Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


Summer Break!

Which, for me, is 20 days. After that the summer session starts. Though I work reduced hours until the Fall semester starts. Even more reduced than usual, I mean (I’m always part time) (Yes, I love my life.).


Today: Took two of the girls hiking at Pickle Springs Natural Area — all big rocks and sandy soil, an easy trail. I took Kenya and Dara and let them both go off-lead — Kenya never voluntarily gets more than 15 feet from me regardless of squirrels, and Dara stays almost as close. I’d post pictures but I have to admit I’m not sure how to get the pictures off my phone. Later for that!

Then I came home and started spring cleaning. I figur one hour or one room per day, whichever. No taking books off shelves to dust or anything, though. Way too many books to go that far. Only relatively easy surfaces get dusted.

Then wrote 1800 words. Only 700 words to go to make the 2500 I want to write every single day. Which is roughly 8 pp a day, so if you do a quick bit of math you will see that I would like to write 160 pages or roughly 50,000 words before June 4th. (No promises.)

Then a break to thin peaches. Again. Or more. Whatever. I need a ladder now, all the branches that still need attention are up high. Then picked the cherries and made another cherry cobbler for Dad (neither Mom nor I like cherries) and almond pastries for Mom and me because why should we be deprived and anyway I had leftover almond paste sitting around from another use.

Now it’s seven in the evening and I’ve got the computer out again. 700 words — how hard can that be? Right?

Back to work!

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Recent reading . . . and yet the TBR pile does not shrink

So, made some inroads on the TBR pile this past weekend! Also had a handful of new books arrive, so actual net progress in whittling the pile down was zero. Even negative if you count the couple of books on their way but not yet arrived.

Read: THE SCORPIO RACES by Stiefvater, THE GIRL WHO by Valente, TOADS AND DIAMONDS BY Tomlinson, and the third vampire romance by Ward, LOVER AWAKENED.


The first of these? From the heft, it’s a novella. Can I just say here how much I hate it when the publisher packages a novella as a novel and prices it like a novel and never says a word to indicate that it’s not really a novel? So I’m peeved about that.

Have you tried the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik? The series set during the Napoleonic era, with dragons and Jane Austin-ish language? Actually I wasn’t totally overwhelmed by the Australian novel in the series, but you’ll notice I still picked up this latest installment.

The thing by Daniel, I know nothing at all about, I was filling out an order from the SFBC and it looked promising despite the extremely generic title. It says it’s kind of The Hunt For Red October in space and I’m up for that, though of course I’d prefer to have Sean Connery in the leading role. Red October is one of the very very very few movies that I think is better than the book and partly that’s because Tom Clancy always puts too much exposition in the books but mostly it’s because, hey, Sean Connery.

And THE PEACH KEEPER? That’s because of this review. Also this one (much briefer). I think it’s kind of a mystery, which I was sort of short of on the TBR pile anyway, but really I think it’s a relationship book and a romance. Plus I like the title. And the cover.

Now! The recent reading:

Ward’s vampire romances continue to be good. I was really afraid that the third book was going to turn out to be one of those situations where if the main characters only TALKED to one another, everything would be fine, but they just won’t, so everything goes to blazes. I hate plots like that more than words can say. Maybe even worse than Stupid Gas, if possible. There were, to be honest, elements of this, but not as much so as I was afraid of. I quite liked it. I have to just mention that to enjoy this series, you do get used to the stupid ‘H’ names and kind of read past them. The even stupider ‘H’ words from, I guess, the ‘old language’ make NO SENSE AT ALL, but that is just a detail and I guess we can ignore them. With an effort.

You know what’s bothering me a bit, though? The doggen. The happy servant people. I get that to the author, they are just a plot device to smooth out the lives of the Real Characters, but it is actually kind of disturbing to stick in a slave class and have nobody think that this is problematic – not even Beth or Butch, who are outsiders and ought to get that it is icky to have hereditary servants who call all the Real Characters ‘Sire’. Ick ick ick.

Well, I still like the books, though, and I’m certainly planning to head on to the fourth installment shortly. The author’s surprised me before, maybe she’ll suddenly turn out to be just kidding about being oblivious to the situation she’s set up.

