Monday, June 29, 2015

Juneterviews: Amanda and Briana

 Today's Juneterview is with 

 Amanda McNeil


Briana of Pages Unbound


Amanda to Briana:
1. Hi Briana! And thank you for signing up for the Juneterviews.  Let’s start with the basics.  Your blog says you’re an English major with an interest in Anglo-Saxon and Middle Literature.  What region of the US (or the world) do you attend school? (You can be as specific or as vague as you want).

I’m currently hanging out in the Western half of the United States.  Usually I am pretty vague about my location, but I think anyone following my tweets and other online activities would probably gather I’m in a Western time-zone, or otherwise a terrible insomniac on the East coast!

2. What inspired you to start your blog?

I had been reviewing books a while just for myself.  Then I discovered the book blogging community and thought it would be fun to talk about books with other avid readers!

3. How long have you been book blogging?

Four years this May!

4. I think something that makes your blog unique is that you have a co-author.  Have you always had a co-author?

Yes, Krysta and I started the blog together.  We had a more part-time co-blogger as well, but she has since left the blog.  Occasionally she still contributes guest posts, though.  We’re hoping to hear a bit from her for our Harry Potter event in July.

5. What are some of the unique challenges about having a co-author?

I think co-blogging can definitely be a challenge because you can end up too concerned over whether the other person is reliable, (or whether you yourself are reliable and getting everything done consistently and on time!), but so far Krysta and I have managed to balance everything really well.

6. What about some unique rewards of having a co-author?

It’s great to have someone you can consistently run ideas by and help you plan big events and future directions for the blog.  A co-blogger can also be a second pair of eyes for proofreading, which is very useful!  And if one of us gets busy for a few weeks in real life, the other one can take on some responsibilities for the blog for a while.

7. What is your favorite way to spend time that’s *not* writing, reading, or blogging?

So tough!  I like social dancing (Scotting country dancing and contra dancing specifically), though there aren’t a lot of opportunities for it where I currently live.

8. Your blog has many features, including not just features we see on many book blogs, such as author interviews and giveaways, but also more unique ones, such as personality quizzes and “if you like this then read….”  How did you come up with the ideas for the more unique features?

I think there are actually a number of iterations of “If You Like, Then Read” feature on other blogs now, but there weren’t when we started it!  Krysta and I were basically brainstorming what types of posts we ourselves would like to read, and that other readers might find useful, and we came up with this. The personality quizzes come out of our personal interest in them.  I always loved these types of things in magazines and Quizilla when I was younger, and I also made a lot for my friends, so I thought it would be fun to make some more literature-oriented ones.

9. The personality quizzes are an awesome idea.  Can you describe what it’s like to go about writing them?

Surprisingly difficult!  Obviously it’s not really that possible to judge what someone’s personality is like based on asking them what they’re favorite color is or what they imagine their dream home would be like, but I do try to come up with answers I think would correspond to a personality type at least a little bit.  I’ve also written many more personality quizzes in my life than are actually posted on the blog, so it can be a challenge to come up with original questions that don’t sound completely bizarre. Finally, it’s important to take audience into account.  I need to make sure the questions and results aren’t particularly gender-oriented, for instance.  It’s also tricky since the people taking these quizzes are essentially all readers.  Is there really a point to asking something like, “What was your favorite subject in school?” if a majority of people are probably going to answer the same thing: literature?

10. You’re a big fan of fantasy, what do you think makes a fantasy book great or above average?

I like fantasy because it gives writers space to talk about really big ideas.  The average contemporary book probably isn’t going to be about saving an entire world, but fantasy often is, and those types of plots open themselves to a lot of good questions about what it means to be a hero, who is worth saving,
what are ethical means to achieve a goal, etc.  A great fantasy book will ask and attempt to answer questions like these, not just leave readers to get excited by an intense sword fight or distracted by some creative magic.

11. What do you think of urban fantasy?

I actually haven’t read that much urban fantasy!

