Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Interview with Scott Calvin, author of Beyond Curie: Four women in physics and their remarkable discoveries 1903 to 1963

September 25, 2017

Interview with Scott Calvin, author of Beyond Curie: Four women in physics and their remarkable discoveries 1903 to 1963

Q. Thank you for agreeing to this interview! My readers always appreciate it when an author takes the time to share with them their insights and experience.

A. I’m happy to do it!

Q. In your case, I think your background is significant. We’ll get one thing out of the way first: we are siblings. However, I was not involved in the publication of the book and I do not benefit directly financially from the book. You are, by education, an astronomer, a physicist, and a classicist. This book, Beyond Curie: Four women in physics and their remarkable discoveries 1903 to 1963 (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), seems like a significant departure from your previous books (at AmazonSmile*). While it seems to be positioned for use in academia, I believe it could have a much broader appeal. It amounts to placing four short biographies into context, and as such, goes far beyond the focus on science facts and theory. As you note in your introduction, “…writing about history is hard.” Why do this book now?

A. To tell the truth, it wasn’t on my docket of “books I’ll write someday.” At the start of 2016, I had recently announced I was resigning from my position as a professor of physics at Sarah Lawrence College, but I didn’t know what my next position would be. Jeanine Burke of the IOP Concise Physics line of books approached me about writing on a topic of my choice. I discussed it with my fiancée (now wife!) Erin Eisenbarth, who knew of my interest in these physicists and suggested the topic. So it just kind of happened.

Q. One of the things I found particularly interesting was your willingness to challenge a narrative. It would be easy to say that men were prejudiced against women, and felt that they weren’t as capable as a man in their fields. Reading the book, that didn’t seem to be the case to me. Generally, other scientists recognized their abilities and value. In some cases, they clearly thought the women should have more recognition and status. Explicitly stated or not, it was more that the organizations involved had policies that prevented women getting equal treatment and pay. In other words, institutions were bigger impediments than individuals. I would think that institutions would tend to insulate people from the effects of personalities, but they were perhaps more interested in conserving the power they have. How do you see that dynamic of individual relationships versus institutional inertia, in terms of how stereotyping hinders people?

A. And now I’m going to challenge your narrative about my narrative! (grin) I don’t think it’s actually institution versus individual; it’s more science versus career. While there were occasional institutional barriers, those could generally be circumvented with some cleverness and effort on the part of the men in question. Instead, it was common for the men to value the women as scientists, and to promote them vigorously in that role. But those same men would think it was OK to pay the women less than comparable men, or to deny them titles and administrative power. You can see the same sort of thing operating today with movie stars. Men will praise the acting talent and star power of prominent actresses, but still tend to pay them less, and women are still greatly underrepresented in positions of authority such as directors and producers. That’s not so much an institutional problem, in the sense of there being rules or inertia to overcome, as it is a split between how the talents of women are praised and how they are rewarded for it.

Q. Another narrative would be that things have gotten easier for women in science over time, so during the sixty years you cover, it might be expected that we would see your subjects finding fewer barriers: was that the case?

A. That’s a key question! There’s no question that the institutional barriers you asked about in the previous question decreased during this period. For example, in the early 20th century, women were not allowed to be professors in many universities in the US; that had changed by the 60s. But in other ways, things did not get better. The fraction of professional astronomers who were women went down during this period, not up. In 1959, the University of California still thought it was OK to pay Maria Mayer half the salary of her husband, even though they were both full professors.

Q. Something that I found particularly insightful and educational to me had nothing to do with physics. It had to do with how Lise Meitner would have felt herself “safe” in Nazi Germany, despite having a Jewish background. You explained the factors that should have made her secure, and how each of those were removed over time. I really enjoyed the scholarship involved. How does having that background in the book benefit students of physics and/or more general readers, and how did researching that part differ from the types of things you’ve written in the past?

A. I think it’s hard for many of us today to understand how people could go on trying to live normal lives under the Nazis. When we read the famous poem “First They Came” [by Martin Niemöller] in which the author recounts staying silent as the Nazis come after one group after another, we might wonder why it wasn’t obvious at the time that standing by when one group gets persecuted opens you up to the same. But targeting groups was only half of the equation. An individual might think he was safe, not just because he wasn’t part of a group being targeted, but because of groups that were favored: he was a veteran, or a Christian, or famous, or well-connected. That kind of safety is illusory. If you condone, either explicitly or implicitly, exploitation and murder, then you should recognize that you are opening yourself up to exploitation and murder down the line. After the war, Meitner realized that, writing about it repeatedly.

Q. You also spend quite a bit of time considering the motivations of people, sometimes doing an almost “differential diagnosis” by presenting a number of hypotheses and then examining each one. “Did so-and-so do this out of spite, fear, prejudice, strategic calculation…?”, that sort of thing. What was your goal in including that sort of analysis in the book?

A. There are two examples in the book that have outcomes that are broadly similar but in which the motivations of the men are very different. Henry Norris Russell argues Cecilia Payne in to doubting her own conclusion in her dissertation, and years later is widely given credit for her discovery. This is very unfair to Payne, but an examination of the context makes it clear that Russell didn’t set out to steal Payne’s work; instead, he was treating her as a fellow scientist and arguing the scientific case. Even though he turned out to be wrong, I think this was the ethical thing for him to do at the time—it’s only later, when Payne’s contributions were being downplayed by others, that Russell becomes complicit.

Valentine Telegdi, on the other hand, clearly disliked Chien-Shiung Wu, and wanted to prevent her from getting full recognition for her ground-breaking experiment. I’m not sure exactly what mix of motivations were at play there, but Telegdi continually misrepresented Wu’s contributions, and his own, in an effort to muddy the waters.

