A post about the blog

Garden Flowers - July 2010 034-sq
Garden Flowers – July 2010 034-sq (Photo credit: Paul-W)

I began blogging in July 2009, and only because my agent told me I had to start building an audience on-line if I hoped to sell my next book(s.)

In a stroke of fantastic luck, I was offered the following month a paid opportunity to blog for a community site called True/Slant.

And starting out with a built-in community made the whole thing a lot more fun than — as most of us do — pinging into the ether with high hopes and crossed fingers. I’m still friends with several of my fellow T/S bloggers and even had a great reunion with about 10 of them when I visited Chicago.

I migrated here in July 2010 when — oh, the greed! oh, the betrayal! — True/Slant was sold to Forbes and almost all of us were summarily canned after building the very value that made it worth selling.

I know that most bloggers do it for love, not money.

When your primary income, like mine (and some of yours) also comes from writing, it’s tough to spend even more time at the computer that cuts into paid hours. I blog because I enjoy it and because, as my agent warned me, I need to prove a large and growing audience for my work.

As a professional writer exploring many topics, it’s sometimes a chance to test out an idea before I sell it as an essay or longer article.

I enjoy, most of all, your thoughtful comments and the global conversation we have here. Very cool!

How do I know what you’d like to read?

I have no idea! One of the things about Broadside (which is unusual, in my experience of blogs) is that it’s not niche at all. I don’t focus narrowly on anything. Today, Broadside has 1,502 followers, (3 to 5 joining every day now.) You are one seriously heterogeneous group!

When I write for The New York Times, I have a pretty clear idea who my readers are. Same for Marie Claire, a women’s magazine.

But the challenge of this blog — and it’s a big one — is not being fussed about the fact that readers here range from high school age to senior citizens, men and women. Two recent followers are a technical school in Mexico (!?) and a political organization in Mississippi.

The commonality is….?

So I just write what I find interesting, spin it globally whenever possible, and hope you like it.

(Feel free, any time, to email me here or directly and suggest a subject you’d like to hear about. Or more of, or less of.)

Do I know who Broadside’s readers are?

Every time a new follower signs up, I make the time to check out their profile and/or blog. Often, as you’ve seen, I’ll leave a comment or “like” there, to let you know I appreciate your attention.

I’m amazed, and challenged, by the wide differences in your interests, careers, nationalities and ages. If we threw a party, we’d need a very big room!

How much time does it take to write each post?

It depends. Some I bang out within minutes. Others I polish for days, even weeks. Some, (rarely) I never post at all.

How do I choose what to write about?

It depends, again. If there’s something big in the news, (the Queen’s Jubilee, Etan Patz’ killer confessing), I’ll jump on it, but only if I have something of a personal link to it. I try to post only on subjects I feel passionate about. But because I have so many interests — design, work, ideas, relationships — I rarely feel stumped for a topic.

Anything you don’t post on?

Religion and politics. Readers of Broadside live all over the world, so how much interest do you really have in American political battles or the endless toxicity of the religious right? I may occasionally touch on spirituality.

Although my first book is about guns, I rarely blog about it as I have no time or interest in getting into heated on-line battles.

How far ahead do I write posts?

I usually have 5 to 10 posts pre-written and ready to go, at all times. But I revise and edit them many times and will update them minutes before I post.

The only way I’ve been able to enjoy a true vacation away from the computer is to stockpile some evergreen issues and post them when it feels right. While I admire the dedication of those who blog daily, it’s not for me. I’m not that interesting and I’m just too tired!

Which blogs do you follow?

I read only about 5 or 6 blogs, most related to my work or my passions, which include France and design. One, Design Milk, offers a terrific variety of daily stories, all visual, from around the world. Another, One Quality, the Finest, (written by a fellow Canadian ex-pat in the U.S.), offers a French idiom (and some history to go with it) every day. I find this one, Freelance Folder (aimed not just at writers) consistently helpful. I also like Seth Godin’s blog, which was recommended to me by a CEO I interviewed for my retail book; he’s an American business guru/author I find smart, provocative and insightful.

