Monday, September 7, 2009

Reviewer Time: Paul Stotts from "Blood of the Muse"

Another weeks breezes by and it’s another Sunday post that I miss. This week’s excuse for a missed deadline was sleep. Dinner was oh-so-delicious and afterwards I was so cozy that I fell asleep on the keyboard. Funny, eh? I’m begging to wonder whether the “Reviewer Time” can be with a more flexible schedule. But let’s not side track and get down to business. My virtual chair is honored to have Paul Stotts, creator of “Blood of the Muse”, here today. His blog has been one of my favorite blogs and posting its first post in March 2008, makes it a peer to my TLR.

It was the name that exploited my passion for mythology, which lured me in checking the site and after seeing the classy layout, which exploited my weakness for shiny graphics, I became a devoted reader, though commenting often times was hard. “Blood of the Muse” has an extra something, which made me return to it and I still can’t pinpoint. “OF Blog of the Fallen” can make me think about literature in a different way, while “Stainless Steel Droppings” lulled me in a different world. “Fantasy Book Critic” always stays ahead on the current trends and news and so on and so on. However with “Blood of the Muse” it was a click that can’t be explained, the way peanut butter and jam make such a divine combination. It’s an individual experience, which I can’t promise for other readers, but I am certain that you won’t be disappointed with the content posted.

Now let’s discuss the reviews. I can’t complain, since they are my comfortable reading length as well as discussing the newer releases as well as those that sometimes fall under the radar or don’t get featured in other blogs. His technique is to keep it personal and through each review you sense that he means that he says rather than trying to break down novels to elements. I personally have no objections to both review patterns, since I do both structured reviews and more conversational, stream of consciousness ones. But it’s good to have some diversity and Paul provides it. I certainly enjoy his comparisons and way with words that give some electric vibe to the review.

He also reviews comic books, which as you may have noticed is one of major passions as well and Paul presents titles that due to my geographic position and limited googling time failed to learn about. As a comic book reviewer I always secretly take away pointers from his way with comics especially with the art department and the value of dialogue in the comic book that gains more importance, though this not so much a secret, when I announce it like that.

Interesting asides include his Collector’s Corner, which is an irregular, but frequently updated feature, where we are presented with the signatures of numerous authors in the speculative fiction circles. A feature, which makes me so green with envy I can camouflage myself against a Hollywood green screen. A more recent feature is his The First 100, where Paul shares his first thoughts 100 pages in a novel, which is a feature I think I will borrow in the long run, when time decides to cut down on my reading. As you see there is a lot to read over at “Blood of the Muse” along with the occasional giveaway.

Why aren’t you there yet?

Now let’s proceed with the interview.

HM: I think it’s already become a certain tradition here at “Reviewer Time” to have my guest post a bit of an introduction. So who is Paul, when he is not typing yet another review?

PS: Who is Paul indeed? Poet. Prophet. Outlaw. Charlatan. Snappy Dresser. Lover of all Things Cuddly. I’m none of those things. I’m not the big, sexy bowl of Frosted Flakes. I’m like Total cereal. Bland. Uninteresting. Dry. Kind of like gargling with sawdust, without the wonderful 2X4 aftertaste.

Which explains why I currently work as a web development consultant in San Diego. It’s not Playboy-centerfold-sexy, but it pays the bills. And keeps me off the streets. Oh, how I miss the streets.

My wife (a saintly woman who has the good humor to tolerate me) and I have been married for a little over a year now, and we recently (about six weeks ago) welcomed our first child. So I don’t sleep much anymore; too much baby-wrangling. Too many books to read. Too many books to review.

HM: I love lists and I hope you like lists as well, because you need to name the three things that your readers would probably never guess about you?

PS: I’m terribly addicted to the Food Network. I mean, I probably need an intervention or a twelve-step program to deal with it. Watching people cook just enthralls me; it’s like magic. Like the type of magic Brandon Sanderson would dream up—cooking magic. David Copperfield has nothing on Bobby Flay. Yeah David, you can make an airplane disappear, but can you grill the hell out of some shrimp?

Anyway, I’m such a junkie at this point I’d probably watch a monkey peeling potatoes for a half hour. I do try to work a little cooking magic on my own occasionally—usually with disastrous results. Thankfully eyebrows grow back. And the dog has a short memory. So, I guess, I’m what you’d call a “Foodie.” Viva la Foodie!

Is there anything better after a long hard day than to sit down, nurse a Diet Coke, and watch two guys pummel the hell out of each other? Not in my book, there isn’t. I love combat sports. Be it boxing, mixed martial arts or badminton—if an ass is being kicked, I’m all over it like an ugly purple bruise. Fighting is primal, visceral, and cathartic. And it’s not happening to me, which is a definite positive in my book.

The third thing is also the most shameful: I’m a sucker for the movie Moulin Rouge. It makes me weepy. Not bawling-like-a-little-girl weepy. These are more manly tears. They taste of testosterone and motor oil. Really!

HM: When was the moment that you felt like you should start penning reviews on your own?

