Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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How to survive the zombie apocalypse

This was the title of the best — most entertaining, anyway — student “process” paper I’ve ever seen. (I don’t spend a lot of time working with English students, actually, but the occasional paper makes a nice break from math and chemistry.)

Most students write a process essay about how to braid their daughter’s hair, how to gig frogs (that was a pretty good one, partly because it was so unexpected from the well-dressed older woman who wrote it), how to win at poker, and, of course, the ever-popular how to make chocolate chip cookies. (Many instructors won’t allow recipes, and no wonder, because great as recipes can be, students seldom turn them into great papers.)

Well, the zombie apocalypse paper sprang to mind when I saw this: Sam Sheridan Gives Survival Tips for Characters in Disaster Movies — a post over at Omnivoracious.

It’s a fun post! You should check it out! What do you think, though, is it fair to say that the protagonist should leap into a speedboat and head out toward a tsunami? I’m pretty sure that would not have occurred to me.

Sometimes, though, don’t you find yourself just DYING to yell advice to a character on the big screen? For me it wasn’t a disaster movie, it was “Scream.” You know that scene at the beginning, where the girl in the house is on the phone with the killer? I couldn’t STAND it. I was all like, Put the phone down, you idiot, and hide! This is YOUR HOUSE. You must know great places to hide in it! Put! the! phone! down!

Alas, the girl doesn’t take my advice.

I wonder how many movies would actually be left, if the protagonist instantly whirled and took off like a scalded cat if someone pointed a gun at them, or said “Are you out of your mind?” when someone in their group suggested splitting up to explore the haunted house?

What’s your favorite (or should that be least favorite?) moment, when a character in a movie did something ridiculous despite all your good advice?

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Have Petard, Will Hoist —

Hah hah hah!

That’s a great title for a post, isn’t it? What it’s about, is Janet Reid ranting about how there’s no such category as “realistic fiction” and immediately being shown evidence that at least one bookstore doesn’t agree.

Which is funny. But . . . IS there such a category as “realistic fiction”? Not having seen what that bookstore included in that category, my guess is it includes Issues Books for Teenagers. (The sign in the store is aimed at teens.)

Me, I LOATHED all Issues Books with a burning white hot passion when I was a kid. But I certainly knew kids who loved Judy Blume, so there you go.

What *I* have noticed in YA/Teen sections in bookstores, is that those sections have been totally conquered by paranormal. The whole YA section, nothing but paranormals. And, oh, right, dystopias too. So my other guess is, this bookstore simply means “YA but not any flavor of fantasy/sf”. That could be a useful designation, for teens (or anyone else) who has maxed out on paranormal and/or dystopia for the next decade. (Which is not me. But I admit the paranormals all blur together a bit for me. And the dystopias.)

On the other hand, I would’ve said we already had a designation for the realistic fiction: We call that “Contemporary.”

Still like the “will hoist” line, though.

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I have no desire to go on a book tour —

And this is why!

Only it’s a funnier post than I would have written — starting from the very first line:

“There are a number of reasons authors such as myself go on book tours, all of them basically stupid.”

Okay, surely I’m not the only person who smiled at that? And the rest of the post, written by Adam Mansbach, who is in fact on a book tour with his new novel, RAGE IS BACK, which I’d never heard of. In case you haven’t heard of it either and, after reading this post, are curious, Amazon says:

“In this mind-bending journey through a subterranean world of epic heroes, villains, and eccentrics, Adam Mansbach balances an intricately plot­ted, high-stakes caper with a wildly inventive tale of time travel and shamanism, prodigal fathers and sons, and the hilariously intertwined realms of art, crime, and spirituality. Moving throughout New York City’s unseen com­munities, from the tunnel camps of the Mole People to the drug dens of Crown Heights, Rage Is Back is a kaleidoscopic tour de force from a writer at the top of his game.”

Which makes it sound kind of interesting, but doesn’t actually make me want to rush out and buy the book.

But the blog post almost does. Here, for example, is (part of) Mansbach’s take on a publisher’s typical publicity strategy:

“Send the author to bookstores in various cities, in the hopes that a local plutocrat might happen to wander by, glance through the plate glass window, notice that a person is standing inside reading aloud from a book, and be moved to come in and purchase 235 copies, thus amortizing the cost of the author’s flight and hotel.”

Which is funny! Okay, well, I thought so.

Anyway, tongue in cheek as this post is, it’s still pretty well expresses why I’m not wildly keen on setting up readings. Unless a bookstore REALLY promoted the event. Maybe someday!

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What do YOU think of the name “Katherine”?

This is a fun post, but a) I can’t say that I have noticed a great preponderance of Katherines in recent novels, or b) I also can’t say that the name “Katniss” struck me as a form of Katherine. Does that seem to be kind of reaching, or is that just me?

