Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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A fox zodiac

If you’re not on Twitter, you’ve missed out on the Fox Zodiac that went up recently, so let me point it out to you.

It’s great fun. Since my birth date is late February, I had to read through all the foxes to get to mine, which turned out to be pretty appropriate:

BENGAL FOX (Feb 19-Mar 20) You’re a super-creative person (fox?) who loves to manufacture complexities–whether it’s a sculpture, a story, a game, or an elaborate system of dens you’re never satisfied with your work & you keep pushing yourself to do more

I’ll take that.

The most interesting one is this:

RACCOON DOG (Oct 23-Nov 21) Sigh. You just love to swim against the current don’t you. I didn’t know you were even fox-adjacent but apparently you are! Anyway you’re striking & mysterious & like maybe four different animals at the same time. Good for you.

Fox-adjacent! That’s a great term, and accurate, since the raccoon dog is in its own genus, but apparently rather closely related to foxes. Of course there are quite a few fox genera to; it’s not as though all foxes are just Vulpes like the typical red fox we all think of first.

In case you’re interested, here’s a raccoon:

And here is a raccoon dog:

And they really do look quite a lot alike in the head, though honestly the body is fairly different. As you’d expect. You’re not super likely to find a raccoon dog in a tree, either. Certainly not in North America.

Anyway, click through and check out which fox is your zodiac sign.

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Door Into Light available for preorder

Just letting you know that I’ve finalized the files for Door Into Light, so I’ve made the ebook available for preorder, with a release date of May 20th.

I don’t see a way to list the paper version for preorder, but it indeed be released at exactly the same time or even a bit earlier.

House of Shadows is priced at $9.99 for the ebook on Amazon. I don’t have control over that, and I’m considering pricing Door Into Light at that level, or nearly, in order to be consistent. But I won’t do that for a little while; I’m at least going to start it off at a significantly lower price and see how that works first.

I may enroll this book in KDP select, but maybe not since I’m sure House of Shadows isn’t restricted that way. I haven’t loaded files to other platforms yet, but I expect I will do that prior to May 20th.

I enjoyed reading little snippets over again as I fiddled around to get the chapter breaks to work in the Kindle version yesterday. Hopefully that’s a good sign that you’ll all enjoy it too!

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If you could pick one novel — just one —

And leave that single novel for posterity, what would it be?

I saw a question similar to this on Quora this morning and surprised myself by having an immediate reaction. Generally I freeze up with this kind of question, because of course it’s hopeless to choose just one book.

I’m not sure I would eventually decide to go with my very first, immediate answer, but here it is:

Immediate answer: Les Miserables.

After that of course I thought about this question a little more. It’s not like I read Les Mis more than once. I did read it, though — the unabridged version, too — which is a measure of how much I loved the play.

Second answer: classic novel I’ve read a lot more than once: The Count of Monte Cristo.

But I’m not sure. Maybe? I really love this book, but let me pause for a moment and reflect that I really prefer fantasy to all other genres. Once I say to myself, “Wouldn’t you rather pick a fantasy novel?” the answer is clear:

Third Answer: The Lord of the Rings.

I’m stopping with that one. That’s the one I’d probably choose, if it actually came to a choice.

How about you? Do you have an instant reaction, and does that choice outlast a five-minute pause for reflection?

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Research links

I’m not organized enough to compile a lot of links, but Jordan Dane at Kill Zone Blog is:

The Encyclopedia of Death and Dying – Wonder what’s in there? Plenty of weird topics alphabetized. …

And on through a bunch of others, including:

Botanical: Modern Herbal – A solid research source for herbs and poisons

Because you know you’re going to look up poisons sometime.

Firearms Tutorial – This is a resource for firearms with basic terminology, Lab procedures, examination of gun shot residue (GSR), and a study of ballistics, among other things.

Very handy for those of us who basically don’t know much about the topic. And then moving on to:

Building Fictional Characters – Lots of helpful links to resources on the topic of crafting characters with recommended instructional books

Which I’m guessing is pointless, if only because I can’t imagine using somebody’s Character Checklist of any variety to develop a character. But of course I’m nearly a purely organic writer. I just put ’em on the page and see how they develop.

Click through and check out the whole list of links if you’re interested.

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“Antepenultimate”

This tidbit jumped out at me from an interview about grammar and usage at Literary Hub:

What’s a common mistake people make?

I’ve heard people use “antepenultimate” to mean something even more ultimate than ultimate: ultimate super plus, like extra-high octane gas. Ultimate means last. “Pen” is the suffix for almost, so penultimate is almost the end. (Peninsula is “almost an island.”) Antepenultimate is before (ante) the second-last, or third from last. So it’s not as good as ultimate. 

I have never heard that usage! But it is so entertaining. Somehow it really tickles my fancy to think of “antepenultimate” and simultaneously recognize exactly the error that’s been made while also parsing the word so that it’s completely clear that it actually has to mean “third from the last.”

However, I can’t believe it’s actually a common error. I mean, “penultimate” is not at all common to begin with, and then adding “ante” before it? I’m almost sure I’ve never heard that. Have any of you heard anybody say or write “antepenultimate, either with the correct meaning or the incorrect meaning?

If the word does become common, I suppose it will be with the meaning “superultimate,” and then how funny it will be to know that the literal meaning is “before the almost last thing.”

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Recent Listening: Echo in Amethyst by Sharon Shinn

…. Also General Winston’s Daughter, because I just read that one in paper.

But first, the final Echoes book!

Lady Elyssa despises her echoes – the creatures who look just like her and copy her every move. But it’s only the echoes that mark her as a high noble, someone elite enough to marry the king’s youngest son, Jordan. She can’t get rid of the echoes, so instead she amuses herself by torturing them when no one is looking.

But there’s something Elyssa doesn’t know: Her casual cruelty has brought one of the echoes to life. And this echo, Hope, is learning to think and speak and act on her own. And there’s something else Elyssa doesn’t know: Hope has witnessed her secret meetings with revolutionaries bent on starting a war and overthrowing the king. And Hope has made friends in high places – very high places.

And there you have the set-up for this novel. With each novel in this trilogy, Shinn has done something quite different with the echoes. It’s clear that echoes can develop in very different ways, depending on their original and also on random events that impact their situation. In the first book, one of the echoes in particular seemed to be acquiring some volition and personality; in the second, the echoes had zero personality of their own but served as extra bodies for the consciousness of their original (very cool!), and now here in the third book, poor Hope develops full personhood while still being completely subject to Elyssa’s will.

This is a slooooow-paced novel, especially at first; and it takes place concurrently with the events of the first and second books, which can create some impatience as we wait for certain important events to take place so that we can find out what happens after the time covered by the first and second books.

But fundamentally, none of that matters. This story is, at its heart, a character study. There’s just a little bit of romance; the romance is important, but really not the focus. This book completes the overall plot arc of the trilogy, but that really isn’t the focus either. The focus is squarely on Hope and her development into a real person, and then on her coping with her extraordinary situation.

Interestingly, I am not sure Hope can be called the protagonist of this story, though no one else is the protagonist of this story either. This isn’t like Gillian Bradshaw’s Magic’s Poison series, where it takes a couple books to realize who the protagonist actually is. In Echo in Amethyst, there really is no protagonist in the most typical sense of the term. Neither Hope nor anyone else is really driving the action; the action is just happening around them, while from time to time someone tries to shove events in one direction or another. Or you could say that divine intervention drives the story, in the end. Certainly not Hope, though.

I enjoyed it a lot, so it’s not like the slow pace or even Hope’s inability to break free of Elyssa ruin the story. They don’t. Sharon Shinn’s beautiful writing and, of course, the portrayal of Hope as a character, make listening to this story a real pleasure. But the story is constructed in an unusual fashion, and you may enjoy it more if you know that going in.

It’s tough for me to sort out the books in this trilogy. I know Sharon Shinn’s own favorite is the second. I can see why, but I’m leaning toward the first as my personal favorite; followed very closely by the second; then this one. But they’re all good. I’m sorry there’s not going to be a fourth, as I’m really quite interested in the future of the kingdom and especially in Hope’s future with Jordon. I’m sure she’ll have a wonderful life, especially compared to her earlier life, but I am dying to know whether anyone ever guesses, well, never mind.

Now, General Winston’s Daughter.

This book actually makes an interesting comparison with Echo in Amethyst, because the viewpoint character, Averie, is not really the protagonist. And neither is any other character. Events are driven by action that takes place unseen, driven largely by characters the reader never even hears about — you just surmise their existence. Averie herself is completely unaware of these larger events until right at the end.

Not only that, but the romance is kind of in the background in this one as well, with the more important relationship being the one that gradually ends as Averie slowly comes to the realization that she has fallen out of love with her fiance and can’t marry him.

Not only that, but though the story reaches a conclusion, there is way more room ahead of Averie than there was in her past. It’s a bit like being left with Hope at the end of the Echoes novels: I want to see how her life unfolds after this. That’s exactly how I feel at the end of General Winston’s Daughter.

So, the two books turn out to be remarkably similar in some big ways.

Both are quite readable and enjoyable, but I do think Echo in Amethyst is superior because Hope is fundamentally a unique and interesting person, because her situation is also unique and interesting (as well as awful), and because of the more complete worldbuilding offered by the full trilogy in comparison with the standalone novel.

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Vonda McIntyre

Of course you’re all aware that Vonda McIntyre passed away this past April. I’ve read some of the posts and retrospectives, but I just happened upon a short but very good obituary: Science Fiction Author Vonda N. McIntyre, Official Obituary

I really didn’t know all of this about Vonda McIntyre. It’s worth a look.

