Please welcome Paul Goat Allen to the blog! Paul has been a professional reviewer for the last 20 years (he currently runs the B&N Explorations Blog) and is also an author and poet. He was kind enough to answer some questions about his career (and other fun stuff, like tea parties with his little girls), and I’m thrilled to have him on the blog!
Paul, as a reviewer myself, I’m a little in awe of your accomplishments. You’ve managed to make a huge name for yourself reviewing for outlets such as Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune, and most influentially for me, Barnes and Noble’s Explorations blog, and over 6,000 reviews under your belt and counting. Whew! I know it’s a story you’ve related a few times, but will you share with us how you got started?
Well, I’ve always loved books and have been a huge SF/fantasy fan ever since I could read – I remember trying to read The Silmarillion in the third grade! – and as a kid, I always wanted to be a writer. I graduated college with two degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing and thought that becoming a published author would be easy. And, honestly, it was. Managing chain bookstores (Coles and Waldenbooks) in and around Syracuse, I saved up enough money to self-publish a little collection of poetry. Overall, it sucked but I learned invaluable lessons about how to sell the book – and myself. I did poetry readings everywhere – coffee houses, bookstores, libraries, high schools, craft fairs, mental institutions, etc. A few years after I self-published Warlock Dreams, I got a novel published. I had written it in college – entitled Burning Sticks, a morbid coming-of-age tale aimed at young adult readers – that got published by a small press in my area. They butchered it – entire chapters were deleted – but I was like 25 at the time and I had a book officially published! It sold remarkably well in a small graphical area (Central New York) and I got on the covers of numerous magazines, was interviewed on television shows – I thought I had “made it.”
But even though I had a measure of fame, I was still living at home with my parents. All of those years of hard work hadn’t really resulted in any monetary gain. I continued to write poetry but I settled in my life as a bookstore manager. And then Waldenbooks was sold to Borders and everything changed – the “book people” vibe was changed to the “buy a discount card or else” vibe overnight and I hated it.
But as fate would have it, some people that I knew very well who worked for the Waldenbooks home office in Stamford, Connecticut, got jobs as book buyers at Barnes & Noble’s headquarters in Manhattan – and less than six months after I quit my job as a bookstore manager, I interviewed for and was hired by B&N as an editor of their new Explorations SF/fantasy newsletter. This one event irrevocably changed my life. Almost 20 years later, I’m not only still doing Explorations for BN.com (it’s now a blog) but have also written for the Chicago Tribune, PW, Kirkus, BookPage, BlueInk, etc.
I know you have a huge library of “to be reviewed” books. How do you manage your time? Any organization tips for the rest of us (excluding magic beans-already tried those)?
Great question – I literally have an entire room downstairs in my house that is filled with ARCs and review copies. Offhand, I’d say 500-600 books. I tried separating them by category but that ultimately failed because so much of what I review is a fusion of genres. I tried to separate them by month of publication but the pub dates are often changed and that didn’t work either. Now I have the “mountain” and a small bookshelf where I keep “the good stuff” that I know I’ll definitely be reading and reviewing.
2012 has been an amazing year so far (at least for me), with so many wonderful new author and releases. What are a few of your favorites for this year?
Well, I don’t think 2012 has really been that amazing so far – I’ve been really disappointed by the “new” writers in paranormal fantasy; so much of it is just uninspired and derivative. And with some historically significant series ending soon – Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan, Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse, etc. – I’m really concerned about the future of this category. I keep waiting for the next Nicole Peeler or Jaye Wells to appear but I have been largely underwhelmed by the debut novelists in paranormal fantasy for the last few years.
2012 has been a noteworthy year for horror – namely Laird Barron’s The Croning – and it’s been a great year for zombie fiction (Horizon by Sophie Littlefield, Siege by Rhiannon Frater, Blackout by Mira Grant) but I think the best is yet to come. The year is not over yet! I’m really looking forward to Richard Kadrey’s Devil Said Bang, Justin Cronin’s The Twelve, Kim Harrison’s Blood Crime (graphic novel), Brom’s Krampus, and The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi, to name just a few.
