Sunday, May 10, 2009

Reviewer Time: Aidan Moher and "A Dribble of Ink"


Another week another Sunday and another blog to review. Quite frankly I think I will go down in history for my features rather than my fiction reviews, but what the hey, whatever works right. Following my cataclysmic disorganization I jumble through things and pull a different entry than planned for “Reviewer Time” aka Aidan Moher and his “A Dribble of Ink”. If you are devoted to procrastinating, blogs and fantasy reviews then certainly you must know Aidan, because he is from the first generation of review bloggers, who always get linked and referred to and make my skin crawl in jealousy.

And those feelings are not unfounded. I guess having a good Web Design background does lead to the fantastic layout of his own site, which is also independent and not hosted on Blogger. To plunge through the really shallow and superfluous having an independent site is the difference between having an old SUV your parents gave you as a wedding present and the pleasure of cruising with a sports car you own. Of course we shouldn’t pretend that these things don’t matter, because they usually do and making the plastic wrapper as shinier as possible just underlines the quality of the product.

It’s my joy to say that there is equivalence between the design of the blog and its content, which is a rarity to find these days. Aidan teaches every blogger a lesson in up-keeping a very frequent update schedule and building positive connections with publishers. You simply copy paste the news and cover art from their websites and provide it in a new flashy post. I find that highly positive as I am known for forgetting the part, where as a reviewer I have to stay fresh on what’s going on and compared to frequent gargantuan review updates other blogs provide as a lazy reader I am deeply satisfied that I won’t be burdened too much. Then again after awhile a chain of cover art posts kills my interest as the blog may become repetitive, despite the quality of the said above cover art and information is in fact top notch. I associate it with the metaphor of eating too much chocolate. It’s delightful and yet when in excess consumption you get a bad feeling in your stomach. But every blogger has his own reading pace and that shouldn’t be held against Aidan.

When he eventually decides to post a review or the occasional interview, Aidan always gives his most and his best. As most people know reviewing isn’t an exact science, so every reviewer is unique in one way or another and what Aidan seems to specialize in is length and intellectual nitpicking. Most of the times I am not able to sit through very long reviews, ironic as it would seem that I write them relatively long, but when the proper state of mind is at hand I always leave “A Dribble of Ink” with a sense of satisfaction that I learned a lot about the essence of a book without knowing much about the plot. This is a quality that I value in a review as a reader, since I do wish to know without spoiling the surprises, and respect as a reviewer. As far as the personal treatment that Aidan hands out to his readers, a most important criteria in my list, I can say that he is moderately active at replying at reader comment. You won’t get the individual treatment, but you won’t go unnoticed either given circumstances. As a reviewer I understand that being 100+ things [reviewer, writer, web designer etc. etc.] it’s impossible to hand out your undivided attention [a reason, why I am so chaotic]. However as a needy of attention reader/commenter it sours me for a moment or so, but I get over it.

Nevertheless this is a great site to visit, so do it.

___

Harry Markov: Since we know so little about the people behind the reviews, let’s start with some personal questions. Who are you in your real life and how does one typical day look like for you?

Aidan Moher: I'm a professional Mixed Martial Artist, who moonlights as a consultant at an interior design company. I live with 12 dogs (with a total of 38 legs, you do the math) and one cat. Since we don't have the Internet where I live (it's too cold up here in Canada, the lines freeze), I have to dictate my blog posts to my brother, who lives down in Texas.

No, I'm kidding. I'm an aspiring-writer (aren't we all?) cum Web Developer who lives in sunny Canada. A typical day of mine is much too boring to go into detail about.

HM: Tell us three things that people would probably never ever guess about you.

AM: 1. I hate coming up with lists.

2. I don't read nearly as fast as I should, considering I run a SF blog.

3. I play an absurd amount of videogames.

HM: How did you start your blog?

AM: I had just graduated from university (in Web Development) and wanted a challenge. I thought it would be fun to start a blog, similar to a few of those I read, and talk shit about the books I read – in real life, I don't have many friends who are willing to geek out with me about Fantasy and Science Fiction novels. I had just received a review copy of Terry Brooks' The Elves of Cintra (a pretty big release that year) and thought a review of it would be the perfect way to launch my blog.

I'm constantly shocked that people want to read my drivel.

HM: How did you choose your name and your genres?

AM: Genre: I like Fantasy, it makes up the majority of what I read. Another goal of my blog was to broaden the horizons of my reading, so I've brought in a fair bit more Science Fiction than I used to read.

