’t rachet up every chapter. But the way Griffith handled the violent scenes was amazing, I just loved the stream-of-consciousness thing, like here:

It unfolded like a stop-motion film of a blooming rose: bright, beautiful and blindingly fast. And I wanted to laugh as I ducked and lunged; wanted to sing as I sank my fist wrist deep in an abdomen, whipped an elbow up, up through a fragile jawbown, slid to the side of a thrusting arm and took it, turning it, levering up, letting the body follow in an ungraceful arc. . . . Body under my hands folding to the floor, not moving. Nothing moving but me, feeling vast and brilliant with strength, immeasurable and immortal.

Wow. I mean, wow. Look at that super-long sentence in the middle, doesn’t that just PULL you through the action? Whoosh! How about that reaction to violence: isn’t this a wonderful character? This woman, Aud Torvingen, could be a very scary person, couldn’t she? Turns out that’s why she’s an ex-cop, because for her violence has so much potential to be addictive.

But the violence doesn’t scare us, because we’ve already seen, in an earlier episode, that she is also kind — kind when it’s not necessary, not fundamentally important to her; kind to people who aren’t (initially) at all attractive. Here’s where I really began to like Aud as a person:

I tucked [Beatriz’s] face into my shoulder so she wouldn’t see the stares [after breaking down and making a scene], and carried her to the elevator, down fourteen floors, through the lobby, into the street, and across to the parking lot. I lifted her into the front seat, got a blanket from the trunk, tucked her up and fastened her seatbeat.

This isn’t a lover or a child or anything, just Aud’s client [Aud was her bodyguard]. I really did not like or care about this silly twit of a young woman until after this scene. I liked seeing her recover and pull herself together and bloom.

The love story central to the story is lesbian, let me just say, in case that’s a plus or a minus for you. It is handled with matter-of-fact delicacy, not a trace of that I’m-so-progressive-look-at-my-lesbian-character attitude that I think is pretty common. None of that angst-y gushy hormone-ridden thing that I’m so tired of, either. The sex is not too explicit and does not take over the book, which was good news for me. I loathe books where there are so many explicit, detailed sex scenes that there’s no time for anything to, you know, actually happen, and the plot (what there is of it) kind of vanishes.

There is a lot more time devoted to the central romance than to the violent scenes. I personally loved the slow, smooth development of the romance and did not long in any way for more action through those scenes.

The protagonist is Norwegian and a lot of the development of the romantic relationship is set in Norway and honestly it left me kind of longing to visit Norway, which is a first for me. Though with the temps outside soaring into the 100s, I must say, I’m sure primed to think wistfully about a Norwegian spring.

Setting is so important to me in mysteries — for me, mysteries are all about character and setting. Plot and the actual mystery are much less important. That’s good in this book because I did figure out who the shadowy mysterious bad guy was long before the protagonist did. (I wasn’t trying. It just made literary sense that this would be the bad guy. To be fair, Aud also wasn’t really trying. She didn’t really care until close to the end.)

The writing throughout is just exquisite. I’m not just saying that because the author read the previous post, either. Really. Exquisite. This book is a keeper just for that. It’s a book to read slowly, savoring every line. It makes me think of Francine Prose’s book READING LIKE A WRITER, which is all about how much you can learn from reading slowly and attentively — that’s really a great book which I highly recommend, btw.

One warning: Look at the author’s comment on the previous post; she’s quite right; the underlying message isn’t the least bit nihilistic, but the ending is heartbreaking.

I see there are sequels. I was going to check, because I am definitely not ready to put this one away.

So glad I finally took this book off the TBR pile and opened it up!

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

Recent Reading: Technique

So I’ve had this book, THE BLUE PLACE, by Nicola Griffith, on my TBR pile for a couple of years now. Lesse . . . ah, I see it was published way back in 1998. Well, I haven’t had it in the TBR stack for quite that long, but definitely for some time.

It’s one of those books where the publisher, in its infinite wisdom, declined to put any kind of plot or character description on the back or in the inside flap or anyplace. The front cover says “a novel of suspense”, which at least gives me a hint, even though all the text on the cover is lower case, including the author’s name, which look suspiciously literary and kind of pretentious and is something of a turn-off for me.

The back cover just has a couple of lauditory quotes, which is all very well, but doesn’t exactly carry any kind of information about what the book is ABOUT, right? I mean, there are hints about theme, and that’s fine and dandy, but can I have a hint about the plot?

Why did I get this book in the first place? I remember making a deliberate decision to buy it, so it’s not like I found it at a garage sale. Did somebody recommend it? Don’t remember. Was it just the lauditory quote that goes “language brilliant and clear as sun-glittered water”? Can’t have been because I would have wanted more than that to go on, though praise of the language is always a draw for me.

