Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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When writer’s block is actually depression

Here is a post at Terrible Minds: When writer’s block is actually depression.

I think this is a very important topic. You so frequently see articles and posts about writer’s block, and so often they tell you to power through writer’s block or tell you that it’s self-indulgence or that it’s a signal you’ve taken a wrong turn in your WIP and you need to stop and reassess.

All those things can be true, but every article or post about writer’s block should acknowledge that serious clinical depression can also result in a look-alike condition that can’t be handled in remotely the same way as any of the problems listed above.

Chuck says: So, you need to be kind to yourself and get the help you need for depression and anxiety — and trust me when I tell you, that help shouldn’t look like the help you’d give to fix writer’s block. The solution for one is not the other, because the problems are literally different. In that case, the block is a symptom of a larger thing — and treating depression like it’s writer’s block?

Well, it’ll just make the block worse.

And the depression, too.

Yes.

This isn’t a problem I have, for which I am very grateful. But I know writers who stall out because of depression, then are unable to assess the problem because depression often interferes with the ability to assess all problems, including itself.

If you’re stuck on one writing project, fine, that’s perfectly normal, lots of things can cause that.

But if you’re stuck on all writing and feeling like all your ideas are terrible and all your sentences are terrible and there’s no way forward and you’re a worthless excuse for a human being as well as a complete fake as an author … that might be time to put your own judgment on hold as probably compromised, and consult with a professional. Probably their judgment will be a good deal kinder, and perhaps they will be able to help.

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Five books that improve on Heinlein’s juveniles

Here’s a post at tor.com by James Davis Nicholl: Five books that improve upon Heinlein’s juveniles.

That’s a great detail of a cover from one of Nicholl’s picks. I’ll get to it in a moment.

First let me say that when I tried to re-read The Star Beast not that long ago, I was …. kinda underwhelmed. I expect Nicholl could easily have expanded this list to ten. Or 100. But then, others of Heinlein’s juveniles were certainly better.

Nicholl’s criteria:  For me, that requires the intended audience to include teens, that the genre be science fiction in the narrow sense, that the protagonist be a young adult, and that they get to do something that actually matters in the course of the book

Sounds fair. I might add, “Has kinda the same feel as a Heinlein juvenile,” which would exclude things like, say, the Illuminae trilogy by Kaufman and Kristoff , even though this does fit Nicholl’s listed criteria.

Click through to check out all of Nicholl’s picks and his comments about them and which Heinlein juvenile he thinks they go with. I have read only two of his suggestions and I question them both.

The first of those is Falling Free by LMB. I question whether that one fits because the adult protagonist is so important in the book, more so than any of the quaddie kids.

The second is Growing Up Wightless by John M Ford. Although this is a good book, I don’t think it has any close resemblance to the adventure stories Heinlein wrote. It’s far, far more introspective. 

Rocket Girls by Housuke Nojiri sounds much closer, plus it sounds like a fun book, plus I sort of think I might have seen people saying it’s good? Weigh in if you’ve read it: what did you think?

The art above is from the cover of Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn.  It also sounds good and it also sounds more like it might resemble a Heinlein story. 

Next is The Trove by Tobias Buckell. It didn’t sound all that inviting to me until Nicholl says “Jane is more in control of her destiny than is Don in Between Planets. Kudos to her parents for raising a kid with serious coping skills.” I like a kid with serious coping skills, so that instantly bumped the book from my Whatever, maybe list to my Maybe I should take a closer look list.

And last, Nicholl asks for suggestions for a Heinlein-like YA novel with a protagonist who is “‘Not smart but determined,’” to match Tunnel in the Sky.  I am not super keen on non-smart protagonists, so if I’ve read any SF YA that matched this criterion, I can’t remember it. Yet it sort of seems to me that I have in fact read something where the protagonist’s outstanding characteristic was sheer determination. But it’s not coming to me.

Preferably, as far as I’m concerned, any suggestion to pair with Tunnel in the Sky would have a better ending. Wow, did I ever hate the ending of that one. 

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SF cat toys

Wow, here’s a cat toy I would absolutely get for my cat if (a) he weren’t 18, and (b) I didn’t have a million dogs that would immediately destroy any cat toy.

Mousr, a super-smart cat toy from Petronics that has a time-of-flight sensor, a real-time operating system in a custom-built microcontroller, and A.I. programming all working on concert to convince your cat that it’s a mouse and not a tiny robot. Mousr can map its surroundings — and it even initiates a struggle protocol when it feels trapped by its predator. My cats absolutely love the struggle part.

Neat! 

