Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Publishing does not want to eat your heart

A nice post by Maggie Stiefvater. I’m sure it’s not news to anybody reasonable — surely? — that the goal, as far as a publisher is concerned, is to publish only books that will appeal to lots of readers, and that no one is actually out to hurt the aspiring writer’s feelings by declining to publish their book.

And as Maggie Stiefvater says, before you even get to a traditional publisher, an agent doesn’t just have to like a book well enough to want to represent it — she has to love your book enough to want to spend hundreds of hours dealing with it. I mean, with BLACK DOG, my agent read enough iterations to become unable to evaluate it, so she eventually roped in a colleague to read the last draft. And that was before doing all the work involved in sending the ms out to publishers and then negotiating the contract.

I’ve always thought, btw, that probably it’s at least equally important, when an agent is deciding whether to represent you, that she gets an idea that you won’t be a pain in the neck to work with. Because who wants to deal with a prima dona who thinks their every word is inspired and won’t change or cut anything?

And that’s not even mentioning the crazy people.

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Have you heard about —

Recent and upcoming releases you might have known about, but I didn’t, until just today when I went looking for interesting news.

For example, this is just out: CJ Cherryh’s 14th (!) Foreigner book, PROTECTOR. Cajeiri’s human friends are going to get to come for a visit! That’ll be fun, and I expect things will get complicated. I ordered this one just about one minute ago, since I actually have time to read it this month.

And, hey, did you know Robin McKinley has a new title due out? SHADOWS, in September. It’s not a sequel to SUNSHINE, which would have been my first choice; but I’m always glad to see a new title from McKinley; it happens too seldom. Amazon says, about SHADOWS, “Maggie knows something’s off about Val, her mom’s new husband. Val is from Oldworld, where they still use magic, and he won’t have any tech in his office-shed behind the house. But — more importantly — what are the huge, horrible, jagged, jumpy shadows following him around? Magic is illegal in Newworld, which is all about science. The magic-carrying gene was disabled two generations ago, back when Maggie’s great-grandmother was a notable magician. But that was a long time ago.” Not that I care about the description; if McKinley’s name is on the cover, that’s enough for me.

And Ilona Andrews! Not only do they have a new Kate Daniels novel (MAGIC RISES) due to hit the shelves in July, they’ve just signed a contract with Avon for a new series that’ll be set in a world controlled by “modern Medici-like dynasties with paranormally enhanced abilities.” Very nice! I’m sure it’ll be great.

Also! Did any of you read Laura Whitcomb’s beautiful ghost story, A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT? It was one of my very favorite books the year it came out — and the sequel’s due out in May. UNDER THE LIGHT.I can’t wait.

Last, I know Elaine T mentioned this in a comment to a recent post, but in case you missed that, yes, Marie Brennen is definitely writing a sequel to A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS. It’s called THE TROPIC OF SERPENTS. I’ll be right there the minute it hits the shelves.

That’s five titles I’m excited about. Anything on your radar?

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Patricia McKillip —

Has a guest post up today at Fantasy Book Cafe! I’m sure you’ll want to go take a look!

In honor of this post, let me pose the question: If you could pick JUST ONE McKillip novel as your very, very favorite, which would it be?

I know! Impossible, right?

If I am totally forced to choose, I would pick The Book of Atrix Wolfe. I think.

Oh, it’s painful to pick just one!

How about you all? What’s your very favorite McKillip novel?

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Great female protagonists —

— written by guys. I got interested and looked through my library this morning, and here’s the top five list I came up with:

BJ in THE MAGIC AND THE HEALING by Nick O’Donohoe. Which is the first book of a trilogy by the way. I learned about the difference between writing a smart character and writing a character that everyone says is smart from this book. BJ is extremely perceptive and puts things together that I as the reader didn’t even notice, and that’s so different from the sort of book where everyone swoons over how smart and determined and spirited she is, when there’s no actual evidence of that at all from the story.

Candice Smith-Foster from EMERGENCE by David Palmer. This is a brilliant post-apocalyptic epistolary novel features a young girl and her faithful hyacinth macaw; it’s a shame Palmer only wrote a couple of books.

