Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Cover: Of Absence, Darkness

Here’s the draft for the cover of Of Absence, Darkness. I think we’ll go with something very close to this. I’m not sure the title is visible enough, especially at thumbnail size.

I am aware this is not the correct back cover copy — it’s borrowed from the first book to look at placement and color and so on.

Here is the back cover text I’ve got for this book:

Down the rabbit hole, but not to Wonderland.

Never once did Daniel imagine that Tenai’s memories of her earlier life might be absolutely true. But when he and his daughter are swept up in the plots of Tenai’s enemies and dropped abruptly into a world of dark magic and darker history, Daniel is faced with the need to find a way to aid Tenai against the all-too-real echoes of her past.

Though the hidden schemes of Tenai’s enemies offer peril enough, the worse threat comes from within: if Tenai cannot master the vast rage she still carries, her own fury may shatter her world.

What do you think?

“Tenai’s enemies” or “her enemies” in the first paragraph? I’m thinking “her” is better in that paragraph. What about the last sentence?

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February is a good month for Swinburne

Here’s a poem that is on the dreary side even for Swinburne. Let us give up, go down, she will not care… what can I say, no matter how gloomy Swinburne gets, I still love his poems. This is another that offers rolling rhythm, alliteration, repetition, and rhyme that all serve to carry you unstoppably through the stanzas. It’s also a poem that offers some lines that I think would make great book titles. All the Stars Made Gold.

Here, see what you think —

A Leave-Taking

Let us go hence, my songs; she will not hear.
Let us go hence together without fear;
Keep silence now, for singing-time is over,
And over all old things and all things dear.
She loves not you nor me as all we love her.
Yea, though we sang as angels in her ear,
         She would not hear.

Let us rise up and part; she will not know.
Let us go seaward as the great winds go,
Full of blown sand and foam; what help is here?
There is no help, for all these things are so,
And all the world is bitter as a tear.
And how these things are, though ye strove to show,
         She would not know.

Let us go home and hence; she will not weep.
We gave love many dreams and days to keep,
Flowers without scent, and fruits that would not grow,
Saying ‘If thou wilt, thrust in thy sickle and reap.’
All is reaped now; no grass is left to mow;
And we that sowed, though all we fell on sleep,
         She would not weep.

Let us go hence and rest; she will not love.
She shall not hear us if we sing hereof,
Nor see love’s ways, how sore they are and steep.
Come hence, let be, lie still; it is enough.
Love is a barren sea, bitter and deep;
And though she saw all heaven in flower above,
         She would not love.

Let us give up, go down; she will not care.
Though all the stars made gold of all the air,
And the sea moving saw before it move
One moon-flower making all the foam-flowers fair;
Though all those waves went over us, and drove
Deep down the stifling lips and drowning hair,
         She would not care.

Let us go hence, go hence; she will not see.
Sing all once more together; surely she,
She too, remembering days and words that were,
Will turn a little toward us, sighing; but we,
We are hence, we are gone, as though we had not been there.
Nay, and though all men seeing had pity on me,
         She would not see.

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Yet another project kinda taking shape

Okay, I’m gradually getting some reasonable idea about (some of) what’s happening in the fifth Black Dog book. I mean, I know one of the central problems — so do you all, of course: plainly black witchcraft is a major problem. I know another more subtle but also central problem. I know I’ve got to find important things for various characters to do and resolve, or semi-resolve, various relationships. I definitely know something important that happens in the denouement that should work to help tie up the whole series.

But I do not know the title.

Two words, obviously. One or two syllables each.

Current thought: BLOOD WITCH.

Too much of a horror vibe? This book should actually edge a bit farther from horror. Probably. In some ways. I imagine some pretty awful things will most likely happen somewhere on the way to the end, but things can get pretty awful without actually falling too decisively on the horror side of the genre line.

Other thoughts: DEMON something or something DEMON

After all, demonic stuff of all kinds is the basic problem faced by this world. I mean, different kinds of demonic entities are still multiplying. I introduce yet another type of demon in a novella I’ve already written that takes place after Copper Mountain. A broad solution to demonic stuff in general would be a good thing, no question about that. Obviously the world of Black Dog has the fundamental potential to be a nicer place than the real world, as in that world demonic stuff is responsible for a very large proportion of the worst aspects of various societies.

Putting “demon” in the title does not get any farther removed from a horror vibe, though.

I’m going to have to come up with something pretty soon, as the cover artist is working on the cover for that book right now. Back cover copy will actually not be a big problem even though I haven’t written the book. I’ll just be vague and put the word “finale” in there somewhere to let readers know this one is the last novel in the series. But the title has to be figured out. If any of you happens to have a great idea for a title, by all means share it!

