Interview with Brent Bowen (Adventures in Scifi Publishing)


My guest today is Brent Bowen. Brent is the Executive Producer of the Hugo-nominated (by his own admission – somewhat dubiously) Adventures in Scifi Publishing podcast. Adventures in Scifi Publishing (or AISFP as many like to call it) has been podcasting about science fiction and fantasy literature since 2006. A team of dedicated volunteers donate their time to bring listeners and readers interviews with authors, editors, agents, publishers as well as reviews and coverage of speculative media. 

SCy-Fy: How do you prepare for a show, Brent?

BB: Craft beer and tea. Not necessarily in that order. For our discussion segments, Kristi Charish and I agree on topics in advance – generally over a beer: They can range from issues facing speculative fiction (Hugo Awards controversy) to personal interests (gaming).

We’ll lurk on Twitter and blogs for several days to research what’s being said, particularly if we’re not well-versed on a given subject. I have a journalism background so I’m quite practised at trying to cover things where I don’t have any knowledge.

SCy-Fy: I understand that very well…

BB: As for the interviews, I won’t speak to a guest unless I’ve tried his or her work. I want to have a respectful conversation with the guest, and I don’t think you can do that without having read, seen or heard a person’s work. We try to approach the conversation as a fan would. The prep allows us to provide some starter questions in advance, but we often deviate from those pretty quickly based on the guest’s response. The desire is for a conversation, not a simple back and forth.

SCy-Fy: What are your future plans?

BB:  We’re looking to get three new projects off the ground, all in varying stages of development: 1.) Gamer segments; 2.) a Suds and Science segment; and 3.) MG/YA Book Club.

Video games have become so evolved as a form of storytelling that it would be shortsighted to not include it as a publishing format.

In the Suds and Science series – where we drink craft beer (one of our favorite scientific processes) or another favorite beverage with a scientist and talk about potential applications of the science and what it will mean for us – we, as creators, draw so much inspiration from exploration and innovation we couldn’t resist sitting down to see what separates us from the apes.

Finally, with the Middle Grade/Young Adult Book Club, I’ve attended too many conventions where all the talk has been where are the young fans. I, personally, want to get them involved directly.

SCy-Fy: Those all sound very good. What do you think will be the major challenges for podcasts in future?

BB: For speculative media, saturation. If you consider our Sad Puppies/Hugo Awards shows, there is quite a bit of conversation about a narrowing core SFF audience. Yet, there are more podcasts now than ever. When we started in 2006, there were only a handful. A lot of shows are diversifying a bit to extend reach in audience and differentiate themselves. While others or some new shows are moving more niche. A new grimdark show I’m excited to see launched by Rob Matheny is a great example – they plan on covering the subject in-depth.

SCy-Fy: Challenges for AISFP in particular?

BB: We’re no different in that we need to evolve. We’re largely known for our interviews and publishing news — and that will remain a core of the show – but how do we create other compelling reasons to listen that separate us from the crowd?

The other challenge, that I can’t shortchange, will be ensuring everyone on our team stays committed to our mission while managing the next four-plus months and navigating this Hugo mess.

We view the show as a journalistic endeavor with the mission of exploration. Exploration can be an ugly business. Our goal is to address the issues facing the community, but not by telling people what to think, yet what to think about.

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

BB: If it’s just you, think about joining an existing team first. Life can get in the way, so if it’s just you, building and keeping your audience can be a challenge. If you can assemble a team, by all means have a go at it. Find your topic and make sure it has a shelf-life. I see people trying to build a show around a short-lived or seasonal theme, say a convention, and just wonder how they survive. They generally don’t.

SCy-Fy: What are your most useful resources?

BB: From a speculative-fiction standpoint, too many to list (watch our Twitter feed and you’ll see). But for podcasting, I absolutely love my new Zoom iQ7 iOS microphone. For research, notes and organization, Evernote and Pocket are trusted friends.

SCy-Fy: Points to watch out for?

BB: There’s a social media marketing concept called 4-1-1: Four parts giving or sharing of others work, one part education and one part selling your own stuff. Honestly, I think the four parts should be six to 10 parts. At any point in time somebody is doing it better or different. You should always look to acknowledge and share others’ efforts that you respect. Don’t chase. Don’t fall into jealousy. Just share. Kudos to you SCy-Fy for embracing this concept!

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

BB: Team – plain and simple. It never ceases to amaze me the passion and time people give to this. We’re not doing this for money, but love of craft.

SCy-Fy: What has been the most controversial show you have presented so far?

BB: We inserted ourselves directly into controversy several episodes ago (and it’s punched back a couple of times since) by hosting the Sad Puppies interview with Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen. We lost a few subscribers, and many folks openly questioned us in social media (including one of our own co-hosts).

Look, we’re not going to shy away from controversy. Kristi and I may not be mercurial like reality television stars (or agree with every guest) but we’re going to explore topics affecting the industry and try to bring on guests who represent the full spectrum of the field.

