Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


My Book, The Movie

Okay, here’s something different: a post I wrote for My Book, The Movie, about the cast I’d like to see if Winter of Ice and Iron were to be made into a movie.

I actually had fun writing this post. I don’t know much about actors, but I would type into Google something like: male actors intense dark and then generally recognize someone who popped up as just right for the part.

I didn’t try to cast every single character, but I think I got everyone who has even a small pov role . . . except for one character, whom I did not exactly forget, but his pov role is short and I wanted to include some of my favorite important secondary characters as well.

There are . . . um . . . five pov characters total, I think. Two are primary, two get less time, and the fifth just part of one chapter. It seemed to work that way. You can tell me what you think when you’ve read the book.

Out in four days!

Winter of Ice and Iron, US Hardback

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Friday Puppy Cuteness

What’s a Friday without puppies, right? I’m sure you were all waiting impatiently for a quick slideshow of the babies at six weeks. Herewith:

I took these as part of an effort to get my babies chosen for an upcoming photoshoot. If they’re selected, by the time the shoot rolls around, they’ll be old enough to handle going — though I’ll take an older, confident dog along to help give them confidence. Conner, maybe. He’s a buddy to the puppies by this time and he enjoyed his own photoshoot earlier this year.

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The Gold-Bug


… which I’m pretty sure I have read, but maybe not, because this sounds both cool and unfamiliar:

The Gold-Bug was the first work of fiction to incorporate cryptography into the plot. In fact, the very word cryptograph was invented by Poe and used for the first time in this story.

That’s pretty neat!

Before Poe, cryptography was a complete mystery to most people. Simple substitution ciphers like the one in The Gold-Bug were considered unbreakable unless you possessed the key to decode them. But Poe’s knowledge of language and obsession with logic, or “ratiocination,” made him realize that any code could be broken. And he showed people exactly how to do it.

Well, any simple substitution code, I guess. Obviously not any code ever. But this is so interesting. It actually reminds me of Gregor Mendel — because of course Mendel’s knowledge of math and obsession with counting is what led to his breakthrough understanding of genetic “factors” and particulate inheritance.

Realizing the public’s fascination with code breaking, Poe decided to write a story specifically for his cipher-fanatic audience. Throw in buried treasure, an exotic “very singular” island, mystery, madness, and—a must in any good treasure hunting tale—the spectre of death, and you have an intense tale of adventure that captured people’s imagination and made Poe a household name.

Very cool stuff. The code-within-a-code suggestion for the weird fake dialect used for Jupiter in the story is also interesting. I wonder if that could be true?

Anyway, let me leave you with a real gold bug:

This is not a bug-bug, which as we all know are found in the Order Hemiptera, but it is a beetle, which is close enough for government work. This is a golden tortoise beetle. I hope you find it as delightful as I do that there exists in this world an insect such as a golden tortoise beetle.

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What would a habitable planet be like if it orbited a red dwarf?

So, looks like maybe we’ve found a near-ish world that might be habitable:

Scientists have discovered an Earth-like planet that is only 11 light-years away — roughly three times the distance to the closest star system, Alpha Centauri. The planet could have temperate conditions on its surface that make it hospitable to life….Ross 128b orbits its star every 9.9 days. Because the red dwarf emits less energy, Ross 128b receives only a third more energy from its star than Earth does from our own sun. Scientists estimate the equilibrium temperature of Ross 128b is somewhere between minus 76 degrees and 68 degrees above zero Fahrenheit….”Although it is currently 11 light-years from Earth, Ross 128 is moving towards us and is expected to become our nearest stellar neighbor in just 79,000 years — a blink of the eye in cosmic terms,” ESO said. “Ross 128b will by then take the crown from Proxima b and become the closest exoplanet to Earth.”

Why wait? Onward with deploying some of those teensy interstellar probes!

On the other hand . . . a planet orbiting its star every 10 days does not necessarily sound like it’d provide an ideal situation for living things of the kind I’d care about; eg, organisms more interesting than bacteria. Cellular metabolism is no doubt a wild and exciting field, but that’s not what I think of when I think of alien life.

Here we have a description of a couple biiiig issues faced by a planet that’s located really close to a red dwarf:

The red dwarf’s gravitational forces would be a particular problem. Quintana described tidal heating, in which the star’s gravity would constantly reshape the planet from spherical to football-shaped as it orbited the planet, with potentially devastating consequences for the planet’s internal heat. Such planets might also be tidally locked, with one side always facing the star and the other always facing away, leaving only a narrow band on the boundary between the two that might be neither too hot nor too cold to support life.

The habitable zone is all very well, but overall equilibrium temperature — which I’m guessing would be some kind of average — is not as important as a) how cold is the dark side of the planet? b) how hot is the lit side of the planet? and c) how much of the land/water area is in between?

Still, pretty neat.

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Writing advice from Janet Reid

For the NaNoWriMoers out there:

Character revealed vs character described

Many of you are embarking on a new novel for National Novel Writing Month. Good luck, and don’t query on 12/1!

I thought today might be a good day to share an example of character revealed versus character described. The example is from the New York Times Metropolitan Diary.

Description that works.

Just after three in the morning, Sam Dryden surrendered the night to insomnia and went running on the boardwalk. Cool humidity clung to him and filtered the lights of El Sedero to his left, the town sliding past like a tanker in the fog. To his right was the Pacific, black and silent as the edge of the world tonight. His footfalls on the old wood came back to him from every part of the darkness.

When you continue reading you’ll see that the light, the quiet, and the sound of footfalls all reappear in the story. This is not only lovely writing, we need the information for what comes later.

It is indeed lovely writing, and I enjoyed this book — Patrick Lee’s Runner — very much.

Overused words

We all have word tics. Mine is just. It jumps off my keyboard into blog posts with frightening frequency, and often not noticed till the third revision. I can tell the blog posts written and posted in haste: they’re just full of stuff.

Ok, that was a witticism. I know you all spotted it.

But let’s use it as an example:

They’re just full of stuff.
They’re full of stuff.

Which is a stronger, leaner sentence?
Which says exactly what you want to communicate?

There is no rule here, there is only your keen eye.
This is the keen eye you get from a close reading your first/second/third/Nth draft and paring out everything you don’t need.

I will add, in absolute terms, there is no such thing as a “stronger” sentence. If you are writing dialogue or from the close pov of a character who tends to be verbose, than the version with “just” might be superior for that character.

Steven Brust is a good writer to look at for this kind of thing. I suggest Freedom and Necessity (written with Emma Bull) to see how totally different the sentences are for different characters — and of course one could also compare the sentences from Five Hundred Years After versus from the Vlad books.

Incidentally, have you all read Vallista? What did you think? I just finished it last night, and I have three primary comments about it:

1) It’s a fun book, but

2) Totally a pause in Vlad’s actual story. It doesn’t move his own overall plotline forward one bit. I did find that disappointing. Also

3) It was entertaining how Brust opened with a play on the first line of Pride and Prejudice and closed with a play on the “Reader, I married him” line from Jane Eyre.

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Best November SFF

According to this article in the Washington Post: Best science fiction and fantasy books to read this month

1) The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

2) Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska

3) Winter of Ice and Iron by Rachel Neumeier

Rachel Neumeier’s Winter of Ice and Iron … conjures up a world at the whim of gods and spirits, where rulers make ties with these spirits to protect their people and rule the land. … Neumeier doesn’t rely on heaving bosoms or overwrought confidences to convey the way people care for and love one another.

Just saying.

Incidentally, in addition to the short reviews in the Washington Post, here’s a tor.com review of Mandelbrot that makes it sound pretty impressive:

Benoit B. Mandelbrot, the acclaimed mathematician and outspoken originator of the term “fractal”, died in 2010 at the age of 85. His contributions to geometry, dynamical systems, information theory, and modern finance, among others, have changed the face of scientific study and popular scientific inquiry. And yet, like so many, he could have been another unknown victim of the Holocaust. … Mandelbrot was lucky. He and his family avoided capture by the shifting tide of European public sentiment, his family moving from Warsaw to Paris, and later settling in the small town of Tulle when the Nazis began to overtake French territory. Remarkably, he and his brother Léon were able to continue studies in Lyon as the war worsened, and amidst fear and fake IDs, escaped the brunt of what the war could have done to their lives.

And now, in Liz Ziemska’s striking novella Mandelbrot the Magnificent, we’re taken into an alternate history — one in which magic becomes as powerful as mathematics.

And here is Kirkus’ review of City of Brass:

On the streets of 18th-century Cairo, young Nahri—she has a real talent for medicine but lacks the wherewithal to acquire proper training—makes a living swindling Ottoman nobles by pretending to wield supernatural powers she doesn’t believe in. Then, during a supposed exorcism, she somehow summons a mysterious djinn warrior named Dara, whose magic is both real and incomprehensibly powerful.

Both sound good, don’t they? I’m glad to be in such company.

