Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Oct 7, 2013
I’ve known Charles Gulotta for a few years now and his blog Mostly Bright Ideas is one of the most popular humor and real life blogs out there. However, there’s a lot that people don’t know about Charles, including his many accomplishments, and how he came to blogging in the first place. I hope you enjoy the interview below:
1. People probably don’t know that you reached out to me with questions about blogging before you started. What led you to decide to reach out to me and then to start your blog, and why did you decide against self hosting it?
I had been struggling with this feeling that I was irrelevant. I seemed to have no friends, my emails went mostly unanswered, and my phone never rang. One day I did an online search of the phrase “feeling invisible,” and your essay — “The Invisible Man” — came up. I related to almost everything it said, so I contacted you. I guess I wasn’t really expecting you to reply, because after all, I was invisible. But you did. We talked about blogging, among other things, and your encouragement helped me finally make the decision to start a blog. I didn’t really decide against self-hosting. I just didn’t know enough to understand that it was an option. And I’m glad about that, because it allowed me to focus on the writing without having to deal with all those other messy details.
2. People also probably don’t know that you have a very impressive list of educational books on your site and all over Amazon. What was your background that led you that direction and, since I see you’re still doing it, how come you don’t talk much about those books?
I’ve been a freelance writer since 1981. Around 1990, the economy got pretty bad and freelance work dried up. Also, a lot of people lost their jobs, so there was suddenly more competition for less work, and rates dropped. I decided to become an SAT tutor to supplement my income, printed up some business cards, and that began to take off with nothing more than word-of-mouth advertising. After a few years of tutoring, I put what I’d learned into a vocabulary book, then one for math. I’ve now self-published six books, with five still in print. I don’t promote them heavily on my blog because I think it would contradict the tone and feel of the blog. But they’re there. If you have any suggestions for presenting the books more effectively, I’d love to hear them.
3. Extraordinary Women In Politics; what brought that one about?
I had a friend who was an editor at Grolier. They had published a series of books that focused on extraordinary people in a particular field or who represented an identifiable group. I thought a book on women in politics would be fun to do, and it was. It wasn’t well-promoted, though, and both the hardcover and softcover editions are now out of print.
4. Most people I know either move towards warmth, open spaces or entertainment. You left New York and moved to Canada; what was that all about?
It’s one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. It was 1996. The US dollar was strong, prices were low, and we found a house that was in a beautiful spot on Prince Edward Island. Mostly, we thought it would be better for our kids to get away from drugs and crime. We now realize that you can’t really get away from those things. As the dollar weakened and the price of everything rose, we suddenly needed to enter the business community here in order to earn Canadian money. That’s not so easy to do in a place like this, where newcomers are always outsiders. But we’ve managed to piece it together. As for the weather, the winters are longer than I’d like, but we don’t have to deal with hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, or floods. It’s a trade-off wherever you go.
5. What made you decide to tell humorous tales of your childhood on your blog?
That was a gradual process. I started out thinking the blog was going to be an outlet for my frustrations with the world, and with life in general. But I eventually discovered that as funny as anger can be, candor and vulnerability are even funnier — and they allow a connection with people that has helped to dispel some of those feeling of invisibility.
6. Do you follow your own rules from your book Writing Rules on your blog?
I hope so. I’m pretty old-fashioned when it comes to things like spelling and punctuation. I understand that the language is evolving, but I find that the rules give me boundaries and structure, and those things somehow help to free up the creativity.
7. You have those unique images throughout your blog. What made you decide to do that, how does it work and how did you get a license to allow you to do it?
I have subscriptions to two online clip-art services. Most of the drawings I use come from a cartoonist named Ron Leishman. I modify the original artwork in order to create cartoons that work with the post — usually combining two or more drawings, deleting unwanted parts, and adding captions and dialogue. I do the work in InDesign, then save the images as screenshots. There are probably easier ways to do it, but I can’t seem to learn Photoshop.
8. I can’t say I see a lot of people who write like you do, but I’m betting you have a few blogs that you love visiting because of their style. Can you give us a few?
One of the great surprises about blogging has been the discovery that there are a lot of amazing writers out there. For a long time, traditional publishing decided who we got to read, and who we didn’t, and so it seemed like talented writers made up a very tiny fraction of the population. It’s now obvious that the fraction isn’t as small as we once thought. My blogroll lists a couple of dozen of my favorite bloggers, but there are at least as many more that I read on a regular basis.
