Interview with Diane Severson (StarShipSofa and Amazing Stories)

I’m talking with Diane Severson, podcaster for StarShipSofa (Poetry Planet) and staff blogger on Speculative Poetry for Amazing Stories Magazine.

SCy-Fy: Diane, I am very pleased to have finally got the chance to speak to you. How do you go about obtaining the poetry for your podcast shows?

DS: Let’s see, about 2 years in advance, I put out the call for poetry on a specific theme for Poetry Planet. I’ve done First Contact, Time Travel (twice), Coming Home, Moon Imaginings. I’ve also done several showcase shows on the various Genre Poetry Awards – The Rhysling Award, the Dwarf Stars Award and the Elgin Award and the SFPA’s annual poetry contest.

SCy-Fy: What are the current and upcoming themes?

DS: Right now I’m working on Animals & Creatures, and I’ve got themes Robots & Androids, Music, and Haiku and related forms in the works, as well as last year’s Rhysling Award and the SFPA Contest winners to produce as well. I collected the poetry for Animals & Creatures about 2 years ago and am now nearly finished recording the poetry that’ll go in.

SCy-Fy: What are the final touches?

DS: I gather very brief bios and perhaps a little blurb from the poet about the poem: inspiration, background or interesting tidbits. So, I write an introduction to the poet and poem as well.

SCy-Fy: And how do you prepare for your blog posts?

DS: I simply read the collection I’m going to review, gather my thoughts and start writing. At the same time, I consider which poems I’d like to record to include in the article. I usually do 2 to 4, depending on how long the collection is. I’ve done as many as 20 though! That was for the review of a British SF Poetry anthology edited by Russell Smith called “Where Rockets Burn Through” and I couldn’t whittle it down more! There was so much good poetry in that one!

SCy-Fy: And for interviews and your genre poetry round up posts?

DS: I have a list of standard questions that I send the interviewee and hopefully I have time for a bit of follow-up for depth. My most recent interview with British/American poet Steve Sneyd needed to be transcribed because he is almost completely offline and can’t type due to an elbow problem! That was a huge job, because he also abbreviated a lot and his hand-writing took some getting used to.

For the Round Ups I cruise the internet for genre poetry a few days in advance and choose a few sites to feature. Sometimes I end up focusing on a particular poet or theme or genre, but that generally happens by coincidence, not by design.

SCy-Fy: What are your future initiatives?

DS: I would love to not get so far ahead of myself! It’s a horrible thing to have 6 planned podcasts weighing me down. And I have enough poetry collections and chapbooks to write a review weekly till the end of the year! Unfortunately, I just can’t keep up that pace, as much as I’d like to. Perhaps I should write briefer reviews or only record one or two poems?

SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major challenges for podcasts and blogs in future?

DS: Keeping people’s attention and loyalty to your podcast or blog is top of the list. There are so many great and interesting podcasts to listen to and blogs to read, that if you can’t draw an audience and hold them, you’re talking and writing literally into the ether.

SCy-Fy: What advice would you give anyone presenting a podcast?

DS: Keep it short. Personally, I prefer to listen to short podcasts. At least, I’ll be more likely to start listening to a podcast if it’s not going to be a multiple hour investment. Sometimes, fiction podcasts can’t get around a show getting a little long, if the story is just long, but I think a podcast shouldn’t really go over 2 hours in length for any reason.

And I think everyone should figure out the crux of what it is they themselves love and write or podcast about that. If you are enthusiastic about what you do and stick to that, it will help with motivation and with finding an audience.

SCy-Fy: What helps you the most in all this activity?

DS: Personal relationships with the people giving me their work to podcast or review. I’ve had great interactions with the poets whose work I’ve had the pleasure of including. Other than that, no secret resources.

SCy-Fy: Things that have kept you going in hard times?

DS: Well, I’m on a mission, that helps. I think poetry is important and SF poetry is just fun. Poets are under-appreciated in our society and community and what people don’t know is that there is an active little micro-community of genre poetry, which I’d like to make more people aware of. That I’m helping the SF poetry community (i.e. the poets themselves) by giving them some much needed promotion and introducing other fans of speculative fiction to the wonderful world of speculative poetry is what keeps me going when I feel the slog.

SCy-Fy: Any controversy so far?

DS: There hasn’t been any controversy surrounding my podcast or blog, but genre poetry hasn’t been immune to flap. There was a blog posted on Amazing Stories Mag in the early days of the website entitled “Why Science Fiction Poetry is Embarrassingly Bad” by Paul Cook, which really got a lot of people riled up. I published a rebuttal, but there were others who did a better job of it and there was no subsequent flap regarding my own blog post. His post certainly did create a lot of conversation in the community, which is definitely a good thing.

SCy-Fy: The most popular show/blog you’ve presented/written?

DS: Well, based on the statistics on my personal blog, it seems like the Time Travel editions of Poetry Planet were the most popular. Since Time Travel is one of my favorite SF tropes, I certainly had lots of fun doing those.

My interview of Amal El-Mohtar on Amazing Stories. Amal is an amazing poet, but I interviewed her on Amazing Stories primarily about her role as editor of Goblin Fruit, so it was quite enlightening. She’s delightful!

