Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


A great way to end the year —

THE FLOATING ISLANDS made the Kirkus list for best children’s books in 2011!

So naturally I clicked over to the list and counted. Looks like they selected 66 books, all the way from little-kid’s-picture-books to YAs like ISLANDS.

The Kirkus editor, Vicky Smith, says: “Here you will find books that will thrill, tickle, stimulate, soothe and enlighten kids from the very youngest to early teens. There are heartfelt explorations of the natural world and loving celebrations of the closeness of family, ruminative picture books and adventures to get the blood pounding. And three, count them, three novels featuring talking mice.”

Talking mice actually sound pretty neat, but what I can’t help pointing out is that, what with all those picture books, there must have been plenty of competition for the few YA slots. Quite an honor to have ISLANDS make the list!

And! ISLANDS is listed under no fewer than four categories:

Fantasy and Science Fiction
Novels with Great Boy Characters
Novels with Great Girl Characters
Adrenalin Rushes

How about that?

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I hate revisions —

Although not as much when I actually start them as when I’m dragging my feet avoiding them.

Anyway, finally started making real progress on this latest revision this weekend. Finally. The weather was helpfully dismal all weekend, a big advantage.

So far I’ve speeded up the first chapter, moved the announcement of the Tamaristan invasion up into the very first scene, cut the first bit of the second chapter and tentatively made it into a (short!) prologue . . . if I leave it there, I guess I will have to quit claiming to hate all prologues on principle . . . the best post about prologues I know of is here.

So I guess at least I can still claim to hate BAD prologues, even if I actually use another one myself.

Also! I a keen little epiphany about how to make a tiny little change that totally explains why the Kieba choses Erest as her student. Hah!

Meanwhile, lots of detail work and streamlining. I’m TRYING to cut the third chapter, but you know what? That is not easy to do.

Hopefully I’ll still get it all done by December 1st. Even though this is a short month and contains Thanksgiving.

It’s certainly easier than joining in with NaNoWriMo, anyway.

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Diana Wynne Jones —

Is a name I’m sure everybody recognizes, right?


Okay, then.

There was an “in memorium” panel on Diana Wynne Jones’ writing and influence at the World Fantasy Convention, which was (I’m happy to say) well attended. The panel was touching and also informative. In particular, I found out two things, one of interest only to myself and one of general interest. In order:

a) My personal library is amazingly lacking in Diana Wynne Jones’ books. Who knew I had only about 2/3 of her titles? In particular (does this surprise you?) the panelists for the memorial panel all choose ARCHER’S GOON as their personal favorite, and I said Really? because I only read that once when I was a kid and it didn’t stand out for me then. But it’s been a long time. So I ordered that, plus most of the rest I don’t have, and thus I just had eight or ten or whatever of her books arrive on my doorstep. Yay! Not that I have time to read them right now because I want to finish this revision before December. But still!

b) Aaaand . . . did you know there’s a sort of autobiography or something coming out next year? Called REFLECTIONS: ON THE MAGIC OF WRITING. It’s supposed to contain essays about her time as a student of Tolkein’s AND CS Lewis’s. Don’t know what else. But I’ll be keeping an eye out for it!

So that is my public service announcement for the day! Because I am sure you will all want to check that out, too, when it hits the shelves!

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The Griffin Omnibus —

Is officially out as of today!

Which, btw, Orbit did another copy editing pass through it, and so did I, and as far as I know THIS edition is completely and totally error free! Plus I smoothed out the text here and there in very minor ways that I’m sure no one will notice, probably not even me. Still, love this edition! Plus, it’s just cool to pick up a thousand page book and know I wrote it. Wow. A thousand pages.

Thea at The Book Smugglers kindly arranged to do her review of Books 2 and 3 of The Griffin Mage trilogy today.

Thanks, Thea!

And the review is here, so check it out if you have a minute.

