Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


What do we see when we read?

A fascinating article: What We See When We Read

A thought experiment: Picture your mother. Now picture your favorite literary character. (Or: Picture your home. Then picture Howards End.) The difference between your mother’s afterimage and that of a literary character you love is that the more you concentrate, the more your mother might come into focus. A character will not reveal herself so easily. (The closer you look, the farther away she gets.)

This whole article is well worth reading.

It’s also interesting to me because I do relatively little — sometimes almost no — physical description of characters. I have literally written entire books without ever describing the protagonist. That has occasionally caused a few minutes of bother, as an editor will sometimes ask, “Who’s an actor who looks sort of like your protagonist?” and I have no idea (a) of the names of any actors of remotely the right age and general type; and (b) only a vague idea what my protagonist looks like. I have to sit down and google “young male actors” or whatever and scan through a lot of images until I finally say, “Sort of like Really Famous Person I Had Never Previously Heard Of.”

In some ways I have a very visual imagination. But not in that way.

By all means click through and consider the question of what Anna Karenina looks like.

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Unexpected progress report

So, we had three snow days in a row this past week, which means:

a) I finished revising the Tarashana manuscript, which is now ready for me to send it out for proofreading. Some of you will get those requests today. No rush whatsoever! I can’t see myself bringing this book out before April. But I think this is a really good story and I hope you all enjoy it.

b) I did a bit of revision of The Year’s Midnight and I’m now ready to put the story into the KDP template and then load the final version plus the cover, so yay! Serious progress there. I will then get a proof copy and go over that one more time, by which I mean, I will ask my mother to go over it. She has a very good eye for typos.

c) I could not do any revision for Death’s Lady II or III because, argh, the laptop I am using cannot look at .doc files properly. I will now, today, at work, create .docx files which that laptop’s crappy, stripped-down word processing program will be able to handle.

d) But! Since I was finished with (a) and (b) and couldn’t do (c), I obviously had NO CHOICE but to start revising Invictus according to the notes I took a couple of weeks ago. This is the sort of thing where one very slowly and carefully spends about two hours revising the first three paragraphs of the story, BUT it is also the sort of thing that I enjoy doing, as long as I like the story in the first place. The revision I have in mind is working fine, although this first part is going so slowly.

With luck I will be able to / have no choice but to put Invictus aside and work on Death’s Lady II and III this weekend. With REAL luck, I will get all the minor revisions and proofing done for that this weekend. That would be fabulous, but it may be a tiny bit optimistic.

By the way, TUYO is free today and through the weekend. This is the last time it will be free for a couple-three months because that’s how KDP free days work; five possible free days per three-month period. So, hey, if you think of someone who might like the book, this is the time to send them a free copy!

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Swinburne again

Really, Swinburne is one of my favorites. Those gloomy topics appeal to me in poetry, but more than that, Swinburne does wonderful things with rhythm and rhyme and alliteration.

Here’s a poem I didn’t use for the titles for the Death’s Lady series, but thought about seriously. It’s not truly suitable in theme or tone, but I do love this poem. Oddly, the second-to-the-last stanza is the one that I clearly recognize. One would think any Lit textbook would quote the whole thing. Either this stanza stood out for me at the time or perhaps I’ve seen it quoted elsewhere.

The Garden of Proserpine

Here, where the world is quiet;
         Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds’ and spent waves’ riot
         In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
         A sleepy world of streams.

I am tired of tears and laughter,
         And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
         For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
         And everything but sleep.

Here life has death for neighbour,
         And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labour,
         Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
         And no such things grow here.

No growth of moor or coppice,
         No heather-flower or vine,
But bloomless buds of poppies,
         Green grapes of Proserpine,
Pale beds of blowing rushes
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
Save this whereout she crushes
         For dead men deadly wine.

Pale, without name or number,
         In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
         All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
         Comes out of darkness morn.

Though one were strong as seven,
         He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
         Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
         In the end it is not well.

Pale, beyond porch and portal,
         Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
         With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love’s who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
         From many times and lands.

She waits for each and other,
         She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
            The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
         And flowers are put to scorn.

There go the loves that wither,
         The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
         And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
         Red strays of ruined springs.

We are not sure of sorrow,
         And joy was never sure;
To-day will die to-morrow;
         Time stoops to no man’s lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
         Weeps that no loves endure.

From too much love of living,
         From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
         Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
         Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Then star nor sun shall waken,
         Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
         Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
         In an eternal night.

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The Year’s Midnight

The full cover:

I think all the details have been taken care of, and thank you particulaly to those of you who pointed out the “y” in lady looked like a “t.”

As you see, the sword is more prominent, so that should say FANTASY clearly enough, especially since the sword is referenced in the first paragraphs of the story.

I have to say, with that full moon and the sword, I really think any human figure, especially a woman, would indeed scream URBAN FANTASY, so I’m glad I went for an ambiguously eerie scene with a sword instead. The other two covers should be more fantasy and less literary, yet consistent with this, so that’ll be a challenge.

