Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

Blog

I detect a slight flaw in your logic

From a blog called Intellectual Takeout, this perhaps predictable diatribe:

Do America’s Reading Habits Explain Today’s Lack of Clear Thinking?

Ah! It’s a lovely Friday evening. You’ve had a successful work week and now it’s time to have some quiet relaxation. You have a book on the coffee table you’ve been wanting to delve into – but first, a quick glance at social media is in order.

Several hours and several videos later, you realize it’s time to head for bed, which you do, hating yourself all the way for having wasted the little time you had to exercise your mind through reading….

Okay, now. This is where I lose sympathy with the author:

hating yourself all the way for having wasted the little time you had to exercise your mind through reading

I don’t know about the author, Annie Holmquist, but —

(a) I definitely do not read in order to exercise my mind. This is true even if I’m reading nonfiction about, oh, the development of language or the social behavior of eusocial insects or whatever. I read for enjoyment and I read nonfiction because I find the topic interesting. I can’t imagine stretching and yawning and glancing at the clock and thinking, “Oh, an hour till bedtime, let me find a book so I can exercise my mind.” Who, other than the author, I guess, could possibly have that thought as bedtime approaches? Even if you are into reading for its capacity to exercise your mind, wouldn’t you prefer to do that when you’re more awake?

Also,

(b) I certainly don’t “hate myself” for reading social media instead of a book, even though it’s true that I can tell that the internet and social media have cut into my reading time, at least a little. This is because it’s much easier to STOP looking at social media than to stop reading a book. Being able to stop makes a big difference for my ability to turn the lights out at bedtime, and also to shut off the internet and turn on my computer during the day.

It’s also because I’m not in the habit of hating myself for my choices of leisure activity, nor do I see why Holmquist is special enough to judge other people’s leisure activities.

I get that Holmquist is trying to make a point, but over-the-top rhetoric does not appeal to me in this sort of context. People who routinely write sentences like “hating yourself all the way for blah blah blah” really need to lighten up.

This is not to say that Holmquist’s article is not worth reading, so let’s go on and see what else she says. Here is an interesting tidbit:

Overall, Americans only spend 17 minutes per day in reading activities. As The Washington Post explains, this number has dropped six minutes since 2004. Broken down by age range, those in the millennial generation read the least, averaging seven minutes a day. Those in the 75 and older age range average 51 minutes per day.

I don’t find this too overwhelmingly negative. Of course the oldest people read the most. They are retired, and they don’t have young children to raise. If they’re 75 or older, they don’t even have young grandchildren anymore. Comparing other groups to them isn’t really fair.

And, for all one hears about the millenials, you do realize that everyone born after 1997 is post-millenial, right? So if millenials are reading the very least, that means that first, young people who are still in school are reading more, hardly a revelation, but they may also be reading more on their free time as well. Also, that millenials — the young adults who are most involved with jobs and young children — are reading the least is not in any way astonishing.

Of course 17 minutes a day is a gosh-wow statistic, and a decline in that number is interesting, but I am not inclined to be too concerned so far, given that I have already seen polls that suggest that more than a quarter of all Americans don’t read books at all. Exclude those and then I wonder what the average number of minutes would be?

One more detail from this ending of this post:

[Benjamin] Franklin was an impressive man. But how much of his ingenuity would have been stifled and hidden from himself and the world if he had been less devoted to his reading and thinking?

On the contrary, one has to wonder how much genius and creativity today’s population is denying itself by its lack of reading. By avoiding reading, do we push ourselves into a state of mindlessness, unable to think, reason, and create in ways which sustain a future, flourishing society?

