Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Night Spotlight - The Hotlist

Back on Friday, I wrote about wanting to highlight individuals surrounding the sf&f landscape. I've found, largely through the forums at sffworld (thanks to The Hobbit/Mark Yon), that interacting with the people who enjoy the genre as much as I do, to be nearly as much fun as reading tales from the genre. There is an energy to imagination that is self-perpetuating. Now if we could only find some way to bottle it.

The opening salvo of the Spotlight highlights someone any visitor here should already be well aware of: Pat St-Denis. The Fantasy Hotlist is a great place to find all kinds of your favorite tidbits regarding sf&f. Pat has book excerpts, interviews, book reviews, breaking news, regular NYT bestseller list updates, giveaways and much more.

It is said that, "you learn something new every day." In a fun Q&A session with Pat, he taught me something new about myself. I don't know how dangerous it is, or what the prognosis would be, but it would appear that I am a 'Lemming of Discord.' If you already know what that means, continue to read and chuckle on. If, like me, you don't, then read on and enjoy the phenomenon of discovery.

PW: At what moment did you realize the Hotlist was more than a hobby; that it was really going to be big?

Pat: Truth be told, I still look at the Hotlist as a hobby. A time-consuming hobby, certainly, but nevertheless something I do for the fun of it. I never, ever thought that this blog would become as big as it is now. After all, I was just a passionate genre reader with no contacts and no resources. I wasn’t exactly “dressed for success,” and yet, for reasons I cannot fathom, this thing took off and skyrocketed to become one of the most popular SFF book-reviewing blogs out there.

Of course, there were a couple of “**** me” moments along the way. Finally getting publishers in the USA to recognize the value of a resource like the Hotlist was probably my greatest achievement. The UK editors were years ahead of their American counterparts in that regard. Getting an email from Matt Bialer, telling me that he and Betsy Wollheim wanted me to be the first person to review a fantasy debut written by a new and promising author named Patrick Rothfuss was nice. Getting an out-of-the-blue email from Guy Gavriel Kay responding to one of my posts took me by surprise. There is a ton of stuff like this that really made me shake my head in wonder. Reaching the 1,000,000th visitor plateau was unreal!

Getting an email from George R. R. Martin in 2007, at a time when I didn’t know he was a fan of the Hotlist, really blew my mind. He wrote that I had an amazingly active SFF blog, and that the Hotlist was well worth considering as a Hugo nominee. A few weeks later, he wrote on his Not a Blog that people should vote for me and nominated Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist for the Hugo for best fanzine. And he nominated me again for this year’s Hugo Award. He couldn’t believe I didn’t end up on the ballot this time around!

It’s moments like these that make you realize that what you are doing on your laptop while watching the sports news on TV actually reaches people around the world. And that can be a little daunting. . . And extremely rewarding.

Which is why I still write the way I did when I had about 50 readers visiting the site per day. Heck, if this is what brought legions of visitors who keep coming back for more, why would I ever consider changing the recipe!?!

PW: Were you ever tempted to just walk away? What has been the most frustrating moment for you at the Hotlist?

Pat: Yeah, especially last year. . . I realized that, against all odds, I had managed to make the Hotlist everything I wanted it to be, and then some! For a few months, especially following my return from Europe that summer, blogging wasn’t as fun and interesting as it used to be. Too many wankers bitching and moaning, too much introspection and mental masturbation from people who had, in the end, not much to say. The SFF Blogosphere seemed to be heading down the crapper. . .

I’m not the kind of person who feels the need to challenge himself where blogging is concerned, and it dawned upon me that the Hotlist had peaked out on my levels. At the time, a friend who had created what became the most popular and controversial political blog in the province was looking for contributors for a new hard-hitting political website that would cover provincial, federal, and international politics. I was tempted to walk away then and enter the political arena. But the project was postponed, so that’s that. A few weeks had passed, and suddenly I realized that the Hotlist was sort of my baby and I wasn’t quite ready to hang them up yet. Unfortunately for the wankers and the rest of my detractors, I’m still around today.;-)

Most frustrating moments were the first few months, when publishers basically laughed in my face because I had a lowly blog. Some sort of virtual turd, such a venue was not fit to receive promotional material of any kind. Kudos to HarperCollins, the first publisher to give me a try with review copies of Robin Hobb’s Shaman’s Crossing and Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys, as well as giveaways for both novels. Needless to say, things started to look up afterwards.

