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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

ZOMBIES - Ursula Raphael: Master Reviewer, Champion of Homeschooling, and Book Lover of the Highest Order

"O Lord, bless this Thy hand grenade that with it Thou mayest blow Thine enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy." ~Monty Python

Crocheted hat by Ursula Raphael

Vital Stats:
Full Name: Ursula K Raphael
Code Name/Alter Ego: Astra Daemon
Primary Specialty: reviewing zombie books
Secondary Specialty: homeschooling (public school kids don't seem to fare very well in apocalyptic scenarios)

Q – Ursula, you made a splash in Entertainment Weekly when you called them out for not talking up the zombie titles of Permuted Press? How did it feel to see your name in lights, so to speak?

=== I think that was my 15 minutes...hopefully, people who read the letter googled "Permuted Press," and bought some excellent zombie novels, as opposed to the crap that EW was trying to push. Thanks to the letter, Permuted Press has put me/Zombiephiles.com on their reviewer list & I've been in touch with even more talented authors.

Zombies taking a bite out of EW, courtesy of UKR!


Q – Ursula, I’ve been talking with people who enjoy reading and reviewing books like you do. What made you decide to pursue this endeavor?


=== I didn't take writing reviews seriously, until my reviews on Amazon started getting a lot of attention...then I fell in with Rob aka Zombiephile at the site & thought, "This would be a great way to mix a bunch of interests & add to my resume while I'm doing the parenting thing." I worked for Sylvan before that. It's not really a leap for me to go from tutoring to writing about zombie literature: I'm doing my part to make sure post-apocalyptic kids don't end up like the kids in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.

"And I wonder when we are eva' gonna' chay-ange?"

 Q - Your an vocal advocate of home schooling. I think you and I can get into the great advantages home schooling offers to children. Why is there such vociforous opposition to home schooling by state and government representatives in your opinion?

=== Correction, I am an advocate for educational choice, and I choose homeschooling for my son...it's about tailoring the learning to the child, and not the other way around. I don't judge parents if they choose another method for their children.

===When parents choose homeschooling, they still pay taxes to the school district, but the schools lose money with a lower head count...so I think money is the number one issue at the heart of the debate over homeschooling. I also think there is too much politics in the schools -- changing our science books, history books...lawsuit after lawsuit. The fact is the government needs to stop looking at our children as commodities.

=== Basically, telling homeschoolers how to teach their children is like preaching fire safety when your own house is burning down. It's no secret that regulations haven't made much of a difference in the public school system. Every day we read headlines stating budget shortfalls, program cuts, teacher strikes, teacher firings, failing test scores, student violence, abuse by teachers -- most recently, school closures, which means even more overcrowding in the classrooms for the existing schools. State & federal government need to stop advocating a broken system.

Q - How many books do you read in a month, on average?

 ===  It depends on what else is going on in my life & the size of the books...a good month is at least a dozen books -- a bad month is being lucky to finish one book per week. My husband works on horror movies, on & off the screen, and my son is getting into it now too, so I go where they go. For some reason, when people see me reading a book, they want to talk to me. Drives me nuts because I like to try & read most books in one sitting, to keep in the moment of the storyline.

Q – Kindles, Nook, and Smashwords, are here and now. Do you review books from these new devices?

=== I can figure out how to use new technology quite easily. That being said, I am still anti-technology...you should have seen how long I put off switching to DVDs & CDs -- now people are trying to take paper away from me! Not happening! I do read PDFs, but I prefer actual books. How in the world are readers going to get autographs from their favorite authors? Are writers going to develop electronic signatures? Most electronics are going to be rendered useless in the apocalypse anyway...

Q – How do you keep up with your books? Do you ever go through them and resell them?

===  I NEVER resell books, but I do donate to my local library from time to time, or pass something on to a friend or another reviewer. My favorites get placed in my office -- they usually get read over & over. Others that I like, but don't read very often, get stored somewhere else, and I make sure all of my books are safe from the elements.

Q – As a reader, you must have books that are special to you. Share a few.

=== My favorite book series is The Lost Swords by Fred Saberhagen; I loved how he wrote about the same events from different POVs in each of the novels. Kim Paffenroth, Brian Keene and Nathan Long helped fill in the gap that was made when mainstream ruined Stephen King (A bear? A f*cking bear following a girl in the woods? WTF was that about?!) It's not all horror for me though...Herbie Brennan has a special place in my office, Carl Jung still rocks from the grave, and I've been reading The Chronicles of Narnia over & over since I was 8 yrs old. This year, however, Craig DiLouie has set very high standards for everyone else in the horror genre with Tooth and Nail.



Q - When you are writing reviews, what criteria do you use to judge it?

===  I want to be entertained, first & foremost...I'm not a reviewer so much as a reader who wants to share some good books with everyone else. I can't stand reading reviews that get caught up in calling out every typo, or ripping on authors in general. If I don't like something, I usually don't waste my time writing a review, unless I think the book is so damn bad that it's a waste of trees. I like stories that open with a hook in the first few pages, pack in the action & make me care about the characters. I also take note of the POV -- that can make or break a book, regardless of how awesome the plot is.

Q – So, Zombies, Fights, or Blood?

===  Well, not blood...I can just turn on the news for that. Fights have a lot of potential, but I've also been very interested in the variety of zombies that now exist. I guess I have to go with zombies.

Q – If you could listen to an author from any era speak about writing, who would it be?

===  Not sure...but I'd like to tell Renee Descartes that he is full of shit.
Ursula K. Raphael vs. Rene Descartes:  Make it happen, Vince McMahon!


Q - What book would you like to see turned into a movie?

===  I have a long list, but the problem is the movie studios -- they just can't accept that if a book does really well, they should follow the original storyline. There are plenty of kick-ass novellas that could easily transfer into a 2 hr movie without leaving out too many details.

Q – What would you like to say to authors?

=== Stop writing journal formats & survival guides in the zombie genre...just stop. Stop writing stories simply to break into mainstream & write something that won't embarrass the human race if the book is found by future archeaologists. Don't be too lazy to do decent research. Fiction should not be an excuse to slack off on details. Don't be afraid to mix genres.

Q – What are things you look for in a good book?

===  Book jackets are usually misleading and/or vague, with blurbs that could be about any book, so I read the first paragraph. It has to grab my attention. Some details about settings are nice, but I want to know about characters, and LOTS OF ACTION. Dialogue & flashbacks are great tools in setting up the plot while moving the storyline along at a steady pace. More than anything, I like to be able to picture myself in that fictional world...ask myself, "What would I do if that happened to me?"

Where can people find your reviews online?

=== Amazon US & UK sites, Zombiephiles.com and THIS Literary Webzine...I have the links up at facebook.com/UrsulaKRaphael

Q – Any shout outs to people who enjoy your reviews?

=== Shane Benevides, Sean Page & Marc Morris have been good for the ego, and especially Rob Bono...pretty much all my peeps over at Twitter: I write the reviews, but they make sure to get out the name of the authors to other readers.
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