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

BB: Come on. If anyone has ever had Neil Gaiman or Patrick Rothfuss on the show, you know it’s been the most popular. Unless, of course, GRRM has been on.

One of my personal favorites – because it was so memorable — was one of my first interviews for AISFP. I chatted with Paolo Bacigalupi as we was hitting the award circuit for The Windup Girl. He was a pro and charismatic. That alone would have made it memorable. But it was the perseverance in getting the interview that ultimately lodges it forever in my memory. He was fighting his asthma (my son also suffers from it), and I offered to bag the interview. He absolutely refused to quit. We recorded for nearly an hour and a half to get through the questions, which resulted in the 30-minute interview.

SCy-Fy: What have been the best books, films and TV shows you have read or seen recently?

BB: Best books have included Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Elysium by Jennifer Brissett and Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz.

Haven’t seen a ton of note-worthy movies (don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adored The Lego Movie, Guardians Of The Galaxy and Big Hero 6) but Big Eyes by Tim Burton struck a chord, ruminations on creative credit and all.

TV favorites include Orphan Black binge watching and Silicon Valley on HBO. On the latter, I can’t recall a concoction so equal parts intelligent and stupid. My wife and I looped the season one finale, and I don’t remember ever doing that for anything else.

SCy-Fy: Which forthcoming books, films and TV shows are you most looking forward to reading or watching?

BB: SO MUCH! I’m launching into Daredevil Netflix series now, and I’m cautiously optimistic about the X-Files reboot. I bought two 750ml of Dark Raven saison to celebrate the newest season of Game of Thrones.

As for books, if Scott Lynch’s The Thorn of Emberlain hits shelves this year, I will read it and push all other people and things aside until I finish. Other titles I’m eagerly awaiting are my cohort in crime Kristi Charish’s upcoming novel Kincaid Strange, about a Seattle voodoo practitioner who rooms with the ghost of a late grunge rockstar, Cold Iron by Stina Leicht, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and Aftermath: Star Wars by Chuck Wendig.

Speaking of THE FORCE, this is the year of Star Wars for me. Force Awakens is the only movie I’m going to mention — I’ve already put in my vacation request for release day.

SCy-Fy: Anything to add, Brent?

BB:  Thanks for having me! If people are interested in keeping up with what we’re doing (and entering themselves in the occasional giveaway), they should subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Interview with A. J. Odasso (Strange Horizons)


Today we return to the world of magazines. I’ll be talking to A.J. Odasso, Senior Poetry Co-Editor at Strange Horizons.

SCy-Fy: The poetry department is a team effort, isn’t it?

AJO: There are four of us on the Strange Horizons Poetry Department staff; Sonya Taaffe [Senior Co-Editor], Li Chua, and M.J. Cunniff [our newly recruited Co-Editors] make up the rest of the team of which I’m a part.

SCy-Fy: How do you divide up the workload?

AJO: We split the year into four three-month reading periods so that each one of us gets a turn on-desk. During a typical reading period, each editor can expect to see 200 – 300 poems; depending on our already accepted backlog and our publication needs for the year, we can only accept between nine to fourteen out of each reading period’s worth of submissions.

SCy-Fy: What is your personal approach to reading submissions, A.J.?

AJO: For my part, I read continually as submissions come in, although I make a point of responding quickly on pieces I know won’t quite fit (rejections). Unless I’m so struck by a poem that I accept it on the spot, I generally hold onto pieces I’m taken with until the end of my reading period. Once I’ve narrowed my short-list to the ones I’d like to buy, I send out rejections on the remainder, and then send out acceptances. Each editor is responsible for sending out information sheets and contracts to their accepted poets for completion, and each editor is also responsible for galleying the poems they’ve accepted. As you can see, the work-load is evenly split.

SCy-Fy: What about covering costs?

AJO: Strange Horizons covers its year ’round operational costs through an annual fund drive. We usually aim to raise around $13k – $14k, and, in the three years I’ve now been with the magazine, I’ve always seen us exceed that amount by a small, but comfortable margin. While the fund drive is on (this usually happens in the autumn), we offer bonus content, prizes, and other perks for each funding milestone hit.

SCy-Fy: Does the magazine have any specific future initiatives planned?

AJO: I wouldn’t say that we have any current initiatives except looking forward to the 2015 Fund Drive. Of course, we’ve just been nominated for a Hugo in the Best Semi-Pro Zine category for the third year in a row, so we do hope for an eventual win!

SCy-Fy: I’m sure you have many supporters in that. What do you think will be the major future challenges for SFF magazines?

AJO: Actively seeking and publishing diverse talent, hands down. I read Strange Horizons for around seven years before joining the editorial team, and, while I can say we’re currently doing a better job of publishing diverse work than the magazine was doing even ten years ago, genre magazines across the board have a long way to go. Fortunately, the current crop of speculative poetry publications (I’m thinking of such venues as Goblin Fruit, Ideomancer, Liminality, Mythic Delirium, and Stone Telling in addition to SH) are edited by a diverse group of individuals who are fiercely committed to encouraging submissions and soliciting verse from underrepresented groups.

