Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent reading

So, yeah, kinda decided to take a week off and read books instead of write ’em. I think this weekend, when I’ll be home and not traveling, will be a great time to do the final revision of my WIP. I can just start at the top and go straight through fast and I think that will be a good thing. Plus, it means I have an excuse to stop for a week! And read books! By other people!

So I re-read TROUBLED WATERS by Shinn because I wanted a nice comfortable book. Yep, I still love that book!

Then I finally (FINALLY) read a book by Sarah Rees Brennen, whom I know some of you really love, so her book THE DEMON’S LEXICON had been filtering up toward the top of the TBR pile for a while.

I really enjoyed it! I’m sure that’s not a surprise. Have you all read it? I loved the first paragraph:

“The pipe under the sink was leaking again. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Nick kept his favorite sword under the sink.”

Okay, I’m hooked — that’s a great couple of sentences. This is excellent book to think about “starting with action,” in a good way. Also, the dialogue is so snappy and clever. I really admire a writer with a gift for dialogue.

I loved the protagonist. Nick is so interesting! He is an emotional cripple, and of course with his personal history you can see why. Or you think you can. And then you turn out to be wrong. Did anybody see that coming, the thing about Nick? I admit I did not, although Brennen certainly plays fair and you can see she dropped plenty of clues. I hope my saying this is not going to spoil the surprise for anybody who hasn’t read this book. I am trying not to give the important twist at the end away.

I loved all four main characters — I loved Mae and Jamie, I loved Alan and Nick. I really enjoyed have the older and younger brothers both take on the role of protector, in different ways and for different reasons. What a tough job Alan’s had all these years! But then, what a tough job Nick’s had all these years, too. I really feel for them both. Brennen did such clever things with relationships all the way through this book. All the relationships not only feel real, they are genuinely touching. I really appreciated the ending.

Particularly because I also just read a short story collection by Ted Chiang called STORIES OF YOUR LIFE, and frankly a story with an ending like “Hell is the Absence of God” should come with a warning label. (The stories are all very good, though — I would read more short stories if they were all as good as this. Unless they often had endings like “Hell is the Absence of God.” Then, not so much.

Anyway, back to Brennen! I’ve got the second book on my TBR pile and I plan to start it tonight. I just ordered the third one, so I expect it to arrive Friday — just in time for me to read it before starting the final (well, final for now) revision of my own book.

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Non-fairy-tale retellings —

A post by Leah Cypess here. Cypess wrote MISTWOOD, which I’ve sort of meant to pick up because I’ve heard good things about it, but I must admit I haven’t read it yet. (Has anybody else? I’d be interested in your opinions.)

I definitely enjoy retellings, fairy tale or otherwise, and in fact I’m pretty likely to go read the original classic in order to properly enjoy a retold tale. Here’s one Leah didn’t mention, probably because it’s not new:

Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn is a Jane Eyre retelling. It’s very good! Amazingly true to the original, while being quite different in its details. I will never love Jane Eyre the way Shinn does, but I read it for the first time solely because I was going to read Jenna Starborn. Obviously I am a better person for reading the classics, so Shinn did me a favor by (finally!) making me read Jane Eyre.

Of the ones Leah Cypess mentions . . . I’m not sure I’m up for another Eyre interpretation, but wouldn’t the dystopian Persuasion be interesting?

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Excitement!

No actual writing type of work got done this weekend. But it wasn’t my fault! I was tired!

It was a show weekend — the second of, let’s see, eight this fall, I think. Last year I wasn’t showing, but this year I am. The points are good, there are many more majors available, and I would love to finish championships on some of my girls quick before the points are recalculated next May. My friend Deb is entering some of the same shows so we can boost the entry numbers and help each other at ringside. We each showed three girls at the previous show — it was MAD and we will never show that many again without lining up [A LOT] more help. In advance. There are all these exciting moments where you suddenly need to take three dogs in to compete for winners and you’re grabbing just anybody from ringside and handing them a leash and an armband and saying “Just keep her pointed in the right direction! Try to get her to look happy! You need to be second in the line! Run!”

