Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Wild cook or precise baker?

At Kill Zone Blog, a post by PJ Parrish: What Kind Of Writer Are You? Wild Cook Or Precise Baker?

Ooh, an extended cooking metaphor for writing! Go for it!

I love to cook. I love the whole process of finding a new recipe or riffing on an old one. I love shopping for ingredients or adlibbing and using, say, dill for chives. I love making a hot mess in the kitchen, knowing that a detour can sometimes lead to delicious surprises, …

I hate to bake. I hate the precision of it. I hate the math required to make a souffle rise. I hate having to follow exact directions with no room for error or surprise. The last time I tried to bake a cake I almost burned down the kitchen because I didn’t have any parchment paper and thought — “Wax paper! Why not?”

I laughed at that bit. Yes, that is exactly why not to put waxed paper in the oven. Actually, I’m just realizing this minute that I don’t actually know why parchment paper doesn’t catch fire in the oven. Hmm, maybe I should look that up sometime.

This metaphor may wind up working fine for writing, but actually, unlike Parrish, I like both cooking AND baking. Also, I’ve been baking for a lot of years and actually I don’t hesitate to mess around with recipes for cakes or cookies. After you’ve been baking for a while, you get to more or less know what is likely to happen if you substitute butter/margarine/oil/shortening in a cookie or cake recipe, or whatever.

I imagine Parrish is going to say that cooks are like organic writers and bakers are like outliners, but let’s see …

You can probably guess that I am devoted pantser. I never outline. I plan oh, maybe four chapters ahead and often deviate from that as the plot moves me. I don’t keep any records of word counts and have no set goals for daily or weekly output. 

Yep!

Being a cook-writer does have its problems. Recently, I had to toss out two chapters because I had fallen in love with a secondary character who had led my story off the rails. But a baker-writer friend of mine recently had to start his book over because, ten chapters in, he realized that he had dutifully followed his outline into a plot cul de sac.

Well, I get to be both. Given a choice, I prefer baking to cooking. But as you all know, I’m an organic writer — generally — rather than an outliner.

I sure do set daily goals and keep track of word counts, though! That is, I don’t bother with a daily wordcount goal unless I’m having trouble moving forward with a project or I’m under a deadline. But I find the growing wordcount of a novel very motivating. Look! Two weeks ago this manuscript was a tiny baby, 10,000 words! Today it’s at 30,000, growing pinfeathers and stretching its tiny wings! A thousand words a day doesn’t seem like much forward progress, but looking at the growing wordcount makes me feel like I’m getting somewhere.

Anyway, fun idea for a post, plus with a bonus recipe. Chicken with cream and white wine. Sounds good, too; and I think I have all the ingredients. Except a lemon for lemon juice, for which I could substitute sumac, which I do have. Who knows, I might actually make this tonight.

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Character development

Here’s a post at Women Writers, Women’s Books: THE IMPORTANCE OF CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

I find this post interesting because the author, Laurie Buchanan, approaches character development so very differently than I do.

Buchanan: Nailing a character’s appearance is vital.

Me: I don’t really have much of a picture of most of my characters. I have literally had editors ask for physical descriptions of the protagonist and realized, after flipping through half a finished manuscript, that I never described the protagonist in any but the vaguest possible terms. I’m questioning your use of the word “vital” here.

Buchanan: The character template is where I also note details about their childhood (good or bad), their parents (or whoever raised them), their siblings, and their childhood friends.

Me: Seriously?

Buchanan: As an author creates characters, it’s essential to ask if they’ve survived trauma, either physical or emotional. For example, are they a survivor of cancer, rape, domestic violence? Do they have PTSD—Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Do they suffer from depression, an eating disorder, or anxiety? If yes, how does their experience factor into their current life? 

Me: No, wait, seriously?

Buchanan: Is the character left or right-handed? Do they smoke? Do they drink? Do they have any addictions? What’s their personality type—introvert, extrovert, or ambivert? Are they opinionated? What’s their political affiliation?

Me: You’ve got to be kidding.

Now, the difference may not be as extreme as the above makes it sound. Perhaps Buchanan lays all this out in a notebook or file and I just have it in my head. I mean, I didn’t have to make notes about, say, Carissa Hammond’s backstory to know that she definitely has issues with past trauma. But … wow. This sounds so mechanical and, I don’t know, so artificial. Doing all this stuff with childhood friends and whether someone is left-handed before the character even appears … why? Are they opinionated? Well, good heavens, you’ll find that out when the character starts talking. Sitting down and deciding that a character is irritable or impatient or relaxed about life or whatever before you even start writing the book and before the character walks on stage just seems so odd.

