Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Saying goodbye in a better way —

My little boy is going off to his new home on Sunday! I am sure he will wrap the whole household around his adorable little paw in nothing flat.

His sister is SO not for sale!

She is a great puppy with tons of pizazz — here’s hoping she sets the show world afire when she hits the puppy classes!

I took these pics with my new phone, but I have to say, not crazy about the photo quality. Kinda think I won’t be throwing my digital camera in the trash any time soon.

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A must read post —

From Leah Cypess, author of http://www.amazon.com/Mistwood-Leah-Cypess/dp/B004F9OV5W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1328889665&sr=8-1, which is on my TBR pile. Or maybe still on my wishlist, which is, however, merely a long distance extension of my TBR pile. I see she has a second book out, too.

Anyway!

Like Leah, I don’t think I was generally very jealous of other’s accomplishments when I was growing up. I mean, maybe I’m not remembering clearly, but I don’t think so. But it is more of an issue for me as a writer.

Leah says:

[Y]ou are always hearing about other peoples’ good news. About books hitting the NYT bestseller list, receiving awards, getting on state lists or indie lists or ALA lists. And even when I like the author and/or love the book, I noticed a little twinge each time, a tiny voice whispering, “Why not my book?”

And of course I have received awards and got on the ALA list and that’s very nice and I do a little happy dance every time I get another notice about something like that. But that also does make me value the NYT bestseller list more than the ALA list, because that’s the mountain not yet climbed. And why is ISLANDS not next to THE HUNGER GAMES in Walmart, huh? How about that?

Leah talks about what works for her in combating jealousy. Me, I just make a point of being sincerely happy for other writers’ success, just as I strive to be sincerely happy when somebody else’s dog finishes a championship. (Well, at least as long as the book — and the dog — deserves its win.)

I really do think being actually sincerely happy for someone else is one emotional response that is pretty firmly under your conscious control, or should be, and it’s not even that hard. It’s not like I want to see THE HUNGER GAMES disappear from Walmart shelves, right? It totally deserves to be up there. I just want my books up there with it.

Anyway! Click through if you have a minute, and read the whole thing.

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The end of an era

Volterra
3-21-96 — 2-5-12

He lived a full live and he was old when he died.

Not the least hard thing to bear when they go from us, these quiet friends, is that they carry away with them so many years of our own lives.
John Galsworthy

In the midst of death, we are in life.

Kenya is expecting.

When you feel lousy, puppy therapy is indicated.
Sara Paretsky

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Well, this is insulting:

Check out this post about “Seven literary SF/F novels you must read.” Damien G Walter posted this one and frankly turned me right off.

That kind of list is always kind of laugh-worthy because, hello, tastes are kind of not identical across the whole readership? I’ve never seen a list I even halfway agreed with and surely nobody else has, either.

But here’s the bit that made me choke:

What makes these novels distinctly ‘literary’ as opposed to the genre novels they resemble? Put simply, they are better. More ambitious, deeper in meaning, both intellectual and poetic. They might be harder work for readers trained to the easily digested conventions of commercial fiction.

Gosh, thanks for dissing all that commercial fiction, buddy. God forbid we should sully ourselves reading that shallow lowbrow barely-literate trash.

I actually liked THE ROAD, all right? (That’s the only one on the list I’ve read.) But don’t go telling me it’s so much better and deeper and more ambitious and poetic than crass commercial genre stories — or that quality defines literary. The only people who think it does are the ones who read widely in so-called literary fiction and almost not at all in genre fiction.

Anybody disagree?

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Here’s a nice post . . .

That is totally relevant to my life, like, ALL THE TIME, it sometimes seems.

Because it’s tips for revision.

Here’s a highly condensed list (follow the link and read the whole thing):

1. No matter how much you may like a scene or a line, if it doesn’t serve the story it has to go.

2. Edit in layers, focusing on one thing at a time.

3. Make sure every character is acting with purpose, and not just doing what plot tells them to.

4. Do characters grow or are they the same at the end?

5. Make sure it’s dire. Make sure your protag has a lot to lose if they don’t solve their problem.

6. Make sure you have individual voices for all your characters.

7. We all have words we like to use or things we do that we know we need to cut. Hunt down the mistakes you know are there.