On the other hand, it’s quite true that Kate Daniels (whom you may know from Ilona Andrews’ novels) doesn’t really seem to me like a “Kate.” But then, Anita Blake never seemed much like an “Anita” to me either, back when I still read those. Come to think of it, Kelly Armstrong’s Elena never seemed like an “Elena” to me. I think this may say more about me than about naming conventions for kickass paranormal protagonists. I expect I just prefer character names that are, I don’t know, not the names of people I actually know? I suspect it’s just hard to come up with names that aren’t too screwy and yet are unusual enough to avoid sounding like eveybody’s best friend from college.

Anyway, let me just mention, one big advantage to writing a secondary world fantasy is you will never, ever have anybody complaining that your character just doesn’t feel like a “Kate” to them. I definitely have three times more trouble naming characters for any contemporary-ish story than I’ve ever had for a secondary world fantasy. And I just can’t call them all X, Y and Z and plug the names in later (I actually do know someone who does this, but . . . really?)

Here’s a question: Has a character ever been so badly named (for you) that it interfered with your enjoyment of a book?

For me the immediate answer is YES. Pug, in Raymond Feist’s Magician series. I mean . . . Pug? Pug?

How about you?

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My public service for the week —

You know about “icebox cake”, right? One of the easiest and most appealing desserts ever, where you simply layer chocolate wafer cookies with sweetened whipped cream in a bowl and set the bowl in the fridge till the cookies soften and turn into cake?

Or, if you’re really into decadence, you can add cocoa powder to the cream along with the sugar when you whip it, intensifying the chocolatey goodness of the “cake.” I’d suggest whipping each C of cream with about 3 Tbsp of cocoa and up to 1/3 C of sugar if you want chocolate whipped cream. (Without the cocoa powder, 1/4 C of sugar is plenty pler C of cream.) And you can’t go wrong beating in 1 tsp of vanilla whether you’re adding cocoa or not.

And, hey, if you’re a real demon for complexity, you can make individual “cupcakes” by stacking up cookies with layers of whipped cream. Want to add just a little elegance to the whole idea? Just drizzle a bit of warm chocolate ganache across each stack before serving and poof! You immediately have a pretty dessert for company. Just don’t forget that you will need to chill any form of icebox cake for 24 hours or so to let the cookies soften.

The only problem with this whole idea is, where are you supposed to get chocolate wafer cookies? Because half the time you just can’t find them in the stores. Which is simply pathetic. Even Amazon is not your friend here: you can certainly buy ’em on Amazon, if you’re willing to buy $80 worth of wafer cookies at a time, which seems a little extreme no matter how enthusiastic you are about icebox cake.

So! If you, too, have found this sad state of affairs a blight upon your existence, here you go! This is the easiest-ever recipe for chocolate wafer cookies. Now you can make your own whenever you like.

Here is the recipe, with all its original commentary and pictures and stuff, from Smitten Kitchen. It is a fun post to read, but just in case you don’t feel like clicking over to it, here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Wafer Cookies

1 1/2 C flour
3/4 C cocoa powder, and people, both I and Smitten Kitchen advice you to go all out with Ghirardelli or some other really good brand for this
1 C + 2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
14 Tbsp unsalted butter, slightly softened — I cut it up, piled the cubes in a bowl, and microwaved the bowl for ten seconds
3 Tbsp whole milk — I used cream, which I had on hand, rather than milk, which I didn’t
1 tsp vanilla

Now, the reason this is so extraordinarily easy is, it’s a food processor recipe which turns into a slice-and-bake recipe. However, I imagine if you don’t have a food processor, elbow grease would get the job done.

Combine the dry ingredients in the food processor and pulse two or three times. Add the butter and pulse several times. Combine the milk and vanilla. Turn the food processor on and pour the milk mixture through the tube in a thin stream, continuing to run the food processor until the dough clumps up around the blade or sides of the bowl. At that point, turn off the food processor, dump the dough out on the counter, and knead a few times to make sure it’s evenly blended. Then form the dough into log about 14 inches long, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill at least an hour or overnight. Unwrap, slice into thinnish (scant 1/4 inch) slices, place on parchment-lined baking sheets, and bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on the parchment a couple of minutes, then cool completely on racks. If the cookies don’t turn crisp as they cool, you should bake the next batch a mintue or two longer. You will get about 60 cookies, which is enough to make icebox cake a couple of times.

There you go! Enjoy.

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I’m having trouble —

Pressing ahead with this WIP.

a) Just keep going! It’ll be fine!

b) You’ve taken a wrong turn! Stop, back up, and re-assess your direction.

I kind of think it’s (b).* I think I’m in the wrong POV. But I also kind of think I need to switch POV’s sometime pretty soon in this story. If not now, when?

