Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Reading

So, just read Valor’s Choice and The Better Part of Valor, by Tanya Huff. Huff isn’t an auto-buy author for me, or at least she never has been . . . I like her books okay, but I don’t go seek them out.

Well.

A friend recommended the Valor series to me, and I have to say, the other two in the series? Those are the first books I bought with my new phone! Woo hoo! Internet access through a PHONE, I must be in the 20th century!

ANYway, loved ’em! I enjoy military SF, at least as long as it’s more adventure than blood-and-guts. Not that I want it all sanitized exactly, but I want the main character and at least some of the secondary characters to be competent and sympathetic. Loved Staff Sergeant Kerr! She is SUCH A GREAT SERGEANT. Not that I would know, not personally, but she READS like a very true-to-life extremely competent senior NCO.

And right at the beginning, when Huff sets up an obvious romance between Staff Sergeant Kerr and her lieutenant? And then the romance NEVER HAPPENS? I have been loving the urban fantasy / paranormal romances I’ve read in the past few years, but it was GREAT to see this obvious romance set-up and then . . . nope, never develops. Instead, Huff totally develops the staff sergeant / 2nd lieutenant relationship. That was so unexpected! And felt so very believable!

So, the frame story of the universe, where “elder races” have “evolved beyond violence” and thus roped in humans (and a few other “younger” species to do their fighting for them . . . that type of thing strikes me as a trifle cliched and also utterly stupid and unbelievable . . . but I didn’t even care. Huff set the universe up so she could get the characters she wanted into the situations she wanted, and she did, and it was well worth doing.

So! Can’t wait for the other two books in the series to arrive. Meanwhile, I’m loaning the first couple to my Dad. He’ll love ’em.

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Woo hoo!

Not one but TWO nice little messages in my inbox this morning:

1) THE FLOATING ISLANDS has been named to the Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012 list — the ALA reviewer says:

“Trei longs to join the Kajuraihi, the floating island defenders with wings powered by dragon magic, while Araene’s secret aspirations to become a chef are thwarted by society’s restrictions on women.”

AND

2) THE FLOATING ISLANDS has also been selected by the Amelia Bloomer Project, which is an honor bestowed on “the best books with a significant feminist content that will appeal to young readers”.

The Amelia Bloomer reviewer says:

“Trei and Araene dream of unconventional futures that defy cultural expectations. They call upon their unique abilities and unite forces when the Floating Islands are attacked by a powerful rival country.”

How about that? And I didn’t even set out to write a feminist book.

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Retreating from the cutting edge

You know what? Though a great piece of technology, I personally hate the Tablet. I’m taking it back to the store tomorrow, and I’ll get them to figure out how to tether my laptop to my smartphone (keeping the phone) instead. You know what I hate about the Tablet?

When I insert it into the keyboard and start typing, I find the keyboard perfectly comfortable. But —

a) I’ll constantly get six or seven words ahead of the screen,

b) and when I hit a wrong letter, I then have to wait for the screen to catch up to me, and then

c) when I try to backspace, the backspace key speed seems unpredictable, so I backspace too far, and finally

d) when I touch the screen to try to insert the cursor someplace, the Tablet brings up the on-screen keyboard, for some reason, and then I have to first get rid of that and then move the cursor with the little arrows on the physical keyboard.

It’s awful!

But handy for watching YouTube videos! My favorite is the Sound of Music one in the Belgian railway station.

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Recent Reading

So I was reading this book called ZAMBA written by an animal trainer, Ralph Helfer, about this lion he owned and trained. And in some ways I liked this book. It’s very anecdotal rather than having any kind of coherent story line as such, but some of the anecdotes are truly touching. Like the thing after the storm when the horses died? And the flood at the end? Wow.

But right at the beginning, I was so peeved at the author and I’m not sure I ever got over it, because he said this: working with a lion presented such huge challenges because the big cats are solitary animals and not really primed to be social. [This isn’t a direct quote, but it’s what he said.]

And I thought:

A) This guy, who is supposed to be such an amazing trainer and particularly into lions, nevertheless knows so little about lions that he doesn’t even know they live in prides, which every single American kindergartner knows, or

B) In order to make his decision to raise and train a lion seem more impressive to his readers, those rubes, he is totally lying about lion behavior, even though every single reader has got to know that this statement he’s making about lions being solitary animals is completely bogus.

