Thursday, December 3, 2009

Reviewer Time: Mark & Liz "My Favorite Books"

It’s Thursday, so probably this doesn’t ring a bell with you guys, but guess what. It’s time for another Reviewer Time episode. It’s an extra edition that stars Liz and Mark from the popular “My Favorite Books”. Both had been extremely busy for a couple of weeks [I guess when it starts to rain it pours is valid here], but my constant nagging and a few threats from Liz later we have a feature. Let’s applaud Liz [and me] for the persistence.

It’s been some time since my last collaborative blog commentary, so I was excited to be with one, but first more on the interviewees. If you have been on the blog prowl, there is no way you haven’t discovered their blog.

“My Favorite Books” is one of my favorite places to visit, which doesn’t show as much in the comments section, but who has the time to comment these day. I was introduced to this blog in late 2008, but just acknowledged its existence, until Liz was gracious as to contact me via Michael [ediFanoB] to participate in her Horror Fest. I couldn’t follow it as closely as I would have wished, but I stuck around for quite a few reasons.

First is MFB’s affinity towards darker, grittier and horror oriented titles, which I adore as well and usually prefer to read. Sure, there are the hottest new titles on display, but then there are totally new and unknown books with amazing British covers that promise a great ride as well. It’s a grand central station for the gritty and macabre lover of fantasy and the modern incarnations and horror. There is also the regular updates, reviews of great length and in-depth commentary on books, events and occurrences in the lit world.

Liz is the powerhouse driving force behind the blog with most active presence and she is one fun person to chat with on Twitter as well, so I urge you on to follow her. I enjoy the length and style of her reviews so far and I think that the great in-depth and in detail discussions she brings out from the books she has read is satisfying and urges the reader to comment. Mark is also following this model and unless I see who is exactly reviewing I can’t distinguish between the two, which I think is quite cool, because both are in synergy together and incorporate the blog’s personality. And the blogs’ personality is positively charged and you can tell these guys love what they are doing.

Apart from the books that make me personally drool and inspire book heist trips to Liz’s house, there are awesome giveaways and interviews and events like the horror fest.

HM: “My Favorite Books” to me is a synonym for the Mark and Liz unit that runs it, so I’d like to hear about who you guys are when you log off from the web.

Liz: Hi Harry – thanks for inviting us to play along. I work by day as an executive assistant to the ceo of an international mining company. When I log off from the interwebs I do a lot of reading and writing. We try to get out a bit when we can, so we’ll go for walks or catch some new flicks either at home or at the cinema. Just last night we’ve started gaming again – yes, people, gaming! We went to visit Sarwat Chadda (author of The Devil’s Kiss) and we talked books, writing and gaming – he’s running a first AD&D game for us and we’re loving it. I play two characters, a half orc fighter and a human cleric. I spend some time on the PS3 but have learned I totally suck at playing Guitar Hero but that Mark is stupidly good at it. I do however beat the crapola out of him when we play Mortal Kombat.;-)

Mark: I work in the financial sector in ‘real life’. Aside from a few years off the reservation I’ve spent a lot of my spare time gaming since high school in one form or the other. The rest is divided between writing, movies and reading.

HM: Before we head into literature territory, let’s discuss some juicy gossip. From what I gather you guys are an item [I hope I’m not wrong in this assumption] and to me it’s a geek fairy tale to find a person with mirroring interest and have this joint venture, so is “My Favorite Books” a testament to love?

Liz: Hardly gossip! Yes, Mark and I are an item – we’ve been together for wow, around 13 / 14 years! Ten of those as a married couple. I first met Mark on a train in Cape Town, South Africa – he was reading Tolkien. I’ve never read Tolkien and genuinely thought he was the cleverest person I’ve ever met. He introduced me to his bookshelf and I was in awe. And promptly fell in love. He taught me how to drink tequila and ride a motorbike. Both of which I do very badly, btw.

Mark: Not all true- she’s actually quite good at drinking tequila.

HM: As with all collaborative blogs, I am always curious about team dynamics and the focus of each member on the blog. Do you have a schedule or a system and can you with a few brief words describe what your function is?