In retrospect, no matter how frustrating the process turned out to be for me, I realize that I needed to pay my dues and prove that the content was more important than the medium one used. One thing’s for sure, it made me appreciate what I had accomplished a lot more later on. As crazy as it sounds in today’s market, in 2005 and 2006, while I was already attracting more traffic than most SFF blogs today, most publishers wouldn’t have anything to do with me. Funny how things change. . .

PW: What is the largest contributing factor that keeps you coming back to the Hotlist and your subscribers/followers/readers?

Pat: The fun of having an audience, I guess. You’re a regular visitor, so you tell me what’s good about Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist! I have no idea why I’m so popular compared to many other SFF blogs, some of which are probably better than mine.

I think the fact that I’m just a punk like everyone else and I don’t talk down to my readers is probably one reason why the Hotlist has enjoyed this level of success. As I told people at Worldcon: Anticipation, I’m just a fan like the rest of you. I just get the books for free and before anyone else! And I wouldn’t have it any other way!:p

Everyone should know by now that I don’t take myself too seriously. I just want to be one of the guys, and that attitude likely helps me with fellow SFF fans. On the other hand, it’s the reason why the more elitist clique hates me as much as they do. I think that for them a fan reviewer like me represents everything that’s wrong with the genre, now that newspaper and magazines are closing down their book sections or cutting back on coverage, and they find themselves out of a gig. And then they see me, a fan reviewer with a vulgar blog, whose intelligence is on par with that of cat poop, and whose popularity has never ceased to grow. I guess it must
[be] rankling to lose your job and then see the popularity of a guy like me grow the way it has. . .

Another fact is that, for many people at least, the Hotlist seems to be their only source of information for SFF-related stuff. Spending 5 weeks in Europe last summer during which I couldn’t really blog all that much made me realize that I have a vast and loyal readership, one that couldn’t wait for me to start reviewing novels again and stop talking about how gorgeous the girls in Riga, Latvia were! It saddens me to think about how some people have absolutely no sense of priorities! Visit Poland or Latvia, and let me tell you that you’ll forget all about Joe Abercrombie and Neal Stephenson for a while!:p

PW: Would you describe your best experience from your efforts on the Hotlist?

Pat: I think it’s the respect I’ve earned over the years from people in the industry. For a guy with no resources when I started out, it’s mind-boggling to consider what Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist has become.

So it’s pretty cool for an idiotic dumbass blogger like me (so say the wankers out there) to have the chance to meet and have lunch or dinner with authors and editors. Discovering that they trust you enough to use you as a sounding board for various aspects of the publishing process, from the cover art to the actual manuscript.

Then there’s the little perks that come with the position. I mean, it’s pretty sweet to have Simon Taylor print you a set of page proofs for Steven Erikson’s Dust of Dreams and overnight it to you in Canada, making you the only reviewer out there with the novel since there are no Advance Reading Copies in production. Or to have R. Scott Bakker email you a file containing the last copy-edit of The Judging Eye, so I can be the first person to review it. Or to have Robin Hobb send you a personalized copy of The Dragon Keeper so I can review it sooner. Or having a number 1 New York Times bestselling author like George R. R. Martin to myself for two hours for a late lunch during Worldcon. It’s the little things like that makes me want to continue working on the Hotlist.

PW: Would you describe your worst, or most awkward experience as a result of the Hotlist?

Pat: Hmmm, nothing that bad really comes to mind. . . For the most part, I try to steer clear of pissing contests and flame-ups, so there hasn’t been anything I could describe as truly negative. Of course, I took some heat and climbed on the soapbox a few times these last few years, but overall I managed to keep things more or less civilized around the Hotlist.