TOADS AND DIAMONDS – and have I mentioned how great a title that is, and what a wonderful cover the book has? – is set in a kind of alternate India. What I loved: the setting, which had lots of great details; the whole idea of the twin blessings and the way both the diamonds and the toads really are blessings; the genuine niceness of both main characters, each in a different way. What I didn’t like: both Diribani (The Diamond Girl) and Tana (The Toad Girl) seemed a bit dim. I didn’t get why Diribani failed to insist on her jewels going back to her home province through someone other than Governor Alwar. I mean, once the prince showed that he was going to be generous with her gift, why didn’t she at least TRY to get around Alwar?

And it’s probably not fair to hold against Tana a certain slowness to get the connection between disease and rats and her snake gift – that probably depends on a modern knowledge of the Black Death – but still, waiting for that shoe to drop was kind of tedious.

This is a short novel and the focus on Diribani and Tana is pretty tight; other characters are not drawn out in any great depth. The two cultures – which are certainly Hinduism for the conquered people and Islam for the conquerors, disclaimers aside – well, certainly they clash, but again the clash feels sort of superficial. Prince Zahid and Princess Ruqayya are just too nice, and Diribani too accommodating of their customs, for the conflict between their peoples to seem all that real. It’s pretty unusual for me to complain about characters being too nice, but that’s how it seemed to me in this case. To me, this novel seemed like a charming MG rather than a YA story – and I would have liked more depth throughout – but it’s hardly the story’s fault that it wasn’t really written to suit my taste.

THE GIRL WHO – very clever use of language, very clever details all through, I laughed out loud at some of the most unexpected lines. It is reminiscent of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, which is the impression I’d gained from reading reviews, but I wasn’t as totally overwhelmed as a lot of other people have been. In fact, I think TOLLBOOTH is definitely the stronger book. That might be because I was younger when I read it, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that actually it’s because of a more coherent storyline to the TOLLBOOTH allegory and also to a protagonist who developed more through the course of the book.
Of course your mileage may differ. And I did enjoy THE GIRL WHO, so don’t get me wrong.

Of course its very cleverness sort of holds the reader at a distance. You certainly aren’t going to fall right into the story and feel like it’s a true story about real people.

Which is why THE SCORPIO RACES was the outstanding book of the weekend, because you totally DO fall right into this one. I didn’t know much about it before going in, but it turns out to be much more a contemporary fantasy than I’d expected. With just one fantastic element, which is not hidden at all, but just taken for granted: of course the capaill uisce, the water horses, come out of the sea in the fall – just on this one island – and of course they’re bigger and more beautiful and much, much more dangerous than ordinary horses. Naturally we have this ritual race built around the capaill uisce. Everything feels totally real, the way Stiefvater tells it.

I love Sean Kendrick. I love Puck Connelly. I love the way there’s no insta-romance and absolutely no description of Sean Kendrick as super-hot. I love the development of the relationship between them, much slower and more awkward than has become typical in recent YA releases.

Not only that, but I love the way they both HAVE to win the Scorpio Races – when naturally it has to actually be one or the other. I even believe how this worked out in the end – because Stiefvater is that good a storyteller. I do particularly love the bit when Finn saves the day right at the end. Brilliant! And yet obvious in retrospect.

And the thing with Corr? So sad, and yet satisfying.

I expect this one was marketed as YA, but to me it seems almost more like an adult novel – yes, it’s a coming-of-age story for both main characters, true, but it’s got all the depth and character development you could want. And it’s not paced super-fast. There’s room to appreciate the world and the unfolding story. Whether you lean more YA or more adult, I think you’d stand a very good chance of appreciating this one.

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Beautifully written nonfiction

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, comparatively, but I read some. Animal behavior and psychology and economics and just, you know, whatever. Sometimes a nonfiction work will spark ideas and world building immediately – for example, I read this one book, GEISHA, by Liza Dalby before I wrote HOUSE OF SHADOWS, which, may I remind you, is due out in July. I bet you’ll see the influence when you read that one.

Others I suddenly find useful long after I read them, or else some of the stuff I learned from them settles to the back of my mind and hopefully adds depth to worldbuilding later.

Generally the nonfiction books I read is competently written, or, you know, I wouldn’t read it. Some have flawless, precise English which is a pleasure to read, in a quiet way. But I have to say, it’s certainly nice to find something where the language itself goes well beyond competent to clever, entertaining, or even poetic.

I have two great examples here in front of me, both kind of dealing with physics (well, aspects of physics, sort of), and as it happens one of ’em was written thirty-odd years ago and the other more than sixty, and I do kind of wonder if the standards for writing have fallen so far that you just don’t get entertaining writing from engineers these days. But probably that’s too cynical, because I guess generally nonfiction authors are shooting for prose that is competent and clear, but not necessarily for prose that is clever or beautiful.

