I recently did a personal interview with Elisa Rolle. She writes tons of reviews about erotic male/male romance, and has been building an excellent reputation in recent years. I've always been interested in her thoughts and opinions. She's reviewed work of my mine the past, and a few recent things. So I decided to contact her in person to see if she'd be interested in doing a personal interview. She graciously agreed, and I think her answers to the questions I asked help give insight to the thought process behind writing book reviews. She lives in Italy, and speaks and writes English very well, but sometimes with an adorable Italian accent.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where you live? Where can we read your reviews?
Always wonder if people are really interesting in me, since I don't find my life really interesting... but well, here a bit of me: I was born and currently live in Padua, a town near Venice. As I always say, Padua has the bad luck to be so near Venice that foreign people always forget its existence, but Padua is the second oldest Roman Municipium after Rome (as Patavium); it has also the second oldest University in the world (founded in 1221), it's the burial place of S. Anthony and the setting of Shakespeare's play, The Taming of the Shrew, and we have one of the more important world fresco, the Cappella Scrovegni by Giotto. So Padua is a really interesting little town and I love it. But Padua is also in Italy, and even if Italy is a beautiful country, it has its cultural boundaries, first of all about homosexuality.
More or less three years ago, when I started to read gay romances (arriving from a more than 20 years experience with heterosexual romances), I was a blogger on a Romance Italian blog with other women. I really don't know why I like so much gay romances, probably a Freudian scholar would have an answer, but I have always had an interested in LGBT art world. I was only a teen when I read Forster's Maurice and then saw the Ivory's movie; more or less in the same period, I saw also The Boys in the Band, Torch Song Trilogy and some years after, Priscilla, Jeffrey, and Trick. I didn't know the existence of the "gay romance" fiction world, probably if I did, I would have started to read them before. Three years before I was bored by the traditional romances and was searching for something new, and the gay romances filled that void.
Unfortunately this new interest, clashed with the other bloggers I was with, they were a bit too much traditional, and in the end I preferred to leave the blog and start my LiveJournal.
Looking back, probably the choice to use LiveJournal instead of BlogSpot or WordPress was not a good one, from a commercial point of view, but sincerely I'm not regretting my choice (since also I have no a commercial interest!); LiveJournal is a social network that, more or less, maintains its integrity, and 90% of the people who friend me are authors or really motivated readers, and so I'm happy with that. Some friends ask me if I'm not continuously bothered by spam or "strange request", being a straight woman who blogs of Erotic and Gay Romances (strange association, since I blog of those matters probably I have to be molested...), and instead, no, my little corner of the world is a nice place where people come to discuss in harmony. I don't deny that sometime an email here or there, or a nasty comment, or spam arrive also here, but I simply click the delete bottom, and voila, matter resolved and my place is still a nice place to be. Ops... I forgot to say where this paradise is, don't I? Well mostly you can find me on:
I have also a LibraryThing, Amazon, MySpace, Twitter and GoodReads account, but they are all mirror of my LiveJournal, the real place I'm on.
2. When, and why, did you begin writing your reviews?
So, as I said before, I left that Italian Romance blog, and I was all alone in the blogosphere... I had a LiveJournal and some friends, and no idea what to do. As you all will notice reading this interview, or my LiveJournal, I'm Italian and English is not my mother tongue. I'm self-taught in English, forced me to start reading in that language since the Gay Romance I wanted to read were not available into Italian. Three years ago, I didn't consciously chose to start a Review blog on Gay Romance since there was a demand, or to fill a void, I simply started to put down my idea on a book soon after I finished it. I called them "brainstorming" more than "review", and the first I wrote are so childish that even I am embarrassed by them. But more I read and wrote and more authors started to say me that I was the first result on Google search, that when I posted about their books, they saw an increasing in the sales, and I was perplexed... no one commented on my LJ, if you open posts of one or two years ago there is a total lack of reaction, but still, month after month, the stats on my LJ were growing. From a daily average of 10/15 visits (oh yes, I was really all alone in my corner), today I have a daily average of 500 visits. What happened? I don't know. Maybe it was LibraryThing, maybe it was Amazon: I recently went to a Yaoi Convention in San Francisco and some people stopped me in the aisles of the hotel since they read my name on the badge, and they all said, "Oh, you are Elisa, the Manlove Reviewer on Amazon!”
