Monday, 15 June 2009

Val – Obsidian Bookshelf

This week we are back to bloggers who blog and first up is Val from Obsidian Bookshelf. I meet Val sometime ago through comments and as the natural progression of blogging goes – i followed her breadcrumbs right to her back door.

I found her blog before i found her website, of the same name and i have never looked back. Val reads and review loads of books that I personal love, but over the past few weeks Val has branched out on her blog with weekly features that I never miss.

Not only has Val been a big part of how I review the books I review, but Val’s blog has an entire section dedicated to copyrighting your blog info and a section dealing with what to do when your content is poached – believe me it’s not a nice feeling.

The wonderful thing about Val is that she knows when to give a shout out when she is stumped and she follows through on recommendation…..

I love visiting Val’s blog and I more so enjoyed doing this interview with her – Please join me in welcoming Val from Obsidian Bookshelf to Erotic Horizon





1- Firstly you have promoted your blog as "Obsidian Bookshelf" - and i know it is the blog arm of your website. What's behind the name and is there a story there.

It's actually sort of a random name. Now I sometimes wish I'd tried to come up with something more meaningful. I wanted a name that sounded interesting and had a "book" connotation. I think this name came up from the back of my mind because (1) I like minerals and crystals, (2) I like the way "obsidian" sounds, and (3) there may be a Star Trek connection in that I was always a little fascinated with the Obsidian Order, which is the spy network run by the Cardassians in the t.v. show Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Is that completely nerdy or what? I admit that it is!

-2- Can you let us know what's your specialty reading area and how/why you got into it.

It's m/m romance fiction. This is a funny story, too, because I'm the least familiar with the m/f romance genre in general. I grew up reading fantasy and science fiction. A few years back, I started reading a lot of mysteries. So I'm more familiar with those genres than the romance genre.

However, I've always liked reading about male characters in a romantic / sexual relationship with each other even way back in the 1980s when slash fiction was just barely getting going with fans putting together Spock and Kirk from Star Trek! The whole m/m romance genre (written mostly by straight women for straight women) didn't really exist back then. It was hard to find anything other than some ground-breaking fantasy fiction like Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. And even then the eroticism was kept to a minimum. I was amazed and gratified to see the whole genre explode into existence with the internet in the 1990s!

How did I get into reviewing it? I was already reviewing mysteries for someone else's website. I wanted to start my own website just to see what it would be like and I had experience reviewing. I thought reviewing m/m would be fun because it's so new – especially in e-publishing. It's a tiny field, more of a niche, where you can get to know the authors, publishers, and reviewers very easily. Everyone is enthusiastic about it, and it's fun to be a part of that. I feel like my reviews can make a difference: help the readers and make the authors feel understood and appreciated. This wouldn't be possible for an individual like me in a huge fiction field like Science-Fiction and Fantasy. So I've been reviewing it for about 2.5 years.

-3- With work and life in general how much time do you spend on the net and your blog/Site in a day and weekly.

It seems like a lot! Maybe 1 to 2 hours every day and a little more than that on the weekends. I'm trying to clear a day like Saturday where I just don't turn on the computer at all. Right now it's hard to imagine a day with no internet!

-4- What are some of your daily net habits.

I've got a table where I line up my various topics when I want them to appear on the blog and website. I look at it every day to remind myself of what I need to do and how far ahead I'm covered. I try to write as far ahead as possible.

I subscribe to reviewer blogs through my RSS feed readers on my Google homepage and on my Obsidian blog itself. I can't resist clicking on an interesting title. But other times if I'm feeling pressed for time, it's too easy for me to drop off the blogosphere altogether for weeks at a time.

So it seems like I'm writing everyday because my topics are loading on the blog, but it could be just the topics I've worked ahead on now loading on schedule and I've dropped offline again. Some people get addicted to internet surfing, but my problem runs the other way where I have to make time for it. My tendency is just to bury myself in my own projects.


-5- Which came first - your blog or your website, and what are some of the advantages to having both.

The website came first.  The benefits to having both are that they feed traffic back and forth to each other.  Each is the third highest traffic source to the other after Google and Yahoo search engines.  The advantages inherent in the blog are that I can do the RSS feed and things like polls so much easier when Google already has it available for me to add.  Also having a community of Google Bloggers to fit into was very nice whereas trying to launch a website just out there on its own on the worldwide web can be a bit isolating. 