It’s a puzzler. I think the thing to do is take the dogs for a run and let the ms just sit there. (They think that’s a good idea, too.) (Heck, it’s almost 40 degrees, that almost counts as warm.) Alternately, maybe I need to go back to the top of the chapter and start again from the other possible POV, saving this version in a separate file. If the chapter starts to move much better, that’s a sign. Big, structural issues with the ms — like needing to pick up an absent POV — can be sorted out later, if necessary, as long as I’ve got words on the page.

* Update! Actually, it seems to have been (a). Moving on!**

** Okay, changed my mind and went for (b) after all. Yesterday: 3000 words. This morning, the same 3000 words. Sigh. Indecisiveness is a curse.

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Yay! A review of a great book no one knows about!

Ever read anything by Margaret Mahy?

No? *

Not surprised! Who has time to read anything published way back in 1985 when there are so many books from this very decade you haven’t caught up with?

I discovered Mahy as an adult, and here is the Book Smugglers’ Ana with her review of one of my favorites: The Catalogue of The Universe.

*Oh, wait, the answer was Yes? Well, great! I bet you’ll enjoy reading this great review of an excellent older book as much as I did.

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Ever heard of Emoticows?

This made me smile.

But what the post — at omnivoracious, by Susan Morris — is really about, is using body language to deepen the emotional impact of your story.

I like the specific mention of nonhuman body language. Morris mentions “How to Train Your Dragon” for that, which is fair enough; let me just add that a good example for nonhuman body language shown with words rather than pictures is (of course) Martha Wells’ Raksura trilogy.

Morris also provides a list of zillions of phrases you can use to express body language. Not sure I like that part — does that make using body language in your novel seem too mechanical? Because I think that might be the effect of overthinking this issue. Which I think might happen, with this kind of list.

But it’s still fun to read.

And I’m still smiling over the Emoticows.

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Please take a note —

When someone has something going on? And the outcome might be good, or might be bad? The WORST thing to say is any version of “I’m sure it will be fine.”

I never knew that before! But I am so nervous about Kenya’s pregnancy that whenever I say anything like, “If everything goes well and she has these puppies on schedule, I’ll be taking off work from here to there,” I just HATE it when I get a response like the above. HATE it.

I’m all like: “Oh, must be nice to be so sure! Last time she lost all but one puppy and it was a disaster, and in fact nine out of the previous twelve litters have been moderately to completely disastrous, but hey, YOU’RE sure everything will be fine!”

The take home message for me is: next time I find out someone is having a biopsy, or is starting chemo, or their pet is sick, or WHATEVER — I will say something on the order of, “Good luck! I sure hope things work out for you!” and nothing at all like “I’m sure things will be fine.”

Incidentally, I’m thinking of arranging another ultrasound — just to SEE whether things still look okay in there. Maybe an ultrasound every week. It’s to the point where it’s worth hundreds of dollars to me just to try for peace of mind.

She’s due on the 21st, btw. So, no later than the 22nd, one way or the other, THIS uncertainty will be over. Even if I wind up working my tail off to save a weak puppy. At least I will KNOW.

Okay! Done with obsessing, for now.

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Something to remember if you’re writing a post apocalyptic novel —

Just happened across this post from FuturePundit.

You know, I’m embarrassed to admit that it never occurred to me that bicycles are indeed a definite good thing that would keep working if a supervolcano erupted / the moon suddenly moved much closer to the Earth / 95% of everybody suddenly died / the physical laws of the universe changed to prohibit the use of high technology.

Even in Stirling’s universe (that’s the one where the laws of nature change to prevent internal combustion engines from working and stuff) . . . he puts so much thought into things, but I don’t think anybody thought of bicycles? Did they? At least not in the first book, I think? I honestly don’t remember bicycles appearing at all in that book. In one of the ISLANDS IN THE SEA OF TIME, yes, but not in the other series, where bicycles would have been lying around for anybody to take.

In the abstract, I’d much rather have a horse than a bicycle because hey, horses are way cooler than any bicycle. In the real world, I am enough bothered by arthritis not to be able to use stirrups for any length of time, and anybody can see that a bicycle is easier to feed and care for.

You know another thing about post-apocalyptic novels which sometimes is a problem for me? And here I am thinking of LIFE AS WE KNEW IT? Which is quite a good book, btw, don’t want to imply otherwise; Pfeffer did a great job with the protagonist’s voice and the story.

But WHY does no one in this rural community think, as they are starving to death, about hunting? The deer would hardly have disappeared THAT fast; you should go hunting the moment the idea of food shortages drifts across your mind.

And fishing! We go skating on the pond, but not a single person ever thinks: Hey, you know, FISH live in ponds! Not ever.

I’m sure Pfeffer must be a city girl. Don’t you think? I can hardly imagine how anybody from the country could miss these obvious food sources.

Good book though! But the next time I read a post-apocalyptic novel, I will probably be saying, But where are the bicycles?

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