The result in each case was the same—the women did not end up with all of the credit they deserved for remarkable discoveries. But I do think the motivations and processes matter. Blaming Russell for sabotaging Payne’s work would let off the hook the scientists and historians in later decades who assumed that the discovery was due to Russell because he was the more famous, a mistake we must continually guard against. But not blaming Telegdi for his outsized role in fighting against a Nobel Prize for Wu would let Telegdi off the hook.

So yes, I think trying to understand the motivations, and that they can be different in different cases, is important.

Q. One more thing: my readers are interested in the process of putting a book together. There were great pictures in the book! They ranged from gates honoring a suffragist damaged by male students celebrating a ruling against women having parity with men, to an amateur musical parodying Gilbert and Sullivan that was full of “in jokes” about the Harvard College Observatory. You address both stories in the text. Did finding the pictures lead you to write about the incidents, or did you know about the incidents and then have someone find the pictures? Some pictures are reproduced “with permission”. How was the permission obtained…did your publisher do that?

A. Thanks! I found all of the pictures myself, but for those under copyright permissions were sought by my publisher. There was one case where permission was not granted, and I had to find a substitute.

In most cases, I learned about the incident first, and then I sought out relevant photos. The biggest exception was the Gilbert and Sullivan parody, where I stumbled across the photos early in the process. The modern discussions of Payne and the Harvard Computers rarely mention that remarkable moment, but always mention that the women who comprised the Harvard Computers were sarcastically referred to as “Pickering’s Harem” at the time. In fact, I can find no contemporary evidence for the latter claim; it’s modern writers trying to create a narrative emphasizing the misogyny of the time, either because they want to imply that things have gotten better since then, or because they want to stress misogyny in science in general. But the idea that the men and women of the Harvard College Observatory put on a play which featured a striking inversion of traditional gender roles in science, and performed it in the community—that doesn’t fit well in to those narratives. The misogyny was, and is, real. But the people of the time weren’t blind to it, and did at times push back, and push forward. And so, despite the striking photographs, the play has largely vanished from modern accounts of those scientists.

Q. Finally, is there anything else you’d like to tell people about the book, or your future plans as an author?

A. I do feel conflicted about one aspect of the book, which is worth mentioning here.

The four physicists featured in the book were all remarkable scientists. Lise Meitner, in particular, has long been a scientific hero of mine—in fact, I first learned of her from a biography you gave to me years ago! Maria Mayer became a hero to me when I learned of her work at Sarah Lawrence College, my former institution. And Cecilia Payne and the Harvard Computers have long fascinated me; the episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reboot of Cosmos, while it contains many errors, nevertheless brought tears to my eyes. The four are also very different from each other, in personality, in the kinds of science they did, in the kinds of lives they led.

I don’t think of the four as “female physicists,” any more than I think of Einstein as a “Jewish physicist.” I don’t think Meitner or Mayer, at least, would have liked that label much.

And yet I grouped them together in this book because they’re all women, and they’re all prevalent physicists. It allowed me to examine some of the challenges they faced because of their gender, and I’m glad I did, particularly because women in science today still face many of those same challenges. But I hope that by doing so, I haven’t somehow obscured that they were great scientists—I consider Meitner, in particular, to be one of the top physicists of the twentieth century.

For that reason, I’m glad I featured four physicists who were women, and discussed many others along the way. By doing that, I avoid the idea that any one of them stands in for her whole gender; I let them each be individual people, for whom gender is one part of a complex identity.

That’s my hope anyway. I look forward to hearing what readers think!

Q. Thanks again!

A. And thank you—those were thought-provoking questions!

I am doing an Amazon Giveaway for

Beyond Curie: Four women in physics and their remarkable discoveries 1903 to 1963 (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)


  • Winner:Randomly selected after Giveaway has ended, up to 1 winners.
    Requirements for participation:
  • Resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
  • 18+ years of age (or legal age)
  • Follow Scott Calvin on Amazon

Some of my readers, who are also authors and publishers, are interested in what affects the sales of a Kindle store book. That includes interviews in blogs such as this one, and Amazon Giveaways. For that reason, I’m listing the book’s rank just after the giveaway went live and prior to the publication of this interview:

  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,113,972 Paid in Kindle Store
  • #1919 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Science > History & Philosophy
  • #3154 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Science > Physics
  • #6785 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > History > Science & Medicine

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


Interview with Kris Calvin, author of One Murder More: one year on

July 3, 2016

Interview with Kris Calvin, author of One Murder More: one year on

Note: Kris Calvin, who is interviewed below, is my sibling. I’ve been keeping readers of ILMK informed about the Kris’ experience as a first time author. I do not, though, have any financial interest in the book. We have had discussions about the book and the business, but that’s the extent of my involvement

ILMK: It’s been a bit over a year since the debut publication of your first novel, One Murder More (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), a Maren Kane mystery. I appreciate you taking the time to check in with the readers of ILMK.

You mention a lot of books on your Twitter feed, so you must have had some thoughts about what it was like to be an author before One Murder More was published. What, if anything, has turned out pretty much the way you expected?

Kris Calvin: I’m not one of those people who thought “I had a book in me” or “always wanted to be an author”. I’ve been an avid reader all of  my life, but never gave any serious thought as to what it would be like to be on the other side of that partnership.  So, in that sense, all of it has been surprising. If I had to choose one thing, it would be how much I want to be writing whenever I’m doing something else, and yet how difficult it can be when I sit down to write to actually begin.

