Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Pippa is home

Ice storms do not help in these situations, but I managed to get to Columbia and back today. I passed three current (minor) accidents and an ungodly number of cars that obviously got stuck yesterday. Despite all that, really the roads were pretty good … mostly.

Six weeks crate rest. The neurologist was very clear. Jumping off the couch could be, quote, catastrophic, unquote. Pippa is not normally a staid, calm, laid-back creature, but we will manage. As you see from this picture, she is very tired now that she is home.

Me too. Good night.

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Make it not boring

A post at Book View Cafe: Flying by the Seat of Your Pants

Since a pantser has no plan and no outline, you have to have a clear vision. Not necessarily of where the work is going to go. But you have to feel, clearly, what the work has to be like. You need to discern when it’s slipping away from your vision. Are the characters talking too much? Shut them up. … Is it boring? … Do anything you have to, to make it not boring.

Good advice!

I’m currently reading Fire With Fire by Charles Gannon. I keep almost stopping and do-no-finishing it because I hit a section where people are talking about political maneuvering and I … yep … get bored. Then, just before I stop, something less boring starts to happen and I go on with the book after all.

This is despite Gannon’s tendency to do “skip scenes” where he jumps over a few months or some indeterminate period of time. That ought to be where the boring parts happen. But too often we get right down into the political nitty gritty, and I don’t care.

There are authors who can write political maneuvering in a compelling way. Genevieve Valentine comes to mind here, with Persona and Icon. Or, hey, CJC, obviously. Nobody can make me read political maneuvering like CJ Cherryh. But Gannon is not, so far, one of those people.

A lot of talking doesn’t have to be boring, but of course often it is. If you’ve got an example of an author who can maintain the reader’s interest through a long talky scen, or who perhaps doesn’t quite manage to pull it off, drop that in the comments. I’m betting there really aren’t too many who can do it.

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Stuck at home

I can’t go get Pippa because we are having terrible weather. Snow is one thing, but no: we are having ice and sleet and more ice.

I really, really want to go get her tomorrow. It should be sunny. I wonder how long it will take them to get the interstates in reasonable shape.

Meanwhile, I am having trouble settling down with anything, from baking cookies to writing to even reading.

Just saw this review of a new one from tbe prolific and highly eclectic T Kingfisher: Swordheart

Maybe I am in the mood for a somewhat silly romance.

In other news, I did manage to write this post on my phone and post it, so yay technology! Short posts only via this method, though.

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Pippa is doing great

“I am ecstatic at how well she is doing,” says the neurologist.

Unfortunately I don’t think I can go get her today, because Columbia is having snow today and we are expected to have snow and ice starting way before I could get back home with her.

She is resting okay, she is not too anxious — she is on medication for that — she is moving well and seems far more comfortable. I plan now to go get her Tuesday, after the weather has cleared.

Regular posts will resume shortly, so check in even if you are not interested in Pippa updates!

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Pippa's surgery has been scheduled for Friday

Just an update for those of you who might wonder.

If you’re really keeping score, I’ll just note that I was at the veterinary hospital for NINE HOURS yesterday.

The hotel is really nice though. It’s Staybridge Suites. Full kitchen! Decent couch! Gas fire in the living room! That last is a new one for me. Huge pet fee per stay, but I thought I might be here some time. Instead I’m going to spend a LOT of time driving this week, going back and forth, three hours each way. But this was a great hotel to relax in during periods when I was actually here.

Nearly six thirty, sunrise any minute, time to pack up, get a bite to eat, and get on the road for the drive home.

Here’s Pippa a zillion years ago, about this time of year, right after I brought her home.

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Today, MRI and CAT scan —

–Tomorrow, the surgery.

We have been here since 7:30 this morning and now — it is nearly three as I type this — the consensus is that they want to talk things over before doing surgery. I gather that the MRI and CAT scan do not entirely seem to show the same thing, or something, hence discussion somewhere behind the scenes.

So, the surgery will (probably?) be tomorrow.