I don't think there are any inherent advantages to the website, ha, ha!  I can't think of any except that maybe it looks more professional to have an actual website than a blog among blogs, but that's debatable.  I guess there is no real advantage to the website over the blog, but it did come first and it's got more content

-6-Best thing about having a blog..

It's been surprising and gratifying to have other bloggers/reviewers find my blog and come over and comment. I've actually had my blog for about two years, but I didn't get serious about writing in it regularly until just six weeks ago. As soon as I did, other Google bloggers started to find me. It's been especially nice to meet all the other reviewers who review m/m romance either exclusively or along with m/f romance.

-7- What widget/promotional site or other must have would you say made a difference to your blog.

Social networking in general hasn't helped my blog much at all – how disillusioning! Twitter has helped it a little. Probably 90% of my traffic comes to my website first and then my blog on keyword searches (mostly through Google). So they're coming on searches that pick up my content. And then my blog and website feed a lot of traffic back and forth to each other.

-8- How much input did you have in actually formatting your blog and how smooth a progress was it or were there hair tearing moment.

It was very smooth. I just picked a basic Google template. I was already used to putting together my website, so the blog is even easier. I did have some problems a year or so ago getting the Google Analytics tracker to do its thing. I think we all were having problems with that, but it seems to be fixed now.

-9- .Where do you see your blog in a year from now.

If I manage to get published, I'll try to minimize confusion by reviewing other people's fiction on the blog exclusively and focusing the website on my own fiction. If I can increase traffic more, I'd like to interview people in the m/m field on the blog. I hesitate to ask anyone now because, even though traffic stats are often good, there is no guarantee at this level of traffic that anyone would comment on the interview, and that might tend to be discouraging to the interviewee if no one did!

-10-While blogging gives away a piece of our identity - do you feel you have changed since blogging.

I'm not sure about adventurous or aware, but the blogging has finally made me disciplined and consistent about writing every single day.

-11- What are some of the no no's for you in relation to reading and reviewing.

In terms of reading? I really dislike fiction involving explicit violence inflicted upon victims. But I'm okay with fight scenes between men or fiction about combat. My least favorite genre is horror but I'll read it sometimes if it's well-written (like fiction by China Mieville or Clive Barker, not that they need a review from me, ha, ha!).

In terms of other people's reviewing? I don't much like the tendency I see sometimes to use an author's fiction to produce content (the review) for a website, and the review gives nothing back to the author.

By that I mean that the review is very sarcastic and generated solely for the amusement of the blog readers. Or it's very vague (extreme example, "Meh."). This is parasitic, in my opinion. The blogger's content couldn't be done without the author having created something first, but it's using the author's creation and giving nothing back in exchange, not even negative feedback.

A reviewer should offer something back to the author in terms of genuine information. The reviewer's tone can even be sarcastic so long as they express a detailed reaction, preferably with supporting examples from the fiction. It doesn't have to be written in terms of formal literary criticism. A reviewer could say, "I'm a waitress, and this scene would be unlikely to happen in most restaurants in my experience."

In terms of my own reviewing? I'm trying to learn how to tone down my reaction to factual errors such as when authors write a contemporary piece and have their characters searching for 25-cents so they can make a call at a pay-phone! Or they put a "safety" on a revolver! That sort of thing drives me absolutely nuts! But I don't want to go overboard, beating the stuffing out of a piece of fiction in a review. I'm trying to figure out what to let go and what to mention.

-12- Your blog have a very minimalistic look to it - is this a format that works for you and why.

Oh, thank you. I'm trying for a minimalist effect. I find it very soothing which is good because, with my basic Google blog-template, there is not much I can achieve in the way of fancy effects. The pale background feels expansive to me rather than claustrophobic. The absence of graphics makes the blog load fast and I'm very impatient when it comes to wanting to click and instantly see something. The big font size makes it easier to read. When there is less clutter, I find it easier to relax and think. Also the minimalism is unusual compared to most blogs, so I'm hoping it will be memorable.

-13- What are some of the more noticeable positives and negative of the book industry over the past few years for you.

The positives:

  • (1) the internet bringing readers and writers closer together,
  • (2) the rise of self-publishing, which allows for creativity and permits an end-run around the old NYC stranglehold on traditional publishing,
  • (3) the rise of blogging that permits more agenda-free honesty in reviewing,
  • (4) the rise of e-publishing that has paved the way for erotica, romance, and m/m romance.