ILMK:  How important do you think it is as a writer that you are still reading as much as you do?

Kris Calvin:  It’s essential, I can’t write unless I’m  also reading. It’s kind of like priming the pump. I average about 2 to 3 novels a week. Conversely, although many of my author friends find that watching television series is another way to spur their creativity, if I watch TV or movies it seems to create a barrier to my putting words down on the page.

ILMK: In addition to reading and writing, it’s clear that you travel to a lot of literary events. Some of my readers know what’s it like to attend these as an audience member, but what it is like as an author? Do you see some of the same authors at different events?

Kris Calvin: Literary events  run the gamut,  from a  single author reading his or her work in front of 10 people in  a local bookstore to massive international conferences where many hundreds of authors and readers gather for several days of back-to-back speeches, interviews and panels, and all kinds of venues in formats that fall in between the two.

Attending as an author varies in experience, depending on timing and related goals. When I’m launching a new book I’ll spend the bulk of my time promoting it, often doing a signing and connecting with readers. If not, my schedule is more relaxed—I might  sit on a panel that is topic-related,  for example about creating a strong woman protagonist or writing a political thriller. But most of my time is spent doing the same thing I would do as a reader: attending other writers’ panels with the hope of being entertained and learning something! 

ILMK: One Murder More has gotten great reviews on Amazon, with an average of 4.7 stars out of 5 with 87 customer reviews. Take a look at this graph of the number of reviews the book has been getting.

OMM Review Distribution.JPG

Not surprisingly, the most reviews happened when it was first released, but the number of reviews has been trending upwards again this year. What have you done to maintain interest in the book?

Kris Calvin: The recent spike may be related to my doing a number of events, including speaking at rotaries and book clubs in-person and via Skype. These aren’t often large groups, but they are friendly and responsive and we have a lot of fun! I  don’t push purchasing my books when I speak, I share my experiences writing and in politics but I do specifically ask attendees to leave an honest review if they  get a chance to read the book. I think many folks don’t know that they can review a book on Amazon even if they buy it elsewhere, so maybe giving them that information has also helped.

ILMK: Generally, marketing must take some real time and energy. How do you prioritize your time between writing and marketing?

Kris Calvin: I’m a morning person, so that’s when I write.  It’s when my creative energy is best. I don’t do much direct marketing, but I’m aware that being active on social media connects me with people, some of whom then try out my books!  So I do that later in the day. 

ILMK: I understand that you are currently working on the second Maren Kane mystery. Was the plan always to make it a series?

Kris Calvin: I enjoy reading series a great deal, not only mysteries and thrillers but also sci-fi fantasy, and because I  work in politics in my day job I have no shortage of  motives for murder and mayhem!  I don’t outline, but I have a  premise in mind for the next five Maren Kane books. 

ILMK: Some authors have written several books in a series before releasing the first one. In your case, you are hearing from readers about what they like before you write the next Maren Kane mystery. How do you think that will affect it? Are there characters who may get more story line because the readers liked them more than you might have expected?

Kris Calvin: Each time I do an event with readers I ask them who their favorite and least favorite characters are, and what they might like to see happen to Maren and her friends next.  I’ve gotten lots of good ideas that way, although I also found some plot twist that I was already working onto be unpopular and  decided to rethink them! For example,  Polly, Maren’s British-born best friend, was sadly a victim of Sacramento  gang violence in the first draft of the second book. When I raised this at one event a woman told me she was going to start a #SavePolly  campaign as she couldn’t stand to see her go! So now Polly’s only been injured, and I’m pretty sure she’s going to be fine…

ILMK: You’ve also already had published a Maren Kane short story in the anthology, Tinsel and Temptation (at AmazonSmile*). How do short stories fit into the mix in your writing life?

Kris Calvin:  This story that you reference, That Merriest Murder, was the first short story that I’ve ever written,  at least since high school, and I’m not sure I wrote any then.  The most challenging part for me was the inability to put in false leads and “red herrings”  like I would normally do in a full-length novel. I felt like it would be obvious who the murderer was if I didn’t have room to create those alternate suspects.  You were quite helpful with that!  I don’t  know if you remember, but we had a discussion around that time about my frustration and you told me that short stories are fundamentally character-driven: that if I could create a compelling character, readers wouldn’t mind so much that the puzzle wasn’t as difficult.  That seems to have turned out to be true, as I had readers of that story tell me that they figured out who the murderer was, but that they enjoyed it nonetheless!  Since then I’ve written a second short story which is not out yet, and I greatly enjoyed the process.  It doesn’t require as much deferral of gratification  for the author as  writing a 300-page book! 

ILMK: One Murder More was published as an e-book, as a hardback, and now as a paperback. Do you find any differences in the reader reaction from the different formats? Do you do special marketing to appeal to readers of different formats?

Kris Calvin: It was my publisher’s idea to start with a hardback, as they feel it is the preferred format for reviewers. I’ve also since learned that it’s favored by many libraries.  I think they were right that that enabled me to get more attention for the book at launch. However, I think the typical consumer prefers to pay less for a new author’s work, and that makes both the paperback and the e-book far more appealing. The paperback is my favorite, I really like the way that it came out in terms of production value, we were able to add more “praise quotes” than we could at launch, which is fun,  and silly as it is to say, it’s much more lightweight and easy for me to carry around. I generally have a paperback copy of my book tucked in my purse to share with people that I meet who say they are avid thriller and mystery readers.  In terms of marketing, the only difference is I did a $.99 promotion for the e-book and that clearly had an effect. It lifted it into the top 100 Mystery and Thriller series out of approximately 64,000 titles in that category, and although it didn’t remain there,  sales  are still elevated.  Since my  primary goal is to gain readers,  having an available e-book at a low, low price is a really great way to do that. [Bufo’s note: the ninety-nine cent sale is still happening at time of writing, but I don’t know how long it will last]

ILMK: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?