Anyway! Check this out:

“A bulldog without a hide and a half is no more a bulldog than a hinny is a mule in the stockman’s eye, but the scowl was originally unintentional and a by-product of a functional goal.”

“The forehand assembly of a dog is as busy as a centipede crossing the floor.”

“The laws of leverage come galloping into this picture like tax collectors.”

“The vaudeville performer balancing spinning plates atop long poles, which rest on chin or forehead, and a cantilever or suspension bridge may seem a far cry from the front assembly of a dog; even so the dog might be termed ‘brother to a bridge’. His front assembly must be dynamically balanced for it to function with the highest degree of efficiency, even as the bridge and the juggler’s tricks.”

“The broken-down pastern finds the carpal assembly awry and askew and not supporting the weight carried by the leg, but putting this burden on the muscles whose tendons act over the pisiform and down to contact the digits.”

All this is from McDowell Lyon’s book THE DOG IN ACTION, first published in 1950. This is still the best and most complete book available that deals with canine structure and movement. It also has the cleverest and most enjoyable turns of phrase. Lyon also scatters anecdotes all through his book in order to lighten up what might (I concede) possibly be considered by some to be a dry subject. I just wrote a review of it for the Cavalier Bulletin, so I’ve been re-reading bits.

I admit, after reading . . . um . . . five books on canine structure and movement, I get pretty snide when I see an animal with poor structure in the show ring, and even more snide when I hear someone insist that good fronts don’t matter to a toy dog. Oh, yes, they do. Go read McDowell Lyon and quit breeding dogs that are going to be crippled by the time they’re middle-aged. Jeez.

Public service message here: Even the most knowledgeable and committed pet buyers — and I am a big fan of educated, committed puppy buyers — focus too much on health as it relates to actual disease (say, sebacious adenitis, for example) (which is not a Cavalier issue, btw, but you’d be wise to ask about it if you were buying a poodle or akita) and too little on structural breakdown. Both are important, but if anything unsound structure is more common and more likely to eventually hit you in the vet bills than actual disease. Lotta totally unsound mixed breeds out there, too, just in case you think getting a mixed breed animal will magically protect you from those vet bills. The best way to make sure you get a sound dog from a shelter? Ask somebody like me to go with you to look at the animals.

Okay, sorry, kind of got sidetracked for a minute there. Now back to the actual subject!

How about this:

“With fashionable subjects like physics or astronomy, the correspondence between model and reality is so exact that some people tend to regard Nature as a sort of Divine Mathematician. However attractive this doctrine may be to earthly mathematicians, there are some phenomena where it is wise to use mathematical analogies with great caution. The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea and the way of a man with a maid are difficult to predict analytically. One does sometimes wonder how mathematicians ever manage to get married.”

“It is a pity, therefore, that the whole idea of energy has been confused in many people’s minds by the way in which the word is used to refer to a condition in human beings: in this case one which might be described as an officious tendency to rush about doing things and pestering other people. This use of the word has really only a tenuous connection with the precise, objective, physical quantity with which we are now concerned.”

“For instance, instead of messing about with thoroughly bogus ‘factors of safety’, one can nowadays simply try to design a structure to accommodate a crack of pre-determined length without breaking . . . Where human life is concerned, it is clearly desirable that a ‘safe’ crack should be long enough to be visible to a bored and rather stupid inspector working in bad light on a Friday afternoon.”

“As we have seen, unless one is as clever as Nature is, the whole business of making tension structures is set about with difficulties, complications, and treacherous traps for the unwary.”

“Out of all the different kinds of structures which might be made, the masonry building is, as we shall see, the only one in which a blind reliance on traditional proportions will not automatically lead to disaster. This is why, historically, masonry buildings were by far the largest and most imposing of the works of man. The desire to build cloud-capp’d towers and solemn temples goes far back into history and indeed into pre-history.”

“Of course it is a bad thing for walls to crack, and it should not be allowed to happen in well-regulated buildings, but it does not necessarily follow that the wall is going to fall down immediately. What is likely to occur in real life is simply that the crack will gape a bit but the wall will continue to stand up, resting on the parts which are still in contact. All this savours somewhat of living dangerously, and one of these days the line of thrust may stray outside the surface of the wall, when, as a little thought will show, since no tension forces are available, one or more of the joints will hinge about its outside edge and the wall will tip up and fall down. It really will.”

