Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Diverse settings?

So one of the things we hear all the time (relatively speaking) is that

a) publishers won’t buy fantasy that has other than a medieval-European-esque setting, and

b) this is because readers won’t buy other than same.

For example, from a comment here:

“I once heard a fantasy author talk about the fact that there’s so much pseudo-European/Tolkienesque stuff out there.

She said that basically, it comes down to the economic realities of the publishing business. The publishing houses who put out fantasy novels want to go with what they believe will draw their biggest audience, and 99 percent of the time, that’s European/Tolkien-style fantasy. She’d said that she once wrote a very detailed, dramatic novel set in a fantasy analogue of Egypt. After reading it, the publisher said, “This story is great, but the one thing we’d like you to change is the setting – we need it to be something more like medieval Europe.”

So, after a week or so of being upset about it, since she needed to put food on the table, she went ahead and reskinned the story as something with a more Norse/medieval flavor; and they published it.”

I don’t know. I like a good medieval-European-esque setting fine, if it’s well done, but I love a more exotic setting. Ever read BRIDGE OF BIRDS, for example?

And the thing is, many many many reviewers also say they love exotic settings. Every reviewer who raves about EON/EONA, for example.

So I don’t know. How much of this publishing / readership bias is real and how much is perceived? If I want to write a fantasy in a sort of Ottoman Empire-esque setting (which I do) should I? Or should I put that off in favor of a story with a more European setting? Or (worse) should I expect a publisher to want the story, but only if I change the setting?

As evidence of something or other, the nominees this year for the World Fantasy Award are —

a) ZOO CITY (Beukes), set in a near-future South Africa
b) THE HUNDRED THOUSANDS KINGDOMS (Jemisin), with a fantasy setting that is hard to categorize (if you’ve read it, how would you describe the setting?)
c) THE SILENT LAND (Joyce), with a contemporary European setting
d) UNDER HEAVEN (Kay), set in a barely-alternate 8th century China
e) REDEMPTION IN INDIGO (Lord), a Senegalese folktale retelling
f) WHO FEARS DEATH (Okarafor), set in Saharan Africa

What are we to make of this?

That publishers like exotic settings, as long as the books are good? It would be nice to think so.

Or that exotic settings may be a tough sell to publishers, but reviewers and award committees love ’em once they’re out? That seems believable to me.

Can we make any kind of extrapolation from this to what readers prefer? (My guess is maybe not really) (But hopefully many readers prefer great stories regardless of setting?)

I’ve ordered a) c) and e). I’ve already read b) and d) — both were great, but I’d vote for THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS over UNDER HEAVEN, which in my opinion had a weak ending. I haven’t ordered f) and don’t really plan to, because I read this author’s first book and just never really connected to the protagonist — though I did love the setting.

I really hope I love all the nominees and that none of them were nominated just because the exotic setting appealed to some committee somewhere. But this list does make me feel more like starting work on my (wonderful! fun! long and involved! with underground cities! and dragons!) Ottoman-esque fantasy, in the hope that publishers will turn out to agree with me that exotic settings are a great idea.

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Finished!

Again!

This time with the revision of my current WIP (KEEPER) (not it’s real name).

Okay, basically finished. I have a little fiddling to do tonight and maybe tomorrow. But for all intents and purposes, it’s done now. The last ten or so chapters went really fast, which is a good sign, it means I was enjoying myself. So different from the painful, slow slog through Chapter 3 a week or so ago, which I did not enjoy at all.

I totally didn’t revise the way I thought I was going to. A different idea occurred to me and rather than cutting one character’s point of view chapters down to the bare bone, I did something else that I hope will work.

Next step: sending the ms to readers and to my agent to find out if it DID work. I don’t know about other writers, but I really, honestly can’t tell whether some things work the way I hope, or not. Hence the need for readers.

I mean, usually I’m all “This relationship is supposed to be subtle, not invisible, does it work for you?” because I really can’t tell.

Which reminds me of an article I read in the lastest SFWA bulletin last night dealing with the changing world of publishing — I think it was the continuing Resnick / Malzberg point-and-counterpoint articles that run in every bulletin. They were talking about whose jobs will disappear (agents, editors, publishers), and I was thinking, WAIT, WE NEED EDITORS.