Kris Calvin: If writing has taught me anything, it’s that it’s important to stay curious. As I mentioned, I didn’t begin writing my book because I “knew” that I wanted to be an author. I was just curious as to whether I could use the twist I had thought of to craft a mystery like the ones that I enjoy reading.  I’ve tried other things before this, running for local office, owning a vintage clothing store.  They were both interesting, but neither one landed as my “passion” the way writing has.  I know that being “a dilettante” is often viewed negatively, but I think there’s something to be said for dabbling in a number of different things until you find the one that truly lifts your heart.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

An ILMK interview with Adrian Liang, Amazon Books Editor

November 6, 2015

An ILMK interview with Adrian Liang, Amazon Books Editor

When I recently wrote about

Amazon’s 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books to Read in a Lifetime

it engendered some interesting conversation on this blog, and that got me quite curious about how the list was put together.

Well, I was very pleased when a member of Amazon’s team was able and willing to arrange an interview for me with the editor of the list

Adrian Liang, Amazon Books Editor

and to share it with you!

Without further ado:

ILMK: Thank you for agreeing to answer these questions for me and my readers about Amazon’s 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books to Read in a Lifetime! I always find lists like these fascinating, and I think proud geeks like me are particularly prone to analysis and opinion about them. Before we get started with the list itself, I’m curious: while I’m sure it would be a fantasy job for many of my readers to just read books and make lists about them all day, I suspect that isn’t the sum total of your job description. Could you tell us a bit about what your role is at Amazon, and what your typical day is like?

Adrian Liang (AL): I’m part of a team of six Amazon Books editors whose goal is to recommend great books to readers—which is pretty much a dream job. We’re all insatiable readers, but we do most of our reading at night and on weekends. Most mornings we come in and ask each other what we’ve read the evening before that we liked. We get literally boxes and boxes of advance reading copies from publishers, so when the mail delivery comes, it’s like Christmas every single day.

We have a lot of ways that we alert readers to excellent books. Each month, we select Best Books of the Month, and we let readers know about these picks through a dedicated page on and through our books blog and social media. In mid-November, we select the Best Books of the Year. We compile lists such as 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime—100 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books to Read in a Lifetime is the sixth list in this series. We also write on our books blog, the Amazon Book Review (, where we review books and interview authors.

There is a LOT of reading involved so that we can make recommendations—but that’s one reason why this is perhaps the very best job in the world.

ILMK: Thanks! Okay, on to the list. Let’s start out with the goals: what did you want to accomplish when you set out to make the list? What effect did you want it to have, and how did you think you would measure its success?

AL: Book lovers are always searching for the next good book, but a lot of the messaging about books (including ours!) focuses on new releases. With these 100 Books lists, we have the opportunity to remind readers of books that were published in the past and that have stood the test of time because they are amazing in various ways. If this list is the final nudge that leads a reader to say, “Fine, okay, I WILL finally read Dune,” then we’ve done our job. We also wanted to set a stake in the ground by calling out a few more obscure titles that we believe deserve more attention than they have received, and by recommending newer books that we think will become future classics.

ILMK: Let’s talk about the process. Being an editor is a collaborative function, and there had to be a lot of discussion about what to include. How did you work with any other people involved with the list?

AL: Every month we have to convince each other what books deserve to be on our Best of the Month lists, so we’re pretty good at discussing books and weighing their merits. SF and fantasy is a genre that is rich with great works, so we started out with an extremely long list. While whittling it down to 150 books wasn’t terribly hard, it was painful to get that list down to 100 books. We know that readers are going to say, “Why didn’t they include [insert amazing book here]?”, which is why we set up a list on Goodreads where readers can vote on which books they consider to be must-reads.

ILMK: The list is called 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books to Read in a Lifetime, and as I’m sure you know, both “science fiction” and “fantasy” are difficult terms to define…and some people are adamant that they should be treated separately. Even among diehard geeks, we often end up with Damon Knight’s dictum: “Science fiction is what we point to when we say ‘science fiction.'” How did you determine which books would fit that categorization for the list?

AL: You’re absolutely right—some books can slosh back and forth. We debated whether we should split it into separate lists—100 Science Fiction and then 100 Fantasy—but we decided against it for two reasons. One is that there is a large number of readers who read happily in both genres and don’t really care what the book is labeled as long as it delivers a smashing read. The second is that I don’t think it helps readers to squish books into ever-smaller and more limiting boxes. We read these types of books to expand our minds and our experiences, not to shrink

ILMK: Were there specific rules of inclusion? For example, did the book have to be available to purchase on Amazon? Did it have to have an English language edition (not all of the books on the list were first published in English)? Rules are what make a game fun: were there any you’d like to share?

AL: I know this sounds disingenuous, but honestly, I can’t think of a single rule we came up with when compiling the initial list. We were focused on the qualities of the books themselves. We asked ourselves, what books changed our way of thinking about our world or ourselves? That we go back to over and over again? That we take with us when we move to a new home? That we recommend to people who are looking for a good book, whether they have proclaimed themselves science fiction or fantasy readers or not?

ILMK: One of the biggest challenges for a list like this, after you’ve decided what you’ll consider, is the distribution of titles. Did you, for instance, try to have them distributed somewhat evenly across publication date decades?