Teacup tempests can be annoying, though. Like the can of worms I opened when I called Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword “fantasy chicklit.” The funniest thing about that episode was that it was women defending me against the feminists who got riled up. Or like the whole “I don’t like YA” thing, with people telling me I should read more and more of it, in the hope that I will eventually find stuff I’ll like. To me, YA is similar to going to church and broccoli. I’m aware that both would be good for me, but they leave a bad taste in my mouth. . . So instead of trying to force myself doing something I don’t like, I choose to stay away. God have mercy on my misguided soul. . .;-)

PW: What is the most comical, or funniest story you have to tell from your time as a blogger?

Pat: That one’s easy! That rant I received from the infamous Mystar in 2006 and which I posted in my year-end awards.

This tirade gave birth to the Lemmings of Discord, and the movement is still going strong on Westeros. If one day I’m remembered for helping create a “Terry Goodkind sucks” movement, that is the sort of legacy I’d be proud to leave behind!

Hate mail can be a lot of fun, for it shows that what you are doing is touching people (in either a good or bad way), but that Mystar email will forever take the cake. No disrespect, but many of those who hang out on TG’s forums look as though they’re a bunch of inbred ****wits. Crazy rants like that one do little to help their image. . .

Seriously, I find it a bit scary that quite a few of those fans appear to have been brainwashed and believe whatever the author says as though it is the gospel. I mean, I love Bakker, Kay, Jordan, Morgan, and many more, but I don’t worship the ground they walk on, nor do I think their shit smells like roses. Thankfully, not all Goodkind fans are crackpots like that.

In the end, it’s a good thing Goodkind writes about the triumph of the human spirit and not fantasy, so lowly genre readers like us don’t have to worry about being associated with them. They say that George R. R. Martin, Steven Erikson, Neil Gaiman, and countless other genre authors are hacks. Well, hacks need love too!:p

Lemming of Discord for life!

By the way, there is now a Facebook group (no kidding!) dedicated to the growing number of Lemmings out there. Unleash the Lemming in you and join the movement!

PW: What blog would you point me towards, as a compelling arena of sf&f, for the Sunday Night Spotlight?

Pat: It's a tie between Adam's and Ken's blogs.

Though we don’t always see eye to eye on every matter, these two have quality blogs and it’s a shame they’re not more widely read. I’ve known them since the good old days of, and both have come a long way to establish themselves as knowledgeable and insightful reviewers.

The SFF Blogosphere is not what it used to be a few years back, and there is a lot of crap out there (many obviously feel that I’m full of shit myself, but that’s another story). Yet Adam and Ken stand out from the competition, and hopefully one day they’ll get more traffic. God knows they deserve it.

When industry people complain that there are simply too many SFF blogs out there, and that it’s well nigh impossible to find the “good” ones, The Wertzone and The Neth Space are always on top of the list I give them.

What are you waiting for? Go check them out!

PW: What is your observation on the current status, and future trend, of sf&f blogger-dom?

Pat: Well, I could do with less brown-nosing, that’s for sure. I mean, there are blogs out there I’ve been reading for quite a while now, and yet there is never a negative word uttered about books other than this or that cover stinks. The relationship between a reviewer and the readers is based on trust. Trying to sugarcoat everything one says in the hope not to ruffle any feathers and keep publishers happy because you are writing a novel or because you want those ARCs to keep coming is a load of crap. If you can’t be honest and fair, then you have no business reviewing books. Or anything else, for that matter.

A little less introspection and navel-gazing would be nice. Sometimes I feel as though I’m watching PBS when I read some blog posts. Makes me want to open my veins.

I think the SFF Blogosphere is missing some of the strong personalities that helped give birth to it. God knows we’ve always had our differences, but reading Gabe Chouinard’s posts was always entertaining. The same goes for Jay Tomio, who would never back down from an argument. The blogger I miss the most is undoubtedly William “Stego” Lexner, the guy who introduced me to authors such as Ian McDonald, Peter Watts, Joe Abercrombie (yes, there was a time when no one knew about him), and many more. This guy has forgotten more about science fiction than I have ever known, so I trusted his judgement implicitly.

All three played for keeps, and that didn’t sit well with many people. But Gabe, Jay, and William all had a burning passion for the SFF genre, which made them worth a read every time. Even if we disagreed on the topic under discussion. . .

