Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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The necessary prequel

Intriguingly titled post at tor.com: Is There Such a Thing as a Necessary Prequel?

Hmm! A necessary prequel. One without which the novel itself cannot stand? One that the readers demand? What makes a prequel necessary? Why that prequel, and not some other prequel?

I have some important prequels around here and there. The most obvious is The Year’s Midnight, which is the prelude for the real story of the Death’s Lady trilogy. But is it a necessary prequel? I chose to write it. But I might equally have written an entire trilogy that handles the huge backstory, then used the story in The Year’s Midnight to link the huge prequel trilogy to the second almost equally huge story that happens sixteen years later. Who can say which part of the backstory is necessary? Other than me, deciding to write it or not write it.

Actually, I’m now more than a bit curious about the reading experience if someone skips The Year’s Midnight and reads the other two books in this set. Would the lack of that prelude interfere with the reading experience? If so, then the prelude is necessary.

In Winter of Ice and Iron, I started with a tiny prequel story about Innith’s mother — remember that?

In Law of the Broken Earth, I did the same thing, though the little prequel story was just a bit longer.

Of course some of the Black Dog novellas are prequel stories.

Well, enough thinking about my own prequels. What about this post? Let’s see —

The Magician’s Nephew was the hardest book to write in the Narnia series. It took C.S. Lewis five years, one significant redraft, and completing every other book in the Narnia series before he’d finally beaten The Magician’s Nephew into an acceptable shape.

Ah, okay. The post is about writing prequels after the series is complete, and is arguing that most authors can’t or don’t write prequels that stand up to the original series in quality. Why do so many screenwriters and novelists think they can toss off a prequel that’s genuinely satisfying? The pop culture landscape is rife with prequels that either bombed entirely or quietly faded from fandom memoryWhy are prequels so hard to pull off?

I don’t know, are prequels hard to pull off, really? Of course a lot of the linked post is about movies. I don’t watch that many movies, so I’m not particularly familiar with those. But while on the subject, here is a fun post: 10 Science Fiction Prequels that Aren’t as Bad as Phantom Menace

Yes, I heard quite a bit about Phantom Menace at the time.

Let me think. Steven Brust has moved back and forth a lot along Vlad’s personal timeline while writing the Taltos series. I don’t think moving back in time is a problem in this series, although some books in the series are not necessarily ones to re-read. (Thinking of Tekla, of course.) If he did that now, it might seem a little odd, after moving so far forward along in Vlad’s life. But this is still one of the best examples I can think of.

Lois McMaster Bujold wrote Barrayar after writing several books about Miles. That was definitely a successful prequel novel. Looks like Shards of Honor and The Warrior’s Apprentice came out the same year? I don’t remember that. I wonder which she actually wrote first. Either way, she backtracked to write Barrayar.

In fact, if she wanted to go on with the Vorkosigan series, one way to do that would be to go way back in time and write prequels. I grant, she doesn’t seem to have much interest in doing that. Which is too bad; wouldn’t you like to see a couple books set during the Cetagandan invasion? That may be one of the prequels I would most enjoy reading.

Okay, on that note — what’s a prequel you would particularly enjoy, to a series or a standalone that doesn’t have one now?

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Progress report

Oh, well, actually, this past weekend was VERY NONPRODUCTIVE in some ways. In other ways, well —

a) My parents finally got Covid vaccinations, yay! While this didn’t take TOO long, it did take most of Saturday morning and then I never quite back to opening up my laptop. Especially because it was easily warm enough for the dogs to enjoy long walks, plus there is still enough snow to keep their feet clean, so there went the afternoon.

b) I spent all of Sunday baking. I do very little baking these days, but every now and then I have some decent-ish excuse. This time I made corn fritters — I don’t know why, but now that I mostly avoid carbs, corn fritters are something I miss. The sweet kind that you serve with syrup. Then I made a kind of unbaked cheesecake suitable to put in dessert dishes instead of a crust.

