Melanie is another example of a book blogger I’ve known since my first blog tour, which was for Jumpstart the World. She hosted a guest post by me, then did a lovely review. We kept in touch on Twitter, which has a surprising way of making you feel like people have been hanging around your house or bumping elbows with you on a daily basis.
Later we actually met in person, because we were both in New York, Melanie for BEA and me for the Lambda Literary Awards. So we sat down and had a cup of tea. Well, I had tea. I think. Not sure what Melanie had. Talk about digressing.
I think one of the reasons Melanie and I get along so well is that we both maintain a big space in our lives for our dogs. And, in case you don’t know this, Melanie, I am also reclusive. (You probably knew.)
Now here goes with the interview stuff.
Me: Melanie, first things first. Tell my readers, please, about Wiki the Weimaraner, the dog who holds as big a place in your heart as Ella does in mine. Anything goes. Funny stories, bragging, overall expressions of love. I wave The Flag of No Shame over your head. Go.
Melanie: Oh my goodness. You should never give a dog person permission to go on and on about their dog. I grew up in a zoo. I mean, not literally, but my house was always packed with animals. My parents had an aviary in the backyard, bred dogs, and kept a rotating cast of cats, snakes, geckos, chameleons, fish, frogs, hamsters, etc. I developed a love for all creatures great and small pretty early on, but because I was the youngest in my family, I was only allowed to get a cat, rather than a dog, growing up because others had already picked out dogs. When I was about 12, I went with my parents and their two English Springer Spaniels to help with dog obedience classes, and I fell in love with a Weimaraner that was in the class. I decided then that when I could pick out my own dog, I was getting a Weimaraner.
Skip ahead eight years. I dropped out of a PhD program in North Dakota, moved back home to my parents’ house in California, and was going through a bit of a rough patch. My parents okayed me to get a puppy (well, my mom did, my dad was still a bit hesitant about adding another dog to the household). I started researching Weimaraner breeders immediately. We’d mostly been more of a dog rescue kind of house, but for my first puppy, I wanted to get a BRAND NEW puppy that I could raise from the very beginning. I found Wiki’s breeder, who lived near Las Vegas, and went to pick her out a few weeks later, and then take her home a few weeks after that.
Wiki has obviously taken over my life since then. She has been my pseudo-therapy dog and my best friend as I have moved back and forth across the country. Wiki gets me out of bed every day because there is no saying no to her when she wants something, and she is extremely articulate about what she wants. If you have never been around a Weim before, you should know that they are basically like people in dog suits. Very stubborn, smart, manipulative people. Wiki throws her food bowl at me when she wants to eat (which is basically always), shoves a ball at me when she wants to play (any time that she’s not eating), and spoons at night when we go to sleep. I’m not sure that I was prepared to have a kid when I got her, but in a lot of ways, that is how things turned out. I’m just extremely grateful to have an intelligent, funny, loving furkid. And my parents have turned out to be petty head over heels in love with their grandpuppy, too.
Me: To beat a subject to death, you used to do a meme called Weimaraner Wednesday, with photos and videos of Wiki. That’s actually where I stole the idea (which I think you borrowed from a cat-loving blogger?) for my More Puppy and More Kitty blog meme. But you haven’t done one since October. Meanwhile, I love the video from that last one: Wiki throwing her Kong down to try to shake loose what’s in it. So I’m embedding the video below. Is Weimaraner Wednesday all over, or might you bring it back?
Melanie: I stole the idea for Weimaraner Wednesday from Lenore of Presenting Lenore, who posted adorable photos of her kitties on Cat Tuesdays (but I asked for permission first). I had been keeping a blog exclusively for Wiki, but once I started book blogging I had a hard time keeping up with both, so figured I’d just throw Wiki updates onto the blog I was actually using.
I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed it! It’s certainly not dead, or if it has been dead, it can easily be revived. I do a lot of blog things in spurts, and I guess I wasn’t too sure that anybody else cared about the photos and videos, particularly once Wiki stopped growing as much. I am by no means lacking in material, though, so perhaps that is something I’ll return to posting more regularly in the future.