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The em-dash

At Kill Zone Blog, this post by James Scott Bell: The Em Dash and I—A Love Story

Happy Valentine’s Day! Since love is in the air, I thought I’d write about my own passionate affair. Don’t worry. My wife knows all about it, and doesn’t mind, though she wonders at my ardent attachment. “It’s just a punctuation mark,” she says.

“Not just any!” say I. “It’s the most versatile of the lot. It’s clean and strong. It clarifies and emphasizes without being boorish. Do not belittle my love of the em dash!”

Well, I missed seeing this post before Valentine’s Day, but it’s funny, so hey, here it is now. I should say, I’m a fan of the em-dash, sure, but perhaps not quite this ardent. In fact, I often take an hour to go through a manuscript taking out dashes (and ellipeses and semicolons). (I know you may not be able to tell.)

Anyway, sure, I’m fine with letting Bell make a strong case in favor of the dash. Let’s see —

Oh, he’s dissing the semicolon. Well, he’s definitely wrong about that one, but no one can be right all the time. I’m in a forgiving mood. I’ll let that pass and move on …

Sometimes I use the em dash instead of a comma. Here’s an example from Romeo’s Hammer:

So what about the lack of clothing? A love scene gone bad? Someone who had been with her while she was drinking—or drugging—herself? Her condition when I found her was such that she had to have come from one of the beach houses. Access to the sand is cut off all along PCH. She didn’t wander down from the street.

I used the em dash here because I wanted more emphasis on the word drugging than a comma setoff would create.

Yes, that’s one good use of a dash.

The em dash shows an interruption, which should immediately be followed by the other speaker’s words (or an action which cuts off the sentence, like a bullet through the heart). Again from Romeo’s Hammer:

“That’s a fine achievement,” I said. “You do know that kara is an ancient word that means to cleanse oneself of evil thoughts, and to be humbly receptive to peace and gentleness. Yes? You are therefore abusing your own discipline. That’s not a good way to—”

“Shut it!”

The em dash is also used for self-interruption:

“Slow down,” Jack said. “You’re driving too—stop! Look over there.”

And yes again, there’s the other main use of a dash. Bell makes the point — everyone seems to feel this point needs to be emphasized — that an ellipsis is not appropriate to show that someone has been interrupted or has interrupted himself. This is so obvious that I’m not entirely sure why I seem to see that advice everywhere. Plainly an ellipsis shows that someone has let their words trail off in a hesitant or absent-minded way. For that, the dash is not appropriate. I haven’t specifically noticed writers mistaking one for the other, though it must happen (a lot, maybe?) considering that Bell and so many others feel they have to clarify that a dash shows interruption and an ellipsis shows trailing off.

Anyway, if you like dashes — or would like to see someone justify the use of dashes — this is a fine post, so click over if you have a minute.

I will add — as some of you may have surmised — I don’t like the look of em-dashes in Word files. I just don’t. In print or for that matter in Kindle files or whatever, sure, but in Word files, I greatly prefer en-dashes with spaces on each side of the dash. I don’t know why, but this is such a strong preference that I type manuscripts with space en-dash space and then convert to correct em-dashes at the end. If you’ve beta read or proofread a manuscript of mine, you have quite likely seen a version with the en-dashes. The very last things I do to a manuscript when I format it to create the final Kindle and KDP and Draft to Digital files include: right-and-left-justify, change dashes to the proper form, and change ellipses to the proper form.

My borrowed laptop’s crappy word processing program does not do em-dashes; it just does two hyphens, exactly like WordPress, as this post demonstrates. So right now I also have to remember to search and replace for double hyphens as well as en-dashes. ALSO, it doesn’t do smart quote marks. THAT is something I barely noticed in time when I formatted Sphere. I’ve added a note in my formatting checklist: search and replace to turn straight quote marks to smart quote marks. It would be pretty embarrassing to bring out a novel in which the quote marks are mostly smart, but switch to straight here and there where recent editing took place!

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The necessary prequel

Intriguingly titled post at tor.com: Is There Such a Thing as a Necessary Prequel?

Hmm! A necessary prequel. One without which the novel itself cannot stand? One that the readers demand? What makes a prequel necessary? Why that prequel, and not some other prequel?