The good news, such as it is: they seem to think she is a good candidate for this surgery (barring whatever the puzzle regarding the various scans involves). She certainly doesn’t have syringomyelia, a problem in the breed — that will please her breeder (who has handed me a list of other questions to ask the neurologist, given that we’ve done an MRI anyway). It would have been highly atypical for SM, but still. They do think she is in fabulous shape for her age and that she should do very well once they sort out how to do the surgery. I agree that Pippa is in great shape, which is why I am willing to do it. Of course you never know, but I see no obvious reason she shouldn’t live several happy years yet if she gets through this.

You may be wondering about pet insurance. No, I don’t have it. But for years and years I have just kept a $10,000 cushion at all times for exactly this kind of situation. That’s enough to handle two serious pet health emergencies at the same time. When building that cushion, I thought of it as paying myself insurance premiums.

If I had paid $40 per month in premiums, that would be $480 per year. Multiply that times … not sure … say, eight dogs, which has been a pretty typical number of dogs for me for the last decade (leave out the cats) and that is $3840 per year. Pay that for ten years and you can add a zero, so that is $38,400 — a complete waste if nothing goes seriously wrong with any of your dogs. And that is why I haven’t paid premiums to insurance companies, but to myself: in a different kind of emergency, that money is there.

This cushion has made a big difference twice in twenty-five years, so I guess so far I’m averaging about one medical disaster per decade. After this, I will take a while to pay the cushion back up, I expect.

Okay, new subject! Having been working here at this hospital, on this uncomfortable chair made for someone taller than I am, I will add, but with WiFi available, I can now tell you with assurance that my decision not to pursue ways to improve internet access from my home is looking really solid.

I’m getting work done. It was a great idea to bring my laptop, because cutting words half a sentence at a time all the way through a manuscript is exactly the right kind of task for a day like this. But wow, is it easy to waste ten minutes or an hour doing pointless things online when the connection is right there. When I move back to working on the more creative part of writing, it’ll be great NOT to have easy internet access.

I’ll leave you with a picture of Pippa in her prime.

The rose is no longer with me. A different rose covers this gazebo now, giving rise to different pictures with other dogs posed beneath the flowers. Everything has its time, and everything ends.

But with luck, Pippa won’t have her end this year.

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Unlikable Protagonists I Love

I know, I know, this is a very common topic for a post. I have probably done posts on this topic myself, but it was probably a long time ago and now I have a new candidate for “unlikable protagonists I really love,” so time for another post.

Obviously by “unlikable” I don’t actually mean unlikable. If the protagonist is evil, excessively stupid, or suffering from various other problems, then I won’t like them one bit, far less love them, and I’m not interested in reading about them. In fact, I’m repulsed by the whole idea of reading about them. That is a different meaning of the word than I have in mind. In fact, let me sort out a few of the various types of actually, truly unlikable protagonists before I get into the category of “unlikable but I love them,” which is entirely different.

a) Characters who are unlikable because they are completely annoying twits, such as Emma in Jane Austen’s novel by that name. I’ve only ever read that novel once and doubt I will ever read it again.

b) Characters who are unlikable because they are worse than twits: they are gripped by ennui, drift through life with a sort of depressed contempt for everyone who isn’t gripped by ennui, and just make me want to slap them. This kind of protagonist is exemplified by the lead in Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. You know, Madame Bovary, in the novel of that name, may be another character who fits what I have in mind here. Let’s say this is the kind of protagonist who is used by the author to glorify depression, as though depression were something edifying rather than a terrible pathology. I can’t bear protagonists of this kind, which is why Madame Bovary is the single novel I most hated ever ever ever. Unfortunately it was assigned twice, and even worse than that, I was such a dutiful student I actually read it both times. These days I can’t imagine why I didn’t just pick up the cliff notes the second time.

c) Characters who are unlikable because they are evil. I couldn’t stand Jaime Lannister because he threw that kid off the tower and killed his own twin sister and who knows what else. Nope nope nope. This is the same problem I had with Glokta in The Blade Itself. Yes, I know, he had glimmering of non-evil, but he was also perfectly happy to cut the fingers off men he knew were innocent in order to make them implicate other innocent people in nonexistent crimes, so you know what, I don’t care that from time to time he might have patted a puppy.

