The Beta Bop is a social dance, and in this week’s three-part series of interviews, I’ll be talking with one of my favorite dance partners, TruantPony.
While we haven’t yet met in person, we’ve spent many delightful hours on chat taking on the first-generation immigrant experience, varieties of American racism, dysfunctional romance tropes in fan-fiction, and mainstream American culture’s ambivalent relationship with scientific reasoning, not to mention howling in laughter at anatomical solecisms in bad romance and erotica (both fan-fictional and original). Truant has beta-read The Shape-shifter’s Tale, Erika and the Vampire, Max and the Ghost, Annie Brown and the Superhero Blues, and most recently, The Necromancer and the Barbarian: A Love Story, to which she contributed key insights on the immunology of resurrection.
She’s a valued member of my Pop Culture Posse and an accomplished reviewer on fanfiction.net, when she’s not adding new finds to her tumblr blog. She writes fanfic herself, mostly in the Bleach and Harry Potter fandoms. Her Bleach fanfic is so good that it got me to check out the source material. She is also the person who told me all about whale falls and the Filter Bubble. A Renaissance Person and Woman of Parts, as well as a rollicking conversational partner. I learn things every time I talk to her, and this interview is no exception.
She’s also a huge fan of Biomedical Ephemera, which features vintage medical images, frequently of a disturbing nature. She pops in from time to time to leave perspicacious comments on the tumblr fanfic blog So Bad It Hurts (English is Crying in a Corner) Check it out with the usual warning that Tumblr is a space-time singularity.
And now… on to the interview!
E. P. Beaumont: Tell me how you go about beta-reading a work of fiction, e.g. a novel.
TruantPony: Well, I’ve always been trained to read critically, so I look at how things are written, and what they actually SAY underneath the surface. I also pay attention to details because they could come up later in the work, or it could be a clue. I love trying to predict what happens.
As a kid, I liked to read the end first, but I’ve broken out of this habit now, but I still have a strong desire to know ‘what happens next?!’ so I like to try to predict plot twists, and keep details in my mind.
E. P. Beaumont: How is your reading different when you are looking at a first draft, versus a later revision?
TruantPony: Well for first drafts, I pay more attention to discrete chapters, and things that might need clarification, and I ask myself, ‘does this make sense? do I understand what’s going on here?’.
For later revisions I can relax and enjoy a bit more, it’s more of an intuitive process, where I’m going with the flow of the story and then reviewing in an entirety, which is kind of nice because it’s a different perspective than a chapter by chapter beta.
E. P. Beaumont: What do you enjoy about beta reading?
TruantPony: I have stuff to read. Good stuff.
Lol, I don’t know how to answer this!
It’s completely selfish, but here someone is, feeding me things to read, so how can I say no? In exchange for feedback? Yeah, I’ll gladly do it.
E. P. Beaumont: Do you take requests?
TruantPony: Oh, I’m too busy for requests right now. I have three people, and that’s my limit. I’ve already been turning people down and I don’t even know how they found me, lol. I don’t publicize about doing beta reading much.
E. P. Beaumont: From my observations, some writers think of beta-reading as a horrible tedious duty.
TruantPony: Nope, I really like it! Also it helps me with my own writing because I get to see- ‘oh, this is how they did this and that’ or ‘I really liked the phrase they used here’.
I’m addicted to reading, so maybe that’s why I like it. But I don’t consider it a horrible, tedious process. I only wish I had more time to devote to it.
Also, everyone’s creative process is different so it’s neat to see something take shape in another person’s hands/mind.
E. P. Beaumont: A lot of writers ask, “How do you find good beta readers?” I’ll turn the question around. How do you find good writers to beta-read?
TruantPony: Oh geez…*whispers*…fanfiction. LOL. Most of the good writers I know, I reviewed for them in ffn, and then we started to chat.
Beta reading just naturally followed as a result of being a good reviewer.
E. P. Beaumont: There’s a lot of controversy in the on-line writing world (GoodReads, etc) about writers talking to reviewers. How is this different in the fan fiction world?
TruantPony: I’ve never been on GoodReads, so I wouldn’t know. Is this a problem?
E. P. Beaumont: The issue is about authors publicly answering reviewers. Some of them have been pretty rude about it, apparently, flaming unfavorable reviewers.
TruantPony: Some reviews I’ve left were pretty critical, and so I’ve been contacted by writers, asking ‘how can I improve?’ Serious writers take serious criticism, seriously. I’m not out to ‘get people’, and the last thing I want to do is hurt someone’s feelings on purpose. That’s not my intent. I like to see people improve and if they can’t/don’t appreciate that, then I refuse to review. They don’t deserve my consideration or time.
Being a good reviewer is a point of pride for me.
E. P. Beaumont: How has reviewing and beta-reading changed your own practice as a reader and/or writer?
TruantPony: It has helped me distance myself from my own writing and to see what readers see.
E. P. Beaumont: Speaking as a beta reader, what’s your reaction when you read a published novel that’s really, really good?
TruantPony: There’s a sense of awe, and appreciation towards the creativity that the writer used to write the novel. It really fascinates me to see a good idea carried out to fruition.
It’s like I want to dissect it, and see how they did it.
E. P. Beaumont: As a writer, I think of reading as industrial espionage.
TruantPony: It’s true. You want to see how others write, what to do, what not to do.
In tomorrow’s segment, Truant gets into detail about editorial Spy Stuff in part 2, The Art and Science.