Liz: MFB relies strongly on chaos theory. It makes no sense – we read so widely and so much and go to as many geeky events as we can and we try and do write-ups of those. I know that a lot of other sites have elaborate schedules etc. and I love that and I admire that but it just doesn’t work for us. We have so much on after work in the evenings, sometimes working late, that our reading time is mostly limited to commuting. I’ll pretty much try any genre and style of writing but I draw the line at hard sci-fi. My brain goes into a spasm. I kid you not. However, throw it to me in a movie and I’ll lap it up.

My function is networking and reviewing. I no longer have any ‘shame’ and have become quite brazen talking to various people about the blog, authors and books, competitions etc. Sorry, that makes me sound a bit crazy, but I obviously try and be professional about it. I’ve spent around three and a half years building up the blog, my contacts and honing my skillz as a reviewer. It’s been hard work but fantastic fun.

Mark: Liz is primarily responsible for the networking angle- I’m not quite as gregarious so tend to stick with the review side of things, especially the sci-fi stuff.

HM: Let’s hit the nostalgia button and transport you back to the very first review you’ve ever written. What was the book that prompted you to review it and what drove you to take up review blogging in the first place?

Liz: Wow – that takes me away to ages and ages ago! 2006 in fact – this is the first sort of “official” review that I did for MFB - .

I’ll tell you a secret: MFB started out because I wanted somewhere to keep a record of the books I was reading. I read a lot. But I was rubbish at keeping track of it, even when I started the blog. So in 2007 it occurred to me that I was really wasting my time and blogspace by not actually making use of it, and it became an obsession. I visited other UK reviewer sites to see how it’s done, and then started doing it for real. And it’s been fun.

Mark: My debut was in June 2008 with - . I can’t remember the exact conversation that got me drawn in, as up to then it had been solely Liz’s ballgame. Ultimately though, it was for pretty much the same reasons that Liz had started it in the first place- I was reading loads, so why not share? If I had known how much hard work it involved at the time though…

HM: What do you like best about reviewing and what is the worst aspect from being a review blogger?

Liz: Prepare for me to sound a bit fickle here: I love the thrill of getting a new parcel! It doesn’t matter if it’s from a publisher or if I’ve bought something from Amazon or won it somewhere else. I love the surprise of what that parcel may contain, the prospect of the story, of making new friends with the characters and maybe fall in love with the author’s writing style. I love that as a reviewer I sort of get a glimpse of the bookworld normal readers don’t get to see. A lot of books from publishers arrive with PR sheets and these I love as they sometimes give you an insight into what publishers are planning to do to promote the book. I love being able to be one of the shouty people out there promoting new books and new authors. It’s great fun. And subsequently having built a platform where our reviews are being read by a wide audience and they come to trust our judgement. That’s v cool. Oh, and more fickleness: the chance to run competitions. I love those!

The worst aspect: doing it as a hobby. It’s not about money, it’s about time. Both Mark and I work full time and it is long hours for both of us and as much as I would like to spend days and days just reading all these grand books, I can’t afford to as you know, I have to go to work and earn money so I can feed my habit husband and myself. *grin*

Mark: For me, the best ‘perk’, aside from the support of the various publishers, has been getting to know various authors and illustrators on a more personal level. The worst aspect is trying to find the time to do more than 30 minutes of reading on the train and then doing the reviews in between everything else.

HM: Have you ever felt like abandoning it whole, because the world pressed you on reading and blogging time?

Liz: Yes, I’ve come close. But it’s not because the world is pressing on me for reading the books or even blogging time – I type pretty fast so I can manage a decent sized review and rambling blog post pretty darn quickly. No, the reason I was contemplating throwing in the towel is more personal: I would one day like to be a full time writer and am currently working on various projects. And I had this huge crises of faith recently about being both a review blogger and a writer. The two just did not seem compatible to me. But then a wise person pointed out how the amazingly talented Mary Hoffman manages to do exactly that, along with other demands on her time. And I felt a bit stupid. So no, no more wimping out on my side!

Mark: I did too, but it had its roots in old fashioned laziness.. but fortunately Liz beat it out of me in time.

HM: Is it important for you to finish every novel handed to you as a part of the review oath or do you have a trial period, after which you can drop a book, if it proves too boring?

Liz: I do try to finish everything I pick up. I’ve only ever (publicly) admitted to one novel I couldn’t stomach finishing. It was not my cup of tea at all and it genuinely should have been. It was my favourite genre – action adventure! Oddly enough, that’s the one review I wrote with the heaviest of hearts – even if I find a book’s not for me, I try and see it from a different perspective, from another reader’s point of view, and I try and be logical about it, but you know, this one just blew me away for all the wrong reasons and I just couldn’t finish it.