The author of the post refers to this toy as eliciting your cat’s most disturbing behavior. Does that seem weird to anyone else? I don’t find my cat’s predatory behavior disturbing at all. I mean … doesn’t everybody already know that cats are predators? I think this behavior would be totally cute directed at a toy instead of a real animal. 

If I had indoor-only cats and no dogs, I would totally get this.

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Lots of good advice here

From Janet Reid’s blog, writing advice I actually like. I don’t know that I think this is advice that could be easily taken in a practical sense, but I still like it. It’s from a twitter thread by tv writer Matthew Federman

Some tidbits that particularly caught my eye:

4) When you’re going in the wrong direction it feels like a slog. If you spend a suitable amount of time grinding gears, reassess.

I find that completely true. There can be other reasons your WIP just stalled out. (I’m sure there are an infinity of reasons this can happen.) But by and large, when the gears start to grind, then I personally have found myself deleting thirty or sixty pages and taking the ms in a different direction.

I remember writing three completely different Chapter Fives for one manuscript. And this absolutely happened in House of Shadows too.

18) When characters are complex, plots can be simple.

That sounds so pithy and elegant. Also, it might be true. True-ish. If the writing is inviting enough and the characters are appealing enough, then I expect that the plot can be simple even if the characters are not that complex either. I am thinking of Romance here, but I feel that is basically the case in general.

One might argue that characters have to have a certain level of complexity in order to be appealing, but I’m not actually sure that’s a very high level. Maia in The Goblin Emperor strikes me as an example of a protagonist who is very, very appealing without being all that complex. YMMV, but I think the portrait Katherine Addison / Sarah Monette draws of Maia is intimate and deep, but also simple.

22) While it is great and necessary to have flawed characters in drama, not all flaws are created equally. A Hero can be unfaithful, they can be wrathful, they can be stubborn. One thing they can rarely be: incompetent in their chosen field. 

Now THERE is a true statement. Nothing in the entire realm of fiction is less appealing than a protagonist who is incompetent.

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Writer’s survey

At The Writer’s Cooperative, results from a survey taken by 700+ writers. Have you published a novel, are you working on a novel right now, did you study creative writing, are you part of a writer’s group online, off line, etc.

It’s mildly interesting. The most interesting thing to me is that a pretty large minority of respondents said they actively write on multiple devices. This seems strange to me. I would be annoyed if I had to continuously merge one document with another, or worse, one type of file with another.

A majority of respondents use Word. Well, sure. Why not? Everybody’s got it on their computer, everyone already knows how to use it, when you send a copy to somebody as a Word attachment, they’ll be able to open it and read it and it will look right without having to fiddle with it. Or if they want to change the font or spacing or something, that’s easy and they already know how to do it.

(I know “everyone” is a tiny bit of an exaggeration, but I don’t think it’s a huge exaggeration for people who have finished a novel.)

The survey was done by people who develop software for writers. Tough gig, probably, when dedicated software meant specifically for writers strikes me — and I’m sure I’m not alone here — as totally unnecessary. I’m sure I’m not the only one who steps back from learning how to use a new program when I already have a perfectly good program in Word.

Strangest comment, imo:

A number of writers are hesitant to study creative writing, seeing it as an art that should not require outside teaching or mentoring.  What they often forget is that in every other art form (painting, sculpting, music, etc.) it is normal and even expected that beginners will learn the basics of their art in a college setting or from an expert. Why should novel writing be any different?

The question did not ask anything that would allow evaluation of writer’s attitudes toward creative writing classes.  It was just a straight up Did you study Creative Writing.  Also, I think the authors of the survey might take note of the large proportion of writers who did not study Creative Writing and re-evaluate their assumption that these classes are helpful.

Especially since Creative Writing programs are famously hostile to genre writing. I don’t know if they really are; I never took any creative writing classes, as far as I can remember. But to the extent that they assume Literary Is It, of course they will turn off everyone who doesn’t like Literary.

Still, it’s always interesting to see results from surveys like this, even if the survey seems to have some flaws.

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Forgotten authors: a panel discussion

So, Archon is coming up in a few weeks. That’s the smallish convention that takes place right across the river from St. Louis; ie, the one that is only an hour and a half from my house, so of course I nearly always attend. 

Incidentally, if you’re in the neighborhood, Archon usually has a really good masquerade, so it’s worth coming just for that. Massively better than other, larger conventions. If you’ve ever been disappointed with a convention’s masquerade, don’t write this one off on that account. Very strong costumer’s guild in St. Louis, apparently. 

I’m on four panels. I kind of like moderating because I guess I’m a control freak in some ways. I mean, most of the time it really annoys me when a panel drifts gently off topic and the moderator doesn’t drag it back. It’s even worse when a particular panelist starts to tell everyone everything about their own books and won’t shut up (I bet I am not the only person to find that seriously annoying), and if I’m moderating I can gently shut that down. 