I don’t wonder about this at all. Do you REALLY THINK that a guy like Ben Franklin — or Alexander Hamilton, or Isaac Newton, or any other serious workaholic or philosopher or whatever — would sit on their butts and watch tv for hours a day rather than picking up a book or penning Poor Richard’s Almanac? Even if a tv was right there from childhood? Because I seriously, seriously doubt it. There have ALWAYS been plenty of ways to waste time and veg out; for example, going out to the public baths to chat with friends (if you’re a Roman during the Classical period) or the local pub to play darts (if you’re an Englishman of a more modern era). The difference is that today people have a lot more leisure time to indulge in whatever leisure activity they like. If clear thinking is in shorter supply today than it used to be, I expect (in common with most INTJ’s I bet) that it’s more because of the regrettably hyper-emotionalized level of argument today. Which you could argue is exacerbated by social media — but that is not the argument Holmquist is making.

Well, well … I admit I read the whole thing with a more negative, fault-finding eye after that hating yourself all the way line. Perhaps the post isn’t quite as annoying as I made it out to be. Click through and read the whole thing if you’re so inclined.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Black Dog Stories III — Cover Reveal

I’ve actually had this cover for a few weeks, but didn’t want to step on the release of Beyond the Dreams We Know.

But hey! It is now July. Bar a few typos I haven’t got around to fixing yet, the collection is ready to go. Thanks to everyone who looked the manuscript over. It makes a big difference, it really does. I will never be used to how many typos I overlook even after going over something repeatedly.

So, the cover, three different versions. The first is the original draft, no lettering or anything.

The second is the finished draft, not for the ebook version of Stories III but for the paper edition of Stories III and IV, which I hope will come out next year. That is not a promise. The 4th novel, Copper Mountain, should come out before Stories IV, but only fifty pages or so of Copper Mountain are written; and none of the stories for Stories IV are even vaguely on my radar at this point. So we’ll see.

The third image below is the ebook cover, which of course loses the “back cover” and “spine” components of the full-sized cover.

The car that exists in the story is not, at this moment, red. But hey, I can very easily go back to that story and make it red, especially since I believe it is colorless at this time. I think I will do that, even though artistic license means I don’t believe it really matters whether the detail of the car’s color matches. Obviously the point of putting a red car on the cover is to make the cover pop, especially in the tiny images you see on your phone. I should really have anticipated Aidanna at WillowRaven making the car red.

Also, in the story the cemetery is more neatly tended, much less haunted-looking. Naturally when I said “an abandoned car in a cemetery at midnight,” Aidanna thought of a haunted, spooky type of cemetery. No problem — again, I don’t think it matters, but I can always give the cemetery a slightly more eerie section before calling the story finished.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Six unusual forensic techniques

Over at Kill Zone Blog, a post by Sue Coletta, Six Unusual Forensic Techniques

This caught my eye because of all those archaeology and forensic anthropology mysteries by Beverly Connor. Figured this topic would tie right in to those. I will say, what we have here imo is five at-least-somewhat-unusual forensic techniques and one that I kinda thought absolutely everybody knew already, like so:

1) Teeth show time of death.

Twice a year each permanent tooth is anchored to the gums by tiny, distinct fibers. A bright line is laid in the spring or summer, depending on where you live, and a dark line in the fall or winter. The number of bands, as well as the color and width of the outermost ring, help scientists estimate the deceased’s age at death and also narrows the TOD (time of death) window.

Interesting! Just like tree rings! I had no idea.

2) Plants grow better when a dead body is buried nearby.

I knew this, because (a) I’ve encountered this detail in mysteries before; and (b) we should all remember from grade school about how the Native Americans buried dead fish below corn, right? I’m sure it was more complicated than that in real life, but the basics of burying dead animals under gardens is not that unfamiliar. But I grant, when admiring someone’s flower beds, if one shows nicer, lusher growth than the others, most of us probably wouldn’t tend to leap to the conclusion that they’d buried a body there. At least not unless I already had reason to be suspicious.

3) Rats and squirrels help determine date of death.

Coletta says insects too, but I think everyone knows that. However, I am startled to find that squirrels will chew on dry bones. Not astonished — after all, lots of herbivores will eat calcium when they get a chance — but still. I knew porcupines will chew on and eat shed antlers. I wonder if squirrels will too?

4) Mosquitoes preserve portions of the DNA of a body they feed on.

