Blogger Query – A Dribble of Ink

Let’s have a show of hands, who here doesn’t know who Aidan Moher is? Well for those two of you in the back, let me introduce you to one of the best know names in the blogosphere. Aidan’s A Dribble of Ink has been around for years and is one of the best known SFF blogs out there. It’s not surprising then that it was also one of the first blogs I started to follow way back when. But what you may not know about Aidan, is that he’s not only a top blogger, he’s also a very nice bloke and always up for an interesting discussion on Twitter. So I was really pleased when he said yes when I asked him to be part of a Blogger Query. Little did I know I’d get back such interesting and eloquent answers to my questions. Check out what Aidan had to say below!

Let’s start with the basics. Who is Aidan Moher?

Let me ask my Mom.

*Phones his mom*

*Scribbles down notes*

An exceedingly handsome fellow. Kind, generous and humble, with a dash of a fiery temper, if you ever get him so riled up. Has terrible hair, blue eyes, and needs to pull up his pants. Loving husband. Voracious reader. Hates socks. Builds websites during the day.

Yeah, that about sums it up, I guess.

What got you into blogging?

A Dribble of Ink began 5 years ago, a couple of days after I graduated from my university program with a license to build websites. I didn’t have a job yet, though through a series of related and fortuitous events, I had in my hands ARCs (Advance Review Copies, essentially) of Acacia: The War with the Mein by David Anthony Durham, which was catching some buzz around the web, even before the blogosphere was the force that it is today, and The Elves of Cintra by Terry Brooks, a genre heavyweight, so, I did what any overeager college student would do: I started a blog.

There wasn’t any high purpose beyond starting a blog, other than my nagging narcissism, though the blogosphere wasn’t big at the time. Getting into blogging’s the easy part, staying in the game is the hard part. I’ve watched a lot of blogs come and go in that time, I’m not sure how I’ve managed to stick it out.

Why A Dribble of Ink?

You know, I love the name of my blog, not least for the ‘A’ at the beginning generally placing me at the top of blogrolls [Ed. Note: That is a nice side-bonus, isn’t it?], which has always been a boon for directing traffic in my direction, and I wish there was a story behind the name, something interesting, thematic or representative of who I am, or what my blog aspires to be, but there is no story. I was creating the blog, WordPress asked me for a name and I typed something in. That’s it. Sorry.

Well, no. Looking back, I suppose it might have been inspired by the opening line of Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, which has stuck with me since I first read it. It reads, “My pen falters, then falls from my knuckly grip, leaving a worm’s trail of ink across Fedwren’s paper.”

What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?

Nothing but my voice, which ultimately defines any good blogs from bad ones.

On the complete other end of the spectrum, I’m very proud of the guest writers I have hosted at A Dribble of Ink over the years. From Daniel Abraham exploring the necessity of historical authenticity in Fantasy, Kate Elliot touching on the issues of subconscious prejudice and racism, or Christopher J. Garcia’s love-letter to traditional fanzines, these other writers have helped diversify the perspectives and discussion on A Dribble of Ink. I think I have some of the most intelligent readers in the blogosphere, and I like to do well by them, beyond the general news coverage.

Oh, and cover art. People seem to think I post a lot of it.

What are your goals for your blog?

Narcissism is still at the heart of it, I suppose.

Otherwise, frankly, they haven’t changed a lot, since I first started. Of course, the reach and influence of A Dribble of Ink has grown well beyond where I ever expected it to go, so there are some doors open to me now that I never considered before, but my goals are the same as any other blogger: to keep my readers entertained and thinking.

One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?

Nope. The first review I wrote had a ‘Thumbs Up’ stapled onto the bottom of it. My Dad, who’s a book reviewer for a major nationwide newspaper in Canada, asked me why I decided to stick a rating on the review. I decided to scrap the idea, when I couldn’t come up with a good answer, other than, “Uhh… Cause, umm… uhhh… Siskel and Ebert?”

Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?

