Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Cory Doctorow —

Finds that self-publication is a lot of work.

“I knew I’d have to do some of the stuff my publisher had done, but like everyone doing something complicated for the first time, I dramatically underestimated how much work this would be. It’s not impossible, and it’s not horrible work – it’s challenging, exciting stuff, but it’s incredibly time consuming . . .”

Sigh.

If everything that’s worth doing is worth doing well, then everything is going to take a lot of time. Can I have a clone to do half of it for me?

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Long weekend over —

Lots of watering (OH IF ONLY IT WOULD RAIN), lots of weeding, quite a bit of tedious deadheading of the buddleias because I want them to keep blooming through September, and . . . to my surprise, I actually started my next project. I meant to take a break until today, but just kind of found myself in the mood for . . . manuscript revision! Who knew?

I’m also trying around the edges to come up with a decent title for this WIP, but for the moment I’ll just call it KEEPER, okay? Which I do not like at all as a title, but it’ll work for now as a tag.

What I’m doing with KEEPER is reducing one main character’s (Erest’s) role and also working on streamlining the plot. It’s tricky because I’m taking out big chunks and then having to work back in little tidbits of exposition so the reader will know what’s going on. Sometimes this means taking out all references to Various Plot Elements and making a mental note that those Plot Elements need to be introduced later. I have a pretty good memory for this sort of thing, but obviously at the end I will need to read back through the whole story to make sure everything flows and I didn’t miss anything.

My guess is my enthusiasm for this project will wane shortly. Sigh. At least interspersed with the hard parts I get the easy parts — reading through Oressa’s chapters, which hardly need to change at all.

Hopefully be done by the end of the month, despite dog shows and Archon. Then I’ll have to decide on another project, something brand new. So many choices! A sequel for House of Shadows (coming next spring)? A sequel for The Floating Islands? This extraordinarily cool thing I want to do based on an alternate pseudo-Ottoman Empire?

First step is still to finish this revision, though, so onward with that . . .

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Just occurred to me —

One of the many reasons I loved ALWAYS by Nicola Griffith, besides the really great writing, is because it is primarily a romance, and yet in addition to the romance, actual stuff happens during the book.

Generally I don’t much care for romances, because if there’s nothing going on but Boy Meets Girl Boy Loses Girl Boy Gets Girl . . . well, excuse me, but boring.

In ALWAYS, there’s plenty going on. It’s just all going on around the edges.

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Recent Reading —

So, finished of Nicola Griffith’s outstanding trilogy, THE BLUE PLACE, STAY, and ALWAYS.

They are interestingly difficult to categorize, but I’d say the first book is a mystery with important thriller and romance components, the second a grief-and-recovery story with mystery components, and the third a romance with a mystery around the edges. Since they all have mystery aspects, so does this mean you’d find them in the mystery section at your local bookstore (if, sigh, you still HAVE a local bookstore)?

My copy of ALWAYS has a quote on the front from the NY Times book reviews that’s something on the order of: “A classic noir heroine . . .” Which is so not true.
Aud Torvingen is way cooler than the classic heroines *I* can think of.

She’s tough, but really humanized by events in the first book; she’s drawn to violence, but kind even when she doesn’t need to be; she’s philosophical, but certainly doesn’t “live in her head”. Right near the end, someone tells Aud: “You’re a sensualist, a hedonist of the first order.” This is SO TRUE.

ALWAYS makes extensive use of flashbacks, interweaving a secondary story with the primary — and in the process, providing almost a You Are There experience for a woman’s self-defense course. If Aud was teaching a self-defense course near me, I’d take it! Loved the pinatas. What a motivator!

My only quibble: I don’t believe in the thing with the cherry tree. Nobody could be that blind about how Kick felt about that tree.

Okay, anyway, great book, fantastic characters, beautiful writing all through. I think my favorite was the first one — or maybe the second — or possibly the third. They were all so well done! (Okay, if you twisted my arm, I think I would choose the second as my favorite.)

I can hardly tell you how much I would LOVE to see more in this series.

I’m afraid that the next book I read will suffer by comparison with my recent reading, so I’ll be sticking to nonfiction for a few days . . .

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Here’s an nice post . . .

About fantasy worlds: Which ones would you want to actually live in?

This is hardly a new question, but this one is oriented toward YA fantasy, and guess what world gets tapped as great for kids to live in or visit?