And then off the bewildered dog goes, spinning in circles to keep her real owner in sight, wondering who this total stranger is who’s trying to feed her liver. This does not make a dog look her best! So, a little too exciting.

In general no one wants to hear the point system explained, so I won’t explain it, but! Kenya won her first major this past Saturday! Yay! Hurrah! Go Kenya! There were ten girls entered and all but one were quite nice and several were VERY nice and my Kenya won! (Someone else won on Sunday.)

This is Kenya’s first win photo; I haven’t got her current win photo yet but this one from last year will give you an idea:

This picture was at a small show and she only got one point. Saturday’s win was much more important! She is now for all intents and purposes halfway to her championship! Because you can pick up single points anywhere, but majors are not easy to come by.

Anyway, it’s not just a matter of showing up in time for your class. Even after bathing the girls on Friday, all morning Saturday AND Sunday was taken up by touching up feet and ears and tails and flattening coats and trying this volumizing cream on Kenya’s ears and that perfumed oil on Adora’s back (yes, really, it makes the ruby’s coat shiny, a very nice effect, not artificial looking at all). So what with one thing and another, I just didn’t even turn on the computer. But I felt bad about it!

Well, sort of bad about it. Actually, I was listening to SNUFF by Terry Pratchett while driving, and I must admit that this led me to re-read bits of NIGHT WATCH when I got home, and I was not very inclined to work on anything. And I really was too tired anyway.

I’m going to join Audible this week and download a lot of Pratchett’s books for the rest of the show season driving. Starting with the rest of the Sam Vimes ones. Almost makes me look forward to those long drives! There are lots I’ve never read because I’ve honestly been saving them for this exact purpose, and now with Audible I don’t think it will be too expensive.

So, anyway, the only part of the revision left is the hard part. I mean deciding whether there needs to be a touch more romance (yes) and putting it in; and deepening the character arcs and all that sort of thing. So you see why I am not keen on doing it while in a partial coma. I would LIKE to put it off till this weekend, when I will actually be home because I’m not showing this weekend, and I can do one marathon session and get done with it. But I may tackle it tonight if I feel too guilty to take a whole week off.

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A good idea whose time has come . . . and gone

I’m leaning toward declaring my support for this idea — the idea that it would be better if physical bookstores didn’t have subsections for different fiction genres, but just shelved all fiction alphabetically by author.

It won’t happen, of course, but what if it did? Sure, you’d spend more time browsing past romances / horror / literary fiction / and more romances while you looked for the fantasy novel you want, but

a) time browsing in a bookstore is certainly not wasted;

b) discovering that stuff outside your genre sometimes looks appealing might well broaden everybody’s reading experience;

c) it would sure discourage treating literary fiction as a special elevated category of fiction.

All three of those effects look like features rather than bugs to me.

On the other hand, how long are physical bookstores going to be important, anyway? And would anybody at all find it helpful or pleasant to “browse” online? I don’t see how. I even think the categories at Amazon are almost 100% useless — DOES anybody ever just browse through the no doubt infinite offerings under “fantasy books”? Surely not. Surely everyone searches strictly by author?

“Browsing” for me means looking through the SFBC mailing to see what’s out and reading blogs to see what’s good, and that sure limits my view of what’s out there. The only things that generally expand my horizons as a reader is getting sold on a book outside my normal range by a fantastic review on a book review blog, or getting hooked by a well-written hook on the SFBC mailing.

Of course, I can’t really browse in a physical store because the nearest said store is an 80 mile trip, one way. I do miss browsing sometimes! One of the very few disadvantages to living in the country.

How and where do you all browse? Or notice books usually outside your range?

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Recent writing —

Just in case you’re wondering.

The first cut? That took the book down to 116,000 words, still very high, but way less than the 146,000 I started with. I’ve never cut whole chapters before. Wow. There they go: chapters five and six in their entirety. That was an odd feeling. I saved ’em in case later I want to go back and see what was in there and if anything should come back.

