Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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In which we continue to know less that we thought

It’s 2020, And Astronomers Have Just Found a New Class of Massive Space Explosions

Astronomers have finally classified a tremendous space explosion first noticed in 2018 – an event so bright, it was thought to have originated much closer to us than we eventually realised. Thanks to two additional discoveries, it now belongs to an entirely new class of giant space explosions.

This sort of thing keeps happening in astronomy. I mean, not something as weird as this, necessarily, but it seems like every time I turn around someone is saying, “Wow, we didn’t expect this,” or “We really don’t know what’s causing that,” or whatever.

This time, it’s these weird explosions:

These bursts of energy are extremely powerful and extremely fast, blasting vast amounts of matter into space at intense velocities. Astronomers have named the new class Fast Blue Optical Transients, or FBOTs.

I expect some aliens are at war, probably. To be fair, that doesn’t appear to be one of the hypotheses so far put forward by astronomers.

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A minor pet peeve

Here’s a post at Book Riot: WHY YOU’RE ALLOWED TO GROW OUT OF BOOKS AND AUTHORS

And although I suppose I am mildly interested in what the author of this post (Jeffrey Davies)has to say, this is largely because I’m curious why he thinks anybody in the world needs a post like this.

Personally, my first reaction is, You seriously think I feel like I need your personal approval to feel okay about my changing my tastes in reading? Who do you think you are?

My second reaction is, Since every reader in the entire world has grown out of a lot of books and authors, rather than sticking to picture books and See Spot Run into high school, why would ANYONE think this is a worthwhile topic? Even if for some reason he feels his expression of personal approval is important to random strangers?

I am having trouble imagining anybody feeling like statements of validation from random strangers on the internet are helpful, or even appropriate. I dislike everything like this on sight, whether in the title of an article or in a twitter post or whatever. But maybe I’m an outlier on this particular curve, so how about it? Do any of you have similar reactions to mine, or do you feel these types of “You have my permission” or “I hereby give you my approval” statements are actually helpful?

I will add, I don’t go around snarling under my breath for an hour just because of titles like this. I have the who-do-you-think-you-are reaction and then I go on with my life without thinking about it again. But that reaction does occur and I don’t think it’s wearing off at all over time, either.

Now, let’s see what Jeffrey says . . . oh, he’s in his twenties. First thing he says. Possibly if he were in his fifties, his tastes in books, and the tastes of his friends, would have changed often enough and dramatically enough that he would no longer find it startling.

Skimming lightly through the article, I don’t find a lot to mention. It’s just a self-reflective post about the author’s own changing tastes in books.

Fine, all right. Aside from outgrowing picture books and then more substantial children’s books, let me see.

There are a bunch of authors I used to read with enthusiasm but now no longer care for. Robert Heinlein, Jack Chalker, and Andre Norton spring to mind. Oh, and Terry Brooks! And for that matter David Eddings.

There are also whole genres of fiction I read now that I didn’t read at all fifteen years ago, including historical romance, contemporary romance, and contemporary YA. In fact, I no longer care for Nancy Springer’s fantasy novels, but I like her contemporary YA stories.

There are also children’s books that I will never stop loving, including, say, A Little Princess by Burnett. I maintain that Black Beauty is a very good story that many adults would enjoy. I don’t expect to grow out of loving those stories and I don’t imagine many readers do.

“Grow out of” is therefore the wrong phrase for changing tastes in books. This is not necessarily a process by which one grows to prefer better or different sorts of stories. Changing tastes can reflect that, sure, as someone gains experience and realizes that The Sword of Shannara is actually a pretty terrible book. But changing tastes can also reflect nothing but new exposure, over time, to genres a reader thought were not to her taste, but actually sometimes are.

Take-home message, such as it is: let’s just assume that everybody should read what they want, that nobody’s taste is static, and that nobody ever needs permission from strangers to validate their reading tastes.

