This week on “Reviewer Time” I have invited one of the community’s most established and branched out reviewers namely Tia Nevitt from “Fantasy Debut”. Last week I decided to bring in some fresh blood with the fledgling “Only the Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy”, so now in order to counterbalance I’m featuring someone most blog commenters and lurkers have come to recognize as THE place to sample debut authors.
“Fantasy Debut ” raises an interesting topic about the mission of the creator and the blog’s function in the community. The number of publishers is growing, the number of books is growing as well, niches are created every year and the system of genres evolves in complexity and diversity. As a result more blogs spawn and try to cover as many titles as possible, but it often happens that content is repeated, since most bloggers have eclectic tastes and changing tastes and moods.
Defining oneself with just one movement or subgenre is nearly impossible and yet blogs about urban fantasy, shapeshifter romance and even geographically restricted fiction appear. Tia has managed to define her blog with one mission statement that does not overwhelm her completely and still stay true to her wide taste in fiction. Presenting debutants in a genre you are already well versed in not only gives you the opportunity to observe the shift in movements and usage of tropes and stories, but also allows you to compare them with what came before these debutants and search for the familiarities as well. I speak this as a reviewer seeing the merits, while as a reader it’s great to come to one sole place to learn about new names from across the wide spectrum of speculative fiction.
Apart from its function and mission statement “Fantasy Debut” continues to surprise with diverse content outside the multiple genres presented. Reviews from Tia and her contributors are in moderate length, written in conversational stream on consciousness that can easily relay the experience and general vibe around a novel. Tia is quite responsive to comments and acts a certain information bank with ready opinions for whatever you want to ask and she supplies interesting tidbits from the publishing scene.
“Fantasy Debut” is a mix from multiple elements that can be traced to many blogs, but the true uniqueness comes with her special Wednesdays dedicated to discussing writing and its aspects in order to take her readers behind the curtains of how a book is made. As a writer myself I also find it quite informative and productive to read published authors discuss topics that can affect my writing for the better. Another nailer in how awesome this site is the very humanitarian effort to help unpublished writers and self-published authors find a publishing house or at least receive a general feedback from a wide variety of readers, which is a valuable testing for potential buyers. “Discovery Showcases” try to break the myth that all self-published work is unbearable and un-publishable in a traditional manner and as such are second-hand works, if not third.
I’m done with my commentary here, so now let’s move to the interview bit:
HM: As per the “Reviewer Time” agenda, I start with the same old personal questions. What I really want to know is who Tia is in her life outside “Fantasy Debut”?
Tia: I am a wife of 20 years, a mother of one, an aspiring novelist, an accomplished calligrapher, a software developer, and a middling musician.
HM: So now that we covered the bio part, let’s do something fun and list the three things your readers would have never guessed about you?
Tia: Dang, I think my readers know me pretty well. I don't go into my personal life much, but here's my best shot:
I've been collecting coins since I was 11. I check every penny that comes through my wallet for a wheat penny. I hit the jackpot and found two in the past week--the first time I've encountered any in about a year. I also am to blame for helping to take bicentennial quarters out of circulation, as well as all the interesting nickels that came out in 2004 and 2005.
I was in the Air Force. My long-term readers probably know this. They might not know that I I worked on T-37s and T-38 as an aircraft mechanic. Despite being around cute pilot trainees all day long, I married a fellow mechanic.
I'm entitled to claim Irish citizenship any time I want, due to the fact that one of my parents is from Ireland.
HM: When and how did you decide to enter the blog-o-sphere and review?
Tia: I wrote a review of Eragon after I read it, but had nowhere to put it. I sat on it for four months, tinkering with the idea of starting a review blog, but I didn't actually start it until Lisa Shearin's Magic Lost, Trouble Found came out.
HM: It’s a no brainer why you chose “Fantasy Debut” as the name is pretty self-explanatory about the activity in your blog, but how did you come to focus only on debuts? Most bloggers, myself included, are quick to dart where the stream directs them and devour one book after the other without a set niche, which is quite unlike what you have going on.
Tia: I knew that I would have limited time to devote to blogging, so I needed a focus. I also had a long-term love of discovering new authors. I decided that focusing on debuts would be a nice, narrow niche that would not overwhelm me. I'm overwhelmed sometimes anyway, but I guess that's a good thing, because it means that new authors are continuing to find publishing homes.
HM: In a barrage of questions let’s cover the early days of “Fantasy Debut”. Was it an easy launch and start? How were you received and also how did you supply your debuts?
Tia: Lisa Shearin made the early days of my blog very exciting. She discovered that I was blogging on Magic Lost, Trouble Found as I was reading it, and she was my first commenter. Linnea Sinclair also found me, and she directed me to Kimber An's Enduring Romance blog, and we have happily been reading each other's blogs ever since.
I purchased my books at first, and then various editors and publicists started contacting me after three or four months. It was very exciting.
HM: I am quite curious about this debut business of yours. Does this mean that you never follow series or return to the authors you enjoyed with their debut?
Tia: I follow quite a few series. I post what I call, "Debut Graduates" which are the author's second book and beyond. I recently posted reviews on Sandra McDonald's third novel (The Stars Blue Yonder) and Nathalie Mallet's second novel (The King's Daughters).
HM: Not a while ago, you posted about the lack of debuts on your shelves. How is the situation evolving since that post and also do you have any backup plans, when your shelves don’t replenish soon?
Tia: I'm not sure when this happened. I always have debuts on my shelves, and I have at least ten of them right now, along with double the number of books from other genres.
HM: You’ve also started a very interesting feature called the Discovery Showcases, which aim to promote self-published novels and find homes for unpublished ones. What prompted you to start this one and where do you plan to take it from here?
