Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

Blog

Yes, I know, this has been done before . . .

I mean, this thing about Real Literature vs Genre.

But I like this post by Ursula Le Guin. Who also knows this is not a new thing:

“I keep telling myself that I’m done writing about Literature vs Genre, that that vampire is buried at the crossroads with a stake in its heart and garlic in its coffin. And then it pops up again, undead. Its latest revival is a cheery one in an entertaining article, “Easy Writers,” in the May 28 New Yorker by Arthur Krystal . . .”

And then in the course of taking apart Krystal’s article (which he sure deserves: “Good Bad Books”, honestly, I ask you), she makes the single best suggestion I’ve ever heard for how to deal with the customary elevation of “Literary novels” and the denigration of genre:

“To get out of this boring bind, I propose an hypothesis: Literature is the extant body of written art. All novels belong to it . . . Literature consists of many genres, including mystery, science fiction, fantasy, naturalism, realism, magical realism, graphic, erotic, experimental, psychological, social, political, historical, bildungsroman, romance, western, army life, young adult, thriller, etc., etc…. and the proliferating cross-species and subgenres such as erotic Regency, noir police procedural, or historical thriller with zombies.”

To which I respond: Well, obviously. But I’m not sure I felt it was all that obvious before Le Guin said it.

Incidentally, my favorite comment on this post?

Pat Mathews says:
June 18, 2012 at 9:08 am

“PLEASE don’t suggest that English teachers teach the novels people actually read! I can think of no better way of ruining the pleasure in the book for the students than to have to deal with those tiresome “Questions for discussion” and the intense analysis that deconstructs everything.”

Interestingly, though my response to that comment was AMEN, several later commenters think that deconstructing novels is a great pleasure. So there you go.

Personally, I NEVER liked a single novel that was assigned in school. (I’m including high school and college here, and reserving the right to have forgotten something I actually did like.)

Some I nearly liked (Faulkner’s THE BEAR) and some I detested with a burning passion (MADAME BOVARY), but I didn’t actually enjoy a single one. This left me with a conviction that Great Literature must be grim, depressing, and tragic.

This reflexive flinch at the mere concept of Great Literature lasted until a friend made me watch the movie “Sense and Sensibility”. Which I loved. Which led me to read all of Jane Austin. After which I asked, Why in Heaven’s name didn’t anybody assign THOSE in school? I think we need more English Lit teachers who are natural optimists and don’t automatically think a book has to be GRIM and carry a message about the fundamental hopelessness of the human condition in order to have, you know, worth and depth.

But if English Lit teachers were going to pick some fabulous genre examples to add to their curricula, what would be some good picks? I don’t want to suggest anything too super obvious, so nothing like The Lord of the Rings — let’s get beyond that and pick some cool stuff that nobody’s ever thought of teaching in the classroom!

My top five off the top of my head:

THE CITY AND THE CITY (Mieville) — my God, teachers should love this one if they want to have discussions about what everything means and the nature of truth. And I was just re-reading bits of it last night, so it was on my mind.

A FREE MAN OF COLOR (Hambly) — a mystery set in 1830s New Orleans, the lit teacher could tie it into the history class, for a teaching across the curriculum type of thing, and it’s truly a great story.

THE BOOK OF ATRYX WOLFE (McKillip) — because it’s just the most beautiful book ever.

A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT (Whitcomb) — because I think teenagers would love it, it’s got great female and male characters, and it’s raises some really neat questions about morality and society and all that stuff, and besides it’s just fabulous.

And, um . . . um . . . I said five, right? Okay, but I’m going to cheat and throw in a series:

The Queen’s Thief series (Turner) — because I think kids would love them and they’re great stories and the setting is sorta-kinda historical and I could go on but basically I just think they’re really amazing books. Especially the middle two but really all four.

What occurs to you that would be great in the classroom?

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
And Cake! / Blog

And for Father’s Day —

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear I made a cake! Since my Dad has a sweet tooth, this was a no-brainer thing to do.

I was in a mood to experiment, so I made this possibly somewhat odd cake:

Chocolate Mayonnaise Layer Cake

I admit I also made this because I accidentally opened a jar of mayonnaise when I already had one open. They were both big jars and it takes me a loooong time to go through a jar of mayonnaise, so this cake was a way to speed up the process.

The cake wasn’t at all bad. Decent chocolately taste and a nice moist crumb. I present it here in case you also find yourself needing to find room for two open jars of mayonnaise in the fridge. Or, for that matter, out of butter, since that plus a couple eggs is what the mayonnaise is replacing.