How often are you blogging?

Are you meeting your own goals? How’s it going?

Talk to me! (Please)

Durrell in his final years, with Cottontop Tam...
Durrell in his final years, with Cottontop Tamarins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Broadside is blooming — with 939 followers worldwide, and a 50 percent increase in only a few months.

I’d love to hit 1,000 by my birthday, June 6.

If you’re a fan, I hope you’ll consider re-blogging, tweeting or linking!

Long-term commenters include three Australians: Charlene, a feisty photographer; Nigel Featherstone, a writer of the most lyrical and lovely posts and Belongum, a military veteran who shares my love of Gerald Durrell, a British writer who made me want to do what he did for a living, even if I’d never reach his level of skill!

C. has a witty blog, Small Dog Syndrome, which strikes the perfect balance of tart and amused. Lisa Wields Words makes me think of  an Amazon whose shield may resemble a thesaurus.

Matthew Wright, a New Zealand historian and writer, knows well the challenges of this business we both chose; his latest book, about Kiwi criminals, is out in July. He has written (does the man sleep?!) 45 books. So far.

Andi M. has shared some great stories, and I’m curious to see how Kate, a young Irish journalist, is faring in our mutual field. LKD, newly engaged to the stellar Sarge, whom she has blogged about at Gin and Lemonade with a twist, met me for a drink in Manhattan last year. So good to put a face to an on-line name.

We have an Edmonton Tourist and Susan from Scotland and Geoff, yet another Australian…

I love hearing from you!

So, those who have yet to comment, especially — please tell me a little about yourself.


Where do you live ?

What sort of work do you do?

What are some of your passions?

Any topics you’d like to see more of here (or less?)?

What brought you to Broadside?

And what three books MUST I read, of any period? I’m always hungry for new stuff.

Monday Morning Alone

Photo of the Grand Canyon on the south rim at ...
Image via Wikipedia

Monday mornings feel the way I did when I hiked the Grand Canyon. It was four hours down, and eight hours back up.

You’re looking up at a daunting sight, a very steep climb.

I work alone in a suburban apartment. The sweetie is gone 12 hours a day and his work is sufficiently crazed that, while we can speak between his six daily meetings, our conversations tend to be a few minutes at best.

So waking up alone on a Monday morning — my swim classes are Tuesday through Thursday — feels a little lonely. For the past year, I was a member of a blogging community, True/Slant, with some 300 members. I loved our banter and exchanges, but it has closed down in its original iteration, scattering many of our talents and energies to our own individual sites or other group blogs or into radio silence.

I chose the path of being a professional writer when I was still in my teens. I do love writing, but, when you work alone at home, it is one of the loneliest ways I know of to earn a living. Go to any cafe and you’ll find every table piled with laptops, people staring intently into them, many of whom may well be other writers.

Great! Being surrounded by strangers busily staring into computers doesn’t do it for me.

So I am doing what I do every morning to jump-start myself:

1) Listen to BBC World News. I get some idea what’s going out out there. 2) Read three newspapers; ditto. Gives me some blog ideas and maybe some notions of what to pitch to other editors. 3) Place bum in chair. 4) Ignore every possible, tempting distraction, from the pool to email to Facebook to email to the huge stack of unread magazines to housework.


(How do you settle down and focus?)

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Nope, Not Yet, Dammit

I will not yet say goodbye.

Sentimental old fool, yes. Also — technophobic. Have to sit down and figure out how to migrate Broadside somewhere else; one T/Ser says “easy” another said, not. Don’t have time today, maybe late tonight. Definitely tomorrow because the T/S curtain goes down and who knows what happens after that?

Sort of like moving baby sea turtles.

All these damn goodbyes are killing me.

Off to the city for distraction.