9. Back in November you wrote a post more serious than normal about the U.S. Presidential election. Some people believe going off topic can be a bad thing but I’m not one of those people and it seems you’re the same way. Overall, do you write more to express yourself, no matter the topic, or for those who read your blog, with a diversion here and there?
I don’t really risk going off-topic, because I don’t have a topic. I just write what’s passing through my brain at the moment. Usually, that involves personal experiences that I think others can relate to, and I try to make it humorous whenever possible and appropriate. But the fact is that not everything is funny, and I have strong feelings about things like crime, poverty, and war, as well as hypocrisy, injustice, and misplaced priorities. I’ve also done a little fiction and poetry, some collaborative blogging, and even a few posts about music and cooking. But it does feel as though I’ve strayed from something when I do those, and response tends to drop.
10. Pimp yourself here; tell us anything you’d like us to know about you, your websites, products, and whether you like shoveling snow or not.
I’ve always been a slow learner. I mentioned my struggles with programs like Photoshop, but it’s a tendency that applies to almost everything. Maybe I dwell on things too much. All I know is that it takes me a while to catch on. But that weakness is what allows me to connect with other people who are trying to learn something. I go slowly and explain things clearly, and with humor and (I hope) sensitivity. I’m not aggressive or intimidating, and so self-promotion doesn’t come naturally. Even so, I hope people will discover that some of what I do fills a need in their lives, or at least makes them smile for a few minutes. If I can help someone else feel a little more visible, then I feel more visible, too.
I hate shoveling snow. Eventually, I’ll figure out that moving north wasn’t a very bright idea. But getting in touch with you three and a half years ago definitely was. Thanks for everything, Mitch.
Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Aug 12, 2013
I’ve known Brian for quite a few years now, and these days I’m part of the weekly Google Hangout series and the weekly newsletters we put out along with Sheryl Loch; we’ll have an interview with her one day as soon as she gets around to it. He’s been in the blogging and online game for a much longer time than almost anyone I know, and is probably one of the most genuine guys I know online. If you ever see the blooper video Scott Craighead created you’ll know what I mean. Enjoy this interview and learn from it as well:
1. What was the inspiration for Hot Blog Tips?
It was a cool domain name. Seriously, that was the original inspiration. I was collecting domains for some reason and I found HotBlogTips.com was available for registration. I registered it and started a quick blog with the intention to flip it. I sold the blog yet I found it in my lap again a little over a year later. It wasn’t long before Hot Blog Tips became my primary focus and I haven’t looked back since. More on that in question #3 so don’t stop reading.
2. You’ve owned a lot of domains and had content on lots of them. Was there a strategy behind that and is it something you’d ever recommend to anyone else?
Yes and no. The strategy was based in several layers. First, I believed, and still do, that we need several streams of online income. Second, I was playing the AdSense blog game. While I still recommend multiple forms of income, AdSense blogging, at least the way I was going about it, is dead. There is still a lot of money in niche blogging for those willing to learn how to do it right.
Back to the question, was there a strategy behind that; back when I had safe lists, forums and traffic sites, some might call it throwing mud on the walls to see what sticks; others might say it was more like twisting in the wind without focus or direction. With that said, I managed to profit from every one of those. In fact, my partner from eleven years ago still makes a very nice income from those same types of sites today.
3. You mentioned in one of our Hangouts On Air that you gave up blogging at one point but felt compelled to come back to it. Tell us about that.
Sure, when I had several blogs running and began seeing a little income from internet marketing, AdSense blogs and one of my membership sites, I decided to follow the money rather than my passion. I sold a couple of my blogs and focused on generating income. After a year of “work” I found myself spending a lot of time on other blogs wishing I still had my own. I had Hot Blog Tips parked for while by the time Google took a huge bite from my income and I decided to take that as a sign and brought the blog back to life.
4. Why do you think some people get into blogging and only last a month or two while others, like us, can last for years?
I heard a wise man once say because blogging is hard. lol It really is true though, blogging has to get into our blood to make it worth our time and energy. Without the passion, the blog dies a slow death.
The other reason, I think, is that people come into blogging and other forms of online business with unrealistic expectations. They think because it’s online, or they’re doing it from home, that everything will be easy and they won’t have to put in a lot of work. Once they get a taste of late nights trying to drive traffic, creating content, learning SEO and all of the other things required, they go back to barbeques and nightclubs or wherever they spent their time before the notion of online income occurred to them. Just a theory. lol
5. You are one of the most visible people online yet you have a full time job as well. How do you find the time to do it all and does it mean you don’t have any other hobbies?
