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Interview: Mayra Calvani, Author of The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing

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I would like to welcome readers to sit back, relax and get to know Mayra Calvani, author of several books including The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing and Frederico, the Mouse Violinist!

Thank you for this interview, Mayra. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I’m a Puerto Rico native, multi-genre author who loves to dabble into horror, suspense, paranormal, fantasy, satire, and nonfiction, from adults to young adults to children’s picture books. I have a BA in Creative Writing and have lived in various countries, an experience that has deeply influenced my writing. I’m also a book reviewer and interviewer for Blogcritics and my own blogs, Mayra’s Secret Bookcase (www.mayrassecretbookcase.blogspot.com) and The Dark Phantom Review (www.thedarkphantom.wordpress.com).

I’ve been writing since I was about twelve — short stories and novellas which were passed around the class during lesson time, and plays that were produced for the end of the school shows. This was pretty much at secondary school level. I wrote my first novel during my sophomore year of high school. Needless to say, that never got published! Back then, I was influenced by Barbara Cartland and Agatha Christie, my two biggest “mentors” during my early teens. I read their novels ravenously. I had the entire Christie collection of books translated into Spanish. I continued writing through college and it was then that I began writing seriously for small literary magazines. Those days I mostly wrote short fiction of the literary type. My tastes turned more eclectic and I became a big fan of Tama Janowitz, Robert Penn Warren, and Kate Chopin. Warren’s amazing novel, The Cave, as well as Chopin’s The Awakening, were revelations to me. It was later in my mid twenties that I began to concentrate on writing novels, but it wasn’t until I was in my mid thirties that I published my first book — which actually was the fourth book I wrote. So if you count those first attempts in middle school, I’ve been writing for almost thirty years.

Do you write full-time?

Yes, I do, though I wish I were more of a disciplined writer. Being able to make your own schedule has its disadvantages, as I often get distracted by housework and other family-related errands. My house is often messy, but I’ve come to realize that a messy house is part of the life of a wife/mother author. There are those times when you have to choose between doing laundry and writing that chapter, and if you’re serious about writing, you better choose that chapter!

Was there anyone in your life that you can give credit to helping pave the way?

My mother has always been unconditionally there for me, no matter what.

What is your favorite book at the present?

The Awakening, by Kate Chopin. I have read it countless of times and never tire of it.

If you could trade places with one author who you have admired over the years, who would it be and why?

That would have to be Anne Rice. I discovered her books when I turned thirty and she became a major influence. The Vampire Lestat changed the way I looked at writing. Rice’s vampire books mix commercial appeal with lyrical, insightful writing that I thought only existed in literary works. I fell in love with her dark, poetic style, her rich, baroque descriptions and with all the history and philosophy she always interlaces in her fiction. Sadly, her last books are not near as good as her first works.

Why would I want to trade places? I read she once got a twenty-million advance for a three-book deal! But I’d trade places with her only in a literary level and not in a personal level. Rice is an author who has suffered deeply. She lost her five-year old daughter to leukemia (the result which was Interview with the Vampire) and, needless to say, I would never like to go through that, not even for all the millions in the world!

Can you tell us a little about your latest book?

My latest book, co-authored with Anne K. Edwards, is The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing.

A few years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and “heard” a voice in my head say, “You have to write a book on how to write book reviews.” Afterwards, I immediately started writing down topics and preparing an outline. I also invited my author friend Anne K. Edwards to collaborate. This was a great decision because we complemented each other and she was able to come up with ideas I had not thought of before. It was a great experience working with Anne.

We wrote The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing not only with the aspiring reviewer in mind, but for the established reviewer who needs a bit of refreshing and also for anybody — be they author, publisher, reader, bookseller, librarian or publicist — who wants to become more informed about the value, purpose and effectiveness of reviews.

The book came out in June, and already there are two universities using it as a textbook for book reviewing writing courses. I’m also proud to mention that the book was a National Best Books Award Finalist in the Writing & Publishing category.

For a list of contents, excerpt and reviews, readers may visit www.slipperybookreview.wordpress.com.

What was the inspiration behind your book? Why did you feel a need to write it?