The negatives: The "file-sharing" theft that goes on with ebooks that cuts into the profits of e-publishers and all the writers who have no other way to get published. I can't begin to convey what a bad thing this is!

I recently ran across a file-sharing community, which I won't name because I don't want to help book thieves to find them. (I'd gladly name them if it meant prosecuting them.) Anyway, their description of themselves ran something along the lines of, "Ooooh, we LOVE yaoi and manga and file-sharing gives us such a nice feeling and we're helping to liberate this material so that everyone can enjoy it!"

And I'm thinking, "You obnoxious little twits! Good luck FINDING any yaoi a few years down the line once all THREE-THOUSAND of you have helped to drive independent publishing out of business."

 It's so appalling. I'm sure that these kids who steal ebooks and share them with their three-thousand friends (or post illegal downloads on their blogs to generate more traffic) probably all think of themselves as sensitive, creative individuals who aspire to do something artistic on the fringe because they're far too "authentic" to be of interest to the mainstream. Meanwhile, they are driving the creative fringe under with its inability to make a profit.

The only real way for m/m writers to find an audience right now is through e-publishers. If they can sell enough e-books, then they are considered for a print release. That in turn makes them eligible for book awards and a larger audience (plus safety from file-sharing). But e-book theft depresses sales and hurts the e-publishers and the authors. I've heard of talented m/m authors who stop writing because they can't pay the bills – because a loss of three-thousand sales of their book is a huge chunk of income they were depending upon.

Meanwhile, the e-book thieves feel entitled to their stealing. They steal from J. K. Rowling and Stephen King and think, "Oh, they're rich and they won't miss it." Then they steal from m/m writers and think, "Oh, it's only porn or fan-fiction and I shouldn't have to pay for it."

A friend of mine thinks that we shouldn't call it ebook "pirating" because that gives it a romantic, outlaw flavor. I agree. In a word, it's stealing. Sorry to go on a huge tirade, but I really feel that this is undermining the foundations of the m/m and erotic romance genres!

-14- Now to get to the books. Tell me all - the ones that started you off onto the genre, some favorite through the years and looking forward to books.

I found my first m/m book in the fantasy field way back in 1987: Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Between then and the rise of the whole m/m genre via the internet (roughly after 2000 – so that's 13 years!), I looked for similar books but mostly ended up with literary gay fiction like The Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran, which has a completely different focus and feel to it. Interesting but not nearly as much fun in my opinion as m/m genre fiction!

The books I first started to find in the m/m field a few years ago were by authors J.M. Snyder and Jordan Castillo Price. They're both among my favorite authors now. I was recently very impressed by The Protector by N. L. Gassert and Ready to Serve by James Buchanan. Also, some authors I've just discovered that are going on my permanent "To Buy" list are Amber Green, L. B. Gregg, and all three authors that first started publishing with Blind Eye Books: Astrid Amara, Ginn Hale, and Nicole Kimberling.

-15- What are some of the current features happening on your blog at the moment...

1. Sunday - reviews of m/m fiction

2. Monday – The Reviewer Perspective topic. It could be about being a reviewer and also on themes in m/m fiction such as character archetypes (the Rebel, the Innocent); character jobs; and themes like ménage or "silver romance."

3. Tuesday – The Reader Perspective topic. It could be about reading and buying habits or online reading habits. Pet peeves and favorite things as a reader.

4. Wednesday - Writer Perspective topic. Could be about work habits, promotion, writing a blog, writing a website, writing fiction.

5. Thursday - reviews of m/m fiction

6. Friday - Great cover art

7. Saturday – I describe other review sites and blogs I visit that review exclusively, or partially, m/m fiction.

On the website, I'm putting up some articles on how to write fiction – with an emphasis on writing fantasy fiction. I first started doing this only to bulk up the site a little, but it turned out to be the most popular content I now have – more popular than the reviews! So I have articles on how to do physical description of one's characters, how to choose names, and clichés to avoid in fantasy fiction.

Oddly enough, the most popular article turned out to be one on eye-color. People are fascinated by eye-color and they really seem to enjoy this article where I list all the cliché terms I've ever heard for various eye-colors ("sky blue" and "nut brown" top the list). I plan to do more articles like this on the website.