“Feathers not only enable birds to get away with more local scrapes and abrasions than other animals, but the body of the bird is protected from more serious damage by its thick resilient armor. The Japanese feather armor which one sees in museums was not, as one might suppose, the picturesque nonsense of a primitive people who did not know any better. It was an effective protection against weapons like swords.”

Feather armor? Wouldn’t that a wonderful detail to slip into a story some day?

Anyway, all that about cracks and walls tipping over might possibly lead you to suspect that this book was an important resource for me when I was writing Book II of the Griffin Mage trilogy. You would be right!

This is all from a book called STRUCTURES: OR WHY THINGS DON’T FALL DOWN by JE Gordon, a materials scientist who, one gathers from some of his anecdotes, was active in his field at least during WWII, and maybe even WWI. I could just quote his book all day, but perhaps mercifully will make myself stop now.

Want to know why yew bows only work in cool climates? Gordon will tell you why. Why did so many boilers explode? Gordon is pretty scathing on that subject. But along with a bit of math and loads of anecdotes about accidents — things breaking up or falling down, despite the title – there are many snatches of poetry in this book, and, of course, there is clever wordplay simply everywhere.

At the moment, these are my two picks for Nonfiction Books You Wouldn’t Think Would Be Entertaining But You Would Be So Wrong. Anybody else got a candidate for this category? Because I could use some entertaining nonfiction right about now.

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The amazing TBR pile, somehow it never gets any smaller.

Of course, sometimes I don’t want to read anything new and fantastic because I am, you know, writing. And that means a new and fantastic book will be too distracting and might also give me an inferiority complex, and you know that’s never good.

So my personal To Be Read pile is pretty darn high right now. I’ve thought of switching to a kindle or nook to save space, but then there wouldn’t be any physical constraints keeping me from buying every book in creation, so I don’t know. Maybe that’s not such a good idea.

Anyway! I really am eager to get to lots of the books down there – there’s about fifty or sixty on the pile right now, I thnk, which is pretty normal – but I can’t because I’m also trying to finish chapter 2 of my current project, so there you go. Borrowed vampire romances aside, just not reading much right now, especially not books I hope and expect will be really outstanding.

But, hey, let’s take a look down there and just see what’s waiting, shall we? Just to build the anticipation, right? Not a complete look, but the ones I really, truly want to get off the pile first chance I get – the top ten out of the Most Anticipated section, as it were. Counting only books I actually have right this minute, nothing that’s on my wishlist or just due out later this year or anything or even in the mail.

In no particular order:

THE SCORPIO RACES by Stiefvater, that’s one. It’s got a great review by The Book Smugglers and it sounds just right for me.

NAME OF THE WIND but Rothfuss. I know, I know, I’m the last person on Earth who hasn’t read this, but I was waiting to have time and then I was waiting for the sequel and now I’m waiting to have time again. It moved up to the top when the sequel finally came out, so I’m sure I’ll finally get to it this year sometime.

THE GIRL WHO etc, by Valente. Amazingly, I have never read anything by Valente. Everybody loves her books. I bet I will too, the very next time I take a major break from writing. Which, granted, may not be for a while.

DESERT OF SOULS by Howard Andrew Jones, which I know nothing about except the SFBC makes it sound good (sometimes they fool me, I admit). Neat cover, great Arabian Nights look. Looking forward to trying it, but not quite as confident that I’ll love it.

THE FETCH by Laura Whitcomb. Loved loved loved her book A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT, which btw I hear has a sequel coming out this year. I’ve kind of been putting off reading THE FETCH just because I sometimes enjoy drawing out the anticipation. I’m sure it will be great!

PARTIALS by Dan Wells. Really loved I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER and the sequels. I bet he’s done a fabulous job with this YA dystopian novel.

GATEWAY by Sharon Shinn, because, hey, Sharon Shinn!

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Taylor, which I’ve heard great things about just here and there.

SILVER PHOENIX by Cindy Pon, because ditto – just heard good things that make me think it’ll be right up my alley.

ROSEMARY AND RUE, because I thought FEED was really good – well, plausibility issues, but still – and it’s really the same author, and because I’m looking forward to finding another paranormal author I really love.