Out in one week:

Winter of Ice and Iron, US Hardback

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Modern constraints on writers

Here’s a thought-provoking post from Leonard Chang, author of various, hmm, looks like literary thrillers:

My latest novel, The Lockpicker, had a tortuous history, and made me question the sanity of agents, editors — and even myself. I will start by being so bold as to quote a rejection by an esteemed former editor….”The characters, especially the main character, just do not seem Asian enough. They act like everyone else. They don’t eat Korean food, they don’t speak Korean, and you have to think about ways to make these characters more ‘ethnic,’ more different. We get too much of the minutiae of [the characters’] lives and none of the details that separate Koreans and Korean-Americans from the rest of us. For example, in the scene when she looks into the mirror, you don’t show how she sees her slanted eyes, or how she thinks of her Asianness.”


Chang quotes not one but two different editors who evidently think that protagonists should think about their exotic social identity when they look in the mirror. One can certainly see why the author was peeved. He comments: “[I]t’s enough to say that exoticism for exoticism’s sake, especially from a Korean-American writer who sees himself as American and not exotic, is just, well, antiquated.”

Yes, no kidding.

This illustrates something that concerns me: apparent modern pressure for authors of color to write nothing but fiction involving contemporary issues faced by people of color. Not far future SF where race doesn’t matter, not secondary world fantasy where the only important distinction is between human people and, say, centaurs. Nope. Not crime novels or thrillers like The Lockpicker. Only fiction where their protagonists gaze in the mirror and think about their Asianness.

This seems regrettable. I’m glad Chang saw his novel published eventually, by, let’s see, looks like a small press called Black Heron Press. Good. It doesn’t actually sound much like my cup of tea — here’s what The Los Angeles Review of Books says about it:

Chang’s novel is, indeed, a labyrinth from which his characters can’t seem to escape. Everyone is trapped — either in a failing marriage, in debt, in a race against time, in the past, or in dreams for the future. But it is also a gripping, dramatic read. We cannot help but root for these rich, flawed characters as they struggle to free themselves from the traumas of childhood.

— but though this sounds too claustrophobic for me, I hope it does well for him.

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Five Books That Will Kill You

I got a kick out of this Book Riot post: 5 BOOKS THAT WILL KILL YOU

Because they mean it literally, or at least more literally than I’d have thought:

The opportunity to read Curie’s exact “eureka moment” is absolutely fascinating…But if you want to read her research notes, you have to sign a waiver with France’s Bibliotheque Nationale. The notes are sealed in a lead-lined box and you will still need to wear protective gear because many of the items kept are contaminated with radium 226. Let’s face it: I am passionately curious to read these research notes, but it would kill me. Slowly. Painfully. And I really don’t want that.

This is the most literal example. The rest are curses and things. Me, I’m the sort of person who would just shrug and read “Tomino’s Hell” aloud and never spare a thought for the possible curse.

I love the examples on this list though. Especially the Fahrenheit 451 edition. Wow. I had no idea anybody made an edition like this.

Click through and read the whole thing.

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Good News Tuesday

All kinds of interesting and hopeful advances in medicine this week!

First —

People With Vertigo Find Relief Through Nerve-Stimulating Implant

For the patients with severe vertigo who come to Charles Della Santina’s lab, life is full of constraints. The constant dizziness interferes with their social and working lives mainly because of the limits it places on their mobility—they often can’t walk without a cane and can’t drive cars.

“These people don’t have much hope,” says Della Santina, director of the Vestibular NeuroEngineering Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “They come to us after being told by many doctors, you’ll have to learn to live with it, because there’s nothing we can do to help you.”

Della Santina hopes to change that. … Della Santina says there’s a “special graveyard for people who make overly optimistic estimates about when their device will be approved” by the FDA. But he notes that the vestibular implant should qualify for a humanitarian device exemption, a fast-track FDA approval process that encourages the development of technology for rare diseases.

Very cool.

New neural network restores diaphragm function after spinal cord injury

Spinal cord injury leads to paralysis in approximately 17,000 people in the U.S. each year. Many of those injured must rely on mechanical ventilators to breathe.

By discovering the new network, researchers could help spinal cord injury patients bypass missing brain signals and return motor function below injury sites — reducing the need for ventilators.

Every small step in restoring function to paralyzed people is worth celebrating — but this does seem like a relatively small step. I do look forward to a future where people find it hard to imagine untreatable paralysis and consider our modern treatments barbaric. Onward!

French Regulators Approve Human Trial of a Bionic Eye

Now this is more like the proper kind of medical future —

Five people with severe vision loss will have an experimental chip implanted in their eyes to help them see. French regulators last week approved the trial of the bionic vision implant, which will be placed in people with an advanced type of retinal disease called dry age-related macular degeneration, or dry AMD.