Then I made a chocolate layer cake with some of my black cocoa powder. Has anyone tried this? The cocoa powder is very heavily dutched, that’s why it’s so dark in color. The cake comes out VERY black, but with less chocolate flavor than if you used regular cocoa. I used some bittersweet chocolate in addition to the cocoa powder and this cake came out rather well. I was going to make black chocolate frosting as well, but wound up making a not-too-sweet white cream cheese filling instead and using that, so the cake wasn’t unrelieved black.

Anyway, half the cake went to my parents and the other half largely wound up in my freezer. I really overdosed on sugar and won’t have any trouble sticking to the keto diet for the rest of the week, I’m pretty sure.

So the only thing I actually got done:

c) I did read through the current version of Of Absence, Darkness. Wow, reordering certain scenes created VERY ABRUPT scene shifts here and there, which I had not previously realized. So I smoothed those out. I’m also integrating various first readers’ comments and smoothing out the phrasing of sentences and fixing typos and all that. I have now ended this book earlier than I previously intended, so it will come out a little short, whereas the final book will be a little long. I didn’t quite finish that over the weekend, but should be able to do that tonight.

As a side note, I also realized what the other Big Problem will be for the fifth Tuyo novel. I already knew about the most important Big Problem, which has to do with, um, never mind, but the point is, there was no actual villain of any kind in the fifth book. Now I think there is. Unless I change my mind, I know who the villain is and why this person is a villain and what’s going on with all that. I like this idea so far and made a quick note of it so I don’t forget before I get around to actually writing this book.

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Back cover copy for Tarashana

You know what? It never really occurred to me that bringing five books out this spring meant I would keep needing to write back cover descriptions!

Aargh!

So, anyway, I just uploaded Tarashana in KDP and Kindle formats, and in the space where it says “description,” I just wrote “add description here” so that I could move on and upload the documents. I did that so I could see how many pages the book will be in KDP, so I can pass that information to the cover artist. (If you’re interested, 455 pp in the 6 inch x 9 inch size.) (If you’re interested in what that actually means, this book is just about 50,000 words longer than Tuyo.)

I actually have a tiny bit more revision to do, which I’m rather hoping to compress into adding a few sentences here and there. I will endeavor not to change the page numbers significantly. I don’t think it will be a problem. I also threw a fake cover on the book and ordered a proof copy so that I can look it over ONE MORE TIME for typos.

[By the way, someone just read Black Dog for the first time, then connected with me via Messenger, and sent me a list of, I don’t know, twenty or so typos that were still in that book. It’s humbling, that’s what it is. I sent her the next couple of books and dared her to find as many in Copper Mountain, since I think the proofing process is more thorough now than it used to be. I’m betting fewer than five. We’ll see!]

But my POINT is, I have to write back cover copy for this book. Several of you have a knack for spotting problems in book descriptions and suggesting better phrasing, and of course a few of you have read the manuscript and might be able to make very pointed suggestions. As always, I prefer not to give too much away. So here goes:

A year and a half ago, Ryo and Aras defeated their enemy, ending the conflict between the winter country and the summer lands. But Lord Aras, all his important secrets revealed in that struggle, now faces a different kind of challenge in dealing with his own countrymen.

Then a message arrives from Ryo’s people: A woman of the Tarashana has come to them from the starlit lands beyond their northern border. Though she plainly needs their help, she is mute. She cannot explain what happened to her people or describe what enemy drove them from their lands. No Ugaro can speak to her — but Aras might. Will he come, and by his arts help Tarashana and Ugaro understand one another?

Intrigued by this problem, and with every reason to leave his own country for some time, Aras agrees. But the journey upon which he and Ryo embark will be far longer and far more challenging than either of them could possibly expect …

There, how does that seem? Does anything in that sound wrong to anyone — too wordy, too vague, awkward, uninviting?