I am proofing this story today, by the way, with a tiny bit of revision as I go. We are currently watching ice fall out of the sky, so it’s a good thing I have stuff I can do from home. There goes the grit truck! But I will stay in and not test the roads personally.

This is our second snow day this week. Yesterday I finished revising Tarashana, so I am happy to say things are moving right along! In fact, everything is moving along so well that, barring disaster, I kinda think I will most likely release this trilogy in March and Tarashana possibly as early as April and probably not later than May. That will certainly clear a large chunk of the year to work on other things. I don’t mind this finishing work, but I am looking forward to that!

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Recent Reading: Jackaby by William Ritter

So, I read this book as part of the Great Ongoing 2021 Plan to clear some few books of the massive physical TBR pile. Perhaps I should say “goal” or “intention” or “challenge” … or “wistful hope” … rather than “plan,” as who knows how long I’ll keep taking a book off those shelves and then actually reading them. Anyway, this book, Jackaby, came out in, let me see, 2015, and there’s every chance it’s been on my shelves since at least 2016. I think I picked it up at a World Fantasy Convention or WorldCon or something.

The cover’s got a bit of a horror vibe, it seems to me, and I think that is one reason I felt reluctant to try it BUT also one reason I picked it up now. I think I hoped that I wouldn’t like it and would put it aside promptly. That sort of fast DNF is perfect for clearing books off the TBR pile at a brisk pace. Anyway, no, that didn’t happen. Jackaby is actually not horror. I mean, it’s got some horror vibes, I guess, but it is actually a Sherlock Holmes type of mystery, except packed chock-full of crazy fantasy elements. The pov protagonist, Abigail, is newly arrived in the US. She was looking for a job, Jackaby was advertising for an investigative assistant, and there we go, a story.

It was late January, and New England wore a fresh coat of snow as I stepped along the gangplank to the shore. The city of New Fiddleham glistened in the fading dusk, lamplight playing across the icy buildings that lined the waterfront, turning their brickwork to twinkling diamonds in the dark. In the inky blackness of the Atlantic, the reflected glow of the gaslamps danced and bobbed. I made my way, forward, carrying everything that traveled with me in a single suitcase.

Shortly, Abigail bumps encounters Jackaby, who is a, or possibly the, seer — a person who can see all the crazy things the world is filled with. Ghosts, trolls, banshees, fae, you name it. A seriel killer is rampaging through the city — thus the horror vibe — but, though there’s a certain amount of gore, the story really is not taking itself all that seriously, so the reader doesn’t have to either.

The writing is good — very good. The characters are fine, if a touch stereotypical. That may be intentional, as I think the story is probably meant to be a Sherlock Holmes homage and thus playing with characters suited for that sort of story. The story itself is fine, although a touch predictable. There’s not a lot of depth to this novel, but that may be something that appeals to you from time to time. It did to me. My favorite element is the plethora of crazy details, particularly the house, with the toad and the ghost and the pond and the duck. Particularly the duck. Honestly, if you read a sample and are on the fence about picking up this novel, go ahead and get it so that you can enjoy the duck.

Also, I enjoy the fact that Ch 13 reads in its entirety: By request of my employer, the contents of this chapter have been ommitted. Spoiler: we never do find out what Ch. 13 might have said.

Who would like this book:

If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan and you also like fantasy, this book was probably aimed straight at you, so by all means pick it up and give it a try.

If you want a story with offbeat humorous details, a story you don’t reallly have to take too seriously, again, this might be exactly what you’re looking for.

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Progress Report

Okay, so, I expect you may well have noticed when I mentioned that The Sphere of the Winds is now available — most available, and I *am* sorry I didn’t just hit “publish now” rather than “preorder” because that extra week to make the Kindle ebook available is annoying. Still, it’s only one extra week.

So, (a) Sphere is now out, more or less, and anyway there’s nothing I have to do about it now other than mention it around on social media.

(b) I spent three hours on Saturday looking at new-to-me book promotion sites and setting up another free book promotion for Tuyo. This one will run from the 12th to the 14th and that will be it for setting this particular book free for a few months. I think it’ll be, what, three months before I can set it free again? I can, of course, do some other kind of promotion. Anyway, I’m trying out, let me see, four less-expensive book promotion services and then I’ll see how the results stacks up against Freebooksy by itself. I also set up a $0.99 promotion for Black Dog for the first week of March through yet another promotion service, this one rather different. We’ll see how that goes.

(c) I finished the first pass through the difficult part of the Tarashana revision. Yippee!