Another significant challenge we’re already facing, I feel, is that most publications don’t pay poets what their work is worth.

SCy-Fy: Please expand on that.

AJO:  In another recent interview at Poetry Has Value, I discussed our pay-rate of $30/poem with Jessica Piazza. Until the trend of assuming that prose is inherently more work (and therefore deserves premium compensation) starts to fade, I don’t think we’ll see as much change on this front.

I do understand that for many magazines the issue is lack of funding; this challenge is one that magazines, regardless of genre, have always faced. I’m proud to edit for a magazine that pays its writers well across the board, and I hope we’ll be able to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Our patrons and our readership have always been generous.

SCy-Fy: You read hundreds of submissions, A.J.. What advice would you give writers?

AJO: Writing is hard work, so put in the hours. Be brave, be respectful, and be stubborn. Listen to your readers, because they’ll improve the way you listen to yourself and to your text. Ruthlessly self-edit, and read out loud wherever possible.

SCy-Fy: Poems that have had the most impact or controversy?

AJO: Peruse the Strange Horizons Poetry Archives for the entirety of 2014, and I think you’ll find that, in the past year, we’ve published much of the finest and most challenging verse we’ve published to date. I hope that we can continue this trend in 2015, and, if overall quality of submissions continues to rise the way that it has, I have no doubt that we will.

SCy-Fy: I know this is very difficult, but what are your personal favourites among what you have published?

AJO: Look out for “Cloud Wall” by Arkady Martine and “You Are Here” by Bogi Takács in particular. Those are my most recent favorites.

On my personal blog, I have a tag devoted to announcing the names and titles I accept in each of my reading periods. I admit to being biased toward my own acceptances, so glancing at those posts and then seeking out titles via SH Archives search function will leave you with the ones I love best.

SCy-Fy: Thank you, A.J. And best of luck with everything!

AJO: Thank you, SCy-Fy, for this opportunity!  Best wishes to you as well.

Interview with Romeo Kennedy (The Moustached Man)


Tonight I’m backstage post-concert with Romeo Kennedy, AKA “The Moustached Man from that blog with a really long name.” Romeo is a Cornish SFF writer and book reviewer, described as a sort of Pied Piper for the Fae of Cornwall, but with a bass guitar.

He is a folklore enthusiast, specializing in Cornish Folklore and Mythology, as well as having major interests in all things geek from books, comics, film, and television. He blogs at http://sleeplessmusingsofawellgroomedmoustachedman.wordpress.com and tweets at @RomeoRites.

SCy-Fy: Boom ba boom?

RK: Boomdaboom twang!

SCy-Fy: Romeo, we had better stop speaking in bass language – we can keep doing that on Twitter. Your blog has just had an anniversary, hasn’t it?

RK: Yes, my humble little blog has just turned two years old.

SCy-Fy: Congratulations! What are your future initiatives?

RK: Well, myself, and two mice named Pinky and the Brain are going to take over th- oh! You mean with blogging!

I want to continue reviewing as much as possible and also doing other posts like the one I did about the Fantasy Wonder Super Group in which I took different characters from awesome fantasy books and imagined them playing in a band. It was fun to do.

Lately I have had the pleasure of being asked to do the odd guest post and I really enjoy doing that, as I’m finding myself inspired to get my writing seen and hopefully enjoyed by more people on subjects that I may not have written about on SMOAWGMM yet.

SCy-Fy: How do you go about putting together a blog post?

RK: If it is a review (which it often is) I like to go over any notes that I may have made about the book. Upon finishing a book I like to sleep on it (not literally that would be all pointy and uncomfortable). I like to let the content of the book sink in, have a good think about some of the themes and motifs, etc.

I find it puts me right in the zone when I begin that review. Almost like opening a bottle of lemonade to let it breathe … Or is that wine? I forget. Anyway, no day is typical for me, I’m Rock N’ Roll like that. And to be fair, I don’t blog everyday as I’m a very slow reader, so it takes me a while.

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

RK: We are blessed with so many great blogs and the one thing I find that poses a challenge is keeping up with all the great reviews of new releases. There is always something that I can’t believe I didn’t have on my bookdar (like a radar but for books).

SCy-Fy: Tips for bloggers?

RK: Interact, interact, interact.

When I first started this blogging lark, I set up the blog on WP and then foolishly thought, build it and they will come. Obviously, I quickly learned that this was not the case. I blame this on the fact that I’m useless at technology. It took me ages to realise that I can follow more than one blog on my wordpress app. Interacting with other bloggers on their own blogs and other social media is wonderful and I have made some great friends in doing so.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask a blogger for help and advice. I have received some great advice from other bloggers. Stefan who runs Civilian Reader has been a great help to me over the years with blogging advice, etc. As for other tips? Don’t eat the yellow snow.

SCy-Fy: Which resources do you use most?