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Happy-Sad Endings

At Writers Helping Writers, this post: Story Resolutions: Mastering the Happy-Sad Ending

Good topic! I like happy endings, but yes, I also often like happy-sad endings. I sometimes (rarely) am okay with tragic endings. I detest grimdark endings.

Now, this post does begin by asserting that purely happy or purely sad endings “don’t always provide a solid emotional punch,” which is fair, I guess, because of the word “always” in there. However, I think it’s quite obvious that purely happy endings can indeed provide a powerful emotional punch. So can tragic endings. It’s not necessary to claim otherwise in order to justify happy-sad endings, which should be chosen NOT because they carry more emotional punch, but because they suit the story that has been told. Which sometimes they do!

Let me see where this post goes … well, I might argue with a good many of the premises of this post, but I do agree with this bit:

After some tinkering, I stumbled onto a secret for creating this emotionally complex story resolution: For the happy-sad ending to work, the two emotions should be tied to each other in one sequence of cause and effect. In other words, one should not be possible without the other. 

That seems right. Anything else is likely to taken as evidence that the author is manipulating the reader. If the happy part is not linked to the sad part, it’ll feel like one or the other is gratuitous. In fact, it’ll feel that way because one or the other will BE gratuitous.

The post then identifies different ways to link the happy part to the sad part. Let’s see …

1) The Character Deliberately Sacrifices the Goal So They Can Attain Something More Important

Yes, this fundamentally happens in every successful romance novel. That’s kind of the point. The female lead, the male lead, or both have to give up something they thought crucial in order to commit to the other person. That’s not actually a happy-sad ending, of course, as the thing given up is shown to be not worth having.

I suppose a better example would occur in Dragon’sbane by Barbara Hambly, when Jenny giving up being a dragon in order to have her human life. She really did have to give up something she valued in order to attain that ending.

2) The Character Fails in Achieving Their Goal, But They Do Attain Growth

I suppose that could work, if the goal was not the one they should have been pursing in the first place. Otherwise, this book better be Book Two in a series. As the final ending of a story, I can’t see this being adequately satisfying.

3) The Character Is Only Partially Successful

Again, this might work best if the goal was only partially one they should have attained.

4) The Character Gets What They Want But They Lose Something Vital

Ah, we are into the realm of sad endings here. If the character loses something vital, this is a fundamentally tragic story. I’m not sure the example given in the post works well — the author of the post cites the fifth Harry Potter book, referring to the loss of Sirius Black. I don’t believe that’s fair. The death of that character provides a sad note to the ending, but this loss is not “something vital.” Let me see.

Okay, a better example: the ending of The Hunger Games trilogy. In fact, I thought Collins overdid the tragic element of that ending by quite a bit. I have never had an inclination to re-read that trilogy because of the (gratuitous, imo) loss of something vital.

5) The Character Sacrifices Himself to Gain Victory for Good 

Too many examples of that to count, but, to mention one I personally found tolerable, Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy ends this way. That’s hard to pull off well enough for the ending to work for me. Part of the reason it works in this example is that the victory is very important. The other reason it works is that so many of the other characters are so important that the loss of this one specific character becomes more tolerable.

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Progress report

Wow, so much snow! Lots more in other areas of the country, I realize, but plenty here. About a foot, I guess. Too much for Pippa; she gets off into the deep snow and flounders. I swept the front walkway; a neighbor plowed the driveway, the county people plowed the road; it’s fine to take her out on leash. Just 0° and thus a bit chilly.

I am very definitely staying home. I brought stuff home to do for work, which I will get to later today because hey, no need to keep a schedule. Also, the computer people hadn’t yet looked at my laptop, but I took it back for now until they actually have time to look at it. So that is much better and lets me get more done at home.

So:

A) I have been spending mornings working on Invictus, because why not. I must say, it is a lot easier to revise now that I know what everybody’s secret plans actually are.

B) I put Tarashana into into the KDP template and did the necessary formatting. WOW IS THAT TEDIOUS. That is now finished, thank heaven. I will just correct the hopefully few remaining typos in both the Kindle and the KDP versions. That is a little annoying, but not bad, compared to formatting everything in the first place.