Wow. Had NO idea. That’s kinda … neat? In a creepy way.

5) Decomposition follows a set process.

Okay now come on. Everyone knows this. A hundred — a thousand — murder mystery plots depend on the killer doing something to confuse that process. That is roughly the single most typical way of throwing the detectives off the trail. Definitely not the least bit unusual. IMO. Anybody disagree?

And finally —

6) Drones help find buried remains.

Okay, welcome to the future. I wonder if drones are better than dogs? I bet not — as long as you have a rough idea of where the dogs should be searching.

Interesting post — click through and read all about it.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

From the Playlist —

Cruxshadows, “The Citadel”

I see storms on the horizon
I see the tempest at the gates
I see storms on the horizon
And a citadel alone
Clinging brave defying fate
And I will stand here at the gates to face the onslaught fighting
Without surrender or defeat
With Troy besieged by tyrants’ greed
In Hector’s memory, God willing
We shall save this victory
Without surrender or defeat

Here, on Youtube

I suggest you follow the tempest and battle with the serenity of

Two Steps from Hell, “Lux Aeterna”

Here, on Youtube

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Friday Grammar Quibble

This is actually somewhat more than a quibble, because I cannot imagine why anybody gets this wrong, yet you see it all the time. Well, it seems like all the time, anyway. Too often, for sure. Here it is:

Direct thoughts are NEVER in the past tense.

Take the following passage, for example:

——-

I’d heard of fallen angels, of course. Everyone knew they’d started to appear over the past few years. They looked just like regular people, except you could just tell. They were brighter, somehow. Or darker. More vivid, more real. And fallen angels might appear anywhere; you’d think they’d be drawn to New York and LA, but word was a fallen angel was just as likely to stroll through downtown Poughkeepsie or, say, Glasgow, Montana.

Glasgow was officially the middle of nowhere. It said so right there on Google, so you knew it was true. Compared to Choteau, though, Glasgow, Montana, was a happening place. Here in Choteau, we didn’t even have a separate high school. Every grade was right there together in one square brick building. It wasn’t even a big building. Definitely not an interesting building. Boring in every possible way, that was Choteau’s school. Especially its high school.

That was the last place I would ever have expected to see a fallen angel. But there he was. Not a student (I knew you would think he was a student). He was our new teacher, that was the announcement. He was going to teach history and Latin and, who knew, probably coach basketball. Our school always liked to hire teachers who were willing to coach as well as teach. Or coaches who were willing to sort of handwave teaching. Otherwise we’d never have had enough faculty to do everything.

But it didn’t matter to me that Mr. Acacius was a teacher. The minute I saw him, I thought, My God, he was something. He was … just something out of this world.

——-

Upon hitting this line, I am immediately jerked hard out of the story. That’s what you thought, huh? You thought in the PAST TENSE? What, you see a guy and you immediately think to yourself HE WAS SOMETHING, do you? That’s how it works in real life, that’s for sure, all those internal thoughts that stream through my brain all day are naturally in the past tense. I come home and see all the dogs but one and think, “Where was Dora?” Because that totally makes sense.

Obviously this is ridiculous. No one ever thinks to themselves in the past tense. You see a guy and you think, “Wow, he IS really something.” A dog is missing and you think, “Where IS Dora?” It is not even possible to think to yourself in the past tense. I doubt anyone in the entire history of the world have ever thought to themselves in the past tense.

I do not mean to pick on paranormal romance AT ALL, because you see this everywhere. The phrase “He was so hot” jumped into my head as an example, and all those high school paranormals came to mind, so I wrote a passage that could belong to that kind of story. But I have seen this type of mistake in all kinds of SFF. I have also … not to throw stones and in fact I don’t remember who it was … but I have had a copy editor try to switch a direct internal thought from present tense to past. (I wrote a little note in the margin as well as STET, in an effort to make absolutely sure the internal thought appeared in present tense.) (It did.)