I’m proud to say that nearly all of my reviews, interviews and Genre Poetry Round Ups have made it high onto the list of popular posts for the week, which Steve Davidson publishes on Sundays. The Round Ups are especially popular, I suspect because they involve a larger number of poets, who signal boost.

SCy-Fy: What have been the best books of genre poetry you have read recently?

DS: I’m reading the 2015 Rhysling Anthology – which anyone can purchase – and really enjoying it! I think it’ll be a tough decision which poems should get my vote.

I have a number of reviews coming up on Amazing Stories of poetry which I just loved. Check out specifically John Philip Johnson’s Graphic Poetry collection – it’s stunning! And Jeannine Hall Gailey’s semi-autobiographical The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, just wonderful work!

SCy-Fy: Which genre poetry collections are you most looking forward to reading?

DS: I’m really looking forward to reading and reviewing Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod’s joint collection, Poetry. I’m looking forward to digging into Mike Allen’s (Mythic Delirium) retrospective collection Hungry Constellations. There’s also Bram Stoker Award nominee (for poetry) Alessandro Manzetti’s forthcoming collection from Crystal Lake Publishing “Eden Underground”, which should be excellent.

SCy-Fy: Anything to add, Diane?

DS: Other than to say thanks for the opportunity to blather about my favorite subject and for your patience, no! Except this: go out and read some genre poetry! What are you waiting for?

Interview with Anthony Vicino (One Lazy Robot)

Hi everybody. This would have been interview number 80 in this series, but I don’t have one planned for today – just a moment, there’s someone at the door.

Hey, I’m Anthony Vicino, the solitary scribbling robot with a questionable work ethic responsible (or to blame) for the OneLazyRobotBlog. I have a number of short stories and novellas floating through the digital ether in addition to my debut novel, Time Heist (Book One of the Firstborn Saga), which was last seen lurking in a darkened cyber-alley. So, ya know, you’ve been warned.

SCy-Fy: I wish I had been… . Have a ginger ale, Anthony. Well, now that you’re here, let’s talk about blogging.

AV: Okay, the thing is I don’t really have a typical blogging day. In my mind I’m an author, so I spend most of my writing time working on fiction projects. But you can only do that so many hours in a row before your brain shivs the Creativity Warden and makes a break for freedom via your ears. When the cerebral ooze makes its grand escape I usually transfer over to writing for the blog which I find is a good reset button.

Topics vary depending on my moon-cycle. Sometimes it’ll be a book review. Sometimes a workshop on writing craft where I pretend I know what I’m talking about (and simply hope nobody notices I’m a complete charlatan with a fundamental disrespect for semi-colons and parentheticals.)

SCy-Fy: What are your future plans?

AV: World domination falls somewhere in my ten year plan (‘cause I’m a big, shoot-for-the-moon sort of fella), but I don’t have much in the bag when it comes to the short term. Not for OneLazyRobotBlog, at least. My goal with One Lazy Robot has always been to stimulate interesting, engaging, entertaining, and sometimes even insightful discussions into the world of modern science fiction/fantasy.

On the fiction side, things are a bit more hectic. Books 2 and 3 of the Firstborn Saga (Infinity Lost and Mind Breach respectively) will have been pried out of my skull and transferred to book format by this Fall alongside a gaggle of novellas dealing with a peculiar assortment of topics such as robotic babies, sentient homes, and cryogenically frozen assassins.

SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major future challenges for SFF blogging?

AV: Accessibility.

But first let’s back up and take a second to revel in the fact that SFF is more popular than ever. Being a nerd is sexy. Sort of. Sure, the literary types still watch genre fiction out of the corner of their eyes like we’re gonna pants them and steal their poodle the second they turn away to smell the roses, but on the whole, Science Fiction and Fantasy are getting some major mainstream love these days.

That’s good and bad for a number of reasons. It’s good because fresh blood keeps the SFF deities appeased, but it’s bad because I think historically SFF hasn’t been so inclusive towards the outsider. As SFF bloggers I think we need to be intentional about how we reach out to the mass market while still staying true to the original fandom.

This means writing material that encourages new people to try out the genre without fear of getting hulk-smashed by its behemoth-like history. There’s a time and place for the quagmire of tangential, really obscure, sometimes mildly frightening trivia that comprises the Geek Deep-Web, but accessibility is the name of the game in the coming years.

SCy-Fy: Tips for bloggers?

AV: Think about what you’re adding to the digital noise. No, not every post needs to be a beacon of literary excellence. Nor does it have to use the Lasso of Truth to uncover some deep universal constant. But if most of your posts are throw-away – and by that I mean you don’t even bother going back and reading them on occasion just to laugh at your younger, dumber self – then eventually people are going to lose interest in you. And ultimately you are the thing people are coming to see. Be more than just background noise.

SCy-Fy: What about writers?

AV: If you really want to be a writer you’re going to face two types of resistance. First is from yourself. It’s easy to say, “I’m too tired,” after a long day of work. I get that. I do. But you need to get over it. Don’t find the time to write, make the time. That’s the only way it’ll ever get done.