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Central friendship, no romance

Now, I have nothing against romance in SFF, or other genres. I’m reading a romance right now — the last of Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster series — and as you know I like plenty of fantasy novels where the romance is central, such as nearly all of Sharon Shinn’s books, say.

However, I also greatly appreciate a story where the central relationship is between siblings or friends, and where there is no romance whatsoever. I have two out like that now — The White Road of the Moon and now Tuyo.

Out of curiosity, I asked the other participants in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off if anybody else had a book where the central relationship in the novel is a friendship and there is no romance to speak of. I thought I might get a very tiny number of positive answers to this question, but there were more than I expected — twenty-four. Out of three hundred entries, that’s 8%. Personally, I wouldn’t have expected that high a percentage of the entries to center friendship and include no romance. I’ve included two more here which are from last year’s entries.

Let me share those with you here. I’m going to include just a snippet of the description for each one; click through if you’re intrigued by anything here. Personally, I think #12 is the standout here. #9 is funny and sounds promising. #17 and #19 have well-written descriptions that also sound pretty good. So does #22. Then #25 and #26 both sound good as well. Let me see, that’s seven out of twenty-six — about 25%. I’d say that’s not a terrible ratio for self-published fantasy.

I know these are short snippets, otherwise this post would have been REALLY long, but which if any do you think sound like they’d be worth clicking through read the full description and look at the Amazon page?

  1. Steve Rowland, Sentenced to Troll.

For his endless trolling in real life, [Chad is] forced to play as a forest troll, the most hated race in Isle of Mythos, so that he can finally experience what it’s like to be on the other side. … Playing as a monster in a world where it ain’t easy being green, what could possibly go wrong?

2. Travis Riddle, Spit and Song.

Kali is a merchant who yearns to leave the harsh deserts of Herrilock and travel across the sea … Failed musician Puk hits rock bottom after yet another catastrophic performance …

3. Kate Ramsey, Finding Fairy Tales — this one is MG.

Twelve-year-old Molly daydreams of escaping her boring life on an onion farm. But with imagination outlawed, she’s forced to keep her impossible hopes a secretHatch knows he has to hide his vivid creativity … Teaming up with a spy and their magical house cats, the two children must survive the wastelands and evil dwarves to reach Fairy Tale’s island prison. And with the Emperor’s henchmen pursuing them across the realm, they may find fulfilling their wishes has a terrible price.

4. JT Williams, Of Shadows and Blood.

Kealin Half-Elf has only been [a vampire] for a few weeks and already he is changing. He feels a hunger he has never felt before. … his traveling companions have their own secrets, especially the mysterious wizard Evurn -a shadow elf returning home after generations in hiding. 

5. Gabriel, Neon Red.

Shimon Astrai has been resident of modern Pangaea until the age of eight. One day, while on vacation with his family, he enters a parallel world on accident – the Demon Realm, inhabited by savage creatures and conditions that dictate to kill or be killed.

6. Marc vun Kannon, Unbinding the Stone

All Tarkas wanted was to live the life he’d made for himself, get married, have children, as generations of his fathers had done before him since the beginning of time. The Gods had other plans, and Tarkas couldn’t say no … he finds himself plunged headlong into a new world and life, full of magic, mayhem, monsters, and mystery.

7. Tod Maternowski, Exmortis.

Ash Xavier, a headstrong young knight, [finds his] faith challenged when the long-forgotten gods of ancient civilizations send their avatar to obliterate the remote holy fortress of Exmortus Abbey — his home.

8. Lola Ford, Heartscale.

On one side of the world Graith discovers a dying dragon in his barn. While the country is hunting after the monster, he doesn’t hesitate in doing his best to aid her. … [In a land] where the future ruler is decided by dragons, Nerie is chosen by the Kiriga, the golden hatchling. … Thrown into a chaotic palace life, she’s forced to balance learning to be princess and being bonded to a dragon.

9. Joel Spriggs, Another Dead Intern.

There is nothing normal about an internship with Hemlock Connal, Preternatural Investigator! Hemlock can’t keep interns alive. Morgan Burns is trying to break that trend, but finds survival to be an uphill battle. Faced with mobsters, drug rings, covens, and even fantastical beasts, will Morgan find a paycheck… or a grave?