-16- With technology now walking hand in hand with our beloved print book - do you own an e-reader -

A.If yes which one. Yes - the Sony Reader 700

B. Have you named it yet.

Named it – seriously, ha, ha? Like name it after Jeeves the Butler? That hadn't occurred to me!

C. Advantage or disadvantages to having one.

The advantages are minimizing the paper clutter and storage problems of traditional books. No real disadvantages other than not being allowed to operate an ebook reader within ten minutes of airplane take-off or landing.

D. Last book you read on your reader and the one you have next up.

The last one – Sweet Oblivion 3 Fluid by Jordan Castillo Price. The next one? I'm reading several at once. I'm not sure which one I'll finish first.

E. What do you think of the ereader /ebook craze.

I think it's good aside from that ebook theft problem.

F. Since the inception of ebook - any noticeable difference in the print book industry.

The entire rise of the m/m romance genre wouldn't have happened without ebooks. I think the print book industry is slowly starting to creak into motion and recognize that women readers really like the m/m genre. This would explain the new venture by Running Press into an m/m line (they actually print "An M/M Romance" on the covers) of historical m/m novels such as False Colors by Alex Beecroft.

G. Last book read that you thought - it can't get any better than this (Print).

The last best print book? I was totally amazed by James Lee Burke's mystery novel The Tin Roof Blowdown about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Also, there is a new Irish mystery writer, Tana French, who's written two outstanding mysteries: In the Woods and The Likeness. Speaking of Irish mystery writers, Ken Bruen is really good, too. I don't think I've ever read someone who does first-person narrative as well as he does. But both he and James Lee Burke write some dark, violent books – I sometimes have to skip a page here or there!

-17- Any tips for new and future blogger (can be negatives or positive, just be as true as possible).

(1) Write about something you love because sometimes that's all that will sustain you when you're receiving neither money nor traffic – your interest and your enthusiasm for your topic.

(2) Never publish someone else's content on your blog and think it's okay so long as you credit them as the author and link back – this is copyright infringement. If you want to share information about someone else's content, quote one sentence or two sentences at most, in quotation marks with an author credit, and then link back to the source so people can find the rest of it.

(3) Write regularly in your blog, every day if you can. At a minimum, once a week.

-18- Sneak peek at any future plans for the site or any upcoming events for you, and let us know where else we can find you on the web.

The only big event that might happen is me getting my fiction published, which should shake up the blog and website – but who knows when that's going to happen? I'll be sure to sound off about it when it does, ha, ha! I can also be found at my website Obsidian Bookshelf ( and on Twitter Thank you for inviting me as Guest Blogger!






10 Speak To Me:

Lily on 15 June 2009 at 05:35 said...

Great interview ladies!!!

It was nice to "meet" and learn more about you Val.

Lily :)

Erotic Horizon on 15 June 2009 at 09:37 said...

Thanks for coming by Lily - Val is really a wonderful blogger..


Mandi on 15 June 2009 at 15:11 said...

Really great interview both of you!!

I love your blog Val..I go there everyday!

Val on 15 June 2009 at 18:23 said...

Thank you, Lily and Mandi! That is really nice to hear. And thank you, E.H., for the guest spot. This was a lot of fun!

Rikki on 15 June 2009 at 19:50 said...

This was a great interview. Good to learn more about you, Val.

Erotic Horizon on 16 June 2009 at 16:40 said...

Hey Mandi...

Thanks for coming by - Val's blog is great..


Erotic Horizon on 16 June 2009 at 16:42 said...

It was pleasure to have you here....

I have learned so much from your blog - and I know I will continue to learn more...

Thanks for letting us know so much about you.


Leontine on 17 June 2009 at 19:37 said...

Hi Val & E.H.
Thanks for the look into your blogging life Val and thanks to E.H. for hosting it. I just love to talk blogs and how each experiences it, work with it and making it their own.

I agree that the passion for the topics on a blog is important. And if people stop by that they feel that enthusiasm! Whether they leave a note or not...

Erotic Horizon on 17 June 2009 at 21:46 said...


glad that you could stop by - I enjoyed this interview..


Erotic Horizon on 17 June 2009 at 21:48 said...

Hey Leontine..

I totally agree with Val on a wide range of topic, but none more than the fact that you need to blog about what you know, what you feel..

Only that will get you through the frustrating time...