Now I’m plugging holes. I had several places toward the end where it just said in bold AND THEN SOMEONE DOES SOMETHING and then I went on. Time to figure out what happened there! Actually, I have now figured this stuff out, so it’s just a matter of writing the necessary scenes. I’m altering part of Ch 19, taking out one minor character and putting in a different one and sorting out the main character’s flow of action. This is not too painful. Writing new material is always easier than revising stuff.

Later this week, I’ll look at my notes (I have 23 brief notes) and fix continuity issues; also, very important, I need to put in something of a romance subplot, even it’s going to be minor, and deepen character arcs for both main characters.

I expect to wind up with something like 120,000 words. Rather than cutting again at that point, if I can only get to the point where I think the character arcs work, I think that’ll be the time to send the ms off to my agent and get her input.

All this is slowed down because a) I admit I’m not very keen on revision, and b)the fall show season has started and I’m showing most weekends. Kenya got reserve winners this past Saturday and again Sunday, and while it is better for your ego to get second place than nothing, it would be BETTER TO WIN. Oh, well. Every weekend is a new show! (Two or three new shows, actually, since each day is a separate event.) Wish me luck! I will be listening to lots of audiobooks as I drive to shows! Currently I’m 3/4 of the way through SNUFF by Terry Pratchett.

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By Popular Request!

Okay, one request, but sometimes that’s plenty!

Here’s my list of animal behavior books written for a popular and semi-popular audience. This list is biased toward books published some time ago; remember I got them all or almost all back when I was in grad school.

Innocent Killers, by Hugo van Lawick and Jane Goodall. It focuses on Cape Hunting Dogs, golden jackals, and spotted hyenas (one of the VERY FEW mammal species where females are dominant, and a GREAT species to think about when designing a new species for your SFF novel!).

Here Am I — Where Are You, by Konrad Lorenz, one of the founders of ethology. It focuses on graylag geese, which have this really great system of very intense male-male friendships, very interesting.

Mongoose Watch, by Anne Rasa — dwarf mongoose, another species where females are dominant to males; a very interesting, highly social species.

Elephant Memories, by Cynthia Moss — African elephants, and really outstanding.

Portraits in the Wild, by Cynthia Moss — well-presented, accurate brief observations about lots of the large East African mammals.

The Man Who Listens to Horses, by Monty Roberts is really interesting and engaging and also gives a nice picture of wild horse behavior as well as training methods based on natural horse behavior.

Almost Human, by Shirley Strub — savannah baboons. Stupid title, but the book is good.

Baboon Mothers and Infants, by Jeanne Altmann — savannah baboons

Primate Societies, by Smuts et al — prosimians, tamarins and marmosets (another female-dominant species), New World monkeys, colobines (the forest leaf-eating monkeys and langurs), cercopithecines (the macaques and so forth), baboons, gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimps, bonobos.

Peacemaking Among Primates, by Franz de Waal — and lots of other titles; highly, highly recommended for chimps, bonobos, gorillas particularly. de Waal is a wonderful writer.

Wolf: The ecology and behavior of an endangered species, by L David Mech

The Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson, for how dog’s are really wired psychologically

The Emotional Lives of Animals by Beckhoff and Goodall, because that’s a great book on a really neglected aspect of behavior.

Dolphin Societies by Karen Pryor and Kenneth Norris

Cetacean Societies by Mann et al, for bottlenose dolphins, sperm whales, killer whales, and humpback whales, and let me just mention here that I just got this one, that I’ve been reading it this week, and that killer whale behavior is SO WEIRD. You know what? In some populations, both male and female offspring stay with their mother for their whole lives! Which is called male-female philopatry, in case you’re interested. You know how many other mammal species do that? Right: zero. This never happens! Figuring out what ecological factors encourage and allow this unique system in killer whales is the sort of thing that can really add depth to your own SFF species and world. Also, you won’t believe the parallels between common chimps and bottlenose dolphins, and between sperm whales and African elephants. Why do we see such convergent behavior? Again, because of ecological factors which are more similar than first appears.

And if you want to have a female-dominant species? Well, take a look at what creates that system in spotted hyenas, dwarf mongooses, and tamarins, and you’ll have a much better chance of designing a species where that system makes since.

