Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Reviewer Time" Guest: Theresa and "The Fantasy and Sci-Fi News and Reviews"

Wherever you turn it’s there, on the side bars, on every single review blog or blog of a fan of review or just fantasy blogs, this ridiculously long title: “Fantasy and Sci-Fi Lovin’ News and Reviews” and the mysterious owner SQT [with a Mystique icon] behind it. And there is a fine reason for this being so. In the review blogger community, the fantasy and sci-fi department, Theresa is a veteran with a three year presence and 740 posts. I think that the biggest reason, why she managed to stay afloat was because Theresa brings an interesting angle to all of her posts and is too damned funny as well.

I wish I could remember how many designs SQT changed before she settled down, but there had been some major make-over periods, which ended in this slick purple number and the lots and lots of clickable places. The powers that be know that I am a mess in managing my links and other trivia, but Theresa manages to solve this issue with fines. However I am not a Fashion TV correspondent, so I will move to the intellectual merits and there are a great deal of them to be found in “Fantasy and Sci-Fi Lovin’ News and Reviews”.

Starting with the basics we have CONTENT: which as the title pretty much states has a lot to do with fantasy and sci-fi, but catches a broad spectrum of mediums. SQT is ready to push the red button of information and provide reviews of novels and movies, news from the show biz, newest releases, TV shows, heated discussions that sweep the blogger community or perhaps some insight of a heated topic and so much more trivia. All of this is garnered with necessary enthusiasm and a slice of humor. If you are new to “Fantasy and Sci-Fi Lovin’ News and Reviews” than be sure that you will be treated as a VIP guest and your comments will be welcomed by SQT and the respective author of the post with a smile. Another side of the “Fantasy and Sci-Fi Lovin’ News and Reviews” experience is that you can tune in every day [almost] and find a new post [waiting your comments]. This effect is achieved with the help of the resident contributors myself included.

This part will be tricky, since I am one of the contributors and reviewing my reviews is a tad strange, so I will exclude myself from the picture. Review-wise I don’t think there is much to demand to quality. Depending on the taste there is a type of a review, varying in length and approach, with or without an excerpt, more personal or more entangle-y [like mine], but helpful and informative in general. Walking hand in hand with the reviews come giveaways and Theresa is the Santa with long lasting giveaways open usually to readers world-wide something I cherish highly due to my Eastern European base of operation. And with so many books given everybody can test their luck and feel a winner and I have had the pleasure of winning, so it’s a definite reason to keep coming back.

Then there are the minor things like the memes, tests, funny pictures and videos that just amuse and give you a good time. There are too many good things than any bad I can think of and most of my opinion comes from the fact that I find everything matching my taste.


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?

SQT: Oh my gosh, I am so boring. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the last 9 years. I spend most of my time schlepping my kids around, trying to avoid laundry, spending way too much time on the Internet, going to the gym and of course, reading.

HM: Tell us three things that people would probably never ever guess about you. That includes possible serial killer tendencies and love for shiny things.

SQT: The closest thing I have to serial killer tendencies is a strange love of fighting. I’ve mentioned it before on my blog, so maybe it’s no mystery, but I have a black belt in Kenpo karate and have been actively involved in the art since 1992. I also went to school in Japan while in college but have been away for so long I can barely speak the language at all-- though I did get a little training in Shorinji Kempo karate while I was there. I got a Journalism degree in college with a minor in Japanese, and later a teaching credential. I also worked in the mid-90’s for a really cheesy syndicated TV show called “Real TV” but I haven’t been in the business since then and have no contacts in the industry left (I have to specify this because someone always asks).

HM: How did you decide to start the “Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin’ Reviews”?

I had been a stay-at-home mom for about 6 years and I was going a little batty. I like being with my kids but I also need to keep my brain busy. I’m afraid I don’t find laundry to be that fulfilling (did I already mention the time spent avoiding laundry?) Since I have a journalism background my first blog was a website focused on media bias but I didn’t have the time to do it justice-- at least for what I aimed to do. The Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin’ thing was just a whim. I never even intended to keep the title. But like a lot of things we do because we really enjoy it, it kind of takes on a life of its own and I got traffic a lot faster than I expected.

HM: So why did you go for the name and why did you name yourself the mysterious SQT?

I used to post on a website dedicated to the housing market in Northern California. Since I live near Sacramento I dubbed myself SactoQt-- you know Sacto-cutie. I understand if you don’t like me after knowing that. Anyway, people said the name was a pain to write out when responding to my comments so I shortened the name and kept it when I set up my blog so people would still know it was me.

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

SQT: I really didn’t review books at first. I just kind of posted about stuff I thought was interesting. In fact, I’d like to go back to doing that more. I got into reviewing because I saw what Robert was doing over at Fantasy Book Critic and I liked the way he was offering new books and introducing new authors to his audience. I had been around long enough that I was getting fairly regular emails from all kinds of different outlets, either requesting I review certain books or help advertise new TV shows or movies. I still get a lot of those (and don’t link nearly as much as I should). I started emailing different publishers and requesting books for review. Orbit publishers were great right off the bat and so was Pyr. The other big names were a lot tougher. My big breakthrough was when I emailed an author (who shall remain nameless since I didn’t ask permission to use her name) and asked her for an interview. She said she was too busy, but put me in touch with her publicist at Penguin who put me on her reviewer list. Since then I think I’ve gotten on almost every mailing list Penguin has. Tor Books has also been good to me.

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?

It’s actually evolving. I tend to be fairly informal in that I will refer to myself in my reviews and say what “I” like. But I recently started doing reviews for The Sacramento Book review and I can’t do that when I review for them. I also can only use up to 200 words-- which is really hard to do. Doing the short reviews is helping me learn to streamline my reviews but I still tend to be longer winded on the blog since that’s where I can get into more detail about what I do or don’t like. I’m not sure I have a signature. I like to use excerpts if I can so the reader can get a feel for the book and the writer’s style-- though I can’t do that if I’m reviewing from a review copy as they are not the “official” edit. Ideally, I like to incorporate a description of the book and then say what I did and didn’t like about the book. Pretty standard stuff really.

HM: What’s your reading schedule? I have seen how many books you review in so little time. How do you arrange your day to find time to read and review as fast?

Lately I’ve been reading a lot more since I now commit to reviewing for someone else and I don’t want to be unreliable. It’s tough to schedule because I have other things I have to do everyday. But I carry whatever I’m reading with me and fit it in when I can. I’m a night owl, so I do a lot of reading at night. Also, I don’t need more than about 6 hours of sleep at night, so I can get a couple of hours in after everyone else has gone to bed.

HM: For two years of reviewing there must have been several occasions, when a book doesn’t agree with your tastes. How do try to handle the situation with negative reviews?

SQT: I’ve only really slammed one book in a review because it was so bad. I totally chickened out on notifying the publisher because it was a book that was randomly sent to me and I wasn’t sure there was any value in letting the author know I didn’t like the book (or how much I didn‘t like it). That’s the only time I’ve done that. Usually I try to offer some positive feedback, even on books I don’t like and then notify the publisher when the review is up. It’s hard sometimes to decide to go ahead and say I don’t like a book. I’ve seen some other reviewers have to deal with the author adding comments to the discussion trying to defend their writing and that always makes me cringe. In most cases my strategy is to try to be as gentle, but honest, as possible.

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?

My blog has definitely evolved. I never intended to have contributors or thought that anyone would even find it interesting. I didn’t know about all the review blogs out there when I started so getting to know that side of the blogging universe changed what I do quite a bit. Like I mentioned before, I’d like to go back to more sci-fi/fantasy oriented articles and news and not just focus on reviews. But that stuff can be really time consuming to do, so I need to figure out how to balance my time and get back to the vision I had for the blog in the first place.

HM: I think you and Robert are the two major blogs to use the helping hand of a big group of contributors. When did you feel the need to have people help you with the blog? Naturally what were the criteria to take them aboard?

Oddly, I never really looked for contributors. I have asked once or twice, on the blog, for help reviewing specific books, but never gained a full-time contributor from that. Most contributors I have simply mentioned, at some point, an interest in writing something for the blog and I added them to my list of contributors. I’ve never viewed my blog as being too formal so I never had any criteria for any kind of professional training in writing or reviewing. But I think that would change going forward because I get so much material from different media outlets and I think now I have to maintain a certain level of professionalism-- at least when representing the material they send me. It should be mentioned, however, that I have been incredibly fortunate that the contributors I already have are pretty terrific.

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?

I definitely have writing aspirations. I haven’t consistently sat down and written anything for awhile-- which is bad. My son starts kindergarten next year and that will give me time each day in which I can write uninterrupted and I intend to use that. I’ve had a particular idea bouncing around in my head for years that I’d like the chance to fully develop.

HM: Whose your favorite author and why? And who is the author you will never ever read a book from and why?

Oh goodness, it’s so hard to say that I have one favorite author. It kind of changes with my mood. John Scalzi really impressed me when I read “Old Man’s War” because he made sci-fi so accessible and enjoyable. I’ve also recently gotten into Brandon Sanderson and I think it’ll be interesting to see how well received he’ll be when he releases the first book in the conclusion of the Robert Jordan “Wheel of Time” series he has been tapped to finish. My favorite authors also tend to be genre specific. If you ask me who my favorite Paranormal author is, I’ll probably say Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs or Rob Thurman. When I read more traditional fantasy I look for someone like J.V. Jones, who isn’t as prolific as I’d like but still great. I also like a lot of the new authors who have popped up in recent years; Scott Lynch is terrific and so is Patrick Rothfuss. If I had to pick someone I’ll probably never read again it would be Laurell K. Hamilton. I just think the sex has become too much a part of her storylines, at least in the Merry Gentry series, to be interesting. Her books feel more like erotica than fantasy fiction.

HM: What are the clichés in what you read on a regular basis?

Because I read fantasy fiction there’s always certain tropes you’re going to run into fairly regularly. A lot of kid’s books are centered around orphaned protagonists. I’ve run into a lot of quest-fantasy lately too, which is fine if it’s done well. One of my biggest pet peeves is the deus ex machina, or the God-in-the-machine device in which an unexpected solution miraculously appears in what appears on the surface to be an impossible situation. That always seems like a lazy bit of writing to me. A lot of paranormal books are becoming cliché because they are so crammed full of action-- like busy work for the characters-- to try to keep the suspense up. That can bother me if the author just has the characters running around for no apparent reason.

HM: Is there a tendency for these clichés to resolve?

Well, I suppose they wouldn’t be clichés if they didn’t work. The quest fantasy is fine as long as the story is interesting and has an overall reason for the quest that makes sense. The orphaned kid can certainly work because it allows a child character to do things they wouldn’t be able to do if a parent was there telling them they were too young to do something; but it can fall flat if the author makes the character too precocious.

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 culture?

I don’t know if I’d say fantasy has slipped. It seems to me that it’s entering the mainstream culture more and more all the time. I don’t play video games much, but I’ve certainly noticed that World of Warcraft is hugely popular. There was always TV shows around when I was a kid like the original “Battlestar Galactica” and “Buck Rodgers” and it’s nice to see so many fantasy/sci-fi shows on TV still. The new BSG was one of the best shows on TV in my opinion. I also know a lot of people who don’t think of themselves as fantasy/sci-fi fans who will still watch “Heroes” or “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” There also seems to be a lot of excitement over the new “Star Trek” movie and with movies like “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man” doing so well, the comic-book hero genre looks like it’s only going to continue to grow. I’m not sure it will ever seem normal to dress up like a Klingon (and profess to speak the language) or have a “Star Wars” themed wedding, but that takes a pretty extreme commitment to the genre.


ediFanoB said...

Kudos! Theresa and Harry. That was a very impressive and informative post. I appreciate to get some more information about the people behind the blogs I like to read. Hopefully more people will read it. I twittered about the post and opened a new topic at The Dragon Federation

SQT said...

I still reserve the right to change my blog appearance if the mood strikes. I really did like my Harry Potter theme, but too many people said it wouldn't load. And the name is too long. It's more of a description than a name but I'm kind of committed to it now...

Harry Markov said...

Michael: I am happy that you enjoyed that. I had a fun time writing it and SQT is just an amazing topic to discuss.

Thes: I really liked that one too, but it loaded so slowly it was unbearable, but yeah I am still waiting what you can cook up. :) As for the title, it is a tad descriptive, but otherwise wouldn't be you.

Carrie said...

Much love for SQT! :)
Excellent interview, very fun to read as well. I like the title of the blog, it tells you straight out what you're going to get. Yes, it's a bit long, but I'd be willing to bet it gets you more traffic than something like "SQT: The Blog" would, even if you put the current title in as a tag line.

Harry Markov said...

Asara: I totally agree, even if this title is a pain to type, it's the best kind of marketing tool you have to navigate through the lists of blogs and such. :)

SQT said...


Huh. Never would have thought of that. I feel much better about the title now. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi there! I stumbled upon your blog looking for some good fantasy-fiction reviews! I just recently became a YA author, and I am ALWAYS interested in solid reviews! If you have time, I would love it if you looked at the few links at the bottom... :) Great blog!

God bless,
Taylor J. Beisler

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