12. What is your favorite sub-genre of fantasy?

Definitely high fantasy.

13. What do you think is a trope that’s overdone in fantasy?

Pseudo-medieval worlds.  I love them, I really do.  I study medieval literature and the Middle Ages are 100% my thing.  But everyone creates these types of settings now, and a lot of them are either stereotyped or unimaginative.  Authors have to find a way to stand out.

14. What about something you’d like to see more of in fantasy?

I’d like to see more complex YA high fantasy.  I think there’s a point where, if a world or plot gets too convoluted, the book gets pegged as adult fantasy.  But teens can handle more.  Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn has apparently had success being re-released to the YA market, so I’d like to see this trend

15. What format of book is your favorite and why? (print, ebook, audiobook, something else?)

Print.  I own a Kindle, but I just find print books much easier and more enjoyable to read.  I’ve tried audiobooks, but the narrators tend to read more slowly than I would like, and I’ve encountered several narrators whose styles I just didn’t like, which I think may have made me unfairly dismiss books I might have otherwise have enjoyed.

16. Are there any book blogger events or challenges you participate in on a regular basis? For instance, I participate in Readers Imbibing Peril every year I have time for it.  Why or why not?

I signed up for more blogger events when I was a newer blogging, but life has gotten busier since then!  I still like to participate when I have time—for instance, I just did Armchair BEA—but it’s easier for me to be able to blog without a lot of obligations.  I’m also very bad at updating my reading progress for challenges!

17. What is the best or coolest thing that has happened as a result of your having a book blog?

I like to think it helped land me some internships in the blogging industry, but since no one ever stated that my blog was a factor, I guess I’ll never know!  Indirectly, of course, blogging has made me more knowledgeable about publishing, new releases, social media, and so forth, and I’m sure all those things did help me during the hiring process.  I never would have joined Twitter or Pinterest if I weren’t blogging.

18. I noticed that you don’t cross-post your reviews to Amazon. What led to that policy?

I’ve actually always been conscious of keeping my online roles separate.  Most of the people who know me aren’t even aware I have a book blog, and those who do don’t follow it.  So it made sense to me to keep my Amazon account, which I connect with my “real world” identity separate from my blogging identity.  I’ve also seen a lot of frustration from bloggers about the types of harassment and down-voting that can happen on Amazon reviews, so I decided to stay away.

19. I know picking favorite books is hard, so let’s go a slightly different route.  What are three books you really enjoyed that you think would surprise others who know your reading preferences well that you enjoyed them?

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb:  I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA, and this book has exactly the type of title that would make me avoid it.  However, it’s extremely thoughtful and actually dispenses with a lot of stereotypes about both teens and YA fiction.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: I love classics, but I also love to stick with British fiction written before 1900.  Before 1500 is even better.  So this twentieth century American novel is probably not something people would expect me to like.

I Am Otter by Sam Garton: This may not actually surprise people who know me really well, but I think it would surprise most people that I love picture books and take them seriously.  That isn’t common for most adult readers who aren’t also parents, and it’s certainly not something I would expect anyone else in my English department to say.

20. What about a book that you were expecting to love, based on your usual reading preferences, but were kind of bummed out by?

The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell: This book is supposed to have “Narnian charm” but actually rips off Narnia a little too seriously and just doesn’t do the idea as well as C.S. Lewis does.

21. As an academic librarian, I have to ask this question. Are you a library user (any type of library, public/academic/etc…) and why or why not?

Definitely!  I’m lucky enough to live close enough to walk to my public library, so I go there a lot.  I’m also still in school studying English, so I make a few trips to the college library every term, as well.

22. I can tell from your blog that you must be quite busy in your day-to-day life.  How do you find the time to both read for fun and write for and run your book blog?

I rely very heavily on reading during breaks from school and scheduling posts ahead.  Theoretically, since I study English, I should be able to review a lot of the books I am reading for classes anyway, but I don’t actually do this as much as I would like.