RK: Twitter. Other bloggers, and Hydra. I don’t use Netgalley as I don’t have one of those e-readery machine thingamabobs. Give me paper or see ya later.

SCy-Fy: Traps in SFF blogging?

RK: The To Be Read pile. Or as some like to call it Mt Toberead. Don’t be afraid to say no to reviews. Like I previously mentioned, I’m a very slow reader so I like to keep my reviewing piles as manageable as possible. However, my TBR pile could probably rival Everest. I swear I saw a Yeti on it the other day.

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

RK: My amazing wife. She is my absolute world, and having her constant support, knowing that she is very proud of me, keeps me going no matter what.

Then there are my animals. My dogs and cats.

And last, but not at all least, my lovely, lovely friends.

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

RK: Well, there was that one time I said the world was flat.

To be honest, none of my posts have been controversial. I’m not a very controversial person at all. As for posts with the most impact, I think my interview with Edward Cox (author of The Relic Guild) was rather popular and I had lots of great feedback from it.

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

RK: Well, I’m slowly working my way through the Malazan (Book of the Fallen) series by Steven Erikson. They are absolutely awesome. I recently read Finn Fancy Necromancy by Randy Henderson which was also a bit good. City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett, City Stained Red by Sam Sykes, and Your Servants and Your People by David Towsey which is the sequel to Your Brothers Blood. Also I re-read Binary (sequel to Gemsigns) by Stephanie Saulter who is one of my favorite authors and whose (R)evolution series is absolutely stunning.

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

RK: Oh wow. This year certainly kicked off with some cosmic releases like The Iron Ghost by Jennifer Williams which is my next read and I’m so looking forward to reading it, it is the sequel to The Copper Promise which was phenomenal.

The Cathedral of Known Things by Edward Cox (sequel to The Relic Guild), Unseemly Science by Rod Duncan, Regeneration by Stephanie Saulter, Starborn by Lucy Hounsom, Your Resting Place by David Towsey, City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Thorn of Emberlain by Scott Lynch, and I’m still holding out hope for book 3 of Kingkiller Chronicle by Pat Rothfuss. There are more that I have probably missed too.

SCy-Fy: Anything else to add?

RK: Yes I would like to say thank you to your good self for having me, and I would also like to say a big thank you to everyone who has supported the blog and continues to do so. You’re all cosmic.

SCy-Fy: Boom boom.

RK: BOOM!

Interview with A Fantasy Reader


Welcome to the 60th interview in this series. I have successfully followed the detailed map sent to me by Phil from the Epic Fantasy-centric blog A Fantasy Reader. AFR has been around for a few years and specializes in reviews, polls, releases spotlights and discovering new maps! Put simply, it’s epically fantastic!

SCy-Fy: You’ve been blogging since 2009, Phil. How has your routine changed in that time?

AFR: It used to be so simple… right after supper, I would sit in front of my computer to surf the blogosphere and take my time to write a post, coffee in hand. Then, I got two wonderful kids and things got complicated. Instead of taking my time, I had to find time.

SCy-Fy: So what is a typical blogging day for you now?

AFR: When it’s past bedtime for the kids, I go through my feeds, look at the trends on Twitter, Facebook and some authors’ pages and finally, I look at my poll list where I try to define the Fantasy reader, the reviews I still have to write and hope to have enough time to write or find a clever idea for a post. And there’s another problem… Hearthstone – I admit, I’m an addict of the daily quests… but I can do two things at a time!

SCy-Fy: What are your future initiatives?

AFR: As soon as I find more time, I would like to post more interviews, but not only from Fantasy authors. I have some ideas in mind that I will share in due time, one of those involving a peculiar Fantasy tourist… I hope to be able to take my map index to another level (still not sure how to do that), as I think it’s a great resource…for myself at least. I would also like to post more AFR Top lists, return to kickass moments more often, add another kind of index for reference… if only there weren’t only 24 hours in a day!

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

AFR: I think it’s clearly the transformation of the platforms where our blogging is shared with whoever is interested. We have to adapt quickly. With everything moving so fast and messages getting shorter (I’m looking at you particularly Twitter), it’s getting harder to keep the audience’s attention and convey the feeling of a book in a full length review or post. Moreover, trying to cover all the different distribution platforms is taking more and more time.

SCy-Fy: Any tips for bloggers and reviewers?

AFR: There’s the obvious; read, read, read and read some more and then write posts as frequently as you can (easier said than done, I know). Avoid the fandom trap if you write reviews. Find a niche and be original. Again, it may seem obvious but if you don’t, you’ll get lost in the crowd.

SCy-Fy: And for writers?

AFR: My main piece of advice would be about those clichés… they ought to be torn asunder or at least meddled with! However, if you still want to use them, twist them more than a little. And make yourself available on social media!

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

AFR: The places I visit frequently are Tor.com, Suvudu, Orbit books and Gollancz pages, Westeros’ A Song of Ice and Fire forum, Goodreads, Netgalley, Twitter, Facebook and the other bloggers I enjoy the most… those being: Fantasy Book Critic, A Dribble of Ink, The Wertzone, Civilian Reader, The Speculative Scotsman and much more (my blog lists them…). Thinking about it, are any of these really secret?

