Today I am interviewing Rachel Neumeier, author of the new fantasy novel, The Mountain of Kept Memory.
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DJ: Hey Rachel! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Rachel Neumeier: Thanks for asking me over, DJ! It’s a pleasure to be here.
You know how so many authors started writing stories when they were very young, teenagers, perhaps? Not me. I’ve been a *reader* all my life – definitely in a “My Life My Books My Escape” kind of way, in fact (that’s a great motto). But I didn’t start writing until grad school. I started then because I’d just read a book where the protagonist annoyed me and partly to improve my typing speed, but mostly because I needed a hobby that was completely separate from my research project.
Eventually I completed a giant fantasy trilogy. This taught me how to write. After that I wrote a much (much) shorter standalone fantasy novel that I hoped would be publishable. That book, The City in the Lake, was the one that was my debut sale. After City was accepted by Random House, I kind of rearranged my life to accommodate my hobbies instead of the other way around. Now I work part time, but I make sure I always have time for writing and for my herd of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
Mountain is my eleventh novel to hit the shelves, but I’ve got a very busy schedule for 2017. If I manage to finish the third Black Dog novel in January, I’ll self-publish that as my twelfth. Then my next YA will come out in March from Random House, and my next adult fantasy next November from Simon and Schuster.
So far all my books are fantasy, but on my agent’s advice, I just finished my first space opera, so I’m hoping to see that find a home. I’m hoping to be like CJ Cherryh, one of my favorite authors, with tons of books published in both fantasy and SF.
DJ: What is The Mountain of Kept Memory about?
Rachel: Mountain is a traditional fantasy . . . or not quite! But it *reads* like a traditional fantasy. Mostly.
Mountain alternates points of view as Oressa and Gulien deal with their rather ambiguous father, the powerful woman he has offended – she used to be a goddess, or so people say – and a foreign invasion. Enemies may not quite stay enemies, friends may not necessarily stay friends, and the truth about the Kieba may be even stranger than the stories people tell about her.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits?
Rachel: Well, Oressa spends a good deal of time finding all the secret panels and passages in the palace and ferreting out everyone’s secrets. She learned young that it’s important to know everything and never reveal how much you know! She’s one of my favorite protagonists ever, in fact.
Oressa’s brother Gulien is in a tough spot, torn between loyalty to his father and the awareness that his father is almost certainly catastrophically wrong this time.
Osir himself – their father — is one of the most ambiguous characters I’ve ever written. Oressa is terrified of him, Gulien loves him and wants to earn his good regard, and the complexity of relationships that results is one of the things I enjoyed most about writing this book. I think Osir came out just as I hoped.
Gajdosik, one of the foreign princes who is invading, is actually a very important character. He’s not precisely quirky, but he’s determined, ruthless, clever, and above all steadfast.
DJ: What is the world of The Mountain of Kept Memory like?
Rachel: Mountain could be set on a very far future Earth. Or it could be purely a secondary world; it’s hard to tell. I’ve seen different readers interpret the setting both ways. The world, at least this region, is right at the dawn of the gunpowder era, though crossbows are still more accurate than arquebuses.
Carastind is a small semi-desert country, with one important city and a scattering of towns and villages and farms. The important crops are drylands wheat and purple amaranth. The landscape is flat and featureless enough that the Kieba’s mountain – the only mountain in Carastind – truly stands out. Carastind is ruled by a king but has a small and unimportant nobility and a relatively prosperous citizenry.
Carastind broke away from a more powerful imperial country some time ago. The more violent and wealthier country of Tamarist lies across the Narrow Sea to the west. Carastind depends on the presence of the Kieba to ensure its safety from its more powerful neighbors, which is why it’s such a problem when Osir offends her.
Oh, and in this world, when a crystalline rain begins to fall or a purple mist drifts in off the sea, sensible people scramble for shelter. Such things mark the arrival of new and peculiar plagues, which arise from fragments left behind by the long-dead gods. The only defense against these unnatural plagues is the constant vigilance of the Kieba in her mountain.
DJ: The Mountain of Kept Memory is being compared to both Guy Gavriel Kay and Robin McKinley. That is quite a pair of authors to be compared to! What is it about your novel that draws those comparison?
Rachel: My books get compared to Robin McKinley pretty frequently, which I always appreciate since I love her writing. I think Guy Gavriel Kay is among the two or three best fantasy authors writing today, so that comparison is definitely flattering as well.
My guess is that the comparison to Kay arises because my worldbuilding feels “deep” – I think my worlds feel like they have a good deal of history behind them. This is certainly true for Mountain. In contrast, I wonder if the smaller-scale, more intimate feel of my novels tends to make people think of McKinley. Like her, I tend to focus fairly closely one a few important characters, and like her I tend to write characters who could fit into either a YA or adult novel.
Naturally I assume that reviewers who make such flattering comparisons, such as Jason Heller of NPR, are completely accurate about assessing the quality of my writing!
DJ: This is a question I normally ask, but how do you feel about your cover? I’m yet to read The Mountain of Kept Memory (though it is on my TBR for break), but the cover literally took my breath away in awe, and it felt like, to me, that it captured the name of novel perfectly. No idea why, really – but I felt it fit!