It’s funny; I just spent the last month on a 30 day challenge just to get enough sleep for a change. 😉 And just this week, I’ve listened to three separate podcasts by Pat Flynn on productivity hoping to get more out of the time I have. So, truthfully, time is something I’m struggling with myself so I’m probably not the best person to ask.
With that said, I do manage to keep the ball rolling and that’s with 12 hour days, five days a week driving a truck locally. I spend most of the time that’s left at home on the computer when I’m not with family. It’s all about making the time to do what we enjoy and I enjoy blogging. I’ve never been one to go to the bars, watch sports with the boys or sit at a friend’s house for hours on end so my “personal” life doesn’t really get in the way of blogging. Outside of family, blogging and social media is my personal life. How sad is that? Lol I have no other hobbies to speak of but I do find time to ride my bike when weather permits and read a little each day.
6. Since I mentioned our weekly Google Hangouts On Air, what made you think about the idea and how surprised were you that Sheryl and I decided to come along for the ride?
I’m not sure where the idea came from, really. I think I mentioned it to Sheryl, or maybe it was even her idea; I have no idea. lol Surprised? Not really but I’m very surprised how well we work together and how long it’s lasted. It’s taking a while to build that momentum but I think it’s been a fun ride at the same time.
I also think some of the benefits that slowly grow from that type of partnership would be tough for many people to see so I have to give you and Sheryl a lot of credit. I have no doubt that the videos have helped grow our overall online influence. That influence can go a long way, depending if and how we use it. I have an image I created a while back and haven’t used yet but it reads, “Authority + Trust = Influence”. The videos allow people to see what’s behind the blogger and see they can trust us and that we know what we’re talking about [cough] most of the time. With three of us working at the same goal, the word is spread much more quickly than if we go it alone. I know I got a little off topic there but that’s just what I do. 😉
7. You’ve often said you just want to be helpful to people. This is a strange way to ask this question but with all the spam we both get and the few comments our videos get, do you think people appreciate either the videos or the blog posts from most of us?
You know, I really do. We do get comments from others that say a post or video has helped but, for the most part, I think people tend to take the information and run. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t helpful or unappreciated. I’ve been guilty of that myself in the past. Now that I’ve been doing this for so long, I try to comment and let the author/speaker know it helped but I can remember a time when that would have never occurred to me. Even a how-to video on replacing a toilet wax ring or getting my car’s brakes back together, I wouldn’t have left a comment in the past. We search YouTube, find the answer and put it to use. Very few are going to think to hit the like button, much less leave a comment.
8. What is your process for writing blog posts and do you think it’s something that could work for other people?
My process… I need one of those. lol My mind works pretty crazy sometimes. It usually starts with an idea when I have no way to act on it, like driving a tractor trailer down the interstate. That’s generally a bad time to start drafting a blog post. I’ll wait until I get home and start a post draft, often with nothing but the title. That’s my way of not forgetting the post “idea” I had. Later on, I’ll go in and break my thoughts into chunks, add subtitles, find an image and start working on things like keyword research, speling <- (see that) and fact checking or research. I might publish it right away, I might save it until we record a hangout on the topic or it might sit forever if I’m not satisfied with it.
9. Time to bring this question up; do you think, if you decided to dedicate your life to it full time, that you could make a sustainable living at blogging, or being online in general?
Absolutely. If time wasn’t an issue and I could spend my days learning, networking and blogging, I’d make more money than trucking ever will. I still expect that that to happen, just at a slower pace.
So why don’t I do it already, right? That’s a question I ask myself often. I can say it’s a $150,000 mortgage, supporting five people, all of the years I’ve invested with the company I work for, and on and on. What it all boils down to is I’m just chicken. I know I could do it but I also know I’d probably risk losing everything I have by the time I could generate enough to replace my income. At this stage in my life (I’m very old), I’ll just take my time and keep what I have on the way. Like I said, chicken.
10. Let’s see how good your marketing skills are. Tell people why they should be watching our Hangouts On Air every Sunday and why they should be reading your blog.
I’ll do one better than that, I’ll let one of our readers tell you.
Seriously, between the three of us, we have over twenty years of blogging under our belts and none of us are too shy or selfish to offer our advice. We might not be the prettiest people on YouTube but we are entertaining and very informative. There’s truly not that many groups like ours that can say that.
And, of course, there’s our secret weapon – Sheryl Loch. You’ve said this before, Sheryl teaches some of the most useful things when it comes to video than anyone else we know. I’m just blown away at how up to date and knowledgeable she is when it comes to YouTube and Google Plus.