SCy-Fy: I suppose not. Traps in SFF blogging?

AFR: As far as reviewing is involved, as I mentioned in my tips, avoid falling into the fandom attitude, or at least, not too often – I know it’s alright to be a fan but you have to remain objective most of the time… . Aside from this, maybe trying to cover everything; you need to find your voice!

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

AFR: The blogosphere and all its contributors. When you receive feedback from readers, fellow bloggers or from authors, that’s when you know that you have to keep going. Still, the hardest time I had in recent months was with my lack of time. Keeping me going in that aspect was simply the fact that there are still readers who visit my blog and the fact that I still like it. A freshly written review is a delight!

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

AFR: Controversy wasn’t part of anything I remember posting on A Fantasy Reader.

As for impact, when I look at the feedback and stats of the blog, it’s clear that my index of maps is quite popular (it was also shared on io9 and by several authors and bloggers). The ‘Best of’ I have written every year since I started blogging in 2009 are at the top of my stats. For reasons I can’t really explain aside from the popularity of the books, my reviews of Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie and A Memory of Light by Brandon Sanderson were much more popular than any other reviews I have posted. And finally, my poll about Fantasy Clichés probably had some impact judging by the number of comments, the reception on Reddit and all the sharing.

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

AFR: I recently finished Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, her first novel that I’ve read and Brian Staveley’s The Providence of Fire, the second Unhewn Throne novel. Both were pretty amazing. Hurley’s worldbuilding is outstanding and she doesn’t rest at that – The Mirror Empire is mesmerizing (but not perfect). The Providence of Fire is the best Epic Fantasy released this year I have read so far, a great follow-up.

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

AFR: Alex Marshall’s debut, A Crown for Cold Silver could very well be the debut of year. Daniel Abraham’s The Spider War, the finale of the Dagger and Coin series – and speaking of conclusions, The Unholy Consult, The Aspect Emperor book 3 by R. Scott Bakker (the slog of the slog will finally be over). And finally, The Thorn of Emberlain, Gentleman Bastards Sequence book 4 by Scott Lynch. Scott is back in full force!

SCy-Fy: Well, I think we’re done, Phil. Now I’ll try and follow this map back the way I came.

AFR: Thanks for including me in your interview series and thanks to everyone who visits my blog!

Interview with Over the Effing Rainbow


This morning I am breakfasting with Lisa of Over The Effing Rainbow, a Glasgow-based blogger and reviewer of SF/F.

SCy-Fy: Is this the time of day you usually do blog-related work, Lisa?

OTER: It is. I work evening/afternoon shifts five days a week, which leaves my mornings wide open, so most of my blogging is done over breakfast when I’m relatively fresh of mind. Or at least that’s the idea. Depending on how the night before went, this plan can sometimes backfire… .

Writing reviews can usually take a couple of days at least, and I try to start them as quickly as possible after reading a book in order to preserve my initial thoughts. Most of my blog posts are prepared in advance and scheduled for the week/a couple of weeks ahead, which can give me some time off between each round. This is good on account of how it lets me go out to buy stuff like food… .

SCy-Fy: What are your future plans?

OTER: You know, being asked that question kind of makes me feel like I should have an answer that includes world domination of some sort… . In seriousness, though, if I’m driven toward any goal it’s to explore more diverse science fiction and fantasy, whatever the subgenre, and to highlight as much of it as I can – and always in as positive a light as possible.

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

OTER: I think one of the biggest, at least for those bloggers who give priority to it, will be finding elbow room, so to speak. The number of independent bloggers out there (ie. those not aligned with larger sites like SF Signal/Tor.com, etc.) is pretty high, and it’s not limited to written reviews and blogs. I find more mentions in my social media feeds of vlogs and podcasts and Tumblr pages every day… . I think for those who feel they’ve got a particular message to put out there or a goal they want to achieve, it might be difficult to be heard without aiming to step up to a larger platform.

SCy-Fy: Tips for bloggers and reviewers?

OTER: For bloggers and reviewers, I’d say always be honest, and always be positive. You don’t have to be a professional critic to be good, but if you put thought into what you want to say and if you can say it in a way that’s straightforward without being rude, you’re likely to go a much longer and more rewarding way. Always keep it fun, too – that’s the other main thing. If you’re clearly enjoying what you do, then people who read your blog will likely enjoy it as well. It sounds pretty basic, but it’s true!

SCy-Fy: What is your most useful resource?

OTER: Twitter, Twitter, Twitter. I love Twitter. I would still be a clueless, mumbling little weirdo sitting in a corner alone without it. Of course, sometimes I still feel that way, but at least now I’m not the only one in the world!

More specific to the actual reviewing/blogging, though, are things like NetGalley, and publisher/author newsletters. Yes, newsletters can clutter up your inbox (at least they can if you’re as habitually disorganised as I am) but they do provide interesting information and the occasional exclusive treat. For bloggers, that can be very helpful for keeping your content fresh.

SCy-Fy: Traps in SFF blogging?

OTER: Hmm. This one’s harder, because I think it can be different for everybody… . For me, though, the thing I still struggle with is managing what I’m able to read versus how much I want to read. It’s the old problem – looking at you, NetGalley – of putting more on your plate than you can eat, because everything just looks so good!

SCy-Fy: Like tea and cake!

OTER: Well, if I’ve got a limit on how much of those I can consume, I haven’t found it yet… .

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

OTER: This one’s easy: books. I’ve been reading since I learned how to, and I’ve got the short sight to prove it, but it’s worth every new story that knocks my socks off – and there are too many to count. I can’t imagine ever NOT being a reader; books keep me sane, and they’ve helped me form some of the strongest friendships I’ve ever had. I like to think they’re not done there yet… .

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

OTER: I don’t know that anything I’ve posted has been controversial. I am anti-controversy. I have opinions, of course, but having arguments is something I prefer to avoid. Thankfully I’ve never had anything I’ve posted receive negative feedback, though of course there’s still plenty of time for that and you never know… .

As for impact, that’s also hard to tell since I can’t interpret site viewings/data to save myself. I do get more comment feedback with things like group readalongs, naturally, and I have a couple of those in the works as we speak. Most recently, I was lucky enough to be offered an exclusive cover reveal for Emma Newman’s forthcoming SF novel, Planetfall that seemed to excite an awful lot of people – and rightfully so because it’s amazing! So I was very pleased with that one.

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

OTER: If we’re talking about things I’ve read in 2015, I’ve actually probably done more reading of graphic novels/comics and short fiction than novels, so far – Ms. Marvel, Rat Queens, and The Wicked + The Divine are leading the comic book charge for me so far. Apex Magazine and Uncanny Magazine are great for short fiction and also for SF/F poetry, which is something I never thought I’d find myself enjoying before I picked up these magazines.

As for novels, there have still been a few excellent ones. Ferrett Steinmetz’s debut novel Flex is pretty mind-blowingly original, so that’s a definite highlight. Dark Star by Oliver Langmead is an amazing mix of science fantasy, epic poetry and noir mystery. And since I’m a sucker for straight-up swords and sorcery and swashbuckling, Jen Williams’ The Iron Ghost and Sebastien de Castell’s Knight’s Shadow are also my frontrunners so far this year. Both of those books are sequels, though, so if you look them up, bear that in mind!

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

OTER: [Takes a deep breath] Gosh, which ones am I not looking forward to?! Top of the list at the moment, though, let’s see… Peter Newman’s debut novel The Vagrant (UK only, so far as I know), Emma Newman’s Planetfall (which I mentioned before), Aliette de Bodard’s House of Shattered Wings, Kameron Hurley’s Empire Ascendant, Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass, Catherynne M. Valente’s Radiance, and I should probably stop there before I get out the full list… .

SCy-Fy: Thank you, Lisa.

OTER: I couldn’t have done this without tea. And thank you!

Interview with Andrea Johnson (The Little Red Reviewer)


Today I’m talking to blogger Andrea Johnson of The Little Red Reviewer.

SCy-Fy: Andrea, I usually ask about a typical blogging day, but your blogging life has recently undergone a huge change.

AJ: In January of this year, I went back to work full time, after having worked on an on-call and mostly part time basis for six years. What a shock that was! I went from having tons of reading and writing time to having very little. That said, it’s much easier to describe a “typical blogging week” as opposed to a “typical blogging day”.

SCy-Fy: OK, take me through it.

AJ: During the work week, I try to read at least an hour a day. If I take hand written notes while reading, the review is that much easier to write.

I use the weekends to get as much review writing, interview formatting, and slush reading done as I can – I’m an interviewer with SFSignal and Apex Magazine, and a submissions editor/slush reader for Apex Magazine and Loconeal Publishing. And I am always, always behind. I’m on e-mail and Twitter all the time, because I’m addicted.

SCy-Fy: What are your future plans?

AJ: My husband and I have similar tastes in speculative fiction and historical fiction, and we’ve been writing a series of joint reviews of the Japanese manga “A Bride’s Story”, and we’re planning a joint-review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora. I’d like our collaborative reviews to become a regular thing.

I’d also like to attend and participate in panels at more SF/F conventions, I’ve done it twice now and it was a ton of fun.

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

AJ: I think the biggest challenge will be us bloggers deciding who we are and why we’re here doing what we do. Are we hobbyists? Are we loudly squeeing fans? Are we critics? Are we publishers? Do we blog to keep a reading journal, be free advertising for publishers and authors we like, get into publishing, be seen as a fanzine, or something in between?

The challenge will be getting through that identity crisis, and where each person lands at the end depends on what they wanted to get out of blogging in the first place.

SCy-Fy: Any advice for bloggers and reviewers?

AJ: Develop your own voice. Be authentic. Read what you want. Be social. Tell authors you liked their stuff. Don’t feel pressured to read something or like someone because everyone is reading it or likes it – but by all means read it if it looks interesting! You’ll get to a point where you are drowning in ARCs, but until then let the library be your best friend.

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

AJ: SFSignal (especially their SF/F/H link posts) and Twitter. Between those two sites I’m set.

SCy-Fy: Traps in SFF blogging?

AJ: Equating success with number of followers. The pressure to post as much as someone else does. Don’t fall for any of that crap, just blog because it’s fun.

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

AJ: Comfort reads: Kurt Vonnegut, Full Metal Alchemist, Kage Baker, Steven Brust, Scott Lynch. Those will always get me out of a funk. Craft Beer, good coffee, and well timed internet vacations help too.

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

AJ: Controversy? None.

SCy-Fy: There must be something you can give me here…

AJ: Well, my most “controversial” – for certain values of “controversial” – moment was probably my parting shot in my review of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, and maybe 25 people even saw that post.

SCy-Fy: Which posts have had the most impact?

AJ: Most impactful posts? I’m still proud of the post I wrote just after Iain M. Banks’ death. Not sure if it was impactful for anyone but me, but, oh well.

Over the last few years I’ve had fun organizing some read-alongs and blog tours, and I like to believe those were impactful for the people who got excited about reading something new along with a group of bloggy friends.

SCy-Fy: I’m sure they were. What have been the best books you have read recently?

AJ: Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz, Babel-17 by Samuel Delany, The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord, The Martian by Andy Weir and California Bones by Greg van Eekhout.

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

AJ: Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente, Flux by Ferrett Steinmetz, Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson (which I just finished reading the other day, but can’t talk about for a few more months), The Thorn of Emberlain by Scott Lynch and City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett.

The new Marie Brennan, Voyage of the Basilisk, is already out, but I haven’t had a chance to pick up a copy yet, so I’m going to include that in my “upcoming releases” I’m looking forward to.

SCy-Fy: Anything else to add?

AJ: Thanks for having me, and for doing this interview series!

SCy-Fy: Thank you, Andrea.

Interview with Scott H. Andrews (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)


After many adventures, I have finally reached the citadel of the Autarch himself, Scott H. Andrews, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Beneath Ceaseless Skies (BCS) is an online magazine of “literary adventure fantasy”: fantasy set in secondary-world or historical settings, with a literary focus on the characters.

SCy-Fy: Scott, the magazine has had a lot of success already.

SHA: Thank you! BCS in nearly seven years has published 350 stories and 150 audio fiction podcasts. We’ve been a finalist for three Hugo Awards, one British Science Fiction Association Award, two Parsec podcasting awards, two Aurealis Awards, and four World Fantasy Awards, and stories from BCS have won the Aurealis Award and the World Fantasy Award. Lois Tilton of Locus online has called BCS “a premier venue for fantastic fiction, not just online but for all media.”

SCy-Fy: Tell me about the behind-the-scenes work that has got you this far.

SHA: We publish a new issue every fortnight. That two-week publication cycle begins with promoting the new issue on the BCS website and Twitter and Facebook. Then the preparation for the next issue starts immediately. I make the ebooks for that upcoming issue and send the files to our ebook distributors, including Amazon Kindle Store and WeightlessBooks.com. The ebooks go out a week early because our ebook customers and subscribers get each issue a week before it goes live on the website.

I do all the production of the BCS Audio Fiction Podcast, so I coordinate the audio reading for each episode, whether it’s a guest narrator or I do the narration myself, and I spend two to three hours a day editing the audio narration. I’m an amateur musician, so I have a sharp ear for audio quality and the rhythm of the pacing and delivery.

SCy-Fy: And submissions?

SHA: I spend about four hours a day reading submissions. That includes new submissions, whether passed up by my Editorial Assistant Nicole Lavigne, who reads the slush, or automatic pass-ups from writers who have sold to BCS before. It also includes line-editing accepted manuscripts and rewrites, which for me require several readings and writing the editorial emails to the author laying out my issue and some ways it might be fixed.

Other tasks include compiling and releasing our anthologies, like our annual Best of BCS series that’s now in its sixth year or our new Weird West anthology Ceaseless West; promoting the magazine at cons and sitting on panels; submitting material for reviews or awards; etc.

SCy-Fy: What are your future initiatives?

SHA:   This April we’re releasing our second BCS theme anthology, Ceaseless West, an ebook collection of the best Weird Western stories from BCS over the years. That will coincide with a special Weird Western issue of the magazine, on April 30. We’re also planning a special large-cast audio reading in May to celebrate the 150th episode of the BCS Audio Fiction Podcast.

In addition to that, our future is to keep publishing great literary adventure fantasy, online and as ebooks, audio podcasts, and our Best of BCS ebook anthologies; to keep doing what has made people call BCS a premiere venue for fantastic fiction.