I’m going for option B, but jeez, really? This is so not a good thing to do. The lying to the reader thing, I mean. Even if you’re doing it to sound impressive. Even if it’s transparently false. No.

So, this was nonfiction, but IMO it would work the same way in fiction. If you’re writing about lions in a fictional world, but you’re reprensenting them as real lions, then you can’t go making totally false statements about lion behavior just because that makes your plot work out. Not even if you think your readers won’t know the difference. I mean, I will. And I’ll care, too.

So: most fictional wolves are terrible wolves, but this only bothers me if the wolves are being presented as real wolves. Etc.

You know who did a really good wolf? Gordon Dickson, in THE IRON YEARS. I heard somewhere that he wrote this, it was published, and a wolf researcher contacted him and said Man, did you ever mess that up, that was not a wolf, that was a dog, I am so tired of people putting wolves in their books but really they are dogs. And Dickson, amazingly enough, was impressed, asked a lot of questions about wolves, and rewrote the story so the animal was a wolf.

Wow.

Even though I didn’t actually like the book all that well, I read it and by golly when he got through with it, that animal was indeed a wolf and not a dog. One of the very very few in fiction.

ANYWAY, not to wonder from the subject, but lions ARE NOT SOLITARY.

Nevertheless, yes, the trainer sounds like he was a really good guy, if a little too open minded about certain touchy-feeley nonsense (putting a lion on a vegetarian diet because eating meat promotes violence? Are you kidding me?); the lion sounds like an amazing animal; and some bits of the book were very emotionally affecting. So, hey, I’ll be discarding this book, but it wasn’t actually bad.

ps — When a friend of mine and I watched The Lion King? We made MANY SNARKY COMMENTS about the inaccurate lion behavior and then made up a much more logical plot in which the lion brothers — the king and his brother — stood shoulder to shoulder against the perfidy of, well, it doesn’t matter, the point is, in the real world, lion brothers are very important allies for each other. Isn’t that interesting?

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But!

In contrast to my struggle to master modern technology, though, I am happy to say that I’ve completed two chapters (53 pp) of my newest WIP. So THAT’S going well. I will now set that aside for a few days while I mess around with the tablet and phone.

So! Good times ahead.

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Okay, not loving the technology so far

The phone is okay, but the tablet? It makes the simplest thing seem impossible. Can I make google my homepage? Why, NO, because there is no preference button under ‘Settings.’

Is the kindle on the tablet working? I tried to experiment with it, but it doesn’t seem to be enabled. Or something.

I tried to post this from the tablet this morning, and could I get it to work? NO, BECAUSE THE )#%#&%()^Q KEYBOARD ON THE SCREEN kept popping up and I couldn’t get rid of it. The whole POINT of trying to post using the tablet is to try out the keyboard I bought to go WITH the tablet and see if it is comfortable enough to actually stand it.

So, several questions and an irate attitude for the tech people at the AT & T place. Luckily, I won’t be able to go by the store until this afternoon. At that point, though the questions will no doubt remain, they can at least benefit from my having had time to lose the irate attitude. THOUGH IT IS TOTALLY JUSTIFIED.

Ahem. Calm now.

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I am on the cutting edge of technological progress

. . . and I’m not enjoying it. Jeez, figuring out how to set up and use new techie toys, so not my thing.

I just went to the AT&T place to get a smartphone, which even that intimidates me, but I also wound up with a tablet. In combination, I’m a bit into overload. But! It will be SO DIFFERENT having access to the internet from my very own living room! Which dial-up does not really count! Also a little distracting, possibly.

Two weeks to learn to love it or else take it back. Well, 12 days, now, and counting. Wish me luck!

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Fooling yourself into working

So, I was kind of tired last night and I’d been busy all day and I really wanted just to read a few pages of my current PG Wodehouse novel. Which is fine, because I’m not on a deadline, right? So I let the puppies out into the living room and played with them for an hour.

