Introducing Keris Stainton/Trashionista

Friday, July 11, 2008

It's been nine months or so since I (quietly) joined this blogging community, and every single day some sort of richness is returned. Some priceless appeasement. Some new platinum link in a fabulously idiosyncratic chain. Keris Stainton—the Brit behind the wildly influential book site Trashionista, that call-it-how-she-sees it critique maestro—is one of those I could now not live without. We bonded over books, yes. We talked about titles and covers and author faves. But we've also got a Big Thing for ballroom dance going on between us, as she dishes on Strictly Come Dancing and I dish on Dancing with the Stars, and as together we sigh with something more like awe than envy over those who make us believe in grace and beauty. Keris kindly answered some questions this week. It is a great honor to share them.

Keris, I have discovered in you not just a writer and a mother but also a tremendous advocate for books and those who read them, not to mention a woman who seems to love ballroom dance as much as I do. We'll get to each in its turn, but to begin: How do you define yourself?

Wow. Okay, well the definition I've got on my blog is "voracious reader and compulsive writer". Despite my son being 4 and the fact that I'm expecting another baby, I still can't think of myself as a "mother". I know I *am* one, it just seems too grown-up for me.

Pink is a predominate color on a site that you've called Trashionista. There's a fabulous near-contradiction in that. Tell us about who you have hoped to reach with this blog, who you have in fact reached, and how you became a multi-continent sensation.

Well, I didn't actually create or design the site. I think it had been going for about a year before I got involved. I saw it on a friend's blog and, since I love chick lit, had to check it out. I started writing some unpaid reviews and then, when the editor left, she asked myself and Diane Shipley (who'd also been writing unpaid reviews) to take over as joint editors. We ran the site together for about a year and then Diane left and I've been sole editor since August 07.

The "trash" in Trashionista refers to the fact that we're not afraid to "trash" the books, rather than that we think the books themselves are trash, which couldn't be further from the truth (most of the time, at least). I'm embarrassed to admit that it took me a ridiculously long time to get that. Whenever an author said they loved the name of the blog, I'd wonder why because I thought it was borderline insulting!

I wanted to reach readers who love chick lit as much as I do. Who don't think chick lit's a dirty word, anti-feminist or "hurting America" (all things it's been accused of). I'm with Marian Keyes in that the voracious criticism of chick lit is more about misogyny than it is about the range or quality of the writing. Yes, there's some bad chick lit, but there are bad examples in every genre and they don't come under anywhere near as much criticism as chick lit.

The people I've reached who I never expected to reach are authors and other publishing industry professionals. We seem to be very well respected in the industry and I'm sure that's because people recognise that we love the genre. I've been surprised and thrilled at how many authors have contacted me personally and they're (almost) always very generous with their time and expertise. I'm still a book dork at heart, so getting a personal email from an author is always a big thrill.

As for being "a multi-continent sensation" - that made me laugh out loud. I'm not even a sensation in my own house!

Do you have a room in your house dedicated to the boxes and pouches of books that arrive each week? How many volumes pass through your house in a given year? Have you thought about starting a lending library in your spare time?

As I'm writing this surrounded by at least eight piles of books, I can't really say there's a system ... but there's an attempt at a system. I've started to put review books into publication date order. If I manage to read ahead I can then allow myself to read something from my TBR shelves, which currently stretch to about 100 books. Sigh.

Books that I've read, I either sell online, pass to friends or give to the charity shop. Those books currently live in the "holding pen" that is soon to become my son's new bedroom, so I'm going to have to start shipping them out a bit quicker than I do now. I do have a separate enormous pile of books to exchange with my former co-editor, Diane. She lives about two hours away and we meet up periodically to swap books. I actually got us both wheeled shopping trolleys to make the exchange easier. We draw some stares, I can tell you. :)

As for how many pass through... I dread to think. I read at least three a week, so that's over 150 and that's only books that I finish. I give up on an awful lot of books. I used to make myself finish, but not anymore. I read a great quote from the author, Nick Hornby, recently. He said that every time you force yourself to keep reading a book you're not enjoying, you're reinforcing the idea that reading is an obligation rather than a pleasure. Even though it's my job, I need it to be a pleasure so if I'm not enjoying a book, I just stop.

What do you love in a book? What makes you stop reading?

What I love in a book is a tricky one. I try not to analyse it too much, since between my English degree and now reviewing so many books, I don't want to lose the magic. I was called a "naive reader" at university, because I didn't want to analyse, I just wanted to enjoy. One thing I do know is that I'm more interested in character than plot - if you've got fascinating characters, you can get away with very little happening. Then again, *something* has to happen although there's no point in reading.

The number one thing that makes me stop reading is exposition in dialogue. It's incredibly lazy and it drives me insane. Factual errors bug me too (Tony Parsons referring to the Britney Spears song "Do It To Me One More Time" for instance).