Me: Your blog feels different to me, compared to a lot of book blogs. And I mean that in a good way. It has a maturity to it (and, though I’m often on the fence re: how much I value maturity, I mean that in a good way, too). And it seems to reflect something much broader than you and your personal tastes. Is any of that planned, and conscious? Are they comments you hear often? Do you see these points the same way I do? (Hey. Might just be me.)
Melanie: Thank you for saying that! It probably comes as no surprise that I read a LOT of other blogs, and I really value how much individual style and voice each blog possesses. I enjoy reading a lot of blogs that are much more casual in tone—who doesn’t love some ALL CAPS enthusiasm and !!!! from time to time? But that’s just not really how I write. Sometimes I wish it was, because I think that it is perhaps a more natural fit for the YA world at least, but I come from a very academic background and I think that’s just ingrained in my writing style in a way that I can’t seem to shake off, so I’m trying to accept and embrace it as much as I can. It’s not all serious; I throw in the occasional snark and probably some not very good jokes, but mostly I just write in the voice that feels natural to me.
I do consciously try to make sure that my blog encompasses more than my personal tastes and interests, particularly with my “If You Like…” feature (which I talk about more below). I believe that doing so is more beneficial for readers and librarians, and it pushes me outside my comfort zone, which I love.
I do get some positive feedback on my writing occasionally, though there are other times that I feel like I’m just writing into a void. (I think we all feel that sometimes.) Above all, I hope that my blog is a space for readers who appreciate the writing style I bring to the table, and that those who don’t appreciate it find other blogs that are a better fit for them. To each their own.
Me: And as a kind of a sub-question, I noticed you had posted a map and some information about your big cross-country trip. Which I thought was interesting, because here I am noting that your blog feels so broad and inclusive, but it’s also a nice look into you and your own personal life experiences. You seem to balance those two very well. I realize that’s not a question, but do speak about it if you’d like. If that’s too vague, maybe tell us a little about your trip?
Melanie: One of the primary reasons I blog is to build relationships with other readers and writers. Believe me, I could save a hell of a lot of time by just reading and moving on to the next book without taking the time to blog. But I love book people. They are the best kind of people, don’t you think? [Me: I do!] Part of building those relationships for me, and obviously this is a decision that every blogger has to make individually, has meant that I’m pretty open about my identity (as opposed to blogging anonymously) and that I occasionally share the fact that there is more to my life than blogging. I work and cook and watch copious amounts of television and hang out with my dog, and I think all of that shows up in some way on the blog, and certainly on Twitter, which is either an extension of my blog or my brain.
As far as my cross-country move goes, I decided recently to leave NY and move back to CA to be closer to my family (I’m also a pretty big fan of sunshine, which is not something for which Ithaca is well-known). I wanted to share information about the trip to let people know that I’d be a bit absent for a while, but also to solicit suggestions for places to visit, food to eat, music to listen to, etc. One of the joys of building relationships with bloggers is that I have gotten to know people all over the country, and even all over the world. As a result, I was fortunate enough to get some fantastic road trip music from Ginger of GReads! (if you know Ginger, you know that included some SafetySuit) and I had the privilege of spending time in Arkansas with Capillya of That Cover Girl, who is one of the kindest people I have ever met.
Me: You wrote a negative review lately for a book that just did not work for you. It was fair, direct, and balanced. But I remember your tweets about it. And I got the sense that you were a tiny bit uncomfortable with having to do it. Which is completely understandable. I think most everybody is. Unless you’re downright mean at heart. (And I say that on the assumption that everybody knows by now that I support honest reviewing, including bad reviews. They are necessary, just not so comfortable.) But…before I digress again…will you weigh in on the controversy between bloggers who seriously trash a lot of books and those who do only raves? Where you see yourself falling on the broad continuum in between?
Melanie: I think that every blogger has to decide for themselves if they are going to be a critic or a fan or somewhere in between. I respect those who write negative reviews because I think that it is valuable to know what doesn’t work for someone so that you can decide if it will work for you. There are blogs I read where I know if they don’t like a book, I probably won’t either, or others where if they didn’t like it, I’ll probably love it. It can work both ways. I also respect bloggers who choose to only write about books they love because they want to use their little corner of the Internet to promote reading, rather than ever risk discouraging it.