Her beaded sea creatures are almost pure Vonda. When she began to develop some pain in her hands from arthritis, she decided to take her crocheting skills and create beaded shapes reminiscent of nudibranchs and fractal patterns to give her the needed exercise to keep her hands supple.

And from the comments:

What Vonda called “beaded sea creatures” were more than just amusements and lovely art … Vonda’s work was part of a discipline variously called “mathematical knitting” and “crochet topology.”

… many mathematical descriptions of topological surfaces can be transformed into a set of instructions for knitting or crocheting or doing beadwork. It’s a wonderful way to instantiate surfaces that are very difficult to visualize from their equations.

It’s a serious subset of the field of topology and Vonda’s work In this area has been cited in academic publications.

I had no idea. Here is the kind of crochet work that’s being referred to:

Dreamsnake was my favorite of her books, by the way. There are Reasons why you aren’t likely to get three sexes, so that plot element is not very believable … but the novel is compelling and I read it many times.

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Cover Reveal: Door Into Light

I know, I know, I am very late releasing Door Into Light. But! It was unavoidable.

The cover got complicated because several months ago, the cover artist was about to send me first sketch and then she suddenly fell seriously ill. Then she was in a hospital. Then she was home. I don’t know her real name, only the name she went by as an artist, and when she stopped answering messages or emails, I had no way to determine whether she might be very sick indeed, or possibly even have passed away.

So after a while, I looked around and found a different cover artist. This is the cover she’s done for me. I hope you all like it. It was fairly difficult as I had to say, Can you please match the ornate, scrolling font of the title from House of Shadows? See those dragons, can you be sure to put dragons like that somewhere on this cover? Music is important, can you put a harp or a wooden flute or panpipes somewhere?

I am embarrassed to note that I kept thinking of details to change and had to ask her to fiddle with the cover over and over, but here is final version.

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The Regency Era

Here is a fantastic review of a book about the Regency Era in Britain, which serves as a contrasting backdrop to the gracefully aristocratic setting of Regency romances with which we may be more familiar today.

It also serves as a great antidote to the somewhat common feeling that Today Is The Worst Of All Possible Ages.

Crime was both a cause and symptom of the discontent. Under the notorious “Bloody Code,” more than 200 major and minor crimes carried the death penalty. … A child, from the age of 7, could be hanged for poaching a rabbit, stealing lace or cutting down a tree. The philosopher and legal theorist Jeremy Bentham argued that the country’s capricious system, in which legal outcomes depended on the whims of judges, united “violence to feebleness” and undermined public confidence in the rule of law. …

Homosexuality evoked extreme intolerance in Regency Britain. … The punishment for sodomy was the pillory then public hanging. (The term “sodomy” was broadly used to cover all forms of non-procreative sex.) Byron’s interest in boys was one of the reasons he moved abroad.

Yet another of the historical periods that makes a wonderful setting for novels, but which I’m so grateful to have missed in person. Hanging a seven-year-old for poaching a rabbit!

The book in question is Robert Morrison’s The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern. That’s quite the subtitle. I don’t know that I’m inclined to read it, but if I do, it’ll be because of that subtitle.

I will note, as an aside, because I’ve been posting about Sharon Shinn’s books so much lately, that if SHE had written the history of the Regency era, it would have been a kinder, gentler Regency. In fact, it is. The Echoes books are Regency-ish, as I said in a previous post, and although there’s a fair bit of inequality and injustice, there’s no hint of the brutality that lay just under the surface — or, often, well above the surface — of real-world Regency Britain.

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First page critiques

At Kill Zone Blog, PJ Parrish comments on the first pages of the Edgar Award nominees:

…But then I got to wondering, what are they like inside? How do these writers handle the openings of their stories? Just for fun, I thought we could take a peek here today.

The stories include a legal thriller with a tortured heroine who’s fighting the government and her own demons; an Irish thriller about a girl who falls for a convicted serial killer only to find out ten years later he’s not what he seemed; a fixer whose client is a big-time politician with secrets someone will murder to protect;  a cop-cum-PI who’s trying to find the man who framed him and cost him his badge; a resurrection of the iconic Philip Marlowe, now 72 and retired in LA; and a Victorian adventuress trying to unravel of web of intrigue at an Egyptian dig.

Personally, I don’t find most of these thumbnail descriptions all that enthralling, but that last one sounds pretty neat. Victorian adventuress trying to unravel a web of intrigue at an Egyptian dig? This is
A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn. Let’s take a look:

Hah, well, this particular book may be a little … what is the term I’m looking for? Mannered, perhaps. Overdone, for humorous effect, but I don’t necessarily find that kind of thing works well for me. I do think it’s clever, well done for the style, and would certainly work for many readers.

One thing to notice, I think, is that every novel opens with setting. There is a sense of place from the beginning. I don’t think that’s coincidence. Many workshop entries that I’ve seen essentially open in a white room. I don’t like all these openings myself, but I can see why they would appeal to judges — and to readers.

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