AL: That’s a great question. We wanted the final choices to be somewhat balanced between fantasy and science fiction, but we didn’t make it a hard 50-50 split. We also wanted to give the classics their due, as well as include a number of newer books and authors that readers might not have heard of yet but (we think) would want to know about.

ILMK: A more specific type of distribution is author representation. Almost all of the authors are represented by only one entry each, but Neil Gaiman has two, and H.P. Lovecraft has a collection. If limiting the list to one title per author was a general goal (with exceptions), how did you select which single book from an author would make it?

AL: These were among the hardest decisions we made. We ended up limiting the number of titles each author had on the list because we trusted that if a reader picked up a book by that author and liked it, he or she would read other books by that author. For example, it’s the rare reader who would read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and then not read the rest of the books because we didn’t have them on our list.

I admit, we did fudge the author limitation by making Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings one of our picks, even though it was initially published as (and is still published as) three separate volumes. But hey, it’s Tolkien.

ILMK: While readers love to see their tastes confirmed, one of the joys of a list like this is the discovery of new (to the reader) titles. Do any titles stand out to you that you discovered in editing this list?

AL: I loved looking back at the older titles and remembering how I felt when reading them for the first time. I’ve read a lot (but not all) of Robert A. Heinlein’s books, and creating this list made me want to reread some of my favorites as well as dive into his books I haven’t read yet. One of the best parts about creating this list is that when I would tell people what we were working on, they would immediately suggest three or four titles that they loved.

ILMK: Finally, is there anything else you would like to tell my readers about editing this list?

AL: I’m admittedly biased, but my experience is that sci-fi and fantasy readers are a very thoughtful and passionate group. I loved seeing the responses readers had to our list, especially when they disagreed and had their own suggestions. The truth is that there are far more than 100 science fiction and fantasy books that we should read in our lifetime. Let’s all read far, far more than that.

ILMK: I want to thank you again for taking the time and energy to share a little behind the scenes of Amazon’s 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books to Read in a Lifetime! No doubt some of my readers will find great reads out of it, and I want to wish you happy reading in the future.

 AL: Thanks! Happy reading to you, too!

Big thanks both to Adrian Liang, and to the Amazon team member who arranged it! I really appreciated the thoughtful and insightful answers. This shows clearly to me that the booklover culture is alive and well at Amazon…I particularly enjoyed the Tolkien comment. 😉

Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think, and I’ll be sharing the link to this post (and your comments) with Amazon.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

An ILMK interview with The Behrg, author of the Kindle Scout winner Housebroken

January 2, 2015

An ILMK interview with The Behrg, author of the Kindle Scout winner Housebroken

When I recently wrote about the first books being selected in Amazon’s Kindle Scout program, I was pleased when one of those authors, The Behrg (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), commented on it. I arranged through The Behrg’s blog to do an e-mail interview, which is below. The Behrg’s Kindle Scout winning title, Housebroken, has not yet been released: I will update this with a link when it becomes available.

Bufo: Congratulations on your novel, Housebroken, being selected in the first round of the Kindle Scout program! I also want to thank you for sharing with my readers your experience as an author in the program. What was it like when you found out your novel was chosen?

The Behrg: Thanks so much!  It was a bit surreal, especially as this was the first round with Kindle Scout so no one knew how many books they would be selecting or what criteria they were looking for.  I’m humbled to have been chosen alongside many other authors I respect and admire.

Bufo: Tell us about your past publication history. I believe this is your first novel in the Kindle store: what else have you had published?

The Behrg:  You’re correct, this is my debut novel.  I’ve had various short stories published in online magazines and print anthologies.  Most of my writing time over the past decade was spent on screenplays.  The difficult thing with screenwriting is compacting your ideas into such a tight framework.  As I moved over to prose I felt immediately liberated — there was so much I could explore!  While I strive to keep pacing tight I love roaming through people’s heads and getting those inner thoughts that make someone who they are.  I still love the art of screenwriting but will be sticking with novels for awhile.

Bufo: Have you felt like you’ve been pretty much in control of how things have gone with your works, or have there been goals you’ve struggled to reach?

The Behrg:  I’m a very cautious individual when it comes to putting my work out there, something I learned from screenwriting.  You don’t want to submit a work until it’s 110% ready.  Being the perfectionist I am, this means umpteen drafts and a slower writing process than many other authors I know.  I look at authorship as a journey not a destination, so each little step and success along the way isn’t something to check off on a list of goals but rather a part of the experience.  Viewed in this light I think authors have complete control over their works and what they want to do with them.

Bufo: How did you hear about Kindle Scout? What was it about the program that convinced you to try it? What concerns did you have?

The Behrg:  It’s interesting because I had been sitting on my novel for over six months, not really knowing what I wanted to do with it — submit it to publishers? Self-publish?  Bury it in my backyard?  Then I heard about the Kindle Scout program on Twitter through a few fellow writers.  One of the things that convinced me to submit my novel was the backing of Amazon’s marketing behind the selected books.  Let’s face it, Amazon is a beast when it comes to marketing.  Very few companies do it better and to have the #1 seller of ebooks backing and promoting your product?  It’d be hard to lose.  I’ve been in the entertainment industry for years and don’t mind giving a piece of the cut to someone (or some company) for a larger percentage of the pie.  With this being my debut novel, it made the decision even easier.  

Bufo: How have other people supported you in this effort? Friends, family, fans?