I tend to lean more toward the promotional end of the spectrum, but without being a purist. I want blogging to be enjoyable for me. It is not a job, and I don’t want it to feel like one. I write about books when I feel like I have something to say, and that is usually when I want to tell everybody on the universe how awesome a book is and how much they absolutely must read it right now. This is also because I very rarely finish books that I really hate—too many books, not enough time—and I won’t review a book I haven’t read all the way through. With the review you mentioned, I wanted to tell people what I truthfully thought because it was a book I had been openly excited about, but I balanced that out by releasing a review of a book I loved on the same day. I was genuinely disappointed when the review of the book I hated got significantly more traffic than the review of the book I loved.
Beyond that, I have a few basic tenets of review writing. I will always be honest with my readers, even if it is sometimes difficult and awkward to discuss facets of a book I didn’t like. I will not conflate an author with their book or characters; I try to be sensitive to the fact that a real person worked very hard to create a book that they love, even if I do not. The number one guiding principle for me is that not every book is for every reader, but there is a reader for every book. I try to write in such a way that readers will know better if a book is well-suited for them, no matter my opinion about it. [Note from me: That is a terrific set of guidelines for reviewers, and the last sentence encapsulates what I feel is the most important tent of reviewing, one I feel many big print reviewers at big distinguished review sources have forgotten.]
Me: One of my favorite features on your blog are the “Quotable Quotes.” I think the reason I like them so much is because I was reading one of your “Get Out the Vote” posts, and suddenly there was a quote from Jumpstart the World. It caught me by (happy) surprise. But it’s not entirely self-serving. I’ve always liked hearing the lines or passages that jump out at people. It’s very telling, I think. Anyway, is this an idea you created, or did you see it first on other book review sites? Do you get any feedback about it? Have you ever been drawn to read a book by a quote, or do you know of instances where your blog readers have discovered books this way?
Melanie: Thank you again! I think you are the first person who has ever commented on that. It’s sort of a behind the scenes feature. I have a few of those that I spend a lot of time on primarily for my own use, but figure maybe somebody else will find them useful as well.
For a long time, I was transcribing my favorite quotes into “quote books,” but I rarely looked back at them once they were copied down. Also my handwriting resembles that of a kindergartner. When I started the blog, I decided to track quotable quotes there. I don’t think quote collecting is a particularly novel idea, and I know many other blogs have similar features, but I enjoy keeping my favorites in one place. In the beginning, I’d sometimes refresh the blog repeatedly just to read more quotes. I still love reading them as they rotate through on the sidebar. I also used to include favorite quotes in reviews more frequently. This has gotten trickier as I review more ARCs because reviewers are asked not to quote from the uncorrected text, but I still try to sneak quotes into my reviews from time to time when I write about finished copies.
Nobody has ever mentioned that they picked up a book because of a quotable quote, but I would certainly be thrilled to hear about that if it has happened! I have absolutely been drawn to pick up books or research authors after seeing quotes that appealed to me, so I would like to believe that the every once in a while a quote on my sidebar compels other curious readers to do the same.
Me: Along those same lines, I admire your “If You Like…” posts for a similar reason. It’s another unusual but useful way to help people see their own potential personal taste in a book. Was this original, or do other bloggers do a similar meme? Will you tell my readers a little about how this goes? You seem to be doing it in cooperation with others, who offer recommendations. Are these other bloggers, or your blog readers? (I realize there’s some crossover there.) Or is it a broader base than that?
Melanie: “If You Like…” posts are my absolute favorite part of blogging. I have seen plenty of other people (and bookstores) create recommendation lists based on specific titles, but they were almost always confined to one form of entertainment at a time. My experience on Twitter has taught me that there’s a tremendous amount of crossover in taste preferences. What people like in books is related to what they like in tv and movies and music.
I wanted to create a sort of reader’s advisory experience that would incorporate that crossover, so I started contacting blogger friends and twitter followers to see if others wanted to get involved. Many of the contributors are librarians, who are my superheroes, and they have the most impressive wealth of knowledge about all kinds of media. The other contributors are bloggers and authors, but I would certainly welcome anybody who would like to contribute.