Name: I can't remember. I just knew I needed a unique name and A Dribble of Ink just popped into my head. If you want a cooler, but less true, story about it, you can tell people that it was a bequeathed upon me as a young boy by Fritz Leiber, whilst he lay upon his deathbed.

Or something like that.

HM: Was it easy to start, was it easy to supply enough books and how were you received at first?

AM: Starting was easy, considering my background in Web Development. I made a very good decision to go with a blog that I hosted myself (as opposed to one found at www.adribbleofink.wordpress.com, for instance), which gave me full control over everything I needed.

Getting books is a trickier process, but one that easy to solve: don't worry about it. At the beginning of the blog's life I bought most of my books, with an odd review copy popping in from here or there. Now, I get more books than I can read, but it's more a curse than a blessing and I tend to read as many novels that I've bought as I do review copies sent to me.

The blogosphere can be a cliquey place, especially back when I started and there weren't a ton of them around. Just after I started A Dribble of Ink, a big rush of newer bloggers also hit the scene and somehow I found myself associated with the veteran bloggers that I was still looking up to as mentors (of a sort). It was an odd position to be in, but one that helped my blog pick up steam early in its life.

HM: What’s your approach to writing reviews, your signature so to say that makes you different from all the others? Can you give a tip or share something you do to make it easier?

AM: Be honest. That's it.

Oh, and don't summarize a novel and call it a review. I don't give a rat's ass what happens in a novel (the jack summary does just fine), instead a reviewer should focus on what makes the novel successful or unsuccessful.

HM: What’s your reading schedule? How do you arrange your day to find time to read and review to keep up relative activity?

AM: I eke it out wherever I can find it. Unfortunately I don't read as much as I'd like (or as much as many other bloggers), but I do the best that I can.

HM: In retrospect, have you ever done a negative review and how did you handle the situation? Every once in a while a book comes that doesn’t agree with a reviewer and there was a heated discussion revolving around negative reviews and what comes afterwards. Was there any fear of ruining your relationship with publishers?

AM: I'm not afraid to write a negative review, just as long as I'm being honest with myself and the text. I've been in a bit of trouble in the past, but it's not something that should get your feathers ruffled. What it should do is help you take a look at your review process and question the honesty, integrity and professionalism you're putting into those reviews.

In the case of my review of The Ten Thousand, I hadn't finished the novel, but felt strongly enough about it to write an honest review of what I had finished. At first Paul wasn't happy with my review, but we settled our differences (and I did end up finished the book, eventually) and things ended rather civilly. The most interesting aspect of it all, though, was that Kearney specifically referenced my review of the novel when pondering his future projects. As a reviewer, to have this sort of impact on an author, and a successful one at that, is humbling, but also shows the importance of honest reviews, even if they are negative-ish.

In many ways, I don't think a 'Positive' review or 'Negative' review should really exist in totality. Even books that I love have flaws, which are important to dig out, no matter the rest of the quality of the novel; even books I hate have some redeeming qualities (except, perhaps, Naked Empire by Terry Goodkind, the worst book I've ever finished – and this is coming from a fan of his earlier novels!), which should be spoken of, no matter the quality of the rest of the novel. I think, on a sub-concious level, I write reviews to help me become a better writer of fiction, and being completely honest with the text of a novel is the only way to truly embrace that style of thinking.

If a publisher doesn't like a review I publish, and stops sending me books, then so be it. They're probably not a publisher I want to be dealing with anyway, with an attitude like that.

HM: Now, how do you think you and your blog have grown from your first post up until now? Did the formula ever change and can you describe the path of your evolution?

AM: Oh god, I look back at early iterations of A Dribble of Ink and cringe. I think it's safe to say that I've become a better blogger, and it's indicated by my steadily increasing readership.

I think the most important thing for me was to stop worrying about what I should do and just going ahead with what I want to do. Early in the life of my blog, I made a promise to myself that I would only review the new, hot books. The problem with this was that I was leaving a lot of other books by the wayside, books I really wanted to read. Once I got over this way of thinking, I became much more comfortable as a reviewer and blogging began to feel less like a job and more like a fun hobby again.

Obviously I've made a lot of connections with other bloggers/authors/publishers/agents/etc... since I started the blog and that's had a positive impact on my ability to bring good content to readers.

If there's anything I know about blogs, it's that they're constantly growing beasts, never content to stay still and become staid. I'm always looking for ways to improve.