10. David Samuels I, Exile.

After twenty years of heists and robberies, Emelith’s luck runs out when her partner betrays her on a contract. Now she’s out for blood.

11. JA Andrews, Dragon’s Reach.

Sable, a reluctant thief from the slums, can feel truth when people speak. … Escape [from a gang boss] comes in the form of an odd set of companions: a dwarf running from the past, an actor with a magical, glowing tree, a too-helpful kobold, a playwright with a knack for getting stories out of people, and a man and woman with suspicious, magical powers.

12. Phil Williams, Under Ordshaw.

Welcome to Ordshaw. Don’t look down.

Pax thought she knew the dark side of Ordshaw. A poker pro who hustles bankers and gangsters, she can take care of herself. But she’s about to discover the shadows hide worse things than criminals. People have disappeared simply for discovering what’s lurking under Ordshaw. To get her life back, Pax needs to go much further than that.

13. Opal Edgar, Tosho is Dead.

“I’m dead. And I’m not in Heaven. Everything’s wrong and someone’s really angry at me. Let’s outrun, scratch that, let’s outsmart purgatory.”

14. Jeffrey Kohanek, Wizardoms: Eye of Obscurance.

A clever thief, a determined acrobat, and a troubled dwarf are joined by an old storyteller as they attempt the impossible: Assassinate a wizard lord. Their slim hope relies on an enchanted amulet, the Eye of Obscurance.

15. Marion Blackwood, A Storm of Silver and Ash.

The Oncoming Storm is a name whispered in awe throughout the Underworld. She’s known as a master thief and a lethal knife-wielder – some even say she has the skills of an assassin. All of it is true. She’s also a sarcastic smartmouth with the social graces of a bull.

16. Grace Bridges, Earthcore.

Amateur geologist Anira Fraser is in Picton, facing her final high school athletics competition. Along with her friend Tiger McRae, she realises their presence is disturbing the area’s guardian spirits.

17. Patrick Samphire, Shadow of a Dead God.

It was only supposed to be one little job – a simple curse-breaking for Mennik Thorn to pay back a favour to his oldest friend. But then it all blew up in his face. Now he’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit. So how is a second-rate mage, broke, traumatized, and with a habit of annoying the wrong people, supposed to prove his innocence when everyone believes he’s guilty?

18. Jamie Edmundson, Og-Grim-Dog

Two heads are better than one. Three can be a real pain in the arse.

19. Matthew Sylvester, Hell Hound

A foul-mouthed bounty hunter and assassin, Jane Doe is not your average witch. Working for the ruling magical class in Britain – the Merlins – she takes on the jobs and creatures that other members of the magical community wouldn’t touch with a six-foot spell staff.

20. Derek Prior, Last of the Exalted.

The dwarves are a dwindling race on the brink of civil war. … As rival dwarven armies converge on Jeridium, the Senate send the assassin Shadrak the Unseen to the Southern Crags to find an old friend in a desperate bid to avert the coming catastrophe.

21. Emilie Knight, Era of Undying.

There hasn’t been a Blood Warrior for decades. Everyone assumed they were extinct and couldn’t return. Turns out they were just in hiding.

22. Jed Herne, Across the Broken Stars.

Twenty years since fleeing the war that killed his fellow angels, Leon’s a broken man, desperate to forget the past. He thinks he’s the last angel. But then a young fugitive stumbles onto his doorstep. She’s an angel, too. And she has a riddle leading to a mythical land, where legends say angels still live.

23. DH Willison, Harpyness is Only Skin Deep.

Humans consider consorting with a harpy a capital offense. Harpies consider the human citizens a tasty part of a balanced diet. Yet [Darin and Rinloh] must overcome a most monstrous conspiracy as the citizens of the city begin disappearing, with a list of suspects as big as the inhabitants of Arvia.