This, too:

Doctors replace boy’s skin using breakthrough gene therapy, stem cells

The patient –- a boy who was 7 years old at the time of the treatment –- was born with a rare skin condition called junctional epidermolysis bullosa. The condition causes the outer layer of the skin to peel away easily from the lower skin layers, making it incredibly fragile and prone to injury.

“This is a very severe, devastating disease, where kids suffer a lot,” said Dr. Michele De Luca, one of the authors of the research….

In a breakthrough treatment, researchers at a burn unit in Europe found a way to replace 80 percent of a boy’s skin using a combination of gene therapy and stem cells. The grafted skin attached to his body has continued to replace itself, even months later.

Excellent. I don’t care how rare a horrible condition is, I want them ALL treatable and fixable.

The most disturbing thing in this story was that the boy’s parents had to “plead” with the treatment team to try this experimental therapy, or so the article says. For heaven’s sake, if the patient is dying and in agony and current treatments are failing, the treatment team ought to be pleading with the boy’s parents to allow experimental treatments, not the other way around.

But moving on, moving on:

Five new malaria targets that could lead to an effective vaccine

Nearly half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria and more than 200 million people are infected each year. The disease caused the deaths of almost half a million people globally in 2015.

Despite the large number of deaths, there is no highly effective vaccine currently available for malaria. Over the last 50 years, most attempts to develop vaccines have only focussed on single targets.

In the new study, scientists have discovered five targets for future malaria vaccine development, which they suggest should be targeted in combination.

Great! Faster, please!

And finally, one new development that’s actually relevant to me personally:

FDA approves better vaccine against painful shingles virus

Studies paid for by Glaxo found it prevents shingles in about 90 percent of people. Merck’s is about 50 percent effective.

Both versions are for adults 50 and older. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though, recommends vaccination for those 60 or older, partly because it loses effectiveness over time.

I’ve had shingles already, so I may be less likely to have a recurrence. But it could happen. When my mother had shingles a few years ago, the nerve pain lasted for about ten months, so the risk is something I take seriously. You should take it seriously too, especially if you’re a woman over fifty — that puts you in the highest risk group for long-term pain from shingles.

I would be quite willing to get vaccinated every two or five or ten years, whatever is advised, to avoid the risk of long-term or even permanent pain. This new vaccine sounds a lot better than the old one, but better yet would be a vaccine that provides permanent protection in most people. Hopefully Glaxo will pursue that next.

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Top ten characters who would make great leaders

So, I happened across this post at Rambling Writer: Characters Who Can Lead and Characters Who Just Can’t

This was a post inspired by The Broke and the Bookish recent theme: Ten Characters Who Would Make Great Leaders.

I liked the twist — five who can lead and five who can’t — and I think there are some good choices for both categories, but I do think it’s hard to think of characters who Could Be But Are Not Yet Great Leaders, which is what the theme actually seems to call for.

Characters who are great leaders right now — there are plenty of those. I mean, off the top of my head:

Kaoren Ruuel, though he might lighten up a little.

Janus bet Vhalnich, though he might be just a tiny bit less secretive.

Maia, though he could stand to be a little more experienced.

Torin Kerr, though all of her experience is as a sergeant, not a general or whatever.

Vidranric Rensalaeus, Marquis of Sheviaeth, though … no, no quibbles. He’d just be a great commander. So would Inda, obviously.

But who would be a great commander, but hasn’t already had a chance to play that role?

I can think of a handful of candidates, and I’m sure there are plenty of others I’m missing:

1) Jade. She’s still subordinate to Pearl, but Jade will clearly be a superior leader when she becomes the senior queen. I mean, Pearl’s improved a lot, but Jade strikes me as intrinsically more emotionally stable. Malachite — I love Malachite — is totally scary and tends to be a tiny bit obsessive about some things. I’m betting Jade will mature into a better queen than either.

2. Tremaine. She is ruthlessly practical. I could see her becoming a leader as viciously competent (and nearly as secretive) as Janus bet Vhalnich.

3. Alan from The Demon’s Lexicon. Alan also has that practical ruthlessness combined with the total commitment to his people that I appreciate for in a really good commander.

4. Lilith . I’m not sure how she would do as a military commander, but as the leader of a community, she would do very well indeed. I think she’d be able to handle a much larger community than she’s ever had a chance to lead so far.

5. I’m not sure. Who’s another character who would step up and do a great job as leader, who hasn’t already held a high-level leadership role?

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