I’m sure there are other types of protagonists that I truly dislike – selfish, narcissistic protagonists; or petty, stupid protagonists; or whatever. But let’s move on to characters who are called unlikable, but they are actually highly likable, or at least I really love them. This is a really big category and this is the category I want to expand here. I can think of three categories of unlikable-but-I-love-them protagonists:

1. Protagonists who are ruthless.

I love Tremaine Valiarde in The Fall of Ile-Rien – and Nicholas Valiarde as well. Remember when Tremaine nearly shot those prisoners? I totally sympathized! Remember when someone (Florian?) said to Nicholas, “But if we do [whatever], we’d be no better than him!” and Nicholas was completely baffled by this common statement?

It’s true that ruthlessness could in theory grade over into inappropriate indifference to things or people the protagonist ought to care about. That would be different. But basically I love a ruthless protagonist who takes effective action, but is essentially a good guy. You know how Nicholas sort of reluctantly went to enormous trouble to save Inspector Ronsarde, and then everyone was worried he might kill Ronsarde because the inspector was in his way, but that was never going to happen? That’s what I mean by “essentially a good guy.”

2. Damaged, bitter protagonists.

Briony in Chime by Billingsley is this kind of protagonist. This is a fairy tale, more an original than a retelling. Briony believes she is guilty of terrible crimes, hates herself, and is a completely untrustworthy narrator. Did I like her? No. Did I love the writing? Yes. The story is one I liked almost despite itself, until close to the end, when Briony finally starts to believe she hasn’t actually done anything terrible after all.

I’m sure there are many other protagonists who fall into this category, but moving on –

3. Protagonists who care about people important to themselves a LOT but about other people perhaps very little.

Aud Torvingen, from The Blue Place series by Nicola Griffith, is the protagonist who made me think about writing about “unlikable” protagonists, because I can see perfectly well that she is not, possibly, a completely sympathetic character. This series is as much a character study as it is anything else, and Aud is certainly the sort of character who merits study. She is absolutely unique, as far as I know, among genre protagonists. She is a sensualist, a voluptuary, a hedonist, whatever the term you want to use, she is an extremely physical sort of person. She’s oriented toward the sensual world, not the world of the mind – as unlike Nicholas Valiarde, say, as you can imagine. She’s also on the edge of violence basically all the time, because to her violence is a sensual pleasure, the way dancing might be for a dancer. She does have this aspect of herself under control … most of the time … but it’s a crucial part of who she is.

Is she likable? I don’t know. Maybe. Or maybe not exactly. She isn’t nice, or actually she can be, but not in a conventional way. It’s more that she responds to vulnerability first impatiently, with a sort of “Well, someone has to take care of this,” attitude, but this often – not always – grades into, let’s say, a species of tolerance that is not that far removed from actually liking someone. And when she actually falls for someone, hoo boy, she falls hard.

I think she is wonderful, and if I were being attacked by someone I would want her to happen past at that moment, and I would like to take a women’s self defense course from her. As a protagonist, she is unlikable – in a good way.

Both Keziah and Carissa in the Black Dog series probably fall into the damaged, bitter category. The Wolf Duke in Winter is certainly ruthless – and so is Kaithairin, the griffin mage, though he’s a griffin, so maybe he doesn’t count. But I have never written a character remotely as physical as Aud Torvingen. I think that kind of character has to be written in first person, and I think it would be quite a challenge even then.

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So, unexpected trip to Columbia, MO

Anywhere in MO, if you say, “Columbia” to a dog person — or a really committed and experienced pet person of any kind, no doubt — you are using shorthand for “The vet hospital associated with the University of Missouri in Columbia.”

So I am in Columbia today, with Pippa. Here she is in the hotel room:

Pippa had a pretty bad week last week. She experienced sudden severe pain and considerable distress, seemingly a neck problem, but it was hard to be sure. Pain killers didn’t really work; prednisone didn’t really work; a visit to a chiropractor didn’t really work; so here we are.

Best guess is a disc issue with her neck. Tomorrow she’ll have an MRI. At the moment she looks like a great candidate for surgery because she is basically as healthy as a dog half her age.

So this is why I may be online less than usual this week. However, I did bring my laptop with me, so we’ll see.

