The OF Blog: Rabid Squirrel Interro-view: Andrea from Little Red Reviewer

Friday, August 09, 2013

Rabid Squirrel Interro-view: Andrea from Little Red Reviewer

In the first of a series of hard-hitting (or at least not slow-pitch Beer League softball) interviews of a variety of online reviewers/book bloggers, Andrea from Little Red Reviewer agreed to answer a series of questions that I asked about the genesis of her blog, the continuous debate over the Hugo Awards, what constitutes a geek, and even a question about her apparent love for a certain Canadian actor who boldly went where no man had gone before...or something.  Hopefully, this interview will be of some interest to readers:

I see that you have been blogging at Little Red Reviewer since March 2010.  What motivated you to start a blog devoted to books instead of something devoted to another field of interest?

Flashback to five or six years ago, when I’d been publishing casual book reviews online at various places, including SFFWorld, SFRevu, Worm’s Sci Fi Haven, and an old blogspot that’s now defunct. Learning how to review books was becoming a serious hobby, something I wanted to invest more time and effort into. By setting up my own blog I had the freedom to develop my own style and schedule. Which is a fancy way of saying I get to be snarky and swear a lot.

At the moment, science fiction and fantasy books are my field of interest. My apartment looks like a library threw up. But I do have other interests.  I’m a low-tech foodie and a craft beer snob. My “practice” blog from way-back-when included posts on those and other topics, but food blogs live and die by their photography, and all my tasty food always looked gross in the photos. Occasionally I do post about food or beer or gardening on Little Red Reviewer, but it’s mostly genre geekery. Due to some other projects I’m involved in, there are less book reviews than I’d like on LRR, but it seems to be the non-review posts that get the most comments, so there’s that.

I’ve always been puzzled when other reviewers wistfully comment about how their non-review posts receive more traffic than the reviews.  When you read other blogs, are you primarily reading them for their reviews or for other reasons?

I’m primarily reading them for book reviews, and sometimes movie reviews. I also enjoy looking at people’s photos of cons, cosplay, geekery and such. I read book reviews and blogs because want to hear what people thought of books I’ve read, and I’m interested in non-spoilery reviews of titles I’m interested in reading. It’s goodreads, with a more personal touch.  Discussion posts do seem to get more hits and more comments, because, well, it’s a discussion, not just some blogger shouting their opinion into the void.

What genres of literature does your blog focus on and does your blog accurately reflect your reading tastes or does it instead capture only one part of your overall reading interests?

Little Red Reviewer focuses mostly on Science Fiction and Fantasy, which covers 90% of what I read. I used to read a larger variety of genres, including some non-fiction history books. In a way I have allowed the “brand” of the blog to dictate and narrow down the types of books I read for pleasure. Which is too bad.  I need more hours in the day so I can catch up on Barbara Kingsolver, mythology studies, architecture, and American History.  Or I could just sign up for a community college literature or history class, and the reading would be homework.

“Branding” is an interesting choice for describing why you cover SF/F so much.  Do you ever think that sometime in the near future you might find the focus of your reading (and reviews) moving away from SF/F books (and related media) and toward something different?

I doubt it.  I’m more than satisfied with what my blog has become, and much of that satisfaction is due to it’s tight focus on genre.  If I were to get serious about blogging other bits of my life, I’d start another blog. Could be a good excuse to learn how tumblr works.

I see that you've been doing reviews of not just the Hugo nominees for Best Novel but also in other categories such as Best Novella.  What is your take on the overall quality of these stories in comparison to other, non-nominated works of the past year?

This was my first year nominating and voting in the Hugo’s. I’ve now reviewed all the nominated novels, novellas, novellettes and short stories.  Very little of what I nominated made it to the final ballot, just shows I have different tastes than other folks, and that popularity and PR is important. I had a tough time getting into some of the nominated novellas and I was surprised to see Blackout by Mira Grant and Redshirts by John Scalzi on the final ballot for best novel. Nothing against either of those books, but I’ve read better.

