Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Reading: Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All

So, this is a historical novel by Laura Ruby, set during WWII, but we see the war itself only from a distance. What we’re really doing in this one is following two protagonists. The first is a girl growing up in an orphanage in Chicago . . .

The first time they took Frankie to the orphanage, she couldn’t speak English, only Italian. “Voglio mio padre! Voglio mio padre!” That’s what she said, over and over and over.

At least, that’s what the nuns told her she said. She couldn’t remember any of it.

So, this is a third-person narrative, right?

No! It’s a first-person narrative, by the other protagonist.

Frankie punched the pillow as if her restlessness was all its fault and fell back onto the bed, fell asleep. The shadows lengthened, shifted, creeping over the floors, the furniture. Mice scratched in the walls. A fox cried in the distance, or maybe it was a wolf. In and out, the sisters breathed in unison, agreeing for once. And yet the papery whispers wafted through Frankie’s dreams. Sono qui. Io sono qui per te, Francesca. I am here. I am here for you.

Of course it wasn’t her mother’s voice she heard. It was mine.

Because the dead never sleep, you see. We have so many other things to do.

This is Pearl, who died in the great flu epidemic of 1918. Or did she? Her memory is unreliable. Frankie’s memory is also unreliable. Everyone’s memory is unreliable; everyone’s life is built on a foundation of sand that shifts and slides beneath them. We’re told that right up front: At least, that’s what the nuns told her she said. She couldn’t remember any of it. Despite this warning, the reader is unlikely to guess up front just how little everyone knows about the past; just how fundamentally everyone’s understanding changes over the course of the story. Except I’m telling you, I suppose, so now you know about that. I hope that’s all right. It’s impossible to discuss this story without laying out its fundamental quality of unreliability and seismic shifts of understanding.

What the reader sees up front, revealed in the first chapter, is that this is not a third-person narrative, but a first-person narrative by an omniscient narrator who dips in and out of everyone’s thoughts and memories. The transition from apparent third-person to actual first-person-omniscient is so good. Laura Ruby is such a masterful storyteller. If you’re interested in the craft of writing, then you should certainly read at least the first part of this novel and see how she builds the reader’s expectation that this is one kind of story and then tips the reader sideways into a different kind of story.

If you’re interested in the daily small-scale lives of people living through the 1940s, then you should try this novel for that reason. If you enjoy ghost stories, then this is a good one. The ghosts are handled beautifully in this novel. A lot of them just continually act out the moment of their deaths, or at least exhibit signs of their deaths. Others are more free to act as they wish, get involved with other things. Or are they? Whether living or dead, the past never goes away, it seems, even if we forget about the actual events we lived through. This is a story about that.

It’s also a story about girls – girls who long to live their own lives but are continually beaten down by the world around them. Boys do not have a great time either – hardly – we see several boys who go off to the war, and some of them don’t come home, or come home wounded. But the points of view through which the reader sees the world are those of girls, growing up and living in the uncertain and circumscribed world of the 1940s.

That orphanage is grim; the family that left Frankie and her sister Toni there is grim in a different way – except for older brother Vito, whom we see only through his letters to Frankie. The wider world is grim in yet another way. This story would be practically unreadable except for three things. The first is the first chapter of the story, which is essentially the epilogue, presented first, so that the reader can be sure Frankie and her sister wind up on a relatively okay place, ready to build better lives for themselves. The second is the resilience of the girls, both living and dead. The third is the bright, blazing joy of a ghost who finally resolves the lingering trauma of her death and ascends to heaven. That moment holds out the possibility of joy for everyone, including both narrators. Pearl, no less than Frankie, ends the story in a much improved position as she comes to understand what really happened to her. The reader is given a way to see a path for Pearl’s death to become kinder than could be while she was lost in a blank confusion of forgetfulness, even though she doesn’t (yet) ascend to heaven herself.

Thirteen Doorways is also a novel closely based on the actual events of the author’s mother-in-law, Frances Ponzo Metro, who lived from 1927 to 2018. The author’s note about that certainly adds depth. I almost wish Laura Ruby had put that in the front of the book, and yet if she had, I would have skipped it to read the actual novel, so I guess not. However, it’s there, and if you try this book, you might like to read the author’s note first. It ends, “Every word is fiction. And every word is true.” That’s something that can be said about many novels – the ones with depth. You may recall the recent posts here about one-dimensional versus complex characters. The characters here are complex. I’m going to think about that and write a post about complexity in characterization, but the heart of it is that the characters seem like real people. These do – both Frankie, who is based closely on a real person; and Pearl, who as far as I know emerged fully formed from Laura Ruby’s imagination.

