Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Oh, hey, look at this!

The Goblin Emperor came out in, looks like 2014. I knew it was some years ago. As you all have probably noticed, I loved this book. I still love it. I’ve read it many times, and these days generally read parts of it rather than the whole thing straight through.

Way back, a year or so after The Goblin Emperor came out, I saw hints that Katherine Addison was writing a sequel. I eventually gave up on ever seeing that actually in print, though, and figured that one thing or another had derailed it. Too bad! But it happens.

Well, the sequel is now up on Amazon, available for preorder. It’s coming out pretty soon — looks like June — so that’s fantastic.

When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had set the bombs that killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his father’s Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it. He lost his place as a retainer of his cousin the former Empress, and made far too many enemies among the many factions vying for power in the new Court. The favor of the Emperor is a dangerous coin.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly. As a Witness for the Dead, he can, sometimes, speak to the recently dead: see the last thing they saw, know the last thought they had, experience the last thing they felt. It is his duty use that ability to resolve disputes, to ascertain the intent of the dead, to find the killers of the murdered.

Now Celehar’s skills lead him out of the quiet and into a morass of treachery, murder, and injustice. No matter his own background with the imperial house, Celehar will stand with the commoners, and possibly find a light in the darkness.

This is not quite the sequel I most wanted — I would have liked a sequel that focused on the soon-to-be Empress — but I’ll take it. I do hope we actually get to see Maia again.

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Fantasy Mysteries

Here’s a Book Riot post: 15 FANTASY MYSTERY BOOKS FOR READERS CRAVING A MAGICAL WHODUNIT

Remarkably, I’ve read a reasonable proportion of the books on this list — a third. I’m rarely familiar with the titles picked out for Book Riot posts, but this is an exception. Besides that, I even agree that these books are good choices. Especially Sorcery and Cecelia, which as you all know (right?) is totally charming.

However, this is one of those lists where I can immediately think of a bunch of others. Let me see …

Okay:

1) The Inspector Chen novels by Liz Williams. Such an amazing setting, although I will always regret not getting to see the prequel moment when Inspector Chen meets and falls in love with his demon wife.

2) Shadow of the City by R Morgan. A police procedure tucked into an even more amazing setting.

3) The Sherlock Holmes homage, The Angel of the Crows, by Katherine Addison. I haven’t read it, and don’t plan to — I’m not a Sherlock Holmes fan — but hey, it certainly fits the category.

4) The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard, which certainly has the prettiest cover of the lot:

5. The Beka Cooper series by Tamora Pierce, which I loved, so if you’ve never read them, well, if you’re looking for some longer, slower-paced, fantasy-mysteries, here you go.

I’m sure there are a zillion others. If you’ve got a favorite fantasy mystery, please drop it in the comments!

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Doughnuts

Okay, so, last week, I made doughnuts because I just had a real desire for doughnuts. I made cake doughnuts, which personally I prefer to yeast doughnuts. I couldn’t find the recipe I prefer, so I looked up a different recipe and used that. It was a recipe for sour-cream doughnuts from a well-known cookbook author.

They were terrible.

They were so, so bad that I’m reluctant to tell you where I got the recipe, in case it was all my fault somehow and I would unfairly be tarring the recipe. They were super oily, even though YES I had the oil hot enough, and they weren’t sweet enough, and they were dry-textured, and basically they were just awful. Considering the recipe in retrospect, I can’t see why they would have been that bad or what I could have done that wrong, but who knows. I will say, they were so terrible that I wound up eating just one and then giving the rest, about eleven, to the dogs. Not all at once, of course; I don’t want to give a dog pancreatitis or anything, but each dog got about a third of a doughnut per day for several days. They thought they were pretty edible, at least, so that was something, I guess.

So that made me pretty mad, obviously. Nothing like having a craving for doughnuts and making doughnuts and then feeding them to the dogs. Obviously that was not a satisfactory outcome. So, since I couldn’t find the recipe I KNOW I copied and have somewhere — it should be in the “doughnuts and fritters” section of my recipe file, but no — I poked around on Google till I found it. Then I made doughnuts again this morning. They were perfect.

Therefore, here: The cake doughnut recipe that works, and thank you, Bon Appetit, for providing this recipe, which does in fact make the best cake doughnuts I’ve ever personally made.

I made half the recipe. This made six plus two doughnut holes, which was enough for me plus all the spaniels — they got to share a couple, not because the doughnuts weren’t good, but because I don’t like leftover doughnuts.

Lemon-glazed Yogurt Doughnuts

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1 C flour

1/2 tsp kosher salt (or a very scant 1/2 tsp regular salt)

1 egg yolk

1/2 C plain full-fat Greek yogurt

1/4 C sugar

1 T melted butter

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 C powdered sugar

Zest from one lemon (Bon Appetit) or a T lemon juice (what I generally used) — optional

Enough water to make a glaze

Start the oil heating. I don’t really think about it much, but I guess it’s about three inches of oil in a medium-sized saucepan. Or, you know, a whole big bottle of canola oil, more or less. I turn the burner on medium-high when I start mixing the dough and by the time I have the first doughnuts cut out, the oil is about the right temperature. Which is to say, 350 degrees. Keep an eye on it and move the pan off the burner if the temp gets ahead of you.

Whisk together dry ingredients. Whisk together egg yolk, yogurt, sugar, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir the dry mixture into the wet mixture. Stir to combine. Drop the dough onto a heavily floured piece of waxed paper, dust heavily with more flower, flatten slightly with your hands, top with another sheet of waxed paper. Get a ruler and roll the dough out to 1/2 inch thickness. It’s hard to believe how thick that is, so really, get a ruler and measure before you think you should. Cut out doughnuts with whatever you use for the purpose — I use a three-inch round cookie cutter, and then a little cookie cutter for the centers. You can use two jars of the right sizes or whatever you have handy.

I find that I can cut three doughnuts from the dough, then two more when I re-roll the dough, then one more when I re-roll it again. Then I form the scraps into two or three “doughnut holes.”

Check the oil temp. If it’s just above 350, that’s ideal. If it’s high, but not that high, move the pan off the heat before you start and let the doughnuts bring the temp down. Anyway, add three doughnuts and fry for two minutes per side, more or less. I find this dough is quite accommodating and won’t overcook easily. Even if the oil temp drops a bit below where you want it, they don’t get oily, either. Still, 350 is ideal if you can keep the oil at just about that temperature. Remove to paper towels and fry the rest of the doughnuts.

Make the glaze, if you haven’t already done so. Whisk together the powdered sugar, lemon zest and/or juice if you’re using that, and enough water to make a fairly thin glaze. These doughnuts are fine with just a powdered sugar glaze; the lemon is purely optional. I didn’t have any lemons around this morning and just used a plain glaze.

These doughnuts were perfect. I’ve made them three or four times over the past year or so, and they are always perfect.

If you happen to have a favorite, reliable doughnut (or fritter) recipe, by all means drop it in the comments.

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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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