Thus we once again see that the experience and practice of writing are highly variable.

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Progress Report: Finished!

Okay, first, I definitely had a strong immune response to the second vaccine, far (far!) more than to the first shot. As is expected, of course.

I meant at first to just go on with my regular day, but the crushing headache got too unpleasant to work through. So, Sarah, I greatly appreciate your pointing me to those links about painkillers after the vaccine maybe being okay. I just lived with the fever and headache and significant joint pain for exactly 24 hours post-shot, and then I said Enough is enough and took painkillers.

Unlike in a real illness, those painkillers knocked all the pain back almost at once rather than just taking the edge off. I felt almost back to normal half an hour after taking painkillers. That meant I actually did finish revising and line-editing the last part of the Tenai trilogy, so YAY FOR THAT. One … or two … proofreading passes, and it will be ready to go. Whew! April, what is it, ah, the eighth. Well, that’s not bad at all. The rest of the month should involve some fiddly work with the Death’s Lady trilogy, but I will largely be able to work on other things.

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Why you can grab a sword

Here’s one of the handiest Quora answers I’ve ever seen, if you’re a writer.

There are two facts about swords and cutting that I find most people don’t know, after learning which they understand how a sword can be weapons-grade sharp and still be grabbable.

The first thing is that human flesh compresses much more readily than it stretches. It takes a lot of force to start a cut with an edge if you’re pushing it straight down into flesh (or if you’re pushing the flesh straight into the edge). It takes little force to start a cut if you’re dragging or pushing the edge across the flesh (or dragging or pushing the flesh across the edge). You know this from cutting raw meat for meal prep. You can push a knife straight through raw meat, but it takes more force to do so than slicing through it.

By all means, read the whole thing, particularly if you would like to have your character grab a sword without losing half his hand.

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Fashions in writing

This is an interest article by Anne R Allen: Writing Rules vs. Writing Fashion: Should Writers Follow Fashion Trends?

Fashion dictates a good deal of what gets published these days, and it’s constantly changing. Write like Thackery, Kipling, or Walter Scott and you’re unlikely to find a publisher or an audience. That’s because writing fashions have radically changed in the last two hundred years, even though the language itself has not.

I would have said, Jane Austen. I clearly remember reading Temeraire and thinking, “My goodness, no one ought to use this many semicolons, though I grant Novik is getting that to work.” And I said that even as an avowed fan of semicolons.

Out of curiousity,, since Temeraire is set in the “same time period” and uses much the same style, I went down and got Pride and Prejudice off my shelf and looked. Nope, I had been wrong — Naomi Novik was using semicolons in exactly the same way that Austen had. That was one of the most obvious examples of changing fashions in writing that I’d ever noticed.

You’ll notice the difference in writing fashion if you read a bunch of contemporary novels and then pick up a classic. I did this recently with a collection of Dorothy L. Sayers stories. Almost every line of dialogue had a tag that included a dreaded adverb.“I’ll have a champagne cocktail, said Montague Egg urbanely.”

Oh, now I’m inclined to go pick up Gaudy Night. It’s been a couple of years since I read that, and (like practically everyone else?) it’s my favorite of the Lord Peter novels. I did find that the Lord Peter novels written by Jill Patton Walsh went sharply downhill. The first, Thrones and Dominions, was quite good, I thought. By the time I’d gotten to The Attenbury Emeralds, I wasn’t so impressed. I haven’t read the fourth of Walsh’s Lord Peter books. If anyone has, what did you think?

The linked post then goes into dialogue tags — I completely agree with contemporary style that movement tags are excellent and, by the way, no one does dialogue tags better than Sarah Addison Allen. I mean, yes, one can come up with any number of authors who do a great job with dialogue tags — Lois McMaster Bujold is another who springs to mind — but I specifically noticed how that Allen’s use of dialogue tags is particularly elegant and smooth. Honestly, these are two wonderful authors to use if you want to look at the effective, smooth use of tags in dialogue.

Oh, this is interesting:

Traditionally, italics were only used for emphasis. But in a lot of contemporary fiction, italics indicate inner monologue. This is a convention that first appeared in “pulp” fiction, but it has become fashionable in YA fiction.

It seems to me that I remember italics being used for inner monologue WAY back when I was a tot. Or at least, when I was a teenager, and starting to pay attention. If this is in flux, I think it’s been in flux for a long time! I guess I’ve done it both ways. Except I define “inner monologue” rather strictly and seldom consider someone’s internal reaction the same thing as direct, reported thoughts. Not sure. Here is the example provided in the linked article:

1) Serena opened the door and showed me a tiny, windowless room. With sudden force, she shoved me inside and slammed the door shut. I’m going to die in this dungeon. There is no way out. That woman is out of her mind.