I’ll leave you with the epigraph of this novel because I like it a lot and it certainly suits the story:

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.” – George Eliot, Janet’s Repentance.

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Spring break —

Last week was spring break; sorry about not posting and also not mentioning why there was a lack of posting, but I have absolutely no ability to connect to the internet from home because my new laptop is extraordinarily annoying.

This week, posting will resume, but wow, what a fantastic semester to be asked to teach a class, now I get to learn how to convert everything to online only. It’s especially annoying because we are finally finished with the boring part of General Biology and were just about to begin the interesting part of the class. I enjoy classroom interaction. Very provoking, though I guess the decision to go online-only for the rest of the semester was probably reasonable. In a few weeks, I hope we conclude that it was not necessary.

I hope you all are staying well, here at the tag end of winter!

Update: Wow, it is incredibly tedious to take a perfectly good quiz or test you’ve written in Word and enter it, one question and answer at a time, into the mandated online test builder.

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

Well-developed characters are great, but –

So, recently I was thinking about “one-dimensional” characters versus “well-rounded,” “complex,” “well-developed” characters, and how the former are treated as Bad and the latter treated as Good.

From time to time this presumed dichotomy leads to some slightly odd outcomes if you read book reviews, as quite a lot of reviewers will read a book they like and write a review in which they refer to the characters as well-rounded or complex or whatever, even if the characters are no such thing. This happens because the reviewer assumes that Good Characters Must Be Well Rounded, so if they like the characters, then those characters obviously are well rounded. Conversely, reviewers who hate that same book may (correctly) declare that the characters are one dimensional, without realizing that in that particular story, well-rounded characters are not the point and would actually not suit the story that’s being told.

I’m not sure this can be clear without using specific examples, so here we go.

1. As you know, recently I read and enjoyed Cry Pilot by Joel Dane. I said in my review that many of the characters are one-dimensional, which they are. That was not intended as a complaint.

Here are some relevant comments from Amazon reviews:

From reviewer Alan Blank, who gave the book three stars: “Maseo Kaytu is arguably well fleshed out by the book’s end, but the majority of the remaining characters are bit too thin, and frankly almost stock characters from old war movies or other books in this sub-genre.”

and, conversely

From reviewer Dave Walker, who gave the book five stars: “Very well written with a tight plot and incredible character development.”

Alan Blank is, in my opinion, correct. But these characters feel satisfying to the majority of readers . . . let me see, 91% four or five star reviews at the moment . . . because the characters fit the story.

The characters ARE one-dimensional. They do not, however, read as though they are flat as long as the reader enjoys the plotting and worldbuilding elements and finds Kaytu himself engaging. Three elements make the use of one-dimensional secondary characters appropriate and useful:

First, Maseo Kaytu is the focal character. This is a strict first-person narrative. The reader is supposed to focus on Kaytu, who has been given certain very strong character traits. He is not himself a complicated character either. Instead, he is a strong character. He has a smallish number of driving motivations that are extremely powerful and sometimes in conflict, and which he often but not always understands himself. For example, Kaytu’s most central characteristic is loyalty to the group. He’ll sacrifice himself for the group and for individuals within the group; he won’t sacrifice the group for some abstract mission objective. That’s what makes him engaging and sympathetic to the reader, who might not be all that keen on reading about a sociopath (I know I wouldn’t be). He knows this about himself and – setting up tension – considers it a weakness to overcome, not a virtue. Kaytu serves as a great protagonist because he’s introspective enough to make a good first-person narrator, but not broadly informed or extremely intelligent, and definitely not objective enough that he’s capable of figuring everything out, so by using his perspective, the author keeps the reader guessing. But the important thing here is that he is not complex; he is instead effectively drawn in broad strokes.

Second, there are a lot of other characters in this story, most of whom are not important or at least are certainly not supposed to draw attention away from Kaytu (except Ting, to an extent). The reader might have trouble telling the large cast of secondary characters apart if they didn’t each have some clear, defining characteristic, so the author gives each of them one such characteristic and leaves it at that. Then he puts more emphasis on the interaction among the characters and particularly on how Kaytu perceives them and reacts to them, which keeps the focus on the protagonist. Something interesting happens as the group goes through training: they become supportive of the weaker members of the group, and in my opinion, Kaytu himself is at the heart of that interaction. He is completely focused on getting the team to succeed as a team; he’s the one who would naturally, even instinctively, focus on hauling the weaker members of the team through tough situations. I strongly suspect the group would not have clicked together as it did without him.

Third, this story is world-driven and plot-driven more than character-driven. I’m mostly a character reader, sure, but I like world development too, and I care about writing style. Cry Pilot has characters who are clearly delineated and who don’t need to be deeply complex in order to carry the plot and show off the world. Handing Kaytu deep motivations and everyone else identifiable characteristics works well for this story. Insisting on adding complexity to all the characters wouldn’t improve this story.

To nail down this point, let me mention a handful of other good stories – many of them great stories – that you may be familiar with, which also feature simple, clear characters that are not complex or well-rounded.

1. The Lord of the Rings. This is a venue novel that is showing off the world, and it’s plot-driven, or you could say theme-driven. The characters are simple. Not a single character is complex, except maybe Faramir. This is not a weakness of the story. It’s just a feature of the story, one that appeals to some readers and doesn’t appeal to other readers, but either way a feature that suits the story being told.

2. Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell. This duology is the one that first prompted me to declare that good characters may be one-dimensional and that sometimes this is exactly right for the story. Ah, I will add that these are very intense novels, and include possibly the worst situation I’ve ever seen in a fantasy or SF novel, so don’t pick them up lightly. Also, no, the biology is not plausible.

3. The fantastic Illumini trilogy by Kaufman and Kristoff. These fast-paced, witty, highly entertaining novels are crammed with excitement. Character development is neither present nor needed in these action-packed, plot-driven stories. The characters are mostly simple and one-dimensional. I can think of one exception. At the moment, I can only think of the one exception even though the cast is huge.

4. The Martian by Andy Weir is a fantastic story that has essentially no character development from front to back; and in fact if Weir had tried to develop his protagonist, that would have detracted from the world-driven, plot-driven, science-first story. Watching someone have a nervous breakdown because of isolation and stress was emphatically not the point, so it didn’t happen – it was never even hinted at. If it had, the novel would have been entirely different and (for me) a lot less appealing. Instead of character development, we got lots of sciency lectures. Great novel. Good movie too.

Now, let’s take one example of the reverse situation: a story that gives enormous attention to the development of complex characters. I’ll just use the first story of this kind that comes to mind, which happens to be the Eternal Sky trilogy by Elizabeth Bear.

Now, in this fabulous trilogy, there are so many pov characters who are fascinating, complex, thoroughly developed and so on that I wound up almost frustrated because I wanted a whole story just with that character. This was especially true with Yangchen, the queen who betrayed her country and then tried so hard to redeem that mistake. This is a trilogy for the character reader who also likes worldbuilding and, of course, lush prose, but wow, the whole story would have been entirely different with simpler characters.

I doubt that in this case too many reviewers complained about one-dimensional characters. You know what they’re going to complain about instead?

a) It’s too slow.

b) It’s too complicated.

c) Two many pov characters, switches from one to the next too frequently.

Let me just look now at Amazon reviews — I’m looking just at three-star reviews. And what do I find?

Scott Wozniak, “This story is way too slow. It was literally 1/3 of the book before any of the protagonists decided to take strong action–around 112 pages of 334. It’s hard to like characters that are walking with no plan (Temur) or waiting to see if they have magic power (Samarkar).”

Melanie D Typaldos, “For me, there were too many characters and their names were too weird, with some of the names being very similar. Plus she switches POV frequently. I find all of that confusing.”

Exactly.

It’s a tradeoff — an unavoidable tradeoff — and it’s why there are different ways to tell stories and they work for different reasons and please different readers.

One reviewer does complain even regarding the Eternal Sky trilogy — a story I picked to typify complex characters — that the characters are flat. This is, I think, an example of the phenomenon I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I suspect this reviewer disliked the characters and therefore concluded they must be flat, rather than actually responding to flatness as such. If asked, “Why did you find the characters flat?” I think probably this reviewer would wind up explaining why they disliked the characters or found them unbelievable, which would not involve lack of complexity.

Dimensions along which we can view characters without requiring a value judgment about how well-drawn or well-written the characters may be:

Simple …. Complex

Unpleasant …. Sympathetic

Dimensions which necessarily include a value judgment about the writing:

Unbelievable …. Believable

Boring …. Interesting

When writing reviews — or for that matter, thinking about whether a book or a character did or did not work for me — something I try to do is separate whether I liked the character personally from whether the character is suited to the story and well-drawn.

For me, characters that work have to be sympathetic and interesting, but do not necessarily need to be believable. Simple or complexity of the character, or development of the character through the course of the story, doesn’t necessarily matter to me. That’s why I can very much enjoy stories with zero character development like The Martian and also stories where the character development is central, as with Yangchen in The Eternal Sky trilogy.


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Recent reading: The Wind Off the Small Isles by Mary Stewart

I used to be a big Mary Stewart fan, though I haven’t re-read anything of hers very recently. (Or hadn’t until this past week.) As you may know, Mary Stewart wrote about 14 romances, kind of mystery-thriller-romances, as well as the Merlin quadrilogy and a couple of associated novels in that world plus three YA stories. But then lately I realized there were two novellas of hers I’d never read of hers, collected in a book called The Wind Off the Small Isles. Great! I said, and added that to my wishlist. Whereupon it appeared, not very much later by my standards, on my Kindle.

The book has a foreword by Jennifer Ogden, Mary Stewart’s niece, who refers to the “extraordinary descriptive power of her writing.” That’s so true. I don’t think I noticed that consciously when I first read her books ages ago, and then eventually what I noticed most clearly was the rather dated helplessness of her female protagonists, always needing to be rescued by the male love interest. Of course Mary Stewart was writing quite a few decades ago, in the fifties and sixties, so okay, whatever. But wow, now that I come back to Stewart’s work, the extraordinary descriptive power of her writing just leaps off the page. Evidently she always visited whatever setting she had in mind, which considering the many different settings she used in her novels means she was quite the adventurous traveler. “The Wind Off the Small Isles” is set on one of the Canary Islands, Lanzarote. Here’s our protagonist’s first sight of that island:

The island was every bit as wild and barren as I had imagined. The roads stretched, pitted and dusty, between ridges of black basaltic lava. The only tree was an occasional palm, the only hills the symmetrical cones of dead volcanoes, or, to the south, the great burnt ridges of the Fire Mountains, with the frozen black floods of lava filling the valleys between them. There was no grass. There were no woods. The villages were pure African – square flat-roofed houses painted white and ochre, set flat like little boxes on the baked earth. Above them, where one looked for minarets, the towers of the Spanish churches looked incongruous and foreign.

Strange and exciting, you would have thought, rather than beautiful. “Paradise” – no, never. But then it got you. You stopped the car on some deserted track they called a road and got out into the silent afternoon, the thick dust muffling even the sound of your footsteps. You stood looking at the long yellow fields, with their pattern of growing corn like ribbed velvet, the soot-black slopes honey-combed with pits each enclosing a fig tree in brilliant green bud, the burning range of volcanic mountains shouldering up in great sweeps of red against the dazzling sky . . . all of these made a tranquil and somehow intensely satisfying pattern of shape and colour in the pure air. It was beauty more than naked; beauty pared to the bone.

Now, I’ve been on recent volcanic islands and I don’t find them beautiful. Not when they’re this new. I’m thinking specifically of the newest tiny volcanic island that’s part of, or next to, Santorini in Greece. Bare and black, with nothing growing but an occasional twist of grass whose seed was unlucky enough to land on this inhospitable island, and extraordinarily hardy yellow-flowering plants of some sort. I don’t believe Lanzarote would be on my list of the top 100 places to visit, or honestly even the top 1000 places. But if I did plan to visit that island, I’d re-read this story to get in the proper mood to appreciate it and I’d be thinking “tranquil and somehow intense satisfying” as I stepped off the boat and looked around.

Here, according to Wikipedia, is the sort of scenery I might see:

Peaceful is one word, I guess. Also barren. However, fine, let’s say that you respond as did the protagonist of this novella and go with serene.

The story itself is, how shall I put this . . . okay, it is not quite too contrived, although it’s a near thing! The protagonist, Perdita, is the companion and aide to a successful novelist, so that part sounds as though Mary Stewart was using herself and her niece Jennifer Ogden as the starting point for the main characters. Then we move on to volcanoes and shipwrecks and caves – complete with cave-ins –wrapped up in a package with a good handful of startling coincidences. Beautifully told, though, with the most amazing description, and engaging enough to draw the reader along through the startling events, implausibly coincidental or not.

The other novella included in the book is “The Lost One,” a title I don’t understand as being lost is not really an important element in the story. The protagonist is again named Perdita, but other than the name there’s no connection to the protagonist of “The Wind Off the Small Isles” and I think it’s better to think of them as two different people and not look for any evidence otherwise, since there isn’t any. Again, beautifully told, with the plus that there’s a very good dog involved. In this story, though, the protagonist IS SUCH AN IDIOT, driving the plot forward with her deeply, eye-rollingly stupid actions in at least two moments, arguably three. There’s a flaw that matters. Too bad, and it’s a shame that Mary Stewart didn’t have someone look over her shoulder while she wrote this novella so they could say, “What, really?” at opportune moments. I do think it’s nearly always possible to come up with a decent justification for almost anything you want your protagonist to do without resorting to “Well, she’s a blithering idiot.”

That flaw notwithstanding, reading these novellas did put me in the mood to revisit Stewart’s other mysteries, so I borrowed my mother’s ancient copies of some of those. Probably the best of Mary Stewart’s novels – other than the Merlin quadrilogy, which is definitive in that subgenre imo – is Nine Coaches Waiting. However, the one I picked up was This Rough Magic, which I remembered almost nothing about, so it was nearly like reading it for the first time. It’s set in Corfu, and this time I was primed to specifically notice the description.

The bay was small and sheltered, a sickle of pure white sand holding back the aquamarine sea and held in its turn by the towering backdrop of cliff and pine and golden-green trees. My path led me steeply down past a knot of young oaks, straight on to the sand. . . . The bay was deserted and very quiet. To either side of it the wooded promontories thrust out into the calm, glittering water. Beyond them the sea deepened through peacock shades to a rich, dark blue, where the mountains of Epirus floated in the clear distance, less substantial than a bank of mist. The far snows of Albania seemed to drift like cloud.

As a plus, the protagonist of this novel is not stupid. She gets into trouble for other reasons, quite a bit more believably and excusably. She even rescues herself, or very nearly, when it counts most. Lovely description, smooth writing throughout, plenty of charm, no reason a modern reader wouldn’t enjoy this novel. Plenty of Shakespeare references, too – Mary Stewart slipped a strong undercurrent of The Tempest into her story. I liked it a lot, again, and I expect I’ll go on re-reading Mary Stewart for a bit now that I’m in the mood, though probably not exclusively.

Have any of you read these romances? If not, how about the Merlin quadrilogy? If I were ranking all Arthurian retellings, which maybe I should do, Sterwart’s would be right at the top. She even made the tragic ending tolerable, largely by treating Mordred as a sympathetic character and also by the way she handled Merlin’s relationship with Nimue.

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Coronavirus

If you’re following the Corona pandemic at all — I am — then here’s a good post on that from Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex.

Like everything from Scott, it’s really long and somewhat difficult to excerpt, but I’ll give it a try:

The good news is that it’s pretty unlikely to kill young people. The bad news is that even young people seem to have severe cases that can land them in the hospital. …

Are these an overestimate? Maybe most cases never come to the government’s attention? There’s some evidence for this. …

There will probably be a peak of the epidemic when hospitals are overcrowded and there are no spare ventilators and you really don’t want to need medical care. If you can get past that, and catch it a year or two from now, there will be spare doctors and nurses to care for you and spare ventilators to support you if you need it. …

The best way to avoid infection is still to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face. Less good but cooler ways to avoid infection include putting copper tape over everything in your house (copper kills viruses on touch). For best results, use a combination of copper, iron, and silver tape to be protected from coronavirus, fae, and werewolves simultaneously. …

So far the government has bungled its coronavirus response pretty egregiously.

Reading through this section, Scott actually means the FDA and CDC are the bunglers. The section ends:

And here’s a more careful analysis of some of the laws around diagnostic testing and how they contributed to the current crisis. And by more careful, I mean it ends with “Bottom line: the FDA is going to kill us all”.

All this accords with what I’ve basically been seeing from the more rational, less sky-is-falling comments elsewhere. Except for the FDA killing us all part. Haven’t seen that before. This assessment is based on comments by former FDA director Scott Gottleib, so, well, that does make it an interesting opinion.

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The secret language of Vikings

Over at Kill Zone Blog, a post by Sue Coletta: The secret language of Vikings.

Old English was originally written in the runic alphabet, named futhark after the first six runes: f, u, th, a, r, and k. The alphabet consisted of 24 letters, 18 consonants, and 6 vowels. Futhark assigned a sound to each character. Runes could be written in both directions—right to left, left to right—and could also be inverted or upside down. The earliest runes consisted almost entirely of straight lines, arranged singly or in combinations of two or more. Later, runes became more complex. Some even resemble modern day letters of the English alphabet. …

For years researchers have tried to crack a runic code called Jötunvillur, a perplexing code found in some inscriptions. … Jötunvillur is just one of many different types of runes. This code works by exchanging the rune sign with the last sound in the rune’s name. … Problem is, numerous runes end in the same sound.

“It’s like solving a riddle,” Nordby said. “After a while I started to see a pattern in what appeared to be meaningless combinations of runes.”

Very neat! I had no idea.

Nordby says this also indicates whimsicality within the Viking Era and Middle Ages.

“People challenged one another with codes. It was a kind of competition in the art of rune making. This testifies to a playfulness with writing that we don’t see today.”

It’s a fun post about an obscure topic you, like me, may never have encountered before. Click through and read the whole thing if you have a minute.

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Fantasy Londons

Here’s a post by Deborah Hewitt at tor.com: Time-Hopping Across 5 Fantasy Londons

She mentions five fictional Londons, starting with the layered 1819 Londons of  A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: Grey London, with plenty of smoke and no magic; White London, a cruel city warped by magic and ruled by power-hungry dictators on marble thrones; Red London, where people and magic flourish together in harmony; and the legendary Black London, destroyed by its magic and closed off from the others. 

Well, I didn’t know that much about the setting before. That sounds really interesting and neat.

Five more Londons after that, ending with The Bone Season by Samantha Shannona — here the setting is a London-yet-to-come, set after the year 2059 and straddling a boundary between fantasy and SF, with both supernatural and high-tech elements. Interesting! 

All the choices on this list are interesting, though the only one I’m personally familar with is Neverwhere. There are probably — certainly — a lot more fantasy London settings Hewitt doesn’t mention. Let me see if I can add a handful more.

6) Un Lun Dun by China Mieville, a book I didn’t actually like and didn’t finish, though I can’t quite remember what the problem was.

7) Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan. Fantastic title, and a detailed, beautifully drawn fantasy London.

8) Stretching a point, but DWJ’s Chrestomanci books are set, if not actually in a fantasy London, then definitely adjacent to a fantasy London. Chrestomanci’s own house is so separate from the city that I’m not sure it counts, but what the heck, it occurred to me, so I’ll include it here.

9. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Suzanna Clarke. Obviously wide-ranging, but a significant part of the very long novel is set in London.

10. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers — a lot of that is set in London.

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Tagging the author

Here’s a post at The Bookseller: To tag or not to tag—when author feedback gets personal

The idea of directly confronting an author with negative feedback may seem ridiculous—but it’s exactly the subject of a debate raging in social media. Many will have stumbled across the Twitter thread started by American sci-fi author Elizabeth Bear last week, in which she described any author tagging as “rude”.  As with many controversial opinions on Twitter, this sparked immediate attention—was it wrong to tag authors in reviews at all?  Or just the negative ones? Do all authors hate being tagged? 

Here’s the Twitter thread.

I agree with what appears to be the majority opinion: it’s not nice to tag authors if your review is negative. It’s perfectly fine and in fact highly desirable to tag authors if your review is positive, if you happen to want to and wouldn’t mind engaging with the author.

Since readers can’t read author’s minds and have no way to intuit whether or not an author wants to be told that you loved their book, I would say it’s perfectly fair and reasonable to tag authors who have Twitter accounts. If they’re sooooo adamant that they don’t want to be tagged, then they can leave Twitter, which is, after all, a form of SOCIAL media.

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Once again struck by the ephemerality of life

So, my boss’s house was struck by lightning last night. The family was out and they’re all fine. The house burned to the ground, and the pets died in the fire.

This makes me want to leave work, go home, and pet all my dogs for the rest of the day.

It also puts my current problems in perspective.

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Just noting a sale —

Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown is $1.99 on Kindle today.
don’t have any idea how long that will last, but just fyi.

Which cover do you prefer? I think the top one is by far the best, but it’s the edition I have, so that may just be familiarity. I think the horse absolutely belongs on the cover, though, and for some reason he’s been removed on the later edition covers.

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