Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


Writing under the influence

A post at terrible minds by Michael Moreci: Writing under the influence.

It’s the same balance of embracing your influences while maintaining your own voice. If you want to tell an epic fantasy but feel like it’s too much like Robert Jordan, remember that it’s you telling the story in your unique way. And the more you write, and the more your story takes shape, I’m confident that it’ll sounds less and less like Wheel of Time and more like your own thing. The same thing exists in Black Star Renegades. The Star Wars DNA is all over that book, but so is my DNA. There’s a lot of love for the galaxy far, far away in those pages, but there’s also a deconstruction of the messiah complex, and that dominant aspect of the book is all me. That’s my voice coming through, and it’s what makes that story what it is, and not just a Star Wars rip-off.

Best tidbit from this post:

Solomon said there’s nothing new under the sun, and in my opinion that’s true (to a degree—if you dropped Solomon into our world, I’m sure he’d say “Holy shit! Look at all these new things under the sun!”)

That made me chuckle.

Anyway, I agree. In fact, I’m probably more adamant about this than Michael Moreci, because he writes stuff for existing characters and I don’t. And the reason I don’t is because when I used to try (in my head) to write, for example, a Star Trek tie-in type of thing, it was hopeless. Completely hopeless.

Things I just cannot do: stay true to the voice of someone else’s characters.

So, yeah, I don’t worry about accidentally writing a Wheel of Time clone — or in my case, a Patricia McKillip clone — because I really don’t think it’s possible. No matter what I try to do, my own voice comes through. I think that’s basically true for everyone.

Or mostly. I really admire the authors who have pulled off the best Star Trek tie-ins.

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Via tor.com: Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is heading for a TV series:

After a failed attempt at a movie in 2013, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman has now apparently found a home–and a giant budget–at Netflix.

The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that Neil Gaiman’s iconic comics series Sandman has been acquired by Netflix, in a deal that they are describing as “the most expensive TV series that DC Entertainment has ever done.”

Very cool!

But the casting! Do you think they’ll be able to find the right people to play Dream and Death? I don’t think any other characters are as important to get right, but those two are crucial.

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Shocking news

From this article at The Bookseller: Fifty-one percent of women over 40 feel older women in fiction books tend to fall into clichéd roles, according to a new survey. 

I’m sure next we’ll see startling news that a majority of women from 20 to 40 feel that fictional women in this age group are frequently presented in cliched roles.

After that, perhaps we’ll be stunned to hear that teen girls consider that many teen girls in novels tend to fall into cliched roles.

After that, the guys can join in.

Can there be anyone, anywhere, who has somehow spent their life reading but is only now realizing that many characters, of all types, fall into cliched roles in fiction? What next, the shocking revelation that fictional characters are frequently wittier conversationalists and faster with pithy retorts than people in real life? That fictional characters experience death-defying adventure more frequently than is entirely plausible?

Anyway, the article goes on to push for more novels featuring female protagonists over forty, which would be nice, sure, but I’m not holding my breath considering the preeminence of YA right now.

Still, since we seem to have arrived at this topic: quick, let’s list off some female protagonists who are fortyish or above. These are in no order whatsoever other; this is just as I thought of them.

  1. Maskelle, from Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells
  2. Laura in In Arcadia by Andrea K Host
  3. Ista from Paladin of Souls by LMB
  4. Herris Serrano from Hunting Party by Elizabeth Moon
  5. Martha from Tea with the Black Dragon by RA MacAvoy
  6. Mama Jason in Mirabile by Janet Kagan
  7. Sennith in the Twelve Houses series by Sharon Shinn. She’s not yet in her forties, I don’t think, but she’s not some young girl either.
  8. Perhaps ditto for Torrin Kerr in the Valor series by Tanya Huff. I’m not sure she’s in her forties, but she’s certainly mature.
  9. Seraph in the Raven duology by Patricia Briggs.

Who else? Mature female protagonists; not just secondary characters. I’m sure I’m missing some. Who could go in that tenth spot?

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Hambly’s Darwath trilogy on sale — and fitting Darwath into Hambly’s oeuvre

Just letting you know that Barbara Hambly’s Darwath trilogy is on sale for $2.99 on Amazon right now.