Tia: Every once in a while, I was getting review requests by self-published novelists. I didn't have enough time on my hands to go much beyond the scope of my blog, so I sat down and brainstormed what I could do for them. The Discovery Showcase was the result of that brainstorming session. I read each Discovery Showcase excerpt, and I have gone on to review one of them at The Self-Publishing Review. I hope to review more, but I had this feature on temporary hiatus for the summer. I've just contacted the next author on my list so I can get this feature rolling again.
HM: Judging by this showcase program I take it your view towards self-published is more favorable than the average reader and reviewer. Can you have your say about this new direction in publishing?
Tia: Well, it's not really new, but it's much less expensive than it was even a decade ago. For the most part, I think self-published novelists are trying to get their stuff out there too soon. I've written three novels, and while I like to think two of them are publishable, the first one will never go before another editor or agent. Writing a novel is hard and it takes a lot of practice. Breaking in is like breaking into the movie or music business. It's very difficult. It takes a lot of determination and tenacity. And above all, luck. There's no good way to circumvent the system.
However, there can be no doubt that it is getting harder and harder to break in. Lots of authors land agents, but never manage to sell their stuff. And among certain readerships -- such as Christian and various ethnicities -- self-publishing is more prevalent and more respected.
Since I've started this program, I have developed more respect for the self-published author. I can't afford to do what they have done myself--neither in time nor in money--but I respect that they are working so hard to get their stuff out there.
HM: One of the oldest questions here discussed the topic about fantasy and sci-fi and their acceptance by the so called mainstreamers. Every single reply so far has announced that speculative genres are mainstream already. Since I don’t like repetition I’ll put a spin on this one and ask why do you think people deny this mainstream status to fantasy and sci-fi? Is it something to do with fan behavior as well?
Tia: I would not agree that speculative fiction is mainstream, but after movies like The Lord of the Rings and the popularity of the Harry Potter books, it is certainly more mainstream. My own mother doesn't go near fantasy or science fiction unless it's in movie form, and even then, she's picky. My father will only read hard science fiction along with thrillers and the like. Their reasons are simple--they like to read about "real" stuff. They probably have some preconceived notions about fantasy being nothing but fairy tales for adults.
In my family's case, fan behavior probably has nothing to do with it. They probably have no notion of fan behavior at all. It's all about the content and their individual tastes.
HM: Your blog is known for the diversity of the debuts read and reviewed. You’ve enjoyed traditional fantasy, sci-fi and urban fantasy alike, so can you speak about the much critiqued urban fantasy? How true are the accusations of endlessly repeating tropes and is it a spent genre already?
Tia: I do see a lot of similar ideas. For a while, it was vampires. Now, the focus seems to have moved to various other undead like zombies and demons. I'm really not a fan unless it's something fresh and fun, like Would-Be Witch, by Kimberley Frost (ooh! Her second book is out soon!), my favorite debut of the genre. I'm not into gritty, bloody or cold-fleshed.
HM: Now let’s speak a bit about reviews. What’s your signature, when it comes to writing one and also could you drop a wee advice for the newer generation of reviewers?
Tia: I'm not sure I have a signature. I have a loose format: summary, overall impression, critiques, praises, closing paragraph. I try to fit it in 800 words or less.
As for advice: you'll get more respect of other reviewers (and more linkage) if you're not afraid to throw a well-deserved critique into your reviews. I hate criticizing as well, and when I have a lot of critiques, I'll generally focus on the top three. If I got all the way through a novel, chances are I've liked some of it, but there have been occasions when I've barely been able to stick it out. That in itself deserves some positive words. If I truly hate a novel, I'll take the most time to write the review. In one case, I went back and forth for three weeks, and enlisted the opinion of another reviewer.
HM: Connected with the last question, I wish to talk about negative reviews. I bet that you have had to write unfavorable reviews for debuts and from your personal experience, how does one go about a situation like this, if the novel is supplied by a publisher? I am asking this as a sort of guideline for newer reviewers.
Tia: You need to go ahead and do it. Tor sends me the most books by far, and one of the first books they sent me got a review that was decidedly lukewarm.
I'm more uncomfortable with posting negative reviews when the book was supplied by the author. I do it anyway--just ask David J. Williams, author of Mirrored Heavens--(who is very cool, by the way) but I hate doing it. This is because I've already had contact with the author--sometimes friendly contact. A negative review in this case feels so much like a betrayal. For this reason, I prefer to receive any complementary copies from the publisher. That way, I can keep a bit of distance. I have also been known to buy my own copies, check books out of the library and trade books at the used bookstore.
HM: Apart from enjoying reading the written word, have you ever had any writing aspirations of your own?
Tia: Oh, yes. Three novels down, two on hold, one in progress.
HM: Which are the authors you favor and have had most exciting times with and on the opposite spectrum, which are the ones you couldn’t connect with and avoid since?
Tia: Lisa Shearin, Jennifer Estep, Amanda Ashby, Nathalie Mallet, and Sandra McDonald have all been very exciting to interact with. Janet Lorimer, Carole McDonnell and Mark Ferrari have both been very supportive of my writing. Lots of people have been very kind. Taking time to make a connection always makes an impact.
I've rather not say anything negative about anyone.
HM: What are your personal pet peeves when it comes to the speculative fiction genres?
Tia: Right now, I'm getting tired of young boy coming-of-age novels. But it could be that I've just read too many back-to-back lately (and I'm in the middle of another one).
HM: Is there a tendency for these pet peeves to resolve?
Tia: That's why I read mysteries from time to time. I really do need a genre break every now and then!
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.
Tia: It's been a lot of fun. I just wish I had more time for it! I also wanted to say thank you to you for featuring me on your blog, and for taking the time to write such insightful questions.