Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Interruptions are part of a writer’s life

So, good thing I took notes about the changes I want to make to chapter three of my WIP, because last night I got the copy-edited manuscript for HOUSE OF SHADOWS and that gets priority.

Usually the publisher gives you something on the order of two or three weeks to get the copy-edited ms back to them, but I always like to beat deadlines, so I’ll try to turn this around in less than a week. I usually find it takes about four days to go over a copy-edited manuscript, as long as I can work on it every day.

You can just go through and look at all the copy editor’s flags, and since it’s faster, it’s kind of tempting to do it that way if you’re busy with other things, but Orbit in particular is VERY CLEAR about wanting any substantive changes to happen at this stage and not at the page-proof stage (which is the stage at which every page looks like it will in the book) (because changes at the page-proof stage cost money, so you can see why they care about this).

So that means it’s best to actually read through the whole thing with careful attention. You also want to do this in case the copy editor missed something — and let me say here that I heart copy editors. They don’t miss much. I’m so impressed when a copy editor says “Here on p. 314 you say Thus And So, but this seems to conflict with something you said back on page 10.” See how much attention they have to pay to everything in order to do that? I think I have a knack for this kind of thing, but copy editors seem to have a BETTER knack for it.

Also, unless you have gone through this, you just can’t believe how hard it is to catch every single typo and every single instance of a repeated word and so forth. Layer after layer of checking and there can still be a typo or three in the page proofs — or even in the final book, which is SO EMBARRASSING.

So anyway — I’ve sharpened my colored pencils and cleared off my table and everything is ready. Hopefully not more than four days for this little project.

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Oh, The Agony —

Three hours of work last night, to fiddle with three paragraphs of the story.

Okay . . . maybe it was more like two hours and five pages. And yes, I figured out how to handle the chapter better. So it was not actually a waste of time. Hopefully I will finish streamlining this chapter tonight . . . or at least by tomorrow night . . . after which I will have a chapter or two to relax before I hit the next chapter that needs actual work.

Naturally, I figured out how to reorganize this problem chapter after finally shutting down the laptop and going to bed. Why is it that you immediately figure things out after shutting things down for the night? ‘Cause it totally happens ALL THE TIME. I scrawl a quick note so I don’t forget, but I never actually start working again.

I am working, as I said, on streamlining — cutting Erest’s point-of-view chapters and also getting more “in his head” and giving his early chapters a more immediate feel. This is a certain amount of work, but at least I am pretty sure none of my characters have ever been hit by the Character Transformation Bazooka.

I miss INTERN and am reading her archived posts, see. You should read the whole thing! Because it’s funny as well as insightful! But the most directly useful bit was this:

“INTERN has been doing a lot of research into this triumph thing, and has found that really effective triumphs in novels happen only after one or a few of the following have happened in the story:

-a character has had to sacrifice something
-a character has had to make a high-stakes choice or moral decision
-a character has tried several other options and failed
-a character has suffered a hard loss or injury over the course of struggling towards a particular goal
-a character has, indeed, been struggling in some way, not floating along easily.
-a character has been forced to change significantly
-a character has undergone real trials and conflicts pertaining to the goal

If none of these things have happened, but your characters are still smiling weepily and holding each other while Chariots of Fire plays in the background, they’re probably the victims of a T-Bomb.”

This is the kind of post that makes you (a) laugh and be glad you never do this, followed rapidly by (b) worry that maybe you HAVE done this. You have to quickly think of all the moments in your book where Chariots of Fire might plausibly be in the soundtrack and confirm that yes, yes indeed, the characters have earned their moments of triumph.

Which they HAVE. I’m pretty sure.

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Cory Doctorow —

Finds that self-publication is a lot of work.

“I knew I’d have to do some of the stuff my publisher had done, but like everyone doing something complicated for the first time, I dramatically underestimated how much work this would be. It’s not impossible, and it’s not horrible work – it’s challenging, exciting stuff, but it’s incredibly time consuming . . .”

Sigh.

If everything that’s worth doing is worth doing well, then everything is going to take a lot of time. Can I have a clone to do half of it for me?

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Long weekend over —

Lots of watering (OH IF ONLY IT WOULD RAIN), lots of weeding, quite a bit of tedious deadheading of the buddleias because I want them to keep blooming through September, and . . . to my surprise, I actually started my next project. I meant to take a break until today, but just kind of found myself in the mood for . . . manuscript revision! Who knew?

I’m also trying around the edges to come up with a decent title for this WIP, but for the moment I’ll just call it KEEPER, okay? Which I do not like at all as a title, but it’ll work for now as a tag.