C) Ditto for The Year’s Midnight. That was half the length, so half as tedious. I probably (certainly) will have a few typos to correct there too.

D) Started to do the small amount of revision for Of Absence, Darkness, but felt unenthusiastic and took an extended break to read the By-and-Rish fanfic Pete linked to in the previous post. Very enjoyable!

E) Started again this morning with (D), still unenthusiastic, took notes for TUYO books 4 and 5 instead.

However, I will ABSOLUTELY start that revision today. Or definitely tomorrow. Honestly, it isn’t that bad. The first step is to decide for sure where exactly to break book II from book III. Then a really quite trivial amount of revision, relatively speaking. Then typos. Then drop them into the KDP template and format. I would like to have most or all of that done by this time next week.

Is it crazy to bring the whole Death’s Lady trilogy AND Tarashana out in March? Because I think there is a good chance everything will be ready.

I hope everyone is staying warm and enjoying the snow!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Here is a post from Book Bub: 24 Readers Share the Most Romantic Books They’ve Ever Read

I’ve even read a few of those, though I don’t believe I’d have thought of any of them right off as “most romantic books ever.” But then, I don’t often go out of my way to read books that are heavy in the romance department, though I do read some romances, of course. I also enjoy a romance in an SFF novel, if it’s not too angsty and emotionally overwrought, and if it’s embedded in a good story with good worldbuilding.

In the order in which I happened to think of them: SFF Romances —

  1. Miles and Ekaterin
  2. Come to think of it, also Cordelia and Aral. Good heavens, what a terrible cover Shards of Honor has now. I mean, seriously.
  3. Dag and Fawn
  4. Tier and Seraph in the Raven duology by Patricia Briggs
  5. Oh! Don’t know why I didn’t think of them first, but of course Koaren and Cassandra in the Touchstone trilogy.
  6. I’m currently rereading The Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker, so Amaranth and Sicarius.
  7. New to my favorite-romance list, Elsa and Kit from From All False Doctrine.
  8. Wen and Jasper from Fortune and Fate
  9. Zoe and Darien from Troubled Waters.
  10. Your Choice Here

Who leaps to mind for you all? Who would you put in the tenth spot?

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What do we see when we read?

A fascinating article: What We See When We Read

A thought experiment: Picture your mother. Now picture your favorite literary character. (Or: Picture your home. Then picture Howards End.) The difference between your mother’s afterimage and that of a literary character you love is that the more you concentrate, the more your mother might come into focus. A character will not reveal herself so easily. (The closer you look, the farther away she gets.)

This whole article is well worth reading.

It’s also interesting to me because I do relatively little — sometimes almost no — physical description of characters. I have literally written entire books without ever describing the protagonist. That has occasionally caused a few minutes of bother, as an editor will sometimes ask, “Who’s an actor who looks sort of like your protagonist?” and I have no idea (a) of the names of any actors of remotely the right age and general type; and (b) only a vague idea what my protagonist looks like. I have to sit down and google “young male actors” or whatever and scan through a lot of images until I finally say, “Sort of like Really Famous Person I Had Never Previously Heard Of.”

In some ways I have a very visual imagination. But not in that way.

By all means click through and consider the question of what Anna Karenina looks like.

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Unexpected progress report

So, we had three snow days in a row this past week, which means:

a) I finished revising the Tarashana manuscript, which is now ready for me to send it out for proofreading. Some of you will get those requests today. No rush whatsoever! I can’t see myself bringing this book out before April. But I think this is a really good story and I hope you all enjoy it.

b) I did a bit of revision of The Year’s Midnight and I’m now ready to put the story into the KDP template and then load the final version plus the cover, so yay! Serious progress there. I will then get a proof copy and go over that one more time, by which I mean, I will ask my mother to go over it. She has a very good eye for typos.