They are sorely missed. . . For ****’s sake, when Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist has become the place to stir up a bit of controversy, you know it’s a sad world we live in. . . I’d welcome them as guest bloggers anytime!

PW: What is the type of story that you are burning to read, or even write yourself?

Pat: To put it simply, the one I never thought about. Something that really blows your mind the way Hal Duncan’s Vellum did a few years back.

You always hear wild claims about how fantasy and science fiction are stagnating and all that crap. And yet, I’ve been an avid reader for more than two decades, and every year I find imaginative titles that make me realize yet again what is so fantastic about speculative fiction.

PW: Can you give me your boldest prediction for sf&f in 2010?

Pat: I’ll go out on a limb and tell you that George R. R. Martin will silence his critics with A Dance with Dragons. I mean, a novel focusing on Jon, Tyrion, and Daenerys can’t be nothing but the shit! Of course, his detractors will begin to bitch immediately about how long it will take to write the next one. . .

It’s put up or shut up time for both Scott Lynch and Patrick Rothfuss, yet I get the feeling that both The Republic of Thieves and The Wise Man’s Fear will be great reads.

On the other hand, I have a feeling that though Steven Erikson’s The Crippled God will be awesome, too many unanswered questions will have to wait till Ian Cameron Esslemont writes that (those, if there are indeed two of them) “epilogue” Malazan book he talked about in one of our interviews. And since that particular Malazan installment is years away, that’s not good news for fans. . .

PW: I had to go to eleven, [questions] because I couldn't walk away without asking you an NFL question. What is your boldest prediction for the NFL in 2009 (and go easy on my Patriots)?

Pat: Well, the NFC East should be dominated by the damned Philadelphia Eagles. Both GRRM and I discussed this when he was in town for Worldcon, and it appears that both the Coyboys and the Giants have their work cut out for them. . . And now they’ve added Michael Vick to their roster!

Boldest prediction: The Arizona Cardinals could well do it again this year. You gotta love the parity which exists in the NFL. Barring injuries and if they can play as a team, the Cincinnati Bengals could be a surprise in the AFC, though the Patriots remain the team to beat if Brady is 100%.

Can you imagine the Cardinals against the Bengals in the Super Bowl!?! Now that would be something!:p As fun as it would be, I have a feeling that we’ll see Jews kissing Muslims on the Gaza Strip before we see these two teams play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy!

As for my beloved Dallas Cowboys, Roy Williams needs to prove that he can be a number 1 wide receiver with a top team. Otherwise, it could be a long and frustrating season for Yours Truly. . .

Well folks, the end of the world may be nigh. You saw a civilized exchange between two people who cheer for the Habs and the Bruins, respectively. Even though Pat is a Habs fan, I've got to say, in T.O. fashion, when it comes to sf&f, "I gotta get me some Pat."

All thanks to The Fantasy Hotlist and Pat St-Denis.


Adam Whitehead said...

Thanks to Pat for the shout-out, although I have to say I'm happy with the hit growth this year. I think I'm pulling about 25-30% of Pat's monthly figures which I'm quite happy with (in comparison, if Pat is the TITANIC of SF blogs that makes me somewhere around the STAR TREK 2009 of blogs, which is pretty good :-) ).

We also need to thank Pat for being the trail-blazer here, and ensuring the rest of us don't get laughed at when we ask publishers for review copies :-) I owe him a beer or three.

PeterWilliam said...

Maybe we could start an sf&f blogger con up in Montreal. We just get Pat wasted and take lots of pictures. :D

Neth said...

I echo Adam's comments here. Thanks for the mention Pat. I think it's no stretch to say that if you hadn't blazed a trail, then Neth Space wouldn't be around and it certainly wouldn't be successful.

*Now I just need to find some time to catch up and get some new content up*

Tyson said...

No love for the Seahawks?

Nice interview, was interesting to see his opinion and I have been keeping tabs on Wert but didn't know about Neth so that was good to find out about.

Anonymous said...

Cool idea. I wanna see interviews with Wert and Liviu, who I reckon are the best spec fic reviewers on the net.

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