Rachel: I love that cover. Everyone loves that cover. Actually, Charlotte at Charlotte’s Library offered a comment that I think is both insightful and useful: “If you like the dreamy, atmospheric cover image of a place clearly full of history and story, and think “I would like to explore that place,” you will like it. If you look at the cover and think, “Those people aren’t doing anything and nothing is happening,” you won’t.”
I think this is probably accurate. Also, I will say, this is the single coolest title I ever came up with and I’m happy Saga kept it.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Mountain of Kept Memory?
Rachel: The family relationships. The supportive relationship between Oressa and her brother Gulien was fun; I always enjoy siblings and would have a hard time writing a terrible, dysfunctional sibling relationship. But for me one of the most interesting aspects of writing Mountain was showing the completely different ways Oressa and Gulien relate to their father.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Rachel: What happens next! I have no immediate plans to write a sequel, but although this book is self-contained, there would certainly be room for a sequel.
I’ll add that, to me, King Osir is such an interesting character and so ambiguous that I hope readers wind up thinking about him and about his role in the story.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing The Mountain of Kept Memory? Is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Rachel: An important theme for most of my books is trust. (I didn’t realize this until a reader pointed it out, but it’s true.) Not blind trust, but you might say choosing to trust someone and having that decision turn out to be justified.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Mountain of Kept Memory that you can share with us?
Rachel: Well, I don’t want to give away anything important … how about this:
Oressa knew her father must be plotting. He was always plotting. Maybe that sometimes made him a good king, or at least an effective king, as Gulien said. But if their father thought all those awful things about the Kieba . . . what would he do if he truly believed all that? She could feel him brooding, a dark presence on the highest level of the palace, thinking and thinking how to use everyone to get what he wanted while all the time making them think they were getting what they wanted. It was amazing how nobody ever seemed to notice that Oressa’s father always got things his way.
“Not this time,” Oressa whispered. “Not this time.”
Or here’s a tidbit of conversation between Oressa and Gajdosik:
“Ah, well,” said Gajdosik. “You may tell me everything about your brother’s visit to the Kieba. Perhaps I might change my mind.”
“Nothing will change your mind,” snapped Oressa. “It’s not just that you’re unbearably arrogant. No, the truth is, you don’t dare change your mind. You need a powerful artifact so you can conquer Carastind after all. So you have to have Magister Djerkest’s story be true.”
Sometimes Oressa is right and sometimes she’s wrong, I will add. But she’s generally pretty insightful. And always clever.
DJ: Now that The Mountain of Kept Memory is released, what is next for you?
Rachel: Right now I’m working on the third book of my self-published contemporary paranormal Black Dog series, which I hope I’ll be able to bring out next year. However, I’ll have to be careful with the timing because I don’t want to drop it into the world at a time where it might interfere with my sixth YA novel, The White Road of the Moon, scheduled for release in March; or with my next adult fantasy, title still kinda up in the air, scheduled to be released next November. That one will be my second book from Saga and I can’t wait to see what kind of cover they produce for it since Mountain is so beautiful.
Also, if my just-completed space opera finds a home, I’m sure I’ll be working on a second book to complete that story. The first does stand alone, but the whole story needs to be at least a duology, maybe a trilogy.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Neumeier/e/B003910NGI/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
Author Newsletter: http://www.rachelneumeier.com/newsletter/
Facebook: Rachel Neumeier
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Mountain of Kept Memory that we haven’t talked about yet?
Rachel: This is a story that starts a bit slowly and then builds. It’s best to pick it up when you want a world to fall into, but aren’t feeling too impatient for the death-defying adventure to begin.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** The Mountain of Kept Memory is published by Saga Press and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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In this gorgeous fantasy in the spirit of Guy Gavriel Kay and Robin McKinley, a prince and a princess must work together to save their kingdom from outside invaders…and dangers within.
Long ago the Kieba, last goddess in the world, raised up her mountain in the drylands of Carastind. Ever since then she has dwelled and protected the world from unending plagues and danger…
Gulien Madalin, heir to the throne of Carastind, finds himself more interested in ancient history than the tedious business of government and watching his father rule. But Gulien suspects that his father has offended the Kieba so seriously that she has withdrawn her protection from the kingdom. Worse, he fears that Carastind’s enemies suspect this as well.
Then he learns that he is right. And invasion is imminent.
Meanwhile Gulien’s sister Oressa has focused on what’s important: avoiding the attention of her royal father while keeping track of all the secrets at court. But when she overhears news about the threatened invasion, she’s shocked to discover what her father plans to give away in order to buy peace.
But Carastind’s enemies will not agree to peace at any price. They intend to not only conquer the kingdom, but also cast down the Kieba and steal her power. Now, Gulien and Oressa must decide where their most important loyalties lie, and what price they are willing to pay to protect the Kieba, their home, and the world.
Rachel Neumeier started writing fiction to relax when she was a graduate student; her first publications appeared in journals such as The American Journal of Botany and and would probably be interesting to a readership in the high dozens. She is confident that her fantasy novels have much greater appeal!
Rachel’s first YA fantasy, The City in the Lake, was published in 2008, and was followed by the adult fantasy Griffin Mage trilogy in 2010 and by her second YA, The Floating Islands, in early 2011. She gets her ideas from artwork, from history, from other authors’ minor characters, and from just throwing words on the page and seeing what happens.
Rachel now lives in rural Missouri, where, having allowed her hobbies to take over her life, she has a very large garden, a very small orchard, two cats, and many beautiful Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.