Go take a look.

If you’re going to choice a fantasy world to live in, I’d agree, THE FLOATING ISLANDS has a lot to offer. If you got to choose and had to pick one, would you rather learn to fly or do magic?

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Recent reading —

I’m back to Nicola Griffith! Just about gave me whiplash to go from Sarah Prineas to Nicola Griffith. Both are great writers, but THE MAGIC THIEF is all light, quick, fun, with dragons! and then from there STAY is this intense, grief-and-recovery story where the only monsters are the human ones.

I don’t like to read in quick succession two stories that are too similar to each other: they get confused in my head and I don’t wind up enjoying either of them as much as they deserve, or if one is much worse than the other, I wind up feeling like neither was very good. So going from Prineas to Griffith wasn’t an accident. Jarring, yes, but on purpose and in a good way!

Now:

STAY by Griffith is a wonderful book, a very worthy sequel to THE BLUE PLACE, which as I mentioned a few weeks ago is a beautifully written mystery (or thriller or something over on that side of the genre family.) If I were in a reading group or book club, I’d try to get everyone to read THE BLUE PLACE and then we could take a vote on what it is!

STAY is, as I said, a grief-and-recovery story, so that does give you a spoiler for the first book (sorry). In STAY, Aud is a much more human, much more approachable protagonist. I liked her very much in the first book, but there she was sort of superhuman and in STAY that isn’t true.

Single best line: “So you won’t be lonely?” Read the book and you’ll find out what this is such a GREAT LINE.

Best plot element: I would never have expected the poor, white, fundamentalist Christian family to be presented so sympathetically and believably. I was amazed and delighted at how this family did not comply with any of Aud’s biases and how the author made each family member a rounded character.

Bottom line: Excellent writing, great storytelling with startling plot twists, not exactly a mystery or a thriller and in fact pretty hard to classify, but a VERY good book.

Note: A lesbian relationship is central to the story, so if that’s a big plus or minus for you, just letting you know.

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Good news!

ISLANDS has gone for a second printing! Particularly good news considering that it’s still in hardcover.

I do think the cover helped:

Absolutely everybody loves this cover

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Stochiometrical . . .

Has got to be one of the most unusual words ever to appear in a fantasy novel, wouldn’t you agree?

I laughed out loud when the concept of stochiometry and stochiometrical measurement appeared in Sarah Prineas’ story THE MAGIC THIEF: FOUND. I guess it’s not totally coincidental that her husband’s a physicist?

Anyway, great book, loved the way it ended, loved the resolution of the main problem. Didn’t see it coming. Way more interesting than a standard Good Guy Defeats Bad Guy resolution. And I’m glad that Conn didn’t . . . well, never mind! Don’t want to provide major spoilers.

Biscuits appear frequently in The Magic Thief! In honor of biscuits, let me provide a recipe for The Best Scones in the World:

COCONUT CHOCOLATE CHIP SCONES

2 C. white whole wheat flour
1 C. Unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C. cold unsalted butter
1 C. sweetened shredded coconut
1 egg
1 1/4 C coconut milk (I like the Choakoh brand)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp coconut extract
3/4 C top-quality bittersweet chocolate chips

Whisk together the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. You really need to cut in the butter if you want flaky scones. If you have one of those awful flimsy pastry cutters with round wires, throw it away and get a good sturdy one with flat blades. Anyway, whisk together the wet ingredients and add; stir just until evenly moistened. Stir in the chocolate chips, which are given as optional, but trust me here, put them in.

Easy way to shape scones: spoon half the dough onto one end of a parchment-lined baking sheet and the other half onto the other end of the same baking sheet. Pat each half into a circle about 1/2 inch thick and 6 inches in diameter. Freeze. Cut each circle into 8 wedges after thoroughly frozen. Wrap in plastic and keep in freezer to store, or place wedges on a different parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes. You can brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with more coconut before baking if you like.

Personally I want my scones freshly baked and warm, so I freeze the scones unbaked and bake as I want them. Surprisingly, you barely have to adjust baking times to do it this way.

Okay! Pick a leisurely Sunday morning and try these out. Then you can write and thank me.

Now, I didn’t make that recipe up, though I wish I had bragging rights to it! I got it from WHOLE GRAIN BAKING, this big handsome hardcover put out by The King Arthur Flour Company. I got it because I thought that it’d have lots of recipes in it that I didn’t already have in my other billion cookbooks, and I figured that KING ARTHUR FLOUR would publish great recipes. I was right on both counts!