Of the novels I nominated, two of them, And Blue Skies From Pain by Stina Leicht and Faith by John Love, received little to no fanfare when they were released. Leicht did the podcast tour thing and is very active on twitter, Love not so much. Stina Leicht made the ballot for Campbell award, but these authors are among many who suffered from not enough exposure. It is possible for a small publisher to make a big splash, just look at Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s nominated short story The Boy Who Cast No Shadow from PS Publishing.  

Scalzi’s appearance at many, many conventions along with Tor’s strong advertising of his brand ensured everyone, everywhere was going to know about Redshirts.  I’m not knocking Redshirts, it’s a fun book. I bought a copy for my Dad, and got Scalzi to autograph it at a Con.  But is it among the best five books published in 2012? I don’t think so.

What I’m getting at with that ramble is that getting on that ballot is linked to exposure. It’s not a popularity contest, but someone can’t nominate you if they’ve never heard of you. More of us need to be reading from more publishers, and more of us need to be voting.  I doubt I’ll ever be able to afford attending WorldCon. But a $60 annual membership fee?  most of us spend that kind of change at the bookstore and don’t even blink.

I’m woefully under-read when it comes to short form, but am hoping to fix that with rampant listening of short story podcasts from places like Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and PodCastle.

This is a rather sanguine, diplomatic response considering the responses of many other bloggers.  When you come across their negative reactions to Hugo-related matters, how much agreement/disagreement do you have with their views and how they express them.  Can the Hugos be “saved” for those fans in their 20s and 30s who don’t feel as connected to WorldCon conventions?

Oh yeah, there was a big kerfuffle back in April, wasn’t there? I do recall some nail spitting and vitriol. Quite a bit actually.  Maybe I’ll get to be part of it next year, when I can call myself an expert because it’ll be my 2nd year as part of the process. Will there come a day when I’m the one bitching about how a YA novel or another joke from Scalzi got on the ballot? More than likely. It is inevitable that naiveity become jadedness.

And do you mean “saved” for, or saved from?  With google hangouts, podcasting, youtube, skype, tweeting with authors non-stop, I think the definition of “connection to WorldCon convention’s” is changing.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the old guard preferred to save it from us young uns and newcomers, rather than for us.

Well, I was trying to be optimistic with the “for,” but now that you’ve gone ahead and mentioned newer developments like podcasting, Google+, Skype, Twitter, etc., could it be that traditional print literature-oriented conventions are going the way of the dinosaur and that instead of a monolithic fandom bloc like WorldCon that the near future will see a fissioning of SF into several competing (and maybe also complementary) communities?

I think you’re on to something there. I love that more and more smaller cons are popping up all over the place.  A few months ago I was at a local small business meet ‘n greet, with the topic of the evening being social media. On a projection screen they were showing a live twitter feed of the event’s hashtag. I thought that was brilliant.

WorldCon will never go away, and I’m grateful to have some big thing that brings us all together, you know? But I gotta wonder how much of the WorldCon/Hugo kerfuffles could be avoided if the meetings were done via Google+ or Skype.  You wouldn’t have to buy a plane ticket or get a hotel room.  All this scifi style technology, how come we’re not using it better?

You have a visible presence on Twitter.  How has Twitter influenced you as a blogger and a reviewer?  

Twitter has vastly widened my world. Building a blog following is primarily done through interaction with other bloggers. And there’s only so much you can comment on someone else’s blog, especially if you’re only trolling book review blogs. With twitter, I could suddenly have conversations on any topic with other bloggers, with authors, with publisher reps, with people I met at a convention or a bookstore event, with anyone who had similar interests as me, in any timezone. Twitter really is the best thing since sliced bread.  I’ll tweet a link to my reviews, often tagging the author or publisher. If I’m lucky, those people retweet it, gaining more exposure for everyone involved, and often starting a conversation. The dark side, is what if I publish a negative review? Do I really want to bring that to the author’s attention? Maybe I do, but not quite as loudly.

Have there been any negative consequences to using Twitter as a primary forum for communicating with others?