Anyway, my first point is, one major reason why this book languished for so long in the TBR stack is that I couldn’t even tell what genre it was, much less get intrigued by a bit of clever back-cover copy. I see the publisher was Avon. Well, stupid decision on Avon’s part, or at least for me it totally backfired. I only picked it up now because I’m trying to clear the TBR pile of the books I’m LESS excited by, on the grounds that it’s just ridiculous to have some books in that pile for year after year. Time to read ’em or get rid of ’em, I have decided.

Turns out it’s a thriller or maybe suspense-mystery. I kind of thought it was SF, but I’m sixty pages in now and I don’t think so.


First two paragraphs:

An April night in Atlanta between thunderstorms: dark and warm and wet, sidewalks shiny with rain and slick with torn leaves and fallen azaliea blossoms. Nearly midnight. I had been walking for over an hour, covering four or five miles. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t sleepy.
You would think that my bad dreams would be of the first man I had killed, thirteen years ago. Or if not him, then maybe the teenager who had burned to death in front of me because I was too slow to get the man with the match. But no, when I turn out the lights at ten o’clock and can’t keep still, can’t even bear to sit down in my Lake Claire house, it’s because I see again the first body I hadn’t killed.

Now isn’t that interesting? Remember I didn’t know the protagonist was an ex-cop when I started reading, so that second paragraph has extra kick. Granted there’s a hint that she might be a cop or something, but we don’t know yet, not just from this.

We get that the book is probably going to be pretty violent and the protagonist is going to be struggling with inner demons because of some nasty stuff in her past. It’s a nice hook if you’re in the mood for a novel of suspense or a thriller or something of that kind.

But I’m more interested in the first paragraph. Did you notice the first couple of sentences aren’t actually complete sentences? Isn’t that interesting?

This immediately reminded me of a bit in Robert Olen Butler’s book on writing, FROM WHERE YOU DREAM, which actually I did not in general find very helpful — too geared toward letting your subconscious flow while writing literary masterpieces, not my thing — but check this out, where Butler is talking about writing as cinematic. I did find this whole chapter thought-provoking.

Butler says, “Now this is the great thing about fiction. We can move from fast action to slow motion to real time seamlessly and with great nuance” and then goes on to quote several pages of Dickons’ GREAT EXPECTATIONS, including this bit:

. . . “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!”
A fearful man, all in coarse gray, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied around his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.
“Oh, don’t cut my throat, sir,” . . .

Check that out! Not a single complete sentence in that whole descriptive paragraph.

Why? asks Butler, and goes on to answer that question: “Time has stopped. What are the parts of time that signify the passage of time? Active verbs. Things happen. But here nothing is happening except perception. It is beautifully appropriate — and you don’t even notice, except afterward …”

You don’t usually see this kind of technique in genre fiction. (Maybe you do, more, in literary fiction, but I really don’t know for sure because I read so little literary fiction, having been burned too often by nihilistic themes that have no appeal for me whatsoever. (And here I’m thinking of Barbara Kingsolver’s THE LACUNA, where the basic message of the book appeared to be: You can’t win against the forces of human prejudice and stupidity. Well, thanks lots, but personally I’d rather have a slightly more positive message.))

But for me, beautiful technique is a draw in itself — and here, it replaced the kind of interest that would usually be roused by back-cover copy. I read that first paragraph and was hooked by technique, before I got to the second and was caught by interest in the protagonist’s evidently brutal past and what it suggests about her immediate future. I am, as it happens, actually playing with this exact technique in a novel I have just barely begun. How interesting to see it here!

Now, just waiting to see how the book turns out . . .

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How is it —

That it took me so long to discover The Intern’s blog?

Cause today another very nice bit of analysis of The Hunger Games.

Not that it’s a new idea that, say, readers like a book to be rich in conflict, but this comparison to video games and addictiveness and what causes the addictiveness is really interesting. I would never have thought of a book in these terms because I don’t play video games. (And why not? Because I’m afraid I might like them too much — I have enough to do right now! Don’t need another hobby! So there’s the addictiveness idea right there.)

I wonder, if you did this kind of analysis of all the YA titles you find in WalMart — like Twilight and Divergent and Hush,Hush and City of Bones and so on and on and on — I wonder if you’d find this kind of writing pattern in both the good ones and the not so good ones?

I mean (to simplify) new discoveries prompt internal conflict –> internal conflict leads to a decision –> every chapter ends on an unresolved conflict.

Plus goals that are always, every minute, obvious to the reader. And every action having consequences. All that stuff The Intern describes.

I kind of suspect you would. I haven’t read all that many of the really popular YA titles — I mean, the supply of really popular YA titles appears to approximate infinity — but I wonder whether this particular writing pattern explains why some books that are objectively not very good nevertheless have such wide appeal?

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The Intern —

Has a really neat post up analyzing The Hunger Games.

Which I’m sure you’ve read. No? Well, then, I’m sure you should read it! And the sequels! Then you can join the rest of us in arguing about whether Mockingjay is
a) great or b) lousy. Not too many opinions in the middle on that one!

Anyway, HERE, and see what a really analytical person does for fun while the rest of us are playing solitaire.

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