Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Tuyo cover

Here’s the final version of the cover for TUYO. I will say, I ordered a handful of author copies before this cover was finished. Well, it’s a fine cover, but this new one does give a clear indication that the metaphysics of the world may not be quite the same as ordinary physics.

So there it is. It was hard to choose between a scene pulled way back, with homes and fields and countryside on the right and a sweeping forest on the left, and this closer view. This one at least suggests the world.

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Improving quality of life

I saw this post recently and thought it was worth pulling out:

My Ordinary Life: Improvements Since the 1990s

Progress is usually debated in terms of the big things like lifting the Third World out of poverty, or science & tech: discovering gravitational waves, creating world champion AIs, turning AIDS into a treatable rather than terminal disease, conquering hepatitis C or, curing deadly cancers with genetically-engineered T-cells. But as cool as those big things are, and matters of life-and-death for many, such achievements tend to be remote from ordinary people, and not your everyday sort of thing (or so one hopes). Small stuff matters too.What about the little things in an ordinary life?

There’s a lot about computers and technology, of course, because how could there not be. But also this:

Environment: air quality in most places has continued to improve, forest area has increased, and more rivers are safe to fish in

Board Games have been revolutionized by the influx of German/​European-style games, liberating us from the monopoly of the Amerigame Monopoly

I hear a lot about this being the golden age of board games due to Kickstarter. I’m sure it’s true.

Even Mass-Market Grocery Stores like Walmart increasingly routinely stock an enormous variety of foods, from sushi to goat cheese to kefir.

They do, by the way! I recently noticed the only brand of coconut milk I actually like is now being carried at the local Walmart. That was a surprise!

and finally and least importantly:

Better Brussels Sprouts: Brussels sprouts no longer taste quite so bad due to artificial selection

I wouldn’t know, having purchased Brussels sprouts several times because they were so beautiful in the store, only to discover that no matter what you do with them, they are awful. Not tasting quite so bad is doubtless a good thing, though!

Anyway, by all means click through and scan the whole list if you’re interested.

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The burned house horizon

Here is something weird I encountered recently:

In the archaeology of Neolithic Europe, the burned house horizon is the geographical extent of the phenomenon of presumably intentionally burned settlements.

This was a widespread and long-lasting tradition in what is now Southeastern and Eastern Europe, lasting from as early as 6500 BCE (the beginning of the Neolithic) to as late as 2000 BCE (the end of the Chalcolithic and the beginning of the Bronze Age). 

Although there is still debate about why the house burning was practiced, the evidence seems to indicate that it was highly unlikely to have been accidental. There is also debate about why this would have been done deliberately and regularly, since these burnings could destroy the entire settlement.

This is strange! I can immediately think of some reasons that deliberately burning your village and building a different one from scratch might be useful, though. Well, one reason. A custom of this sort, however justified by the community, could have the result of reducing contamination by pathogens. Maybe that was what kept the custom going? Because maybe communities that practiced this sort of deliberate destruction of their villages reduced the level of disease in their community?

A custom that immediately springs to mind, described or at least referenced by Tony Hillerman in his mysteries, is the Navajo custom of burning or destroying a house where someone has died. Plus tools used to bury someone are destroyed afterward, according to this site. I wonder if beliefs at all similar — the unclean nature of a dead body, the danger from evil spirits, the importance of getting rid of anything to do with death — led to this destruction of whole villages.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting.

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

Adding emotional heft

So, one thing that doesn’t work in a prologue, generally speaking, is a big battle scene where a lot of people die. This is because the reader has not been given a reason to care about these people, so no matter how many of them die, there’s no real emotional impact. Blow up a whole world and well, that’s a shame, but is there a reason to actually turn the page? Not really, because so what? Those people have not been made real to the reader. They don’t have the backstory, the personality, the depth, that makes a character real, so it’s impossible to care about them.

On the other end of the spectrum is annoyingly transparent tearjerker manipulation. Stephen King’s later books are bad that way. Oh, there she is! The nice female character who’s going to die a tragic death. With some of King’s books, you can literally spot that character the second she walks on stage. No matter what contortions King has to go through to make sure the protagonist fails to save her, she’s doomed. I gave up reading King some years ago because he did that in a bunch of books in a row and as I say, the technique became super transparent and obvious.

In between ho-hum mortality and manipulative tearjerking, though, is a wide range of character death that has to happen to move the plot along, and which ought not be skipped across lightly.