This applies, of course, only to direct internal thoughts, what one might call internal monologue, except so often it’s just one line, so that’s not much of a monologue.

Certainly you can write:

Would he ever notice me? I didn’t know, but I could hope.

or

He was the first person, I thought, that I had ever been completely honest with.

Both of those are fine. Neither of these is at all the same thing as the original passage above.

In the first of these two cases, the author is writing in a more distant first person and is not providing thoughts as the protagonist thinks them. The whole story is past tense. In the second, the protagonist is reporting her own thoughts after the fact and that is why the sentence is in the past tense.

The type of internal thought I mean, the only kind I mean, is the type of direct internal thoughts the character is thinking at that very moment of the story. That is the kind of thought you put in italics to set it off from the rest of the paragraph. Those thoughts should always, always, be in the present tense.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Noblebright music

Where, I somewhat regularly ask myself, has This Author or This Band or This Artist been all my life? Of course that happens with authors more than any other type of art, but the answer is generally the same: That person or group or whatever has been popular for a decade or two and I just didn’t notice.

Sometimes I wonder about myself, I really do.

For music, this happened a couple years ago with Two Steps From Hell, which I love and listen to all the time. My favorite album is “Battlecry,” in case you’re curious. But all their music, which is mostly instrumental, is absolutely peerless to listen to while writing. I have, let me see, six of their albums and really ought to get the rest. (I still buy CDs, yes.) (In the summertime, I can only stream music via my phone when I’m outside.)

Two Steps From Hell has existed since 2006, so I only missed out for, I don’t know, about ten years or so before discovering them.

Well, this phenomenon happened again last week, when I suddenly discovered Crüxshadows. Their debut was in 1993, so I am exactly a quarter of a century late the the party. That’s pretty late, even for me. I do love the ability to stream music to check out a group without committing to a whole cd. That let me sort out some of my favorites before buying any cds.

So far my favorites include “Winterborn,” “Eye of the Storm,” “Sophia,” and “Helios.” I should add that when it comes to music, I’m just another sheep following the herd, so I expect these are mostly whichever songs everyone else loves as well. Yes, checking via Wikipedia, I see two out of those four are among their most popular.

Anyway, check out these lyrics from “Winterborn”:

So bury fear, for fate draws near
And hide the signs of pain
With noble acts
The bravest souls endure the heart’s remains
Discard regret, that in this debt
A better world is made
That children of a newer day might remember and avoid our fate

This music is soooo suited to epic, heroic, save-the-world fantasy. Just perfect. Here’s a bit from “Sophia”:

So you must carry this light into the darkness
You shall be a star unto the night
You will find hope alive among the hopeless
That is your purpose to this life

The lips draw words and hands find actions
Still there is more within one heart
Into the silence will you answer
Before the chaos will you come

Do not injustice to another
Defend the weak and innocent
Let truth and honor always guide you
Let courage find a life within

Stand up when no one else is willing
Act not in hatred or in spite
Be to this world as a perfect knight
Even if it means your life

Sound corny? Not in action. It sounds great. Inspirational! Powerful!

Crüxshadows is described as “darkwave” and “synthpop.” I looked the group up on Wikipedia, so I just report these terms as given. I am so unaware of popular music that I am not familiar with these descriptors. Sounds like “darkwave” music could suit grimdark fantasy, but it so does not. Absolutely noblebright in character. Here’s a bit from “Eye of the Storm”:

The trials you now are facing,
They are not greater than your will,
For there is nothing under Heaven,
You cannot overcome.
See the door that lies before you,
And know – this too shall pass.
The confrontation of your fears,
In strength drawn from the past.

Where the silent voices whisper,
‘Find the course that is your own,
And however great the obstacle,
You will never be alone. ‘
For I have watched the path of Angels,
And I have heard the Heavens roar.
There is strife within the tempest,
But there is calm in the eye of the storm.

I could listen to that on repeat for an hour. In fact, I did, just this morning while walking the dogs.