It is a time suck.  I’ll sit down to get some serious work done, and check twitter, just for a second.  Next thing you know, two hours have gone by, and I’ve gotten nothing done. But seriously, the only negative to twitter is the character limit. But many a casual, character limited conversation has led to a private message of “what’s your e-mail address?” and we go from there. it’s amazing the intonation you can cram into a hashtag.

Gender in Genre has been a topic of much debate in recent years.  What is your take on the debates and on the roles that women writers, editors, and readers play in literary discussions?

There’s no avoiding this thorny topic, is there?

On the one hand, my take is that I’m very happy to see these discussions taking place, although I very rarely take part in them. Every community (and the speculative fiction publishing industry IS a community) needs to be shown where it’s self imposed boundaries lie, and be forced to push past them into newer territory.  We are lucky enough to have so many well spoken and well educated  writers, editors, and readers who can speak intelligently and professionally on this topic, allowing me to stay silent in my little corner and let the Smart People talk about the Big Smart Topics.

On the other hand, anyone who says “where are all the female writers, readers and bloggers?! We do not have enough women involved!” hasn’t spent much time in the Urban Fantasy blogosphere. I mean, urban fantasy falls under the larger category of fantasy, and is within the sphere of speculative fiction right? And so those are seen as legitimate genre authors and legitimate genre blogs, right?  

Yes, that’s the elephant in the room, isn’t it?  I’ll readily admit my near-total ignorance of what is being produced these days in urban fantasy.  What similarities and differences are there between blogs and discussion groups that focus on say “hard SF” or epic fantasy as those which concentrate on urban fantasy?

it’s one of many white elephants. While we’re in this room that’s suddenly crowded with white elephants, let’s beat some dead horses.

The blunt and obvious difference is the gender make-up of the communities. To make a gross generality (which I have underlined so it’s not forgotten by the end of this paragraph), the communities that focus on Hard SF or Epic Fantasy are mostly male, and the communities that focus on Urban Fantasy tend to be mostly female, and the big fat “why is that?” is blunt and obvious too. Most of the urban fantasy on the market right now is marketed towards women, has female protagonists and mostly female writers, and hard SF and epic fantasy has historically been aimed towards men, with a focus on male protagonist and a historically high proportion of male writers.  Things are changing, and ultimately we’ll all read what we want, but marketing is pretty damn powerful.

And what do the communities have in common? A hot blooded passion for promoting the genre. all these blogs and communities exist for one purpose - because people love what they are reading and they want to discuss it.  

It’s funny, but I don’t see much of the “where all the dudes at? we gotta read more men!” on the UF (urban fantasy) and PNR (paranormal romance) blogs. Authors there are just authors. Their plumbing doesn’t seem to matter as much.

I get what all the hoopla is about, truly I do.  But the reason I’ve opted out of so many of these conversations is because I’ve never much cared about gender.  I’ve spent plenty of years as the only woman in the room, and it never took the fellows very long to see me as “just another one of the guys”. I never waited for their (or anyone’s) invitation or validation. If I want to do something, or join something, or read something, or write something, or be something, I fucking do it.

Will a certain percentage of humans continue be assholes and truly believe they are superior to others? Yes.  Is it our best interest to call those people on it and out them as assholes? Yes.

Not much to add here but a musing:  Taken into account that there is a lesser imbalance in hard SF/epic fantasy readership compared to UF/PNR readership, would it be fairer to note that much of the issue revolves around male readers and their preconceptions than with anything that women prefer to read?  I ask as someone who will readily admit that he is largely ignorant of what is being published in UF/PNR.

I’m only slightly less ignorant. Urban Fantasy is exactly what it sounds like: fantasy adventure/thriller/mystery in an urban environment, be it Earth or a secondary world. Paranormal Romance focuses very heavily on the romance and relationships aspects of the story, and there are paranormal creatures and situations. Sometimes tons of hot sex too. Look for the super sexy shirtless men (usually with their heads cropped off) in the SF/F section. Those are probably PNR.

Yes, I think it boils down to preconceptions, and judgemental preconceptions at that. With a childish dash of “eewww, there are girls in our treehouse! Someone call her ugly and fart nasty so she goes away!”  What happened then was what has always historically happened when a large group of people are told they can’t join the club:  we made our own club, fashioned to our preferences.  