When I wrote the first draft of TUYO, there was a scene right about in the middle where a lot of people died, and that scene lacked emotional heft because none of those characters had been made real for the reader. That scene is still there, so if you’re about halfway through TUYO, I expect you know which scene I’m talking about. But when I realized how little emotional impact that scene had, I specifically set out to nudge the reader into caring a lot more about the real tragedy that takes place in those few pages. The decision was so explicit that I am able, for a change, to draw back the curtain and explain what I did that I think makes this scene work much better in the final version.

What I did was take one minor secondary character who dies in that scene and make him real. I gave him just tiny hints of personality in the first half of the novel, just the minimum necessary to justify a moment when he tells Ryo a little bit about his personal history. This is very short, about a page. Then he gets a few final words. Then he dies, plus a lot of other people, but this one character carries that scene. Rather than letting the reader skim across this scene and hardly notice that a lot of people just got killed, the reader cares about this character and that spills out across the scene and makes all those deaths tragic.

Or that’s how it’s supposed to work. I think it came out rather well.

As a side note, I’ll add that usually, not always, I write a book straight through from front to back. There are variations on this theme, but generally that’s how I do it.

In TUYO, though, I wrote the first half. Then, at the point our protagonists meet the bad guy, I was like ooooh no, this is going to be really awful. And I skipped ahead to the big escape scene, I expect you know the one I mean, and wrote almost all the rest of the book from there. Only after the ultimate victory did I go back and wrote those scenes in the middle. I’ve never done that before, but thinking about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever done anything quite that awful to a character before either, so maybe that’s why.

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Detecting plagiarism

And, with regards to a recent post about plagiarism, here is another post from The Passive Guy: Following are excerpts from a website called Similar Works. As the website states, the purpose of this site is to help protect authors from plagiarism of their books.

Upload your book to Similar Works and we’ll scan the text against other titles and keep monitoring — and alert you when we find any matches.

The Band [A colored bar that showed similar text] can tell you a lot about how books are related to each other! For example, if a book has a lot of stripes on the far right side of the Band, then there are similarities detected near the end of the text. That probably indicates that the same back matter or samples appear in another book. Stripes on the left indicate similarities detected near the start of the text, and they are probably disclaimers or generic copyright notices.

If I were writing romance in particular, I’d have to consider this, I guess. As it is, perhaps not.

I wouldn’t mind someone writing an app that scans for and installs malware in stolen ebooks — the kind of malware that turns the whole stolen book into repeated iterations of “You stole this book” would be ideal.

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We live in a science fiction universe

Also, regardless of the positive spin the author tries to put on this article, I have to say this sounds like One Small Step Toward Your Dystopian Future to me: Scientists use ultrasonic mind control on monkeys

“Brief, low-intensity ultrasound pulses delivered non-invasively into specific brain regions of macaque monkeys influenced their decisions regarding which target to choose,” researchers wrote . “The effects were substantial, leading to around a 2:1 bias in choices compared to the default balanced proportion.” ….

Though a lot more testing of the technology and its potential is necessary, scientists estimate ultrasonic brain manipulation could eventually be used to study and treat decision-making disorders like addiction in humans.

I have several responses.

a) influencing which direction monkeys look does not necessarily seem to be dependent on influencing decision making. I wonder if the researchers are confusing reflexes with decisions. Or if they are defining decision in a really broad way. Would they say that pulling your hand back from something hot is a decision? Because I would not.

b) I can’t see any plausible link between glancing at movement and choosing to take a drink.

c) I’m not sure I believe that addiction is, at bottom, a problem that has to do with decision making.

Just how did the researchers get to any kind of theory about the usefulness of this research with regard to addictive behavior? I bet they spun some confection of theory in the intro and/or conclusion of their paper, because one does that in scientific papers, but when you pull the reflex-to-look-at-motion –> ability-to-influence-addictive-behavior connection out like this, it looks pretty tenuous.

Definitely a science-fiction-y kind of headline though.

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Modern plagiarism

Here’s an interesting post on modern plagiarism techniques, from The Passive Guy, who is a lawyer, as you may know, and whom I think specializes in intellectual property law.

PG has been looking into contemporary plagiarism over the past several days and will be writing more than one post about the topic.

While many of the ways of beating academically-oriented plagiarism detection are focused on manipulating a student paper, other, more sophisticated computerized tools often referred to as “Spinners” or “Article Spinners” can be used to not only fool college plagiarism checkers, but also make it difficult for the author of a book to discover plagiarism and prove copyright infringement in court.