This is not my favorite series by Hambly, but then she’s written a whole bunch of books that fall into a wider-than-usual spectrum of quality. It’s a good trilogy. I like it quite a bit. If you’ve never read it, I suggest you pick it up.

So, this makes me want to set this trilogy within Hambly’s oeuvre. Let me take a stab at that. I’m going to break series up where I think that’s appropriate. None of the books within a category are sorted out at all. The whole category is about at the same level for me.

Right at the top:

Dragonsbane (first book of the Winterlands series)

The Ladies of Mandrigin (first book of the Sunwolf/Starhawk series)

The Witches of Winshar (second book of the Sunwolf/Starhawk series)

Ishmael (Star Trek tie-in). I have no idea how often I’ve read this book. It’s probably my favorite Star Trek novel of all time.

Those Who Hunt the Night (first book of the vampire series)

Bride of the Rat God (yes, really, don’t be put off by the title, which is supposed to evoke B-grade campy movies)

A Free Man of Color (first book of the Benjamin January series)

One step down:

The Windrose trilogy (but it’s very intense and one book ends on a terrible cliffhanger. Which is fine, since the whole series is out; I’m just saying that I think it may have left a permanent scar when I had to wait a year for the next book to come out.)

Stranger at the Wedding (standalone in the Windrose universe)

Traveling with the Dead (second book of the vampire series)

Two steps down:

Most of the rest of the vampire series

Most of the rest of the Benjamin January series

The Darwath trilogy

The Dark Hand of Magic (the third book in the Sunwolf/Starhawk series)

I like all the books in this category a lot. The Benjamin January series is my favorite mystery series ever.

Three steps down:

The Abigail Adams mysteries, written as Barbara Hamilton. For characterization and setting, these are top-notch. For mysteries, rather less so, as I thought the murderer was pretty obvious in all of them. I really like them though! Characters and setting are the point of mysteries, for me, rather than the mystery itself.

Some of the Benjamin January books fall in this category for me as well, but I don’t actually remember which titles. The one that takes place in Mexico isn’t a personal favorite. Nor the one that involves baseball. I like the whole series a bunch, though, so everything in this category is still something I like a lot.

A couple of the vampire series fall in this category as well. Again, not sure which titles.

The other two Star Trek tie-ins, which are Ghostwalker and Crossroads.

And then waaaay down the list, like down another dozen steps down at least. Maybe two dozen more steps down:

Mother of Winter (set in the Darwath world)

The rest of the Winterlands series

The Sun-Cross duology, which I think of as the Nazi duology

These are the ones I either couldn’t get through or wished I hadn’t. I fear I thought Mother of Winter was just pretty bad. There’s one more book set after this one and I never tried it because I could not bring myself to finish Mother of Winter. I couldn’t tell you why I had such trouble with this book — I tried it a long time ago.

As you may know, the rest of the series after Dragonsbane gets very, very, very, VERY dark. I read it, but then I gave the books away. I hope I included a warning label for the next reader.

And for whatever reason, I just found the Nazi duology unreadable. Oh, now that I think about it, I do know why. It’s because the good guy protagonists are stumbling into disaster in extreme slow motion over the course of the entire first book, and I found that situation simply unbearable. That’s why. I never read the second book, so to me, the protagonists were left in a terrible situation.

Books I haven’t read:

It turns out there are some, including a couple fantasy novels.

The Raven Sisters duology — never tried it.

Star Wars tie-ins — I was never into Star Wars and never tried those.

Hambly wrote a handful of historicals and I haven’t read those either. They seem to be Civil War stories. Not a period I’m that drawn to, so I may never try them, though I did like the Abigail Adams mysteries, so who knows.

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Hiring a libel service

This is a funny post and thought-provoking post, which on second thought almost (but perhaps not quite) sounds like a good idea.

Basically, you’d hire a “libel service” to randomly defame you on the internet, so that whenever anyone says something bad about you on Twitter or Facebook, or in the comments area of some newspaper, you could just say “that’s probably my libel service.” No one would know whether the defamatory statements were true or not, and people would be predisposed to doubt anything too terrible that’s said about you. 