The Behrg:  That’s a great question because to have a successful campaign with Kindle Scout you have to rely on others.  I’m a big believer in not spamming people with my own promotions.  There’s nothing worse than seeing your Twitter or Facebook feeds clogged up with the same message being delivered from the same person twelve times a day asking you to buy their book.  So I asked my family and a few close friends if they would help in promoting my novel once the campaign began.  They responded better than I ever could have imagined and were an integral part of my book remaining on the Hot and Trending list for so long.

Bufo: Did you have a strategy for Kindle Scout? Was it your primary goal to actually get published in it, or would you have considered it worthwhile to have participated? Were there other efforts that you had to put aside or de-emphasize to do Kindle Scout?

The Behrg:  Great questions.  I didn’t come into the program with a built-in audience or fanbase seeing as this was my first real novel.  In fact I was surprised when my novel hit the Hot list and stayed there for so long.  There were, however, some things I put in place which I feel helped tremendously in the process.  I actually put together a post on my blog for authors who are looking to submit to Kindle Scout, offering some tips. (Not to toot my own horn, but you can find it here:  One of the key things is to remember your campaign is a marathon not a sprint.  Be sure to spread out your promos to your fanbase or marketing or whatever means you’re utilizing to promote your work and get those nominations.  If they all come in at once, that’s great but where will your book be weeks 2-4?  As far as the efforts that went into promoting the campaign, I purposely chose not to allow it to interfere with my writing time.  I really didn’t do much other than blog about my experience and do the occasional post on Facebook or Twitter.  Luckily fans, friends and family did the grunt work for me and kept that thing humming along.

Bufo: How has participation in the program been? Have things gone smoothly? What was the best surprise you got about it?

The Behrg:  I don’t think the program is for everyone, and that’s okay — it’s not meant to be.  But I would highly recommend anyone who has a completed novel that is ready to go to give it a try.  Even if you don’t win, there’s so much you learn from the process … plus you’re picking up fans and new readers who wouldn’t have known about you any other way.  One of the best surprises to me came from comments on my blog and people sending congratulatory emails about my book’s acceptance, all from readers I don’t personally know.  I’ve also made some great contacts with other authors who were in the program, some who were chosen and some who weren’t, who I’m now speaking with about future projects or helping as a beta-reader with their new works and vice versa.  None of these contacts would have been made had I not given the program a chance.

Bufo: What else would you like to tell my readers about Kindle Scout?

The Behrg:  I think Kindle Scout is very much in its infancy and we’ll probably see a lot of changes to it as it continues.  Many authors are waiting to see how it works out for those who were selected in the first go-around.  I’m happy to say, from the contact I’ve had with the Kindle Scout team, they’re taking it very seriously and are providing even more than I had hoped for.  For readers, I think it’s a fantastic program.  You’re able to discover new authors and talent you might not have heard of and also help support those authors in reaching their dreams.  Plus you have a chance of receiving free copies of the books that are chosen if you nominate them.  There’s really no downside.  A few of the books I nominated were not chosen, but I’ve taken the opportunity to reach out to those authors to let them know I’d be interested in purchasing their book once they are released (whether self or traditionally published).

Bufo: Would you put another book into Kindle Scout? How would you change the program if you could?

The Behrg:  I’m not sure if I would put a second book into the Kindle Scout program.  I’m wanting to try several different methods of publishing to see what works the best.  I don’t think there’s one magic bullet that will put an author on a fast-track to notoriety, it’s just a constant stream of activity and work and eventually all of those parts add together to hopefully an impressive sum.  As far as changes I would make to the program?  I think it would be in everyone’s interest for the authors to be given a way to communicate with those who nominated their works.  For instance, the books I nominated that weren’t chosen, I would love to hear an update from the author on when they might be publishing them.  Amazon would win as it would lead to more sales, the authors win as whether or not they’re chosen they’re picking up a wider audience, and the readers win by finding great new books.

Bufo: One more question about Kindle Scout: did you participate in it as a reader?

The Behrg:  Absolutely!  It would be a shame to only be in a program like this for myself and not support other authors.  In truth, I’ve discovered new authors and have gone on to purchase some of their backlists.  Most of the promoting I did during my campaign was for the program itself, telling people about Kindle Scout and sending them to the home page rather than my own link for a nomination.  We need programs like this to succeed, ways to sift through a lot of the noise and help great books rise to the top.

Bufo: Finally, tell us about the book. How would you describe the genre, and your writing style? What type of person would find Housebroken especially appealing?

The Behrg:  Housebroken is a dark psychological thriller, a home invasion story with a twist.  The basic premise is about a family that is taken hostage in their own home yet their kidnappers have no demands — all they want is to observe the family for a week, following their every day activity.  As you can imagine, that’s a recipe for disaster.  Add to it that the kidnappers create rules for the family that when broken, cause the kidnappers to break their own rules — rules that include no one getting hurt, the family’s son staying with them, and the observation lasting only a week.  There are a lot of twists and turns and surprises along the way.  Anyone who enjoys Dean Koontz, Gregg Hurwitz, or Stephen King novels would enjoy this.

Bufo: Thanks again for doing this interview! Books are at the heart of it all, and they don’t exist without authors like you. Time may be the most valuable resource for a writer, and I appreciate you sharing yours with us.

The Behrg:  I appreciate the opportunity to share a piece of my journey with you and your readers!  I myself am an avid reader and to me there’s nothing more exciting than discovering a new author whose voice just speaks to you.  Some of my favorite authors today are writers I hadn’t heard about a year or two ago!  Gregg Hurwitz, Michael Sears, Ted Dekker, Joe Hart, Blake Crouch, Douglass Clegg; there really is so much talent out there.  It’s a great time to be a reader!  Ten or twenty pages in, when you’re reading with a smile, already lost in the world that’s been created — partly in print but mostly in your own imagination — that’s an amazing experience.  My aim with my own writing is to facilitate that journey and join you on the ride.


