Armchair BEA: An Interview with the “Masterful” Michelle!

This is Armchair BEA‘s official “networking” day, in which participants were given the chance to interview one another, and I got the chance to ask some questions of Michelle from Michelle’s Masterful Musings. I’ve known Michelle for a while via both her blog and Twitter. She’s a married mother of two and a fellow member of the Book-Blogging Accountants Club, and she’s been blogging since early 2009. Michelle is also one of the organizers of Armchair BEA, so read on for some of her insights into the experience of putting this event together!

So here we are, NOT at BEA! Not to take anything away from your Armchair BEA posts, but I’d love to know the top three things you’d be seeing and doing if you were at BEA, and why you’d choose them.

Meeting bloggers, meeting bloggers, meeting bloggers. Honestly, I am insanely jealous at the networking that is occurring in NYC right now. I’m not big an author signings, although I would take Justin Cronin’s signature for a copy of The Passage. I don’t really plan my exhibits in advance, preferring to take a more lackadaisical approach to conventions. I am most upset about meeting all of the bloggers with whom I have spent the last year conversing online. I would love to attend the BBC, again for that chance to network and discuss topics pertinent to blogging.

I feel the same way – I’m more regretful about missing the Book Blogger Con than BEA itself.

Aside from the lure of free books, one thing that excites book bloggers about BEA is the chance to meet each other in person. Have you had the opportunity to meet any bloggers in “real life”? If so: where, when, and what did you do? If not: where, when, and how would you like that to happen?

I can finally answer YES to this question! I met Jen from Devourer of Books this past weekend, along with @justbooks (Margie) and @Suejustbooks (Sue) from The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn, IL. We met at The Bookstore, shopped for a bit, talking the entire time and then headed to lunch and talked for another ninety minutes. It was a thrill to finally meet someone in person. As someone who is naturally shy and does not do well with small talk, already “knowing” the person I was going to meet helped me to relax and truly enjoy myself. Jen is a beautiful woman, and I am so glad I got to meet her. Sue and Margie make me rethink my philosophy on ever wanting to move back to Illinois because they are both delights. The Bookstore was charming; I quickly fell in love and could do some serious damage to my checking account if I lived closer. Essentially, it was the perfect way to meet a blogger.

I got to meet Jen last summer when she was visiting Southern California with baby Daniel – sounds like you had a great time! I know just what you mean about already knowing a blogger when you first meet in person – I love that too, because I’m not good with small talk either!

Funny thing – you and I are are in the same profession, and yet we’re networking as book bloggers and not accountants! Part of my bio says “I work with numbers but I love words.” Do you feel like that? How does it affect your approach to reading and blogging?

My Photo

I do work with numbers but I love words.  Actually, I love to learn.  That is the number one reason why I read.  The funny thing is that I never would have predicted that I would work in a field that deals with numbers on a daily basis.  I really hated math in school; I was good at it, but I was much stronger in the more social subjects.  I still, to this day, marvel at how I could have chosen a profession that requires me to use algebra on a daily basis.  My passion has always been learning, and reading feeds into that passion very closely.  This is why I read such a wide variety of genres and about a plethora of topics.  It all fuels my need to learn. 

As for the impact of my profession on my approach to blogging, I blog to help discover more about myself, which is another form of learning.  Blogging about books helps me to read more slowly, to stop and think about what I read, to understand what appeals to me and what does not, and so forth.  In turn, it helps me learn to think critically about a novel or self-help book, determine its appeal to its target audience and hopefully help others in their decisions to read.  Because of my role in the business world, every piece of knowledge helps me become more comfortable with who I am, with my beliefs, and blogging has helped me develop a sense of self-confidence because I have learned to stand behind my words.  This all helps me in my profession, even if it has nothing to do with numbers.

This is almost a required question in book-blogger interviews these days, so here goes: How has book blogging changed your reading?

On first glance, I would say that blogging has not changed my reading, but upon reflection, that just is not true. I was a book snob, only reading classics and very rarely branching out to more modern fiction. I did not feel comfortable choosing modern novels on my own, and I never felt the need to do any research to determine the more popular novels out there. Blogging changed all that in just a matter of months. All of a sudden, I had hundreds of personal recommendations, in the form of reviews, which turned my reading world upside-down. I went from having only 25 books on my TBR pile to now having over 140 books on my physical TBR pile in just over a year. My wish list is hovering around 140 as well.

Because of blogging, I have been exposed to literature I probably would have never discovered on my own. I feel challenged to keep up with the trends and have learned to be picky about what books I actually purchase. Most importantly, I have learned that there are so many more great books out there beyond the classics, and that I can learn just as much from them as I can (and have) from reading classics. Granted, it also means that I am reading more frequently, much to the chagrin of my husband.

Every new book blogger should be warned about the effect it will have on the TBR stacks – but maybe we all secretly want that to happen! I know I no longer worry about running out of books to read…

Speaking of blogging and changing things, what does your family think of your blogging? How has it affected the way you manage your time?

My son and daughter think it is the coolest thing I could do. My son is insanely jealous I get “free books” in the mail on a weekly basis, and he frequently wants to look at my blog and what I have written on it. My daughter is too young to understand just what blogging is. To her, I am just working in my office again.