3. If you really don't like a book or story, do you ever hold back, or do you just say what's on your mind?
I try to say what is in my mind without being snarky. Usually I started the post saying that the book was challenging for me, or pointing out the reason why it was probably not my cup of tea. Recently I read a book by a well known author, it was a BDSM story about torture and the use of pain as sexual play... it was really hard (no pun intended) for me to read and even more to post about it. You will say, why do you posted about it? Well, since, first of all, there were something in the book that I liked, and second, mine was only an opinion in the big world, I'm a person with her preferences, but my like and dislike are totally personal, and out there probably there are readers that are at the opposite of me in their like and dislike, and they have the right to know that there is an author that maybe is more their cup of the tea than mine. And then, as a good friend of mine said about the author of the book above, "And everyone, except for readers stuck in a rut, would do well to give his writing at least a try, somewhere down the road (variety, after all, the spice of life). Who knows but that someone, with enough daring, may -- gasp! -- like it!" (if you want to add my friend is William Maltese, an author that probably you know; the author of the book instead is Jardonn Smith).
Something like that happened to me. I was contacted by a publisher who wanted to promote his books; he has a publishing company that only releases Anthropomorphic novels, both heterosexual than gay, and he had a coming soon book that was a Young Adult Gay Romance, and Anthropomorphic of course... he was wondering if I was willing to read it, due to the matter: the problem in this case was not the "gay" issue, but the "anthropomorphic" nature of the book. Well, I always say that I will not deny a chance to anyone, even more to an almost new publisher and author, and so I read it, and, gasp, I like it! No, more, I love it! I read all the following books from that author, and I'm still eager to read more.
4. I've read your reviews for both print books and e-books. Which do you prefer, an e-book or print book?
I love printed books! I have thousands of books in my house, my bedroom is completely filled of bookshelves, but I really can't buy all the printed books I like, it's more a question of space, than money, even if the money factor is not to neglect. Anyway, now I only buy printed books by some authors, more or less authors I can meet in some way and have them signed the book, since if there is a thing I love more than printed books are SIGNED printed books. I went to a reading at A Different Light in San Francisco, alone and the only woman customer in the bookstore (let me say that I had courage, the only other woman was the shop assistant), only to have the author sign all my Gay Romance novels, and he was there to promote another book I didn't buy! (it was not a romance).
5. When does writing book reviews become most difficult?
The answer is simple: when I know the author, and I know how much he/she worked for that book, and I didn't like it. But fortunately, this doesn't happen so much, I believe the quality of the Gay Romances, and Gay Novels for that matter, out there is really good. I have a great respect for authors, I envy them for being able to come out (no pun intended) with a whole book, and it's really hard to not find something good in it. I prefer to point out the good aspects of book rather then the negative ones.
6. What type of schedule do you keep? Are there a certain amount of reviews you'll do each month, or does this vary?
I read by night, a bit before dinner and a lot after. I don't watch television and so, more or less, I read 200 pages per night. Most of the time they are enough to finish a book per night, and I post about it soon after (so are explained all my typos, I post in the few hours of the night when instead I should sleep ;-) ). To choose what to read I divide the books in reading order folders, trying to fill up every folder with a mix of "old" and "new" authors, and different genres. Every folder has more or less 40 books and I try to not put in a folder two books from the same author, to give, as I said before, at least a chance to every author as fast as I can.
7. Do you think the romance/erotic romance market has changed in the past few years?
I believe that my search of something new some years ago was not only mine demand. The romance/erotic romance market was stalling (even if it was still the second most read genre at all), and people was searching for something new; this explains the proliferation of paranormal genre and subgenres and the death of genre as Traditional Regency or Western Romance. The market was full and bored and wanted something new. The Gay Romance was an available viaticum, the gay romance written by women for women was pretty new (in the romance world at least) and plenty active, and when women started to read it, they also discovered a lot of existing authors, women and men, that were writing Gay Novels and Gay Romances since years. Don't forget that in all the stats, women are always ahead of men as readers, we read more and we talk more, so it's not a surprise that, when we finally find out something, we broadcast it to the world.
8. Where do you see the romance/erotic romance market heading in the future?
A publisher said that the Gay Romance genre is a fad, and that it's fated to die, but I don't believe so; as all the genres, probably in some years it will fade a bit, but it will remain alive, with a steady foundation of followers: for example, the Traditional Regency genre is not dead, it's only no more in the front shelves on the bookstores.
9. You read so many books, all the time, how do you find them and where do you look for them?
I'm a bloodhound of the net ;-) I browse a lot and I like to "click" on every possible link. I never let pass something new that catch my eyes. I frequent chats and blogs, and when I find something new, I always follow that new path. I was always like that, when I was really young (less than 10 years old), and was reading printed books, and the net was not available, I always took notes on the book I was reading if there was some sentence mentioning another book or history event, and then I went to the public library or browsed the books at home to find more on that note. I was very lucky since my mother "collected" encyclopaedias (really, we had one for every argument), and so I had plenty of material to browse.