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Check this out —

You know, I am really enjoying reading the essays over


This is Marie Brennan’s site. You know, author of MIDNIGHT NEVER COME? Which, actually, I haven’t read yet. It’s on my TBR pile! Great title and good reviews from people I trust . . . but you know why I actually wound up buying the book?

Because I like the essays at her website, that’s why.

They’re good essays. Really.

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MG vs YA

So, I recently tossed off the notion that there’s really no difference between Middle Grade (technically meant for kids aged 8 to 12) and Young Adult (technically meant for ages 12 and up). Or at least I suggested that there’s plenty of overlap and that books get miscategorized and that the putative division isn’t actually very helpful in directing readers to books they would enjoy, anyway.

Certainly there’s more to it than just the age of the protagonist, though the protagonist is usually expected to be a couple of years older than the target audience. And I don’t think there’s necessarily a big difference in vocabulary and sentence complexity, either. (Not saying there can’t be a tendency to a somewhat wider vocabulary etc in the YA, but I don’t think it’s really that strong a tendency.)

Not like I’m really planning to arrive at the definitive, um, definitions for Middle Grade vs Young Adult, but how about the idea posited in the comments that YA has “more layers” and is more complicated than MG? That gets at the idea that MG stories have fewer developed subplots, with the example given (in Elaine’s comment) that in the YA ENTWINED, for example, “the father has his own journey and it’s shown enough for the reader to get it”, whereas in the MG THE PRINCESS CURSE “the father suddenly does something startling but we don’t see him grow into it”.

This is perfectly true. (And makes me want to read ENTWINED.) It’s also true that as an adult reader I would have liked to see more of the father and have the relationship between him and his daughter brought out more in THE PRINCESS CURSE. I think the father could have been a really compelling character if he’d gotten more screen-time, as it were. As a writer, I have to wonder whether there was more of that in there at one time and it was cut for length reasons? I’m thinking here of the tons of stuff cut from THE FLOATING ISLANDS.

So is it true that in general MG lacks substantive subplots? Is that the (one of the) major difference? What other criteria have been proposed to distinguish the two grades?

Here’s a take on that question (from a source that agrees that YAs often have more complicated plots):

Middle grade novels are characterized by the type of conflict encountered by the main character. Children in the primary grades are still focused inward, and the conflicts in their books reflect that. While themes range from friendship to school situations to relationships with siblings and peers, characters are learning how they operate within their own world. . . . Yes, your character needs to grow and change during the course of the book, but these changes are on the inside.

This is interesting, because I’ve certainly seen a totally different opinion elsewhere:

I think the stakes in middle-grade fiction probably tend to be a bit bigger. I think there might be a bit more world-saving in middle grade. . . . The stakes in my books tend to be kind of ridiculously high. . . . In The Boy at the End of the World, what’s at stake is the survival of the human species. The kids in my books are saving the world. They’re saving their friends, their families, their communities. Big, big, honkin’ big stakes. The challenge isn’t really raising the stakes as much as it is making sure I’m still telling stories about human beings.

This is Greg van Eekhout, here, in an interview that covered a lot of ground, so read the whole thing!

And of course in YA these days, romance is often expected to be a big deal, right? From the same interview, Carrie Vaughn says:

A more general take: the issue of romance comes up a lot in YA, and not just because of Twilight, but because it’s a really big deal for teens. When you’re 16 and falling in love for the first time, or having your heart broken for the first time, it’s epic. It’s huge. It feels like the world is shuddering on its axis. Because you’ve literally never felt anything like it before.

So in MG, the protagonist saves the world and in YA, the protagonist falls in love. Yes? No?

As it happens, I think it will be Earth-shatteringly terrible if YA gets subsumed as a special teen-girl-romance subgenre, not that I want to overstate or anything. So I would vote “No” to that one. But I would agree that romance can be an important subplot in YA whereas that is really not possible in MG. Not REALLY. Despite the sort of slow-motion romance in THE PRINCESS CURSE, which is obviously really going to be developing in the protagonist’s future, child-brides aside.