This is all based on something Neal Stephenson came up with in a new novel, Fall, or Dodge in Hell. I almost sort of think it sounds like it could work.

Or maybe not. Stephenson suggests not really:

But Stephenson’s new book adds another takeaway: In the novel, Pluto’s automated-defamation scheme does actually work for some high percentage of the population, who learn to think more critically about stuff they came across on the internet and elsewhere in our media culture. …But there’s also an irreducible fraction of people who continue to cherry-pick narratives, whether true or false, solely on the criterion of whether the narratives confirm their cherished beliefs. They won’t be newly sophisticated media skeptics or discriminating news consumers—instead they’ll commit to the path of confirmation bias

Unfortunately, that seems highly plausible.

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If you’re on a panel

Here’s a good thread from Delilah Dawson about how to behave well on a panel at a convention.

I think this item is especially good:

8. As the panel mojo progresses, consider how you can use a question to take a different perspective than the other panelists. If someone’s answer is close to yours, how can you broaden the discussion? What experience do you bring to the table that’s different and new?

I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of that, certainly not in those terms. This seems like a good idea to keep in mind. It can be fair, I think, to say essentially, “Yes, I’m basically a clone of [other panel member] on this one. I too [do this exact same thing/feel this exact same way].” But I like the idea of thinking not, Yes, me too, but How can I broaden that answer?

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Active geology can be scary

A post that caught my eye this morning …

There are some impressive lava fields near Reykjavik, but the lava fields of the south are simply vast, and produce hours of the most boring driving imaginable, with nothing but gray moss and distant mountains to look at.  This was all laid down in the eruption of Laki in 1783, in which a 25-kilometer gash opened up in the earth, and poured out lava for five months, and intermittently for the next 11 years.  Most of Iceland was covered by ash and cinders contaminated by fluorine, which killed most crops and maybe half the livestock.  …

The eruption was so vast that it had enormous geopolitical consequences.  A sulphur dioxide fog settled over much of Europe, so thick that ships could not leave port.  As people are not equipped to breathe sulphuric acid, thousands died.  The freezing winter of 1784 caused widespread famine, notably in France, where it probably contributed to the French Revolution.

In America, the Chesapeake froze over.  In Asia the monsoon cycle was disrupted, and the Nile failed to flood, resulting in the starvation deaths of a sixth of the population of Egypt.

Active geology can be pretty damned scary.

Human memory is so short. No one remembers this now. I wonder whether this might be because we prefer to believe that human activity is REALLY IMPORTANT, because that gives us a sense of control, when in fact at any moment we might suddenly find out that active geology is waaaaaay more important than we thought and boom, we’re facing a huge catastrophe we could not really anticipate and cannot affect.

If I wanted to write a post-apocalyptic novel, I would almost certainly start with active geology.

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Book recommendation lists

At tor.com, James Davis Nicholl discusses writing book recommendation lists.

I like the way he starts off:

Surely my lifetime of reading and listing qualifies me to offer timely advice to others contemplating their first lists—lists that I am sure will end up being every bit as apropos as the ones that populate so many discussions of this sort.

The most important rule is do absolutely no research.  If the titles don’t come to mind at once, then how on Earth can they be significant works? Disregard those croakers who dwell overlong on just how many science fiction and fantasy books have been published over the decades and on the fallibility of unassisted memory. Consider this: if memory were notoriously unreliable, wouldn’t I remember that?


The sarcasm gets even more pointed after that.

I actually would be interested in one list that Nicholl proposes in the comments:

I wonder if people would like “James’ Top Ten Books That Are By Any Reasonable Standard Terrible That He Still Rereads.”

Sure, I would. That’s kind of a neat idea for a list. I’m not positive I could personally come up with a top-ten list of objectively terrible books I still re-read. I’m not even positive I can think of any. A top-ten list of “meh” books would be much easier.

Other personal lists that might be neat:

–Top ten most re-read before I turned 20.

–Top ten most re-read in the past decade.

–Top ten seriously flawed books that I really like despite the flaws.