PS: The reason I started writing reviews is simple: I was inspired by other bloggers. Two, in particular, were pivotal. One of them is Pat from Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, still one of my favorite blogs. And the other was Stego from the defunct I Hope I Didn’t Just Give Away the Ending, which was absolutely the best speculative fiction blog EVER. Bloggers take note: no one has ever done it better than Stego. You will not do it better than Stego. He should be studied and copied and revered.

These two fantastic blogs were the foundation I built my crummy little place in cyberspace upon. Without them, Blood of the Muse is nothing, a fart in deep space, a sperm crossing the finish line in third-place. So they both have my deepest respect.

And respect is something Pat should get more of. Too many bloggers have copped an elitist attitude toward Pat lately, ripping his reviews, the direction of his blog, and even his word choices. If the Hotlist wasn’t so successful, do you think these bloggers would single him out? Their motives are utterly transparent. It’s simple jealous. And it’s sad, really. It reminds me of when bands get too big, how their hardcore fans will turn on them, labeling them a sell-out. C’mon people, get over yourself; it’s blogging about books.

HM: A name speaks a lot about the blog and its creator, but I am a bit baffled about “Blood of the Muse”. Apart from fascination with Greek mythology what does the name actually stand for and how did you come up with it? I hope it doesn’t involve murdering muses.

PS: One night as I was falling asleep, the name Blood of the Muse just popped into my head, totally spontaneous, like a blog name epiphany. It didn’t really mean anything to me; I just thought it sounded cool.

Muses, though, inspire authors to create literature. To create literary babies. Authors suckle and raise them, keeping them safe until they’re ready for the world. Then the reviewers get a hold of them, dissecting them, like a literature autopsy. Like a blood-letting. Spilling the blood of the author. Spilling the blood of the muse.

HM: Did you have a game plan when you started? I myself plunged head first without much thought in the whole blogging/reviewing thing, which resulted in a heavy first year. How did you cope with book supply and was it an easy launch for your site?

PS: A big heaping serving of winging it. That was the game plan. Blogs are easy to start, but are incredibly hard to maintain. Like a pool, you don’t realize how deep it is until you jump in. Unfortunately, by then, you’re drowning.

Having enough books was never a problem. I was collecting books prior to starting Blood of the Muse. So the book supply was already there. The only thing new was writing and posting reviews.

HM: Your site has one of the most beautiful designs I have seen and at the same time it’s one of the few that aren’t a product of the Blogger pages. Tending after domain sounds like a lot of work with certain costs thrown in for keeping your spot. Judging by your experience can you say how tedious that is in reality? Especially when dealing with HTML.

PS: This is a case of pure trickery, because Blood of the Muse is a product of Blogger pages; it’s just completely customized. The domain name forwards to the Blogger pages, masking the real URL. So in reality, tending it is like any other blog.

HM: What’s the one quality that makes fantasy so special for you that you return to it time after time and devote so much time to?

PS: Great books. That’s what makes fantasy special. Those awe-inspiring reading experiences when a book goes from being the written word to something else, something transcendent. Something magical. Something that feels like experiencing your childhood again, seeing new things in a new way through new eyes. It’s like seeing the world created anew, again and again. It’s powerful, indelible, and singularly human.

HM: Reading your reviews I come across a very peculiar ranking system of 100 points that always aroused questions. What’s the deal behind it and what components build these 100 points?

PS: I think writing a review, and not giving it some sort of numerical score is a cop out; it’s cowardice—pure and simple—since many online reviewers don’t want to upset publishers or authors. So they write reviews that are open to interpretation, using nebulous terms like good, overemphasizing the positive aspects of the book, trying very hard not to have an opinion. It’s okay, you’re entitled to have an opinion, you’re entitled to take a stand and let people know what you think.

See, words lie; numbers don’t. And I don’t want to lie to my audience. So I score every book on a scale of 100. Like any review, the number is completely subjective; there are no underlying components. I score books by ranking them against other novels I’ve read in the genre. It’s rather simple. But effective.

HM: Another craft question is coming up. While doing reviews what is the one rule you always follow though and would hand down to a newer generation of reviewers?

PS: That there are no rules. Book blogging is like the Wild West; it’s every man for himself. Do what you want, say what you want, offend who you want. It’s your blog. Avoid structure and rules for they are the murderers of individuality.

HM: In connection to reviewing how do you handle giving negative reviews and ratings to books? It’s never a pleasant task and different bloggers act in a different manner. What has your experience been with books so far?

PS: People lose sight that reviews are just opinions. And like all opinions, they are fallible. These are not Papal Encyclicals. Sometimes we are correct about a book, sometimes we are wrong, often we miss the point. But reviews are not personal.

Now, no author believes her book is junk; they naturally think their work is great. Just like parents think their child is perfect. Claiming a book is the greatest thing since sliced bread in a review only reaffirms the author’s belief. You get it, you understand, suddenly you are the smartest-most-wonderful-going-to-get-a-Christmas-card-from-the-author blogger. Post a negative review. Suddenly you’ve transformed into an imbecile who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

But I’d be the first to admit I’m an imbecile who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Now remember that when I give you a good review for your next book.