Mark: I finish everything I pick up, and try not to discriminate when it comes to choosing the next read. It’s one of the things that I enjoy about reviewing- I get to read things that I may not have tried if I wasn’t doing this.

HM: You guys hosted a horror fest, which actually went for a few good months earlier this year and I would like to hear about a brief summarization of how that went and whether it generated the interest you were hoping for.

Liz: I’m a hugely nosy person. I love talking to people. The Horror Fest was very ambitious. I got fantastic responses to it from almost everyone I approached. We had a blast interviewing people and “pimping” ourselves. I’m not sure if it generated interest in other people – I selfishly did this for me and the blog! I know, I’m very fickle. *laughs*

Mark: What she said!

HM: Liz, I know that you are currently typing away for the IndieWriMo, which is the slimmer NaNo, so it’s a safe bet that you are on the creative side. How’s your writing experience so far been and please include bits about the genres you work in and your projects?

Liz: Holy smokes, Harry! Come out swinging, why don’t you! Well, hmm. Okay, earlier this year I sat down over a period of four months and typed out a 57,000 word manuscript for the middle grade market. It’s a straight action adventure quest novel influenced by Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider. It’s an American term but it means for ages from around 9+. I still quite can’t believe I did it. I’ve lived with this story for around 2 years and yet it never managed to feel “right” whenever I tried writing it. Until this year. It came out in huge chunks. I wrote it in just over four months. It was AMAZING. I felt drained, euphoric. I don’t know how professionals do it. I’d be on a permanent high. I’m busy revising it at the moment and whilst I’m revising it, I’m also – for IndieWriMo – working on a contemporary YA urban fantasy. It’s more Mike Carey and Jim Butcher than it is…say Becca Fitzpatrick or Stephanie Meyer.

And then, I am very lucky that a short story I wrote: “Good Guys” got accepted into an anthology called “The mammoth book of Special Ops Romance”. It’s due out in March 2010 under my pseudonym for adult writing: Liz Muir.

HM: Mark, do you share the writer fever as well?

Mark: I have been well and truly bitten by the bug, yes. Over the years I’ve tinkered with various projects, but earlier this year I started on my current project, a fantasy adventure, and am currently about a third the way through it. It’s my goal to have the first draft finished by this time next year. It’s hard work sometimes, dragging those words onto the screen, but at the same time seeing it growing week by week gives me an enormous sense of accomplishment (even if I know there are several re-writes in my future!)

HM: As social networks grow, countless new sites that measure ranks pop up and more of us show at the blogging party have you officially entered the web hits war? I know there is one, even if it is silent, since we all want to be taken seriously and counted as reliable sources for information and critique and numbers prove that. Where do you stand on this subject matter?

Liz: When the blog started getting actual hits I started checking it obsessively. But it was a phase. I know we are small fry compared to what other bigger and more popular blogs and sites get but you know what the biggest compliment is: people who keep coming back and who subscribe to our RSS feed – it means they like what we have to say and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. That and the fact that the publishers are happy to keep sending those gorgeous little parcels onto us because they trust us to help them spread the word about their authors.

HM: Publishing is evolving and changing. Conventional publication makes a few inches space for new forms to arise and one of them is self-publishing. Do you estimate that it will evolve into a reputable form with well regarded titles in the future and what is your opinion of it now?

Liz: We’ve reviewed some self-published books in the past on the blog. Sadly, as of the later part of this year it’s not something we can afford to do any more as our commitments from the publishers have grown considerably.

There have been some great self-publishing successes, just look at David Moody, author of Hater, now published by Gollancz. What a fairy tale story! But then he was so focused and so determined to get his work out there, it’s as if he managed to bend the world to his will. I admire him greatly (and I got hugs from him recently, sorry Mark!) and to be honest, I’d say that those who have self-published should take a closer look to how hard David worked at it. Every single writers’ “how to” book tells you “don’t give up”. Almost every interview I do on the site authors tell readers “don’t give up”.