I’ll conclude with this… I’ve known both you and Sheryl for a long time and I can’t think of anyone else I trust and respect more. I also know my intentions are sincere so, the best reason for anyone to watch is we are trustworthy. We go out of our way to help others, at our expense, because we care. No one has to read in between the lines trying to see our ulterior motive because there isn’t one.
Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Apr 9, 2013
Last year I did a series on black individuals and businesses online called Black Web Friday. In the second post of the series I highlighted a site called Izania, which is a black business networking website created by Roger Madison, whom I originally met on Ryze. Last week was the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and I had hoped to have this post ready by that date but it didn’t work out. So, one week later, I’m proud to share this interview with Roger that I hope you read because I think it’s important; at least it is to me.
1. Tell us a little bit about your site.
iZania.com was envisioned to be an online community to connect Black entrepreneurs, professionals, and consumers and help us to act in our self-interests and descendants of Africa.
2. What was your motivation for creating this site, where did the name come from, and how has it changed over time?
The motivation was inspired by the three years we spent living in South Africa from 1995 to 1998 – immediately following the transition to a democratic government. Nelson Mandela was a great inspiration in his expression of the “Spirit of Ubuntu.” Based in the South African philosophy of Ubuntu, (“I am what I am because of who we all are“) and the idea of consensus building, the concept perceives society as a community to which all individuals belong and is built on close relationships and group interactions. The community is held together by a feeling of mutual security and harmony. In this way, we hold to the traditional African values.
The word “iZania” is derived from a combination of Internet and Azania, which means the people of Africa. So, iZania means connecting the people of Africa via the Internet.
3. Do you get the same type and volume of activity that you did when you first started?
Our online activity has changed with the evolution of access to the Internet. We now derive our traffic from a number of sources – Our weekly newsletter, social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), and our online group marketing initiative at iZania Market (www.izaniamarket.com). Initially, all of our traffic was based on visits to our main site. We have grown to more than 9,000 subscribers.
4. Last year I did a series called Black Web Friday because I was of the opinion that black Americans are not only under-represented online but that most people, including each other, don’t know about them. What’s your thought on my perception?
Black people are definitely laggards in adopting online engagement. This has a lot to do with income and access. The rapid expansion of smart devices has changed that a lot. Some studies indicate that Blacks are more active users of smart devices as their primary access to the Internet. By definition, this defines the type of activity – texting, FB updates, YouTube videos, Pinterest, Instagram. These types of activities are reactive, shallow, impulsive. Black businesses don’t use many of the online business tools to leverage their success – marketing analytics, financial management, customer retention and acquisition, supplier management. Additionally, they need to use the same channels to reach consumers that the consumers are using. This will help them to become better known.
5. Do you think your site prospers or is held back somewhat by the niche you’ve created?
We have chosen to focus specifically on helping Black-owned businesses succeed – first by connecting them to Black consumers, and leveraging their success to compete in the mainstream marketplace. However, by defining our niche – not a supporter of minority business, but Black-owned businesses – we realize that we are self-limiting. In spite of this, we are committed to helping our people because we need more help. We believe we can succeed by helping other Black-owned businesses succeed. We have had only modest success in ten years as an online community.
6. Do you see a lot of engagement on your site? Do a lot of people find ways to end up working with each other?
We really don’t see much engagement at our site. However, the most active and fruitful engagement that we have participated in with members of our community happens away from the site. The online connection serves primarily as a means of introduction. The hard work of producing results comes in activity out of the public view.
7. I’ve never had the opportunity to go, but have you ever been to the Blogging While Brown conference? If so, what did you think, and do you believe conferences like this are important?
I have never attended this conference. Any conference can be important if it provides value for those who attend. Whenever people of like-minded interests can provide value for one another, it is a good thing.
8. What more do you think has to be done to highlight black Americans online so that, when people and organizations like CNN are putting together lists of top bloggers, more black people are included on them?
Major news outlets and cable stations serve the larger mainstream market, and occasionally capture stories of special interest from various interest groups. Bloggers who can cross all boundaries in generating content of interest to a wider audience will be more successful. Black bloggers must earn their way up to the top of those lists by focusing on what their audience is focusing on.
9. I wrote one of the first articles on iZania many years ago; how many articles do you think your site now has, as well as how many blogs do you think people have and actually write on your site?