If you could change one thing about publishing, what would it be?

Oh dear, just one? Well, I'm only just starting out in publishing really, but something someone said to one of my author friends always sticks in my mind and infuriates me. They were talking about how young adult fiction is so enormously popular in the US and not as popular in the UK and the publishing professional said that it never will be as popular. Um, not with that attitude it won't! It's part of the reason my friend and fellow YA author - of the completely brilliant Split By A Kiss - Luisa Plaja and I started our British YA blog, Chicklish - to promote YA fiction in the UK.

Well, this is self-indulgent, forgive me, but ballroom: Once I read on your blog about you dancing about the house with your child (an image I loved and to which I deeply relate). And of course you and I have shared gossip and awe over shows like Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing with the Stars (and by the way, have you started watching So You Can Think You Can Dance yet, which in my opinion trumps them all?). Why ballroom? Why dance? Why do you love it? Are we (be honest now) lovers of dance just a tad on the crazy side?

You're forgiven! No, I haven't seen So You Can Think You Can Dance yet, but I will, I promise! I've always loved to watch people dance. I think it probably comes from my grandmother, with whom I used to watch old Hollywood musicals. I was just thinking today that my childhood crushes were Howard Keel, Gene Kelly, Russ Tamblyn... From there I moved on to pop stars, but I always loved acts who danced rather than just stood there. Say what you like about New Kids on the Block, but they could move!

Why ballroom? Well, I had absolutely no interest in ballroom until Strictly Come Dancing started and I just fell in love with it. It's just pure joy to watch. And no, we're certainly not the crazy ones! Anyone who could watch Gene Kelly's famous Singing in the Rain routine or the barn-raising scene from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and not want to go and dance in the street is the crazy one.

Has being a blogger fundamentally changed your life?

Oh, absolutely. When I discovered blogging (via the author Jennifer Weiner's blog), I was working as an administrator in the Corporate Recovery and Personal Insolvency department of an accountants (which was just as soul-destroying as it sounds) and desperately wanting to be a writer, without, you know, actually doing much in the way of writing. I started a blog and used it really as a way to make myself write every day. Through the blog I met numerous wonderful people, including writers and journalists, who've been incredibly generous with their time and support.

I believe my blog also helped me get both an agent and a publisher for my fiction, since they could go to my blog and not only read extracts from my writing, but see that I am dedicated to writing and that I have a readership (albeit a relatively small one, but still!).

I actually had the chance to interview Jennifer Weiner by email recently. I told her she changed my life, but she didn't respond. :)

You are a writer, a wonderful writer, of YA stories. Please tell us a little about what you are working on, what you are hoping to achieve.

Thank you. Well I recently got a two book deal, but they want to publish the finished book second and so I need to write another by the end of the year. It's about three girls who go through big life changes over the course of one summer.

What I'm hoping to achieve in my YA fiction in general is to make teenagers feel less alone. I always felt like an outcast as a teenager. I never felt like I quite "got" what was going on and always felt outside of things, whether it would be not liking the right music, wearing the right clothes, or one of those horrible occasions when your group of friends stop talking to you but decide not to tell you why (that didn't just happen to me, did it?).


Luisa at Chicklish said...

Keris, you are *so* a sensation! This was a brilliant and inspirational interview - I loved reading it.

And thank you very much for mentioning Chicklish. And me. :)

Thanks to Beth, too. I love your blog!

Luisa at Chicklish said...

Argh! I used the Chicklish account and forgot to sign that.

That message was from Luisa.

But you can call me 'chick', last name 'lish'. ;)


Em said...

Fun interview. I think I need to post that quote by Nick Hornby on my planner, my blog, my wall, and maybe even have it tattooed on my hand. I'm horrible at always finishing the books that I start. Even if they're awful. :(

So thanks for the advice! It was fun to hear about how Chicklish got started, another fav site of mine!

Debs Riccio said...

Great stuff, Keris!
That Britney Spears mistake of Tony Parsons' had me seething too (had it not been right at the end of the book, I'd have thrown it away) I ended up e-mailing the daily paper he was writing for at the time and told him what I thought of his proofchecking - heard nothing (hmm). Put me off him for life.

Beth Kephart said...

Luisa —

Very cool to have you come all across the sea and hang with us for awhile here. I appreciate your comments!

Miss Em... Always a pleasure.

Deborah: May I never make a like mistake!


Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

Awesome interview!

Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
Chapter 1 is online!

Little Willow said...

Congratulations on your happy family and on your book deal!

Gene Kelly = phenomenal.

West Side Story - Russ Tamblyn at his best.

Keris Stainton said...

Thanks, everyone.

And thanks to Beth for an interview that everyone's been emailing me about! :)

Beth Kephart said...

Thank you, Beth, Little Willow, and (but of course) Keris....

These are fun to do,


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