Housebroken (at AmazonSmile*)

is now available for purchase for $3.99, or to read as part of Kindle Unlimited at no additional cost.

Join over a thousand readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

An ILMK interview with September Day, the voice of the Kindle Fire HD

August 7, 2013

An ILMK interview with September Day, the voice of the Kindle Fire HD

I was honored recently when September Day, the voice artist behind the text-to-speech software used on second generation Kindle Fires, left a comment on this blog.

I’ve always liked voice artists (Paul Frees is a personal favorite), but I do feel like I have a different connection to September Day. I typically listen to text-to-speech on my Kindle Fire HD for hours every week…I’ve spent a lot of time listening to September!

September was kind enough to answer some questions for me and my readers:

ILMK: While many of us have spent so many hours listening to you that we feel like we know you, we realize that we actually don’t. Tell us a little bit about the life path that brought you to doing the voice we hear on our Kindle Fires.

September Day: I was a veterinary technician for 13 years right out of college. I absolutely loved it, but it was tough on all fronts; physically, emotionally, mentally. One day, I started to consider a career change and remembered that back in my youth I had loved a particular local radio station. I would call in and chat with the DJs and one of them, the commercial production guy, would constantly ask me to come in and record but my shyness held me back. In 2007, I finally got the guts to give it a try and 6 months into my career, I was voicing at the MTV VMAs. By the way, that same DJ from my teenage years happened across my voiceover website years later. We reconnected and have been married 3 years this October with 2 little girls and a baby boy.

ILMK: You’ve done a variety of voice work, including announcing the MTV VMAs (Video Music Awards) and voicing MJ* in a Spider-Man motion comic. You’ve also appeared on screen in a movie. Your delivery has been quite different in different situations. When you recorded the voice that we have with Ivona, do you consider it acting, or something else? Are you thinking of a character, perhaps picturing the person speaking?

SD: Working with Ivona was unique in many ways. One has to keep a consistent tone for many days, many hours a day. They were asking for a youthful voice and I am 36 so I have to work to keep that youthful pitch. The acting part was keeping the mental fortitude to keep the pace and tone level throughout every single sentence. It was perhaps, the absence of acting. I was permitted no inflection of my voice except for the last words of some sentences. I had to read all of “Alice in Wonderland” and many, many news stories from the AP wire. As Ivona is based in Poland, it was the European AP wire, which is *much* more difficult and unfamiliar

ILMK: Have you done any audiobooks? How is that different? Do you listen to text-to-speech or audiobooks for your own entertainment?

SD: I have done a few short audiobooks. It’s not my favorite aspect of the industry simply because of the long recording time. Also, there are times when I am requested to edit my own audio, which is the bane of my existence as a voice talent. I don’t listen to many audiobooks as speaking and listening to speech is my job. I much prefer music of the classical, house, electronic, world and ambient varieties.

ILMK: Presumably, once you’ve recorded a voice for software like this, you don’t know how or where it will be specifically used. Have you ever been surprised by encountering your own voice in your daily life?

SD: Oh yes! I had no idea of the plans for the software. I had assumed it would mostly be used for GPS navigations or IVR. There have been times I have been in line at the bank or grocery store and have heard my voice coming from a tablet. The first time it happened, it was incredibly surreal. I was holding my daughter, just kind of snuggling and whispering in her ear that she was going to get a lollipop from the bank teller when my voice spoke up reading out loud. We both turned and my daughter shouted, “Mama”!. I had to explain everything to about 15 bank customers and 4 tellers. It was hilarious!

ILMK: Many of my readers are also authors. It can be hard to balance your creative life and your personal one. Is there anything about being a voice artist that makes that easier?

SD: Definitely! Having a home studio means that I can work in pajamas!… or less. I’m able to squeeze in auditions and jobs during naptime and after the kids go to bed. I also take my recording setup on the road when we travel, so I’m able to work and finance our travel as we go. That is really convenient. Because I have been doing it so long, auditioning and editing can be done very quickly and gives me plenty of time to have other outside interests and be a mom.

ILMK: What’s it like when you record a voice like this? Do you do it out of your home studio, or do you go to a studio? Does anyone direct you in your performance?

SD: For this particular job, I went to GM Voices, a large studio in north Atlanta. The Ivona representative would call in on what’s called a phone patch using Skype and listen as I spoke. It was his job to make sure I didn’t lose pace or tone and to help with the pronunciation of the names of prime ministers from European and African countries.

ILMK: Are you given specific material to read? Are you reading actual books, or are they words and sentences designed for use with the software?

SD: Yes. I read over 196,000 prompts from “Alice in Wonderland”, the AP wire, and many just random sentences. Apparently, the software knew beforehand the sounds it needed from me and so it crawled the web to find sentences that would make me deliver those sounds. I do remember one particular sentence I’ll never forget: “Here one of the guinea-pigs cheered, and was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court.” It was the line we played at the start of each session for me to get the tone perfect again.

ILMK: Do you do any research into the “proper” way to pronounce things? Some words are pronounced differently in different regions of the country, for example, and you may also be encountering scientific terms or (in the case of science fiction, fantasy, and proper names), made up ones. How do you decide how to say it?

SD: Honestly, we say it every way it can be said. That is true in all aspects of VO. When a script contains a word or number that can be said different ways, it’s easiest to just give every variation because inevitably, the one you choose will be wrong.

ILMK: Do you ever re-record, because you want to change your performance?