HM: So as we know some bloggers that review books and know enough about literature, have writing aspirations. Do you want to stand on the other side of the business?

AM: Sure. I'm a writer, before all else.

I'm working on a Contemporary Fantasy, called Through Bended Grass. It's my baby and is almost nearing completion, after nearly two years of work. The easiest way to explain the novel is through my submission to Colleen Lindsay's 'Twitter Query Contest' where I had to pitch the book in 140 characters or less. I was a runner-up:

'LABYRINTH - (David Bowie and Muppets) + Fey mythology x The dirty streets of Ireland = THROUGH BENDED GRASS, a 90k contemporary Fantasy.'

You can find out all about me and my writing on my other (lesser known) blog, Mightier than the Sword.

Beyond being an author, I've always fancied working with an agency or a publisher, in a position to soak in as much as I can about the industry as a whole. Hopefully one of these days...

HM: Whose your favorite author and why? In the same vine, there must be an author you had the misfortune of reading and will never ever approach. Who is it in your case and why?

AM: My favourite author is tough. I've forced at gunpoint, I'd pick Neil Gaiman for the simple reason that he most often writes the novels I wish I written myself. I'm incredibly envious of the man and his imagination. To say he's had an influence on my own storytelling would be and incredible under-statement.

Other favourites include: George R.R. Martin, Tim Powers, Terry Brooks, Robin Hobb, John Scalzi, Greg Keyes, Tobias Buckell, Guy Gavriel Kay, Michael Crichton, Tad Williams, and the list goes on....

I generally don't regret reading anything (and if I do, I have no problem putting a shitty novel down, unfinished), but the biggest culprit of mine is Stephen Donaldson.

This is what I wrote about it on my blog:

Lord Foul’s Bane (and the rest of the novels that follow it) are considered by many to be a defining work of Fantasy literature. Coming out right around the same time as Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara, Donaldson’s effort was a dark, R-rated exploration of an area little explored since Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It hit an older demographic and showed readers that Fantasy could be provoking and dangerous and dirty.

Or at least that’s what I suppose must have happened when the novel was released (6 years before I was even born). My mom adores the series, several of my older friends love the series; because of those recommendations (none stronger) I gave Lord Foul’s Bane a shot, expecting greatness. To say it fell short is an understatement and there is one specific reason for this: the main character, Thomas Covenant.

Layers are good; emotional conflict is good. Thomas Covenant is full of these. It’s too bad that Covenant is a miserable piece of shit with absolutely no redeeming qualities at all. When I read a novel, I like to be able to root for the protagonist (even if s/he’s a complete bastard, see Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy), but I simply detested Covenant and everything he stood for. In no way could I relate to him, in no way could I understand his conflict, in no way could I agree with any decisions he was making.

And then I hit the rather infamous scene near the beginning of the novel. If you’ve read it, you know the one. I very nearly threw the novel in the fire (and I don’t even dog-ear shitty novels because I revere books so much) in a fit of outrage. I remembered the words of my mother, though, and forced myself through to the end of the novel, expecting some revelation where I would learn to love the novel. I didn’t. My mouth still tastes bitter with the experience.
Emotional reaction from a novel is a good thing and Lord Foul’s Bane had me bubblin’ mad for most of the way through. So maybe in that respect it was a success, but did I enjoy even a moment while reading it? Hell no.

I won't be reading Donaldson again.

HM: What are your personal pet peeves when it comes to fantasy?

AM: Made up words and unpronounceable names. Don't try to be clever if you're not. Tolkien was a linguist, you're not.

It's that simple.

HM: Is there a tendency for the clichés in fantasy to resolve?

AM: A cliché only develops because an idea is good from the get-go, so I don't think cliché's need to go anywhere. We just need clever authors to use them in unique ways; Joe Abercrombie and his First Law trilogy are a fantastic example of this.

HM: What do you think of self publishing? This is a very interesting topic as of late with the numbers of authors self-publishing on the rise and the treatment they receive not only from reviewers, but the whole book publishing community including readers.

AM: As a writer and as a blogger, I'm not impressed. There's usually a reason a novel is self-published.

HM: Another hot topic is the crisis in the publishing industry. It’s true that the recession pretty much hit everywhere, so as a reviewer do you feel the pinch from it all and how do you see the industry shaping?

AM: Hmm, As a small-time blogger, the recession's had little effect on me, in that respect. I've received less ARCs (Advance Review Copies) from some of the smaller publishers, but there are still a ton of good books coming out and book deals being announced. The recession's for the accountants to deal with.