23. What is one tip you would give other book bloggers?

Make blogging work for you.  I think it’s fun to think about how to reach more readers or get more comments, but we all need to make sure we’re running our blogs a certain way because we actually like doing it that way—and not because we feel that other bloggers expect us to.  If blogging ever gets stressful, it’s important to take a step back and remember how to blog for yourself.

Briana to Amanda:

1. Hi, Amanda! I’m so excited to be able to interview you!  I see on your blog that you’re an author as well as a blogger.  That’s so impressive!  Can you talk a bit about how you manage to be so productive?

Thanks, Briana!  Honestly, I struggle a lot with being able to relax.  I generally feel better if I stay busy, so I’ve built up a lot of activities to keep me busy.  I honestly sometimes wish it was in my temperament to be a liiiiittle bit less productive.

2. According to your archives, you’ve been blogging since 2009!  Do you have any advice for other bloggers about how to keep blogging fresh and fun?

My advice is to not ever let yourself feel too roped in or tied to what you originally envisioned for your blog.  You grow and change as a person, and your blog should reflect that.  Just because you originally were interested in X genre and Y features doesn’t mean you should keep doing them forever.  Let your blog reflect yourself and don’t worry too much about what your readers will think of those changes.  The right readers will find you.

3. Some of your work has been published in magazines.  Are there any magazines you read committedly, or do you focus on reading books?

I don’t really read magazines, but only because I don’t want to pay for a subscription.  I do enjoy reading articles and short stories, but I find most of those through my RSS reader (I use feedly) or through twitter.

4. Do you have a research process for your science fiction stories?  Is it different from the research process for the other genres you write?

A lot of my scifi stories are inspired by things I encounter in my day-to-day life.  For instance, my first sci-fi book, Waiting For Daybreak, features a lot of information on mental illness.  I got the idea for it when I was assisting a scientist conducting research into the brain structures of people with Borderline Personality Disorder at my old job at a medical library for a mental hospital.  That gave me the germ of the idea, and then I researched to make sure I got certain facts right.  I guess what I am trying to say is, I usually start with an idea on something I know the crux of information on, and then I go out and research for any specifics that come up that I want to be 100% sure I’m accurate on.  Of course, when I do my research, I ensure I’m using trustworthy sources for my science.  Things like peer-reviewed journal articles and information from professional and scientific organizations.  I would never base any of my science on research from Wikipedia or potentially biased sources.

5. Do you secretly love one of the characters you’ve written more than any of the others?

Hmm, I honestly never really thought about it.  Whatever character I’m currently working on tends to be closest to the forefront of my mind.  But if I look back in retrospect, I have to say that Bartleby from my paranormal romance novella, Ecstatic Evil, was the most fun to work with.  He’s an exasperated gay demon cousin of the half-demon heroine, and I just find writing his dialogue and interactions with his world to be really fun.

6. Speaking of productivity, you’re also a librarian!  Libraries have been getting a lot of love in the blogosphere lately, but I’m wondering: Is there anything patrons can do that would be nice or helpful for librarians themselves?

Ah, this is such a great question! I think the best thing patrons can do for us is to remember that librarians are just people too. We usually got into the field because we genuinely enjoy helping people.  We really want to help you, but it might take a bit to help you find what you’re looking for.  So, please be patient when you ask a librarian for help and do your best to communicate precisely what you are looking for. Both of those help us do our jobs better.

7. I have some friends who are librarians, so I have to ask: Do you have any fun or crazy stories from your library job?

Oh man, I love this question because I get to tell one of my favorite work stories.  So one day I was working, and a student came up to me and said the bubbler (water fountain, for non-New Englanders) was leaking.  I went to look at it, and it had basically been ripped from the wall.  Water was pouring everywhere.  I reported it to facilities and the library director.  We were all utterly perplexed about what happened.  Later they looked at the security footage, and apparently the button on the front had been stuck in, and a student when trying to unstick the button so that it would stop running constantly “accidentally” tore it from the wall.  I like to refer to it as the time the Hulk ruined my bubbler.  I should also mention that this happened during finals.