HM: You also review comic books. Do you mind me asking what makes a comic book good in your eyes? Does the story or the art make reading more enjoyable?

PS: My review credo for comics is simple. A great story will always save bad art. But great art doesn’t necessarily save a bad story. Good storytelling is vital for comics. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty rare.

HM: I also have to ask why you often review issue by issue? I personally do not find the patience to stick for an issue by issue breakdown, but you must have a purpose.

PS: I’ve recently come to realize that reviewing comics in depth issue by issue was a mistake. It’s something I will no longer do at Blood of the Muse. It’s just too difficult, because there’s not enough meat there. Realistically, most issues can be reviewed in a couple of sentences, which feels like a more natural and proper length.

HM: I’m fascinated with your huge collection of author autographs. It’s true that some people collect stamps or coins, but every collection has a beginning, so can you tell me how you started yours?

PS: My father-in-law. It’s all his fault.

I’ve always loved books, but I never thought about collecting them until I saw his collection of signed first editions. It was like a virus I couldn’t resist. I could only succumb.

And succumb I did. I now own hundreds of signed first editions.

Author autographs was also a feature I loved at I Hope I Didn’t Just Give Away the Ending. So I’ve tried to keep up that tradition that Stego started for those sick folk who like to collect signed books.

HM: You have had some experience with urban fantasy under your belt and as a reader of the genre among other I am still interested in opinions about the one subgenre that gets beaten up by reviewers and readers quite a lot. What do you think of urban fantasy?

PS: There must be an unwritten law that all urban fantasy heroines must be attractive. And not just the everyday kind of attractive, but the causing-men-to-lose-all-self-control-and-self-respect-set-your-phasers-on-stunner type of attractive. The better-than-Viagra type of woman. Forget the other non-genetically blessed ladies who already struggle with a negative body image, and don’t even mention women who fell out of the ugly tree, hitting every branch on the way down—they could never be heroines in the genre. Because they’re not hot. And chicks kicking butt have to be hot.

Do you find that offensive? Because it is.

Super-attractive urban fantasy heroines isn’t just a bad cliché, it’s a damaging one, a terrible message, a knife in the heart to the female empowerment vibe underlying these books. So much of the protagonist’s worth is related to her looks, to her ability to attract that dark, brooding—and very sexy—guy. That’s not empowering, that’s limiting, objectifying. Because what happens if you can’t attract the sexy guy? And why is attracting him such a crucial objective? Is saving the world not as important without the nookie on the side?

HM: What’s the subgenre in the speculative fiction’s enormous spectrum that you enjoy most recently?

PS: Epic fantasy. Seems like the best books I’ve read recently have been in this sub-genre.

HM: Apart from enjoying reading the written word, have you ever had any writing aspirations of your own?

PS: No. Writing a novel is a level of pain I can do without. I’d rather saw between my toes with a linoleum knife.

HM: What’s the one redeeming quality in a novel, which can make you overlook very unnerving flaws? At the same time which are the major no-no moments that can utterly destroy a reading experience for you?

PS: If I love the characters in a novel, I can overlook just about anything. I’m generally quite forgiving. Except for rampant stupidity. That destroys everything for me.

HM: We reached the end of our time together, so I wish to thank you for your participation and leave you with the opportunity to share some closing lines of your own.

PS: Thanks Harry for the opportunity to chat. And for all those who’ve read Blood of the Muse in the past, present and/or future, you have my deepest thanks and sincerest gratitude. And I hope you haven’t lost too many IQ points reading my ramblings.


Ben said...

Excellent interview, Harry! And Paul, fear not, I think that Moulin Rouge is awesome too :)

Harry Markov: daydream said...

Thanks for reading, Ben. As usual I aim to please my fellow readers.

To be honest, I like Moulin Rouge as well. Some of the songs weren't to my liking, but the acting was top notch.

Paul said...

Thanks for the opportunity Harry. It was tons of fun.

Hopefully it won't make me too famous. Don't need paparazzi lurking in my bushes, or Lindsay Lohan coming over and raiding my liquor cabinet.

And it's great to see such a Moulin Rouge lovefest in here. Brings a song to my heart.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

To be honest I don't think Lindsay distinguishes between a celebrity's and a working class man's liquor cabinet.

That being said it was fun chatting and Moulin Rouge is a good movie. People don't appreciate art much can't get it.

gav(NextRead) said...

Please can you back up, with examples, the reviewers that are 'cowards' for not giving scores?

RobB said...

Apparently, I'm a coward since I don't assign numbers to my reviews.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

Gav and RobB: Thank you both for stopping over, even though it was because you felt offended. I can't speak on behalf of Paul, but I'd say to not feel offended. I for one tend to not use rating much and 90% of my reviews are without ratings. I have my reasons and so do you guys.

Different approaches, different opinions.

RobB said...

Cowardice is a pretty strong word, especially when used in a blanket statement as it was. Granted, we are only talking book reviews here, but the point still stands.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

On that I do agree. I seldom like to express my opinions in shortness, because I rarely explain myself fairly and so is the case here, I think.

If Paul is following the discussion, I hope he does supply additional argumentation for the merit of his hearing his standpoint.

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