2 oz semisweet chocolate
2/3 C cocoa
1 3/4 C boiling water
2 3/4 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 C dark brown sugar (or actually I used light brown, not like it makes any difference)
1 C sugar
1 1/3 C mayonnaise (I would not expect results to be as good using low-fat or fat-free; I used Helman’s regular mayonnaise)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Frosting of your choice — since this was my Dad, I used a chocolate peanut butter frosting that I figured he would like, and since it was Father’s Day, I dusted stars over the frosted cake with gold dust. But use whatever you like.

So, the cake:

Combine the chocolate and cocoa and pour over the boiling water; whisk until smooth.

Combine dry ingredients.

Beat together the sugars and mayonnaise — beat for 3 minutes. Then beat in the eggs one at a time. Then add the dry ingredients 1/4 at a time, alternately with thirds of the chocolate mixture.

Line three eight-inch cake pans with parchment paper. Or I used 2 nine-inch cake pans plus one giant cupcake dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-32 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Let cakes cool ten minutes, turn out onto racks, and cool completely. Assemble, frost with whatever frosting you decided to use. In case you also like peanut butter, here is a good chocolate-peanut-butter frosting, good for a father with a sweet tooth:

8 oz semisweet chocolate
3/4 C peanut butter
1 C heavy cream
1 C powdered sugar

Heat the cream and pour over the chocolate and peanut butter; whisk until smooth. Whisk in the powdered sugar, more or less a cup or to taste. Frost cake; chill to set frosting; use your handy star decal to dust gold dust stars over cake, and serve to general acclaim.

Also! In case you’re keeping track of my progress in other realms, possibly more relevant to you as readers . . . I have now cut SIXTY SEVEN pages from my WIP, dropping its current length back to a mere 154 pages. Ouch!

But! A) I like the 154 pages I have now quite a lot better than I liked the 221 I had before , and B) Some of the cut pages are simply going to move to a new home in a later chapter, so that cut wasn’t as extreme as it seems.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Recent Reading

Have you ever read anything by China Mieville?

He keeps winning awards of all kinds — I think at this point that feeds on itself, because he won the World Fantasy Award for THE CITY AND THE CITY last year, naturally everybody reads EMBASSYTOWN already thinking, “Should I nominate this for the Hugo?” So of course it got nominated for the Hugo and Nebula and everything.

Well . . . One can see why. I’m still trying to decide if I actually liked it. I’m not sure. I didn’t really like the narrator (the book’s in the first person) for most of the book. Actually, I hardly thought the narrator (Avice) had an actual personality for most of the book. I guess she did . . . not a very interesting personality? To me? Or something?

Which may kind of be the idea, because Avice is supposed to be sort of permanently drifting through life in a not very committed way, and at the end that’s no longer the case, but I suspect that even if Mieville wrote her that way on purpose, the effect was to make me feel that the protagonist just was so uninteresting for the first, I don’t know, maybe 3/4 of the book. Which is a lot of time to not really care about the, hello, protagonist of the book.

Certainly I did not “fall in love” with any of the characters, and you definitely can’t expect to “fall into the story”, either, and that more distant feeling leaves me, not disappointed exactly, but . . . well, I wouldn’t have nominated it, okay? Even though I can see very well it’s good in other ways.

What other ways? Well, it’s a setting novel and an idea novel. The setting is far future and it’s done well; the idea is based around this wild double-brained language and that’s really kinda cool; the major problem doesn’t appear till about 100 pages in and doesn’t start to snowball into OMG WE ARE SO SCREWED territory for about another 100 pages after that.

After which there is quite a bit of excitement, I grant you. I don’t want to provide any spoilers, so I’ll just say I read that part MUCH faster than I read the first 3/4 of the novel. And I wound up liking Avice much better at the end — she was more engaged in her world, and therefore so was I.

In contrast, I loved THE CITY AND THE CITY (that’s the only other Mieville I’ve read, though UN LUN DUN is on my TBR pile downstairs). The setting was more intimate, both more jarring and more familiar — it’s a murder mystery set in a middle European city (sort of), and while you read it, you keep asking yourself, Really? And you can’t quite figure out how the Beszel / Ul Qoma thing actually works, but it’s just so cool.

And besides, I loved Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. And since I’m a character-driven reader, that makes all the difference.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

That distant ‘thwip!’ sound you hear —

Is the sound of 29 pp vanishing from my WIP. Thwip!