Glancing through your recent blog entries, I see multiple references to Star Trek and specifically to William Shatner.  If Shatner could be the answer to any question regarding SF, what question would you ask and why?

Multiple references? *looks back* oh, yeah, I guess there are. This was your tough, get
em where it hurts question, wasn’t it? hmmm...

Q. What actor do I wish I could have seen on television when the show that made him famous first aired? 

A. William Shatner.

Why that question?

This isn’t about Shatner, it’s about Kirk. My first exposure to  Star Trek was syndicated reruns, the episodes often shown out of order at weird times. No story arcs, no viewing parties, no gravitas. But still!  Adventures in outer space? With aliens? and characters who bantered back and forth? and laser weapons? and saving the day in less than 60 minutes? this was cooler than Star Wars!

Star Trek IV was the first Star Trek movie I saw, and it solidified a few things for me: This franchise was a helluva lot of fun, and I wanted to grow up to be like Kirk. He constantly bent the rules, but always did the right thing. He understood what promise and loyalty and dedication really meant, with a side order of optimism, creativity, and sneakiness. I’d have left the Kobayashi Maru to burn.

I was later to learn that Star Trek IV makes so much more sense if you actually watch the movies in order.  But come on, I was 8 years old. And I’d just found my new role model.

Shatner is so kitschy that he somehow is beyond cool in a sort of “geeky” way.  But this raises a serious question:  What does it mean to be a “geek” and yet somehow “cool” at the same time?  Lately, I’ve seen references on numerous sites to “geek chic” and I’m left wondering if this is actually a positive thing.  What are your thoughts on what it means to be a geek and how that relates to “geek culture?”

Everything old is new again, don’t ya know? I’m just old enough to be amused by that.

Geek and Cool is like pornography. I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.   A few years ago I tried to introduce a friend to all the weird stuff I read. I lent her a few of my favorites, a Steven Brust, a Neil Gaiman, a Catherynne Valente or two. A few weeks later she handed me back the bag’o’books and said “I tried, but this stuff is way too weird for me”. Boy did I feel like a geek. That same friend called me last week and says “What the heck is a Tardis and why is everyone on TV talking about it?”  I suddenly felt really cool.

Geeky (and I imagine geek chic, whatever the hell that is) is trendy right now, forcing everything geeky into the mainstream.  It’s a positive thing, because a lot of people who were closet geeks are finding their voice, finding their fandom family, finding something that makes them happy with themselves.  Not only has geeky become cool, but so has coming out as one.

In six months something else will be trendy, and the posers will move on to the next trendy thing, leaving us true geeks, Newbs and all,  to our own devices.

I must admit that the recent (say post-2005) embracement of “geek” as a positive term confuses me, as for the most part I was more into musical pop culture than I was into anything that today would be labeled as “geeky.”  You use the term “true geek” in your response.  What is a “true geek” compared to someone who might be curious about current pop cultural trends yet who did not have a “community” with which to associate?

A true geek is someone who geeks out for something because it speaks to them, not because it’s cool.  If you’re curious about a current trend, by all means, look into it. Try comic books, try cosplay, try fanfic, try vampires or vomit-zombies or Doctor Who or Catan or bronies or anything else. See what sticks.  When you’ve found your community, when it feels like you’ve come home, you’ve taken your first step to becoming a true geek.  And if nothing sticks? Don’t worry about it, but don’t call yourself a geek either.


bibliotropic said...

This was an awesome interview. It's interesting to see blogger interviews that have questions beyond the old standby stuff, and I love seeing more of the person behind the blog, so to speak.

Andrea said...

Thanks Larry, this was a lot of fun!

Larry Nolen said...

This is the format I usually used when interviewing authors, as it allows for a lot of room for travel. And you'll be soon, Ria.


Indeed. One of the reasons I decided to get back into (occasional) interviewing was to have fun getting to know others better. Seems to be working so far :D

Alexia Tessier said...

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