2) Serena opened the door and showed me a tiny, windowless room. With sudden force, she shoved me inside and slammed the door shut. I was going to die in this dungeon. There was no way out. That woman was out of her mind.

I prefer the second. I think it’s substantially more effective than the first. What do you all think?

Let’s see, what else?

Use of the word “that.” Use of adverbs and adjectives. Short sentences. I agree with Anne R Allen about every single thing here. I do check in on her blog from time to time. Posts like this are why. By all means, click through and read the whole thing if you have time.

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Trying out for Master Chef

Here’s a post by Julianne Lee at Book View Cafe:

So I decided to bop down to the audition in Nashville one Saturday. I’d been cooking for family since I was eleven, and I figured with forty-five years of experience behind me I might have a shot at this. I, too, am a character and there is no reason I shouldn’t fit in with the folks in that competition. The worst that could happen is that they could sneer at me like Ramsay and his buddies often do, and send me home. I’ve been sneered at; they don’t scare me.

She made a fancy pumpkin pie, and got a nice comment about it. Sounds like an interesting and kind of fun experience. Click through and read the whole thing if you’re interested in what that was like.

I will add, I remain unpersuaded that Brussels sprouts can be made edible, no matter how cute they look in the store or one the table. I realize some of you here are going to jump in and say no no, Brussels sprouts are tasty! Yeah, sure. I like all the other cabbage-family plants, I think, but not that one.

Now, separate question: If you decided to try out for a cooking show — never mind how utterly implausible that might be — what would you make to bring to the audition?

I would never choose pumpkin pie. I’m the take-it-or-leave-it type when it comes to all things pumpkin.

It would need to be something that tasted great AND was pretty on the plate. I might make some sort of fancy cookie. There are these ultra-thin, ultra-rich almond cookies with a dark chocolate layer. They’re probably not fancy enough, but they’re pretty amazingly good. Let me see, hmm, this caramel spiral cookie is pretty consistently one of the absolute favorites no matter how many different varieties of cookies I make. Still not at fancy as a lot of other cookies, though.

There’s a pie I like a lot: pastry crust, thin layer of raspberry, then a cheesecake layer, then a thin chocolate layer.

I’ve made a particularly good layer cake that uses quite a bit of almond flour along with ordinary cake flour, with apricot filling. I wouldn’t make a layer cake for something like this, though. You can’t tell FOR SURE that you didn’t overbake the cake layers until you cut the cake.

There’s this quite wonderful lemon-curd-filled shortbread … oh, I posted this recipe before. Here it is. This is actually very easy.

Obviously my mind turns toward desserts, but the Spinach Khachapuri at the same post were also really good. I might actually think about making something like that. In fact, now that I’m looking at this post, I have a deep, deep desire to make both spinach khachapuris and lemon-curd-filled shortbread again as soon as possible.

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Progress report

AARGH! Easter Sunday was absolutely beautiful —

Therefore, I didn’t get a lot done on Easter. Other than taking all the dogs to the park, in three sets, and listening to a lot of Bridge of Birds while strolling briskly around the perimeter of the park. Or, for Pippa and Dora, strolling gently, with pauses for these older dogs to check out scent trails. They did get to meet plenty of people and one friendly small dog, so they had a great time.

Kimmie had the best time, though. I hesitate to mention this because I’m not sure what kind of omen it might be, but for the first time ever (and no doubt the last time ever), one of the dogs abruptly leaped past me, bolted to the end of the lead, and caught a bunny while she was actually on lead. Killing a rabbit on Easter seems a little ironic, to say the least. Fortunately, no little children were around to see that.

Anyway! What with taking my mother to church and taking one million spaniels to the park and then dinner at my parents’ house, I did not quite finish with line-editing Death’s Lady #3. Easter was a great day, though, and seriously, The End is in Sight. I will absolutely for sure finish this project this week. I think tomorrow, probably.

Also, I’m up for the second vaccine tomorrow, so first, Yay! and second, I hope I don’t feel too awful on Wednesday. However, I actually do plan to take a brief break after finishing the Death’s Lady trilogy, so if I feel crappy for a couple of days, that should be a good time. There’s a MG fantasy series I would like to try. It sounds good, and it should be fast-paced and shortish and just about ideal to serve as a break from one project and give me a couple days off before starting the next. If I like it, I’ll tell you all about it.