Google has become smarter, so spinning doesn’t work there any more, but spinning software is still around and has reportedly become more sophisticated. Pour the text of a romance ebook into spinning software and out comes another romance that has a similar plot but different character names, places, descriptions, etc.

And here is a post where PG goes on to apply this to a current plagiarism case that’s currently in court.

I must say, that sure looks like plagiarism to me. Also, it’s totally consistent with the type of plagiarism that’s apparently such a problem in the world of cheap romance ebooks, the type that targeted Courtney Milan and Nora Roberts, among others. I wonder how those cases are progressing? I doubt there’s been time for everything to work its way through the court system yet.

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TUYO

Just letting you all know that TUYO is now available on Amazon!

The cover artist and I made a huge final push to get this officially published in time for me to enter it in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2020. We made it by 24 hours, and I’m very pleased to see that my entry went through, so I will be following the SPFBO with intense interest this year.

Because Aidana had to do this cover super, super fast, its possible this may not be the actual final cover. It’s not bad, though. The tiger is not like Your Special Telepathic Friend or anything, a trope I’m not fond of in fantasy. It’s just a tiger. The huge white tigers of the winter country are mentioned now and then and one is seen in the distance once. I told Aidana, “Not exactly like one of our modern tigers,” and sent her a picture of a sabertoothed cat from the Pleistocene and here we are.

If you’ve already read this, I would appreciate it if you went to the Amazon page or the Goodreads page and left a review. If you haven’t, well, I hope you will soon find time and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did . . . literally, that much! You may remember that this is the one where I wrote the entire first draft in an obsessive 40 days.

This one is enrolled in Amazon Select right now, which means it’s available only through Amazon. Eventually I may put it out on platforms other than Amazon. In the meantime, if you would like to buy a paper copy directly from me, I would be happy to send you one.

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The Pursuit of the Pankera

Via a post at File 770:

In March, a new Heinlein novel came out, assembled from fragments found in his papers. The Pursuit of the Pankera contains no interpolations to link the fragments together; when placed in their correct order, they form a complete novel.

I don’t remember hearing about that before. How interesting. I used to like Heinlein a lot … not JOB, that one left me utterly cold. Hmm. I guess I liked some of his juveniles the best? Looking back, I might pick Door Into Summer as my probable favorite. That wasn’t the case when I was a kid, but I think it’s the one that stands out now. I do remember thinking his last few books in particular were perhaps not as well put-together as some of his earlier work.

Anyway, whatever, this is still an interesting find.

Here’s this particular reviewer’s reaction:

I awaited it with some trepidation, as pre-publication announcements stated this was, as its subtitle stated, “A Parallel Novel About Parallel Universes,” and the novel it paralleled was, alas, The Number of the Beast. …

Despite my fondness for alternate-history tales, I found long ago that Number was easily Heinlein’s worst book. Pursuit turned out to be somewhat better, but it still has serious flaws. Something the editor did, as a service to the reader, was to place a discreet marker in the margin, near the top of page 152, where the two novels diverge—the first thirty percent is virtually identical to the original.

Yes, indeed, that is interesting. I thought the last, I don’t know, the last third or so of Number of the Beast was pretty awful. I did like the beginning, which is the part that’s essentially unchanged in Pankera.

Wow, it sounds like the two books diverge utterly on the way to Mars. If you’ve read Number, you remember the Mars scenes, I’m sure. In Pankera, this is actually Barsoom.

Okay, and it sounds like Lazarus Long vanishes from the pages of Pankera. Good. He was not an asset in Number. The reviewer didn’t like the new ending, but I hardly see how it could be less appealing than the Lazarus Long ending. I really did not appreciate having all the universes stirred together that way.

All right, the reviewer’s main problem is the protagonists’ genocidal campaign against the Pankera:

Late in the tale, they survey many alternate Earths, and find ten of them to be “infested.” The worst case is our own world—it’s easy enough to figure this out from the clues Heinlein gives. Their solution to this problem is unethical in the extreme: extermination. If it proves impossible to root out all the Pankera from a particular Earth, the entire planet is to be burnt off.

Yikes. Wow. That does sound a bit extreme.

Have any of you actually read this? What did you think?

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Recent Reading: From All False Doctrine by Alice Degan

There are times when I really do not know how to write a review about a particular book. This is one of those times. From All False Doctrine is just really hard to describe.

