Charles Gulotta & His Mostly Bright Ideas
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.