24. David Hambling, War of the God Queen.

Thrown back through time, Jessica has only her wits.

She was fresh out of architecture school and ready to take the world by storm. She wasn’t prepared for what came next: an alien encounter that sent her falling through a portal into another world.

25. Vincent EM Thorn, Skies of the Empire.

In the Skies of the Empire, there are only two things more terrifying than dragons: the attentions of the gods, and the machinations of the Fae. Airship pilot Cassidy Durant finds herself entangled with both when a Faerie named Hymn saves her life in exchange for protection against unknown enemies. … Meanwhile, reluctant mercenary Zayne Balthine is tasked by his employer, a devout worshiper of the Desert Goddess, to break into the Imperial Palace. It’s not his first suicide mission, but this time, things are different. That he’ll die should he fail is nothing new. But if he succeeds, he will be responsible for unfathomable death and devastation.

26. Patrick LeClerc, Broken Crossroads.

Trilisean is an acrobat turned burglar. Conn is a jaded former mercenary. Against the background of deadly blades, subtle schemes, glittering treasures, dark sorceries and fell servants of forgotten gods, fate has thrown them together.

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“MY IMMORTAL” AS ALCHEMICAL ALLEGORY

Here’s a post from Slate Star Codex which is really weird and funny and I didn’t see it coming at ALL. It’s a bit off the path for Scott Alexander (or at least it seems that way to me). I expect posts about psychology from Scott — or posts that are sort of psychology-adjacent — and there here we get this (very) extended tongue-in-cheek parody of alchemical allegory.

I’d never heard of “My Immortal” before. Apparently I kinda missed out on a cultural moment. Here’s what Scott says:

From Vox: Solving The Mystery Of The Internet’s Most Beloved And Notorious Fanfic. The fanfic is “My Immortal”, a Harry Potter story so famous that it has its own Wikipedia page, and articles about it in SlateBuzzfeed, and The Guardian.

It’s famous for being really, really bad. Spectacularly bad. Worse than it should be possible for anything to be. You wouldn’t think you could get The Guardian to write an article about how bad your fanfiction was, but here we are. Everyone agrees that it must have taken a genius to make something so awful, but until recently nobody knew who had authored the pseudonymous work.

…But this leaves other mysteries unresolved. Like: what is going on with it? Its plot makes little sense – characters appear, disappear, change names, and merge into one another with no particular pattern. Even its language is fluid, somewhere between misspelled English and a gibberish that can at best produce associations suggestive of English words.

All these features are unusual in a modern fanfiction. But they’re typical of alchemical texts, which are usually written in a layer of dense allegory. Might this shed more light on “My Immortal?” After spending way too long investigating this, I find strong evidence in favor. “My Immortal” is a description of the Great Work of alchemy. Its otherwise-inscrutable symbolism is a combination of three traditions: the medieval opus, the 17th century Rosicrucians, and the native German traditions encoded in Goethe’s Faust. We’ll start by going over these traditions, then delve into the text to unveil the hidden meaning.

So … If this sounds entertaining, by all means click through. You will never, ever see another long post comparing a really bad Harry Potter fanfic to alchemical allegories, I’m pretty sure, so this is probably your one and only chance to enjoy that comparison.

I tried to excerpt a tidbit of Scott’s analysis to share with you all here, but gave up. There are so many priceless bits that I kept putting one in and then replacing it and you know what, it’s hopeless to select anything. Just, seriously, click through and read the whole thing.

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In the world of TUYO: Are Ugaro and Lau the same species?

If you’ve read even a little of TUYO at this point, then you’ve met at least one Ugaro and a lot of Lau. You have undoubtedly noted that these two peoples are very different.

I made the difference much more extreme than you would see between any real-world populations, just as extreme as possible. I mean, the Ugaro are comfortable in short sleeves in the middle of a Canadian-style winter, as long as they can stay active. Their muscles don’t lock up in frigid water. It’s not as clear how extremely heat-adapted the Lau are, but eventually maybe we’ll see that; they are just as extreme.