Nile Etland from THE DEMON BREED by James Schmitz. This is a very clever, very short novel published in 1968. Talk about showing a character be clever. I bet you didn’t know that Lois McMaster Bujold named her character Ekaterin Nile Vorkosigan after Schnitz’s character, but that’s what I’ve heard! I can believe it because Nile is pretty fabulous.

Cirocco Jones in the TITAN / WIZARD / DEMON trilogy by John Varley. There’s a complicated, flawed, realistic, kick-ass female protagonist from before the era when everyone started talking about the need for “strong female protagonists.” (TITAN was published in 1979.) This is a glorious, complicated SF epic — with centaurs and angels and stuff thrown in. I’ve read it at least half a dozen times. In fact, now that I’ve pulled TITAN off my shelves, I sort of want to re-read the whole trilogy again.

Tiffany Aching in that set of novels by Terry Pratchett — THE WEE FREE MEN, A HAT MADE OF SKY, WINTERSMITH, and I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT. I’ve listened to all but the last one, and they are fabulous, of course, as you’d expect.

Who would you pick for a list of female protagonists written by male authors?

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Guest post today —

Over at Fantasy Book Cafe.

My picks for top-five-best-ever female SFF writers, plus five runners-up. Both of those lists are very subjective, of course. Plus I included a list of five newer authors I think are definitely going to be hitting everybody’s best-ever lists in a few years, if they just keep writing.

What I regret: I didn’t think to include a category of five best-ever-female-authors-you’ve-never-heard-of. I’m not sure who I would have put on that list, but I’d have had fun looking through my library! Margaret Mahy, maybe. Doris Egan? I really loved her GATE OF IVORY trilogy. Maybe I’ll give that some thought.

Oh! And what about a top-five list of female protagonists written by male authors? Wouldn’t that be interesting? Off the top of my head, I would probably include BJ Vaughan in Nick O’Donohoe’s THE MAGIC AND THE HEALING. And Candy from EMERGENCE by David Palmer.

Anyway — check out my post! Tomorrow it’s Deb Coates’ turn over at Fantasy Book Cafe, btw. Author of WIDE OPEN, you may remember? I have her second book, DEEP DOWN, out on my living room table now. Got it in paper because I do love those blurry covers. I’ve been hearing great things about it and definitely want to get to it soon!

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Recent Reading: The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand

Sylvain Marquis knew what women desired: chocolate. And so he had learned as he grew into adulthood how to master a woman’s desire.

How’s that for an intro? I love it!

Is there really a chocolate thief in this story? Sure.

Christophe stared at [Sylvain]. “Doesn’t that make you happy? A woman thief sneaking into your lair to steal your chocolate? Don’t you want to hide out here overnight to try to catch her en flagrant délit?

Sylvain opened and closed his mouth. Yes. He did. “I think we might be a little premature in deciding there’s a thief. I’m sure there’s a much more innocuous explanation.”

None leaped to mind, but – a thief who stole chocolate but not his laptop? He might have to marry her. He could feel himself falling in love just at the idea.

He hoped she had worn black leather pants.

So that gives you the idea, I expect. Cade Carey is the thief — think of her as the young female heir of the Hershey empire, that’s about right. She’s all into establishing a gourmet line of chocolate, and I’m sure you can imagine Sylvain’s reaction to her wanting to buy his name for marketing purposes (he’s widely regarded as the best chocolatier in Paris). The initial conflict comes about because Cade can’t imagine his reaction, and since she was more than half in love with Sylvain before even meeting him, his scorn is a huge blow.

And we go on from there, and naturally everything works out beautifully at the end.

As you may know, I don’t read many romances. But . . . chocolate? That’s pretty tempting. I heard of this title from Chachic, who I’m pretty sure shares my enthusiasm for chocolate, and of course books, and I’m very pleased I gave it a try, because I wound up really enjoying this story. It’s all luscious chocolate and snappy dialogue and walks along the Seine and like that. Of course there are hurt feelings and misunderstandings, but this didn’t drive me crazy because Florand did a really good job showing how seriously vulnerable both Cade and Sylvain are. It felt exactly right that they’re both cautious about declaring that they’re falling in love. Florand brings them perfectly to life. Listen to this, a line that perfectly shows you Cade’s hidden longing for romance:

The spice jars felt cold and round under her hand. Hot chocolate should have a touch of vanilla, fresh from Tahiti. A stick of cinnamon from Sri Lanka. Nutmeg from . . . Zanzibar? She hoped it was. In her opinion, every life should have something in it that came from Zanzibar.

You know? This is true! Every life really should have something in it that comes from Zanzibar. I wonder where my nutmegs are from? (I got them from Penzey’s spices, and yes, I grate my own whole nutmegs.)

I also loved the secondary characters — they didn’t have to have many lines to be clearly drawn as characters. I loved Christophe, the food blogger who broke the story about the Chocolate Thief. I love Cade’s grandfather, who founded the Carey chocolate empire and now, at 82, is delighted that his granddaughter is showing her gumption by breaking into Sylvain’s workshop and kind of wants to zip over to France so he can join in the fun.

Plus, Florand’s writing is really good. Like this:

Outside, Paris put on darkness the way her women dressed for excitement – a black dress sliding over skin, something glittering in its threads. Paris pulled black net stockings over her elegant lines, added high-heeled black boots to click against pavement. Buildings lit in strings of jewels – an earring here, a bracelet there, and a shimmer of something over the skin, a dusting of glitter.

Cade stood at the window, watching that glittering, promising night through that cursed pane of glass. She watched it until it got tired of itself, until the jewels started to come back off, tossed carelessly on a bedside table – lights in apartments going out, heels stripping off, sore feet tucked under the covers.

That kind of extended metaphor could totally fall apart, but it doesn’t — it works perfectly.

I’m definitely in for the second book — The Chocolate Kiss. It sounds like it’s got magical realism elements, which instantly makes me sure I’ll love it — like Sarah Addison Allen, though a bit more sexy.

But I’d better lay in a more diverse stock of really good chocolate first. Lindt dark chocolate with orange, say, to go with my plain dark Callebaut. I recommend you do the same if you try this book: trust me, you aren’t going to want to nibble Jolly Ranchers while reading The Chocolate Thief!

Btw, I admit I’m kind of a chocolate snob, and I really do think Hershey’s Special Dark is basically inedible, but I’ve never gone so far as to buy chocolates that are $100 a pound. This book made me want to. Which I now could, easily, because Florand included links to sources at the back of her book. Mmmm. I know just how to celebrate the next time I sign a book contract!

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Any of you members of the SFBC?

I keep my membership partly as a way to watch trends and partly to keep an eye on which of my titles they offer how often. And I suppose a little bit to buy books. The SFBC is awfully expensive even with the deals they offer, but sometimes I’ll pick up a title I’m positive I’ll love from them, and when I do I usually add a couple more titles to take advantage of whatever deal is on at the moment, three for the price of two or whatever.

I’m pretty wary of their book descriptions now, though. They have some very good copy writers and I don’t know how often I’ve been tempted into buying a book by an author I don’t know; often that’s led to a disappointing experience. Now I seldom try a new author via the SFBC.

Anyway, I’ve been a member off and on for . . . I don’t know . . . must be close to thirty years? Something like that. How times have changed, right? The SFBC mailing used to be all novels all the time, or so my memory suggests. These days there’s tons of graphic novels and manga and stuff like that in the middle of nearly every month’s mailing; that’s new. Not useful to me because I’m seldom interested, but it tells me that a lot of the readership has moved toward graphic forms.

There are 28 paranormals offered this month, counting three-in-one volumes as one but also including zombies, which arguably don’t belong in the same category. Lots are by specific authors: seven or eight titles by Kim Harrison, the same from Jim Butcher. I can definitely see that offering a whole page devoted to one author might be a good marketing strategy.

There’s a two-page spread on dragons this month. That’s eye-catching. Robin Hobb, Naomi Novik, and Ann McCaffrey — with Brennen’s recent A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS thrown in. I do hope there’s a sequel to that one.

Several pages showing three-in-one or two-in-one volumes; obviously that’s an excellent marketing strategy. I’m certainly more willing to pay $17 plus S&H for a three-in-one trilogy. Plus, hey, the Griffin Mage trilogy is in that section, next to Patricia Briggs, so that’s excellent.

I have definitely noticed a ton of repetition of titles over the course of the year; once your book is picked up by the SFBC, it seems likely to appear in approximately every other mailing. That’s great for authors, so Yay! As a reader, I wouldn’t mind a little more variety. I do know people who buy MOST of their genre books via the SFBC, if you can believe that, and I have to say, they are certainly missing the great bulk of all good books by limiting themselves that way. Keep in mind that I live way out where the nearest bookstore is more than an hour’s drive away, and you really can’t browse on Amazon. I get book recs from blogs, mostly; I can see that if you haven’t found a handful of blogs you trust, it would be very difficult to have any idea what’s out there that you might like.

This month, the most appealing offering (for me) is RIVER OF STARS by Guy Gavriel Kay. Gotta pick that one up sometime, I know I’ll love it. There are quite a few other titles I know are good because I already have them, but very few new titles that I would pick up without a blogger recommendation. Some award nominees, unsurprisingly. 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, for example — right across from Heinlein’s STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. (I did say that titles, once the SFBC acquires them, never go away.)

These days they often have a couple of pages where they show thumbnails of their current top twenty — that’s a feature of this month’s mailing. Orson Scott Card’s RUINS is number one this month. That’s nice to see, because he certainly can write, though I don’t like all of his books. I’m definitely not interested in the Star Wars tie-in novels, but they have several excellent titles on the list this month.

Anyway — not dropping my membership any time soon. It really is an interesting way to see what’s selling in the current market, sometimes the offers are pretty good, and hey — it’s still a thrill to seem one of my titles right there next to authors I admire!

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Bujold alert!

In case you’re interested, Lois McMaster Bujold has a guest post up over at Fantasy Book Cafe. It’s well worth reading.

” . . . I have begun to suspect the structure of these two conversations [the death of SF, women in SF] actually creates the pictures that their narratives demand, regardless of the facts, perhaps through some kind of mind-ray.”

Yeah, what she said, except I guess there’s not actually a mind-ray. Probably.

Also, though Bujold didn’t mention what fiction project she might be working on now, she did note that she has collected her nonfiction writing into an e-book called Sidelines: Talks and Essays.

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Okay, these really are spectacular photos.

Usually I am not keen on people sending me “amazing photos”. But . . . but . . . okay, I admit it, these are some of the most incredible photos ever taken.

Many of them depend on absolute split-second timing — the kind of timing you get only from pure unadulterated luck.

I like the six simultaneous lightning strikes onto Lake Michigan.

The “moment before splashdown” where we see the surface of the water actually dimpling but not yet broken, is amazing.

That whale shark could inspire a story — I find I’m very visually-oriented in coming up with story ideas.

For some reason the little bird going after the praying mantis really appeals to me, though I flinch for the poor little praying mantis. Praying mantises are one of my favorite insects!

Number 25 shows a hoopoe, in case you’re interested. Just thought people might not recognize it. Actually, I don’t know what the little bird with the praying mantis is, though it’s probably a very familiar temperate species. It’s so greenish, is that just the film or is it some kind of very plain warbler? Anybody recognize it?

My vote for most artistic is number 23. Nothing like juxtaposing death with ephemeral life to get that artistic vibe going. Cutest is number 30. My absolute favorite . . . um . . . um . . . I have to pick number 28.

If you have time to click through, which is your favorite?

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Not sure I’d call it art, but it’s funny —

Can you read all the titles? They were clearer on Janet Reid’s site. Just in case, they are:

A Day at the Beach
The Bathers
Shark 1
Shark 2
Shark 3
Sudden Violence

As I indicated, I got this from Janet Reid, who linked over to this article on “book title art”.

But is it art? I vote “no.” Clever and funny, yes. Art, no.

How about this one:

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

The Hunter From the Woods

Wolf in the Sheepfold

The Silence of the Lambs

I think those sharks make me think of predators.

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