c) I could not do any revision for Death’s Lady II or III because, argh, the laptop I am using cannot look at .doc files properly. I will now, today, at work, create .docx files which that laptop’s crappy, stripped-down word processing program will be able to handle.

d) But! Since I was finished with (a) and (b) and couldn’t do (c), I obviously had NO CHOICE but to start revising Invictus according to the notes I took a couple of weeks ago. This is the sort of thing where one very slowly and carefully spends about two hours revising the first three paragraphs of the story, BUT it is also the sort of thing that I enjoy doing, as long as I like the story in the first place. The revision I have in mind is working fine, although this first part is going so slowly.

With luck I will be able to / have no choice but to put Invictus aside and work on Death’s Lady II and III this weekend. With REAL luck, I will get all the minor revisions and proofing done for that this weekend. That would be fabulous, but it may be a tiny bit optimistic.

By the way, TUYO is free today and through the weekend. This is the last time it will be free for a couple-three months because that’s how KDP free days work; five possible free days per three-month period. So, hey, if you think of someone who might like the book, this is the time to send them a free copy!

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Swinburne again

Really, Swinburne is one of my favorites. Those gloomy topics appeal to me in poetry, but more than that, Swinburne does wonderful things with rhythm and rhyme and alliteration.

Here’s a poem I didn’t use for the titles for the Death’s Lady series, but thought about seriously. It’s not truly suitable in theme or tone, but I do love this poem. Oddly, the second-to-the-last stanza is the one that I clearly recognize. One would think any Lit textbook would quote the whole thing. Either this stanza stood out for me at the time or perhaps I’ve seen it quoted elsewhere.

The Garden of Proserpine

Here, where the world is quiet;
         Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds’ and spent waves’ riot
         In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
         A sleepy world of streams.

I am tired of tears and laughter,
         And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
         For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
         And everything but sleep.

Here life has death for neighbour,
         And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labour,
         Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
         And no such things grow here.

No growth of moor or coppice,
         No heather-flower or vine,
But bloomless buds of poppies,
         Green grapes of Proserpine,
Pale beds of blowing rushes
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
Save this whereout she crushes
         For dead men deadly wine.

Pale, without name or number,
         In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
         All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
         Comes out of darkness morn.

Though one were strong as seven,
         He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
         Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
         In the end it is not well.

Pale, beyond porch and portal,
         Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
         With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love’s who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
         From many times and lands.

She waits for each and other,
         She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
            The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
         And flowers are put to scorn.

There go the loves that wither,
         The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
         And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
         Red strays of ruined springs.

We are not sure of sorrow,
         And joy was never sure;
To-day will die to-morrow;
         Time stoops to no man’s lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
         Weeps that no loves endure.

From too much love of living,
         From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
         Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
         Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Then star nor sun shall waken,
         Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
         Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
         In an eternal night.

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The Year’s Midnight

The full cover:

I think all the details have been taken care of, and thank you particulaly to those of you who pointed out the “y” in lady looked like a “t.”

As you see, the sword is more prominent, so that should say FANTASY clearly enough, especially since the sword is referenced in the first paragraphs of the story.

I have to say, with that full moon and the sword, I really think any human figure, especially a woman, would indeed scream URBAN FANTASY, so I’m glad I went for an ambiguously eerie scene with a sword instead. The other two covers should be more fantasy and less literary, yet consistent with this, so that’ll be a challenge.

I am proofing this story today, by the way, with a tiny bit of revision as I go. We are currently watching ice fall out of the sky, so it’s a good thing I have stuff I can do from home. There goes the grit truck! But I will stay in and not test the roads personally.

This is our second snow day this week. Yesterday I finished revising Tarashana, so I am happy to say things are moving right along! In fact, everything is moving along so well that, barring disaster, I kinda think I will most likely release this trilogy in March and Tarashana possibly as early as April and probably not later than May. That will certainly clear a large chunk of the year to work on other things. I don’t mind this finishing work, but I am looking forward to that!

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