I started reviewing books about ten years ago, and I soon fell in love with the craft of reviewing. Getting free review copies was only part of it. However, in the beginning, I did my fare share of mistakes, especially falling prey to “facile praise.” There were no books available to use as guides. At the same time, with the rise and growing popularity of online review sites, I noticed there were a lot of new reviewers out there doing all sorts of amateurish mistakes: some left out the evaluations; others gave away spoilers; others praised poorly written books; others wrote without clarity or even good spelling and grammar. Then, as I mentioned earlier, I “heard” that voice in the middle of the night — my subconscious telling me to do something about it, to write a much-needed book on how to write honest, thoughtful, professional book reviews.

What kind of research did you have to conduct to write your book?

We spent half a year conducting several polls and interviewing dozens of authors, reviewers, booksellers, librarians, publicists and publishers on various aspects of book reviewing. We also did a poll with a hundred readers to find out the extend of the impact and influence of reviews. Mostly, though, Anne and I wrote the book based on our own experiences as reviewers.

What message are you trying to convey with this book?

The message I’d like to convey is that as reviewers, whether aspiring or experienced, we have a responsibility to the readers, a responsibility to write honest, thoughtful, clear, well-written reviews. I hope The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing will help reviewers of all levels achieve just that.

Where do you get ideas to write your books?

Mostly from daydreaming, especially while I drive, walk, or do any type of routine work like washing dishes or brushing my teeth. My mind is always working, coming up with different scenarios, characters, settings. Voices in the head is the ‘curse’ of the writer.

How do you deal with rejection?

Easy: I don’t. I just ignore it. Fortunately for me, I’m very self motivated.

Do you write mainly by day or by night?

I’m definitely a morning bird. That’s when my mind is fresher, clearer. My hubby goes to work and my kids to school and I stay with those “voices in my head” in the quiet of my home, with my golden retriever posed at my feet while I pound on the keyboard. I admire those writers who can write from morning till evening. I can’t. I start about 9am and by the time it’s midday, my brain feels pretty tired. Then I switch to emailing, promoting and other stuff. Evenings and weekends are for my family. An exception to this is November. That’s when I do the National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) and then I write on and off at odd times of the day, seven days a week during the whole month.

Do you ever get writer’s block and what do you do when that happens?

I often do get writer’s block. Inside my head there’s a constant conflict between my inner censor and my inner writer. I continually have to order my censor to shut up and leave me alone. Taking a long walk helps. The best tactic, of course, is to plunge ahead and write no matter what the censor says. The more I stay away from writing, the harder it is getting back to it. Writing on a daily basis is the best medicine against writer’s block. I tell myself, “Leap, and the net will appear.”

Can you tell us a little about the publisher who published your book? How have they been to work with?

My publisher is Twilight Times Books. In only a few years this company has grown from a small electronic publisher to a fully traditional mid-size publisher. The staff is extremely professional, and Lida Quillen, the publisher, has been amazing to work with. I would whole-heartedly recommend this publisher to any author.

Do you blog? If so, what can you tell my readers about the advantages of blogging as a useful tool in book promotion?

I mostly use my blogs to post reviews and author interviews. I also include the occasional book-related announcement of one of my books, but I don’t post personal or opinion pieces as many bloggers do. I find that many bloggers out there write stuff without substance, like what they did on a particular day. I don’t have that much free time! But I do have the book covers, blurbs, and purchase links of my books on the sidebar for visitors to see. If you have a good looking blog that has interesting and informative material and that is clear and easy to navigate, you can use it as a tool of book promotion, but it’s time consuming to keep the material fresh and to keep it coming at least once a week. When readers visit your blog, chances are they may check out your books (which of course are attractively displayed on the sidebar!) and sales may result.

How do you deal with a bad review?

Bad reviews can hurt an author’s ego, but they are, after all, one person’s opinion. I once heard an author say, “If I never receive a bad review, it means not enough people are reading my book.” These wise words are very true!

Thank you for this interview, Mayra! Do you have any final words you’d like to share with my readers?

I’d like to cordially invite readers to visit my websites and blogs:
www.MayraCalvani.com, www.slipperybookreview.wordpress.com and www.mayrassecretbookcase.com (children’s fiction).

I also keep two blogs where I regularly post reviews and author interviews:
www.mayrassecretbookcase.blogspot.com and www.thedarkphantom.wordpress.com.

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About April Pohren