Actually, a bit of it will be added back in as I hand important lines to someone else in a different scene . . . but fundamentally I have just turned TWO talky chapters into ONE talky chapter, which I think will work better. Can’t have everybody just sit around and discuss things ALL the time. Right? Right!

Then I’m going to have this one thing happen on stage instead of off, and move this other event up to the part of the book that hasn’t been written . . . oh, it is all a nuisance, but I am happier with the structure of the book already, so I guess it was a good idea to go back and mess with it.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Time to revise, I guess.

Because I now have decided to change the timing of two major events. Darn it. If I was an outliner this wouldn’t happen. (I expect other annoying things would happen instead.)

I’m going to reserve this one thing that I have happening in about Chapter Three and Four, push it way up to about Chapter Six and Seven (roughly). That’ll sort of combine with my earlier decision to combine a couple early chapters and zap some pages. I’m at 70,000 words more or less and I can see I have too much length for where I am, and anyway it will just make more sense to do it the way I now have in mind, but it’s going to be a nuisance.

Although for me, big huge plot revisions are not as difficult as little fiddly building-characterization revisions.

Plus I skipped over one scene — nothing wrong with it, actually it should be sort of fun to write, but I skipped it for various reasons. Guess if I go back and start revisions, it’ll be a good time to fill that in. I mean, I have people referring to events that haven’t been written yet, might be best to make all that stuff happen.

Also! By some miracle, it occurred to me how I could change upcoming scenes to streamline the story and build tension more smoothly before I wrote those scenes. That’s certainly different.

Losing a bunch of pages won’t bother me too much at this point, I think, because I have enough written now that losing some won’t make me feel too much like I’m going backwards. Plus I can see I’m going to way overshoot my 120,000 word limit, which it’s okay with me if I overshoot a bit, but please not too much, okay? Big cuts are such a hassle, not to mention all the extra time it takes to write a lot of extra pages you’re not going to keep anyway.

Plus rereading everything I have as I revise should let me see if stuff is running smoothly from the front to the back, which will be nice.

So . . . that’s the plan. As of today. As always, subject to me changing my mind at a moment’s notice.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Ooh! Ooh! I’m a “semi-colon”!

Here’s a fun fake personality test:

What your favorite punctuation says about you.

The funniest one? For me, that’d be the en-dash.

But I have an objective measure of punctuation overuse! Because at the end of a ms? I go through and do a “Find” for semi-colons and take out a bunch. It’s a tedious exercise that takes about 3 hours, but I think it’s important. You can’t get away with three semi-colons per paragraph unless you’re Jane Austin. Or Naomi Novik.

So, overusing semi-colons! That’s great! Because who wouldn’t want to be fall into this category? “You’re well-read and urbane. You knew where this was on the keyboard before it became part of the winky emoticon. You’re more easy-going than Colon or Period types, but you’re still put together and usually organized. People are comfortable around you and tend to like you, though they may not be able to say exactly why.”

I also take out quite a lot of em-dashes, though. So if a taste for em-dashes means: “You’re stuck up and pretentious. You correct people’s grammar and complain about how stupid kids are these days. You like to show off. You made good grades in school and perform well at work. Your boss loves you, even if your co-workers don’t.”

So if I overuse two elements of grammar, do I get to pick the personality type I prefer? I almost never correct people’s grammar. Except under my breath when I can’t stand it. : )

Actually, as personality predictions, these probably come as close as astrological symbols . . .

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

The world is filled with distractions . . .

Some of them clamoring for attention with surprising urgency. Like, for example, the apricots.

This is the first year we’ve really gotten a good crop of apricots. Missouri is really too cold to expect to get apricots — we’re told to expect a crop about 2 out of 7 years, and I think that’s probably accurate.

They’re beautiful when they’re ripening, though.

And beautiful in the bowl, too.

I don’t much care for fresh apricots just as something to, you know, eat. Although the little tiny ‘Sweetheart’ apricots, barely larger than cherries, are good just out of hand.

But of course there’s an infinite number of very tasty things to do with apricots. It may amuse you to know — depends, I guess — but yesterday? I had pancakes with apricot syrup for breakfast, fresh apricots for dessert at lunch, chicken with apricot sauce for supper (plus snow peas and stuff, but let’s stay focused, right?) and then I couldn’t decide which to try, so I had a little sliver of apricot cheesecake AND an apricot-sunny-side up pastry to finish off the day.

The apricot-sunny-side-up pastries come for Julia Child, but I didn’t use the puff pastry base she recommends — I used a sweet pie pastry. Then you layer on ordinary pastry cream and poached apricot halves. Very tasty and not actually too much trouble.