8. Make sure you switch smoothly and clearly when changing scenes, locations, and POVs.

9. Find a way to include [backstory] in ways that don’t stop the story. If you can’t, cut it.

10. Don’t be afraid to cut.

That’s the short version, like I said! I personally think everything here is important and also sometimes hard except 8, which offhand I don’t think I’ve had too much of a struggle with. Well, number 7 is not actually hard, but it is highly tedious. The Find command is your friend when it comes to taking out half those semicolons or whatever.

I think 3, 4, and 6 are the hardest because it can be impossible to tell whether you’ve actually done it or not. Especially in later revisions, you can be too close to the story to see whether your tweaks have got the job done or not.

That’s why critical readers are so important!

And it’s not just me, either. Even Caitlin (my agent, and a pro at editing), handed the most recent version of BLACK DOG off to a colleague because she felt a fresh pair of eyes would be really helpful. It’s very reassuring that this colleague saw almost nothing to mess with. Yay!

In case you’re interested, I will be cutting two scenes to speed them up, including the climactic battle. But evidently everything important is working at this point. Whew!

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The very best part of seeing your book on the shelves . . .

Sometimes I think the BEST part of having a book actually come out is you can then be sure you are TOTALLY DONE with revisions.

From this you may gather that I have once again received editorial comments from my agent. Yes indeed.

Actually, I took a close look at the comments on BLACK DOG and I think I can do all that in precisely one day. I think it looks like several hours of work, but no more than that. Yay! However, I have been too tired to trust myself with anything that requires coherence in the evening, so I’m waiting till this weekend to actually do this.

Then, of course, I also have comments back on THE MOUNTAIN OF KEPT MEMORY, and I expect there will be a little more to do with that one, but hopefully not too much more, because I optimistically promised Caitlin I could turn it around not later than Feb 20th. Possibly I should have read over THOSE comments a little more carefully before making any rash promises, considering I also have the master gardener symposium to prepare for (I’m doing a class called Gardening To Stop Traffic and I still have a lot of work to do on it); and there’s that Cavalier party in St L where I’m going to try to win the chili cook-off again, this time with a new recipe in a new category — if my chili wins, I’ll post the recipe. And the new smart phone is a trifle distracting, I admit. It still strikes me as just weird to have a camera in your phone, which shows you how far behind modern technology I was, right?

NEVERTHELESS! By the 20th, I swear.

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Recent Reading

So, just read Valor’s Choice and The Better Part of Valor, by Tanya Huff. Huff isn’t an auto-buy author for me, or at least she never has been . . . I like her books okay, but I don’t go seek them out.

Well.

A friend recommended the Valor series to me, and I have to say, the other two in the series? Those are the first books I bought with my new phone! Woo hoo! Internet access through a PHONE, I must be in the 20th century!

ANYway, loved ’em! I enjoy military SF, at least as long as it’s more adventure than blood-and-guts. Not that I want it all sanitized exactly, but I want the main character and at least some of the secondary characters to be competent and sympathetic. Loved Staff Sergeant Kerr! She is SUCH A GREAT SERGEANT. Not that I would know, not personally, but she READS like a very true-to-life extremely competent senior NCO.

And right at the beginning, when Huff sets up an obvious romance between Staff Sergeant Kerr and her lieutenant? And then the romance NEVER HAPPENS? I have been loving the urban fantasy / paranormal romances I’ve read in the past few years, but it was GREAT to see this obvious romance set-up and then . . . nope, never develops. Instead, Huff totally develops the staff sergeant / 2nd lieutenant relationship. That was so unexpected! And felt so very believable!

So, the frame story of the universe, where “elder races” have “evolved beyond violence” and thus roped in humans (and a few other “younger” species to do their fighting for them . . . that type of thing strikes me as a trifle cliched and also utterly stupid and unbelievable . . . but I didn’t even care. Huff set the universe up so she could get the characters she wanted into the situations she wanted, and she did, and it was well worth doing.

So! Can’t wait for the other two books in the series to arrive. Meanwhile, I’m loaning the first couple to my Dad. He’ll love ’em.

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Woo hoo!

Not one but TWO nice little messages in my inbox this morning:

1) THE FLOATING ISLANDS has been named to the Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012 list — the ALA reviewer says:

“Trei longs to join the Kajuraihi, the floating island defenders with wings powered by dragon magic, while Araene’s secret aspirations to become a chef are thwarted by society’s restrictions on women.”