So now I’m putting together a playlist that alternates Crüxshadows with Two Steps From Hell. I’ll probably be listening to that playlist for the rest of the year…

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

You’re probably saying it wrong

Interesting post by Kathryn Lilly at Kill Zone Blog: The “eLight” League, And Other Commonly Mispronounced Words

The fear of mispronouncing a word is one of my secret social anxieties. I grew up in a world where one would be mocked or loftily dismissed for mispronouncing any word in the dictionary. As a child, I loved discovering new words through reading books, but I grew fearful of using them in speech after an unfortunate run in with the word “redolent “. It seemed logical to my 12 year old brain to pronounce it as “re-DOH-lent”. The drubbing I received for that mistake (turns out it’s pronounced “RED-i-lent”) made me phobic about using any fresh word in conversation unless I had looked up the pronunciation in a dictionary first….

Interesting! I thought it was re-DOH-lent, which makes sense because after all, we normally do put the emphasis on the penultimate syllable in English. Is it actually RED-i-lent? Just listened to Google pronounce it for me. I guess it really is RED-i-lent.

Now I’m curious: Which of you knew that? Probably everyone but me.

Which of you would have been disturbed or embarrassed at having pronounced it wrong in public?

I would be mildly embarrassed at pronouncing a word wrong in public, at my age, when I should have had time to notice someone else say the word and thus learn how it’s pronounced. Oddly, I would have been much more embarrassed as a kid, though obviously children haven’t had nearly as long to hear every word in the English language pronounced, so how are they supposed to know?

When it comes to science terms and taxonomy and so on, my philosophy is: Pronounce it with confidence! Everyone will think you’re right. Probably not so useful with words like “redolent” and “elite.”

Also, this: The guy who invented the gif says it’s pronounced “jif”, not “gif” with a hard “g”.

Well, so much for him. Obviously it is pronounced with a hard g. Everyone knows that.

(How do you pronounce gif?)

I will add, for the names of fantasy characters and place names, it’s fine with me however you pronounce it. Absolutely fine. I know how I pronounce Tehre and Mianthe and Eäneté and so on. I almost always go with a hard G for words that start with G, like “gif,” but for me “Gulien” is pronounced with an initial J sound. Just the way I do it. But I don’t mind one bit if every reader in creation pronounces every one of my names differently.

This goes double after reading the linked post. We have ample pitfalls with real English words, evidently. No need to add extra for readers of secondary fantasy.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

History, unburied

From the NY Post: Mysterious ancient civilization left signs across vast desert

[A]n international team of experts currently surveying the area [in Saudi Arabia] has found thousands of archaeological sites that feature everything from mysterious triangular constructions to ancient tombs….Cliffs dotted across the landscape feature ancient petroglyphs of people and animals that are thought to be thousands of years old. One of the most important sites is the Mada’in Salih – which features 111 ancient tombs that are carved into rock that are so impressive they are registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

I guess people have known about this for a while, if some of the tombs are registered with UNESCO. But I hadn’t heard of this area. Click through if you would like to check out the brief article and the pictures.

This linked article from CNN has a lot more, and more pictures too. Very much worth a look.

The most commonly found structures in Al-Ula are cairns — piles of stones that mark graves, sometimes surrounded by low circular or square drystone walls — which are older than anyone expected.

“We don’t have verified dates yet, but it looks as if some may date to at least 4,000 BC,” says Foote, adding that some may even stretch back to the Neolithic period (10,000 to 4,500 BC). “It’s very exciting because it shows that the history of occupation of the area goes back much further than was known.”

Archaeologists are using drones to survey vast areas from the air, thus finding sites on which to focus their attention. Very cool.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Who is your favorite character of all time?

This is a question asked by Jill Zeller at Book View Cafe. Who is your favorite character of all time? Who is, at least, in your top ten?

Click through if you have time and check out Zeller’s choices. From her choices, I would probably overlap for Temeraire. Not sure I would have picked any of the others. I would imagine that given the enormous world of books and disparate reader tastes, no one is going to overlap all that much. Especially in a truly impossible task like this.

