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One of the questions in this year’s reader survey invited participants to be interviewed about their reading and give additional feedback. Today, author Claire Youmans offers her thoughts.

Please tell us a little about yourself: for example, background, age range, country, general book reading habits. If you’re prepared to share your name or your first name, please do.  US Citizen living in Japan, retired lawyer, writer, read constantly, mysteries and thrillers mostly.  Write historical fantasy set in Meiji-era Japan. On book 6 in series.

In your opinion, what is the power of fiction?
Fiction makes reality more real through interpretation and metaphor.  It teaches as it entertains.

What kind of stories are you drawn to? Any you steer clear of? Nothing with animals because they ALWAYS kill the animals. Mysteries and thrillers, literary, nothing sappy or sentimental and no romance. I like some complexity. I am not much for horror or paranormal, but I like Stephen King a lot.

What aspects of an author’s writing make you feel like you’re ‘immersed in the novel’s world’ and/or ‘transported in time and place’. Good world building with logic and intelligence involved, good character development. A story, not a genre trope.

Which books read in the past year or so stand out for you and why? Arthur and May mysteries. Nicely crafted, good characters, excellent history. Hiro Hattori mysteries.  Well crafted and good cultural research — it’s not all from a foreigner POV (The doors open backwards! Shocking!) and the Japanese aren’t (in this case) just Europeans in Funny Clothes.

How do you decide what books to buy? What influences your book purchases? Right now Big 5 ebooks are shockingly expensive and reflect shameless profiteering especially when the production costs the publisher nothing — they don’t even bother to proofread. Cost counts. I take advantage of sales and promotions. I try to discover new or new to me authors. I am reading mystery classics now because I am writing a new book.

Is there anything about where you live or your particular background that influences your fiction choices? My parents turned me on to Christie when I was 9. I have loved mystery ever since. Fiction related to my interests or my own writing is good. But not when the writer knows nothing about the background or subject they purport to be writing about.

If you’re a book blogger or run a book site, please tell us a little about your focus and features. Www.tokigirlandsparrowboy.com is my website. I also blog at http://claireyoumansauthor.blogspot.com.

If you’re an author, please tell us how your reading informs your writing. I like books that educate me about culture, geography, science, character, myth. My favorite books let me learn while being entertained, and I hope my books do this for others.

If there is anything else about reading fiction, the kind of books available today, or the way reading is changing that you’d like to comment on, please do so. Besides the huge and immoral cost of Big 5 ebooks and the fact that many of them are not actually good, there is too much dreck coming in at the other end. All the supposed new gatekeepers (book lists you sign up for with specials) are all pay to play. They claim to curate, but the only thing that is curated is whether or not your charge goes through. There is a huge industry arising designed to fleece the writers by offering “classes” and “guides” and “podcasts” and other educational things so these writers can write more and sell more books.  These are aimed at classic genre markets, usually, and result in the proliferation  of utter crap all over the Internet. All the covers look alike! Everyone’s taken the same class!  Plots are totally formulaic because we’re all following “Sara Solves It’s” mystery course outline!  You have to buy not reviews but review opportunities because marketing is tied to reviews and you can’t actually pay for the reviews, but we can pay for exposure to someone’s mailing list. This makes it hard for me as a writer to get my (damned good) books to their not-major-genre audience and for me as a reader to find anything new I enjoy reading. This all needs to change but I don’t know how. I expect curated imprints and publishers (using the Amazon/Ingram platforms for production) will rise again, and none too soon.

The Tiki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy by Claire Youmans ~~ With their parents killed by an evil feudal overlord, who wants Azuki for the valuable feathers she produces when she is a Toki bird, Azuki feels she must flee. It’s all her fault, isn’t it? She is the one with the cursed ability to turn into a bird!

Shota, her brother, can become a sparrow, but nobody wants his plain brown feathers. Armed with information from their dying mother, he must reach his sister to tell her they will lose their inheritance and will no longer be able to live in human society unless they can return to claim it!

While Azuki searches for her Toki-kin, encountering Egrets, storms, a fierce mountain ogre and even a dragon, Shota, smaller, slower, follows a dream of his late father to track his sister to the Toki nesting grounds, discovering in himself a love of the sea, and a way to get them home in time.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.