There have been thousands of articles over our ten year history. Our challenge is quality. We chose not to monitor and filter except for gross violations of the interests of our members. We now have a problem where some “bloggers” simply post content they have copied from somewhere else. We don’t get as much original content and valuable input from serious thinkers. We are beginning to do some selective filtering and deleting content that is clearly not authored by the poster.
10. Take some time to tell us what you see coming for Izania.
We are planning a major revision of our website to include converting all of our content to a “responsive web page” so that our content is more easily viewed on mobile devices. We will also do a major revision of our content – eliminating content that is no longer relevant. We have conducted regular surveys of our members to gain insights into what is most important. We want to become a more effective virtual facilitator for transforming the efforts of Black people – economically, socially, educationally, politically – to affect positive outcomes in our communities.
Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Oct 1, 2012
I have known Morayma for close to 5 years, but I’ve only gotten to know her well over the past 2 because of Facebook. Not everyone knows fashion models in person, so I’m honored.
She’s not one of the big names that most of us know but she’s the real deal. You know all those magazine ads with models whose names you never know? Morayma has been modeling for a couple of decades now and still does modeling part time. She’s traveled the world and knows many other models and can talk about the industry from the inside. There are thousands of pictures of her on and off the internet, and she’s been on the cover of many magazines as well.
I think this is a fascinating interview and I’m glad she answered the questions as thoughtfully as she did. She dispels that false belief that models are vapid; this is one small and engaged lady.
1. What was your life like growing up?
I grew up in Santa Monica, California…even though I am a Los Angeles native I didn’t grow up exposed to the Industry. I had a very normal, quiet, and actually strict upbringing so school was what I was expected to focus on and that’s what I did. I did have a love for theater and dreamt of someday becoming a stage actress….so I performed in the school plays, etc. Modeling was not something I ever really thought about, to be honest.
2. Did you always want to be a model?
–Nope. I wanted to be a theater actor or an interior decorator! LOL
3. How were you discovered?
–While I was in college in Portland, Oregon I walked into a talent agency to see if I could get sent out for local work to make a little extra money and they decided I had a look that would work well for modeling. Within 2 months they had sent me abroad to work.
4. What is it like to travel around the world as a model? I know it can’t all be glamorous, based on a few videos I’ve seen of Sports Illustrated models on photo shoots, but I’m assuming lots of it is pretty fun.
— It was amazing. I am not going to lie. I am something of a gypsy at heart, so being on the road and traveling to different places all the time was a dream come true for me. Yes, it was tiring to work long days in either freezing cold weather or sweltering heat (keep in mind you always shoot the clothing collections during the opposite season…so you freeze in swimwear and summery dresses, and roast wearing coats during midsummer).
You are constantly being poked, prodded, pinned, hair messed with, etc. so you have to lose your sense of personal space very quickly. When you are on a job you are a mannequin and that’s that.
Some clients are kinder than others. I’ve mostly worked with wonderful people, but I do remember one time on a booking I had the stylist pull a sweater over my head so forcefully (they were in a tremendous hurry to get done) that I ended up with a pulled neck muscle and that hurt for days!! Rejection is also never a nice thing, but for every job I didn’t book, there would be one that I did book so that wasn’t enough of a reason not to love my work.
We got a lot of privileges and perks….VIP treatment at clubs, restaurants, etc. I made a lot of wonderful friends from around the globe. Ahh….just writing this is making me miss it so much! =)
5. So many people talk about models and how they eat? What’s your opinion on models considered too thin, bad or good eating habits, and the positives and negatives of trying to keep your body looking a certain way? Is the pressure high?
–That has always been a pet peeve of mine…that people assume models don’t eat. I have to be honest, while there are certainly girls that do starve themselves to look as skinny as they think they need to look, the majority of the models I met, lived with, worked with and became friends with had very hearty appetites and rarely worked out.
Honestly, the majority of models are genetically built the way they are. I knew more girls in college with eating disorders than models. Generally, if a model is not naturally thin, she will start to gain weight or reach a plateau in her weight and will eventually either quit or go into Plus/full figure modeling.
I never felt the pressure because I am naturally thin, although one year in Tokyo I was sent home because my agency there told me my hips (34 inches) were too large and wanted me to have 32 inch hips. That was mortifying but I got over it….the ridiculousness of that was laughable.
I think the models that do feel pressured to lose weight or be really thin are not naturally thin so they are trying to fit a mold that they are not genetically predisposed to fit….but like I said, I knew very few girls in the industry that had an eating disorder….truthfully only two (one of which was a roommate of mine in Milan).