My One-Year Anniverary — One Month Left To Go…

English Bay, Vancouver, Canada.
English Bay, Vancouver....where I will soon be...Image via Wikipedia

Happy Canada Day!

I wrote my first post here a year ago today, terrified no one would read it. I’ve since written 850.

True/Slant, as you may have noticed, is rapidly shedding contributors as we head toward the end of the world as we know it when Forbes takes over August 1.

That’s a little weird; it means more visitors and pageviews for me and others since heavy hitters who drew the bulk of them — Taibbi and Kilkenny to name two — left a while ago. The rest of us are still awaiting word whether or not we’ll be doing work with Forbes. I plan to migrate Broadside and its archives elsewhere when necessary.

This is just an update. I’m heading to Canada next week for some R & R and family time, and another True/Slant blind date, this time with Colin Horgan, who lives in Vancouver. One of the pleasures of writing here has been making some new friends and colleagues, through fellow contributors and commenters. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how fun and civil the discourse has remained.

One of my commenters even turned out to be a perfect interview subject for my book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, which is now awaiting feedback from my editor, agent and first readers.

Hope you are all enjoying a great summer!

The Next Step — For T/S And Me

Forbes building in NYC
Forbes building. Image via Wikipedia

Is not yet clear.

True/Slant will change for good after the end of June when Forbes takes over. We had two conference calls this week with Lewis Dvorkin, T/S founder who made the sale and is now going to run the next iteration of this site.

I want to keep writing as I have been here since July 1, 2009 — with a growing audience, terrifically smart and fun followers and the freedom to say whatever I think needs to be said.

We own our own content so if I move this site — and I will give you plenty of notice when and where to find me — archives are also accessible.

Frankly, it’s been a week of a blizzard of calls and emails: between me and fellow writers here; colleagues elsewhere concerned for my future; scrambling, now, to replace the steady income I earned here by accumulating 10,000+ unique visitors every month since January.

My focus right now is: 1) write for the next month, here, as always; 2) finish my retail memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (whose potential cover design I saw this week and loved!) 3) figure out what place, if any, my interests and skills may have with Forbes’ version of this site.

I have never been happier as I have writing here. Mostly, right now, I’m — as the British satirical magazine Private Eye loves to say — a little “tired and emotional.” (That’s their euphemism for drunk.) Nope.

Just….trying to make sense of what’s just happened. We (the T/S writers) simply don’t have a lot of information right now with which to make any sudden or definitive moves.

I hope you’ll stick around for a bit, and, if I do wander off, that we’ll continue the party elsewhere. It’s been an amazing experience.

True/Slant Crossover Event! Heading North To Meet Two New Colleagues

Boston in 1772 vs. 1880.
Image via Wikipedia

What I enjoy most about True/Slant is having been invited not simply to write, and grow an audience, for a new, lively, smart group of readers. I’ve also met, by phone, email and face to face, great new colleagues, some of whom have become friends — people of all ages whose wit, insights, wisdom and passion can be amazing.

Tomorrow morning I’m on a train up to Boston at the invitation of Jerry Lanson and Jeffrey Seglin, both fellow T/S contributors, who teach journalism at Emerson College. I’ll talk about the ethical issues involved in writing memoir to a class there. I came to True/Slant after a guest lecture last year in April to an NYU class of journalism students that included fellow contributor and Canadian Katie Drummond. Talk about luck.

I’ve emailed T/Sers in China and Canada and have met a few in Manhattan for coffee or lunch. One of them (small world) is the niece of one of my editors from The Globe and Mail, my first journalism job. I hope to get out to Chicago someday to see the cool women who blog from there: Fruszina, Megan, Marjie.

In a time of chaos and upheaval within print journalism, it’s rare and great to find new, collegial peers, even — especially — scattered across a dozen time zones and continents. This visit is a bit of a blind date for all of us, but that’s the T/S spirit. I know it’s going to be fun.