The only books I’ve read during the last month or so are the Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Boruker and then A Stranger to Command and Crown Duel/Court Duel by Sherwood Smith. That’s all re-reading.

The Emperor’s Edge series is fast-paced, with quite a lot of utterly unbelievable plot elements, and tons of witty dialogue. The reader doesn’t have to take it very seriously, and I’ve read it a couple of times, so it was perfect. Enjoyable, but easy to pick up and put down.

A Stranger to Command is my favorite of Sherwood Smith’s books by a mile. Nothing actually happens; it’s strictly a coming-of-age school story. Military school, really detailed and believable, great protagonist. That one got a little distracting. It’s set before Crown Duel/Court Duel, which reads younger — MG, more or less, for at least the first half. I don’t like that one nearly as much because Mel is such an impulsive idiot, but after she finally pulls herself together, I like the story much better. Plus I like seeing Shevraeth from the outside.

I’m looking forward to taking a few days to read something new-to-me. I don’t know how much of that is going to happen this year. I’m going to try to remember to keep track, because I’m betting I wind up reading even fewer new-to-me books this year than last year.

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Progress report

Wow, Easter weekend is SPEEDING PAST at a tremendous clip.

Let me see. Well, Wednesday I finished (finally!) running through the entire manuscript of Death’s Lady #2, lots and lots and lots of fiddly line-editing plus a few instances of more substantive revision. This created an additional three pages, which was fine — I don’t want to mess up the cover, which is already sitting here, sized for 300 pages, but the cover size isn’t THAT rigid. A few pages one way or the other is no big deal. It looks like the final length is going to be more like 315 pp, counting the blank pages and title page and everything. KDP seems to think that’s okay. So, Thursday I finally created a proof copy, which my mother will read, checking for remaining typos. No doubt there are a handful, even though Linda S caught a bunch.

So, Death’s Lady #1 and #2 are basically finished. Whew!

Also on Thursday, I ran through Death’s Lady #3, fixing the typos Linda S caught for that one, and then (for the second time) read through various people’s comments about this section of the story, and started from the top with the final line-editing pass. Today I’m continuing with that. This is by far the longest section: 450 pages, give or take. But I hope I will get through the whole thing by the end of the weekend. I think I will.

Getting this project finished up will be SO nice. I’m not exactly hating every moment I’m spending on it, fortunately, because I do honestly like this story quite a bit. But I did write the original Tenai manuscript years ago and I’m quite ready to move on to other things.

Let me see. Things I’m ready to move on with … in rough order of priority …

a) Caitlin sent me notes about an SF novel that I’d like to see traditionally published. I haven’t read the notes yet because I don’t want to get distracted from the Death’s Lady project until it’s entirely finished and ready to go, but this is a neat project, one I like a lot. It’s a story that includes my first and only alien species. (Not counting the griffins.) (Which do count, I guess, in a way, but magical nonhuman species aren’t the same as science-based nonhuman species.) Anyway, reading through those notes and adjusting that story is up next. I may not have looked at the notes yet, but right now I’m aiming to turn this back over to Caitlin by the end of April. Preferably well before the end of April. We’ll see how it goes. If it doesn’t land somewhere via a traditional publishing deal, I will of course self-publish it eventually, but no rush.

b) Finish the kids’ story for the next Black Dog collection and write two more of the novellas I have in mind for that collection. At least two more. Honestly, these novellas don’t take THAT long, provided I have a decent idea about the story in the first place. A week each? Something like that. So, hopefully I will get all of these finished by the end of May.

Speaking of the end of May, I bred one of my dogs last week and, if the breeding took at all, she will be due at the end of May. I’ll know in a month.

Morgan, dusted with snow a few weeks ago.

In a way, having tiny baby puppies is of course quite distracting. On the other hand, I stay at home, keeping an eye and more importantly an ear on the puppies for ten days minimum, and guess what I do while I am rather casually supervising puppies? After the first sleepless 48 hours, yes, I generally get a lot of writing done. This does depend on the puppies basically thriving. If Morgan has puppies at all, hopefully they will be (a) plural, for a change; and (b) healthy and thriving.

Anyway:

c) I really, really want to finish the completely different SF novel that is sitting at 80,000 words, waiting for me to finish it. You perhaps remember that I said I’d worked out everybody’s secret plans and was now ready to write the rest of this novel. Well, I totally want to do that. No alien species in this one, I will add, although a human variant that is pretty far off the historical human type.

d) OBVIOUSLY I WOULD LIKE TO WRITE BOOKS FOUR AND FIVE OF THE TUYO SERIES.

I mean, you knew that, right?