My belief is that eating healthy and having an active lifestyle is the only way to go. Should models be thin? It may not be popular to say so, but yes…I think so. Not skeletal, but healthy and thin….models are paid to showcase clothing and a thin, taller model will be able to showcase a garment better than a shorter curvier girl. The curvier girls have their own markets for clothing too…I am talking about couture….Really there are many types of modeling (sportswear, lingerie/swimwear, etc.) that prefer a healthier, curvy body-type….but for straight up fashion, thin is always going to be in. 😉
6. We were talking recently about a guy who dated a model saying she didn’t know how to handle her money. Would you say that most models are good with their money or do many suffer like athletes in that they spend it as fast as it comes in?
–I think it really depends on the girl and how she was raised and how old she is too! I cannot imagine how the baby models who are 14 and 15 years old could possibly know what to do when handed checks for thousands of dollars!!
My parents brought me up to be very responsible and frugal and that is how I’ve always handled my finances. I had college loans to pay while on the road too so I knew that I had to keep good track of my finances since you really do not know when your next check will come or how much it will be for! I actually found it easy to save money and take care of my bills at home while traveling because we were always being offered free dinners via the agencies, eating on-set, free lunches at some restaurants (in Milan). All of my expenses were fronted to me (the agencies then take money from our earnings to pay off what they have fronted us) really all I needed to pay for was my airline tickets!
7. I’ve seen a lot of your pictures and you don’t always look like the same person. But some models we see always look the same. Do you feel your versatility is better or do you think it matters in the end?
–I think my versatility comes from my original passion for the theater. As a theater actor you have to be able to convey emotion…not all models can do that. I do see many models that ALWAYS have the same expression. That annoys me…haha! My agencies have always called me a “chameleon”.
I think versatility is a great thing and it helped me work a lot….but I don’t think it matters all that much in the end because a lot of the monotone-faces (lol) still end up working a lot too and I do think that “who you know” is a powerful tool in this biz…as in many others.
8. What’s the best thing about modeling and what’s the worst thing?
–Best thing? Traveling. Good pay (when you get it!). Meeting interesting people. Wearing clothes I could never afford on my own….aka playing dress-up and getting paid for it. 😉
–Worst thing? How fickle the industry can be…and not knowing when your next paycheck will come….
9. How has your husband and kids handled your modeling? Do your kids even really understand what you do or did, since they’re very young?
–I stopped traveling when I became pregnant with my son….I know other models that do travel for lengthy amounts of time and have kids, but I can’t justify doing that. I will travel to a location for a specific shoot, but anything longer than that is not going to happen. I don’t want to miss these moments with the kids because they are so fleeting…..even though sometimes I fantasize about taking off for a while, for some peace and quiet! LOL!
My husband doesn’t think much about my work one way or the other. He knows I enjoy what I do so he’s happy and supportive when I work, and luckily he’s not a jealous type. My kids like when they see me in an ad or a TV commercial…they think it’s funny, actually!
10. Time to shine; what are you doing now and are you enjoying your life?
–I am still modeling and working on commercials part-time. I like that I can do a job here and there and still be afforded the time to be here for my kids whenever they need me. I am enjoying life here in Los Angeles again…..the sunshine and proximity to my family is wonderful! I like that I can work as little or as much as I want because I don’t have to use this as my way to make a living anymore…..it’s nice not to stress about when the next job will come….my husband is the main breadwinner, so that takes the pressure off.
I am also in the process of seeing what else is out there for me career-wise. I don’t want the ol’ brain to rust! LOL! Toying with the idea of going back into the medical interpreting field as I am fluent in Spanish as well. I did that for a while before modeling took me on the road and I remember really enjoying it.
I also need to get back to my own blog one of these days, now that both kids are in school…I have no excuse to not write again! 😉
Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Aug 10, 2012
I can’t tell you how long I’ve known or read Holly’s stuff but it’s been at least 3 years or so. You almost can’t miss her on writing sites and on a lot of blogs, and of course she’s got a lot going on in her own right. Multiple blogs, books, writing projects and the like, and in all the right social media places. She’s someone who shows that if you plan right you really can get a lot done. Don’t only enjoy this interview; learn from it:
1. We might as well get this out of the way first; how many blogs and websites do you actually have? I found a few, including one, a Typepad blog, that you’ve let go. lol
You get right to the point, don’t you, Mitch? I…don’t honestly know. The ones I keep up to date are these:
http://jahangiri.us/2013 – that’s my personal blog, and the most active.
http://jahangiri.us/books – that’s run, more or less, by my imaginary friends – we authors like to call them “characters” – Trockle, Gurgelda, Irma and her guppies, and some that are still in the making.
http://race2hugo.net – it’s a cheeky dare, a periodical, a dream, and an ongoing project.
http://thenextgoal.com – this is the blog I won last year, and it’s a team effort – it’s nothing without Larry, Ntathu, Brandon, Neeraj, and occasional guest bloggers like James Pruitt.