Remember all the time that behavior depends on ecological pressures and that you can’t have a female-dominant species unless ecological factors are pushing behavior that way.

Enjoy!

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Here’s something keen —

Something I regret about the pre-Worldcon thing is that I never took the time to look at samples of art for the artists up for the Hugo.

So I appreciate this link, which gives a retrospective for all the artist Hugo winners through history.

Naturally I really really REALLY love Michael Whelan, who was doing lots of cover art during the era where I paid a whole lot more attention to artists. Thirteen Hugos, wow! Didn’t he withdraw his name from consideration eventually, to let others have a turn? So a classy guy as well as a fabulous artist. His Little Fuzzy covers . . . and the ones he did for Cherryh’s Chanur books . . . and his covers for the Pern books? Absolutely definitive.

A lot of great artists at the link, though, well worth scanning through the whole list.

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Recent “reading”

Actually listening. I just finished (finally) an audiobook I was listening to on the drive to Chicago and back — ONE OF OUR THURSDAYS IS MISSING by Fford.

I have to mention this, because it may be the cleverest book I ever read and I hereby declare you all must go read it.

The main character is the “written Thursday”, who is the protagonist in the books about the “real Thursday” (who was introduced in Fford’s first book, THE EYRE AFFAIR, which involves somebody kidnapping Jane Eyre from her book and holding her hostage, in an alternate world where people take their literature VERY seriously. Did you follow all that?)

So, the written Thursday lives, obviously, in the Book World, which contains all the settings and characters ever written. I just don’t know how to describe the Book World. I mean, there are islands for speculative fiction and racy novels and so on, in a sea of phonemes.

There’s quite a bit of interplay between the real world and the Book World. The real Thursday vanished when visiting the Book World, and now the written Thursday is trying to track her down while all kinds of things complicate matters.

At one point the written Thursday visits the real world, and that part may have some of my favorite touches, as for example Thursday is so amazed by visual detail because in the book world only important things are clearly seen, with washes of indistinct magenta between.

Just all kinds of extremely clever details, far too many to even begin to mention, plus this beautiful touch right at the end where we finally find out where the real Thursday is (it makes so much sense! And is so funny!).

So, anyway, if you see a copy sitting around, grab it! You totally do not need to read the earlier ones in the series, go right ahead and start with this one, it stands alone perfectly.

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I see my TBR pile expanding . . .

What with the fall releases that are about to hit the shelves.

I thought of this because of this:

Although the only one on this list I’d add to mine is THE DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT by Lani Taylor. I haven’t actually read the first book of this series — DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE — yet, so this is not on the very top of my must-have list. But I’ve heard so much about DAUGHTER that I’m pretty sure I’m going to need the second book, too.

Now, mind you, I like Into The Hall Of Books well enough to look up any of her most-anticipated list; maybe I’ll decide to try them, too. Because, hey, when your TBR pile falls below fifty, maybe it’s time to stock up on new titles, right?

Anyway, I then saw a similar list here., at Love Is Not A Triangle, which may be my favorite book-blog title EVER. I am not nearly so into romance — this probably doesn’t surprise you — and definitely appreciate a blog that rates books on “triangleness”, because I am not very keen on Teenage Angst and Love Triangles and all that.

And on this list? Look! THE RAVEN BOYS by Stiefvater! Now THAT is definitely on the very top of my must-have-it list, because THE SCORPIO RACES was one of my favorite books of the year. And I hadn’t known about it till I saw it here.

What else is on my Fall Must-Buy list?

CROWN OF EMBERS by Rae Carson, because I really loved GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS

Lois McMaster Bujold’s new one, whatever that’s called.

THE BLINDING KNIFE by Brent Weeks, because I really enjoyed the first one in the series.

The third one in Martha Wells’ THE CLOUD ROADS trilogy.

And I’d love a bunch of titles that have already been released, but that I’ve been putting off buying. But these are the ones that are actually due out shortly that I MUST HAVE.

What’s on your Fall Must Have list?

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