Also on the pile, still in no particular order, by no means a complete list, but pretty representative:

CITY OF DRAGONS by Hobb – thought the first two books were pretty good
EMBASSYTOWN by Mieville – really loved THE CITY AND THE CITY



AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST by Pears – this one as highly recommended by people at last year’s World Fantasy Convention.

SHIPBREAKER by Bacigalupi, though Ecological Doom novels usually don’t do it for me – I know way too much about real ecology – that was my area in grad school, you know – so I find eco-doomsday scenarios usually VERY unpersuasive and annoying. Nevertheless, I’ve heard so many good things about this that I’m willing to try harder than usual to suspend disbelief.

THE PASSAGE by Cronin. Whoa, with a review like that at The Book Smugglers? Gotta try it.

NAMAH’S KISS by Carey.

MIDNIGHT NEVER COME by Brennan, partly because I like her essays at Swan Tower.

TOADS AND DIAMONDS by Tomlinson, partly because I love the cover so much.

DRAGON’S PATH by Abraham, though I’m not really in the mood for Modern Epic Fantasy, so it’s not on the short list.

SOMEWHERE TO BE FLYING by de Lint, because everybody says he’s got a very lyrical style and I want to try it out.

There’s a good sample of my current TBR pile! What’s on yours?

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Busy weekend —

Busy busy busy!

First, see, a friend loaned me these books, DARK LOVER, and LOVER ETERNAL. (There are seven books in the series, I believe.) Vampire romances! What can I say? They are actually pretty good. Not Patricia Briggs good, but not bad. The writing is not flawless, but again, not bad. The dialogue is good, often quite good. I like the characters – often especially the secondary characters. The point-of-view is pretty scattered, but actually in these books I don’t mind, partly because, as I said, I like the secondary characters. There’s some explicit sex, but not so much the plot bogs down while steam rises from the pages. Unlike Laurell Hamilton’s books, say. I’m definitely going to hit my friend up for the third book.

Now, for me, it’s totally impossible to read fiction AND write at the same time, because if I start reading a book, I’m going to finish it, and that kind of gets in the way of doing anything else, right? (I mean good fiction that I’m reading for the first time. That’s why I save nonfiction and not-very-compelling books I’ve read before for times when I’m writing.) So I didn’t fight this, when I picked up the second book (LOVER ETERNAL) on Friday, I just read the whole thing that evening and didn’t try to do anything useful. Then I could re-read bits over the rest of the weekend while really focusing on other things.

Like seeing The Avengers! I mean, it’s a tough call, go see a movie or pull weeds. (Actually I pulled weeds and then saw the movie.) Awesome movie! I can’t believe I was making snide comments about The Hulk before I went to see it, because he was great. Just great. I was never a Hulk fan, but I think my two favorite bits in the whole movie were Hulk things. Can’t say what they were because of course that would be kind of spoilery.

Loved Hawkeye. I actually have no real memory of Hawkeye from the comic, never being really into comics, but I bet he was cooler in the movie than the comic anyway. Did you see how he shot that plane? The one behind him? Without looking? Whoa.

Loved Natasha, too. Did you get that she was putting it on that second time? Because I totally did.

Hey, how about that bit where Captain America got the reference that Thor missed? Wasn’t that hilarious?

Man, I lust after Tony Stark’s armor. And the automated systems to put it on and take it off. Very, very cool.

I am so looking forward to the next movie!

But can I just mention one quibble, though, even though it might be a little spoilery? Hopefully not too much. I have to say, I didn’t believe in the thing with the nuke, because who would be that stupid? Great merciful God, is Tony Stark the only one who can think of better things to do with a nuke than, like, BLOW UP MANHATTAN? Because that idea was just nuts and what Stark did was extremely obvious. Though I guess I do believe that The Government can be run by incredibly stupid people from time to time.

Also! This movie is another example of why you should usually just skip the prologue. Anybody else feel that way? It didn’t add anything. Just start at the beginning, okay?

But after the book and the movie I did get some useful things done. A fair bit of dilettante-style gardening, for one thing. You know, the kind where you rip out the big weeds to make a flower bed look nicer, but don’t worry too much about little things like the roots. Too hard to pull stuff out by the roots when it’s this dry! Kind of worrisome, when it’s this dry in early May! Sure hope it rains soon.* Things are looking fabulous, though. I need to take another handful of pictures. Soon. This week for sure. My camera needs batteries, but hey, phone!

Also FINALLY got the squash and melons and okra and green beans planted. And set out the peppers and eggplants. Naturally it is supposed to get chilly again, but I don’t believe it.* It’s hot as blazes now. Anyway, I have enough seeds to replant if necessary.