The apricot cheesecake was even easier — I just used a pumpkin cheesecake recipe, but took out all the spices and substituted 16 oz of a thick simmered-down apricot puree instead of pumpkin. Except come to think of it, I was a little worried the puree might be too liquidy compared to pumpkin, so I added an extra 8 oz cream cheese, an extra egg, and an extra 1/4 C sugar, plus 3 Tbsp flour. It worked great. Honestly, you can’t beat cheesecake, right?

The apricot chicken was quite good. I added sugar and balsamic vinegar to the apricots and let that set while I sauted cubed chicken breasts. Then I pureed half the apricots and added the puree and a tsp of hot sauce and a little water, simmered that to reduce, added the rest of the apricots, and there you go.

So that was The Day of Apricots. Now my mother’s home from visiting relatives, and SHE can take over picking and processing apricots!

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Warmer . . . warmer . . . and award nominees

Literally, in fact. We’ve had several unseasonably cool days (lows in the sixties, highs in the low eighties). Not that this was accompanied by rain or anything, but it’s been nice to have the windows open. And a chance to take some of the dogs hiking! As far as they’re concerned, that’s what cool mornings are FOR.

Now, Pippa and Adora have to be on leash every minute, because WHOA, SQUIRREL!

But Dara and particularly Kenya don’t, because they stay right with me and ignore the squirrels. Kenya in particular never gets more than twenty feet away before turning to make sure I’m still coming. And I noticed something funny: she always turns the same way and takes the same pose. Check it out:

Doesn’t it look like I was just carrying around a Kenya statue, and every now and then put it down, backed up, and took a picture? I found this endlessly entertaining and took lots more pictures, but don’t worry, this one representative sampling is all I’ll post. I do seem to have become a convert to the overwhelming snazzyness of having a camera in my phone.

Alas for us all, it was seventy degrees already at nine this morning — more than likely that means the AC late this afternoon or at best tomorrow. And no more hiking for a while.

Now! In other news!

Not much to say about the WIP. It is progressing, slowly. It’s meant to be progressing slowly right now; done with the big push after all, and I don’t want to kill myself. I’ve got this cool scene in mind, but I won’t touch it till maybe Sunday — I want time to work on it uninterrupted, so I left it for now while I work one other bits.

Oh! Good news, though: I did figure out the main role of one secondary character, so I guess she can stay in the story. I was worried she might have to be written out. I have one other character like that, so we’ll see what turns up for him, if anything.

Also! I’m reading EMBASSYTOWN. China Mieville sort of intimidates me: you have to pay attention to his books when you read them. Don’t you think? Kind of the antithesis of a comfort read. Anyway, EMBASSYTOWN is up for the Hugo and Nebula this year, and since I get to vote in both, I figured I ought to read at least some of the contenders. And I already had this one because I really loved THE CITY AND THE CITY. I think I’m not going to like EMBASSYTOWN as well, but I could see voting for it.

AMONG OTHERS by Jo Walton has been on my wishlist since last year, but I don’t have it. I guess I should get it at this point. It’s the other one that I think would appeal to me. DEADLINE by Myra Grant? No way. I enjoyed it — I really did — but vote for it? I had some MAJOR plot issues with it, which I kind of ranted about over at Goodreads, in fact. And the other nominees don’t really sound like my thing. Well, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS would, sure, but I’m not voting for a fraction of a huge series. Plus I’m not reading it until the whole series is done, anyway.

You can see a list of the Hugo and Nebula nominees (and get lots of the novellas and short stories that were nominated) here, btw, if you’re interested. I would never read the short stories if they weren’t offered free online, because basically I just don’t do short stories. I don’t mind novellas, but I sure won’t go to any trouble to track them down, so a (perfectly legal) site that links to online copies (with the author’s permission) is definitely a good thing.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Five Signs You’re About to Land an Agent

From The INTERN, who as always has written an entertaining post that is also potentially useful.

You should of course click over and read the whole thing, but here are the five cues that to The INTERN’s signal approaching success:

1) You’ve been at it for a while
2) You have a good grasp of your book’s potential issues
3) You are willing to make dramatic changes to your ms
4) You value improvement for itself, and
5) You are friendly and professional.

The INTERN does think that number five there may just be a fluke of sampling, but hey, it can’t hurt!

The one that seriously rang a bell for me was #2. I immediately thought of the time I sent a loooong ms to my brother and said plaintively, There’s something wrong with it structurally, but I can’t figure out what.