What I’m doing with KEEPER is reducing one main character’s (Erest’s) role and also working on streamlining the plot. It’s tricky because I’m taking out big chunks and then having to work back in little tidbits of exposition so the reader will know what’s going on. Sometimes this means taking out all references to Various Plot Elements and making a mental note that those Plot Elements need to be introduced later. I have a pretty good memory for this sort of thing, but obviously at the end I will need to read back through the whole story to make sure everything flows and I didn’t miss anything.

My guess is my enthusiasm for this project will wane shortly. Sigh. At least interspersed with the hard parts I get the easy parts — reading through Oressa’s chapters, which hardly need to change at all.

Hopefully be done by the end of the month, despite dog shows and Archon. Then I’ll have to decide on another project, something brand new. So many choices! A sequel for House of Shadows (coming next spring)? A sequel for The Floating Islands? This extraordinarily cool thing I want to do based on an alternate pseudo-Ottoman Empire?

First step is still to finish this revision, though, so onward with that . . .

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Just occurred to me —

One of the many reasons I loved ALWAYS by Nicola Griffith, besides the really great writing, is because it is primarily a romance, and yet in addition to the romance, actual stuff happens during the book.

Generally I don’t much care for romances, because if there’s nothing going on but Boy Meets Girl Boy Loses Girl Boy Gets Girl . . . well, excuse me, but boring.

In ALWAYS, there’s plenty going on. It’s just all going on around the edges.

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Recent Reading —

So, finished of Nicola Griffith’s outstanding trilogy, THE BLUE PLACE, STAY, and ALWAYS.

They are interestingly difficult to categorize, but I’d say the first book is a mystery with important thriller and romance components, the second a grief-and-recovery story with mystery components, and the third a romance with a mystery around the edges. Since they all have mystery aspects, so does this mean you’d find them in the mystery section at your local bookstore (if, sigh, you still HAVE a local bookstore)?

My copy of ALWAYS has a quote on the front from the NY Times book reviews that’s something on the order of: “A classic noir heroine . . .” Which is so not true.
Aud Torvingen is way cooler than the classic heroines *I* can think of.

She’s tough, but really humanized by events in the first book; she’s drawn to violence, but kind even when she doesn’t need to be; she’s philosophical, but certainly doesn’t “live in her head”. Right near the end, someone tells Aud: “You’re a sensualist, a hedonist of the first order.” This is SO TRUE.

ALWAYS makes extensive use of flashbacks, interweaving a secondary story with the primary — and in the process, providing almost a You Are There experience for a woman’s self-defense course. If Aud was teaching a self-defense course near me, I’d take it! Loved the pinatas. What a motivator!

My only quibble: I don’t believe in the thing with the cherry tree. Nobody could be that blind about how Kick felt about that tree.

Okay, anyway, great book, fantastic characters, beautiful writing all through. I think my favorite was the first one — or maybe the second — or possibly the third. They were all so well done! (Okay, if you twisted my arm, I think I would choose the second as my favorite.)

I can hardly tell you how much I would LOVE to see more in this series.

I’m afraid that the next book I read will suffer by comparison with my recent reading, so I’ll be sticking to nonfiction for a few days . . .

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Here’s an nice post . . .

About fantasy worlds: Which ones would you want to actually live in?

This is hardly a new question, but this one is oriented toward YA fantasy, and guess what world gets tapped as great for kids to live in or visit?

Go take a look.

If you’re going to choice a fantasy world to live in, I’d agree, THE FLOATING ISLANDS has a lot to offer. If you got to choose and had to pick one, would you rather learn to fly or do magic?

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Recent reading —

I’m back to Nicola Griffith! Just about gave me whiplash to go from Sarah Prineas to Nicola Griffith. Both are great writers, but THE MAGIC THIEF is all light, quick, fun, with dragons! and then from there STAY is this intense, grief-and-recovery story where the only monsters are the human ones.

I don’t like to read in quick succession two stories that are too similar to each other: they get confused in my head and I don’t wind up enjoying either of them as much as they deserve, or if one is much worse than the other, I wind up feeling like neither was very good. So going from Prineas to Griffith wasn’t an accident. Jarring, yes, but on purpose and in a good way!

Now:

STAY by Griffith is a wonderful book, a very worthy sequel to THE BLUE PLACE, which as I mentioned a few weeks ago is a beautifully written mystery (or thriller or something over on that side of the genre family.) If I were in a reading group or book club, I’d try to get everyone to read THE BLUE PLACE and then we could take a vote on what it is!

STAY is, as I said, a grief-and-recovery story, so that does give you a spoiler for the first book (sorry). In STAY, Aud is a much more human, much more approachable protagonist. I liked her very much in the first book, but there she was sort of superhuman and in STAY that isn’t true.