Then I whammed the two peoples together in highly distinctive environments separated by about, what, a hundred yards or so rather than a couple thousand miles. Did anybody else wonder if the Ugaro and Lau are actually the same species, or is that just my own biology background showing?

How about theLakasha-erra of the far south? Does mentioning them make anybody wonder about this? I mentioned, but did not describe, the Tarashana of the far north, the starlit lands. I may come back to them later in another book; I left a definite plot hook for that, which some of you may have noticed. I think I know what they look like, which will also be highly distinctive.

Did anybody notice I suggested that a little bit of interbreeding may take place between Ugaro and Lau? Not a lot, and given the events in the story, you can probably see that any resulting children would probably wind up settling in the borderlands between the winter country and the summer country.

I’m actually not sure whether the two peoples are the same species or not. In story terms, it doesn’t matter — neither the Ugaro nor the Lau would think of it in the way a modern biologist would — but since I have a biology background, I do sort of wonder just how different two populations can get and still be considered the same species.

The “biological species definition” says that if two populations can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, they are the same species. This is not, of course, correct.

I would like to pause for a moment to emphasize the above statement. The biological species concept is a handy guideline, but it is not correct. It’s widely known, widely referenced, and frequently wrong. For example, grizzly bears and polar bears can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, but any fool can easily see that they are different species. There’s a loooong list of related species like this, so at this point I would really like to drive a stake through the heart of the biological species concept. It gets cited all over the place as though it’s Gospel Truth, which it isn’t, and it’s causing way more confusion than it’s worth.

There are (at least) three other species definitions in use today, if you’re curious: the evolutionary species concept, the phylogenetic species concept, and the morphological species concept. Personally I pretty much go with the morphological species concept: if it looks like the same species, it is; and if it doesn’t, it isn’t. “Looks like” includes behavioral and metabolic and for that matter DNA similarities and differences. In the real world, I want to emphasize, you’re always going to be able to argue around the edges because real organisms don’t necessarily feel inclined to follow textbook definitions.

One current school of thought declares that dogs and wolves are the same species. This is done because of a (wrong, imo) interpretation of DNA evidence. Let me just rapidly list important differences between dogs and wolves in order to illustrate the kinds of differences that I think are important but that some people are willing to ignore:

— Wolves, but not dogs, are pack animals and form relatively stable family packs in the wild with consistent positive (affiliative) and negative (agonistic) behaviors that support family pack formation. Dogs really do not do this, except for dingos. Dogs, including dogs living in the wild, don’t form the same kind of pair-bond between mated pairs, don’t show the same behaviors that maintain a pack, don’t generally show cooperative care of puppies, and just on and on. Dogs are highly social, but they are not actually pack animals.

–Dogs, but not wolves, can digest carbohydrates rather well. This doesn’t mean that a vegan diet is okay for a dog, but it means that a dog will starve to death much more slowly on such a diet than a wolf would, often living long enough to develop deficiency diseases rather than dying before those diseases turn up. You are safe to assume that I am absolutely disgusted by people who delude themselves into thinking it’s okay to feed their dog a vegan diet, but it is true the dog does not outwardly starve on this kind of diet as fast as a cat would. Or a wolf.

— Dogs have smaller teeth and weaker jaws than wolves of the same basic size. This is true of dogs that supposedly look like wolves, such as Siberian huskies and German shepherds, not just of, I don’t know, Pomeranians or whatever. Dogs have smaller brains relative to their body weight than wolves. Dogs have shorter legs proportionally, and smaller feet, and the head is rather different, and the eyes are seldom yellow, and on and on.

Based on all that, as far as I’m concerned, dogs and wolves are definitely not the same species. As an added perk, this lets me say much more firmly that wolves are terrible, terrible pets and that wolf-dog hybrids are also terrible, terrible pets. People who think dogs and wolves are the same species have a hard time saying this firmly enough and then people get wolves or high-percentage wolf hybrids, nearly all of which get put down young because the owner can’t cope, and I am now standing on a soapbox, so let me step down and bring this topic back to the two peoples we get a good look at in TUYO.