Anyway now, I shifted my search on the net, but the method is the same. And then, sometime, there are authors or publishers that contact me; strange enough, the big publishers still don't value my LiveJournal worthy of consideration (and so I still buy the books from them, since I really love some authors they have), and the minor or new publishers instead are more active and willing.
10. If you have any advice for writers now in the romance/erotic romance genre, what would you tell them?
Promote your book by yourself and be active. Chat, talk, and be present on the net. It's the best way to spend your free time if you want to promote your book. But be careful, the net and the people who frequent it (me in primis) have long memory, so avoid being nasty or disrespectful.
11. Do certain things immediately turn you off in a book? And what are they?
Mmm, two years ago probably there were more, but now I tried almost all, and sometime I had my surprises. But truth be told, I still don't like very much the M/M/F ménages, the full BDSM books, promiscuous relationships; plus I'm not very fond of fantasy genre in general, and some type of sci-fiction. But this doesn't mean that I don't read a book, only that maybe it's more difficult for me.
12. Do you think the sex in erotic romance is becoming too much?
What do they say? It's never too much? Joke apart, I like my sex scenes, but I do skip them when they are too much weighted on the book length. But if a sex scene is good, I can even go back and re-read it ;-) It depends, I believe. I read a book of more than 400 pages, and a book that I was expecting to be a lot more sexy than it really was, and I arrived to the end realizing that practically there weren't sex scenes... but I didn't miss them. It was right for the story. But I also read a short story where a sex scene lasted 18 pages, and again, it was right for the story, and so it didn't bother me.
13. How much do book covers help you decide what you'll read and review?
If I know the publisher and the author, a cover doesn't influence me in the choice to buy it, but if the cover is really ugly, I have a pang when I post about it, since I really love the aesthetic face of my LiveJournal, and hate when I have to post something that ruin it. Instead to try a new publisher and author, the cover is really important for me, it all depends to my "browsing" system, since English is not my language, when I'm browsing I depend more on my eyes, if something catch my eyes, I stop, otherwise I go on.
14. Do you ever get feedback from writers after you've reviewed their books or stories?
Oh yes, and it's the most beautiful aspect of all my posting and blogging. I love to meet people, and chat with them. For this same reason I hate when an author "friends" me for a short time, only to "defriend" me after I read and review his/her book. Maybe I'm too naive, but probably I will read it the same, maybe not so soon, but at least I will be not disappointed by the behaviour of that author, that probably after that, is slipped on the bottom of my reading list.
15. You have a very nice web site. How do you see it evolving in the future?
OMG, in this moment I have performance issues ;-) Ok, first of all thank for the compliment, I have a big ego you know, and my LJ is my little jewel, I love when people say it's nice, since I spend a lot of time for make it so. I don't know where and how it will evolve, it's too much mine to let it go, I already refused to posted payed ad on it since it forced me to follow some simple "rules" that I didn't want to follow; on the other hand, I'm alone and I have a day work that prevent me to let it grow more than it already did. I said in the past that, when I see the stats of the LJ grow month after month, I'm almost scared, I feel like my son is growing and sooner or later I will have to let it go, and I don't want... so I really don't know, "Que Sera, Sera, Whatever Will Be, Will Be.." ;-)
16. Do you think a female author can touch the same elements as a gay male writer in male/male erotic romance? Or is there no difference at all in the many books you've read?
Oh, let the bomb falls down! Now I will receive angry emails from authors, male and female, saying that there is no difference between male writers and female writers, but, sorry guys, there is. Again I will bring you my pool example (I already used it in another interview): I believe that M/M romance written by men is more direct, with a little less romance. Once I said that an M/M romance written by a man is like a dive in a swimming pool: a man dives directly on the core of the matter, splashing around like a little kid, and being happy in doing so. Instead a woman lingers at the edge of the swimming pool, first dips one’s hands in water, then maybe a foot, and even if she, in the end, immerses all the body, she is always worried of her hair or about how she appears… of all the details around. Said that, there is always the Limbo, an edging zone between a male and a female writer where they mix and where it's very difficult to determine if someone is a man or a woman. But sincerely, for me it doesn't matter, I like and read both, despite the author being man or woman. I only warn some readers, since, if you are used to some style, more you near the limbo, and more the reading is challenging, and if you dive on the pool... well, it's possible that you have a surprise, and maybe not nice for you (but maybe nice for me ;-) )