And it turned out they were thinking mostly of acquisitions editors. I grant you, that’s a job that’s likely to dissolve in the chaos. But I do think that writers will continue to have a definite need for:

a) Analytical big-picture editors, who can tell them what works and doesn’t work (pace drags here, repetitive here, confusing here, do we really need this scene?, I didn’t believe this character would do that . . . ) and ideally make suggestions about changes.

b) Copy editors, who look for errors in fact, consistency, and grammar.

c) Proofreaders, who focus exclusively on grammar.

The question is, will writers hire editors or just find them? Because I got some excellent editorial advice from Sarah Prineas regarding a recent manuscript, and I didn’t have to hire her to give it. She volunteered to read it. (Thanks, Sarah!)

And maybe beginning writers will just ask their friends to read their manuscripts? Which my guess is that will not work very well because many many many people cannot see what works and what doesn’t and what you need least of all is a yes-person who thinks every word that hits the page is perfect as-is. But will beginning writers know this?

Proofreaders, yes. Surely everybody knows they need a proofreader? Three proofreaders, plus their Mom?

Anyway . . . fiddling with my manuscript tonight and maybe tomorrow. Then I’m taking a break and reading a lot of books!

Books I most want to get to:

The Princess Curse (Merrie Haskell) which is MG and thus a little younger than I usually read, but sounds like a great combo of the twelve dancing princesses and beauty and the beat beast (thus proving my point about proofreaders!).

Toads and Diamonds (Tomlinson) which is another fairy-tale type of story and has a lovely, lovely cover.

Hunter’s Oath and Hunter’s Death (West), which were recommended to me and I’ve been wanting to get to them.

Not sure what else will shuffle up toward the top of the TBR pile. Oh! Maybe I’ll find out what all has been nominated for the World Fantasy award this year and read those before the convention!

Gotta lay in a nice stock of really good chocolate to go with the books!

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Changable e-books

Nathan points out that e-books are not fixed into their final form the way print books are. Should there be a final version? he asks. Does the tinkering even help books?

a) Yes. I would love to get rid of typos, repeated words, and that dratted scene where a character stands up twice. I would love to be able to fix these things without waiting for a new printing or new edition.

b) NO! NO! NO! By God, there needs to be a point where you call it done and put it aside and quit worrying about it! How could you ever move on to the next project?

c) What if the author changes her mind about something big and makes an important change, only you as the reader loved the original version? To make a somewhat exaggerated point, can you imagine Robin McKinley deleting BEAUTY from your e-reader and substituting ROSE DAUGHTER?

c) Worse, if the book can be fiddled with, what would prevent third parties rather than the author fiddling with them? What if some nameless Amazon employee suddenly decides to mess with MY BOOK? If Amazon could delete books other people bought, what would stop them from fiddling around with books other people wrote?

Legality?

Amazon’s published terms of service agreement for the Kindle does not appear to give the company the right to delete purchases after they have been made. It says Amazon grants customers the right to keep a “permanent copy of the applicable digital content. . . . Retailers of physical goods cannot, of course, force their way into a customer’s home to take back a purchase, no matter how bootlegged it turns out to be. Yet Amazon appears to maintain a unique tether to the digital content it sells for the Kindle.

I would REALLY be unhappy to have ANYBODY BUT ME make changes to any book I ever wrote — and almost as uncomfortable giving even the author the right to make any change bigger than fixing an obvious mistake.

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Computer Solitaire is your friend

Solitaire is an invaluable aide to the writer. It really is. Why? Because it is intrinsically boring, that’s why. How is solitaire put to its natural use?

1) Need to get some work done but totally unmotivated? No problem! Just tell yourself: “I’ll just turn my laptop on and play a couple of games of solitaire — I won’t even open the working file.” But after a couple of games of solitaire, you will be bored enough to at least OPEN the manuscript file and LOOK at your manuscript, and then you will wind up fiddling with something or other, and then since you’ve started you might as well get a little work actually done — and poof! An evening that is at least moderately productive.

2) Or how about if you ARE working on your manuscript, but you are not enjoying it. Like you are working on one of those annoying boring transition scenes and you know you will probably end up cutting it anyway and yet you have to write it to get to the scene you want to write? (Surely this isn’t just me?) Or maybe you are working on some aspect of revision that particularly annoys you, like you are making sure a character is bald as an egg ALL the way through the manuscript, a very tedious job I assure you.

Solitaire to the rescue! Because you can promise yourself one (or two) games after every chapter! And even if the one (or two) games stretch out to five or six as you put off getting back to work, fundamentally solitaire is BORING and so you will be driven back to work eventually!