HM: Do you think there are still areas fantasy has slipped that you would like to cover in other mediums? And how far do you think the fantasy/sci-fi culture will enter mainstream? This I ask because art purists denounce fantasy and sci-fi on a regular basis and yet they keep coming back full speed ahead.

AM: Eh, whether the public likes it or not, they enjoy fantasy. The Da Vinci code was huge, The Time Traveller's Wife is enormous, Stephanie Meyer is well on her way to owning the mind of every little girl on the face of the planet. People love Star Trek and The Dark Knight and LOST is only getter bigger and better as it goes on.

Those who denounce Fantasy and Science Fiction just don't explore the genre enough (and often probably aren't aware what counts as Fantasy/Science Fiction – it's not all Tolkien rip-offs and Space Opera, folks!) and their ignorance shows.

I don't see Fantasy and Science Fiction going anywhere but up from here.

HM: Also there has been much denouncing of urban fantasy in pretty much the same vein mainstreamers give fantasy and sci-fi the cold shoulder. Where do you stand in this matter?

AM: Like anything, it's fine to denounce shitty books, but don't generalize. As someone deep into a Contemporary Fantasy, I'm obviously in support of the genre and think some people need to get their heads out of their asses.

People seem to get Urban Fantasy confused with Paranormal Romance. Authors like Neil Gaiman, Charles De Lint, Emma Bull and Tim Powers don't write about Leather-clad Werewolf sex, and they all certainly write Urban Fantasy. Labels can be very dangerous things.

HM: I am not sure what a closing question sounds like at this topic, so you are free to some some closing words on your own regarding reviewing.

AM: The readers need to keep us honest. Question us. Challenge us. Force us to be better.

Thanks.

11 comments:

ediFanoB said...

I appreciate Aidan's blog since I discovered it last year. Thank you both for this good interview.

Ana said...

"People seem to get Urban Fantasy confused with Paranormal Romance. Authors like Neil Gaiman, Charles De Lint, Emma Bull and Tim Powers don't write about Leather-clad Werewolf sex, and they all certainly write Urban Fantasy. Labels can be very dangerous things."

Aidan, I love your blog and respect your opinion but can I just point ou that it seemed you just labeled Paranormal Romance exactly like the people label Urban Fantasy? Not all PR has "Leather-clad Werewolf sex" and not all of it is shit. I should know, I read Paranormal Romance and I read Urban Fantasy and there are both good and bad in both genres - as in any genre.

: D

I should probably invite you for a guest dare at our blog and get you to read a Paranormal Romance. hummm

Aidan Moher said...

Ana,

I was more speaking less towards the quality of Paranormal Romance novels (I haven't read any, so I wouldn't know) and more towards the mistaken understanding that all Urban Fantasy falls under the Hamilton/Armstrong/Harris model.

Nowhere in that statement did I put any sort of label on Paranormal Romance (certainly not intentionally).

As for the dare... well, I think I'll have to pass!

~Aidan
A Dribble of Ink

Grasping for the Wind said...

Great interview! Aidan was one of the fist bloggers to encourage me, often linking to what I had to say.

Ana said...

"Great interview! Aidan was one of the fist bloggers to encourage me, often linking to what I had to say."

Yes, he did the same for us too!

Aidan, thanks for you reply. Shame that you have to pass on the Guest Dare.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

Yey! I got comments on this one and most of them don't come from me. :)

Michael: You are welcome and thanks for sitting through these features.

Ana: Thank you for bringing in the distinctions. :) PR and UF are so similar sibling genres that it's hard to seperate them in today's ever growing field of Contemporary Fantasy.

John: If you come back to read this comment, I apologize I slipped and didn't invite you over for this feature. Hah! I keep forgetting that I need to send you an e-mail.

ThRiNiDiR said...

Nice presentation-slash-review and interview ofcourse :).

Harry Markov: daydream said...

Thank you. I appreciate the compliment, though Aidan is made of awesome, so it was easy.

SQT said...

Oh Aiden, I love you for your comments on Donaldson. I can't read him for the same reasons and I've never understood the following that series has garnered.

It would have been cool if you were in fact a professional MMA fighter. Just sayin'...

Aidan Moher said...

Thanks for all the kind words, people!

SQT,

You'd be sadly disappointed by my abilities as a Mixed Martial Artist. It would not be pretty.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

I actually kinda hoped that the MMA was in fact true, because who wouldn't want to kick ass in various of techniques...

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