There are a couple on WordPress.com, one on Tumblr, one on Posterous, a few on Blogger… the Typepad blog wasn’t exactly “let go,” it was a step in the migration from Vox (now closed) to my personal blog. I hate to let anything go, though. Does that make me an Internet hoarder? Seriously, they all come in handy from time to time; if someone has a question about how to do something, I can check it out. That’s really how I’ve managed to accumulate so many in the first place – curiosity and the need to try things out for myself, if they sound interesting. They’re not ALL that interesting, in the long run.
2. You are way connected on social media. I get asked this about writing all my blogs but how do you keep up with it all?
You’re assuming I do. I try, but I think you’d have to be superhuman to keep up with everything, and I’m not superhuman. Then again, people think I type 500 words a minute. It’s not true. The secret to looking like you type 500 words a minute is to type in phrases, instead of full paragraphs or sentences – when you’re in IM with someone, keep them busy reading while you type the next bit, and they think you’ve got mad typing skillz. Same thing with Social Media – I write, I try to keep the conversation going, I get friends talking to each other, then I go write some more. And if I miss a few things here and there, well…don’t we all?
3. Do you make your living writing? If so, how are you doing it, and if not what else do you do?
I have a full time job. I’ve worked as a technical writer, documentation project manager, and social media analyst. I “moonlight” as an author – I’ve written two children’s books, Trockle, and A Puppy, Not a Guppy, and I have contributed to several anthologies of short stories and poetry. I blog for fun and sometimes to promote my books, but I have never seriously tried to monetize my blog.
4. You actually won one of your blogs via a contest, beating my buddy Mitch Allen along the way. How did you do it, how did it feel to win and was the effort worth it?
It was an incredibly intense competition – by the end, it was just grueling and exhausting. I remember one day, Neeraj Sachdeva and I were head to head on “who can publish the most posts” – I think EACH of us published nineteen in one day. That was a truly miserable experience – I mean, at the time we were both functioning on adrenaline and fumes and competitive zeal, but I think sustaining that kind of competitive drive over ten weeks left us a little burnt out on it.
We had a lot of fun at the beginning – we bonded as a team and had meetings in Google Hangouts, and it was really something special. Unfortunately, the nature of the game was such that only one would be left standing at the end. We went from being teammates to competitors (and we always KNEW that was coming, but until week 5, we were undefeated, so we didn’t have to face it and I think that made it harder when we finally had to do it). It felt a little bit like being in The Hunger Games, rather than Survivor. We even tried to change the game and eat the berries, but that didn’t fly.
5. Let’s talk about the writing process. Is it different for you depending on what you’re writing?
The process is a bit different, of course, between non-fiction or technical writing and writing fiction or children’s picture books, sure. One requires research; the other requires allowing my “imaginary friends” out to play and give dictation. I suppose blogging is a combination of these two, more or less.
6. How would you describe your style, which is a lot different than mine? I have to admit that sometimes it hurts my head. lol
What the heck does that mean? Should I send you a bottle of Advil, Mitch? I like to think my style is an eccentric mash-up of Erma Bombeck, Edgar Allan Poe, and O. Henry, with occasional flashes of Guy de Maupassant, Shel Silverstein, and Tom Lehrer. I don’t know – how would YOU describe my style?
This brings up something I think of from time to time: Is it up to an author to describe his or her style? I’ve heard writers claim to write “classic literature,” but I always thought that one of the requirements of that genre was that the author be dead. I aspire to be read, not dead.
7. Since you have an Amazon account I went to look and saw that you have 4 books up there. What was it like writing those and getting them published, and do you have anything on the horizon?