Also it’s actually easier to do panels as a moderator sometimes, because what you need is a list of questions and then you can pose them to the other people on the panel and go from there.

So I said Sure, I’ll moderate if you want a bunch of times and thus I’m moderating three panels and  I’m on one. Here they are:

Friday 2:00 — To read or not to read: how do you handle reading other people’s books when writing? I’m sure there will be a lot of variation here.

Saturday 1:00 — SF vs Fantasy: how to tell the difference. Lots of blurry lines, you bet.

Saturday 2:00 — Fermi Paradox. I’m not moderating that one, but I must have said it was okay to put me on the panel. The Fermi Paradox is always interesting and I hope we manage to say some stuff that is not already familiar to absolutely everyone.

Saturday 4:00 — Forgotten authors, and finally we arrive at the point of this post. 

I have several authors in mind, not to mention several categories that should help organize the panel discussion a bit. This is also obviously a topic where input from the whole room will be welcome, because surely everyone — everyone — has a favorite author they think is flying / has flown way too far under the radar.

So. Who are the authors you would most want to see mentioned at a panel like this? Drop ’em in the comments and I will make sure they get the mention they obviously deserve.

For example, name an author who has vanished into the mists of time but ought to be much more widely read today.

Or name an author who might be writing today, but is not getting the widespread notice they clearly deserve.

Or both.

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Call that a moon?

So, looks like the first alien moon to be discovered is a gas giant orbiting a really, really big gas giant.

Or maybe that’s not so surprising, since I guess we still have an easier time finding gas giants of all kinds rather than smaller planets and moons. 

Anyway:

Astronomers have pinpointed what appears to be the first moon detected outside our solar system, a large gaseous world the size of Neptune that is unlike any other known moon and orbits a gas planet much more massive than Jupiter.

Given this, doesn’t it sort of seem like one might call this a two-planet binary sort of thing, rather than a planet with a moon? Do we already have a term for binary planets? Seems like that would apply here.

Pretty neat no matter what you call it.

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A chill goes down my spine

When I think of being forced to read my most-disliked book of all time, Madame Bovary. 

Here is a post that I can sympathize with, at the Paris Review: Obligatory Reading


I still remember the day when the teacher turned to the chalkboard and wrote the words test, next, Friday, Madame, Bovary, Gustave, Flaubert, French. With each word, the silence grew, and by the end, the only sound was the sad squeaking of the chalk. 

It’s like the start of a horror novel, it really is.

… except the author of the post now likes the book fine and re-reads it every year.

[Shudder.]

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Murderbot

At tor.com, Liz Bourke reviews the final Murderbot novella, “Exit Strategy,” which as it happens I read last night.

It turns out that starting this novella last night half an hour before I wanted to turn the lights out was, um, optimistic. It’s a fast-paced little sucker and I couldn’t put it down until Dr Mensah was rescued. Which is not the end – wow, do things pick up again after that — but at least it was a reasonable place to pause.

Liz says:

Exit Strategy becomes even more of a joy to read in the emotional climax and dénouement, after the shooting is done and Murderbot is putting itself back together and having conversations while the Murderbot equivalent of woozy and concussed.  …

This is a fast, fun, and funny novella that, at its heart, is about personhood, independence, and selfhood: about autonomy, trust, and kindness, as well as anxiety, frustration, and anger. At its heart, Exit Strategy is a kind story, and a hopeful one…

The whole series is kind and hopeful, with any number of decent people shown against in a broader society that is often anything but decent. 

I especially love denouements and this series definitely needed one — it was crucial to let the reader see Murderbot get things straightened out with Dr. Mensah. She is the heart of the kindness in this story; without her, I’m sure Murderbot still wouldn’t have gone on a killing spree, but I doubt very much it would have made the same choices or developed in the way that it did through the novellas.

I can’t wait for the novel. Personally, I would especially like to see ART again, but I’m sure I’ll be happy with whatever direction Martha Wells takes this story.

I believe the expected publication date is 2020.

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Writing career as RPG

From Terrible Minds: 

One does not win this game.

One simply tries to stay in the game.

Again, we return to the RPG metaphor — yes, once you’ve whacked enough rats, and earned enough Publishing XP, you are granted access to a new land. You have a Shiny New Word Sword.

YOU HAVE LEVELED UP. Ding!

One thing, though —

Your problems have leveled up with you. You have new skills, new cred, new weapons, but you also have new problems. You’re not just playing D&D anymore, now it’s Advanced D&D. Success breeds new concerns…. 


There is no comfortable plateau in a writing career.

As always from Chuck Wendig, a fun post to read. 

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