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

SHA: There’s always the challenge of making F/SF short fiction zines financially viable. Ebook sales and crowd-funding have offered great new tools to help with that, but it’s not as easy as the high-profile success stories make it seem.

There’s also the challenge of getting the stories to readers. The F/SF short fiction audience is much smaller than for novels, but I’m always hoping that we as a field can expand that audience and draw in novel readers; show them that short fiction does exist in the styles they love to read novels in, like epic fantasy, and interest them in reading it.

SCy-Fy: Pitfalls in SFF zining?

SHA: The two huge pitfalls in F/SF zining are well-known: the huge time commitment it requires, and the need to have a realistic business model that fits your approach.

The time commitment to run a zine in a professional manner, like keeping response times to submissions quick enough that it’s not an insult to writers, is massive, almost suffocating. If you aren’t cognizant of that, you’ll get behind and it can hobble your zine.

There are multiple working business models in practice now–for example, BCS is a 501c3 non-profit, funded by donations; Clarkesworld is funded by ebook sales; others have used crowd-funding. But new zines can’t just copy a model and expect it to work for them as well as it works for the zine(s) currently using it. They need to choose or modify whatever model best fits their own strengths and needs.

SCy-Fy: Tips for writers?

SHA:   Yes – don’t follow ‘all the rules’.

I often see stories that feel like they ‘follow all the rules.’ By which I mean it almost feels like the author had a checklist of things they felt like they were supposed to accomplish in the first few pages, and they went down the list and squeezed them all in as early and deliberately as they could. Eyeball-kick image in the opening line, then a teaser of plot suspense, a big splash of detail of the world, aggressively active verbs, cut out all iterations of “to be,” and so on.

But when reading submissions, I often find that the openings that ‘follow all the rules’ like that don’t engage me at a deeper level. Perhaps the voice feels neutral, without the sort of character-influenced flavor that feels interesting to me as a reader. Perhaps the withholding of information to artificially create suspense ends up leaving the context too vague for me. Perhaps the details, however vivid, don’t yet have importance to me through the character. Or perhaps the opening overall is so carefully crafted that it doesn’t have any unique spark of the author’s individuality left in it.

SCy-Fy: So what works better for you?

SHA: The openings that do hook me seem to have a spark of individuality to them. As though the author allowed their own personality or instinct to come through. Perhaps it’s a more vivid or unique voice, for the narrative or the character. Perhaps it’s letting their own writerly voice flow naturally rather than editing the prose down. Perhaps it’s setting aside poetic metaphors and giving direct, honest, heartfelt expressions of characters’ emotions.

It’s tough to describe, and it’s even tougher to write. But I encourage all writers to try to let their unique vision come through as much as possible, rather than crafting things to follow all the rules.

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

SHA: What keeps me going is the transcendent joy and delight in finding a great story, a story that awes me with its world and moves me with its characters and their struggle to be who they are, and the fact that such a story could be in the very next submission email that I click on.

SCy-Fy: Your personal favourites among what you have published so far?

SHA: That’s an impossible question, because I love them all! Recent favorites would include “The Breath of War” by Aliette de Bodard, from our science-fantasy theme month in 2014. It’s a great science-fantasy story, with a deeply personal side to it; a theme of motherhood. It’s a finalist for the Nebula Awards this year.

Another would be “Heaven Thunders the Truth” by K.J. Parker, from our Sixth Anniversary Double-Issue last fall. It’s a movingly human plot of politics and relationships, all told in Parker’s signature intense and emotional first-person style.

I also really enjoyed revisiting many of our past Weird Western stories as I assembled our new Ceaseless West theme anthology, including “Hangman” by Erin Cashier, “Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride” by Saladin Ahmed, and “Haxan” by Kenneth Mark Hoover, which inspired a series of novels.

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

SHA: I’m looking forward to Seth Dickinson’s debut novel, The Traitor Baru Cormorant, which is a prequel trilogy to his story in BCS in 2011. Seth is an amazingly profound writer, and his epic fantasy is richly lush yet uniquely his own. I’m also looking forward to the debut fantasy novel this fall by BCS author Fran Wilde, and the next book by Chris Willrich, author of the sword & sorcery series about poet Persimmon Gaunt and thief Imago Bone.

For watching, I’m a fan of Elmore Leonard’s short fiction, so I’m curious how the TV show Justified will end. I’m not looking forward to the new season of Game of Thrones, because I want to continue reading the books instead.

SCy-Fy: A message to readers to finish?

SHA: We’re in a golden age for F/SF short fiction, especially online fiction, most of which is available for free and as audio podcasts. I encourage readers to explore what’s out there, and read or listen to whatever they enjoy.

I also encourage readers and listeners to consider supporting the short fiction zines you love to read. It doesn’t have to be by donating money; it could also be by buying an ebook subscription, or just by sharing their Facebook posts about new issues or leaving a comment on their website. Donations and ebook sales help them buy new stories, but every share or comment helps find new readers, which is just as important.

SCy-Fy: Thank you, Scott. Now, how do I get out of here – oh, he’s vanished.