So I’ll start by saying: Ten out of ten. Alice Degan absolutely knocked it out of the park when she wrote this one. Which was her debut, so wow. If it doesn’t wind up right at the top of my list for the year, I’ll be astonished.

At times it’s useful to do comparisons, right? So, sure, let me try to do that. From All False Doctrine is like … it’s kind of like … okay, it’s sort of like a cross between a Wodehouse novel and In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. But with demonology.

You may be familiar with the technical distinction between a “novel” and a “romance,” where a novel is a story that is really about the protagonist’s interior journey, while a romance is any story in any genre that emphasizes the external adventure. If you wanted to use those categories here, I think you’d conclude that From All False Doctrine is a novel, with romance. If you’d prefer to stick to ordinary genre categories and use “romance” in that sense, then From All False Doctrine is a historical fantasy novel, with romance. If you wanted to pull out its defining characteristics, you might say it’s a story about personal growth wrapped in a comedy of manners, with romance. Oh, and demonology.

There are two primary protagonists and two important secondary characters. We meet them all in the opening scene, which takes place on a hot August afternoon on a beach in the Toronto area. I don’t recall quite when, but between the two wars, in there somewhere, so call it 1920 or thereabouts. You may recall that recent discussion about opening with a burst of action or more quietly? Well, this one opens quietly, with dialogue, and nothing at all important happens except that Elsa and Harriet meet Kit and Peachy. (Yes, calling a character “Peachy” did bother me a bit. I have very low tolerance for silly character names no matter how good the book is.)

Elsa and Harriet are students, attending the university. Elsa is a few years the elder. Raised by a revival-style preacher in a farm family, Elsa is a rationalist, a materialist, and an atheist. She is studying Classical languages. Harriet is much the wealthier and decidedly more conventional. She is studying economics. They are very good friends.

Kit, the natural child of a university professor and an unconventional woman, is an Anglican priest. Peachy, from a wealthier and more conventional family, is a dilettante songwriter who has never settled to anything. They are very good friends.

So on this day on that beach, these four people meet. The reader does not need to be astute to realize that these four characters are going to become two couples; that happens at once. However, if the reader does happen to be astute, they may at this point guess that dialogue is going to be central to this novel because practically nothing happens during this opening scene other than casual conversation between these people. We do hear about the central problem, but we only hear about it and it’s not introduced as a problem. In fact, it’s going to be some time before anything “happens” in the ordinary sense. The dialogue is extremely well done, and I fell in love with this novel right here.

During this meeting on the beach, the four characters happen to chat about a manuscript Elsa wants to work with for her Master’s degree. This is a manuscript that was found in Egypt and contains details about a cult based on the Orpheus myth. The beliefs described in this manuscript have to do with descending to a metaphysical plane and remaking the self through the pure power of the mind. Spoiler: there is more to this than any of the main characters suspect. Extra-spoiler: the metaphysics that are actually true in the book are perhaps not what the reader initially suspects either, given the Orpheus cult. Keep in mind that the story strongly reminded me of In This House of Brede. The actual heart of the story – I don’t think I’m giving too much away, I think this is pretty clear to the reader from early on – is Elsa’s internal movement from atheism to faith.

I think that’s all I want to say about that. Except I kinda fell in love with Kit too.

Let me see, other things to mention. All right:

Pace: Slow in general, but there are certainly moments.

Reading speed: I read this book very, very slowly, a few chapters a day. That’s almost never how I read books, but first, the writing was so good I wanted to savor it, and second, I kept wanting to take my time thinking about things that had just happened in the story and where I thought it might be going.

Shocking reveals: At least two.

Daring rescues: In general, characters do a pretty good job rescuing themselves. But there are moments.

Tension: Astonishingly high at times, considering anybody can see the story is moving toward a happy ending.

Flaws: It’s possible Kit might strike some readers as a little too good to be true. Also, right at the beginning Elsa was somewhat unbelievably ready to talk openly about herself with a young man she’d just met, though, granted, Kit was being very easy to talk to. Plus, Peachy, really?

Who should read this book: Anybody who rolls their eyes at the typical facile or incorrect presentation of religion in genre novels should absolutely try this book. I’m not an expert in theology or anything, but I don’t think those readers would be disappointed. Also, anybody who likes both Wodehouse and modern fantasy should absolutely try this book.

Sequels: Yes, there’s one sequel. I picked it up immediately after finishing the first book, but it may be a while before I read it. I’m going to want something lighter before I read another book with as much, how should I put this, as much deep reverberation, as From All False Doctrine.

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