. . . Which takes us, however back to subplots and the idea that YAs have more complicated plot structures than MG. And what I might say is that, though the division between MG and YA still seems to me basically an artificial marketing idea rather than an actual division between two actual, distinct genres, an adult reader may be more likely to prefer stories with more developed subplots, and stories like that might find a broader readership. Maybe? And maybe that is one reason the Harry Potter series took off through the stratosphere? Because the initial story was very one-dimensional, but it didn’t stay that way. And thus it strikes readers as YA despite the simplicity of the writing and the save-the-world focus. (And, of course, the kids just got older over the course of the books . . . but not sure that’s what primarily drives the perception of this series as YA.)


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This survey has accumulated enough votes —

To be interesting.

What genre is your WIP? asks Nathan Bransford.

The results were pretty skewed when I voted a couple of days ago — like, 17% YA fantasy and 18% adult fantasy. Much more balanced now.

I’m surprised that paranormal has fallen under other fantasy. I think that’s good. I was finding it impossible to notice one fish in that sea, but maybe paranormal is going to settle down to a reasonable level. Just so long as I sell *my* paranormal, right? I hope my agent will read it Real Soon Now, not see anything big to fix, and start shopping it around pronto. Wouldn’t it be great to end the year with a nice sale? Time’s getting short, though, so don’t know how likely that is.

Almost none of Bransford’s responses indicate people are working on nonfiction, but I think that’s probably a self-selection effect — I expect the readers of his site are mostly into genre fiction.

I’d tend to lump MG and YA together. After talking to people at the World Fantasy Convention, I’m pretty much of the opinion that the two categories aren’t really distinct. For example, I’d say that the Harry Potter series is fundamentally MG, though it was sold as YA; and Merrie Haskell’s THE PRINCESS CURSE is really YA even though it was sold as MG.

Or really I’d say there’s no clear distinction and it might be better not to act as though there was. I don’t think it helps a book find readers to say it’s MG or YA — I think the opposite, that if you say a book is MG, a lot of readers who would love it will avoid it (like me: I’ve only just started reading more MG stories because I thought they were too young for me, but I’ve found out a lot of them don’t read as young as the MG label implies).

And I think parents might avoid looking at YA for their youngsters because they think all YA is hot paranormal romance, which if that’s the trend, I’d like to see a lot of pushback.

Anyway, interesting survey!

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Thank heaven for popular authors . . .

. . . who break length limits for the rest of us.

In a post about rejections from BookEnds, we get the following oft-repeated length limits:

* Most novels are roughly 80,000 to 100,000 words. Anything I don’t mention here should be within that range, give or take 5,000 words.
* Cozy mysteries: 70,000 to 90,000 words. Usually on the short end of that.
* Category romance: Anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 (note this is Harlequin/Silhouette only)
* Fantasy: Can run longer, up to 120,000 words

And YA runs shorter than adult. And therefore I’m grateful that Harry Potter blew those lengths out of the water.

I just read MASTIFF, Tamora Pierce’s third book in the Beka Cooper trilogy. You know how long that was? Six hundred pages plus. SIX HUNDRED PAGES. Figuring that it’s about ten thousand words per thirty pages, that’d be about 200,000 words.

And I’m grateful. Not just because I love long books, though I often do. But because my default length as a writer is upwards of 120,000 words. That’s the length with which I’m most comfortable. I always write long and then cut, and when I’m done cutting I’m often STILL above 120,000 words.

Sometimes I even get within shouting distance of 100,000 words. But not usually.

Most of the time a serious cut improves a book (I mostly believe this) and if cutting the length down encourages a publishing house to take the book, then it’s worth doing on that account, too.

But I’m very glad that there are enough popular authors out there breaking the length rules that the rest of us have a little more leeway than the figures above suggest.

(Though I would suggest you keep the first book you seriously shop around under 100,000 words, if you’re serious about getting agents to look at it. When you’re as famous as Tamora Pierce, you can get away with those 200,000 word manuscripts. I’m looking forward to the day when *I* can get away with that.)

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