As for my husband, overall, he supports me, but he does make sure to let me know when I have been spending too much time online (or reading). When I first started blogging, I was still in grad school, which took up a large majority of my free time. After graduation, I immediately started a professional certification process that I only recently finished (April). I know he gets upset that I cannot just sit down with him in the evenings but feel the need to have something in my hands at all times. I attribute it to the fact that I have had some form of studying that required my attention every day for six years. I am trying to get better at time management, learning to shut off the computer at a certain time each night, not spending all weekend online, and so forth. I do need to learn to step away and unplug more often, but I love to read and I love to blog. It is difficult putting aside those things that truly fill me with joy every time I do them!

Hmm…your husband and mine have a thing or two in common. Mine never says anything about the time I spend buried in a book, but sometimes he will give me a gentle reminder or two about how long I’ve been parked with my laptop.

How far ahead do you plan your reading, and what’s coming up next on your TBR stack? How do you choose what to read next?

I am a very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of person. I very rarely plan anything far in advance, and this is especially true of reading. I have my TBR piles separated into review books and everything else. I have recently started keeping a calendar of publishing dates for review copies, so that I can see my “deadline”. Depending on how close I am to that deadline, I know whether I can pull a book from my personal piles or if I need to choose one from my review pile. Thankfully, my review pile is very small, so I can read more from my personal stack.

As for what I choose, that all depends on my mood at the time. I went through a huge YA kick a few months ago, where I devoured almost every single YA novel I had in my personal library. The best thing about that is that I was able to read them very quickly and was able to move quite a few from my pile. However, I soon grew tired of the teen angst and felt the need for more substantial fare. I then hit a historical fiction period, which I still am enjoying. I know that I will eventually tire of this one and will want more romantic fare, or something more in the thriller and suspense genre. It depends on what interests me at the time I am choosing and what is happening in my real life – do I have the time to concentrate on more weighty tomes or are things so busy that I need something quick and light to help me escape and relax?

In a pinch, I have gotten my kids involved and have let them choose books for me. So far, they’ve got a pretty good eye on what I want to read, and I’ve enjoyed every book they have placed at the top of my list. 

Kids with good taste in books? Very cool!

Getting back to the reason we’re here: you’re one of the people who brought Armchair BEA to life, and many book bloggers are grateful! Tell us a little about the experience. Some prompts (you don’t have to address them all unless you want to):

·         What motivated you to get involved?
·         What’s been the biggest challenge?
·         What have you most enjoyed?
·         What do you hope to take away from participating?
·         If you get the opportunity to go to the “real” BEA/BBC next year, will you kick all this virtual-conferencing stuff to the curb and head for New York City?

Hmmm…why did I get involved? Can I say that it was mostly for selfish reasons? LOL! No, honestly, I am tremendously upset that I could not attend BEA or BBC this year. This is the first year I truly consider myself a blogger, and I have been slowly but surely trying to get my name out there to attract more attention. I am a firm believer in networking, and BEA and BBC are perfect opportunities to network and form connections that can and should last a very long time.

I was trying not to let my jealousy and despondency at not attending show online, but when I saw Danielle lamenting on Twitter one afternoon, I was quick to show support and let her know she was not alone. It snowballed from there! LOL! I thought the Armchair BEA idea was a perfect way to keep those of us left behind busy, which would in turn help assuage any residual jealousy at those in attendance. I was even secretly hoping that we may even make some attendees jealous at all the fun we were having without spending large dollar amounts (and time and sleep loss).

The biggest challenge has been the time involvement. If I had not had so many things over the weekend, I think I may feel more prepared, but I know I have had to spend many hours online, prepping for the interviews, organizing plans, preparing posts. Keeping everything organized has also been quite the challenge, but my fellow founders have done a tremendous job of splitting the work load and organizing all of the events.

I have enjoyed the enthusiasm of participants (and nonparticipants) the most. The idea was so spur-of-the-moment, so sudden, I never in a million years considered we would have such a following. Then BEA attendees started mentioning it, and it grew from there. The response from everyone has been thrilling. I cannot believe that we even have publishers contributing to our giveaways! It has been quite a ride, and one that continues to fill me joy and satisfaction.

Because of this, I can’t imagine giving it up next year. I can see myself participating both in Armchair BEA AND BEA next year!

Armchair BEA seems to have touched a nerve and filled a niche, doesn’t it? The response has been wonderful, and the support of BEA attendees is such a nice plus! I hope this year will come to be the “First Annual” event, and that it keeps going in future years (even if some of this year’s participants DO get to the real thing at some point!).

And just for the heck of it: Do you have any fun plans for the summer?

No concrete plans, thank goodness! My children will be spending a month away from us, two weeks with their grandparents in Texas and another two weeks with their grandparents in Illinois. My husband and I will use this time to relax and enjoy the silence after the crazy spring season we had running the kids around to all of their activities. We just bought a small boat, so I imagine our weekends will be spent on the boat. We might take long weekends to get in some camping. Other than that, we will be resting and enjoying the summer before the fall sports season heats up, and we start running the kids around again!

And I’m sure you’ll make time for reading and blogging, too! Thanks for being such a great interview, Michelle.

On the other side of the interview coin, I’m answering some questions from Alishka Babushka at All’s Fair in Love and War – please visit her and see what we’re up to over there! And don’t forget to check out the other interviews linked over at Armchair BEA Central today.

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