Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mergers & Acquisitions: Interview with Natalie Luhrs of Romantic Times BOOKreviews

And...we’re back! If you listen closely, you can hear our winsome galactic whistle blowing, which means we’re only seconds away from departing. Let’s get right down to it!

With romance being “a billion-dollar-a-year industry,” one would think science fiction publishers might make a more concerted effort to cross-pollinate and reach out to romance readers. There’s clearly gold waiting to be mined in them thar literary hills.

To wit: The recent paranormal romance and urban fantasy booms.

These recent genre explosions visibly demonstrate that many romance readers gravitate toward novels outside the genre and/or are willing to explore new stories.

Right now, pubs get an "A" for effort, but the situation brings to mind an ice cream truck trolling for customers in the downtown business district instead of the city park. Sales are sales, no matter where they originate, and lots of potential exists regarding a strong SF-Romance merger.

But, who will cross the finish line first?

One company that’s leading the pack in this regard isn’t a publisher at all—it’s Romantic Times BOOKreviews!

In what historically has been a magazine for romance readers, I think Romantic Times’ evolution with the inclusion of SF/F reviews and articles is amazing, but not surprising—romance readers are often game to try something new. (More so than SF readers? Hmm...that’s a smackdown debate for another day.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the magazine, or just needing a refresher, Romantic Times is “a magazine for fiction lovers.” You can read about the birth of Romantic Times and its founder, Kathryn Falk, in the History section of its Web site.

In addition to the magazine itself, Romantic Times has an active online community. There you can find content ranging from the RT blog to message boards to “In the News” to videos and podcasts (look for Linnea Sinclair’s in March 2009). Click here to view part one of “Smart Bitch Sarah Interviews Author Ann Aguirre” and here (scroll down) to view parts two through five.

There’s an “Ask the Author” feature, too. I found the one for Eve Kenin! For aspiring authors, there’s a whole buncha links under “Writer’s Tips” with articles by authors and other industry professionals.

I also had the pleasure of “running into” Natalie Luhrs at, where she commented on The Official Science Fiction Romance Thread.

As the Romantic Times BOOKreviews Senior Science Fiction and Fantasy Reviewer, Natalie Luhrs delivers informative reviews about the latest SF/F books. Her bio page describes how she came to write SF/F reviews for Romantic Times (and you can sneak a peak at her favorite SF/F authors and television shows, too).

Since I’ve been reading Romantic Times regularly and following the SF/F reviews in particular, I couldn’t help but seize this opportunity to interview Natalie about her work.

The Galaxy Express: With so many great stories published, how do you pick books to review?

Natalie Luhrs: The first thing I do, every month, is look at what I've been sent by the publishers--if I have it in hand already, I'm much more likely to include it (note to publishers: RT's deadlines are 2 months prior to publication; as of November 2008, I'm reading for February 2009). I also follow a lot of authors' blogs and refer to Locus's Forthcoming Books page.

Once I have the list of books, I figure out how many there are and how they get split between the SF/F section and the paranormal section (all urban fantasy goes into paranormal). I then look the books over in more detail and make some judgment calls—particularly if I have way more books than I can include in a given month.

In terms of judgment calls, mainly it has to do with if the book looks interesting to me or to RT's readers, if it's in a series that has prior coverage, and if the author is part of my mental list of "must review" authors.

Small press and e-books in the section are handled by someone else; I'm not completely sure what their process is.

TGE: Please describe any exciting new trends you've seen in SF/F.

NL: I don't see nearly as much epic fantasy as you'd expect, and a lot of what I do see is really superb. One of my favorite epic fantasy authors is Brandon Sanderson and I think he does an absolutely wonderful job at taking ideas and plot elements that have been used to death and twisting them around. There are other writers doing the same--Charles Stross's Saturn's Children comes to mind as a great recent example of SF.

And, of course, there's the huge boom in urban fantasy. I started reading urban fantasy in the early 1990's and am a huge Charles de Lint and Emma Bull fan, so while I'm thrilled that more people are reading the subgenre, I also worry that there's more of a focus on quantity rather than quality. Luckily, a few series do buck that trend—T.A. Pratt's Marla Mason series is a particular favorite.

TGE: What's on your personal To Be Read list?

NL: Lots of things! The first three Vlad Taltos books (Steve Brust), The Fall of Kings (Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman), a complete re-read of Kage Baker's Company series in the correct order now that the main story arc is complete, Sly Mongoose (Tobias Buckell), Nation (Terry Pratchett), and Soul (Tobsha Learner). Most of my personal reading these days is re-reads, but since a lot of what I review these days I'd otherwise be buying for myself, it's all good.

TGE: Can you recommend any upcoming/recently released books that combine science fiction and romance for visitors of this blog?

NL: I'm going to be honest: The books I review are selected based on their science fiction and fantasy content, not their romance content. So I am probably not the best person to answer this question. However, some recent/upcoming books that I've enjoyed are T.A. Pratt's Dead Reign, Christopher Barzak's The Love We Share Without Knowing, Richard K. Morgan's The Steel Remains, Elizabeth Bear's All the Windwracked Stars, and Sharon Shinn's Fortune and Fate.

TGE: What advice do you have for aspiring reviewers?

NL: Read widely in whatever area you're interested in reviewing.

Don't worry about not liking a book, but if you're writing a review--be it on your blog or in a forum, stop and think about if what you're not liking is actually a problem with the book or if it's just something that's not to your taste and make it clear in your review which is which.

Don't personally attack the author. There are authors whose work I don't enjoy but that doesn't make them bad people. It just makes them people who write books that don't work for me.

Conversely, don't worry about the author or publisher's opinion of your review. You're not writing the review for the author/publisher, you're writing it for the reader. That's not to say that it isn't exciting to find yourself quoted on a paperback edition, because it totally is, but if that's why you're writing reviews, then I'd like to gently suggest that you've got your priorities mixed up.

TGE: Is there anything else you'd like to share about your review work at Romantic Times?

NL: I've talked about this before and in other venues, but it's such a privilege for me to be able to introduce new readers to my favorite genre. I've been reading SF/F since I was a teenager (with a brief break in my twenties for mysteries and romances) and I really can't say enough about how excellent I think the genre is. It has its flaws—just like anything else—but the joy I get from reading a really well-crafted SF/F novel really makes up for all that.

Natalie, thanks so much for your time and dedication!

More neat stuff awaits: Visit Not A Pretty Girl and check out this most impressive list of books that Natalie has reviewed for Romantic Times! You can also dish with her about “knitting, spinning, and other fiber geekery” at Bellwether.

So tell me, insightful passengers, what are your thoughts on SF publishers actively pursuing romance readers? Know of anywhere else where SF & Romance are, uh, (for lack of a better phrase), coming together?Mr. Smilely

Joyfully yours,