When I saw this question, I immediately thought of mostly characters I first met pretty recently, say in the past ten years. But when I try to think back to my teen years or before, I can think of some strong contenders there as well. Narrowing wonderful characters down to a top ten … I don’t know, it’s probably impossible.

Here are a handful of contenders, though, in roughly the order in which I thought of them:

1) Tremaine from The Fall of Ile-Rien

2) Maia from The Goblin Emperor

I bet no one is surprised by these, right?

3) Sarah from A Little Princess

4) Hazel from Watership Down

There, what about those? I bet mostly you didn’t see those coming.

5) Cassandra from The Touchstone Trilogy. Also Kaoren Ruuol. Also practically every lead character in all of Andrea K Höst’s books. I’m doing a lot of re-reading this year and now, after this post, all her books are calling my name. Again.

6) Morgan and Raederle in The Riddlemaster trilogy.

7) Marcus in the Shadow Campaigns series. He was not the most compelling protagonist for me — That was Winter, so sure, her too. But Marcus was the most admirable character in the series.

8) Number Ten Ox in Bridge of Birds and the others in that trilogy. Also Master Li.

You see I’m going back and forth in time as I pick characters. I can’t help it. First it seems unfair to focus just on more recent books, but then ridiculous to try to ignore books and series published recently in order to emphasize early reads. In trying to do both, I’m probably unfairly ignoring books published about twenty years ago.

Also, you have probably noticed that once I started adding more than one character per slot in this top ten list, it was hard to stop.

I’m feeling a bit paralyzed since I only have two more slots to go and a near-infinity of potential choices.

9) Rowan from The Steerswoman series. Also Bel, the Outskirter. Also Will and his rediscovery of the scientific method as applied to explosives.

Now I’m REALLY feeling paralyzed. Umm … er … I DON’T KNOW, FINE:

10) Lady Tehre from the Griffin Mage trilogy.

Science-y protagonists in fantasy settings are hard to beat, for me.

Okay, who’s a fabulous character I should absolutely have remembered?

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Blog

Snake oil is still a thing

Apparently even in this modern age one can still earn a living as a snake-oil salesman.

Check out this person selling “hot dog water.”

The tent selling unfiltered “Hot Dog Water” — literally a bottle of water with a wiener floating inside — for $37.99 a pop included some promising, if not dubious, claims. Such as helping consumers not only lose weight but also increase brain function, look younger and improve overall vitality.

Really, why stop there? Probably this water will also cure baldness, repel mosquitoes and ticks, and make your hair shiny.

Sales of the water were brisk at the Sunday festival, according to Bevans, whose booth also offered accessories, such as Hot Dog Water lip balm and Hot Dog Water breath spray.

I shall charitably assume that all buyers thought $37.99 was a fair price for a joke gift. Even that is hard to get my mind around, but it beats believing they all think it will improve their brain function and overall vitality.

Actually, it’s not quite snake oil, as apparently the purveyors of the hot dog water — I can barely bring myself to even type that phrase — were not serious:

...The fine print at the bottom of his sign, which suggested he was conducting a piece of performance art, of sorts: “Hot Dog Water in its absurdity hopes to encourage critical thinking related to product marketing and the significant role it can play in our purchasing choices,” it read.

Does that make the brisk sales better or worse?

Sales of modern snake oil are something to marvel at, but with far too much potential to end in tragedy:

Helen, 50, had shunned mainstream cancer treatment. Her grieving family says the “bright and successful” woman had fallen under the influence of a self-described healer and hypnotherapist who told her not to undergo surgery. Instead he allegedly prescribed an aggressive and painful treatment called black salve, which ate away at her flesh, leaving her swollen and in pain.

Desperation sometimes makes even intelligent people follow snake oil claims right off a terrible cliff. I hope anyone who just blew $38 on “hot dog water” because they were actually that credulous will have learned enough of a lesson to be a lot more skeptical when it really counts.

Please Feel Free to Share:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail