Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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And another one hits the shelves!

The new paperback edition of THE CITY IN THE LAKE —

Available any minute now.  Well, technically, on March 8th, but I just got my first copy in the mail, so it feels real to me right now.

Pretty cover, isn’t it?  I think Timou looks perfect.

Keep an eye out at The Book Smugglers — they’ll be reviewing CITY on March 11th.  CITY is more of a fairy tale, whereas my other books are more adventure stories, so I’m really interested to see what The Book Smugglers think of it.

Now, on a different subject — I wish I could remember who recommended Nina Kiriki Hoffman to me.  Somebody at the World Fantasy Convention last year?  Whoever it was, thanks!  She’s my new favorite author!

So far I’ve read The Silent Strength of Stones, A Fistful of Sky, and The Thread That Binds the Bones.  Loved all three.  I’ve ordered Hoffman’s entire backlist and they’ve started arriving, so lots of great books ahead of me in the near future.  Can’t wait to break up a block of Callebaut 70% dark chocolate and settle down with the next one.

I’ve also just read Structure in Action:  The Making of a Durable Dog (by Pat Hastings).  Lots and lots of photos of dogs with correct and incorrect structure.  The publisher sent it to me so I could write a book review for the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club bulletin — it’s a good addition to your library if you’re serious about breeding beautiful, sound dogs, but I don’t imagine it’ll be of interest to most fans of fantasy and other genre fiction.

But look!  While we’re on the subject of breeding, take a look at this boy here!

This is CKCSC and AKC Ch. Truluv Kiss N Tell of Jayba, winning one of his Specialty Best in Shows.  He is also going to be the father of my Bree’s next litter of puppies.  If all goes well, they’ll be born in May.  Can’t wait!

And, yes, I am working on a new project of my own.  I’ll post an excerpt one of these days . . . but soon . . .

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Hitting the Shelves Today!

Complete with a starred review from Kirkus!

Kirkus says:

“Intelligent, richly detailed fantasy featuring two young cousins battered by losses, personal passions, and larger events.

“Shy, inarticulate, recently orphaned and newly arrived in the aptly named Floating Islands, Trei is transformed by the rare chance to strap on a pair of feathered wings and join the legendary corps of soaring kajaraihi.  For his fiercely intense cousin Areane, constraints on women are but annoying obstacles to be overcome in pursuing first the forbidden (to women) culinary arts and then the magical abilities that well up in her, all unbidden, in the wake of a family tragedy of her own.

“The arrival of an expanding empire’s invasion fleet, augmented by a new, mechanically powered magic, propels Trei and Araene into actions that test their courage, loyalties and cleverness to the utmost.

“The author delineates complex characters, geographies and societies alike with a dab hand, deftly weaves them all — along with dragons of several sorts, mouthwatering kitchen talk, flashes of humor, and a late-blooming romance — into a suspenseful plot and delivers an outstanding tale that is self-contained but full of promise for sequels.”

There!  Doesn’t get much better than that!

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Four snow days . . .

. . . means a six-day weekend!  Whew!  That was really long enough.  About a half-inch of ice, then a little snow on the top, then another five inches of snow on top of that.

Weather like this is a great excuse to take dogs for walks in the snow (once there was all the snow to improve the footing) and then cook a lot of chili to warm up.  I made two kinds:  one with tiny bits of minced pork shoulder and pork sausage, one with black beans and the last of the butternut squashes I picked last fall.  Tons of chipotle in both, though otherwise they were very different.  Both very good.

I also made bagels for the first time ever, using the recipe in Reinhart’s The Bread-Baker’s Apprentice.  Worked beautifully.  I sprinkled my bagels with za’atar.  Yum.  Snow days are very helpful for Reinhart’s recipes, as many of them take hours and hours while you wait for dough to proof.  I want to try the Portuguese sweet bread next, but I need a weekend or another snow day before I can make that because it takes about seven hours.  Most of it unattended, but you have to do things to the dough now and then, so not a workday project.

I also polished up the first 50 pp or so of three different potential mss. and sent them off to Caitlin.  I hope she will like them all, but what I really want is for her to say enthusiastic, flattering things about one or another.  That’s a splendid impetus to get me in writer-mode.

One of them is set in a kind of alternate Ottoman Empire.  I’ve done tons of reading for that, starting with scholarly works I borrowed from my brother and ending with the fabulous Everyday Life in Ottoman Turkey, by Lewis.  That book worked perfectly for me, especially since this is an ALTERNATE empire, not really the Ottoman Empire, so I can invent whatever details I like that have the right kind of feel.  A lot of different cool ideas came together for this story — the Ottoman-ish Empire and underground cities and tiny dragons and a woman who was a spy when she was a little girl . . . I’ve got some great scenes in mind and maybe 1/3 of the plot in my head.

Then the second is totally different.  It’s a YA, set in a world where there were massive disasters involving plagues in the distant past and, well, it’s a little hard to describe.  There’s a powerful sorceress who used to be a good guy and now might be something of a bad guy (not sure about that), and a threatened war, and well, we’ll see.  I actually have about 2/3 of the plot in my head, which is quite a lot more than usual.

The third is also a YA, probably, meant to be more fairy-tale-ish and less of a straight adventure story.  I think I know a fair bit of the plot, but the characters have sort of multiplied out of control and either they’ll have to sort themselves out and become useful or some of them will have to vanish from the script.  Won’t know which until I start really working on it.

I kind of like all of ’em, so any one Caitlin picks is fine with me.

Recent reading:  After getting that done, I had time to read books!  So I got out the really good chocolate and settled down with the crowd of critters and read Joe Abercrombie’s series, The Blade Itself and Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings.  At first I hated two of the main characters and thought, Well, not likely I’ll finish these.  But then the torturer (Glotka) started to grow on me (somehow), and I saw that that idiot Jezal was probably going to improve, and I already liked Logen.

So even though Abercrombie insists on spelling “All right” as one word, which I DETEST WITH A FIERY WHITE HOT FURY, I finished the series.  And I liked it quite a bit, although I was pretty shocked and a bit dismayed by some aspects of the ending.  I think I’ll read his fourth book, though, and hope that the part I disliked most about that ending resolves in a more satisfactory way.

I also read this interesting Literary novel:  The King’s Last Song, by Ryman.  Never read anything by him before, but it was one of the free books handed out at last year’s World Fantasy Convention.  It’s about Cambodia and it has a lovely cover.  Turned out to be beautifully written and haunting.  Loved how Ryman interwove modern Cambodia with history.

Also, for something completely different, I read the first three Kate Daniels books by Ilona Andrews.  The Book Smugglers reviews were responsible for this series winding up on my To Read Soon pile.  Urban paranormals are so dime-a-dozen right now I can’t imagine how to pick one out of the herd without a trustworthy review.  I thought the first book was only average, the second an improvement, and the third book really good — so I’m glad I kept going.  I ordered the fourth book this morning and I’m looking forward to getting it in the mail!

Now just waiting to hear back from Caitlin.  No rush (really!).  I have plenty of dark chocolate left, and I’m looking forward to a few more days off to whittle down my To Read Soon pile down a little more!

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Ice tomorrow!

They sound pretty sure about it.  An inch of ice and then a foot of snow, that’s the prediction.  Here’s hoping that, if this is true, the ice comes down as sleet and not an ice glaze that will coat roads and pull down trees — our fantastic 150-year-old oak lost three or four big branches in the last bad ice storm in November 2007.  It’s too bad to lose power, but the power will come back on eventually, you know?  But you’ll never get your trees back.

I bought a bunch more YA fantasies over the last week; they’re all downstairs in the Get To This Someday stacks.  Haven’t read any of them yet, and with this weather forecast, it may take awhile to get to them.  That’s because, if I’m going to be stuck at home for two or three or five days, I’ll probably start working on projects of my own.  Projects, plural, ’cause I need to polish up and smooth out different stories I’ve got beginnings for.  I’ll see if I can actually write semi-complete-ish outlines for any of them and then send them to Caitlin.  So that’ll keep me busy for a little while.

But I have read some pretty amazing books lately, though, even if I don’t expect to read nearly as many in February.

I finally got to The Bards of Bone Plain.  It was very good, of course, which I expected — I mean, McKillip, after all.  But it didn’t sing for me the way The Bell at Sealey Head did.  Don’t know why. I did like it very much, but it’s not in my top ten list for McKillip.

Also read The Gaslight Dogs (Lowachee).  I really didn’t like it anything like as much as I’d hoped to.  The male main character was so passive and kind of a jerk.  Until the end, when he turns evil.  Not my kind of thing, don’t care what happens in the sequel.

Also!  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Jemisin).  Now THAT was outstanding.  I love the way Jemisin plays with time and perspective.  Amazing book, wonderful characters, beautiful writing, great plot — yes, one can see the ending coming, but not exactly how Jemisin is going to get there, so that’s okay.  Loved it, glad I moved it to the top of the Get To It pile in time to nominate it for the Nebula and I hope it wins.  The sequel (The Broken Kingdoms) is also very good.

Also, yes, I made it to the show this past weekend and All Was Well.  Despite the horrible filthy parking lots, which are not helpful when showing dogs with white feet, let me tell you.  Both my puppies won their classes both days, and on Sunday little Kenya got Winners and her first championship point.  Go, Kenya!  My friend Deb talked me into getting a win photo for her.  Both of my youngsters also finished off their first Rally titles, even though I did a pretty terrible job of handling so their scores were pretty embarrassing.  AND we got home in time to make some really outstanding bread, like so:

2 tsp instant yeast

3 1/2 C flour

3/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cardamom

1/4 C. crushed crystallized ginger

1 1/8 C warm water

1/4 C butter

1 egg

Put everything in bread machine and let the machine take care of the kneading and the first rise.  Remove the dough and divide into thirds.  Form each third into a long rope and braid the ropes together.  Cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.  If you have enough self-discipline, cool completely before slicing and eating.

This was based on a recipe I got from somewhere, but I added the crystallized ginger because I had some that had dried out into little chips, like sweet zingy potato chips.  Plus I upped the cardamom a whole lot (the original recipe called for 1/4 tsp) because I love cardamom and making Indian food has taught me not to be afraid of spices.  Also, I only used water instead of milk because I was out of milk.  But the bread was wonderful and I will certainly make it again, especially if I have more crystallized ginger to use up, which is likely since making more crystallized ginger is on my list of things to do if we get iced in for several days.

Glad we have a generator!  Let the ice come down!  But preferably NOT the trees.

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Nebula nominations and other recent reading

Getting on toward the end of January, and to my surprise I’ve actually read quite a few books — even though I’ve been working on projects of my own, too.  (More about that later.)  There are several things that led me whittling down my immense Get To It Someday pile o’ books:

I wanted to read some YA because I’m tossing around ideas for starting another YA novel.  Books read:

Thirteenth Child (Patricia Wrede) — very nice, if a little predictable.  Wonderful writing and characterization, of course, and I particularly enjoyed the steam dragons, even though we barely saw one.  What a neat idea!

Graceling (Kristin Cashore) — kind of a disappointment.  I think it had been built up too much by everybody talking about it and so my expectations were too high.  I had a hard time believing in the characters or the situations.  Loved the climb through the pass, though.

The Sky is Everywhere (Jandy Nelson) — whoa. I see why THIS one go so much attention.  *These* are characters you can believe in.  Such a strong voice for the main character!  I’d be so jealous, except I’d never have written a book like this anyway.  Amazing treatment of grief, but actually not a downer at all because of the great ending. All that AND a fantastic title, too.

Birth of the Firebringer (Meredith Pierce) — sorry, but though I hoped to like this and expected to like it, I just didn’t.  The impulsive bratty heir to the throne thing?  Doesn’t do it for me.  I finished it, but only because it was short.

And I’m re-reading The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynn Jones, but I don’t know if that counts because I’ve read it before.

Also, just about time to send in Nebula nominations!  First time I’m nominating anything because at this point last year I’d hardly read anything from 2009.  But this year I’ve read quite a few books from 2010, plus I’m reading a few more that I had on my Get To It pile just in case I want to nominate them.

The Warded Man (Peter Brett) — I liked it, but not enough to nominate it for the Nebula.  Nice setting, good writing, good pacing — I really did enjoy it.  But the main character is kind of an obsessive idiot and twice I wanted to pound on the table and shout:  WHAT ARE YOU DOING, YOU IDIOT? and I hate that.  Even when I get that the character is flawed in ways that lead to moments like that, I still hate it and wonder if the author could have handled things a little differently.

The Black Prism (Brent Weeks) — Now, this one I’m nominating.  The author’s Night Angel trilogy was a little dark for me, but though this book isn’t exactly light and fluffy and pink unicorns everywhere, it didn’t go quite as far with the physical and mental torture and worked for me much better.

I loved the magic system, so unusual, and Weeks handles it beautifully. And the characters are excellent.  And the plot twist halfway through?  I so didn’t see it coming.  Wow.  It *was* foreshadowed, the author was playing fair, but I didn’t see it coming anyway.  I love that.  I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about this book.  Really nice job.  I can’t wait for the sequel.

Dragon Keeper / Dragon Haven (Robin Hobb) — I enjoyed these a lot, even though for me the main dragon character was totally unsympathetic. I just hated her.  I really liked the human characters, though, and the author really kept me guessing about how some of the plot threads involving minor characters would work out.  Not the main characters, though, everything there was pretty predictable.  And I absolutely expected that little plot twist right at the end, after the barge gets stuck.  I hope that wasn’t supposed to be a surprise.

The pace of the books was pretty slow, but actually I enjoy that if the worldbuilding is cool and detailed, which it was here.  These were the first books I’ve ever read by by this author, and I think I’ll look up some of the others set in the same world.

Next up —

I really need to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by Jemisin.  And the second book, too, that’s on my pile also and it also came out in 2010, so I need to get to it right away.  I’ve heard good things about this series and it would be great to have another book to put on the nomination form.  I’ll read that this week.  Or next week at the VERY LATEST.  I really need to finish writing at least one more scene of the book I’m working on myself, though, and preferably right now while it’s flowing well.  In two to four days I should be done with that and ready for these.

In the YA category, by the way, I’m nominating A Conspiracy of Kings (Turner) and I Am Not A Serial Killer (Wells).  The former is just wonderful in every way, the fourth book of an utterly fantastic series; and the latter is really good, really interesting, and has the most unusual protagonist basically ever.

I’m not nominating Mockingjay because I’m sure lots of other people will and I really want to see the other two books land on the ballot.

And that’s it for nominations for me.  I don’t read enough short stories or novelettes or novellas to have anything there.

AND!  In other news:  Keep an eye out at your neighborhood bookstore!  Or go check out Amazon!  Because THE FLOATING ISLANDS is so close to landing on shelves I can hardly stand it!

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An Extract From Law of the Broken Earth

Mienthe did not remember her mother, and she was afraid of her father-a cold, harsh-voiced man with a scathing turn of phrase when his children displeased him. He favored his son, already almost a young man when Mienthe was born, and left Mienthe largely to the care of a succession of nurses-a succession because servants rarely stayed long in that house. If Mienthe had had no one but the nurses,her childhood might have been bleak indeed. But she had Tef.

Tef was the gardener and a man of general work. He had been a soldier for many years and lost a foot in a long-ago dispute with Casmantium. Tef was no longer young and he walked with a crutch, but he was not afraid of Mienthe’s father. It never crossed Mienthe’s mind that he might give notice.

Despite the lack of a foot, Tef carried Mienthe through the gardens on his shoulders. He also let her eat her lunches with him in the kitchen, showed her how to cut flowers so they would stay fresh longer, and gave her a kitten that grew into an enormous slit-eyed gray cat. Tef could speak to cats and so there were always cats about the garden and his cottage, but none of them were as huge or as dignified as the gray cat he gave Mienthe.

When Mienthe was seven, one of her nurses started teaching her her letters. But that nurse had only barely shown her how to form each letter and spell her own name before Mienthe’s father raged at her about Good paper left out in the weather and When are you going to teach that child to keep in mind what she is about? A sight more valuable than teaching a mere girl how to spell, and the nurse gave him notice and Mienthe a tearful farewell. After that, Tef got out a tattered old gardener’s compendium and taught Mienthe her letters himself. Mienthe could spell Tef’s name before her own, and she could spell bittersweet and catbrier and even quaking grass long before she could spell her father’s name. As her father did not notice she had learned to write at all, this did not offend him.

Tef could not teach Mienthe embroidery or deportment, but he taught Mienthe to ride by putting her up on her brother’s outgrown pony and letting her fall off until she learned to stay on, which, fortunately, her brother never discovered, and he taught her to imitate the purring call of a contented gray jay and the rippling coo of a dove and the friendly little chirp of a sparrow so well she could often coax one bird or another to take seeds or crumbs out of her hand.

“It’s good you can keep the cats from eating the birds,” Mienthe told Tef earnestly. “But do you mind?” People who could speak to an animal, she knew, never liked constraining the natural desires of that animal.

“I don’t mind,” said Tef, smiling down at her. He was sitting perfectly still so he wouldn’t frighten the purpleshouldered finch perched on Mienthe’s finger. “The cats can catch voles and rabbits. That’s much more useful than birds. I wonder if you’ll find yourself speaking to some of the little birds one day? That would be pretty and charming.”

Mienthe gazed down at the finch on her finger and smiled. But she said, “It wouldn’t be very useful. Not like speaking to cats is to you.”

Tef shrugged, smiling. “You’re Lord Beraod’s daughter. You don’t need to worry about being useful. Anyway, your father would probably be better pleased with an animal that was pretty and charming than one that’s only useful.”

This was true. Mienthe wished she was pretty and charming herself, like a finch. Maybe her father … But she moved her hand too suddenly then, and the bird flew away with a flash of buff and purple, and she forgot her half-recognized thought.

When Mienthe was nine, a terrible storm came pounding out of the sea into the Delta. The storm uprooted trees, tore the roofs off houses, flooded fields, and drowned dozens of people who happened to be in the path of its greatest fury. Among those who died were Mienthe’s brother and, trying to rescue him from the racing flood, her father.

Mienthe was her father’s sole heir. Tef explained this to her. He explained why three uncles and five cousins – none of whom Mienthe knew, but all with young sons – suddenly appeared and began to quarrel over which of them might best give her a home. Mienthe tried to understand what Tef told her, but everything was suddenly so confusing. The quarrel had something to do with the sons, and with her. “I’m … to go live with one of them? Somewhere else?” she asked anxiously. “Can’t you come, too?”

“No, Mie,” Tef said, stroking her hair with his big hand. “No, I can’t. Not one of your uncles or cousins would permit that. But you’ll do well, do you see? I’m sure you’ll like living with your uncle Talenes.” Tef thought Uncle Talenes was going to win the quarrel. “You’ll have his sons to play with and a nurse who will stay longer than a season and an aunt to be fond of you.”

Tef was right about one thing: In the end, Uncle Talenes vanquished the rest of the uncles and cousins. Uncle Talenes finally resorted to the simple expedient of using his thirty men-at-arms-no one else had brought so many – to appropriate Mienthe and carry her away, leaving the rest to continue their suddenly pointless argument without her.

But Tef was wrong about everything else.

Uncle Talenes lived several days’ journey from Kames, where Mienthe’s father’s house was, in a large highwalled house outside Tiefenauer. Uncle Talenes’s house had mosaic floors and colored glass in the windows and a beautiful fountain in the courtyard. All around the fountain were flower beds, vivid blooms tumbling over their edges. Three great oaks in the courtyard held cages of fluttering, sweet-voiced birds. Mienthe was not allowed to splash in the fountain no matter how hot the weather. She was allowed to sit on the raked gravel under the trees as long as she was careful not to tear her clothing, but she could not listen to the birds without being sorry for the cages.

Nor, aside from the courtyard, were there any gardens. The wild Delta marshes began almost directly outside the gate and ran from the house all the way to the sea. The tough salt grasses would cut your fingers if you swung your hand through them, and mosquitoes whined in the heavy shade.

“Stay out of the marsh,” Aunt Eren warned Mienthe. “There are snakes and poisonous frogs, and quicksand if you put a foot wrong. Snakes, do you hear? Stay close to the house. Close to the house. Do you understand me?” That was how she usually spoke to Mienthe: as though Mienthe were too young and stupid to understand anything unless it was very simple and emphatically repeated.

Aunt Eren was not fond of Mienthe. She was not fond of children generally, but her sons did not much regard their mother’s temper. Mienthe did not know what she could safely disregard and what she must take care for. She wanted to please her aunt, only she was too careless and not clever enough and could not seem to learn how.

Nor did Aunt Eren hire a nurse for Mienthe. She said Mienthe was too old to need a nurse and should have a proper maid instead, but then she did not hire one. Two of Aunt Eren’s own maids took turns looking after Mienthe instead, but she could see they did not like to. Mienthe tried to be quiet and give them no bother.

Mienthe’s half cousins had pursuits and friends of their own. They were not in the least interested in the little girl so suddenly thrust into their family, but they left her alone. Uncle Talenes was worse than either Aunt Eren or the boys. He had a sharp, whining voice that made her think of the mosquitoes, and he was dismayed, dismayed to find her awkward and inarticulate in front of him and in front of the guests to whom he wanted to show her off. Was Mienthe perhaps not very clever? Then it was certainly a shame she was not prettier, wasn’t it? How fortunate for her that her future was safe in his hands …

Mienthe tried to be grateful to her uncle for giving her a home, but she missed Tef.

Then, late in the year after Mienthe turned twelve, her cousin Bertaud came back to the Delta from the royal court. For days no one spoke of anything else. Mienthe knew that Bertaud was another cousin, much older than she was. He had grown up in the Delta, but he had gone away and no one had thought he would come back. Only recently something had happened, some trouble with Casmantium, or with griffins, or somehow with both, and now he seemed to have come back to stay. Mienthe wondered why her cousin had left the Delta, but she wondered even more why he had returned. She thought that if she ever left the Delta, she never would come back.

But her cousin Bertaud even took up his inheritance as Lord of the Delta. This seemed to shock and offend Uncle Talenes, though Mienthe was not sure why, if it was his rightful inheritance. He took over the great house in Tiefenauer, sending Mienthe’s uncle Bodoranes back to his personal estate, and he dismissed all the staff. His dismissal of the staff seemed to shock and offend Aunt Eren as much as his mere return had Uncle Talenes. Both agreed that Bertaud must be high-handed and arrogant and vicious. Yes, it was vicious, uprooting poor Bodoranes like that after all his years and years of service, while Bertaud had lived high in the court and ignored the Delta. And flinging out all those people into the cold! But, well, yes, he was by blood Lord of the Delta, and perhaps there were ways to make the best of it … One might even have to note that Bodoranes had been regrettably obstinate in some respects …

Since the weather in the Delta was warm even this late in the fall, Mienthe wondered what her aunt could mean about flinging people into the cold. And how exactly did Uncle Talenes mean to “make the best” of the new lord’s arrival?

“We need to see him, see what he’s like,” Uncle Talenes explained to his elder son, now seventeen and very interested in girls, as long as they weren’t Mienthe. “He’s Lord of the Delta, for good or ill, and we need to get an idea of him. And we need to be polite. Very, very polite. If he’s clever, he’ll see how much to everyone’s advantage raising the tariffs on Linularinan glass would be” – Uncle Talenes was heavily invested in Delta glass and ceramics – “and if he’s less clever, then maybe he could use someone cleverer to point out these things.”

Karre nodded, puffed up with importance because his father was explaining this to him. Mienthe, tucked forgotten in a chair in the corner, understood finally that her uncle meant to bully or bribe the new Lord of the Delta if he could. She thought he probably could. Uncle Talenes almost always got his own way.

And Uncle Talenes seemed likely to get his own way this time, too. Not many days after he’d returned to the Delta, Lord Bertaud wrote accepting Talenes’s invitation to dine and expressing a hope that two days hence would be convenient, if he were to call.

Aunt Eren stood over the servants while they scrubbed the mosaic floors and put flowers in every room and raked the gravel smooth in the drive. Uncle Talenes made sure his sons and Mienthe were well turned out, and that Aunt Eren was wearing her most expensive jewelry, and he explained several times to the whole household, in ever more vivid terms, how important it was to impress Lord Bertaud.

And precisely at noon on the day arranged, Lord Bertaud arrived.

The family resemblance was clear. He was dark, as all Mienthe’s uncles and cousins were dark; he was tall, as they all were tall; and he had the heavy bones that made him look sturdy rather than handsome. He did not speak quickly and laugh often, as Uncle Talenes did; indeed, his manner was so restrained he seemed severe. Mienthe thought he looked both edgy and stern, and she thought there was an odd kind of depth to his eyes, a depth that somehow seemed familiar, although she could not put a name to it.

Lord Bertaud accepted Uncle Talenes’s effusive congratulations on his return with an abstracted nod, and nodded again as Uncle Talenes introduced his wife and sons. He did not seem to be paying very close attention, but he frowned when Uncle Talenes introduced Mienthe.

“Beraod’s daughter?” he asked. “Why is she here with you?”

Smiling down at Mienthe possessively, Talenes explained about the storm and how he had offered poor Mienthe a home. He brought her forward to greet her lord cousin, but Lord Bertaud’s sternness frightened her, so after she whispered her proper greeting she could not think of anything to say to him.

Manners, Mienthe,” Aunt Eren sighed reproachfully, and Uncle Talenes confided to Lord Bertaud that Mienthe was not, perhaps, very clever. Terre and Karre rolled their eyes and nudged each other. Mienthe longed to flee out to the courtyard. She flushed and looked fixedly at the mosaics underfoot.

Lord Bertaud frowned.

The meal was awful. The food was good, but Aunt Eren snapped at the maids and sent one dish back to the kitchens because it was too spicy and she was sure, as she repeated several times, that Lord Bertaud must have lost his taste for spicy food away in the north. Uncle Talenes worked smooth comments into the conversation about the brilliance with which Bertaud had handled the recent problems with Casmantium. And with the griffins, so there had been something to do with griffins. Mienthe gathered that Feierabiand had been at war with the griffins, or maybe with Casmantium, or maybe with both at the same time, or else one right after the other. And then maybe there had been something about griffins again, and a wall.

It was all very confusing. Mienthe knew nothing about griffins and couldn’t imagine what a wall had to do with anything, but she wondered why her uncle, usually so clever, did not see that Lord Bertaud did not want to talk about the recent problems, whatever they had exactly involved. Lord Bertaud grew more and more remote. Mienthe fixed her eyes on her plate and moved food around so it might seem she had eaten part of it.

Lord Bertaud said little himself. Uncle Talenes gave complicated, assured explanations of why the tariffs between the Delta and Linularinum should be raised. Aunt Eren told him at great length about the shortcomings of the Tiefenauer markets and assured him that the Desamion markets on the other side of the river were no better. When Uncle Talenes and Aunt Eren left pauses in the flow of words, Lord Bertaud asked Terre about hunting in the marshes and Karre about the best places in Tiefenauer to buy bows and horses, and listened to their enthusiastic answers with as much attention as he’d given to their parents’ discourse.

And he told Mienthe he was sorry to hear about her loss and asked whether she liked living in Tiefenauer with Uncle Talenes.

The question froze Mienthe in her seat. She could not answer truthfully, but she had not expected her lord cousin to speak to her at all and was too confused to lie. The silence that stretched out was horribly uncomfortable. Then Uncle Talenes sharply assured Lord Bertaud that of course Mienthe was perfectly happy, didn’t he provide everything she needed? She was great friends with his son Terre; the two would assuredly wed in two years, as soon as Mienthe was old enough. Terre glanced sidelong at his father’s face, swallowed, and tried to sound enthusiastic as he agreed. Karre leaned his elbow on the table and grinned at his brother. Aunt Eren scolded Mienthe for her discourtesy in failing to answer her lord cousin’s question.

“I am happy,” Mienthe whispered dutifully, but something made her add, risking a quick glance up at her lord cousin, “Only sometimes I miss Tef.”

“Who is Tef?” Lord Bertaud asked her gently.

Mienthe flinched under Aunt Eren’s cold glare and opened her mouth, but she did not know how to answer this question and in the end only looked helplessly at Lord Bertaud. Tef was Tef; it seemed impossible to explain him.

“Who is Tef?” Lord Bertaud asked Uncle Talenes.

Uncle Talenes shook his head, baffled. “A childhood friend?” he guessed.

Mienthe stared down at her plate and wished passionately that she was free to run out to the courtyard and hide under the great oaks. Then Uncle Talenes began to talk about tariffs and trade again, and the discomfort was covered over. But to Mienthe the rest of the meal seemed to last for hours and hours, even though in fact her lord cousin departed the house long before dusk.

Once he was gone, Aunt Eren scolded Mienthe again for clumsiness and discourtesy – Any well-bred girl should be able to respond gracefully to a simple question, and why ever had Mienthe thought Lord Bertaud would want to hear about some little friend from years past? Anyone would have thought Mienthe had no sense of gratitude for anything Talenes had done for her, and no one liked an ungrateful child. Look up, Mienthe, and say, “Yes, Aunt Eren,” properly. She was much too old to sulk like a spoiled toddler, and Aunt Eren wouldn’t have it.

Mienthe said Yes, Aunt Eren, and No, Aunt Eren, and looked up when she was bidden to, and down when she could, and at last her aunt allowed her to escape to the courtyard. Mienthe tucked herself up next to the largest of the oaks and wished desperately for Tef. Speaking his name to her cousin had made her remember him too clearly.


It’s 3 degrees out there . . .

It must be January!

School’s started, the students are back in droves, and so I’m busy busy busy.  Or as busy as I ever get, since after all, still part time.

Still,  a dog show’s coming up Jan 29 and 30.  Naturally it’s insane to enter dog shows in January when you have so very excellent a chance of being snowed out.  The shows don’t get canceled if there’s a ice storm:  you just stay home and lose your entry fees.

So naturally I’ve entered two youngsters both in the breed ring — it’ll be a small show, but any points will do for either of them, they’re not looking for majors yet — and in the Rally Novice ring.  If we actually make it to the show, they should both be able to finish their Novice titles!  Eve got her second qualification at six months and two days old, with a score of 97 and a first place ribbon.  That’ll be hard to top, but we’ll try.

Eve at eight weeks old

Now she’s eight months — how time flies.  I think she could qualify tomorrow with no extra training, but probably I should remind her about the fast heel and slow heel and left turns and that she can stay lying down while I walk around her in a circle.  Kenya’s more challenging to show, but she’ll do fine.  I’m pretty sure.

I am writing, too, but sort of casually.  I’ve started a new book — the setting is loosely based on sixteenth-century Istanbul (my city is called Kamehaji) and also on Cappadocia Turkey.   It’s an extraordinarily neat setting, because I’m using the (real) underground cities of Cappadocia as a jumping-off point for my version.

The main character, Sakami, is a young woman who has the gift of tongues and who, as a child, was used by her uncle as a spy.  When the story opens, she’s in Kamehaji, not exactly willingly, and her childhood skills are about to become very useful to her.

Maybe I’ll post an excerpt later.  But, see, before deciding what to work on seriously, I’ll work out the beginnings for a couple of new books, see what I can do in the way of outlines (nothing too firm, generally), and send them to my wonderful agent.  She can pick one and we’ll go from there.  I should have a new project picked out by, say February sometime, and then I’ll post an except of whatever I’ll actually be working on.

Also, yes, I have finished Black Dog, my first venture into Urban.  It was pretty quick and easy to write, it’s a fun world.  Caitlin said she found it “claustrophobically intense” which is a great term and sounds promising!  I think it’s come out pretty well, so now we’ll see if it finds a home immediately.  That’d get the new year off to a fine start!  It’d also influence my plans, ’cause I have a sequel in mind for it and it’d be nice to have to put that first.

In the meantime, since I’m not too involved with big projects, I do have time to read a book or two.

First book of the year:  The Lightning Thief.  It was kind of disappointment.  (Sorry!)  The main character was kind of an idiot (Sorry!  It’s true!).  In fact, all of the main characters were pretty dim, including the daughter of Athena, whom you’d think . . . well, never mind.  I know it’s a Middle Grade book, but I thought too many of the supposed plot twists were way too obvious.  And there was nothing particularly thrilling about the writing or the story or, well, I guess it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

One I liked much better:  The Warded Man, by Peter Brett.  Very nice!  Excellent writing, great story, great characters.  If you like Brent Weeks, you’d probably like this.  If Brent Weeks is a touch too dark for you (I personally just glided lightly over some of the torture scenes), then you’ll probably like Peter Brett better.  His characters don’t have it too easy, but the things that happen to them aren’t as graphic and horrible as the things that happen to Weeks’ characters.  I’ll definitely pick up the sequel.

Next up for me:  The Bards of Bone Plain.  The year’s off to a great start, with a new Patricia McKillip waiting for me . . .

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Winding up 2010

It’s the end of 2010.  And you know what’s new and different this year? Besides the fact that The Griffin Mage trilogy is on bookstore shelves everywhere, which is very nice, of course?

This is the first year I have ever kept track of the books I’ve read.

Here’s some interesting trivia to start with:  On March 1st, when I finished Book 3 of the trilogy and sent it off to Devi Pillai at Orbit (exactly on the deadline), I had 76 books on my “To Be Read” pile.

And now, having read 87 books this year (not counting anything I re-read) . . . NOW I have . . . sigh . . . 89 books on my “To Be Read” pile.

This is what is sometimes known as “backwards progress”, I guess.

Here’s what I read in 2010:

6 Nonfiction [I’m pretty sure I’m not remembering everything]
Europe’s Steppe Frontier (William McNeal)
Sea of Faith (Stephen O’Shea)
The Ottoman Centuries (Lord Kinross)
[You can probably guess I’ve been doing research on the         Ottoman Empire]

Reading Like a Writer (Francine Prose)
From Where You Dream (Robern Butler)
The Writing Life (Annie Dillard)
[I really recommend the one by Prose, btw)

7 Romances
Born in Fire (Nora Roberts)
Born in Ice
Born in Shame
Dance Upon the Air
Heaven and Earth
Face the Fire
[They were okay, but honestly, does every leading man  HAVE to be a brilliant, handsome multimillionaire?]

North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell)
[Never read such a badly copy-edited book in my life]

1 Classic
The Marquise of O- (Heinrich von Kleist)

8 Mysteries
The Cater Street Hangman (Anne Perry)
Callander Square
Paragon Walk
Ninth Daughter (Barbara “Hamilton”, aka Barbara Hambly)
Still Life (Louise Penny)
The Pericles Commission (Gary Corby)
My Name is Red (Orhan Pamuk)
The Janissary Tree (Jason Goodwin)

1 Mainstream Literary novel
The Lacuna (Barbara Kingsolver)

1 Difficult to Classify
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard)

9 Science Fiction
Ender in Exile (Orson Scott Card)
A War of Gifts
Deceiver(CJ Cherryh)
Fledgling (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller)
The Breach (Patrick Lee)
Touched By An Alien (Gini Koch)
Cryoburn (Lois McMaster Bujold)
The Unit (Terry Dehart)

5 YA Science Fiction
Life As We Knew It (Susan Pfeffer)
Dead and Gone

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
Catching Fire

26 Fantasy
Black Jewels trilogy (Anne Bishop)
Dreams Made Flesh
Tongues of Serpents (Naomi Novik)
Masque (Patricia Briggs)
In Great Waters (Kit Whitfield)
Oath of Fealty (Elizabeth Moon)
Blood of Ambrose (James Enge)
Magic Street (Orson Scott Card)
Mystic and Rider (Sharon Shinn)
The Thirteenth House
Dark Moon Defender
Reader and Raelyx
Fortune and Fate
The City and The City (China Mieville)
Under Heaven (Guy Gavriel Kay)
Celestial Matters (Richard Garfinkle)
Betsy the Vampire Queen (MaryJanice Davidson)
Silver Borne (Patricia Briggs)
Bone Crossed
Once Bitten, Twice Shy (Jennifer Rardin)
Tempest Rising (Nichole Peeler)
Devlin’s Luck (Patricia Bray)
Melusine (Sarah Monette)

23 YA Fantasy
The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner)
The Queen of Attolia
The King of Attolia
A Conspiracy of Kings
Plain Kate (Erin Bow)
Beka Cooper:  Terrier (Tamora Pierce)
Beka Cooper:  Bloodhound
A Certain Slant of Light (Laura Whitcomb)
Alchemy (Margaret Mahy)
The Winter Prince (Elizabeth Wein)
A Coalition of Lions
The Sunbird
The Lion Hunter
The Empty Kingdom
Pegasus (Robin McKinley)
Blood and Chocolate (Annette Curtis Klause)
A Crack in the Line (Michael Lawrence)
The Sherwood Ring (Elizabeth Pope)
Midnight is a Place (Joan Aiken)
The Magic Thief (Sarah Prineas)
The Deathday Letter (Shaun Hutchinson)
I Am Not A Serial Killer (Dan Wells)
Mr Murder

So I thought, given all those, it would be fun to pick a Top Five!  What in this list is an Absolute MUST Read?  Now, most of the time, I favor fantasy over SF and I prefer YA and Adult to Middle Grade, so those preferences color this list.

In no particular order:

A Certain Slant of Light (Whitcomb).  This YA is beautifully written, with wonderful characterization, an unpredictable plot, a lovely ending . . . this book is practically perfect.  I immediately ordered The Fetch, by the same author, and added it to my TBR shelves.  It’ll be perfect to curl up with one day.  Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the anticipation.

The Queen’s Thief (Attolia) series (Turner).  The Series That Has It All. If it’s not flawless, it comes close.  You’ll want to read the series in order, though, or else you’ll encounter serious spoiliers.

The Sunbird series (Wein).  WONDERFUL stories, if you can handle some fairly brutal plot twists.

The Hunger Games trilogy (Collins).  Amazing dystopian trilogy that isn’t a total downer but certainly isn’t a perky, lighthearted romp either.

Under Heaven (Kay).  Amazing worldbuilding, lovely writing.  Truncated ending, really needed to be a duology, but don’t let that stop you.

It also occurs to me that a lot of these books would also serve as a writing course for aspiring writers, so if you’re interested, here’s what they offer:

For studying points-of-view and 1st vs 3rd person, Turner’s Attolia series and Kay’s Under Heaven.

For amazing work with “voice” and a truly extraordinary protagonist, Wells’ I Am Not A serial Killer.  Compare to Tal Diamond in City of Diamond (Jane Emerson).

For YA for boys (people are always complaining that YA is almost always meant for girls, and they’re right) — I Am Not A Serial Killer, Hutchinson’s The Deathday Letter, Alchemy by Mahy, the Sunbird series by Wein (start with The Sunbird).  And, actually, maybe Magic Street by Card, though I wouldn’t actually say that’s YA.

For amazing worldbuilding, The Sunbird series and Pegasus by McKinley and Under Heaven by Kay and the Beka Cooper series by Tamora Pierce.

For historical fantasy, Under Heaven by Kay and In Deep Waters by Whitfield and The Sunbird series by Wein.  And, actually, Midnight Is A Place by Aiken, but that’s for younger readers.

For really remarkable settings, The City and The City by Mieville and Celestial Matters by Garfinkle.

For pushing the envelope in YA, The Hunger Games trilogy by Collins and The Sunbird series by Wein.

Now, the next project is to fit all those books I’ve been reading onto the already-full shelves in my library.  Sorting out what to keep, what to discard, and what to store out of sight may take about as long as reading them in the first place . . .

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If you’re into e-books, then here’s a deal!


That’s a two-for-one offer from Orbit — get both LORD OF THE CHANGING WINDS and LAND OF THE BURNING SANDS for the price of one.  Pretty good deal!

I actually — get this — saw a real kindle the other week!  (I know, yes, but it actually was the first time I’ve seen one.)  I let the proud owner show it off to me.  It really was a lot nicer to read from than I expected, though I don’t plan to rush out and buy one this minute, either.  Especially with a huge backlog of paper books already on my To Be Read stack.

Also, let me note:  CHANGING WINDS is also now available as an audiobook.  I’ve listened to most of it, which might seem a bit narcissistic, but what can I say?  Tantor Media did a great job with the book and it works really well in this form.

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Yay!  I just finished the full rough draft of Black Dog, an urban fantasy (sort of) featuring werewolves (sort of).  Now, over to my wonderful agent,who will doubtless give me useful feedback over the manuscript and then (I hope) find it a home.

In the meantime, MY job with it is over, or at least suspended.  I can now read Bujold’s CRYOBURN, which just arrived on my doorstep two days ago.  Can’t wait to settle down on the couch with the book and this interesting new dessert I just made, featuring toasted walnuts and dark callebaut chocolate . . . ummmm.  If it worked well, I’ll repeat it with hazelnuts when people arrive for Christmas.

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