I have some important prequels around here and there. The most obvious is The Year’s Midnight, which is the prelude for the real story of the Death’s Lady trilogy. But is it a necessary prequel? I chose to write it. But I might equally have written an entire trilogy that handles the huge backstory, then used the story in The Year’s Midnight to link the huge prequel trilogy to the second almost equally huge story that happens sixteen years later. Who can say which part of the backstory is necessary? Other than me, deciding to write it or not write it.

Actually, I’m now more than a bit curious about the reading experience if someone skips The Year’s Midnight and reads the other two books in this set. Would the lack of that prelude interfere with the reading experience? If so, then the prelude is necessary.

In Winter of Ice and Iron, I started with a tiny prequel story about Innith’s mother — remember that?

In Law of the Broken Earth, I did the same thing, though the little prequel story was just a bit longer.

Of course some of the Black Dog novellas are prequel stories.

Well, enough thinking about my own prequels. What about this post? Let’s see —

The Magician’s Nephew was the hardest book to write in the Narnia series. It took C.S. Lewis five years, one significant redraft, and completing every other book in the Narnia series before he’d finally beaten The Magician’s Nephew into an acceptable shape.

Ah, okay. The post is about writing prequels after the series is complete, and is arguing that most authors can’t or don’t write prequels that stand up to the original series in quality. Why do so many screenwriters and novelists think they can toss off a prequel that’s genuinely satisfying? The pop culture landscape is rife with prequels that either bombed entirely or quietly faded from fandom memoryWhy are prequels so hard to pull off?

I don’t know, are prequels hard to pull off, really? Of course a lot of the linked post is about movies. I don’t watch that many movies, so I’m not particularly familiar with those. But while on the subject, here is a fun post: 10 Science Fiction Prequels that Aren’t as Bad as Phantom Menace

Yes, I heard quite a bit about Phantom Menace at the time.

Let me think. Steven Brust has moved back and forth a lot along Vlad’s personal timeline while writing the Taltos series. I don’t think moving back in time is a problem in this series, although some books in the series are not necessarily ones to re-read. (Thinking of Tekla, of course.) If he did that now, it might seem a little odd, after moving so far forward along in Vlad’s life. But this is still one of the best examples I can think of.

Lois McMaster Bujold wrote Barrayar after writing several books about Miles. That was definitely a successful prequel novel. Looks like Shards of Honor and The Warrior’s Apprentice came out the same year? I don’t remember that. I wonder which she actually wrote first. Either way, she backtracked to write Barrayar.

In fact, if she wanted to go on with the Vorkosigan series, one way to do that would be to go way back in time and write prequels. I grant, she doesn’t seem to have much interest in doing that. Which is too bad; wouldn’t you like to see a couple books set during the Cetagandan invasion? That may be one of the prequels I would most enjoy reading.

Okay, on that note — what’s a prequel you would particularly enjoy, to a series or a standalone that doesn’t have one now?

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Progress report

Oh, well, actually, this past weekend was VERY NONPRODUCTIVE in some ways. In other ways, well —

a) My parents finally got Covid vaccinations, yay! While this didn’t take TOO long, it did take most of Saturday morning and then I never quite back to opening up my laptop. Especially because it was easily warm enough for the dogs to enjoy long walks, plus there is still enough snow to keep their feet clean, so there went the afternoon.

b) I spent all of Sunday baking. I do very little baking these days, but every now and then I have some decent-ish excuse. This time I made corn fritters — I don’t know why, but now that I mostly avoid carbs, corn fritters are something I miss. The sweet kind that you serve with syrup. Then I made a kind of unbaked cheesecake suitable to put in dessert dishes instead of a crust.

Then I made a chocolate layer cake with some of my black cocoa powder. Has anyone tried this? The cocoa powder is very heavily dutched, that’s why it’s so dark in color. The cake comes out VERY black, but with less chocolate flavor than if you used regular cocoa. I used some bittersweet chocolate in addition to the cocoa powder and this cake came out rather well. I was going to make black chocolate frosting as well, but wound up making a not-too-sweet white cream cheese filling instead and using that, so the cake wasn’t unrelieved black.

Anyway, half the cake went to my parents and the other half largely wound up in my freezer. I really overdosed on sugar and won’t have any trouble sticking to the keto diet for the rest of the week, I’m pretty sure.

So the only thing I actually got done:

c) I did read through the current version of Of Absence, Darkness. Wow, reordering certain scenes created VERY ABRUPT scene shifts here and there, which I had not previously realized. So I smoothed those out. I’m also integrating various first readers’ comments and smoothing out the phrasing of sentences and fixing typos and all that. I have now ended this book earlier than I previously intended, so it will come out a little short, whereas the final book will be a little long. I didn’t quite finish that over the weekend, but should be able to do that tonight.

