Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Starting to write

So, I’ve been writing!

Well . . . pretty much.  More or less.  The puppies are distracting (though extraordinarily cute), but even MORE distracting is the sudden need to pick TEN MILLION plums, rinse and slice each one individually, and cook the resulting gallons and gallons of plum slices into pie filling to can.

And before the yellow plum (Shiro) is done, the purple Fortune and red Ozark Premier will be ready.  And the peaches!  I can’t even think how many peaches we’ll be picking this year! Barring hail like last year.

Summer would be a great time to lose that pesky five pounds, what with all that fresh fruit rolling in, except that fresh fruit has a strong tendency to turn into plum cobblers and peach pies and blackberry tarts and rhubarb ice cream (seriously!  Mmmm!  Rhubarb!), and somehow it’s more like a pesky eight pounds, now.

But along with the puppies (housetraining and crate training and socializing and playing with and just admiring), AND along with processing the abovementioned millions and millions of plums, I’m also writing.

I’ve worked out the plot of a new story!  Well, only part way, true, but a whole lot more than not at all, which was where I was plotwise this time two weeks ago.  Don’t know the ending.  Oh, well, that’s not true:  of course I know the ending!  I just don’t know exactly HOW the good guys will win, if by ‘exactly’ you mean ‘at all’.  But at least I’m now clear about the overall problem the good guys will be facing, and some of the complications.

Part of what you do when building a story, you know, is increase the tension?  By dropping your main characters into a hole?  And then digging the hole deeper?

So what I know now is the shape of the hole.  What I don’t yet know is a)  what will happen to make it deeper, b) and deeper, c) and deeper, and d) how to get my good guys out of the hole at the end.

But that is fine!  I never know all that stuff to begin with!  As I work my way through the, uh, late beginning of the story and into the middle, the stuff toward the end will become clear.  Besides, I am exaggerating:  I do know SOME of the complications that will make for a deep, deep hole.

But here, for me, is one big advantage of having written more than one (or two) books in the past:  I KNOW that the plot will work itself out for me.  It always does!  So it’s okay not to know what the climactic scene will involve; I know it’ll be there when I get to it.  Then a little touching up through the whole manuscript makes it look to the reader like I knew right from the beginning what the end would be, or so I fondly believe.  Which, out of, um, counting the unpubished stories . . . would be . . . ah, I think I knew more or less the entire plot of two out of nine finished novels at the time I started writing it.  So for me that is the exception rather than the rule.

So, how long will it take to finish my current project?  I would like this to be a rather short novel, say 300 pages.  What is that, 90,000 words or so?

Quick quiz question:  if you write four pages a day, how long will it take to write 300 pages?  Answer:  not long, if you don’t get distracted by your puppies or home orchard and actually sit down and stick to that schedule.  The whole POINT of barely working in the summer is to make time for . . . well, other kinds of work.  So any day now!  Four pages a day!

I will say, though, that for Book Three of The Griffin Mage Trilogy, I wrote almost exactly a hundred pages more than appeared in the final version.  Secondary goal for current project:  don’t do that again.

So how about the current project?  What is it?  I’m thinking it will be a YA fantasy.

Oh!  And by the way, I read this snippet someplace that advised writers never to start a story with dialog.  Well, whatever!  Here’s how I started my most recent project:

* * *

“They say the Lord is dying,” Tassel said, swinging without ceremony into the bakery kitchen.  She let the door slam shut behind her.  It banged hard because its frame had warped in the wet spring weather, an event predictable as the blooming of crocuses and daffodils.  The bell chimed, once and again and a third time as the door bounced against the frame.  The chime was a bright cheerful sound, but it reminded Keri that she needed to hire someone to replace the warped boards.

Keri’s mother could have got out a hammer and a handful of twopenny nails and fixed the doorframe herself.  If Keri tried to do that, she would probably bend all the nails and crack the doorframe and knock the head off the hammer.  But since her mother’s death, the bakery never seemed to earn enough in a week to pay a carpenter to repair the door, so from week to week the door continued to bang in its frame.

Keri sighed, shrugged, and kept her attention on the immediate task facing her – one she could at least address properly, and one that would earn decent coin.  Maybe this cake would even pay for a carpenter at last.

Tassel watched critically as Keri piped cream frosting around the circumference of a cake layer and then spread peach jam over the layer. “Did you hear what I said?”