The Ugaro and the Lau — different enough to be two distinct species? Or not? I don’t actually know, but it was a question that drifted through my mind from time to time as I wrote the story. I think this is why I exaggerated the differences even more than necessary — for example, the Lau often live half again as long as the Ugaro, with a typical lifespan of well over a hundred years — did you notice that? But then I got rid of old age for the Ugaro just because it’s a nice thing to do — they may die younger, but they barely show their age till right at the end. (I wish I were aging like that, but alas.) So those are important differences.

Plus of course sorcery is a lot more common among the Lau. I could tell you why, but I think I’ll hold onto that worldbuilding detail in case I want to use it as a plot point sometime.

For me, the question of whether the Ugaro and Lau are the same species or not adds depth to the world and I enjoy thinking about it, even though they’re not nearly as different as, say, Tolkien’s humans and elves.

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Tuyo cover

Here’s the final version of the cover for TUYO. I will say, I ordered a handful of author copies before this cover was finished. Well, it’s a fine cover, but this new one does give a clear indication that the metaphysics of the world may not be quite the same as ordinary physics.

So there it is. It was hard to choose between a scene pulled way back, with homes and fields and countryside on the right and a sweeping forest on the left, and this closer view. This one at least suggests the world.

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Improving quality of life

I saw this post recently and thought it was worth pulling out:

My Ordinary Life: Improvements Since the 1990s

Progress is usually debated in terms of the big things like lifting the Third World out of poverty, or science & tech: discovering gravitational waves, creating world champion AIs, turning AIDS into a treatable rather than terminal disease, conquering hepatitis C or, curing deadly cancers with genetically-engineered T-cells. But as cool as those big things are, and matters of life-and-death for many, such achievements tend to be remote from ordinary people, and not your everyday sort of thing (or so one hopes). Small stuff matters too.What about the little things in an ordinary life?

There’s a lot about computers and technology, of course, because how could there not be. But also this:

Environment: air quality in most places has continued to improve, forest area has increased, and more rivers are safe to fish in

Board Games have been revolutionized by the influx of German/​European-style games, liberating us from the monopoly of the Amerigame Monopoly

I hear a lot about this being the golden age of board games due to Kickstarter. I’m sure it’s true.

Even Mass-Market Grocery Stores like Walmart increasingly routinely stock an enormous variety of foods, from sushi to goat cheese to kefir.

They do, by the way! I recently noticed the only brand of coconut milk I actually like is now being carried at the local Walmart. That was a surprise!

and finally and least importantly:

Better Brussels Sprouts: Brussels sprouts no longer taste quite so bad due to artificial selection

I wouldn’t know, having purchased Brussels sprouts several times because they were so beautiful in the store, only to discover that no matter what you do with them, they are awful. Not tasting quite so bad is doubtless a good thing, though!

Anyway, by all means click through and scan the whole list if you’re interested.

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The burned house horizon

Here is something weird I encountered recently:

In the archaeology of Neolithic Europe, the burned house horizon is the geographical extent of the phenomenon of presumably intentionally burned settlements.

This was a widespread and long-lasting tradition in what is now Southeastern and Eastern Europe, lasting from as early as 6500 BCE (the beginning of the Neolithic) to as late as 2000 BCE (the end of the Chalcolithic and the beginning of the Bronze Age). 

Although there is still debate about why the house burning was practiced, the evidence seems to indicate that it was highly unlikely to have been accidental. There is also debate about why this would have been done deliberately and regularly, since these burnings could destroy the entire settlement.

This is strange! I can immediately think of some reasons that deliberately burning your village and building a different one from scratch might be useful, though. Well, one reason. A custom of this sort, however justified by the community, could have the result of reducing contamination by pathogens. Maybe that was what kept the custom going? Because maybe communities that practiced this sort of deliberate destruction of their villages reduced the level of disease in their community?