Do you have a fave genre?
I pretty much love anything that is well conceived and creative but my favorite category has to be apocalyptic fiction. I grew up with ‘70’s disaster movies and reading apocalyptic classics like Lucifer’s Hammer and A Canticle for Leibowitz so those kinds of novels always resonate strongly this me.
What makes you grumble and want to throw a book across the room?
Grammatical errors. I review a lot of self-published work and it is so incredibly frustrating to have to trudge through a book that is written by authors who either don’t have a grasp of the English language or are too lazy to proof their own work.
What’s an essential component of a good book for you?
Well, after reading what averages out to be 5 books a week for the last 17 years, I find myself turned off by formulaic, uninspired, storylines. It gets boring. I love authors who have the balls to try something new, do something truly innovative.
Have you ever bought a book just for the cover?
Absolutely, we all have. Just read Jess Lourey’s The Toadhouse Trilogy: Book One solely because of the mesmerizing cover art. Good cover art isn’t just important – it’s crucial.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
That’s a tough question because the way in which I experience books now is much different than when I was younger. In fact, I have had the opportunity to reread classics that blew my mind when I was a kid – Pohl’s Gateway, Silverberg’s The World Inside, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, etc. – and while I still thoroughly enjoyed them, that sense of wonder was somewhat diminished. That said: if I could relive the experience of reading a book for the first time, it would have to be Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology (1967). That collection of stories forever changed the way I look at science fiction, and sex, and life.
We all know you love books, how about movies? Any faves?
I really have no free time for movies. With two young daughters at home, I’m either reading science fiction/fantasy, attending tea parties with various stuffed animals, or arranging play dates. (And I wouldn’t change it for the world.)
What are some of the craziest things you’ve ever done?
Well, I’ve pulled out one of my own teeth with a pair of pliers and hung out of a three-story college dorm window naked during the Homecoming Parade but reading my poetry in bars was, at times, verging on suicidal. During my poetry days, I had hair down almost to my ass and had a wild beard and some of my poetry was decidedly “antisocial” so I thought reading it in bars before musical events would be a good moneymaking idea. I hired an electric guitar player to accompany me to give the poetry a little edge. at one show, we were opening up for a Metallica tribute band and the place – a dive called The Roma – was packed with rowdies. I got up on stage and started yelling out my poems, the bar as so loud I could barely hear myself, and some dude near the front started heckling. It seemed like most people were into it but this one guy just wouldn’t shut up. So I finally doused him with a beer and the crowd loved it. I honestly thought I wouldn’t live to see another day but we ended up putting on a great show and I sold a ton of books (is selling poetry books to drunken headbangers unethical?).
Quick, what’s the first thing you think of when you read these words?
Dragon: Anne McCaffrey
Electric: Kool-Aid Acid Test
Clock: Work Orange
Legend: I AM
If you could pack your bags and go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
I’m not much of a traveler – in fact, whenever possible, I head away from people. We live near the Adirondacks so I’d probably head for the hills!
Is there anyone you’d like to meet (literary or otherwise) that would bring out the fanboy in you?
It has to be Michael Moorcock. The guy is a living legend and his Elric novels played a huge role in my life when I was an adolescent. Those novels literally saved my life and helped me through a terrible few years. What I would’ve given for Elric’s soul-sucking sword when I was in the ninth grade!
You are no doubt terribly busy, not only with the books you review, but also juggling that with a family! When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Well, I love to lift weights and since my girls are getting a little older (my eldest will be starting kindergarten this fall) I’ve vowed to get back to writing creatively. My goal for what remains of 2012 is to be able to bench 245 pounds and to get a short story published.
Keep up with Paul: Twitter | B&N Explorations Blog
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