Keri produced a wordless murmur, more interested in keeping the peach jam from oozing out of bounds than in Tassel’s far-from-surprising news.  She placed a second cake layer on top of the first and repeated the piped circle of frosting and filling of peach jam.

“Yes, but my cousin says you can stand in his back pasture and actually watch the boundary mist thinning,” Tassel persisted.  Her voice dropped portentously.  “He says, some days lately, you can see right out across the border.  He says you’d swear you can glimpse the tips of mountains against the sky.”

“Um?” said Keri.  She placed the third layer on top of the second and began to spread frosting in large swirls across the sides and top of the towering cake.

Tassel clicked her tongue in exasperation.  “Not Gannon, and not Timon either.  It’s Cort who says he’s seeing mountaintops through the mist.”

Her attention momentarily captured, Keri glanced up.  She tried to imagine Tassel’s most humorless cousin standing in his back pasture, gazing into the border of the Demesne and frightening himself with vague shapes in the mist.  Her imagination failed her.  “So what else does Cort say?”

“Only what I told you.  But if it’s true, doesn’t it mean the Lord must really be dying this time?”

* * *

And, of course, he is, with all kinds of repercussions for Keri and everyone else.

I have 20,000 words written now, give or take a couple thousand.  Mind-boggling to consider that this should be something like 1/4 of the total length.  Well, we’ll see.  It would be very nice if this story cooperated with my idea of its proper length.

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New Book Cover!

So, this is exciting! Just got the final proofs for The Floating Islands, which is coming out next year, which is fine and good because I have plenty of time right now to work on this and I always kind of enjoy doing it and I can feel virtuously occupied without having to do, you know, real work.

But also! The cover proofs for the paperback edition of The City in the Lake arrived!

Now, the hardback cover sort of grew on me and I really do like it — here it is:

City in the Lake Hardcover

See? Evocative, and you can see what the title is about, and I like the way the cat is stepping down to the bridge. But the fact is, I always LOVED the first idea for the cover — and that is what Knopf has decided to use for hte paperback! I couldn’t be more pleased! Take a look:

City in the Lake Paperback

Isn’t that lovely?

Seeing the final proof of a new cover is always wonderful, and I’ve been really lucky — I’ve seen PLENTY of book covers I dislike and some I hate, but I really like all of mine. My favorite of the griffin covers at the moment is the one for Book 3, but I am SO outvoted — virtually everybody else I’ve asked loves the first cover the best (two of my friends vote for the simplicity of Book 2). I don’t know — I like the faintly wistful expression of the woman from Book 3. Must be something about wistfulness, because that’s a quality I see — and love — in the cover above, too.

Okay! Back to the final proofs for The Floating Islands! Last chance to catch typos and fix details I suddenly notice are all wrong . . .

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Why I haven’t posted lately

It’s been an intense month, as Adora’s litter turned out to be one premature half-sized little puppy who embarked immediately on a roller coaster: He’ll be fine! Wait, I think he’s going to die! Oh, whew, he’s okay. No, what? What? Aspiration pneumonia?

Aspiration pneumonia happens when a neonatal puppy breathes milk into his lungs, and it is always very serious.

Well . . . after putting the poor little guy on every safe and at least one risky antibiotic and tube-feeding him every four hours around the clock . . . he got better! And then he aspirated again and died anyway. Didn’t quite make it to four weeks old.

So that was brutal and explains why I haven’t been updating my website. I was hoping for better news when I got to it, you know?

Plus I discovered — I bet this won’t surprise anybody — that a violent emotional roller coaster is not conducive to writing! I got almost nothing done over the past month, other than dusting the whole house and becoming a world-class expert on tube-feeding tiny puppies.

In happier puppy news: Bree’s puppies, at least, are fine! Nothing cuter than five-week-old Cavalier puppies. Here’s her little boy puppy, and the two little girls sleeping in their ‘den’. I’m keeping both girls, at least long enough to see how they turn out.

People ask me, Isn’t it really hard to sell a puppy and let it go to a new home? And the answer is, No, not really, as long as you’re perfectly certain the new home is excellent. It is way, way worse to lose one after his eyes are open and he starts to have a personality. It is just fine to send one away as long as you get happy notes back from the new owner about how perfect and great the puppy is!

So I have these two stories started, you know, and wasn’t really able to work on either of them over the past few weeks. That’ll change, and I’ll pick one soon and get some major writing done. Why else arrange to be so very, very part time in the summer except to have time for writing? But first!

