the Scattering recently got an extended shout-out in the form of an “IndieView,” an interview on SF author Simon Royle’s blog. Royle has interviewed numerous indie SF authors, as well as some prolific review bloggers, and I, Isabela Morales, am thrilled to be on that list.
Or rather, my friend Isabella Morales is. She’s the alternate universe iteration of me who spells her name with two Ls.
Today’s IndieView is with Isabella Morales of The Scattering. I met Isabella through her forum on Amazon and later tracked her down to her website. Reading the reviews I realized I had stumbled across a real hard core Sci-Fi junkie – Great! This interview is really good, funny, insightful, and just downright interesting.
You can read the whole interview on Royle’s blog. Or, alternately, read a few of Isabella’s best answers (she’s the funny and insightful one, not me):
What are you looking for?
I’m an eclectic reader—hard SF, soft SF, social science SF, military SF, thrillers, horror, paranormal romances, cyberpunk, steampunk, insert-punk-here. I’m the same way about television: I watch an extraordinary amount of television, from Fringe to Boardwalk Empire to multiple permutations of the Real Housewives. I just want a good story and memorable characters. Mostly the characters drive narratives for me. As a history student, I’m fascinated by people, and when an author gives me a range of dramatis personae I can either love or hate, I’m hooked.
If a book has a great plot, great characters, but the grammar is less than perfect, how do you deal with that?
I’m the sort of person who will like a friend’s Facebook comment purely because its author cleverly sidestepped a comma splice, or made admirable use of the subjunctive. Good grammar is just aesthetically pleasing—and it’s something any author of any experience level can get perfect. Plot twists and characterization are qualitative, but (unless you’re really postmodernist, or Emily Dickinson) grammar and mechanics are objective. Enough said.
How long does it take you to get through, say, an eighty thousand-word book?
If my math is correct—and it probably isn’t—at 250 or so words a page an 80,000-word book would be a little over 300 pages, right? I don’t mean to brag (actually, I do), but I’m a history student, and history is one of the most reading-heavy fields of study, period. I’ll read 200-plus pages a day for class, not even counting the archival materials (digitized or no) I go through for my own research projects. And then I come home and read to relax.
I’ll have to get in touch with Freud on this, but I think I’m compensating for those two terrible years when my older sister was in primary school learning how to read and I wasn’t. I remember very clearly what it was like not knowing how to read—and wanting to so badly. I had a small pink diary that I would “write” in, fully understanding that my squiggles had no internal structure and wouldn’t mean anything if I tried to “read” them again. Now, my optometrist tells me I’m literally going blind from reading too much. Okay, not blind—but definitely more myopic by the month.
Oh yes, the question: I’d say two days.
We talk a lot about writing here on the blog, and possibly enough about reading, which is after all why we’re all here. Why do you think people love reading. We’re seeing lots of statistics that say reading as a past-time is dying – do you think that’s the case?
You know what they say about statistics—83.59 percent of them are made up on the spot. But in all seriousness, reading isn’t going anywhere. Language, and in particular written language, is the greatest invention of homo sapiens, and the reason for that as I see it is because people have always and will always want to communicate with each other. That means thoughts, feelings, business proposals, and plain good stories.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
Besides comma splices? My biggest pet peeve is excessive exposition. When the setting is a future world, or an alien planet, or something that would be unfamiliar to readers, the tendency is to think oh my gosh, I need to explain this in a dense, technical introductory chapter! Have confidence in your readers: we’re smarter than we look. The greatest pleasure in reading about the unfamiliar is the element of unfolding revelations—the best science fiction writers work the strange setting, the new technology, the fantastic innovations into the plot and dialogue without huge breaks for detailed description. I have no doubt that sort of seamless integration is crazy hard; and I’m not a fiction writer so I always feel a little awkward giving advice; but as an avid reader, that is the most noticeable difference between excellent and just passable writing.
We’re told that the first page, paragraph, chapter, is absolutely key in making or breaking a book. Agents typically request only the first five pages of a novel, what do you think about that; if a book hasn’t grabbed you by the first five pages, do you put it down?
No. Are you kidding? No one walks out of a movie because the opening credits are boring, and it’s pretty common for a tv show to need a season or more to warm up. For me, the cut-off point for making or breaking a book is halfway to halfway in—the 25% mark. By then, the reader should have a feel for the characters and where the story is heading.
What do you think of the oft quoted comment that the “slush-pile has moved online”?
Oh, pish-posh. I have neither time nor patience for elitism of any kind. I’m a bit of a populist at heart, and the Internet is all about democratization of information—while that does mean that there’s junk to wade through, it’s made the good, the interesting, and the creative more accessible as well. Many of the books I review are written by individuals who don’t make their living selling science fiction novels. They have day jobs, and write for pleasure just as people like me read for pleasure. A decade ago, these authors may never have become authors—their manuscripts would be gather dust on top of the refrigerator, if they ever were written at all. But now, thanks to the Internet, they have a global readership accessible at a single click—which benefits authors, obviously, but readers as well. The amount and diversity of material to peruse out there on the Internet is virtually infinite, and doesn’t take a library card to check out. It’s a reader’s dream.
Do you think attitudes are changing with respect to Indie or self-published titles?
My attitude certainly has. I remember reading the first indie book I ever reviewed for the Scattering, and then setting my Kindle down once I’d finished to exclaim: “It’s just like a real book!” I think a lot of people probably share that idea—that a “real” book is one with that big-name publishing house’s stamp of approval on the spine. I recommend the books I review to friends all the time—it just takes one good experience with a self-published author’s work to turn that mindset upside-down.
Is there anything you will not review?
Vampires. If there are vampires in your book, do not send it to me.