(And he suggested cutting the entire middle section, which I immediately saw was the right thing to do. This then forced me to change stuff later on, and it was all just The Neverending Revision From Hell, which certainly takes us to #3 in the above list.)

As for #1, if you’re curious, no CITY IN THE LAKE wasn’t my first book. It was just the first for which I seriously pursued publication. I had a completed fantasy trilogy and an overlong SF novel “under my bed” by that point. I suspect that The INTERN is right and that the first item on her list is the key. But they all look good to me.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Well, isn’t this relevent.

Check out this article I just stumbled across. At Bibliophile Stalker, btw.

But here I am, just having decided to plow forward rather than go back to revise, and here’s Alyx Dellamonica, with this keen little article about this exact decision.

I hadn’t heard of Dellamonica before, either, so I dropped over to Amazon and checked to see what she’d written. Turns out it’s a couple of books that sound interesting but maybe not like my cup of tea: INDIGO SPRING and BLUE MAGIC. I love the title INDIGO SPRING, but I dunno. Booklist says:

“When Astrid returns to [the town of] Indigo Spring, she discovers her father has been using the magic that flows in a blue stream underneath the family house. Following suit, she starts enchanting everyday objects, with at first harmless results. But when she shows the vitagua to some less stable and more selfish friends, the results then are less benign, and the true potential of the water’s magic begins to emerge. The theme here—the problems of power in irresponsible hands—is archetypal, but Dellamonica realizes it very well through characters you wouldn’t want in your neighborhood but who certainly hold your attention in what becomes an edge-of-the-seat thriller.”

And I don’t know if I’m crazy about the idea of watching unstable, selfish people screw everything up. Especially because the rest of the reviews of this book imply that things definitely do not get straightened out again, except maybe in the sequel. But that gives you at least a rough idea of what Alyx Dellamonica is doing, in case like me you hadn’t heard of her before.

And I like her post.

“If you are truly a pantser and you try to force yourself to outline–because you feel you should, or because you have a proposal due, or because some element of pantser writing seems really hard or frustrating on any given day–you may end up investing a lot of energy in trying to embrace something that just isn’t part of who you are. If that’s the case and you’re sure of it, you might be better off trying to find a… well, a pants way to address the tough stuff.

By the same token, if you truly are a polish-as-you-go writer, if you simply can’t go forward to page 2 until page 1 is perfect, so be it. Accept that your day to day writing speed may seem slower than that of the people who routinely toss off Nanowrimo novels in thirty days. Tell yourself you’re saving yourself the time that I’ll be spending in rewrite.”

Seems like good advice to me. Compared to Dellamonica, I have a considerably more finished first draft — I hardly ever leave holes in a rough draft — not that it can’t happen — but although I polish at the sentence level as I go, there is so much to do later. Like address pacing issues by combining two chapters while cutting half the combined length of those chapters. Or writing out a character I introduced who wound up never taking on an important role. And always, always, always working to deepen characterization throughout. (I never feel like I’ve done that enough.)

Dellamonica concludes:

“However — if you aren’t sure —

I recommend making the experiment: just once, push on to the end.

I can’t stress enough how valuable it can be to have a whole draft assembled before you as you buckle down to tweaking.

There is danger in perfectionism. Trying to retool every sentence and story development before you have a whole story can simply mean not finishing it.”

And I wholeheartedly agree. Because I have met several people — really more than “several” — who have told me they’re working on a novel. And they can’t finish it. And this is exactly the problem they describe.

So that’s advice which I, too, pass along when I happen to be taking part in a writing workshop or whatever, even though I get that everyone works in a different way. Even though I get that, I still say: For heaven’s sake, once you’ve got something that’s starting to resemble a novel? Finish it. Just get words in a row until you can type THE END. And then polish.

And it’s also advice I’m taking myself, this time around. Moving ahead!

Though maybe not tonight. Because tonight I need to pick apricots — I wonder if I can find the extendable fruit picker? — and the rest of the plucots. And water some young trees and shrubs, because WE ARE HAVING A LATE SUMMER DROUGHT EVEN THOUGH IT IS NOT LATE SUMMER, which is a bummer and I hope very much does not mean we are going to have a nonstop six-month drought this year. Watering takes up lots and lots of time, and yet I can’t just let my babies all burn up.

Screwed up weather really does feel personal, like some god is doing it to you on purpose. Someday I will write a story where, rather than placating the weather gods, the main character will HUNT THEM DOWN AND DESTROY THEM. A year like this makes me want to get started on that story.

But not till I finish this one.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail