Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


Tips for writing a novel

Via the Passive Voice blog , Tips for Writing a Novel:

In order to finish your novel in a timely manner, you should set a goal of writing a thousand words per day. But these can’t just be any random words you think of, typed up in a list. I learned that the hard way….

Readers will often make a snap judgment about whether to read your book based on the first sentence. That’s a lot of pressure on the first sentence, which is why my novels always begin with the sentence “Oh, no, something went wrong at the book printers,’ and the first sentence of this book was erased—ah, well, here comes the rest of the novel, I guess.” That way, readers can’t know whether the first sentence would have been good or not, so they’re just forced to read the whole book!

The whole thing is hilarious, but the above paragraph is especially relevant since I just posted ten novel openings. I guess none of the authors of those novels had read the above advice.

What makes that paragraph, imo, is the “I guess” at the end of the fake first sentence.

Definitely click through and read the whole thing.

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Recentish Additions to the TBR Pile

First, let me mention that it’s spring break, so I’m at home, which is good, but the weather has been so bad lately that it was impossible to connect to the internet until today. Too overcast. However, I did manage it today, so here is a post I actually wrote two days ago:

Along with Gillian Bradshaw’s fantasy quadrilogy, I seem to have picked up a handful of sample and quite a few full books recently. Let’s take a look!

In this particular set, I specifically noticed the use of pronouns vs names in the opening. In my very strong opinion, it is almost (but not quite) impossible to pull off a really good opening sentence or paragraph while concealing the identity of the pov character and just saying “the man” or “he.” This nearly always a clumsy device for artificially inserting mystery into the opening scene, which would generally profit from clarity instead. This set of openings provides plenty of examples that illustrate this opinion, including one counterexample that I think works just fine with “he.” Now that I’ve drawn your attention to this feature of openings, see what you think.

I will add that many workshop entries use a “the man” or “the girl” type of opening, that this never works, and that my experience reading those entries may have made me both more sensitive to this kind of unnecessary mystery and less tolerant of it. But see what you think!

1. Mrs Brodie’s Academy, “The Way to a Gentleman’s Heart” by Theresa Romain.

“Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,” chanted Marianne Redfern as she kneaded dough for the next day’s bread. “Witch’s mummy, maw and gulf of the ravined salt-sea shark…” She trailed off when she noticed her assistant, Sally White, looking at her with some alarm. “Did you … are you making a new kind of bread, Mrs Redfern?”

Okay, that’s kind of amusing. I can’t say that I ever kneaded bread to the rhythms of Shakespeare, but why not?

2. Green Rider, by Kristen Britain

The granite was cold and rough against the gray-cloaked man’s palms. It was good, solid granite, from the bones of the earth itself. He traced barely perceptible seams between the huge blocks of the wall. It was the seams, he believed, that held the key. The key to the wall’s destruction.

Okay, well, that’s fine. My first response was positive: I like the way this sounds. My second response was less positive: I thought, good solid granite as opposed to what other kind? Possibly it isn’t useful to type opening sentences of a novel; it slows you down and permits you to ask that kind of question, rather than just turning the page to see what kind of wall this is and why the unnamed person wants to destroy it.

3. A Thousand Perfect Notes by CG Drews

What he wants most in the world is to cut off his own hands.

Wow. I’ll just stop there. I mean … wow. That is one potent first sentence. It’s going to be hard for any other novel opening on this list to top that one. Something might be catchier or more appealing, but I doubt any other book I’ve picked up recently is going to start with a more powerful sentence.

And thus we see that if a sentence has enough impact, I’m okay with “he” rather than a name in the first sentence.

4. A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare

When a girl trudged through the rain at midnight to knock at the Devil’s door the Devil should at least have the depravity – if not he decency – to answer.

Minerva gathered the edges of her cloak with one hand, weathering another cold, stinging blast of wind. She stared in desperation at the closed door, then pounded on it with the flat of her fist.

Catchy. I’ll add a sentence from the next page because it is so startling in context:

Of the three Highwood sisters, she was the only dark-haired one, the only bespectacled one, the only one who preferred sturdy lace-up boots to silk slippers, and the only one who cared one whit about the difference between sedimentary and metamorphic rocks.

Hah! Well, that reminds me why I decided to try this particular novel by Tessa Dare.

5. From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris

Lucius Quinctilius was not, by nature, a reflective man, so perhaps it was just as well that the Dictator’s men gave him little time to contemplate his fate.

The morning of his execution dawned cool and fair, and no one in the household but Quinctilius himself had the slightest inclination that anything was amiss. Even Quinctilius suffered only a mild prick of unease, no more troubling than a splinter. His tongue had overrun him during his last public speech, but as a few days passed and retribution did not fall on his head, he convinced himself that his lapse had been overlooked.

This is a prologue, and sure enough in another page or two, Lucius is dead, so don’t get too attached to him. His wife’s sister is going to show her magical gifts in saving the wife and daughter, in another few pages, and then we’ll see where the story goes from there.

6. Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre

I feel the stars.

Energy pulses against my skin, murmuring secrets about this small galaxy, about orbits and alignments and asteroids streaming in space. Impulse makes me want to dive and cruise those currents, but I control those urges. I shift my attention to the flutters of life within my skin.

Marko glows orange with crimson streaks. He is warm, always the easiest to find. Just now, he stands and stares at the blue-green orb swirling below us.

A space leviathan. Not my favorite. This is another long prologue, so I don’t know where the real story might pick up. Probably not in the belly of the whale, but who knows?

First person narratives are of course immune to the “pronoun problem” in the opening. But it helps if the pov is immediately engaging. As it happens, space whales are a hard sell for me.

7. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

The night Kate Harker decided to burn down the school chapel, she wasn’t angry or drunk. She was desperate.

Oh, yeah, this is a good opening. Out of these ten novels, if it weren’t for the one with the hands, this would be the opening with the most impact.

8. The Sword Smith by Eleanor Arnason

A little after sunset he came in sight of the town. He reined his horse. Ahead of him the road went down into a wide valley, surrounded by low wooded hills. The town was at the valley’s center: a little cluster of dimly glowing lights. A short distance from the town was a second, smaller cluster of lights, probably a caravan’s camp fires. Nargri, who’d been sleeping curled up in the big saddle bag, raised her head and said, “What’re you doing, Limper?”

A page later, we have an implication that Nargri is a dragon. I was certainly wondering.

Now, as a separate issue, I seem to be more sensitive to stupid-sounding names than some readers, so that, for example, I always had to make an effort of will to tolerate the stupid names in Pratchett’s books.  My response to this opening is: Ah, pronoun. Followed by, Limper? ?re you kidding me?

9. Emergency Contact by Mary H K Choi

“Tell me something, Penny . . .”

Penny knew that whatever Madison Chandler was going to say, she wasn’t going to enjoy it. Madison leaned in close, mouth smiling, beady eyes narrowed. Penny held her breath.

“Why is your mom such a slut?”

These first sentences are not the least bit appealing to me. Ugh. However, I will say that when Penny lists her options for responses, that list is not without charm. Here is a truncated version of the list so you can judge for yourself:

a) punch her in the face

b) punch her pervert father in the face

c) rage-cry later

d) unleash the pyrokinetic abilities bequeathed to you upon birth, scorching the shopping mall with the fire of a trillion suns.

Okay, fine, I presume option (d) is not actually on the table, and it would of course be a trifle over the top, but including it in this list is the one thing that will make me turn the page.

10. Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

I wheeled my bike down Decatur Street and eased deeper into the French Quarter, the bike’s engine purring. My shotgun, a Benelli M4 Super 90, was slung over my back and loaded for vamp with hand-paced silver fléchette rounds. I carried a selection of silver crosses in my belt, hidden under my leather jacket, and stakes, secured in loops on my jeans-clad thighs. The saddlebags on my bike were filled with my meager travel belongings – clothes in one side, tools of the trade in the other. As a vamp killer for hire, I travel light.

Well, fairly generic UF opening there. When I happen to be in the mood for a new-to-me UF, I will be glad to try this, but who knows when that might be. I do remember who recommended Faith Hunter to me, though, so I am disposed to like the series.

Okay, so that is, let me see:

1 kind-of-Regency

1 actual Regency

2 ordinary fantasies

1 interestingly Roman-inspired fantasy

1 Urban Fantasy

1 SF

2 contemporary YA

1 YA dystopia.

Not bad for variety. The one I’m most likely to try soon: The Sword Smith, because I suspect I may not like it, which might mean I could take a quick look and then discard it. Same goes for Honor Among Thieves. I’m always happy to be wrong about that suspicion and sometimes I am, so we’ll see. The one I’m least likely to try soon: A Thousand Perfect Notes. It takes me longer to try a book if it looks powerful.

The book I am actually reading right now:

The sixth Wings of Fire book by Tui Sutherland – the first in the second  five-book arc. I hit something of a nothing-sounds-appealing period, so I thought picking up this series would get me over the hurdle. So far so good! Still looking like my favorite MG series. Enormous charm.

Actual current writing of my own:

I am essentially wasting spring break by getting stalled out on my WIP. It’s the SF thing – Invictus is the working title. I doubt I’ve written even 10,000 words in the past five days, not a great writing pace when I’m home all day and the weather is bad; particularly disappointing when the earlier part of the draft went so fast and smoothly.

Yesterday I just poked at it and didn’t get anywhere. Today I am backing up and writing a new Chapter 17. If that doesn’t work, I think I’m going to have to set it aside until I can figure out whether I might be in the wrong pov or maybe figure out how it ends. Or both, obviously. Preferably, I will come up with wonderful, compelling scenes that get me from where I am now to the end. It’s at 86,000 words, so I did get pretty far before it stalled, but it’s annoying because if I knew where it was going and was on a proper roll, I could probably have finished the draft this week. As it is, there’s no chance.

If Invictus won’t get moving, I may pick up Copper Mountain, which stalled earlier this year, and see if it would care to de-stall at this point.

I did finish tweaking a novella, though, and sent that back to Caitlin just now, so that’s something.

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Recent Reading: The Magic’s Poison series by Gillian Bradshaw

Magic’s Poison

The Enchanted Archive

The Duke’s Murder

The Iron Cage

Okay, I realize that my enthusiasm for the first book in this series was somewhat muted. But now I want to more strongly recommend the whole series, for three reasons:

a) The third and fourth books are much more compelling than the first two, and

b) Bradshaw does something really interesting and unusual with this series, and

c) You need to read the whole series in order so that you can appreciate the above two points.

The first two books take place three years apart and feature the same characters. Marin is the pov character in both. The third book takes place six years after that; it features a different pov character, Jaketta, whom I, at least, found much more interesting than Marin. The fourth takes place about fifteen years after that and also features a different pov character, Indareh, whom I also found more engaging than Marin.

But it’s not just that the latter two books have more engaging pov characters. What really makes the difference is that there’s more action and higher stakes in both of those books; and also, it becomes increasingly clear that the pov characters in this series are not the protagonists. It took me an absurdly long time to realize this; it suddenly leaped out at me when I began the fourth book. It should have been obvious long before that. I mention it up front because I bet many readers would enjoy the first two books more if they knew this going in.

This is the cool and unusual thing that Bradshaw is doing with this series: separating the roles of the pov characters and the protagonist. I personally know of only two other authors who have done this (no doubt there are others): Dorothy Dunnett does this in her Game of Thrones series, her Niccolo series, and her Dolly mysteries. In all three cases, we never see the pov of the actual protagonist; the protagonist is viewed only from the outside. The pov characters change around, but the protagonist is constant through each series.

Inspired by Dunnett’s work, I did the same thing in a long unpublished fantasy novel that I wrote ages ago. You’ll all probably get a chance to read this eventually, one way or another. It’s such an interesting technique. Preventing the reader from looking through the eyes of the protagonist means that the author can legitimately decline to show the reader what is really going on. This does strange things with tension. It’s similar to watching Terminator II without knowing up front that the Terminator is on the good-guy side, or The Hunt for Red October without knowing that Ramius is defecting to the US rather than planning an attack.

In Bradshaw’s case, I think this is one reason why I found Marin less than compelling. Bradshaw knew all along where the real focus of the story lay, and I felt, correctly, that Marin was not that focus. Because it’s impossible for the reader to correctly identify the true protagonist for some time, the story seems to drag. Then, as the true protagonist begins to take his rightful place at the center of both the story and the reader’s attention, the book picks up. By the beginning of the third book, I was much more focused on the real protagonist even though I hadn’t yet said to myself: Hey, this character right here is obviously the real protagonist! By the fourth book, it was super clear not just who was driving the action, but how cool it was that the reader is never allowed to look through his eyes. This is indeed a case where the protagonist works best when viewed from the outside.

I will admit that both Jaketta and Indareh are also perhaps just more interesting, but I don’t think that alone explains why the first two books dragged and the third and fourth were so much more compelling.

I should also add, just so this doesn’t take you by surprise, that one problem with the second book is that a rather huge proportion of the story is taken up with static scenes where characters argue with each other, often about the same thing they argued about in the previous chapter. This doesn’t make for a really compelling novel. It’s the sort of thing a good editor ought to have helped Bradshaw tighten up if the series had been traditionally published. But the book is perfectly readable, and I hereby suggest you all read it so as to move on to the third and fourth books.

Now, you recall that in the post about Magic’s Poison, I went on to rank Bradshaw’s novels, and I set Magic’s Poison toward the bottom, between The Sun’s Bride and Alchemy of Fire. It’s only fair to rank the other three books in the same way, so:

The Enchanted Archive is probably below Dark North, so right at the bottom of the Bradshaw books I like, though of course still way above the Bradshaw books I actually dislike.

The Duke’s Murder and The Iron Cage stand much, much higher. I’m actually inclined to drop them into the first group of my favorite Bradshaw novels, perhaps right above Render Unto Caesar. I didn’t expect that going in, but yeah, somewhere right up at the top. So if you have previously read Magic’s Poison and thought meh, then I hereby encourage you very strongly to go on and read the full series. If you do, let me know what you think! I’m very interested to know if other readers experience this series differently if they know up front that the pov characters are not the protagonist.

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Remarkable variance in visual imagination

Not remotely scientific, this twitter poll nevertheless is really interesting:

When told to visualize a red star, what do you see?

Apparently, when told to visualize a red star, a rather sizable proportion of respondents don’t see a red star.

That’s so interesting. Stumbling across evidence that many people don’t live in the same sensory world you do is always so jarring.

Now I am literally unable to decide whether I’m really visualizing a red star, or maybe something that is actually not red or not a shape or whatever. I feel like I might have the idea of a red star in my mind, without a clear visual image. Yet I think I must have a pretty adequate ability to visualize scenery. I mean, I kind of do that all the time. Or something that I think of as “visualizing scenery.”

It’s all very odd. So I have a follow-up question for you all:

Look away from the screen and visualize a blue half-circle. Are you sure you can visualize a blue half-circle? Or are you possibly doing something else and calling it visualization?

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Gentleperson’s Guide to Correct Querying

I got a kick out of Janet Reid’s recent response to a potential query mistake.

I inadvertently submitted queries for the same manuscript to two different agents at the same agency. The first one was last October to an agent I read about via a pitch party. (No response yet.) The second one was to an agent I read about a couple of days ago in a publishing newsletter I subscribe to. She’s relatively new in the field and is trying to build her clientele. …

And Janet’s response:

Look at the timeline: you queried Agent A in October.
That’s more than 30 days ago.

Thus, Agent A has passed by default.
You’re well within the parameters laid down in the Gentleperson’s Guide to Correct Querying if you query the same agency some months later. PARTICULARLY someone new and building  her list.

Plus advice about what to do if you queried the first agent a mere 29.75 days before the second: Still nothing.

Honestly, Janet Reid’s blog is the single resource I always point out when someone asks me for advice about traditional publishing, or especially about querying. Fun to read, down to earth, and useful all at once.

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Cover that is not black

Saw this on tor.com:

What do you think? This cover has a soft, impressionistic style that lends itself well to the misty appearance of the evergreen trees and the palace. I like the palace a lot, very nice backdrop for the title. Interesting how the sharp lettering contrasts with the impressionistic artwork. Those red flowers in the foreground are important to pick up the color of the title and tie the cover together.

Tagline … eh. I don’t particularly like heroes that fall, though I do like men who rise. Here’s the description:

Mathias has always been the star. He’s the handsome one, the popular one, the one on the fast track to become mayor of his small town. Naturally, nobody is surprised when it’s revealed that Mathias is prophesied to be the one who’ll save the world. And when he rides off with his grumpy, slightly unstable best friend Aaslo in tow, no one has any reason to suspect their journey will end in anything but Mathias’s stunning success.

Until it all goes horribly wrong.

Now Aaslo must find a way forward on his own, as his fellow citizens start to believe that submitting to the forces of evil might be their best chance at survival. As hope dims, Aaslo and his anti-fellowship of miscreants must try to save the world — or at least survive until tomorrow.

Now, this description gives me a little push away from the book. Watching Mathias crash and burn would probably be painful. Watching the fellow citizens submit to the forces of evil — also painful. Possibly following Aaslo and his friends — anti-friends? — as they succeed in the face of evil would be fine. Depending on what constitutes success.

I note in passing that the ebook is currently priced at $14 on Amazon. As a price to encourage readers to try a new-to-them author, that is a total failure.

But at least the cover is good.

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What is plagiarism, anyway?

Plagiarism has, as you might have noticed, been mentioned several times recently here, with links to, for example, Courtney Milan and Nora Roberts. Previously, the people at Smart Bitches with Trashy Books have done a lot of work on one plagiarism scandal or another, as for example here. But we all know basically what we mean by plagiarism: someone stealing sentences, or paragraphs, or unique elements of some kind, from an author’s work and passing that material off as their own.

However, there’s not much doubt that some people do get confused and start to feel like everything in creation is plagiarism. There was a recent-ish Twitter post about the failure to distinguish between plagiarism, the use of well-known tropes, and so on. Then you get a huge scandal like this #Copypastecris thing, and I do worry a bit that this can lead to pointing fingers at perfectly honest, reasonable work and saying, Look, there! Plagiarism!

Therefore, here’s a post on Stuff That Is Not Plagiarism.

1) A retelling.

This can be a fairy tale retelling that sticks closely to a Brother’s Grimm story, or any story that pulls elements from a fairy tale or any well-known story, such as The Girls at the Kingfisher Club or, for that matter, West-Side Story. This category grades smoothly into —

2) Inspiration.

It’s not necessary for a story to be inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in order for inspiration to be legitimate. If you take an idea or image from a story you read and grow your own story out from there, that is not plagiarism. In fact, I can’t offhand see how else any author is supposed to come up with the bones of any story. There’s no creative vacuum out there, into which Brand New Ideas pop by spontaneous generation.

In some cases, I’m very aware of which images or ideas inspired one or another of my books.

I know that Roger Dean’s art directly inspired the setting for The Floating Islands, and Gillian Bradshaw’s historical novels directly inspired the Romanesque aspects of Toulonn and the Greek-ish culture of the Islands. I don’t know about the rest of it. A lifetime of reading, I guess.

I am completely aware that Robin McKinley’s Chalice was an important influence on The Keeper of the Mist. That’s where the idea of a small, bounded country came from. Of course everything else is completely different — the type of boundary, what the boundary is for, the metaphysics, the surrounding world, how the boundary is created and maintained, everything. All the characters are totally different, the situation is totally different, the antagonist is totally different . . . the only other thing that might have come through was the warm feel of the story, and actually I don’t think I got that either. Chalice feels warm and hums comfortingly and Mist isn’t like that, or not much.

I know that one of my most recently completely mss was inspired by CJ Brightley’s Honor’s Heir. Practically everything changed dramatically — characters, societies, broader world, surrounding mythology, type of problem, everything. But even though virtually everything is very different, that novel was still the direct inspiration. Then my own manuscript served as a jumping-off point for my current WIP, where I’m keeping the same kind of relationship, sort of, and some of the beats in the plot, and changing everything else.

Okay, moving on. Inspiration is the one I feel like I have the easiest time talking about from my own experience, but both re-telling and inspiration bend into —

3) Being in conversation with another well-known work or multiple works.

For example, Walton’s Among Others, which drew on the history of SFF during the course of the story. Or, for that matter, Scalzi’s Redshirts, which was practically as meta as you can get. Or Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe. Or, not quite the same as any of the above, Sarah Prineas’ deconstruction of fairy tales in Ash and Bramble

These are all really up-front, obvious examples of SFF works that are deliberately in conversation with a whole genre. It’s not necessary for a work to be this meta for it to do that, though. Almost any coming-of-age military SF is probably going to develop from the author’s response to Starship Troopers, for example. Or a single work can be a response to another single work, like Wicked by Gregory Maguire, telling the Oz story from the Wicked Witch of the West’s point of view.

Or for a real conversation, look at Sir Walter Raleigh’s poem “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” which is so obviously a reply to Christopher Marlowe’s poem of the previous year “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.”

4) Homage

All these categories blur together. Is it retelling or homage when Sharon Shinn re-writes Jane Eyre as Jenna Starborn? Knowing that the author did this because she especially loves Jane Eyre makes me feel like her retelling ought to be classified as homage, rather than strictly as a retelling, even though it’s that as well.

Here’s a long post about homage by an author who also chose to write a novel in homage of Jane Eyre — Gemma Hardy, by Margo Livesy. It’s well worth reading just to example one author’s approach toward the task of retelling a classic novel, and for her thoughts about homage in general:

We are not diminished or dulled by borrowing and lending. In the best homages the contemporary artist is able to plumb some aspect of her or his own deepest interests, to reach what really matters, while simultaneously agreeing with or repudiating, delighting in or detonating, the original work. … On my journey I have paid homage to several writers — they had no say in the way I borrowed their landscapes and their insights, their nightingales and their bad behavior. I hope in doing so to have brought attention to their work and, at the same time, I hope to have made something new.

5) Pastiche

Writing in someone else’s style — hard to pull off, but fun. Temeraire leaps to mind. I remember thinking, WAY too many semicolons, this cannot be Jane Austen’s actual style. But when I pulled Pride and Prejudice off the shelf to look, I found nope, Austen also used that many semicolons. Novik actually did do a really good job writing in this much older style as she threw dragons all over the landscape.

Here’s a post about Mary Robinette Kowel’s Glamourist Histories, arguing that these fantasy novels are a perfect pastiche of an Austen novel and a fantasy novel. I don’t know that I think anyone’s really captured Austen’s style, but tons of people have certainly tried.

6) Parody, such as Bored of the Rings.

In fact, you could certainly make a case for Scalzi’s Redshirts to be a parody. What do you think? Parody? Or inspired by? Or in conversation with? Regardless, this books is not meant to be read in isolation. It’s aimed at Star Trek fans (and critics), not at people whose reading choices lean more toward the soaps and less toward space opera.

Here’s a post that places Redshirts squarely in the parody camp. And Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic, too, which I’m not sure I agree with. I would have said perhaps humorous fantasy, not parody. Though certainly by the end of his career, I would say that Pratchett was writing actual satire, not parody and not humorous fantasy either — though his work always did have a lot of humor in it, even then, of course.

One more: An author might, from time to time …

7) Just straight-up rewriting someone else’s book, with permission, for fun, such as Scalzi did with H Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy when he wrote Fuzzy Nation.

Scalzi has this to say about that:

Yes, Fuzzy Nation is a book that is a reimagining of story and events of Little Fuzzy, written by H. Beam Piper (and nominated for the Best Hugo Novel in 1962).

Yes, it is authorized — after I wrote the novel I sent it to the rights-holders of the Piper estate and asked permission to try to get it published. They agreed. Little Fuzzy itself is in the public domain; however, both morally and practically speaking I thought it essential to seek permission, because I didn’t want anyone to think I was doing this without the full awareness and participation of the Piper estate and its rights holders.

This is kind of interesting, because sitting right here on my laptop, I do have the first little bit of a rewritten version of Philip High’s Invader on my Back.

This was a novella I liked a lot when I first encountered it. Wow, is it dated in a lot of ways. Yet I still like it. And then I thought, okay, re-envision it this way, here’s the new version of the protagonist, here’s the new situation — very similar but not the same — a robot fox companion instead of three falcons . . . not that there’s anything wrong with falcons, but I like foxes and I wanted to do something different.

I just played around with this for 25 pages or so. Then I made myself stop, because going to the fairly extreme amount of trouble of contacting the High estate and asking for permission, well, I have other things on my plate and plenty of other things to write. If I ever finished it, though, that’s exactly what I would do.

Unless it morphed into something completely different, with mere remnant echoes of the original. And if it did, I would just send my own manuscript to my agent and add a dedication to Philip High in honor of the inspiration.

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Back cover copy

Okay, so for various reasons I just had to sit down and write back cover copy for one of my recently completed manuscripts.

As always, this was hard. But I kind of think maybe I like how this turned out. Here it is. What do you think?

Never let anyone guess your name. Never let anyone guess your curse. Never let the nightmare loose. Vích has lived by those rules for a very long time. She always assumed that if someone made a mistake and called down calamity upon the world, it would be her reckless brother Lahn, not her. But the mistake was hers, and now she might not be able to hold back the rising darkness.

Never let anyone guess your name. Never get too attached to anyone. Never, ever let anyone push Vích too far. Lahn has always known how to sidestep trouble and enjoy life, even though he can never really be part of ordinary society. Most of all, he’s always known exactly how to help his sister keep control of her terrible curse. But he didn’t expect to find himself bound to serve a foreign priest, forced to leave Vích on her own just when his sister has finally caught the eye of an enemy. The worst kind of enemy: someone who knows their names …

That is not too misleading. Absolutely no hint of the weird, complicated worldbuilding. But still, pretty close to accurate for the basic setup.

Hopefully before too long I’ll have a chance to offer that back-cover copy to an editor, and I hope I remember it’s sitting right here, ready for me to pick it up and send it.

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This is not “assistance;” it’s play

Saw this via the Passive Voice blog:

Computer Stories: A.I. Is Beginning to Assist Novelists

Robin Sloan has a collaborator on his new novel: a computer. … Mr. Sloan is writing his book with the help of home-brewed software that finishes his sentences with the push of a tab key. …

Mr. Sloan … composes by writing snippets of text, which he sends to himself as messages and then works over into longer passages. His new novel, which is still untitled, is set in a near-future California where nature is resurgent. The other day, the writer made this note: “The bison are back. Herds 50 miles long.” … He writes: The bison are gathered around the canyon. … What comes next? He hits tab. The computer makes a noise like “pock,” analyzes the last few sentences, and adds the phrase “by the bare sky.”

Mr. Sloan likes it. “That’s kind of fantastic,” he said. “Would I have written ‘bare sky’ by myself? Maybe, maybe not.”

Raise your hand if you think this method of composition sounds like LESS work than just writing the story out of your head.


Didn’t think so. This sounds kind of like fun, but it doesn’t sound like any kind of assistance. “By the bare sky,” says the algorithm, and there Sloan is, thinking, Oh, that’s a neat phrase. Then he has fit it in the passage somehow and, I presume, read through the paragraph to make sure it feels right. I mean, sounds good, reads smoothly, all those things the computer can’t begin to judge.

This kind of thing sounds A LOT like those twitter games where people start typing and report what text suggestion software suggests to finish the sentence. You know, things like:

My name is … Earl

I was born in … darkness

I once went … to a party dressed as a chicken.

All of the above are actually what Google just suggested for me, including that entire one about the chicken. Did not see that coming. Sounds to me quite a bit like The bison are gathered around the canyon … by the bare sky.

As a toy, this sounds kind of neat. As a tool, well, I’m not persuaded that’s a reasonable categorization.

Also, it’s not artificial intelligence. I read SF; I know what artificial intelligence REALLY looks like: Computers that are people. Definitely not the same thing as algorithms that spit out semi-random phrases at the touch of a key.

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Page proofs

Here’s a post at Kill Zone Blog: The page proof nightmare

In the traditional publishing world, milestones define the production cycle of a book.  You turn in the manuscript, then you get the global edit from the editor.  Next come the larger structural changes and you turn those in.  Copy edits are next…

The final step is the one I hate – the page proofs.  That milestone is my last shot at making sure that the book is exactly what I want it to be.  Did the copy edits I rejected make it through anyway?  Have any other errors made it through?  …

For me, this is a staggeringly stressful process. … Once I get lost in the “fictive dream” … I don’t see the little stuff.  So, for the page proofs, I have to force myself to . . . Read.  Every.  Word.  It takes forever.

I hate page proofs.


Actually . . . although I get what Gilstrap means about getting lost in the fictive dream (a very nice place to be lost imo), I enjoy page proofs.

You don’t have to try to figure out how to do a biggish change as per your editor’s advice. You don’t have to stop every second page to evaluate a copy editor’s suggestion. You can just . . . read every word. Straight through.

It’s the nearest thing to seeing your book in print that you’ll have until it’s, you know, actually in print. You probably aren’t going to read it at that point — it’s in print! Yay! But you are super familiar with it and beside, you just read the page proofs.

For me, reading the page proofs is like . . . reading a book. Sure, every now and then I’ll pause and make a little change. But mainly I turn the pages thinking, “Oh, I forgot about this scene, but it works pretty well!” and “Hey, that’s a nice sentence.” Not only that, but if a sentence isn’t nice, I can actually whip out a colored pencil and fix it so it IS a nice sentence. I wish I could do that AFTER publication too, as I’m certain to happen across things I want to change every single time I open a real copy.

By and large, for me, the reading experience is a pleasure for page proofs — the stage when it’s easiest to imagine the reader’s own reading experience. When I enjoy the page proofs, it makes me feel that yes, there’s a pretty good chance readers will enjoy the book.

Yet another example of Everyone’s Process Being Different. I just bet Gilstrap likes developmental edits better than I do.

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