Well, there are a few others – I think you’ve read Innocents & Demons, right? Hidden Lies is the first published short story anthology. Vivian and I published that together in 2005, and that’s where our publishing paths diverged: She decided to build a small publishing empire, and I decided I was really happy being an author and had no desire to be a publisher! I contributed several poems to Walking the Earth. When Vivian asked if I’d ever found a publisher for Trockle – a book she’d read and believed in the minute I wrote it – I had to admit that I really hadn’t tried. I’m really bad about submitting my work for publication. I don’t mind rejection; I just don’t like throwing it into the abyss and waiting to hear something back. So no, Trockle was still just a dog-eared manuscript tucked into my son’s bookcase, and I was thrilled that 4RV Publishing wanted to bring it to the rest of the world. They later published my second children’s book, A Puppy, Not a Guppy – that one was inspired by my kids’ pleas for a pet, but also my own experiences as a kid whose parents were slow to warm to the idea of a puppy.
I have a couple of things on the horizon – I’ve got a third children’s book in the works. It’s being illustrated, and should be ready for prime time later this year or early next year (Update: Holly’s third children’s book, A New Leaf for Lyle, was released in May 2014, and can be found on Amazon). And then there’s the race2hugo.net dare – your friend Mitchell Allen started that, and we got Marian Allen involved, as well, and now, well… I haven’t heard from Mitch in a while. Is he still breathing or did he stow away on the new Mars Rover?
8. I was really intrigued by your post Don’t Feed The Trolls. I also remember your position on kind of the same subject on a past Facebook post. You know I tend to believe that free speech goes both ways, and if people get responses they didn’t expect and don’t like that they shouldn’t say those things to begin with. Talk about your position on this and what you feel separates a troll from someone who may just be having a really bad day.
There’s a fair amount of psychology involved, and I’m not sure any of us can distinguish the trolls from the grouches 100% of the time with 100% accuracy. But here’s an example – I got a really nasty critique, once, on writing.com. If I’d had less self-confidence, I’d have crumpled up in a little damp ball of mush and tears, and maybe quit writing altogether. Instead, I read and reread the critique until I felt pretty sure the writer hadn’t even read, and wasn’t commenting on, my story, at all. I read his words with the eyes of someone who has occasionally had a bad day and might’ve been tempted to kick the dog as they tossed their briefcase by the door.
I wrote back to the critic, something to the effect of, “I’m really sorry you’ve had a bad day. Sounds like maybe someone’s kicked you around and given you a bad time, and I hope that doing the same to a complete stranger has helped you, in some way, to feel just a little bit better. Have a happier week!”
In less than six hours, I had a reply, an apology, and a new friend. Sure enough, it was a kid – 17 or so – and he’d had a lousy, rotten, awful day at school. And because I’d responded with a little sympathy – without being angry or being a complete doormat about it – he immediately realized how stupid the attack on me had been, and we wiped the slate clean and started over. He was a pretty good writer, too.
Of course, writers love to get a reaction – so who knows? Maybe I’ve mistaken a few trolls for fans, over the years. I think the most cutting comment I ever got was something along the lines of “This is boring. Stop now,” on my blog. But they were outnumbered, so I ignored them. 🙂
Trolls, on the other hand, knowingly taunt and harass people to get their kicks. They delight in getting people emotionally spun up; it’s just a game to them. I really believe that people who live to make others feel bad must feel pretty rotten about themselves, but I’m not a shrink, and it’s not my job to save the world. I’d rather shut down the conversation before it gets really ugly than to see good people get hurt.
Freedom of speech exists for several reasons – being trollish is not one of them. Freedom of speech exists to protect the exchange of ideas, primarily political or social ideas, that may be unpopular. The kind of stuff that may constitute “though crimes” in other countries. But with freedom comes responsibility. Trolls don’t want to communicate, they want to dominate – and that’s the antithesis of “free exchange of ideas,” isn’t it? My blog is not “public property” and the First Amendment doesn’t give trolls squatters’ rights.
9. Your stuff is so creative. Do you walk around like I do with all these ideas of things to write about, or do you have periods where you struggle to find something to write about?
I do have times when I feel like my head is just empty of anything worth writing down. What that usually means is that I’m hanging on too tight, trying to control the action, and my characters are balking – refusing to help me tell their story. Instead of struggling, I find other types of creative outlets – photography, painting, scrapbooking – I just let the ideas simmer instead of beating my head against the proverbial wall.
10. Time for you; talk about what’s coming up, your business, you, and what you’d like your future to be.
This is how you ask a grown-up “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Or “Where do you see yourself in five years?” It’s an interesting question, because the fact is, I’m pretty happy right here and now. I’ve got a good 15-20 years before I even think of retiring, and even then, I can’t imagine not staying busy. Of course, I’d like to know that my kids have found a way to do whatever it is in life that makes them happy. I’d like to have a few successful books to my name. I’d like to travel. But there’s really nothing “missing” now.