AND

2) THE FLOATING ISLANDS has also been selected by the Amelia Bloomer Project, which is an honor bestowed on “the best books with a significant feminist content that will appeal to young readers”.

The Amelia Bloomer reviewer says:

“Trei and Araene dream of unconventional futures that defy cultural expectations. They call upon their unique abilities and unite forces when the Floating Islands are attacked by a powerful rival country.”

How about that? And I didn’t even set out to write a feminist book.

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Retreating from the cutting edge

You know what? Though a great piece of technology, I personally hate the Tablet. I’m taking it back to the store tomorrow, and I’ll get them to figure out how to tether my laptop to my smartphone (keeping the phone) instead. You know what I hate about the Tablet?

When I insert it into the keyboard and start typing, I find the keyboard perfectly comfortable. But —

a) I’ll constantly get six or seven words ahead of the screen,

b) and when I hit a wrong letter, I then have to wait for the screen to catch up to me, and then

c) when I try to backspace, the backspace key speed seems unpredictable, so I backspace too far, and finally

d) when I touch the screen to try to insert the cursor someplace, the Tablet brings up the on-screen keyboard, for some reason, and then I have to first get rid of that and then move the cursor with the little arrows on the physical keyboard.

It’s awful!

But handy for watching YouTube videos! My favorite is the Sound of Music one in the Belgian railway station.

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Recent Reading

So I was reading this book called ZAMBA written by an animal trainer, Ralph Helfer, about this lion he owned and trained. And in some ways I liked this book. It’s very anecdotal rather than having any kind of coherent story line as such, but some of the anecdotes are truly touching. Like the thing after the storm when the horses died? And the flood at the end? Wow.

But right at the beginning, I was so peeved at the author and I’m not sure I ever got over it, because he said this: working with a lion presented such huge challenges because the big cats are solitary animals and not really primed to be social. [This isn’t a direct quote, but it’s what he said.]

And I thought:

A) This guy, who is supposed to be such an amazing trainer and particularly into lions, nevertheless knows so little about lions that he doesn’t even know they live in prides, which every single American kindergartner knows, or

B) In order to make his decision to raise and train a lion seem more impressive to his readers, those rubes, he is totally lying about lion behavior, even though every single reader has got to know that this statement he’s making about lions being solitary animals is completely bogus.

I’m going for option B, but jeez, really? This is so not a good thing to do. The lying to the reader thing, I mean. Even if you’re doing it to sound impressive. Even if it’s transparently false. No.

So, this was nonfiction, but IMO it would work the same way in fiction. If you’re writing about lions in a fictional world, but you’re reprensenting them as real lions, then you can’t go making totally false statements about lion behavior just because that makes your plot work out. Not even if you think your readers won’t know the difference. I mean, I will. And I’ll care, too.

So: most fictional wolves are terrible wolves, but this only bothers me if the wolves are being presented as real wolves. Etc.

You know who did a really good wolf? Gordon Dickson, in THE IRON YEARS. I heard somewhere that he wrote this, it was published, and a wolf researcher contacted him and said Man, did you ever mess that up, that was not a wolf, that was a dog, I am so tired of people putting wolves in their books but really they are dogs. And Dickson, amazingly enough, was impressed, asked a lot of questions about wolves, and rewrote the story so the animal was a wolf.

Wow.

Even though I didn’t actually like the book all that well, I read it and by golly when he got through with it, that animal was indeed a wolf and not a dog. One of the very very few in fiction.

ANYWAY, not to wonder from the subject, but lions ARE NOT SOLITARY.

Nevertheless, yes, the trainer sounds like he was a really good guy, if a little too open minded about certain touchy-feeley nonsense (putting a lion on a vegetarian diet because eating meat promotes violence? Are you kidding me?); the lion sounds like an amazing animal; and some bits of the book were very emotionally affecting. So, hey, I’ll be discarding this book, but it wasn’t actually bad.

ps — When a friend of mine and I watched The Lion King? We made MANY SNARKY COMMENTS about the inaccurate lion behavior and then made up a much more logical plot in which the lion brothers — the king and his brother — stood shoulder to shoulder against the perfidy of, well, it doesn’t matter, the point is, in the real world, lion brothers are very important allies for each other. Isn’t that interesting?

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