Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m pretty boring. I work part time as a bookkeeper for a (huge) store. I work from 5am-10am. I come home and take care of my kids after that (7 months and 4 years). I read a lot. I drink a ton of tea. I write reviews, beta read, do some freelance editing. I love to podcast. I love to cook, and I do some freelance pro nature and wildlife photography on the side. I’ve sold some prints to galleries, won a few contests, and I’ve done some private sales. It’s loads of fun.
When and how did you start your blog ‘Bookworm Blues’?
I think I started reviewing in May of 2010. I can’t believe it’s been that long! I was in my final semester working on my bachelor of science degree and I finally had time to read actual books again. I get really excited about the books I read, and I don’t know anyone in my daily life who really cares the way I do. I decided to start a website where I can be excited about what I read and pretend someone out there cares/shares my excitement. I never actually expected this to turn into anything but me talking to myself online. Now I’ve been in this for a few years, and I’ve found an entire online community full of people who get just as excited about books as me. It’s glorious!
How were your first experiences when you started?
It’s kind of funny for me to look back at my very first reviews because I really was just talking to myself through type, sorting out ideas, and trying really hard to look profound and ponderous. My reviews have changed so much through the years, and they will probably continue evolving. There was a real journey, though, and it’s fun for me to look back on it.
What kind of difficulties do you encounter and what do you enjoy most about running this site? What were some of your proudest achievements so far?
When I realized that people were actually visiting my website, I kind of panicked because I knew the stuff I was writing wasn’t going to work in any serious way. I had to find my legs. I think my biggest struggle, at first, was to learn to say “no” to some review requests, and learn that it was okay to say that I didn’t like a book for one reason or another. I worried a lot about hurting feelings. It’s taken a few years for me to come to terms with the fact that art is subjective, and my website/my opinion doesn’t set any sort of real or important standard. As I’ve learned with my photography, everyone approaches art differently, no one’s obligated to like anything, and disliking something doesn’t devalue it. But there’s a line to walk – you can dislike something, and still be nice, and see the value of it. You can offer constructive criticism. I have tried hard to remember that in my reviews.
I think recently some of my biggest pitfalls have been not listening to my gut and intuition. It’s gotten me into a lot of trouble and it was a hard lesson learned, but essential. Some of my biggest achievements are my beta reading, and editing gigs. I get really thrilled when I realize that authors actually value my insights into things. Also, being asked to judge contests, like the SPFBO, or this one, is hugely flattering.
How many books do you read a year on average?
I read about 200 books a year, counting audiobooks (which I listen to at work, constantly).
Does someone who reads so many books become jaded with fantasy?
I get sick of some genres, but it goes through phases. Right now I’m sick of grimdark. I want to read a ton of social scifi, and cyberpunk, though. A few months ago you couldn’t get me interested in urban fantasy if you served it to me folded in an envelope made out of $1000 bills. It cycles. My biggest thing, I’m realizing, is I get sick of the same-old-same-old. I don’t really mind tropes or clichés, per se, but I do want them to be dealt with differently. I want to read a book that sounds like YOU, not like you’re trying to sound like GRRM or Tolkien. I want to read YOUR book, and I want to read the way YOU write, and I want to read how YOU deal with tropes and clichés. I want to look at YOUR world through YOUR eyes. I like it when authors stop trying so hard to be like someone else, and start just being THEMSELVES. Once that happens, I really don’t care what I’m reading, because I know that, regardless of its genre, I’m going to love it.
What kind of stories do you like most and do you have any favourite characters that stayed with you?
I’m a huge sucker for antiheroes. They are complex and delightful, dark and delicious. Generally, I just love it when an author can make me genuinely feel incredibly strongly about their characters. Love or hate, make me feel, and the more complex that feeling is, the better. I’ve realized that a lot of people try to write the antihero, but very few carry it out well. I think C.S. Friedman writes some of the best antiheroes out there, and Gerald Tarrant of the Coldfire Trilogy is one of my favourites and has stuck with me for years. I’ve been enraptured by just about every character K.J. Parker has ever created. Some of them have been fantastic because he makes me hate them so much. If you haven’t read Stephanie Saulter’s Revolution Trilogy, do yourself a favour and jump on it. There are a lot of memorable characters in it. And as much as I’ve turned cold toward GRRM’s stuff, Tyrion Lannister is still a favourite of mine for many reasons. And Fitz in Robin Hobb’s books. How can anyone forget him? He’s so brilliantly crafted and internally conflicted. Seyonne in Carol Berg’s Rai-Kirah series is also another favourite of mine. No one can really emotionally eviscerate a character quite as beautifully as Carol Berg can. My list could go on and on and on….
How did you come across Mark’s books and what did you think of them?
You know, the first time I read Prince of Thorns it was because another reviewer sent it to me through the mail and I really didn’t like it much. I remember poo-pooing it in my review. Then a while later I re-read it, and I loved it. I. LOVED. IT. You see, the problem was, I hated a lot of books I read around the time I read that book the first time. It wasn’t really Lawrence’s fault, but more my state of mind. Cancer treatment made me cranky, and I hated everything and everyone on the planet. When I was through that first round, I took my time to re-read most of the books I read then, and I realized I liked them all a lot more than I did at the time. Anyway, long story short, I then went around and read the rest of the series, and loved each book a bit more. I even enjoyed the ending, which people had conflicting opinions of. I love his current series, too. It’s much different, but just as enjoyable and dark in its own ways. I was asked to beta read The Liar’s Key, and that was just about the most flattering thing that has ever happened to me in the history of ever. It was surreal for an author I admire so much to ask me to be part of the creation of his book.
Please tell us about ‘Special Needs in Strange Worlds’.
Well, Special Needs in Strange Worlds is sort of defunct now. I’ve actually cancelled the series. It was a series of articles on SF Signal where authors and reviewers talked about disabilities in speculative fiction. Anyway, things happened and I decided to cancel that series. However, now I’m working on a really cool project with Shana Dubois. We are starting our own website called Our Words, which will be entirely dedicated to discussing disabilities in speculative fiction, written by and for disabled individuals in the genre. She is currently finishing her last semester of her Masters program, so we aren’t planning on actually launching until she’s done with that (I’m not that cruel), but early this summer we will launch it and it will be epic. We have a lot planned for it. I’m incredibly excited and Shana is a fantastic, driven, passionate, lovely partner.
interview by Agnes Meszaros
Bookworm Blues site
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Sarah on Goodreads
As a frequent reader of Bookworm Blues, it was great to read this interview. Sarah’s love of blogging really gave me inspiration to start my own blog.
What Sarah said about reviewing books during cancer treatment was fascinating. Great photos!