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Quick links

I’m having a thoroughly distracting week, so here, have some fast links rather than a real post:

How life may have survived the Snowball Earth conditions.

Snowball Earth, as it is also known, lasted from 720 to 635 million years ago. And you’d think that a layer of ice over the ocean, cutting off the oxygen supply, would have hindered the forward march of animal life; but fossil evidence indicates that this wasn’t even remotely the case.

Rapamycin appears to be one of the most promising anti-aging treatments currently available. 

Side effects of rapamycin are a problem, but it’s since been found that a transient (3-month) treatment with rapamycin can extend life expectancy up to 60%. (Ref.) More studies are needed to determine the dosing regimen with maximal efficacy and minimal side effects. (Ref.)

Intermittent dosing at once every 5 days also extends lifespan in mice, and this “demonstrates that the anti-aging potential of rapamycin is separable from many of its negative side effects and suggests that carefully designed dosing regimens may permit the safer use of rapamycin and its analogs for the treatment of age-related diseases in humans. ” (Ref.) Note also that this dosing regimen wasn’t started until the mice were quite old, at 20 months, and it still extended lifespan.

House passes bipartisan anti-robocall bill

Good God, bipartisan action we can ALL get behind, who would have seen that coming?

These days, I just DO NOT CARE what charitable cause is being supported. I hang up on ALL robocalls and ALL requests for money and ALL people wanting to conduct a poll. I’m so over it, there are no words to express my feelings on the subject.

Also, I happened to get a scam call the other day: Amazon has blocked a fraudulent charge to your card, but we’re placing a hold on your account just to be sure you’re protected; call this number to sort it out.

That actually sounds sort of possible. A quick Google search did not pull up this exact scam. Still, a scam still seemed like by far the most likely explanation for the call. Just to make sure, I contacted Amazon — not by calling the number — and checked. Yep, it’s a scam.

I hear lots of scams now involve someone purportedly from Amazon. For heaven’s sake, let’s push that bill through and kill all robocalls of every kind. I don’t care if a tiny fraction are legitimate. That is one baby that I’d be happy to throw out with the bathwater.

Okay, the above is nice, but not soothing. Here’s something soothing:

We may have just found the perfect cure to a long work week: watching the sun set on the shores of New Zealand with a pack of contented alpacas to keep you company.

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Five SFF worlds I’d actually like to live in

So, one more obvious extension of the “five vacation spots idea.” Much harder to pick a place I’d actually want to move to permanently. Most or all of these places would be SF locations, because for cool stuff to be widely available to non-wizard-types, you generally need science fiction, not fantasy.

So-called utopian SF worlds frequently aren’t very utopian, but high on the list would be:

1) An Orbital, from Ian Banks’ Culture series. These are not exactly my favorite SF novels — I’ve only read a couple — but it seems to me anyone ought to be able to find a nice Orbital that suits them just fine. A world where material scarcity is a thing of the past? Sign me up.

2) The far-future solar system presented in John C Wright’s The Golden Age. This series is set ten thousand years in the future in, as Wikipedia puts it, “a voluntary anarchistic society spanning the Solar System called the Golden Oecumene. Technology makes nearly everyone immortal and tremendously wealthy, except those exiled from society or living outside by choice.”

Serious problems are encountered by the protagonist of the series, but for ordinary — or less ordinary — people living in The Golden Oecumene, the world is pretty close to utopian. I wouldn’t want to just step through a portal into that world, though. It seems like it would have a steep, steep learning curve for someone from our world.

3) Much farther from a utopia, nevertheless, parts of the universe presented by Becky Chambers in her space opera trilogy seem like they would be a great choice. Other parts, not so much, obviously. Still, if you got to pick the place and you stepped into that universe with a reasonable means of support, it could be a great place to live.

4) Similar to the above, if you start off with reasonable personal net worth, then KSR’s near-ish future solar system would be a good choice. I’m thinking specifically of the 2312 solar system, where there are great places to live on Mercury (!) as well as other planets that are perhaps more sensible choices.

5) Muna, in the Touchstone universe, after the trilogy is over. This is a very approachable world for someone from our reality, with technology that is less terrifying than in the Golden Oecumene, but a biiig step up from what we have here. Plus a great world to explore!

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