3) On those evenings where you actually DO play solitaire for an hour straight? Without winning a single game? You have actually used solitaire as a diagnostic tool, possibly without realizing it! You would NEVER have been able to tolerate such a boring hour if your brain was actually functioning. You were too tired to get any work done. This is confirmed because you LOST all those games. If you were coherent enough to write, you would have won at least some of the time. Since solitaire is BORING, after losing a lot of games in a row you will probably be able to tear yourself away from your computer and go to bed.

Notice that in order for solitaire to be used most effectively as a writing tool, it’s important not to have any games on your laptop that are actually fun to play. It’s also wise not to hook your laptop up to the internet.

[Yawn.] Naptime! Bye!

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Manuscript revision —

Sometimes not my favorite thing.

Sometimes I kind of enjoy it! Depends on the type of revision — huge sweeping alterations, like turning curtains into play clothes in The Sound of Music; or little fiddly detail-changes like re-hemming a pair of pants by 1/4 inch?

I once went through a huge manuscript, making the main character plump and bald. This was veeery tedious. (Do not wonder whether you have forgotten a plump, bald main character in one of my novels. That one is not yet published, though it someday will be.)

In contrast . . . I have started to get almost kinda enthusiastic about making an important revision to one of the main characters in KEEPER. So tonight I think I will go back and revise chapters 2 and 3 yet AGAIN.

Well, I’ll start that tonight. Probably finish it, eh, Thursday maybe. After that it should be less annoying to keep going with this revision because I’ll be able to actually move forward.

Meanwhile!

Found a neat post on this topic from The INTERN, first posted early this year. Here!

Friday, March 25, 2011
Special Topics in Calamity Novel Repair

INTERN has seen countless first drafts which are littered with redundant scenes—scenes that unwittingly make the same point or convey the same information over and over again without bringing anything new to the story.

… common culprits for redundancy include “getting-to-know-you” scenes, training montages, and scenes showing characters falling in love. Taken individually, any one such scene can serve an important function in your story. But when you show your characters twirling around a skating rink holding hands, then lying in a field of daisies laughing, then snuggling on a couch watching movies, and nothing is changing or moving, then you’ve got yourself some redundant scenes.
How do you recognize when your scene is critical to the story and when it’s redundant?

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. What does this scene actually DO?

(show the characters falling in love/show MC’s deepening dedication to becoming a basketball star/develop conflict between MC and her rival/etc.)

2. Do any other scenes do the same thing?

(yes/no/sort of/yeeeeees, but that scene where they lie in the daisies is just soooo sweet)

Obviously, it can take more than a single scene to fully develop a relationship or conflict. But the key word here is develop. That means in each scene, something important will have shifted. Instead of six “getting to know you” scenes, you’ll have one “getting to know you” scene, one “getting to hate you” scene, and one “getting to find out you’re my long-lost twin” scene.

Once you stop writing redundant scenes, you will be delighted to find that your novel will mysteriously develop a greater sense of tension, conflict, and forward motion. Hurrah! Calamity fixed. Well, the first one, anyway…

Yep, definitely been there. Character-has-revelation / character-has-same-revelation. One of the two has to come out! Character-visits-cousin / character-visits-cousin . . . again, cut one!

This is the sort of thing that makes it SUPER USEFUL to take a break between finishing a novel and sending it off to be read by real live other people. Taking a month or so and then coming back to a book can make redundant scenes leap out at you. I think I’m getting better at spotting the suckers when they leap and twirl and wave flags and scream DELETE ME.

When I’m working to a major deadline . . . eh. That’s where my agent becomes invaluable, because SHE’S the one who points to the flashing neon flag and suggests gently that perhaps only ONE of those scenes is strictly necessary.

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Five days . . .

To revise Ch. 3 in my WIP (KEEPER). Five days. Five. Mostly because I just did not want to work on it and thus spent oodles of time drifting off to do other stuff.

Aargh.

Plus, I thought of something I could do with the secondary protagonist that would . . . probably be a good idea and add coolness to the book. Also, require more revision.

I would like to get this revision finished by the end of September.

It is the 19th.

I have another show next weekend and Archon is the weekend after that and that will take me into October and will I get this revision finished? I’m thinking probably not.

This is turning into one of those crazy Neverending Revisions From Hell. The kind where the end is always in sight and yet never seems to get closer.

Did I already say Aargh?

Question (rhetorical): go back and revise chapters 2 and 3 given the new idea that just struck me? Or move ahead and read chapter 4, which should require essentially zero work, as a reward for getting as far as I have?