–Top ten books on my shelves that I feel worst about not having read yet.

–Top ten books I got rid of that I now regret I don’t own.

Maybe I should get on those and start trying to do a top ten of some kind every week or so.

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Recent Reading: The Duchess War, by Courtney Milan

Okay, this is not the first Courtney Milan romance I’ve read. It’s just nearly the first.

Also, this may be my new favorite romance novel ever.

When he meets her, Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, thinks that Minnie is a plucky, clever woman. That’s what I thought, too.

Shortly thereafter, he realizes she is actually waaaaay more than “plucky” and “clever.” This was a revelation to us both.

You know that post some time ago about really brilliant protagonists, like Azherit in Bradshaw’s Magic’s Poison series and Lord Vetinari and so on. Someone commented that most of these protagonists were men.

Well, not long after they meet, when Minnie and Robert are first sparring and the story is being set up, she says something like, “Yes, of course, you’re a duke and rich and everyone falls over themselves to do what you say, but on the other hand, I have …”

“Yes?” he demands. “What?”

“A sense of tactics,” she murmurs, and leaves him staring after her. I laughed out loud.

Fantastic setup. Great characters. Fundamentally simple, sure, but great. Minnie does not have the scope to show off her tactical brilliance as much as, say, Miles Vorkosigan. But she’s got enough scope to make me happy with the story.

I’ll give you one minor reveal: Minnie was raised as a boy until she was twelve.

Here’s a second reveal: when you think, But HOW could just being raised as a boy have been THIS traumatic, no matter what century this books was set in? you are right to think so. That was not the traumatic part, and the emotional scarring that Minnie carries around with her is not due to that. Associated, yes, but wow, is there more to that story.

It’s tough to design a male lead strong enough to play opposite Minnie, but Robert holds up his end of the story. In fact, in some ways he’s even my favorite character.

Lots of great secondary characters too. This is part of a series (“The Brothers Sinister”), so naturally we’re going to see those characters again.

The Governess Affair is a linked prequel novella, which I note is free on Kindle. I’m reading it now. It contains one of the very few sex scenes I did not skim lightly across. Looks like there are four novels in the series, plus another novella. There’s a boxed set, but since I already bought two novels and a novella separately, I guess I won’t get that, even though the price does make it a good deal.

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Skynet smiles

You’ve seen that video of the “robot” beating up people? It’s right here, if you haven’t, plus information about how the video was faked up.

I was reminded of this by this list at Book Riot: 10 CHILLINGLY POSSIBLE SCI-FI BOOKS ABOUT AIS TAKING OVER

“Possible” is not the word I would use here, by the way. How about “scenarios made to seem plausible by good writers, assisted by this weird but common belief that AI is right around the corner.”

Anyway, interesting list, sure.

ANCILLARY JUSTICE — very neat choice, so far beyond what everyone else has done with the idea of artificial intelligence.

CITY by Clifford Simek, for a non-chilling rendition.

Then a bunch I haven’t read, including THE PREY OF GODS  by Nicky Draden, which I started, but I fear the grim and gritty flavor made me put it down again in short order. Also SEA OF RUST by C Robert Cargill, which I also haven’t read, but actually have on my TBR shelves at this very moment. Here’s the description:

Now that the humans are all dead, robots can get down to what they always wanted to do: figuring out why they’re here and what their lives mean. Most of them find it easier to join one of two Brobdingnagian superintelligences and relinquish their individuality. The others pick through scrap heaps for spare parts and hold onto their freedom with every ounce of strength. This is the story of one of their number, a former nurse whose betrayal of humanity haunts him.

Too much angst for me? Hard to say. We’ll see.

Meanwhile! Obvious AIs that this post missed. I can think of several:


The AIs in The Seafort Saga by David Feintuch



Murderbot, obviously.

Not sure if I have a penchant for non-chilling AIs, but none of those are scary. I mean, potentially scary, in some cases. But yeah, probably I’m specifically selecting for nice AIs.

I am now having a really tough time trying to decide who my very favorite AI character is. Murderbot? Or Breq? I may have to flip a coin …

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