A custom that immediately springs to mind, described or at least referenced by Tony Hillerman in his mysteries, is the Navajo custom of burning or destroying a house where someone has died. Plus tools used to bury someone are destroyed afterward, according to this site. I wonder if beliefs at all similar — the unclean nature of a dead body, the danger from evil spirits, the importance of getting rid of anything to do with death — led to this destruction of whole villages.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting.

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Adding emotional heft

So, one thing that doesn’t work in a prologue, generally speaking, is a big battle scene where a lot of people die. This is because the reader has not been given a reason to care about these people, so no matter how many of them die, there’s no real emotional impact. Blow up a whole world and well, that’s a shame, but is there a reason to actually turn the page? Not really, because so what? Those people have not been made real to the reader. They don’t have the backstory, the personality, the depth, that makes a character real, so it’s impossible to care about them.

On the other end of the spectrum is annoyingly transparent tearjerker manipulation. Stephen King’s later books are bad that way. Oh, there she is! The nice female character who’s going to die a tragic death. With some of King’s books, you can literally spot that character the second she walks on stage. No matter what contortions King has to go through to make sure the protagonist fails to save her, she’s doomed. I gave up reading King some years ago because he did that in a bunch of books in a row and as I say, the technique became super transparent and obvious.

In between ho-hum mortality and manipulative tearjerking, though, is a wide range of character death that has to happen to move the plot along, and which ought not be skipped across lightly.

When I wrote the first draft of TUYO, there was a scene right about in the middle where a lot of people died, and that scene lacked emotional heft because none of those characters had been made real for the reader. That scene is still there, so if you’re about halfway through TUYO, I expect you know which scene I’m talking about. But when I realized how little emotional impact that scene had, I specifically set out to nudge the reader into caring a lot more about the real tragedy that takes place in those few pages. The decision was so explicit that I am able, for a change, to draw back the curtain and explain what I did that I think makes this scene work much better in the final version.

What I did was take one minor secondary character who dies in that scene and make him real. I gave him just tiny hints of personality in the first half of the novel, just the minimum necessary to justify a moment when he tells Ryo a little bit about his personal history. This is very short, about a page. Then he gets a few final words. Then he dies, plus a lot of other people, but this one character carries that scene. Rather than letting the reader skim across this scene and hardly notice that a lot of people just got killed, the reader cares about this character and that spills out across the scene and makes all those deaths tragic.

Or that’s how it’s supposed to work. I think it came out rather well.

As a side note, I’ll add that usually, not always, I write a book straight through from front to back. There are variations on this theme, but generally that’s how I do it.

In TUYO, though, I wrote the first half. Then, at the point our protagonists meet the bad guy, I was like ooooh no, this is going to be really awful. And I skipped ahead to the big escape scene, I expect you know the one I mean, and wrote almost all the rest of the book from there. Only after the ultimate victory did I go back and wrote those scenes in the middle. I’ve never done that before, but thinking about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever done anything quite that awful to a character before either, so maybe that’s why.

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Detecting plagiarism

And, with regards to a recent post about plagiarism, here is another post from The Passive Guy: Following are excerpts from a website called Similar Works. As the website states, the purpose of this site is to help protect authors from plagiarism of their books.

Upload your book to Similar Works and we’ll scan the text against other titles and keep monitoring — and alert you when we find any matches.

The Band [A colored bar that showed similar text] can tell you a lot about how books are related to each other! For example, if a book has a lot of stripes on the far right side of the Band, then there are similarities detected near the end of the text. That probably indicates that the same back matter or samples appear in another book. Stripes on the left indicate similarities detected near the start of the text, and they are probably disclaimers or generic copyright notices.

If I were writing romance in particular, I’d have to consider this, I guess. As it is, perhaps not.

I wouldn’t mind someone writing an app that scans for and installs malware in stolen ebooks — the kind of malware that turns the whole stolen book into repeated iterations of “You stole this book” would be ideal.

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