8.  Your blog mentions that you have a BA in history.  Is there any particular historical event you are particularly interested in?

Ah, I have so many historical loves, but they all involve US History.  I love the American Revolution, Westward Expansion, and World War II.  I am particularly interested in women’s roles in all of those events.  I recently went to Texas for the first time, and am currently really into learning more about the Texas War for Independence from Mexico.  Did you know during the brief time Texas was its own country that residents were called “Texians”?  I find that hilarious.

9. You also like to read historical fiction.  Is it exciting to read about your favorite historical events or frustrating if authors get the facts wrong?

You know, I may just have really good luck with my historical fiction, but generally the authors do a pretty darn good job of getting the facts right.  Where they struggle sometimes is in writing historically accurate people.  Sometimes it can feel like they plunked someone from the 21st century into the American Revolution.  The character will have modern ideas about society and culture and speaks in a modern way.  I find that to be very frustrating.  But generally I enjoy reading about my favorite historical events from various characters’ perspectives and am generally able to take any of it I read with a grain of salt.  Now, if a nonfiction history book gets things wrong or is overly biased, then I get very upset.

10. You like fantasy, as well, including urban fantasy.  I mentioned in my interview that I haven’t gotten around to reading much urban fantasy, yet.  What books do you think someone new to the genre should start with?
Well, for you specifically, since you enjoy fantasy, I’d recommend starting with Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series.  I find the worldbuilding in it to be as thoughtful, in-depth, and fantastical as lighter high fantasy.  A lot of urban fantasy doesn’t take much time for world-building, so starting with one that does would be a good way to ease into it.  Beyond that, I would say to find some other element you are interested in, and then look for an urban fantasy that features it.  For instance, I love motorcycles, so I really enjoy the Accidental Demon Slayer series by Angie Fox, which features a biker gang made up entirely of elderly women.  If you like mystery or noir, a lot of urban fantasy features that same flavor, just with the addition of fantastical creatures and magic.  An example of this is Twelve Stakes series by Thomas M. Hewlett.

11. I love the featured quotes on your blog sidebar!  Do you have a quote-finding process?  Do you look for inspiring quotes or wait for them to jump out at you from the page of a good book? 

Ah, thank you!  That was a newish addition three or so years ago?  It’s hard to remember, I’ve been blogging for so long.  I just highlight (on my kindle) or take a picture with my phone (in print) of any passages that strike me as interesting.  Then, when I’m getting ready to write my review, I type them up in a Google Doc.  I have a fiction and nonfiction one for each year.  Then when I write my review, I check through all of the quotes for that book.  If any of them strike me as worthy of being a featured quote, then I put it up.  I don’t have a set time-frame for length of time being featured or anything like that.  It’s just if it strikes me as featured quote worthy when I re-read the quotes when I’m writing up the book review.

12. You also have some really great projects going on at your blog.  Can you tell me a bit about what you’ve learned from your Mental Illness Advocacy (MIA) Reading Challenge?

It’s kind of sad, but the main thing I’ve learned from running the MIA Reading Challenge is the only people who seem to be interested in advocating for the mentally ill are either people with a mental illness themselves or someone who has a very close relative with a mental illness (parent, child, spouse, sibling).  You see a lot of the other advocacy reading challenges getting participants who don’t necessarily fit into the group the challenge is advocating for.  For instance, a lot of white bloggers are active in the various reading challenges for reading books by or featuring minorities.  A lot of cis and straight people participate in the various LGBTQ challenges, but that just is not true for my MIA Reading Challenge, and it makes me quite sad that more people who are not directly impacted by mental illness bother to participate in raising the awareness. 

13. You’re making good progress on your Bottom of the TBR Pile Challenge, too.  What’s your best tip for bloggers for how to tackle their own out-of-control TBR piles?