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Book sales weirdness

So, the three griffin books put together?

They sold more than twice as well during the past week as they have in any week for the past two months.

This is great! I hope the sales stay up there or rise! But what gives?

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Pick one . . . or two . . . or three

Which one do you like best?

Choices, choices!

If I could pick three, it’d be ISLANDS, the paperback CITY, and HOUSE OF SHADOWS — even though I think the reflection in the eye of the griffin is very clever and I like all of the griffin covers. Maybe I’m biased toward cool colors? People who work in ceramics say blues sell best, and as far as that goes, I’m just another sheep following the herd.

If I had to pick just one . . . honestly, can’t.

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Titles

Agent Rachelle Gardner had a post some time ago about how to think of good titles for your books.

I have kind of an anti-knack for titles: I can never think of anything good. Sometimes my editor and I go back and forth for weeks kicking titles back and forth and it’s all very annoying and tedious and unpleasant, especially when you never really like ANY of the suggestions.

Now, what Rachelle Gardner suggested was this:

a) Find 20 titles you love, all from your genre.

b) Make a list of 100 words (nouns, adjectives, and verbs) related to your book — words that evoke the setting or relate to an important character or capture the action.

c) Evaluate these words: Would any make good single-word titles? Any good combinations leap out at you?

d) Develop 20 possible titles which all:
i) have a tone that fits your book,
ii) convey the genre,
iii) don’t seem too generic,
iv) might realistically catch the eye.

e) Wait 24 hours and select 3-5 for a short list.

f) Send these to friends and have everybody pick their favorite.

Okay, now, if this process worked to generate fantastic titles, wouldn’t that be great? Unfortunately, only steps (a) and (b) are actually easy,and those don’t get you all the way to a title of your own.

Twenty great titles that caught my eye? No problem. I selected:


A Fistful of Sky

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Silent Strength of Stones

A Blue So Dark

Darkness Be My Friend

Retribution Falls

All Unquiet Things

Glitter Rose

Black Creek

Shades of Milk and Honey

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Butterfly Swords

Incarceron

Somewhere to Be Flying

The Life of Glass

The Paths of the Dead

The Sky is Everywhere

Past the Size of Dreaming

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Against the Tide of Years

From which you might (correctly) surmise that I like evocative, poetic titles. I suspect this is the hardest kind of title to come up with. My least favorite titles are merely a character’s name, which is too bad, since those would certainly be easier to think of!

Now, does this suggest anything for my current WIP, which for the sake of convenience I’m calling KEEPER, a title I dislike?

Ummm . . . well. If only.

How about THE MOUNTAIN OF MEMORY? I don’t much like that.

THE MOUNTAIN OF DEAD GODS? THE MOUNTAIN OF SHATTERED VISION? THE MIRROR OF SHATTERED VISION?

No? Okay, then.

How about GODDESS OF SHADOWS? Don’t much care for it, and it seems awfully generic. Is

THE GODDESS OF MEMORY

any better?

THE WALL BETWEEN THE MOUNTAIN AND THE WORLD is obviously too long, right?

THE KIEBA? THE KIEBA’S MOUNTAIN? THE KIEBA’S LAW?

But isn’t “Kieba” kind of hard to pronounce, maybe? And also this is pretty close to just using a character’s name as the title, which is still not my favorite thing.

CRYSTAL OF SIGHT AND MEMORY? ASHEN RAINS AND CRYSTAL MEMORY?

This is just harder than seems reasonable. Phooey.

Easier to quit fussing with the title and finish the darned book.

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Whoa!

Here’s a biting and fairly alarming post.

“Amazon would like to offer a Netflix-like subscription to unlimited ebooks for its Prime members. Business sites are all over the publishing companies to comply–after all, what’s a little monopoly between friends?

But as an author this stinks to high heaven. You know, that place where Borders is chilling on a cloud and crying into its celestial beer.

See, there’s no mention of author benefit–everyone is talking about the publishers and how they need to get with the times. But how, exactly, would we be compensated for this? Since it’s for their Prime members, who as Netflix has seen, would howl over a price hike, it’s possible this will just be lumped in, wrecking ebook sales and contributing further to the idea that the ideal cost for a book is $0.00. Not to mention the number this does on libraries.”

Read the whole thing. Like I said, fairly alarming. Can I have a crystal ball, please, so I actually know what the future of book publishing will hold?

I know, I know, a major run on those particular crystal balls, if they ever come up for sale. On Amazon.

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