Here’s another recipe from the same book that I just tried out the other day, when I suddenly decided to make a pumpkin bread pudding (one of the neighbors brought me a lot of butternut squash, so really a squash bread pudding) and I didn’t happen to have any good dense bread around.

I made this great bread which was really excellent for the bread pudding but also really excellent toasted and served with honey. Notice the orange juice in it? You don’t taste the orange. It’s there to compensate for the tannic bitterness of so much traditional whole wheat flour, so you really should use it if that’s the kind of flour you’re going to use. If you use white whole wheat, it doesn’t matter as much.

KING ARTHUR FLOUR’s NATURALLY SWEET WHEAT BREAD

2 Tbsp orange juice
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp veg. oil
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 C. (packed) raisins (I used golden raisins)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
3/4 C milk, lukewarm
1 1/4 C whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
3/4 C rye or white rye flour (I used white rye)
1 1/2 C unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp instant yeast

KING ARTHUR says process the liquid ingredients with the raisins and sugar until the raisins are finely ground. I didn’t, though maybe next time I will. I just tossed everything in the bread machine, set to whole wheat, and walked away. I did peek during the kneading and add a little more water. It came out a lovely, high, soft loaf. It did seem a shame to cube three quarters of the loaf and set it out to stale for the bread pudding. I’ll definitely make this again. Then, since I’m a carb fan, I’ll probably eat half the loaf instead of actually having supper.

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Finished!

Again!

With the BLACK DOG manuscript, YA version.

My two options now are:

a) obsess endlessly in my own insular bubble — does it work? Is there enough romance? [Insert infinite series of “does it work?” questions here.] Or

b) send the manuscript to Caitlin (my agent) and get her take on it. Much more practical! So off it went this morning.

Whew! Any further revision now should be based on specific critiques and aimed at specific objectives and quite possibly notated with specific page numbers. This is quite a lot easier to deal with than continuing to work on my own.

I don’t mean that I stopped before polishing. I trust we all understand how important it is to polish up a manuscript to the best of your ability before tossing it out into the world. But ‘the best of your ability’ doesn’t mean ‘obsess over this thing for a decade’ either. Drag your heels like that and you’ll never get to write FINISHED on anything!

Up next!

Taking off the rest of August . . . lessee, that’s three days, including today. Got four books I want to read before starting anything else:

Sarah Prineas’ The Magic Thief: Lost and TMT: Found.

I read the first book a year or so ago. Middle grade fantasy, which is an interesting contrast to YA. I enjoyed it very much, especially the main character, and btw Diana Wynne Jones herself provided a laudatory quote, so enough said! I wanted some enjoyable fast light books to read because after finishing a revision I’m not in the mood for, you know, War And Peace.

After that, I think Nicola Griffith’s STAY and ALWAYS, the sequels to THE BLUE PLACE. Wow, does Griffith get bad covers. Honestly, what are her publishers thinking? But I am SO looking forward to these — though they will not be fast or light. Enjoyable, though, I hope! Griffith is a wonderful writer and I expect both the quality of the writing and the quality of the storytelling to be top-notch.

After that . . . to the salt mines. Got another YA fantasy to revise . . . want to cut one protagonist’s pov down to the bare bones, pretty much hand off the story to the other protagonist. I LOVE some of the scenes that will be going away. Oh, I am telling you, there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Plus I’m afraid it will be harder in practice than I just made it sound. I mean, in real practical terms, aside from the weeping.

But, taking the (paltry) rest of August off first! Maybe even the rest of this week!

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You don’t see that very often

So on the way to work this morning?

Guy in SUV herding a stray calf home along the highway. Luckily it’s a backroads kind of highway; with luck, I’ll be the only car they both met on the way home. Both the guy and the calf sort of looked like they’d done this before. Maybe the calf is an escape artist?

This wasn’t a little baby calf, but still, cute, for a cow. Black with a white face. Guess that means it was a black hereford, which are pretty common around here. Wish I’d had my camera!

Last time I saw livestock on that highway? It was a black angus bull and he tossed his head and thought about attacking my car. Made me wonder if in cow country there’s a special way to blink your lights that means Bull On Highway.

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