For this week,

d) Check my bulleted revision list and do whatever detail work I haven’t yet dealt with. Read through everyone’s comments about Tarashana to make sure I haven’t missed anything important. Read over revised scenes to catch whatever I missed the first time through. I’m sure there will be something. There always is. I sort of think I will be ready to send this manuscript to proofreaders toward the end of this week, which will be fantastic. I am honestly now thinking I will be able to bring this out possibly as early as April and probably no later than May.

e) Do the minimal amount of revision still necessary for the Death’s Lady series, and thank you to Kristi for nudging me to strengthen some worldbuilding elements. Get the emails from people who have sent me lists of typos and fix those. Work with the cover artist, who will probably be sending me something to look at in the next couple of days. Decide where exactly to break the second from the third book and put the second into a KDP template to see how many pages that will be, so I can let the cover artist know about that. Everything but the revision will be SO TEDIOUS. Well, and except looking at the cover art. Anyway, this and (d) will probably take most of my time this week.

f) I bet I see the first draft of the cover for Tarashana sometime toward the end of this week too. With, yes, definitely an eagle!

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Out now, or very nearly

Okay! The Sphere of the Winds is now available for preorder as a Kindle ebook. I said “preorder for release on the 8th,” but, sorry, either my finger hit the wrong date or Amazon doesn’t like preorder dates that close to release dates or something, because Amazon put it up as “preorder for release on the 15th.” Well, one week more or less isn’t that important, I’m telling myself, so I’m not going to try to fiddle with it. The 15th it is, and you can order it now if you wish.

Meanwhile, the paperback version moved ahead rather briskly and is available right now, so this is one of those odd times when, for the next week, it will actually be possible to get the paperback more quickly than the ebook.

I also just hit Publish at Draft to Digital, so Sphere will also become widely available throughout the next week or so as it goes live on one platform after another.

As a side note, I’m pleased that Random House had set The Floating Islands ebook at the inviting price of $4.99. I hope they leave it there, or at least don’t put it higher.

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Emily Dickinson

The Passive Guy is posting about Emily Dickinson today, apparently because he was reminded of a line of poetry: “There is no frigate like a book.”

He quotes the poem in full, which isn’t hard, because like most of her poems, it is short:

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.

This is a fine poem and I like it very much. But it isn’t the one of Dickinson’s that I find easiest to remember, and in fact if you ever, for any odd reason, need or want to memorize an entire poem, I recommend this one:

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee
One clover and a bee –
And reverie.
The reverie alone will do
If bees are few

There, that’s quite lovely, and also the shortest poem I know.

I have to admit that, like another sheep following the herd, I particularly like most of the really popular Dickinson poems, the ones that make their way into every collection of poetry and that are perhaps most likely to be found in high school literature textbooks. For example, this one:

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

That one is hard to beat.

But so is this one, which I don’t think I encountered until much later, when I picked up a complete book of Dickinson’s poems:

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

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The shape of stories

Here’s an interesting post at Jane Friedman’s blog: Do Stories Have a Universal Shape?

Do most novels share certain storytelling patterns? More than three decades ago, Kurt Vonnegut toyed with the idea that stories have universal shapes. He suggested that, with few exceptions, the stories of classic and modern literature can be grouped into a handful of archetypes.

Vonnegut was talking about the structure of stories like, boy meets girl, romance ensues, boy loses girl, dark night of the soul, boy gets girl again, the end. Big hero’s journey sort of structures.

Jockers and the data team at the tech startup Authors A.I. have recently created an artificial intelligence named Marlowe that analyzes fiction manuscripts. And after ingesting thousands of popular fiction titles, it turns out that Marlowe concurs with the late Professor Vonnegut about story shapes at a high level, if not in all the specific details.

Then the post details these shapes:

Emergence, with a general upward curve to the story arc

Man in a hole, that moves from positive into a pit of despair and rises out the other side

The quest. The curve here seems weird, as the story arc starts in a low place, describes a mild sine curve, and falls again at the end. I don’t get the terminal fall. I’m having a hard time coming up with quest stories that end up with the protagonist in a bad place at the end. That sounds like a failed quest to me. But moving on.

Rags to richs, where the protagonist gains something nice, loses it, and rises again at the end. That makes sense. Very much a Pretty Woman scenario.

Voyage and return. Wow, very much a sine curve, I should have saved that description for this one. I like the description from the post: “In these tales, characters are plunged into a strange and foreign land, come to grips with it, confront setbacks and dark turns but wind up in the end with a return to safety and some form of normalcy—as well as achieving a degree of understanding during their journey from naïveté to wisdom.” I have to say, that pretty much describes Tuyo.

Rise and fall. Yeah, it takes a lot for me to tolerate that story structure. I’m thinking here of The King Must Die by Mary Renault — especially if you include The Bull From the Sea.

Descent. That is a very self-explanatory title. Nothing could get me to read a book with this story structure, as long as I knew going in that this was the structure. Ah, actually, the novel used as an example is Gone Girl. I remember reading …. yes, here it is … this review of Gone Girl and saying Ah ha, I have dodged a bullet here, now I know never to get anywhere near this novel.

So, those are the proposed shapes. Seven, as opposed to Vonnegut’s eight. I would definitely add an alternative quest shape where the arc at the end is upward, not downward. I’d give the basic structure a different name if it wound up turning down rather than up at the end. Other than that, I guess I agree that these basic shapes look like they might plausibly describe a very large proportion of novels, as one might expect with such broad definition.

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