Single best line: “So you won’t be lonely?” Read the book and you’ll find out what this is such a GREAT LINE.

Best plot element: I would never have expected the poor, white, fundamentalist Christian family to be presented so sympathetically and believably. I was amazed and delighted at how this family did not comply with any of Aud’s biases and how the author made each family member a rounded character.

Bottom line: Excellent writing, great storytelling with startling plot twists, not exactly a mystery or a thriller and in fact pretty hard to classify, but a VERY good book.

Note: A lesbian relationship is central to the story, so if that’s a big plus or minus for you, just letting you know.

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Good news!

ISLANDS has gone for a second printing! Particularly good news considering that it’s still in hardcover.

I do think the cover helped:

Absolutely everybody loves this cover

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Stochiometrical . . .

Has got to be one of the most unusual words ever to appear in a fantasy novel, wouldn’t you agree?

I laughed out loud when the concept of stochiometry and stochiometrical measurement appeared in Sarah Prineas’ story THE MAGIC THIEF: FOUND. I guess it’s not totally coincidental that her husband’s a physicist?

Anyway, great book, loved the way it ended, loved the resolution of the main problem. Didn’t see it coming. Way more interesting than a standard Good Guy Defeats Bad Guy resolution. And I’m glad that Conn didn’t . . . well, never mind! Don’t want to provide major spoilers.

Biscuits appear frequently in The Magic Thief! In honor of biscuits, let me provide a recipe for The Best Scones in the World:

COCONUT CHOCOLATE CHIP SCONES

2 C. white whole wheat flour
1 C. Unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C. cold unsalted butter
1 C. sweetened shredded coconut
1 egg
1 1/4 C coconut milk (I like the Choakoh brand)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp coconut extract
3/4 C top-quality bittersweet chocolate chips

Whisk together the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. You really need to cut in the butter if you want flaky scones. If you have one of those awful flimsy pastry cutters with round wires, throw it away and get a good sturdy one with flat blades. Anyway, whisk together the wet ingredients and add; stir just until evenly moistened. Stir in the chocolate chips, which are given as optional, but trust me here, put them in.

Easy way to shape scones: spoon half the dough onto one end of a parchment-lined baking sheet and the other half onto the other end of the same baking sheet. Pat each half into a circle about 1/2 inch thick and 6 inches in diameter. Freeze. Cut each circle into 8 wedges after thoroughly frozen. Wrap in plastic and keep in freezer to store, or place wedges on a different parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes. You can brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with more coconut before baking if you like.

Personally I want my scones freshly baked and warm, so I freeze the scones unbaked and bake as I want them. Surprisingly, you barely have to adjust baking times to do it this way.

Okay! Pick a leisurely Sunday morning and try these out. Then you can write and thank me.

Now, I didn’t make that recipe up, though I wish I had bragging rights to it! I got it from WHOLE GRAIN BAKING, this big handsome hardcover put out by The King Arthur Flour Company. I got it because I thought that it’d have lots of recipes in it that I didn’t already have in my other billion cookbooks, and I figured that KING ARTHUR FLOUR would publish great recipes. I was right on both counts!

Here’s another recipe from the same book that I just tried out the other day, when I suddenly decided to make a pumpkin bread pudding (one of the neighbors brought me a lot of butternut squash, so really a squash bread pudding) and I didn’t happen to have any good dense bread around.

I made this great bread which was really excellent for the bread pudding but also really excellent toasted and served with honey. Notice the orange juice in it? You don’t taste the orange. It’s there to compensate for the tannic bitterness of so much traditional whole wheat flour, so you really should use it if that’s the kind of flour you’re going to use. If you use white whole wheat, it doesn’t matter as much.

KING ARTHUR FLOUR’s NATURALLY SWEET WHEAT BREAD

2 Tbsp orange juice
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp veg. oil
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 C. (packed) raisins (I used golden raisins)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
3/4 C milk, lukewarm
1 1/4 C whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
3/4 C rye or white rye flour (I used white rye)
1 1/2 C unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp instant yeast

KING ARTHUR says process the liquid ingredients with the raisins and sugar until the raisins are finely ground. I didn’t, though maybe next time I will. I just tossed everything in the bread machine, set to whole wheat, and walked away. I did peek during the kneading and add a little more water. It came out a lovely, high, soft loaf. It did seem a shame to cube three quarters of the loaf and set it out to stale for the bread pudding. I’ll definitely make this again. Then, since I’m a carb fan, I’ll probably eat half the loaf instead of actually having supper.

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