Also! And here we are at last back in Author Land. Got 4000 words written this weekend, not bad for having so much else to do, including important things like go see The Avengers.

That takes me up to 15,000-plus words, which is about 48 pages. This is chapter one of the project I’m working on, plus part of chapter three (depending on where I decide to draw the chapter lines, which may change), plus a bit of chapter two. I’m going to finish chapter two, which I expect to take me to about sixty or seventy pages. Then I’ll let this project stall out and start something else, something YA, because my Knopf editor says (good news here!) that ISLANDS is doing rather well and she wants to see something else from me. So! Not going to take the current iron out of the fire till it cools down a bit, but I’m expecting to finish something else for Knopf this year. That’s the plan! Wish me luck.

* Rained last night! Much cooler now!

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My pick is number two! And other links —

Of these four ways to ruin your novel, I pick this one:

2) Stupid Gas! Let’s split up to explore this haunted house!

The other three hurl-the-book-aside sins according to Susan Morris at Omnivoracious are:

1) leaving in too much stuff you should have taken out
3) preaching to the reader, and
4) providing your hero with a cardboard cutout for a love interest.

Any of those strike you as worse than Stupid Gas?

Also! Here’s a nice post from Kate Elliot about woman characters in historical fantasy. Because the problem with saying: If you’re building a world with fantasy things like dragons in it, why does the role of women have to be authentic? is that a society that is supposed to feel historically accurate will in fact feel false if you try to equalize gender roles in that society. Though I love The Book Smugglers (really! My very favorite book site!), I don’t think they’re right about that one at all. About how even constrained woman characters can have agency, yes, but not about the equalize-gender-roles-what-the-heck-it’s-your-world-and-you-can-do-what-you-want thing.

Because, hello, there HAVE NEVER BEEN ANY HUMAN SOCIETIES EVER where gender was not important in determining social roles? So if you pretend that really gender is not important? Your fantasy world will feel all fake.

Though some authors manage surprisingly well, ie, THE DEED OF PAKSENNARION by Elizabeth Moon. Still not sure why it worked better in that one that it usually does. Have to think about it.

But! You should also keep in mind that building a realistic society that limits the “proper” roles of women gives you something extra for your female characters to struggle against, which as an author is a great and good thing, not a problem. And may also lead to your book making the Amelia Bloomer Project list for books with “significant feminist content”, because struggling against societal limitations is just the ticket as far as that goes, right? Which, just saying, THE FLOATING ISLANDS made that particular list, which is not something I aimed for — setting up problems for my characters to overcome did it automatically.

One more!

The INTERN has a hilarious post up — euphamisms for all! My fave: “This is my first book.” I think The INTERN is more or less right about what that phrase really means.

Plus, scroll down, because the INTERN has this to say about the ongoing agony that is picking a title:

The title INTERN had come up with for her novel had been, quote, “roundly” rejected by the Sales Team, who were requesting that a new one be dreamed up, stat.

Roundly rejected! huffed INTERN. They could have at least AGONIZED a little. They could have at least sent INTERN a letter explaining how this decision to veto her beloved pet title had ripped at their very SOULS.

Hah hah hah! Good luck with that whole “Come up with another title stat” thing. Sometimes it’s almost easier to write another book than a title!

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Cover art is important —

Death to the chain mail bikini! is the very proper and catchy rallying cry raised by a post here. This is James Sutton at Booklife, by the way.

Here’s what Sutton starts with:

“If you work in science fiction and fantasy publishing, you’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase “Just put some breasts on the cover.”

Well, I wouldn’t know, but if so, ick.

And I’m not alone in saying Ick, either. Sutton adds,

“While most folks acknowledge that sex sells, a wide chunk of the audience finds the preponderance of scantily clad women on SF covers offensive.”

No, really?

And even though Sutton feels compelled to add “regardless of how you feel about gender issues–even if you’re one of those unfortunate Rush Limbaugh fans who call any woman who speaks her mind a “feminazi” which I must say is a stupid gratuitous swipe at, for example, my mother, who is a Limbaugh fan, so thanks, James! —

But! Regardless of your totally irrelevant political opinions, if you want to put scantily clad people on covers, then if what you’re selling is a torrid erotic romance, FINE. But if what you’re selling is supposedly fantasy, then even if there’s romance — even if there’s torrid romance — if it would not be shelved in the “erotica” section — can we please have clothed people on the cover?

