Heather Rose Jones specialises in historical novels. Her appreciation for history is reflected in her work as an author, blogger and podcaster.
This is what she says:
What I do for a Living
I’m a discrepancy investigator for a major biotech pharmaceutical company. Think of it as being an industrial failure analyst: anything that goes wrong in the drug manufacturing process, it’s my job to figure out what happened and why, and whether it affected product quality or our confidence in it.
Another way of thinking of it is like living in a cozy murder mystery–except without the dead bodies! I love solving puzzles and I love that my job requires me to know a little bit about absolutely everything. (And then they let me write reports.)
I’m also an author, but that barely pays my Starbucks bill, much less paying my mortgage.
I think if I had to sum up the common factor in what I love to read, it would be “stories that take me away from the here and now.” I love historical fiction, especially from authors who not only know their history but who can connect me with the common humanity of people in other ages and cultures, even when their understanding of the world is entirely different from my own. And, of course, bonus points for making me feel like I’m walking down streets of other times, seeing the sights, tasting the food, feeling what it’s like to wear the clothing. And if the history has a bit of romance, that’s excellent too. But I don’t want to read historic love stories where the people act just like modern people. I want their lives to be informed by the world they live in.
I love fantasy stories, especially ones that immerse me in an entirely different world. I like stories that explore different societies, different shapes of history, different ways of being. Give me interesting characters and beautiful language, a re-told fairy tale that deconstructs the original while still entertaining me, an adventure solved more by ingenuity and goodwill than by waving a sword around. Not that I don’t enjoy a solid bit of swashbuckling on occasion!
I’m a bit pickier about science fiction than fantasy. I’m not so much of a “rockets and rayguns” sort of person and it’s hard to describe why one author will grab me and another won’t. Again, I’m more interested in explorations of other societies, other ways of being. I love science fiction that plunges me directly into a completely unfamiliar world, like throwing me into the deep end of the pool and expecting me to swim.
In general, I like stories of clever, thoughtful women who reach out to form bonds and communities to solve their challenges. But I also like stories about tormented loners, striving against the odds and against their own natures. Above all else, I love great writing: beautiful prose that wraps me up like a warm blanket, or explodes like fireworks, or melts on the tongue like maple sugar.
Of course, the other type of book I love reading is non-fiction. I read a lot of reference works on the history of gender and sexuality for my blog, and when I’m doing research for my own writing, I’ll read texts on everything from alchemy to opera.
What Turns Me Off a Book?
What don’t I like? There have been times in my life when I’ve enjoyed contemporary fiction, but it doesn’t really thrill me any more. And erotic scenes don’t really do anything for me. I have an imagination; I’d rather you let me fill things in for myself. In general, if the plot of a book can be summed up as a single trope, I’m not likely to enjoy it. I want complexity, subtlety, and nuance. I want to read about characters who have rich lives whether they ever have a big romance or not. And above all else, I think life is too short to read dull, pedestrian writing.
Why Do I Review Books?
I’ve been reviewing things on my blog for over a decade: books, movies, recipes, software, plays, all manner of things. (At one point I was doing reviews of odd fruits and vegetables that I’d never previously eaten.)
For me, the review format has three major functions.
Firstly, it’s a way to stop and think about my experience–to analyze why I did or didn’t like it.
Secondly, it’s a reminder to myself of the things I’ve consumed (because my memory is pretty abysmal without some sort of aid). I come from a long line of diarists and although I’ve never succeeded in keeping a diary for any extended period of time, I like the idea of recording my reactions to the world in that sort of durable way.
And thirdly, it’s a way of starting conversations with other people who either have enjoyed (or not enjoyed) the same work, or who might want to try it based on my review. So when Sheena asked if I’d like to do reviews for the website, it was just a matter of adding another format and venue to what I was already doing.
How Much Do I Read?
I don’t read anywhere near as much as I’d like to! I can remember a time in my life when I could go through a novel every couple of days. I had a bit of a break in my habits back in the ‘90s when I was in graduate school. I was reading so much for my schoolwork that I didn’t have room in my brain for novels, especially the immersive ones I loved. And coming out of grad school was when I started really focusing on my own writing, and I found that I used the same part of my brain for writing as for reading. So my reading slowed down a lot. I’ve come out of that to some degree, but my life is really full and I mostly fit the fiction reading in when I’m on the elliptical at the gym. (Hooray for e-books!)
Numbers, Heather, numbers! Fortunately, given that I compulsively blog everything I read, I have hard statistics. For fiction, I average about 25 novels a year, plus a fair amount of short fiction–although I consume a lot of short fiction in audio. (Fiction podcasts are a staple of my commute, and I review short fantasy fiction in audio for a different website.) As a very rough estimate, my fiction reading is distributed evenly across four categories: lesfic, fantasy, science fiction, and historical. I also read about 25 non-fiction books or the equivalent in articles in a year.
To Sum Up
I’m an analytical reviewer. I like to think about the books that I read–and so I like to read books that make me think.