The second type of resistance comes from others. People, no matter how much they care for you, simply do not understand what you’re doing in that room all by yourself for so many hours at a time. They’ll make you feel like that bubble gum stuck to the sidewalk when they give you a patronizing pat on the head and ask you to go out for a beer.

“No,” you say. “I have to write.”

“Can’t you just do that later?” they whine. “I mean, nobody’s making your write.”

And that’s the crux of the matter. Writing is a lonely, time-intensive process and it only gets done when you make time to sit down and get it done.

With that said, people are also very important, so find time for them too.

SCy-Fy: Just between us – your secret list of useful resources?

AV: Psh, you seem like a nice person, I’d hate to have to kill you. It’s probably best I keep those secrets in my lederhosen. Classified and all that nonsense.

SCy-Fy: Traps in SFF blogging?

AV: Taking the easy road, but that’s true of everything in life. Don’t poach popular opinion simply to bamboozle people into liking you. You liked Green Lantern with Ryan Reynolds? Great, tell us why. Make a compelling case. Don’t just hop on the bandwagon of hatery simply because you’re afraid of being cast out of the tribe. Your opinions matter, but only when they are actually yours.

SCy-Fy: Things that have kept you going in hard times?

AV: To be a writer you’ve got to have this weird balance between Han Solo’esque self-belief and C3P0 styled crippling self-doubt. Too much of either is gonna get you stuck in the mud, but a little bit of both is good. You’ve got to believe in yourself and the thing you’re doing. If you don’t believe in you, then I sure as hell won’t. Conversely, you need a bit of self-doubt to keep you sharp and hungry and trying your darndest.

The hard times I’ve hit as a writer always revolve around one of those two issues. Either too much of one, or too much of the other. It’s a sliding scale of suck, and it never stays in one place for long.

SCy-Fy: Posts of yours that have had the most impact or controversy?

AV: Why Ratings and Review Don’t Matter Anymore! (sort of) and Science Fiction Has Gotten A Little…Gay

Those two really seemed to strike a nerve in the SFF collective consciousness. A lot of great conversations came out of those posts (which I think is all you can ever really hope for from a blog post).

SCy-Fy: What have been the best books you have read recently?

AV: How To Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe by Charles Yu, The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin and pretty much anything by Lauren Beukes.

SCy-Fy: Which upcoming releases are you most looking forward to?

AV: There is already so much on the market that I don’t usually get too excited about upcoming releases, so for the most part I don’t even know what’s on the horizon. Really the only thing that niggles at the back of my mind is the third book in Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind series and Season Three of Hannibal.

I would fight a roid-raging Centaur in the octagon if I could get my hands on those.

SCy-Fy: Anything else to add?

AV: If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

SCy-Fy: OK, see you, Anthony. Yes, you can take the gummy bears with you… .

Interview with Steve Davidson (Amazing Stories)

I am blundering around in the dark before dawn trying to keep my appointment with Steve Davidson, publisher and editor Pro-Tem of Amazing Stories magazine.

SD: We’ve (fortunately) got weird hours around here. I’m generally up at 4 am (EST) and back to bed between 7 and 8 pm.

SCy-Fy: That’s fortunate?

SD: I say fortunately because Amazing’s audience is world-wide and those hours let me communicate in real time with the vast majority, regardless of where they’re based, from China to California.

SCy-Fy: So what’s first up?

SD: I generally start the day with a good couple of hours of reading various blogs and websites. Of late, File 770’s Daily Puppy Coverage has become a must-read.

I do this for two reasons: first, to find items for inclusion in our Sunday news post and also to stay in touch with what’s happening in the SF community. We’re a (growing) weird bunch of untypically intelligent and articulate people and there’s always at least a dozen interesting things going on. No way a single individual can keep up, but it’s worth trying.

SCy-Fy: What are your future initiatives?

SD: The primary target is to get back to regularly publishing fiction, paying a professional rate and using that to support short fiction writers.

I’ll take this opportunity to make the first formal announcement of one step towards that goal:

Amazing Stories will be hosting a bi-annual short fiction contest, starting “real-soon-now”.

We’ll be accepting up to 100 submissions over a 30 day period, winnowing those down to 20 likely candidates and then submitting those 20 to our team of professional judges that we’ve just secured.

SCy-Fy: Sounds great! Who are the judges?

SD: Cat Rambo, short fiction author who has recently released her debut novel. Cat is the current SFWA VP;

Dave Creek, SFWA member, author and anthology editor; and

Jack Clemons, SFWA member and former NASA rocket scientist, as well as a regular contributor to Amazing Stories (he writes a bi-weekly column about working on the Apollo and Shuttle programs).

I’m very pleased with the line-up of our judges – especially considering that our theme for the first contest is stories about what our solar system will look like 250 years from now: exploration, expansion, colonization. I’m hoping for stories that treat this subject positively, ones that riff off of what is taking place in the development of space technology in the private sector.

SCy-Fy What is the precise format for the competition?

SD: Our judges will select ten stories, and will rank them from 1-10. First thru third place will receive payment of 6 cents per word. All ten will be published by Amazing Stories, and we’ll put an anthology together as well.