Even if we’re not talking about a literal chainmail bikini — and sometimes we are —

Looks like she'd get awfully chilly

— we’re often talking about women who apparently wander through the world without clothes on important parts of their bodies, and I don’t necessarily mean their tummies:

This is ridiculous

Just sayin’, if you wear nothing on your legs in the woods in the summer, you are going to get chewed to death by bugs. Never mind having your tanned, muscular thighs hacked up by guys who have not only swords but also, you know, armor.

When it comes to books, there’s only one series where chainmail bikinis belong on the covers:

These are hilarious

And I actually quite like these stories, btw. They’re funny! My favorite is actually MATHEMAGICS, by Margaret Ball , which has the most awesome chapter numbers EVER.

I have the book, but not with me, so I can’t remember all the chapter headings, but let me just say that anything to the zero power equals “1”. Just for example. And I think the chapter numbers get more challenging as you go through the book. I think there’s one with limits, for example.

Now I want to go get the book of the shelf and read it again! Which is pretty good for a book with a chainmail bikini on the cover.

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Check this out —

A fabulous article on verbs. I think I found it via Bibliophile Stalker, btw, but it was several days ago. Weeks? I dunno, some time ago anyway. I glanced at it then, thought it looked good, bookmarked it, and just got around to actually reading it now.

Like I said, fabulous!

I don’t think I actually laughed out loud at the use of the phrase “conjure existence itself” — great verb use there! — but I did at the term “copulative”. Copulative verbs, hah hah hah!

Though really I thought the breakdown of types of verbs was way cool.

Oh, but here’s a bit where the author (Constance Hale, a journalist) also asks a question I can answer:

Why have a character go when he could gambol, shamble, lumber, lurch, sway, swagger or sashay?

Because I am pretty sure that if you always have your characters gambol, shamble, lumber, lurch, sway, swagger, or sashay, your prose will turn out to be unbearably purple. I’d sashay with caution, myself. All those verbs better fit neatly into the overall prose!

Even if it’s true that using verbs with nuance and style lets you avoid adverbs. Which, hey, is true, not disagreeing!

Next on my list of things to get to: tracking down the other articles on writing by this author. I expect to enjoy them — maybe even print them out for future reference.

Verdict: way better than Strunk and White.

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Starting a new project! But with distractions everywhere!

My goodness, is it ever hard to write when you have a super-cute single puppy! It’s true that Puppy G plays with her “older sister”, Folly, but she’s not quite able to keep up with Folly yet, so I have to fill in as a kinder, gentler, slower playmate.

Which is a total hardship, let me tell you.

Ultimate cuteness at five weeks

I’ve registered her, finally. That means I had to decide on a show name, which is indeed Anara Give Me A Break. I’ll probably call her Giedre later, when she looks elegant enough to deserve a name like that, but right now she is just Puppy. I mean, there’s only the one. Not like I need to be able to distinguish her from a horde of others.

Also! Gardening, right? I mean, there’s all this stuff that won’t wait. Mind you, after a burst of summer back in March, it’s now too cold to plant the hot-season stuff (phooey! Tired of cold weather!). But there’s all kinds of other stuff to do. Moving the Kerrias finally. Making Kerria cuttings after cutting back the ones I moved. Planting my very first rhododendron! If it lives maybe I will get more. Planting the new, tiny ‘Butterfly’ magnolia — it’s not even knee high. Planting a bunch of nandinas. That horrible weedy strip next to the house looks so much better now that it’s been filled up with nandinas! I have little ones in the front (they should get three feet tall) and big ones behind (five to eight feet). Can’t wait for them to fill in. What a great plant. How could it have taken me so long to plant them?

Also! Moved a bunch of rocks to make an ornamental flow of rocks across this one area out back. Found four (4!) little ringneck snakes and one earth snake and two skinks.


It was totally tiny cute reptile day! Ringnecks never bite. Neither do earth snakes. You just pick ’em up and drop ’em over the fence. To protect them from the dogs, you understand.

But when it’s finally dark and the dogs are all miraculously asleep? It is actually possible to turn on the laptop. I’ve finally adjusted to the new machine (pretty much) and so I don’t accidentally resize the text anymore. Well, not very often. I never did consciously figure out what I was doing to make that happen, but the back of my brain seems to have got it sorted out because it’s nothing like as annoying a problem as it used to be.