As a side note, I also realized what the other Big Problem will be for the fifth Tuyo novel. I already knew about the most important Big Problem, which has to do with, um, never mind, but the point is, there was no actual villain of any kind in the fifth book. Now I think there is. Unless I change my mind, I know who the villain is and why this person is a villain and what’s going on with all that. I like this idea so far and made a quick note of it so I don’t forget before I get around to actually writing this book.

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Back cover copy for Tarashana

You know what? It never really occurred to me that bringing five books out this spring meant I would keep needing to write back cover descriptions!

Aargh!

So, anyway, I just uploaded Tarashana in KDP and Kindle formats, and in the space where it says “description,” I just wrote “add description here” so that I could move on and upload the documents. I did that so I could see how many pages the book will be in KDP, so I can pass that information to the cover artist. (If you’re interested, 455 pp in the 6 inch x 9 inch size.) (If you’re interested in what that actually means, this book is just about 50,000 words longer than Tuyo.)

I actually have a tiny bit more revision to do, which I’m rather hoping to compress into adding a few sentences here and there. I will endeavor not to change the page numbers significantly. I don’t think it will be a problem. I also threw a fake cover on the book and ordered a proof copy so that I can look it over ONE MORE TIME for typos.

[By the way, someone just read Black Dog for the first time, then connected with me via Messenger, and sent me a list of, I don’t know, twenty or so typos that were still in that book. It’s humbling, that’s what it is. I sent her the next couple of books and dared her to find as many in Copper Mountain, since I think the proofing process is more thorough now than it used to be. I’m betting fewer than five. We’ll see!]

But my POINT is, I have to write back cover copy for this book. Several of you have a knack for spotting problems in book descriptions and suggesting better phrasing, and of course a few of you have read the manuscript and might be able to make very pointed suggestions. As always, I prefer not to give too much away. So here goes:

A year and a half ago, Ryo and Aras defeated their enemy, ending the conflict between the winter country and the summer lands. But Lord Aras, all his important secrets revealed in that struggle, now faces a different kind of challenge in dealing with his own countrymen.

Then a message arrives from Ryo’s people: A woman of the Tarashana has come to them from the starlit lands beyond their northern border. Though she plainly needs their help, she is mute. She cannot explain what happened to her people or describe what enemy drove them from their lands. No Ugaro can speak to her — but Aras might. Will he come, and by his arts help Tarashana and Ugaro understand one another?

Intrigued by this problem, and with every reason to leave his own country for some time, Aras agrees. But the journey upon which he and Ryo embark will be far longer and far more challenging than either of them could possibly expect …

There, how does that seem? Does anything in that sound wrong to anyone — too wordy, too vague, awkward, uninviting?

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Happy-Sad Endings

At Writers Helping Writers, this post: Story Resolutions: Mastering the Happy-Sad Ending

Good topic! I like happy endings, but yes, I also often like happy-sad endings. I sometimes (rarely) am okay with tragic endings. I detest grimdark endings.

Now, this post does begin by asserting that purely happy or purely sad endings “don’t always provide a solid emotional punch,” which is fair, I guess, because of the word “always” in there. However, I think it’s quite obvious that purely happy endings can indeed provide a powerful emotional punch. So can tragic endings. It’s not necessary to claim otherwise in order to justify happy-sad endings, which should be chosen NOT because they carry more emotional punch, but because they suit the story that has been told. Which sometimes they do!

Let me see where this post goes … well, I might argue with a good many of the premises of this post, but I do agree with this bit:

After some tinkering, I stumbled onto a secret for creating this emotionally complex story resolution: For the happy-sad ending to work, the two emotions should be tied to each other in one sequence of cause and effect. In other words, one should not be possible without the other. 

That seems right. Anything else is likely to taken as evidence that the author is manipulating the reader. If the happy part is not linked to the sad part, it’ll feel like one or the other is gratuitous. In fact, it’ll feel that way because one or the other will BE gratuitous.

The post then identifies different ways to link the happy part to the sad part. Let’s see …

1) The Character Deliberately Sacrifices the Goal So They Can Attain Something More Important

Yes, this fundamentally happens in every successful romance novel. That’s kind of the point. The female lead, the male lead, or both have to give up something they thought crucial in order to commit to the other person. That’s not actually a happy-sad ending, of course, as the thing given up is shown to be not worth having.

I suppose a better example would occur in Dragon’sbane by Barbara Hambly, when Jenny giving up being a dragon in order to have her human life. She really did have to give up something she valued in order to attain that ending.