I understand the spirit of the question, though I’m not terribly comfortable with it, for a few reasons. On the surface level, my answer is, “Of course. Negative reviews are just an natural and integral to criticism as positive reviews.” But, looking a bit deeper, I think there’s more to it. First, I think it’s dangerous to lump reviews into those two categories. I’ve written a lot of reviews that would be considered ‘positive,’ but which contained negative criticism within them, equally, I’ve written ‘negative’ reviews that have also explored the strengths of the piece (because, with some exceptions, most books are good at at least one or two of the basic literary functions.) So, instead of thinking of reviews as ‘positive’ and ‘negative,’ I prefer to catalog them by the level of honesty and clarity of thought from the critic. We don’t live in a binary world and I don’t feel that criticism should be approached in that way, either.

And dishonesty isn’t confined only into the over-the-top rainbows-shooting-out-of-your-asshole reviews, but is also an unfortunate temptation for reviewers who, often trying to drum up traffic, will eviscerate a book, or intentionally approach the text with an agenda or set of preconceptions, standing out against the grain without being able to aptly backup the reasons why they’re so violently offended by the book. It gets people riled up, their review floats around twitter, and they sit back, raking in traffic and cackling maniacally in their evil scientist hideout. It’s a situation that is just as tiring and disingenuous as effusively positive reviews.

I’m not afraid to write a generally negative review, if I feel like I have the chuztpah to back up my strong opinions, and I don’t think it has ever hurt my relationship with any authors or publishers, but I try to do so with care, to make sure that my criticisms are useful, well considered, and with the caveat that the novel didn’t work for me, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for the next reader down the road.

Beyond dishonesty, the only other type of review that makes me actively uncomfortable? “Eh, I don’t really have an opinion on this book. But I’ll write a review of it anyway.”

If a reviewer/critic can’t add anything to the overall discussion of the book, and where it fits into the genre, it probably isn’t worth the time. Move on, find something that you need to write about. Your readers will appreciate you more for it.

From Twitter I know you’re a writer as well. How has reviewing and blogging affected your writing? Has it affected your craft or have effects mainly focused on a networking aspect?

Erm… by using precious time that should be better spent working on my current work-in-progress novel?

More seriously, it’s given me confidence in my own abilities as a storyteller and a writer. Since I began blogging, and more specifically reviewing books, I’ve learned to read with a more critical eye, and by evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of any given book, I can, hopefully, gain some knowledge of how to make my own writing stronger.

On the flip side, I’ve also had to re-teach myself how to simply sit down, read and enjoy a book, without constantly approaching it as a critical exercise or a learning experience. That’s been toughest of all. [Ed. Note: I remember having a similar problem my first year at university studying English Literature, I kept analysing everything I read. I’m glad I learned to turn that off to a degree.]

And, of course, the social and networking aspect of being a blogger is a huge boon to aspiring writers. While it’s on me to learn how best to become a better writer and storyteller, I’ve been put in contact with and become friends with some incredibly kind and smart people, all of whom have been willing to lend an ear when I need advice, or a hand when I need some guidance on a project. Writing is often a solitary experience, but I don’t feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark anymore.

How important are blogs to your reading choices?

Along with the entire SFF social sphere (Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Podcast, etc…) they more-or-less entirely determine what I pick up and read on a book-by-book basis. Of course, I have my favourites that I discovered long before the blogosphere, who I choose to read independently from the general opinion of the blogosphere, authors like Terry Brooks, Daniel Abraham, or Tad Williams, but many of my favourite authors from recent years, like Stina Leicht, Mark Lawrence or N.K. Jemisin, have been discovered directly through the blogosphere and online SFF fans.

It’s the new version of chatting with someone in the bookstore aisle.

How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?

I like Jared and Anne’s answer to this question, “We’re more important than they think we are and less important than we think we are.” Can I steal it? [Ed. Note: Well, okay, I guess so…]

You’ve been quite outspoken about the lack of regard for blogs as fan publications and bloggers as fan writers, mostly in regard to the Hugos. Do you think regard for blogs as fan publications from awards and the way the publishing industry regards blogs are intertwined? Would increased respect from the publishing industry also increase respect for blogs and bloggers from awards committees or are awards too insular for such cross-pollination?

Yeah, I’ve raised a stink or two, and been successful at opening at least a small dialogue about the matter between the incumbent fan publications (fanzines) and the up-and-coming ones (blogs). It’s something I feel very strongly about.