So! 2000 words (or so) of a new project. About four pages a day. Which is very good considering a) the puppy, and b) the gardening. Plus, c) school isn’t out so there’s a big chunk of each day gone, right?

Which, no, I don’t want to talk about the new project. Later, like next year, maybe. I will probably — best guess — take it to about 20,000 words and then let it stall, because as soon as it does I have a different project I should be working on. But hey! Not on a deadline, so “should” is a relative term and I can totally switch back and forth if I feel like it. But I will feel awfully embarrassed if I fritter away the whole summer and don’t have a new ms finished by, say, September.

Plus my YA editor at Knopf made suggestions about reworking MOUNTAIN and I think I will probably try to do that, but not right away. Going to let that rest a while (like, months rather than mere weeks), get a little more distance, come back to it when I’m not bored just thinking about it.

This evening — weeding! Playing with Puppy! And THEN, we trust, another few thousand words.

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

Pacing . . .

. . . is more subjective than you might think, and I think I’m starting to figure out part of why that is. I think there are elements that contribute to a feeling of slow or dragging pace even when the pace could objectively be described as fast.

You know, a couple of years ago now, I was having dinner with my agent and various of her other clients and Robin McKinley’s book DRAGONHAVEN came up, and I said I’d loved it and everybody else said NO WAY, IT WAS TOO SLOW. And I was shocked. Shocked!

Not that it wasn’t slow, but it didn’t strike me as too slow. I really loved the story, I loved the protagonist’s voice, and it didn’t bother me one bit that the story took its time getting anywhere. For me, the pacing of DRAGONHAVEN was just right.


I’ve been re-reading Eric Flint’s 1632 series lately, whenever I want to read something but don’t want to get too caught up in a new book. And so I recently re-read THE BAVARIAN CRISIS. And, whoa, was it slooooow. It wasn’t just that nothing much was happening, it was that nothing much was happening to dozens and dozens of point-of-view characters. Who were all named Ferdinand or Fernando if they were male or Maria or Anna if they were female, and were thus impossible to keep straight. Slow, slow, slow AND confusing.

Well, at least until (at last!) Grandduchess Maria Anna’s storyline took over the book as she fled her arranged marriage and headed for the dashing romantic Don Fernando instead. She finally gave me a character and situation I could care about. But this illustrated one major problem that can make a book seem to be slow even if exciting stuff is happening: lack of a main character to attach to. Although THE BAVARIAN CRISIS really did not have exciting stuff happening either, until quite late in the book, so really almost anybody would probably find that it dragged at first.

Now! For a completely different problem! The other day I read a book by Mark L van Name called ONE JUMP AHEAD and it dragged and dragged. Only not really. Objectively, there was all this stuff going on. The protag has to get this crucial piece of equipment only the guy who’s selling it to him tries to rob him, only he knew that was going to happen so he Took Steps. And then he kidnapped this one guy and then this other guy and then made an alliance with this violent female leader of a small mercenary troop (who didn’t turn into a love interest, and that was an interesting choice on the author’s part). Anyway! Plenty of action!

So why did it seem to me that ONE JUMP AHEAD dragged so badly?

Because (I figured this out afterward) the back cover copy had made it clear to me that the main character was going to have this important discovery where he realizes that he only THOUGHT he rescued this kidnapped girl right at the beginning, because instead he was tricked by the bad guy into recapturing her after she had escaped his evil clutches.

And, see, because the back cover copy gave this important plot development away? I spent like 2/3 of the books going HEY, DUDE, FIGURE THIS OUT ALREADY. It made the WHOLE THING before the protagonist figured out he’d been used seem to drag — and it made everything AFTER that realization seem anticlimactic.

See, I think pacing is complicated. More complicated than “This book has too much description” or “There’s not enough going on in this story” or “Can’t the characters quit talking to each other all the time and DO SOMETHING?” even though all those elements can make a book seem slow if you don’t happen to appreciate plenty of description or interior monologues or whatever.

So . . .

1) Too much description (this will not usually in itself strike me as a problem)

2) Not enough action (ditto)

3) Too much space spent on interior monologues / dialogue (ditto, if the monologues/dialogues are good)

4) Too many point-of-view characters and too little attachment to any of them (I will not be able to get interested in this book)

5) An important plot point is foreshadowed but does not get delivered in a timely fashion (I hadn’t realized how much I hate this until ONE JUMP AHEAD, but it’s not unique).

6) Is there anything else?

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