I maintain a mailing list of people who have expressed interest in participating. Every week I send them a topic reminder, and they send back recommendations that I compile for the post. This has become the number one way for me to find out about new reading, viewing, and listening material. My wish lists grow every single week.
As far as search engine traffic goes, I know that “If You Like…” posts are the main way that new readers find my blog, so I would like to believe that there are a lot of people out there finding these lists helpful.
Me: Since we’ve all admitted that the Internet is a dicey place, any Author Behaving Badly or Commenter Behaving Badly stories you’d care to share? Or would you like to go the other way and talk about unusually good experiences you’ve had with reactions to your blog? Both is also good.
Melanie: I think that the Internet is a microcosm of society, and inherently possesses both good and bad, but anonymity allows people to say things that they might not be bold enough to say in person. If you’ve ever read the comments on a news article (which I don’t recommend), you know that sometimes leads to more bad leaking out than you might normally see from people. In those instances, and in most Author/Reviewer Behaving Badly cases, the problem seems to be that the barrier of the computer screen allows us to forget that we are talking to real people with real feelings. I mean, the other problem is that some people are downright crazy, but I don’t think that is the main issue at hand.
With that said, I tend to respond to all of those drama-filled situations in the same way: I walk away. I understand that the drama-llama is soft and fuzzy and fun to pet, Twitter can certainly be captivating in those times, and sometimes thought-provoking conversations can result in the aftermath. But I don’t like to add fuel to the fire. I do not generally want to give attention-seeking people more attention, nor do I want to make myself look bad by reacting impulsively in the heat of the moment. I can’t claim that I’m 100% successful, but I try to resist the allure of the frenzy and turn off the computer.
It helps that I have never personally had a negative interaction with an author or commenter. I suppose this is in part because I don’t tend to write anything particularly inflammatory. I’m not big on confrontation, so that has worked out well for me. I suppose every blogger eventually gets some hate mail, and I’m bound to have some sent my way eventually, but for now I’m just very thankful for all of the great experiences I have had with authors and readers in the last few years.
Me: Will you recommend a few other book blogs that you think are worth visiting?
Melanie: There are so many blogs I love, and I’m bound to leave some out, but I’ll mention a few of the sites I visit most often. (You can read my tweets for about five seconds and probably find any others I failed to discuss.) I already mentioned GReads! and That Cover Girl above, which are both fantastic, passionate, blogs that clearly showcase Ginger and Capillya’s individual interests. Anna Reads is another fave; Anna’s stick-figure videos alone are worth checking out. Broke and Bookish is a blog I started following early on, and I’m especially fond of Top Ten Tuesdays. I enjoy Makeshift Bookmark because even though Jen and I usually have very different taste in books, her reviews are entertaining enough to keep me coming back for more, and she has cute kitties. Of course, you’ve already featured Adam of Roof Beam Reader, who I think writes some of the most insightful reviews and discussion posts around, right next to Kelly of Stacked, who is also absolutely brilliant and writes things that make me want to just say “ditto” and call it a day.
Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.
Melanie: What is the best gift an author has ever given you?
Catherine already mentioned that we first met in person when I was in NYC last year for BEA. What she failed to tell you was that she showed up at our meeting with a surprise. I had casually mentioned on Twitter that, while living in New York, I really missed California avocados. When I arrived at the place where we were meeting for coffee and tea, Catherine pulled an avocado out of her bag. An avocado that she brought with her from California. It was one of the sweetest gestures anybody has ever made for me, and I think a perfect example of the kind of quiet generosity that comes so naturally to Catherine. I certainly hope that will not be our last meeting and that I will have an opportunity to return the favor (but if not, I know I can always pay it forward).
Thank you so much, Catherine, for having me on your blog today! I’m glad that having you on mine back when Jumpstart the World came out resulted in a friendship that I truly cherish.
Me: You know...I'm just starting to like that last question more and more. Thanks a million for your thoughtful answers, Melanie, and for being such a good friend. For those who want to know more, find Melanie on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and Goodreads.
Next week on Blogger Wednesday, a return visit from my friend (and co-author) Anne R. Allen, who is equal parts author and blogger. And there will be news about our new book How to be a Writer in the E-Age, and Keep Your E-Sanity. Please stop back!