All the fine details will be available when we make a formal announcement. Consider this a teaser (and maybe a hint that you ought to get cracking on that short story. But please, no submissions yet.)

We’ve got several other irons in the fire that I am (reluctantly) unable to mention; some involve social networking, others the publishing side of things.

SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major future challenges for SFF magazines?

SD: Retaining, much less growing their audiences. It’s beginning to seem like the short story (which is really where the genre came from) is becoming the red-headed stepchild of the genre. (Apologies to red heads and stepchildren.)

Meanwhile, particularly over in parts of Asia, the short short is undergoing a renaissance (apparently a form growing in popularity is the short one can read on their cell phone during a train ride) and, almost as a counter to that, serialized stories (also delivered electronically) are rising in popularity.

SCy-Fy: And with particular reference to Amazing Stories?

SD: I’m beginning to think that the “magazine” as a form or medium, is going to need to change in order to continue to reach an audience. Some of what we’re (trying) to do at Amazing reflects that.

The primary reason we started with multi-daily blog posts on a variety of subjects related to fan interest was a response to this: in the electronic publishing world, you need daily content (and I’d argue, multiple pieces of daily content) in order to capture and retain an audience. I don’t think anyone has the budget to publish multiple pieces of short fiction every day of the week, 365 (though I think Daily Science Fiction is proving that there is an audience and it will respond to such a thing).

SCy-Fy: Tips for writers?

SD: Yeah. Stop writing. Maybe if enough of them heed that tip, we can get back to the good ol’ days of my being able to keep up with the entire field. Other than that, yeah, a few things:

If you want to write science fiction, please be familiar with the genre. In many ways this genre IS a literature in dialogue with itself. Many stories are inspirations drawn from earlier works on a particular theme; or takes that offer an opposing view, or are “continuations of the story”. Many ground-breaking stories are ones that took a theme that everyone thought had been done to death, but the author managed to find a new way to approach it. If you aren’t familiar with what has gone before, you run the risk spending effort on what will turn out to be a re-hash of familiar tropes. Masters of any craft are those who have mastered the tools of that craft. The body of SF works is a major tool, probably akin to a carpenter’s hammer.

Please, please please please PLEASE! Read a publication’s submission guidelines and FOLLOW THEM TO THE LETTER. Don’t go outside the system, don’t try to work around the system. Spend the time to format your MS properly. Sure, run spellcheck, but also print it out and read thru it – slowly – looking for errors, and correct them before submitting.

Don’t become the editor of a daily multi-author blog.

SCy-Fy: On that last point, do you sometimes find it difficult to keep going in hard times?

SD: I think the only real issue is being able to maintain one’s interest and enthusiasm. I’ll go through periods when “not enough is happening” to satisfy my need to feel progress is being made, but then I look at the progress that has been made and I’m pretty much over it.

There’s a song called “Tubthumping” (I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down). I’m irrepressible. I love this genre, I love the fan community, its history, its quirky, interested-in-everything nature, its usually positive vision of the future (despite all the talk about the dominance of post-apocalyptical stuff). It’s very hard to find “hard times” with all of that going for it.

SCy-Fy: Posts on the site that have had the most impact or controversy?

SD: We’ve had two posts that caused a lot of on-line “heated discussion”. I don’t mind the “heat”, I just wish more people would stick to discussing the subject, rather than veering off into personal attacks.

I think we’ve published some excellent reviews, interviews and essays on everything from the relationship between religion and science fiction to what’s going on in the world of fandom.

We’ve had some straight news pieces (coverage of a con-gone-bad for example) that have been very positively received.

I think, overall, Amazing Stories is becoming an archive of some very interesting and insightful views on the field.

SCy-Fy: Can you tell me your personal favourites among what you have published so far?

SD: Nope. Sorry. Everyone contributing to Amazing Stories is a volunteer and I value them, and all of their work, equally. Their willingness to contribute is by itself a fantastic testament to this community and the kind of people that inhabit it.

SCy-Fy: What have been the best books and stories you have read recently?

SD: You’re kidding, right? (laughs) Like I have time to read after all the reading I do. Can’t help you here. I get maybe 40 to 60 minutes a day to “read for fun” and I spend most of that re-reading old faves from the “classic era”. I’ve got to do something to maintain my sanity.

SCy-Fy: Anything to add before the sun comes up?

SD: Yes. Thanks for the opportunity!

Amazing Stories is free to join, and all of our content is free as well, from the daily blog posts, to the new fiction, the reprint fiction, the artwork and everything else.

We’ve got over 20,000 registered members and are growing, and I think the site is an excellent resource, and a source for genre-related entertainment.

And of course we’re always looking for new contributors!

SCy-Fy: Thank you, Steve.

Interview with ATG Reviews

Today I am talking to the founders of the website ATG Reviews: Justin, a.k.a The Wanderer and Peter, a.k.a The World Weary, Writer.  Founded in the beginning of 2013, ATG provides reviews of books, video games, films, and television shows related to the science fiction and fantasy genres as well as current events, press releases, and all other sorts of updates. 

SCy-Fy: How do you approach your work on the site, guys?

ATG: We typically try to find something interesting and timely to review or analyze. Things have been admittedly slow lately, but we try to get new posts up as much as possible, which requires a lot of reading/watching new material. Also, if something really strikes a chord with us, we like to post “Gold Articles” that go more in depth with a particular franchise, like our coverage of Game of Thrones.

SCy-Fy: What are your future initiatives?

ATG: We’re looking forward to the upcoming 007 film, Spectre, and leading up to the films release we’re going to cover other James Bond adventures from the books and films. Also, Star Wars: The Force Awakens… Need I say more? For the time being, we’re looking forward to completing our Studio Ghibli coverage, and we’ve just begun to review some of DC’s New 52 Comics as well as The All-New X-Men.

SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major future challenge for you?

ATG: With the massive resurgence in the popularity of Science Fiction and Fantasy media (mainly due to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and HBO’s Game of Thrones), there has been a tidal wave of new material that, a lot of times, is just too much for two people who are basically doing this for free. We try to keep up with as much as we can, but to cover everything properly we’d need a small army of nerds, and at this time the Unsullied are unavailable for hire.

SCy-Fy: Things that have kept you going in hard times?

ATG: The inevitable release of The Winds of Winter… [laughs] Seriously, we do really appreciate science fiction and fantasy media, and we do what we do because we know we’re not the only ones, and to be able to share our opinions, and possibly even start a discussion about the things we love/hate/feel indifferent about is, quite frankly, fun.

SCy-Fy: Posts of yours that have had the most impact or controversy?

ATG: Our Malazan and Wheel of Time posts have rocketed up to become our most viewed and commented on articles of all time. Really, we weren’t surprised. Both series have become immensely popular with fantasy readers.

SCy-Fy: What have been the best books you have read recently?

ATG: Our best book of 2014 was Django Wexler’s The Shadow Throne. We recently posted a list of our ten favorite books from 2014 right on the site! So check it out already!

SCy-Fy: Justin and Peter, thanks to both of you.

ATG: Thanks for doing this interview with us!

Interview with Nerds of a Feather

My guest today is the G from nerds of a feather, flock together.

SCy-Fy: Tell me about a typical blogging day, G.                         

G: Well, ‘nerds of a feather, flock together’ is a group blog with eleven writers, and we cover a lot of ground (books, films, comics, games, etc.). So a lot of my daily activities are related to editing and administering the blog – a set of tasks I share with Vance, who co-founded the blog with me back in 2012. So on any given day I’m acquiring books for our writers to review, tweeting the story of the day, managing special projects like ‘Cyberpunk Revisited’ and so forth. I try to get as much of this done with my morning coffee as possible.

I’m also a writer, though – I post maybe 3 or 4 times per month, mostly book reviews and opinion pieces on science fiction and fantasy literature, though I also occasionally write on crime fiction, comics, films and video games. But I can only write when inspiration hits, so it’s less of a daily grind and more of a “when the iron is hot” kind of thing.

SCy-Fy: What do you consider the blog’s big breakthrough?

G: Well, the two-part interview with Paul Kincaid (part 1 and part 2) was our first really big story. He’d just written a brilliant article for the Los Angeles Review of Books arguing that science fiction appeared ‘exhausted.’ I asked him to do a follow up interview, and to my enduring surprise, he agreed. We were very small at the time, so it was something of a coup. And his answers were mind-blowing. That was the first time our blog really made an impact on the broader conversations in the genre.

SCy-Fy: Far from the only time, though…

G: True. Back in 2013 I also wrote a piece on ‘grimdark’ fantasy – arguing that amping up the gore and violence only interests me when linked to more substantive explorations of causes and consequences of violence. I’ve refined the argument two times since (here and here), but that one made the biggest splash. Some people weren’t very happy with that either, and there were some cogent counterarguments – though in some cases the piece was unfortunately misread as ‘anti-grit.’ As it happens I actually gravitate to gritty and dark fiction, and mentioned that several times in the essay; I just don’t see much value in ‘grit for grit’s sake.’ I like when it’s used as a tool.

But I’d also like to plug Vance’s piece on the decline of the Western and rise of the superhero film, which may be my favorite thing every published on our blog.

SCy-Fy: What are your future plans?

G: We’ve started a few new ventures this year – I mentioned Cyberpunk Revisited, which is a retrospective on cyberpunk literature, its derivatives and legacy. That’s been going strong and will continue until the end of the year – at least.

In January we also started two new post series, Blogtable and Perspectives, which have done really well for us. These are pseudo-roundtables, where we ask three bloggers to respond to a prompt in turn. With Blogtable we ask three guest bloggers respond to something written in-house, whereas with Perspectives we ask three in-house bloggers to respond to something posted elsewhere. We’re going to run both series until 2016, at which point we’ll see if they’re worth ‘renewing’ for another year. And let me just say that our next Blogtable may end up being the biggest thing we’ve ever published.

I should also mention that I’ve just started a column for Tor dot com called “message fiction,” which examines political messages and themes in science fiction and fantasy literature. So that’s something I’m really excited about as well.

SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major future challenges for SFF blogging?

G: I think it’s important to distinguish between challenges for the practice of blogging, i.e. the posting of informal, essay-length and opinion-oriented content online; and challenges for bloggers, i.e. the people doing that.

Blogging, the practice, seems pretty secure to me. People don’t just want to read SF/F, after all, they want to read about SF/F—reviews, interviews, criticism, personal essays and opinion pieces, etc. And they want it for free. So demand for long-form content seems pretty stable to me.

At the same time, SF/F blogging is currently undergoing some major structural changes, and these pose specific challenges for bloggers – and even more so for would-be bloggers. Once upon a time you could start a blog and, provided you had good content, you could expect an audience to find you. Now the field is much more crowded, which means bloggers have to be much more aggressive about self-promotion than they used to be. This, in turn, creates incentives for “splashy” or “provocative” over “measured” and “careful.” I mean, we’re usually pretty measured at ‘nerds of a feather,’ but we do occasionally publish something provocative – and those pieces inevitably generate traffic. So that’s the reality – the louder you are, the more clearly you are heard. And that’s a major challenge, because being loud or angry or aggressive or provocative isn’t always the best route. Often it’s not.

SCy-Fy: The overcrowding has other effects as well, doesn’t it?

G: Yes. Consolidation is another outgrowth of the crowded field. Though that might seem counterintuitive, the explosion of content a few years ago also makes it harder for readers to filter what’s worth spending time on from what’s not. That privileges sites with daily content and established communities, because it’s “one-stop shopping,” so to speak. And the big sites also sometimes pay for content, or can at least offer bigger audiences. So a lot of talented bloggers transition from writing for their own sites to writing for the big ones.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing – these sites generate revenue and win awards for a reason, and I’m all for individuals taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them. But the situation does constitute an evolving set of challenges, particularly for new or up-and-coming blogs.

SCy-Fy: Tips for bloggers? For reviewers? Writers?

G: I think it’s fair to say that if you want be heard as an independent voice, you are going to need three things: (1) a lot of good content; (2) a commitment to marketing yourself on social media; and (3) a willingness to engage readers wherever they decide to discuss your work. That was already the reality when Vance and I started ‘nerds of a feather, flock together’, but I think the incline has gotten steeper in the three years since we started. So be ready for some hard work.

The other piece of advice I’d give is: try to establish a ‘voice.’ What makes your blog or your reviews different from the ones found in a hundred other places? What’s going to keep people coming back? Just being good doesn’t cut it – you need to be different enough to offer something unique, yet reliable enough that readers have an idea of what to expect. Play a long game, and try to find that voice in your quirks and idiosyncrasies. People like ‘quirky’ when paired with ‘good.’

Oh, and don’t forget to have fun. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth your time.

SCy-Fy: Which resources have you found the most useful?

G: In general I’d say the most useful resources are other bloggers! Aidan Moher and Jonathan McCalmont are two individual bloggers who have, since the start, exerted an outsized influence on me – Aidan for the elegance of his reviews, and Jonathan for being such an incisive critic. There are of course many others – too many to name, in fact, and I’m afraid if I tried that I would just end up leaving someone off by accident and feel horribly guilty about it afterwards.

SCy-Fy: Traps in SFF blogging?

G: Blogging is forever – you can scrub or edit your past embarrassments, but it’s almost guaranteed that someone will remember whatever it is you don’t want them to. So try to make sure you can live with whatever you post before clicking ‘publish.’ But also be prepared for situations in which someone cherry picks a sentence or paragraph and ignores the contextualizing matter, as well as situations in which it’s all on you. In the immortal words of Kenny Rogers, you gotta know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em.

SCy-Fy: What has most helped you to keep going?

G: There have been times when I’ve been too busy to contribute much, but luckily I’ve got Vance and our great group of writers to rely on, and they’ve never let me down.

SCy-Fy: What have been the best books you have read recently?

G: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel was the best novel I read in 2014. I also really enjoyed Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski, A Darkling Sea by James Cambias, and City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. I’ve also recently re-read some cyberpunk classics that hold up incredibly well: Neuromancer and Count Zero by William Gibson, and Mindplayers by Pat Cadigan. All worth reading.

SCy-Fy: Which upcoming release are you most looking forward to?

G: No contest – Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski. Hopefully the release of Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt will get more people reading this incredible series.

SCy-Fy: Thanks, G!

G: Thanks for having me!

Interview with Nicolette Stewart (Book Punks)

I have wandered dazed and lost through a German forest to find Nicolette Stewart, co-editor of the speculative fiction blog Book Punks, which has just celebrated its first anniversary.  

SCy-Fy: Nicolette, you are still wearing your pyjamas. Have I arrived too early, or do you think the end of the world will be here before you can get changed?

NS: Actually, I think my pyjamas would probably make pretty good survival gear. Funny you should mention the end of the world… . The end of the world and the way each new generation of writers imagines the end of the world is one of my obsessions and something I find absolutely fascinating. I am currently trying to read all of the apocalypses ever written, and I write about the experience every Thursday on my column 1000 Ways to End the World.

SCy-Fy: But why the PJs? Is that what you wear on a typical blogging day?

NS: As I am a freelance writer by trade, there are no typical days. So sometimes that means writing or doing admin for Book Punks between research and writing on a non-fiction project. Sometimes that means sitting in an office running other people’s blogs and social media, writing and editing and sneaking a glance at the Book Punks comments on my breaks. And sometimes it means having an entire day to waffle between housework and coffee and reading and writing.

There are a thousand book-related blog posts constantly churning and bubbling in my brain, so that is where most of my free writing time goes. The only constant is that I almost always work from bed. If my internet connection starts acting up, I might change out of my PJs and work from my favorite stuffed chair at the local vegan cafe.

SCy-Fy: What are your future plans?

NS: Building a time machine so that I can manufacture the time I need to read all the books and write all the things is my top priority. Until that’s finished, we’re just going to have to rely on overcoming our poor business sense in order to one day make enough money to hire authors to write the columns we don’t have time for but that we would love to see on Book Punks.

Both News From the Future and News From Dystopia are series we initially planned to include regularly (talking about science fictional- and dystopian-sounding items from the news and connecting them with related fictions) and are something that I would really like to see come to life in the next year.

SCy-Fy: What have been the most popular posts in the site’s first year?

NS: My advice on How to Write a Sexist Character Without Being Sexist is still one of our most popular posts and the battle between Gandalf and Dumbledore my co-editor Erika wrote is pretty epic. We do a series profiling independent publishers that has gotten great feedback, and I personally love Erika’s book recommendations for Arya Stark which is part of our Character Book List series.

SCy-Fy: Which future releases are you most looking forward to?

NS: Well, now that Speculative Fiction 2014 is out, I’m most looking forward to Nnedi Okorafor’s The Book of Phoenix. At the moment, however, I’m more focused on reading old classics and conquering my to-read shelf than in keeping up with new releases.

SCy-Fy: What have been the best books you have read recently?

NS: Holy shit – The Fictional Man by Al Ewing!! The book that broke books. I’m pretty sure that Ewing wrote it just for me as it has all of my favorite things: science fiction asking questions about what it means to be human, large dose of meta, social commentary, page-turning plot, writers writing, and a large dose of meta. That book. !!! Please, I’m begging you all, just go read it. It is amazing.

I’ve also recently intensely enjoyed Life on the Preservation by Jack Skillingstead, Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz, Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes, and Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett.

SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major future challenges for SFF blogging?

NS: I could see a lack of net neutrality destroying the blogging world. If only big corporate sites were fast and easy and free, well, small businesses and individuals running blogs would suffer…and would one by one disappear.

SCy-Fy: Tips for bloggers? For reviewers? Writers?

NS: Take everything seriously. Take nothing seriously. Do the things you love the way you love to do them. Don’t be an asshole. Laugh a lot. Always carefully credit your photos.

SCy-Fy: Just between us – your secret list of useful resources?

NS: HA. Thought you had me there, didn’t you?

SCy-Fy: You’re the first interviewee who has seen through that clever trick. Other than interview questions, what other traps are there in SFF blogging?

NS: That we think blogging has “traps.” This is fun. Take it as seriously as behoves your happiness. Leave the rest behind as you ride off into the dying sunset pulling a moving, sentient library behind your robot horse.

SCy-Fy: Things that have kept you going in hard times?

NS: Whiskey, song, and sunlight.

SCy-Fy: Thank you, Nicolette – no, don’t get up.

NS: Don’t worry, I almost never do. Thanks for having me, PJs and all.

SCy-Fy: Ah, that forest is really big – do you think I could borrow your robot horse?

NS: *telepathically communicates with horse*

*narrows eyes*

*nods suspiciously*

Just promise you’ll send her back.

Interview with the Marvelous Reading Room

Today we go back to the world of Youtube. I’ll be talking to Sunny and Amanda, presenters of The Marvelous Reading Room channel, which has recently celebrated its first anniversary.

SCy-Fy: Guys, this reading room is certainly marvelous, but it’s also very hot! Your show has some of the best quality video I’ve seen on Youtube – how do you prepare?

Sunny: We used to do the whole show ‘live’ and then edit it to the best of our abilities, but we’ve learned that scripting or at least outlining what we want to talk about beforehand helps the creative process more than hindering it. Then for any kind of skits, it’s a whole pre-production process of finding costumes, props, whatever we need and then doing the best we can to make it all work.

Amanda: Yeah, it really depends on the segment. Generally we write out what we’re going to say and try our best to memorize it or look down between takes at my laptop, which I usually set up in front of us. We could really use a teleprompter. One day! Then the set-up of lighting, mics, and camera takes about an hour before we actually start filming. We try and film multiple segments at once since the set-up takes so long. If we’re doing an Expanded Universe segment that day, we have to move everything into another room where we have a green screen set up.

SCy-Fy: What are your future initiatives?

Sunny: We’re always thinking about how we can do new things with our channel. Even in just the year we’ve been doing it, we have grown and matured so much into more of a production. We love doing it. We’ve always wanted to celebrate reading and books with the channel and we’ve been brainstorming ideas for how to inspire non-readers or people that don’t read novels very often to give one a try.

Amanda: We’re also currently incorporating a podcast into the Reading Room and we’d like to make that a more regular thing. It’s a great way to break our usual format. We’d really like to do more cinematic videos like our The Martian segment. That was a lot of fun and a great way to branch out from just doing book reviews.

SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major challenges for online presentation in future?

Sunny: I think the key challenge anyone will face with any kind of entertainment and especially online is finding your audience. The internet has definitely made this more possible, which is wonderful, but it can still be very difficult to find the niche market that will really enjoy what you are creating.

Amanda: Making it a lucrative living and an only source of income. It’s near impossible to make a living these days off of just Youtube videos, especially with the way they’re constantly changing things.

SCy-Fy: What advice would you give anyone presenting?

Sunny: Definitely try your hardest and learn everything you can about the production process. We’ve been lucky that we both currently work in entertainment production in one form or another, but we are always learning more about how to do things and what works for us.

Amanda: If you’re planning on making Youtube videos, go in with no expectations. Don’t do anything expecting to make money or “get famous”. Do it because you love it and for no other reason. We absolutely love our channel and it’s become a huge passion of mine that has me wanting to branch out into other mediums as well.

SCy-Fy: Just between us – your secret list of useful resources?

Sunny: YouTube!!! I cannot begin to list how many tutorials I have found super helpful when it comes to lighting and using cameras. I’m a photographer, but the video world was a whole new realm for me, so finding tutorials to watch was pretty vital. Film Riot and The Slanted Lens are some of my favorites. There are also a lot of great websites. Adobe provides a lot of great tutorials and we were lucky to find Creative Commons music on a site called, but be careful – not everything on that site is Creative Commons, and the last thing you want to do is be more or less stealing other people’s creations for your own.

Amanda: Goodreads and Wikipedia. And yeah, what Sunny said.

SCy-Fy: Points to watch out for?

Sunny: Don’t get sucked into the likes and dislike bar or mean comments. It’s not worth it, and typically are not very constructive.

Amanda: Mean comments. Trying not to take anything personally or seriously. Developing a thick skin is really really hard and one mean comment from someone you don’t even know can ruin your whole day.

SCy-Fy: Things that have kept you going in hard times?

Sunny: The house we shoot in gets really hot in the summer, upwards of 100 degrees or more and we have to turn all the fans off while we’re filming and it can be truly miserable –

SCy-Fy: That explains why I’m sweating so much…

Sunny: – but I think the thing that really keeps us going is seeing that people really enjoy the stuff we’re putting out there. Every time a comment pops up, or we get a like on a video or someone mentions us on their own channel, we are overcome with excitement and appreciation.

Amanda: Sticking to our schedule keeps me going. When we started, we decided that we would release one video every Wednesday and we’ve stuck to that for an entire year. So the need to absolutely stick to that schedule and make content definitely keeps me going during hard times. Also, the community and the amazing people and overall nice comments always makes my day.

SCy-Fy: Any controversy so far?

Sunny: I guess the one thing that has come up is the idea of negative reviews. Believe it or not, as an avid reader you are bound to find the occasional book that makes you want to throw it out a window, and it would be easy to make a video tearing such a book apart and pointing out everything wrong with it. Entire entertainment networks are built on such an idea. But as easy as that would be, we do our best to always be positive. There’s no reason to inform people of a book they’re not going to like, so it’s better to just move on and talk about the next book that we enjoy. That’s always kind of been my mantra; ‘always be positive’.

SCy-Fy: The most popular show you’ve presented? Your personal favourite?

Amanda: The most popular by view count is my Darker Shade of Magic review which I feel weird about because it was an early review when the book wasn’t even out yet. I was given a preview of the first five chapters only, which I did not realize until I got to the end, and I was locked into reviewing it for Netgalley. So I didn’t even know how it ended or if it was even worth recommending. At the time, it was relevant since the book wasn’t out yet, but it has since come out, so I feel the video is already antiquated, but people keep watching it.

My personal favorite was our The Martian review. We used a green screen and put me in a space suit and sent me to Mars. It took about 8 hours to film a 37 second segment and 2 weeks to edit, but it was so much fun and I’m so proud of how it turned out.

SCy-Fy: What have been the best books you have read recently?

Sunny: I was really surprised by some Michael Wallace books, of whom I’ve never read anything before, and that was a really nice surprise. Beyond that, Brandon Sanderson’s books always get me.

Amanda: This year my favorites have been Lexicon by Max Barry, The City & The City by China Mieville and The Martian by Andy Weir. I realize those are all Sci-fi novels. My favourite graphic novel this year is The Sculptor by Scott McCloud, hands down. Everyone go read The Sculptor by Scott McCloud!

SCy-Fy: Which forthcoming releases are you most looking forward to reading?

Sunny: I’m actually really excited to read the new Harper Lee book. I have a strange soft spot for To Kill A Mockingbird; I think it was one of the first books I had to read in school and actually really enjoyed, so I’m excited to read another of her books.

Amanda: There are a few things out now that I really want to get to. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman, Touch by Claire North, and hopefully a new Rainbow Rowell book will come out this year.

SCy-Fy: Sunny and Amanda – thank you both very much!

Amanda: Thank you so much for interviewing us. I feel so touched and honored. And to anyone reading, go read some comics! (The Sculptor, go read The Sculptor.)