Even so, after the Incredibly Cute puppies went to sleep, I tucked them back into the puppy room and turned on the computer. I told myself I was just going to play a game of solitaire. Which I did. But since the computer was on, I also opened the WIP file, and then I took a few notes on where I thought the 2nd chapter might be heading, and then I played another game of solitaire. Which I lost. It was a horrible game. So it was easy to switch back to the WIP file and just start fiddling around with possible first sentences for Chapter 2.

And I wound up with a smooth, easy 2 pages, which may not sound like much, but is disproportionately more than 0 pages, right? Plus it was easy, which means it will be easier to pick up the ms this evening. Plus I now have kind of an idea what’s going to happen in this scene, which I didn’t before.

So hopefully it will be a productive weekend and I’ll finish off Chapter 2! That would be great, because at that point I’ll set the whole WIP aside, take a break, and decide what other project to work on next.

In the meantime! Observe the cuteness that I live with ALL THE TIME:

It’s amazing I get anything done at all.

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Pacing issues then and now

Check out this paragraph, the opening paragraph of a novel. When do you suppose this book was published? Anybody recognize the style?

“In as much as the scene of this story is that historic pile, Belpher Castle, in the countyof Hampshire, it would be an agreeable task to open it with a leisurely description of the place, followed by some notes on the history of the Earls of Marshmoreton, who have owned it since the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, in these days of rush and hurry, a novelist works at a disadvantage. He must leap into the middle of his tale with as little delay as he would employ in boarding a moving tramcar. He must get off the mark with the smooth swiftness of a jack-rabbit surprised while lunching. Otherwise, people throw him aside and go out to picture palaces.”

Anybody recognize PG Wodehouse? This one is A Damsel In Distress, which was originally published in 1919. Almost 100 years ago!

My mother got a bunch of reissued Wodehouse novels for Christmas. It’s been a while since I read any Wodehouse, so since she’s pressing them into my hands as she finishes them, I’m slowly reading them. I like ’em if the main characters aren’t total jackasses. (I mean, Bertie Wooster IS kind of a total jackass.) And what a fabulous writer! Not that I’m going to devote myself from now on to romantic comedies of manners, but still. Listen to this:

“There was a tense silence. What [the young] Albert was thinking one cannot say. The thoughts of Youth are long, long thoughts. What George was thinking was that the late King Herod had been unjustly blamed for a policy which had been both statesmanlike and in the interests of the public. He was blaming the mawkish sentimentality of the modern legal system which ranks the evisceration and secret burial of small boys as a crime.

“It’s all right, mister. I’m yer friend.”

“You are, are you? Well, don’t let it about. I’ve got a reputation to keep up.”

“I’m yer friend, I tell you. I can help yer. I WANT to help yer!”

George’s views on infanticide underwent a slight modification.

And so forth. It’s wonderful writing. It’s also PERFECTLY CORRECT English, which gives me yet another writer to recommend to people who want to raise their ACT (or whatever) scores. You can (and should, I guess) study grammar, but really there’s nothing like just reading a lot of really correct beautifully written prose to develop a feel for the language.

Anyway, this one is maybe my favorite so far. My other favorite so far is Jill The Reckless. Anybody read that one?

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Great articles —

Here’s one on writing evocative description in order to build a you-are-there feeling and pull the reader into your story.

And here’s another on violence and what it takes to make an explicit, violent scene work — here’s the part I really like:

Here’s a final reason [to write such a scene]:

9. A writer depicts violence because it provides the platform and stimulus for higher ideals to address it. Those things might include actions involving sacrifice, forgiveness, love, justice, determination, survival, hope, gratitude or redemption.

This last point invites us to strive for loftier goals than simply pointing out that ‘life is hell and then you die’.

That’s me! I don’t mind explicit violence in a book — usually — if it works this way. Whereas shocking, horrible violence for the sake of being shocking and horrible really makes a book a tough read for me, which is why I strongly prefer, say, Brent Weeks’ THE BLACK PRISM to his earlier Night Angel trilogy — because the former takes the horribleness back a notch or two.

And I really liked this post, by Kate Elliot, about re-reading stories and the narrative experience.

And you know where I got all these links?

HERE.

And there are plenty more where those came from!

Bibliophile Stalker is my new go-to site for links to all kinds of great writing-related posts. Especially great because he separates the interviews (which I almost never care about) from all the other articles (which are frequently interesting).

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