2) The Character Fails in Achieving Their Goal, But They Do Attain Growth

I suppose that could work, if the goal was not the one they should have been pursing in the first place. Otherwise, this book better be Book Two in a series. As the final ending of a story, I can’t see this being adequately satisfying.

3) The Character Is Only Partially Successful

Again, this might work best if the goal was only partially one they should have attained.

4) The Character Gets What They Want But They Lose Something Vital

Ah, we are into the realm of sad endings here. If the character loses something vital, this is a fundamentally tragic story. I’m not sure the example given in the post works well — the author of the post cites the fifth Harry Potter book, referring to the loss of Sirius Black. I don’t believe that’s fair. The death of that character provides a sad note to the ending, but this loss is not “something vital.” Let me see.

Okay, a better example: the ending of The Hunger Games trilogy. In fact, I thought Collins overdid the tragic element of that ending by quite a bit. I have never had an inclination to re-read that trilogy because of the (gratuitous, imo) loss of something vital.

5) The Character Sacrifices Himself to Gain Victory for Good 

Too many examples of that to count, but, to mention one I personally found tolerable, Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy ends this way. That’s hard to pull off well enough for the ending to work for me. Part of the reason it works in this example is that the victory is very important. The other reason it works is that so many of the other characters are so important that the loss of this one specific character becomes more tolerable.

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Progress report

Wow, so much snow! Lots more in other areas of the country, I realize, but plenty here. About a foot, I guess. Too much for Pippa; she gets off into the deep snow and flounders. I swept the front walkway; a neighbor plowed the driveway, the county people plowed the road; it’s fine to take her out on leash. Just 0° and thus a bit chilly.

I am very definitely staying home. I brought stuff home to do for work, which I will get to later today because hey, no need to keep a schedule. Also, the computer people hadn’t yet looked at my laptop, but I took it back for now until they actually have time to look at it. So that is much better and lets me get more done at home.

So:

A) I have been spending mornings working on Invictus, because why not. I must say, it is a lot easier to revise now that I know what everybody’s secret plans actually are.

B) I put Tarashana into into the KDP template and did the necessary formatting. WOW IS THAT TEDIOUS. That is now finished, thank heaven. I will just correct the hopefully few remaining typos in both the Kindle and the KDP versions. That is a little annoying, but not bad, compared to formatting everything in the first place.

C) Ditto for The Year’s Midnight. That was half the length, so half as tedious. I probably (certainly) will have a few typos to correct there too.

D) Started to do the small amount of revision for Of Absence, Darkness, but felt unenthusiastic and took an extended break to read the By-and-Rish fanfic Pete linked to in the previous post. Very enjoyable!

E) Started again this morning with (D), still unenthusiastic, took notes for TUYO books 4 and 5 instead.

However, I will ABSOLUTELY start that revision today. Or definitely tomorrow. Honestly, it isn’t that bad. The first step is to decide for sure where exactly to break book II from book III. Then a really quite trivial amount of revision, relatively speaking. Then typos. Then drop them into the KDP template and format. I would like to have most or all of that done by this time next week.

Is it crazy to bring the whole Death’s Lady trilogy AND Tarashana out in March? Because I think there is a good chance everything will be ready.

I hope everyone is staying warm and enjoying the snow!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Here is a post from Book Bub: 24 Readers Share the Most Romantic Books They’ve Ever Read

I’ve even read a few of those, though I don’t believe I’d have thought of any of them right off as “most romantic books ever.” But then, I don’t often go out of my way to read books that are heavy in the romance department, though I do read some romances, of course. I also enjoy a romance in an SFF novel, if it’s not too angsty and emotionally overwrought, and if it’s embedded in a good story with good worldbuilding.

In the order in which I happened to think of them: SFF Romances —

  1. Miles and Ekaterin
  2. Come to think of it, also Cordelia and Aral. Good heavens, what a terrible cover Shards of Honor has now. I mean, seriously.
  3. Dag and Fawn
  4. Tier and Seraph in the Raven duology by Patricia Briggs
  5. Oh! Don’t know why I didn’t think of them first, but of course Koaren and Cassandra in the Touchstone trilogy.
  6. I’m currently rereading The Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker, so Amaranth and Sicarius.
  7. New to my favorite-romance list, Elsa and Kit from From All False Doctrine.
  8. Wen and Jasper from Fortune and Fate
  9. Zoe and Darien from Troubled Waters.
  10. Your Choice Here

Who leaps to mind for you all? Who would you put in the tenth spot?

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