For some reason I just figured out a key thing about Book 4 this morning, after I woke up but before the alarm went off. It’s one of those hugely obvious things that I ought to have figured out long ago. Anyway, fine, now I know this obvious thing. I made a quick note in my rough outline for the book so I don’t forget this obvious thing, though seriously, how could I when it’s that obvious?

At this point, I have more complete outlines for Kehaunani and Tasmakat than I have ever had for anything. I hope that turns out to be helpful rather than otherwise. They aren’t such detailed outlines that I think they’ll get in the way. Probably.

e) It would be nice to start the final Black Dog book, Silver Circle, sometime this year. I don’t need to finish it this year, it’s perfectly fine if it’s not finished this year, but I would like to get it properly started and in good shape so that I can finish it next year without tearing my hair out, and release it for Halloween 2022.

f) Big complicated fantasy that is barely started. I have eighty pages or so sitting here. Every now and then, this project nudges at me. I’ve got some great characters I’m dying to work with.

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Reminders or repetition

Here’s a post at Kill Zone Blog that caught my eye: Reminders or repetition

If you’re writing multiple points of view, any time your POV characters are separated, only one of them knows what’s going on. If you’re in a Bob POV scene, it’s easy enough to handle. But what if you’re Mary’s POV when Bob tells her what Jim said? You don’t want to repeat the conversation. AND, you don’t want to repeat the same plot points from the previous scene. No matter what the “rules” say, there’s nothing wrong with telling in order to get information to the reader—it’s when the telling becomes back story dumping that you’ll run into problems.

This is something I’ve often had to deal with because I often have multiple pov.

Sometimes the easiest solution is to write something like, “After Bob finished explaining The Inciting Incident, Mary …” or “Mary didn’t start rolling her eyes until Bob got to the part about the duck” or in some other way indicate that one of the characters has explained about whatever to the other. Then they can move on together. The linked post says the same thing, I see.

I had a different but related issue in Tuyo and Tarashana. In the first, I wanted to explain to the reader what had been going on during some parts of the battle, when sorcery was being used, but Ryo — the only pov character — did not know exactly how or why. Those explanations went into the part where everyone is telling Koro inKarano what they did and saw and felt during the battle.

Oh, I hadn’t realized this until now, but of course in Tarashana Koro once again gets to be the person to whom everyone explains what happened in the land of the shades. Again, the reader was limited to Ryo’s pov, and therefore doesn’t know what happened with everyone else once the party got separated. Everyone telling the story to Koro let me pass lightly across the parts the reader watched happen, while letting other characters briefly explain what had happened to them when they were offstage.

Perhaps the same kind of thing will be necessary in Tasmakat. I suppose it’s pretty likely that everyone will find themselves explaining everything to Soretes, the summer king. That would be balanced, if that sort of scene is necessary.

The linked post also says,

Another aspect of repetition is to remind readers of things they might have forgotten, especially if they’re going to be important later. Did you foreshadow it? How long has it been since this information was relayed to the reader? Do they need a reminder? After all, much as an author hates to admit it, readers don’t always sit down with a book and read from page one to the end in a single sitting.

This is actually a place where beta readers are seriously useful. My tendency — I think I’ve overcome this to some degree — is to re-explain things to the reader, just in case the reader has forgotten something important. Quite a few times, I’ve received editorial feedback that basically went: We know! Stop telling us this! Trust the reader to remember this!

It’s a fine line, of course. You really don’t want the reader to forget something important. But you also don’t want the reader’s eyes to glaze over: I know, I remember, you said this just ten pages ago. I think if something important happened a hundred pages ago, it may be a good idea to remind the reader about that, especially if the important thing might not have been too eye-catching. But then sometimes during revision, I’m moving scenes around and just don’t notice that I’ve moved a reminder about something much closer to the first explanation of the same thing. Then it’s very helpful for a beta reader to draw a line to it and ask politely, “Repetitive?” Yes, it definitely is now, and thanks for pointing that out.

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Shakespeare adaptations of Marvels movies

Apparently not an early April Fool’s joke?

All Four ‘Avengers’ Movies Are Getting Shakespeare Adaptations

Marvel Studios and Quirk Books have announced that they are collaborating to release Shakespearean parodies of all four Avengers movies. Yes, you read that right. The AvengersAge of UltronInfinity War, and Endgame are being brought back to life in William Shakespeare’s Avengers: The Complete Works, iambic pentameter included. Avengers fans can expect entertaining easter eggs, dramatic soliloquies, and a witty yet faithful re-telling of their favorite superheroes.

Who saw that coming? Definitely not me!

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