SD: All the time! Sometimes, a 60 second commercial session can take a half hour to do depending on the director, how many people from an ad agency attend the recording, how creative the team is feeling. Sometimes, they re-write the whole thing on the spot. Most times, it’s done quickly, but I have had sessions last for 8 hours for a 30 minute infomercial.

ILMK: About how much time did you spend recording for Salli, the voice we hear on the current Kindle Fires?

SD: Salli was recorded over 8, 8 hour days with short bathroom breaks. I couldn’t eat between takes because that changes how your mouth sounds so I would always leave the studio starving! I had also just given birth to my first baby girl 4 days prior to the project so sitting that long for that many days wasn’t easy. It was at that point that I got the reputation in the industry as “hardcore”!

ILMK: Is there is anything else you’d like to say to my readers? Many of us are very grateful to have the opportunity to enjoy books when we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do so.

SD: I’m very honored and pleased to be the voice of the Kindle Fire. I have always enjoyed volunteering in the community and throughout my voiceover career, I have donated my services to many nonprofits including reading for the blind and print handicapped. Knowing that my voice is able to help these people on a global level now is so rewarding.


Thanks again to September Day for taking the time to answer these questions is such an entertaining way!

* MJ is Mary Jane Watson, an important love interest for Peter Parker

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

The Kindle Lending Club: borrow and lend Kindle books for free

January 16, 2011

The Kindle Lending Club: borrow and lend Kindle books for free

Amazon recently introduced the ability to loan Kindle books to people who aren’t on your account.  This creates parity with the NOOK’s lending feature.

However, it raises an obvious question…how do you find people with whom to lend and borrow books?  Sure, it could be a coworker…but which of them have Kindles?  It might be a family member or a friend…but it may be better to just have them on the same account with you.

Enter Catherine McDonald and The Kindle Lending Club.

This is a free service that originally started on Facebook and is now in a public beta (testing phase) at another site.

Catherine is one of my readers, and commented on my announcement when Kindle book lending first went into effect.

She was also nice enough to answer some questions* for me about the service, and to allow me to share those with you.

Those questions and answers follow:


1. Why should someone use The Kindle Lending club?

The Kindle Lending Club is a free service that connects Kindle owners who would like to borrow books from one another.  We have had a Facebook page ( since December 31 and our website (, which will provide a more powerful book search, browse, and instant borrower-lender matching, launched in beta on Friday, January 14.  Our large, diverse group of readers means that there are all sorts of books available to borrow at any time, including the bestsellers.  

2. About how many members do you have?  Do you know approximately how many books have been loaned?

As of today, January 15, we have 4,593 members on the Facebook page and 854 people partcipating in the public beta of the website.  We haven’t had the time to really keep track closely, but there have been hundreds of book loans arranged at the Facebook page since we launched on December 31.

Bufo’s Update: Catherine was nice enough to give me these figures when they became available

Books listed to loan: 1,804
Borrow requests: 753
Completed loans: 313

4. Do people have to publicly reveal their e-mail addresses?  If so, have people expressed privacy concerns?  Do you worry about being involved in a complaint?

People do not have to publicly reveal their e-mail addresses.  Borrowers have to reveal their e-mail address to the lender, of course, because Amazon requires an email address to process the loan.  But you don’t have to use your Amazon account e-mail address for a loan; you could set up a free e-mail account that you only use for this purpose if you are concerned about privacy.

5. Some people think that loaning to strangers is outside of the “spirit” of the program.  How do you feel about that?

This is a great question.  My feeling is that Amazon developed a pretty abuse-proof lending system to so that you or I can choose to lend any given book to a personal friend, a family member, or someone we know from an online community.  When you purchase a Kindle ebook, you really purchase a package of digital rights, including the right, if the book has lending enabled, to lend it once to a person of your choosing.  Whether you lend to a friend or fellow club member online, the book can only be loaned once.  Shouldn’t people who do not have a large circle of book-loving “real-life” friends still have the pleasure of lending their books?

6. What will be the biggest surprise people get when using The Kindle Lending Club?

I think there are a couple of surprises in store.  First of all, the size of our community means that there are hundreds of books available to borrow, even many copies of popular bestsellers, at any given time.  Our members have said that they sometimes get loaned books within moments of requesting them.  The second thing that may surprise people is how friendly and generous our community is to one another, and how welcoming they are to newcomers.

8. How do people join?  Does each member need to have a Facebook account?

To use the Facebook group discussion boards to borrow and lend right now, people will need to have a Facebook account.  However, a Facebook account is not mandatory at the website.


I found Catherine to be professional, forthcoming, and clear in our communications.  I haven’t tried the site myself yet, although I have looked at it.  I think it will be a tremendous resource for some Kindle owners.  I can’t vouch for the organization, but my intuition is that it is what it appears to be.

If you have experience with the site, or decide to use it as a result of this article, please feel free to comment on this post.  I assume Catherine will also see this, and may reply to comments as well.

For more information on Kindle book lending, see my Frequently Asked Kindle Questions: special book lending edition

* Catherine initially provided a set of answers.  Unfortunately, through purely my error, I didn’t see it for several days.  The best way to reach me concerning this blog and my other writings is by leaving a comment on this blog.  If you want it to be private, please let me know in the comment.  With Catherine, the correspondence went through another channel, one I don’t check as often or as carefully, and I simply missed her e-mail.  The reason I bring this up is that her answers needed to be updated to reflect the new beta non-Facebook service.  I rewrote the necessary answers slightly, mostly just changing tenses and that sort of thing.  I sent it to her for her approval, which she gave me.  She was also able to give me some more detail, which is separated out in the interview. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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