I’m kinda thinking of working the whole dying-puppy thing into a novel. So it wouldn’t be a total waste, you know? And as kind of a memorial to the one who didn’t make it. I trust that doesn’t strike anybody as stupidly sentimental. (If it does, keep your opinion to yourself.)

I kind of think I know what I might do as far as the plot goes, more or less, and I have this kinda snazzy setting in mind, so I think maybe I’ll see if I can’t write thirty or forty pages of that first and then think about which story to actually finish. I will turn the puppy from a spaniel into some other kind of creature . . . maybe a griffin (not a fire-griffin, though! Different world!). And, I promise you, he will SURVIVE. Depressing endings, faugh. Bad enough in the real world.

So, anyway, after the puppy died, I made a large plate of The Best Cookies In The World and got out a book I’ve been longing to read (The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, which I was saving to read until the third book came out, which it isn’t yet, but August is close enough) and read the book and ate all the coookies. The book was perfect for the occasion. Absorbing story, you know, and all the characters have way worse problems than I do, which at the moment I really appreciate. I totally get why this book garnered such raves all last year! I read Catching Fire, too, and now I’m dying to read the third book. Can’t wait to see the evil Capital pulled down. I hope all the good guys survive to dance on its grave, or at least all my favorite characters, because seriously, I am in the mood for happy endings.

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What’s been going on lately?

1) Puppies! Bree, though suffering through an excessively dramatic whelping, presented me with a tricolor male puppy (bottom) and two absolutely beautiful girl puppies (side by side), one tricolor and the other blenheim. ‘Blenheim’ is what we call the red and white color in Cavaliers. Here they are!

Puppies

2) In a week, I’ll be able to x-ray Adora to see how many puppies she is carrying. She isn’t very large. I’m thinking I’ll be lucky if she has more than one. I am just the archetype for doing everything right and yet still getting smaller-than-average litters, which is very frustrating. Plus if she only has one, that more than likely means a c-section because single puppies are very often oversized. I keep saying that if I get a couple of really nice puppies from these litters, it will make the 2800 miles of driving (to the stud dogs) worth while, but I admit, it would also be nice (and different!) to actually, you know, break even someday.

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Recent Reading

Still working on the stack o’ books. I read Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner, the fourth book in her series — excellent, and what a fascinating series this is if you’re interested in writing technique! I have NEVER seen anybody switch like this in one series, from first person, to third person omniscient, to third person restricted, and back to first person. And always effective choices for what the author is doing! I’m so impressed!

Plus all four are just really excellent, fun books. Wonderful characters, fast paced, unpredictable plot twists — just great books all the way around.

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Reading Through the Backlog

The enormous backlog of books is not shrinking very fast. I kinda bought a bunch more YA fantasy, which did not help to shrink the pile. But I haven’t read any of them yet because The Thief, The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner and A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb were all so good that I really hesitate to read any more YA fantasy right now. Anything else is pretty likely not to be as good, that’s one thing, and then I’m still sort of savoring the experience of reading the above titles and just don’t want to read anything else that might interfere, if you know what I mean.

The four books listed above, plus Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Klause, which I also enjoyed; plus my own City in the Lake, plus a good handful of others, were all reviewed last year by a Tor guest reviewer (Megan Crewe), by the way. I figured that anybody who put City on a best-of-YA list was going to be a reliable guide to books I would love, so I’ve been working my way veeery sloooowly through that list, and so far I’m totally right!

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Quick Catch-Up and Work-in-Progress Report

It’s spring break, so I’m not at work this week, which is GREAT. I should be able to start seeds and dust everything in the house — well, to a rough approximation of ‘everything’ — and finish getting this website updated and update the Puppy page at the other website. I hope. More of the links from this page should be working now. Still working on others! All the book covers should link to Amazon, now, except the last one, which won’t be out until next year. But isn’t it a beautiful cover? I couldn’t wait till next year to put it up.

No deadlines of my own coming up! Devi Pillai says she doesn’t have any significant revisions to suggest for Book Three of the Griffin Mage Trilogy — she says it’s perfect just the way it is. I didn’t know it was even possible to send in a manuscript and not get three pages of editorial comments back! That’s my agent’s doing: her comments helped me streamline the first half of the book and that made a huge difference. I hear that not all agents make editorial comments, but it is hugely useful, believe me.

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