I don’t know if it will evolve into a reputable form regarded well enough – on one hand I would love to say yes but my inner writer says no. There has to be a reason, if you’ve sent it out to publishers or agents that they’ve turned it down. So many well known authors were turned down several times before their first, second, third, fourth, fifth novel was picked up. Not everyone’s debut novel sells. It’s a hard call. I’d like to point you to this article which just emphasizes the “don’t give up” motto you should have: .

Mark: I have to agree with the sentiment that if it’s not being published, there’s probably a reason. I look at Patrick Rothfuss as an example of this- when Name of the Wind didn’t get picked up at first he hung in there, constantly refining the manuscript. Fourteen re-writes later and the rest is history.

HM: And as technology creeps in and the physical book is fought for dominance by the electronic copies, what do you think of the new e-book phenomenon?

Liz: *shudders* Dude, I’m not an e-book fan. I’m really not. Which is odd for me as I LOVE technology. But I suppose it makes sense in the long run if you are a traveler and you do commute a lot – reading on an ebook is much easier than lugging uhm (checks her bag) three books and one manuscript around!

I think I’ll leave this one to Mark to champion as I think he’s the one that may end up getting one!

Mark: E-books are going to evolve and grow, the same way as all new technology goes through an evolution after its initial release. Just look at mobile phones- compare the clunky bricks of the 80’s to the new iphone. I think in a couple of years time, once the manufacturers have processed the feedback and refined their designs, ebook readers will be a lot sleeker, a lot cooler and a lot cheaper. Publishing is going to have to evolve with them though, the question is how? It’s going to be interesting to see.

HM: Still connected with the shift in the publishing landscape, I have a question regarding the books from publishing houses. Big houses bet on the money and what sells and at a certain point some titles in some genres begin to echo each other, while small houses have published some uncharacteristic titles that don’t draw too much attention, but to me offer a bit of refreshing air. Are you sated with big houses or are you willing to stick with what you know?

Liz: Wow – question du tutti question! I won’t even pretend I’m playing it safe. I don’t care about popular. I care about stories and I follow writers, not titles or publishing houses. We receive books from the big guys as well as the indies so we end up reading widely and oddly. ;-) Both Mark and I have truly bizarre and eclectic tastes. Yes, sometimes we’ll go out and buy popular authors to read and review ourselves but we try to review the guys that are a bit less well known, the guys who don’t get to have a big marketing campaign behind them, purely because they may be debut authors or the publisher as a whole is cutting back on marketing spending. And blogs can do that because we are indies ourselves!

Mark: The story is everything. It doesn’t matter who’s written it, or who’s published it.

HM: Also I have been drowning in genres that keeping sprouting everywhere and all definitions cause my brain to melt down. Truth is that to me the lines between genres are blurring into obscurity. Could this mean a possible post-genre future?

Liz: Fantastic question and one I can’t even begin to venture into because I don’t get the chance to become too fan-girly over one specific genre. Well, I used to, but not anymore! Two things I would love to point out though is:

There are no genres in children’s writing – well, there are, but they are all filed under age, then alphabetically and I love that idea. Secondly, David Hewson, one of my favourite authors of all time whom I read for pleasure and can gush about in a truly embarrassing fashion has actually tackled this exact question in a series of posts this past week. - nose around the site, there are more.

Mark: I don’t think genres will ever disappear; they’re too useful a tool. They will morph and shift though, and there will definitely be some casualties- which may not be a bad thing.

HM: Please finish with your own words.

Liz: Harry – this has been a blast. Thanks so much for inviting us along. Can’t believe you made me go back and think about the early small days of the blog when I had no idea what going on!
We’re hoping to continue giving “our” public the reviews they deserve for 2010 and the foreseeable future.

Mark: It’s a Work In Progress! There are a lot of exciting new things coming up in 2010 which we’re looking forward to getting stuck into.


Ana said...

Gaah! Fangirl scream of delight! I love these guys! They are awesome reviewers and fab company to hit parties with!

Harry Markov said...

@ Ana, now I wish to come and visit England more than ever. I want to be housed with some fab reviewer in London and get to meet you all.

Yeah, daydreams and all, but still.

Rachel Green said...

What a splendid interview :)

KT Grant said...

I've met Mark and Liz last spring. Oh the things we did and said that afternoon with Ana and a soon to be published ya author. heh heh.

Adele said...

lovely another excellent reviewer time.

Harry Markov said...

Guys thanks for the comments. Lovely to see all the love. :)

And Katie, congrats love. Good to see another one of us get a book deal.

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