To be honest, I wouldn’t be so quick to link the perception of blogs and online fan writers by the publishing industry to the struggles they’ve had in being recognized by the award committees and voters. Conversely, I’d say that publishers, large and small, pay a heck of a lot more attention to blogs and the online space than they do to the traditionally published fanzines. This is keeping in the tradition and origins of fanzines, which by their nature are independent and often focus more on exploring the natures and issues of fandom, than in being a part of the PR circle that runs the publishing industry, a pitfall that blogs have to be sure to avoid. Instead, you have a new generation of writers, many of them a bit younger, in their mid-twenties to late-thirties, that is trying to break into an area that is often run and heavily influenced by an older generation that has long been entrenched in their ideals and tendencies.

Whether they’re older men or not (and, in the case of the Hugo Awards, there are over a 1,000 eligible voters, so they’re not all old men, of course), old ideas and habits still exist. It’s always been a challenge for the young whipper-snappers to push against the older generation, trying to promote new ideas and the fast-moving world that has grown up around the original foundations of awards like the traditional awards. Right now, bloggers are those young whipper-snappers, and we just need to make enough noise to ensure that, when the time comes, voters take us as seriously as we deserve.

With all that said, I think the addition of SF Signal, which I’ve contributed to on occasion, on the recent Hugo ballot is a huge step for online fan writing and blogs in general. I hope to see a continued drive in that direction. Not at the expense of great fanzines and fan writers working in more traditional mediums, but as a joining of the two, recognizing the best writing, period.

What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?

I’m currently reading Sharps by K.J. Parker. I’m only a few pages in at the moment, so my opinion is still a little muddled, but it’s my first Parker and I’m looking forward to seeing what all the fuss is about. I also just finished The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams, which I enjoyed tremendously. It’s a major departure for Williams, and his first foray into Urban Fantasy since he released War of the Flowers (which was really an Epic Fantasy, in tone and structure), and will surprise his readers. In a good way. I am, of course, anticipating the sequels, Happy Hour in Hell and Sleeping Late on Judgment Day.

Looking forward, there are the obvious ones, like A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, the conclusion to the Wheel of Time series, (though I still need to catch up with the rest of the series), Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves, which will show up eventually, and, somewhere down the road, The Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin.

Just around the corner:

I’m intensely curious about The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. Not sure what to think about it, but from what I know, it seems to play to her strength of strong ensemble casts and dark humour.

Every time Daniel Abraham puts out a book, I get all tingly, so The Tyrant’s Law, the third volume in his The Dagger and the Coin series, is high on my list.

I’m also looking forward to the two concluding volumes of Terry Brooks’ The Dark Legacy of Shannara trilogy. Tolkien first introduced me to Fantasy, but Brooks is the author that tripped me head-over-heels in love with it. For the past dozen years, Brooks has been putting out novels of varying quality, and I’ve learned to cautiously approach his work, despite my built-in love for his world and characters. But his most recent novel, The Wards of Faerie, is the best thing he’s written in years, and I found myself enjoying it quite a bit, despite featuring many of the flaws that seem inherent to Brooks’ recent novels. The final two volumes in the series will be released six months apart, and I look forward to continuing my adventure with Khyber Elessedil, Redden and Railing Ohmsford, and the rest of Brooks’ motley crew.

Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?

I mentioned writing, but I’m also a fairly serious photographer, straddling that line between hobbyist and enthusiast. I wish I had more time for it.

Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?

My books are spread across two houses, several bookshelves, a few dozen packing boxes and literally piles sitting on the floor. They’re organized with such chaos and disregard for sensibility that any librarian with a sniff of pride would cringe and mutter hail marys regardless of their faith or to which god they pray. My kindle, however, is organized in quite handy collections, prim and proper, by author.
______________________

Thanks for your answers, Aidan. I really enjoyed reading them and you just added another pile of books to my wishlist! So for those of you in the back who hadn’t heard of Aidan, you can visit his blog or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Share
  • I love the guest posts that Aidan has had on his blog, particularly.

    Thanks for doing this interview. :)

  • another great interview!

    I love getting these “behind the scenes” looks at my favorite bloggers, and it's nice to I don't have the worst organized personal library. ;)

  • Awesome interview! A Dribble of Ink has long been one of my favorite blogs. It was cool to read Aidan's answers to your great questions.

  • Thanks all!

  • Also a big fan of Aidan's work, and really glad to hear him talk more about the Hugo fanzine/blog thing. He's done a great job leading the discussion in that arena!