Ah, thanks, I’m glad you think so!  I was just thinking yesterday that my progress is not as great this year as I was hoping.  The three things that have really helped me manage my TBR Pile: 1) limit the number of ARCs I take (this year I only took 6) 2) I must get rid of one print book for every print book I bring into the house 3) I rotate between ARCs, for fun, and a book from the bottom of my tbr pile.  That keeps me from completely neglecting it.  I know this is a fourth thing, but I also must say that there’s nothing wrong with getting rid of a book without reading it if you’re no longer interested in it. Don’t force yourself to read it just because you acquired it once upon a time! 

14. We’re nearly halfway through 2015.  What is your favorite book you have read so far this year?

Huh, you asking me this question made me realize I haven’t had any 5 star reads yet this year!  That’s sad.  Among the four star reads, I’d have to say that the one I enjoyed the most was An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire.  It was the type of story that kept me up late at night to finish, and it also surprised me by having a good representation of mental illness in it.

15. If you could only recommend one book to other readers for the rest of your life, what would it

Oh gosh, one book to everyone? You’re killing me.  Ideally I would recommend a different book to every reader based on what I know about their preferences (this is the librarian in me talking).  I guess I will go with the book that I tend to lend out the most.  The World Inside by Robert Silverberg.  It’s very short, at only 167 pages, so most people are willing to pick it up, even if they aren’t sure about it at first.  It’s a sci-fi set in a future where humanity has embraced having lots of children, instead of controlling human population.  Humans have not expanded beyond Earth, so all of the population must be dealt with on Earth.  It looks at what the cultural consequences of not using any birth control would be, and it does it from a secular perspective.  I think it’s interesting because potential future overpopulation is something that affects everyone, there’s a lot of action in a short amount of time in the book, and the culture he
describes is fascinating.   

16. What is your favorite book from your childhood?

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I really wanted to live on a creek in a sod house with cows walking over my head.  It just seemed so awesome.

17. Were there any books from your childhood you really hated?

Man, this is hard to remember. I feel like I blocked most of them from my mind or I just stopped reading them partway through if I wasn’t into them. I do remember that I really disliked Swiss Family Robinson, which was bizarrely assigned to me to read two years in a row in middle school.  It’s not that I disliked the basic premise of the book, but there’s one chapter where a boa constrictor eats their donkey, and it is described in epic detail.  I feel a lot of empathy toward animals, and am also afraid of snakes, so I found that chapter rather traumatizing.  And I had to read it twice!

18. If you could be the cover model on any book, what book would you choose?

This is a very unique question!  I would say I would want to be the cover model either for a futuristic sci-fi book featuring motorcycles, because I feel like that photo shoot would be really fun, or for any urban fantasy.  I love how their covers feature strong women.

19. Do you have any exciting posts planned for your blog this year that I should know about?

Hm, well I have five giveaways coming up over the course of the year.  Beyond that and book reviews, though, I don’t plan too much of it out ahead of time.  I’ll probably do another gifts for book lovers post around the holidays.  And of course I’ll post some pictures after my wedding.

20. Finally, I see you’re engaged.  Congratulations!  If someone could give you one perfect bookish gift for your wedding, what would it be?

We actually have a book on our wedding registry!  In My Kitchen: 100 Recipes and Discoveries for Passionate Cooks by Ted Allen.  My fiancĂ© and I both love Chopped and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and, by extension, Ted Allen.  I also really enjoy when people gift me obscure, vintage, or extremely specific to one type of cuisine cookbooks, so I’m sure I’d love any of those too.  It’s my dream to someday have a really interesting cookbook collection.  They’re the only book I prefer in print at this point so they also make the ideal gift.

Great interviews, Amanda and Briana!  Really awesome questions and I loved learning more about you both from your answers! 

If you have a comment for Amanda and/or Briana, leave it below!   

1 comment :

  1. Wow! What a wonderful interview!! I gotta say that I think I need to read some Seanan McGuire. I have read Mira Grant, but no McGuire. I think I need to.


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