Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Hanging Out at Nia's

The Dark and Lovely Nia interviewed me, mostly about blogging and writing, why I do it, and what I think makes for good reading. Here's the text:

What is the first weblog you came across?
I came late to All-About-Me Revolution. I had a couple of friends with LiveJournals, and I first started reading Go Fug Yourself (www.gofugyourself.com) when my friend Power Girl told me it was hilarious. It is.

Why did you start blogging?
I had a Myspace, the usual this-is-what-I-think-about-the-world, here’s-what-I-did-today, oh-wow-dryer-lint, no reason for anyone who didn’t know me personally to read it. I started exchanging views with a Myspace Friend (whom I still haven’t met) about sex and relationships, started whoring a bit around that time, and writing publicly was the natural place to go.

Right now, I’m struggling with the relationship between writing and whoring – I’m more prolific (and better) than I’ve ever creatively been before, and there is a worry that whoring is the necessary overall context in which to write. But there are emotional repercussions to sex work, and that’s challenging.

Which blogs do you read?
I don’t put anyone on my blogroll unless I read them regularly so those 27 are the ones I scan every other morning. My corner of the neighborhood is Tom Paine (www.polyamorouslyperverse.blogspot.com), La Fille Mariee (http://lafillemariee.blogspot.com/) and Gillette (http://ex-courtesan.blogspot.com/). For sheer style and consistency, the Fug Girls, Postsecret (http://postsecret.blogspot.com/) and Dan Savage (http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove) are amazing, but I don’t know if the latter two really count as “blogs”.

What appeals to you about the blogs you read?
Funny and clever and something to say beyond who they shagged and when. I wrote (http://thismuse.blogspot.com/2007/04/mandy-pronounces-with-great.html) about reading through the Sugasm (a weekly list of posts from sex bloggers) and avoiding blogs that are only sex acts and their lead-up – I want power exchange or discovery or relationship, and a sexy story may be the way to tell that, but not another wank story with no context. I like it when an article makes me think enough to go write.

Whose writing do you particularly admire?
Edith Wharton – my husband was driving while I read The House of Mirth in the car, and it startled him that I was weeping as I finished the book. She describes the actions, rather than the emotions of the characters, which involves the reader in experiencing the emotional life instead of being told about it. Malcom Gladwell is another favorite – Blink and The Tipping Point, the way he assembles thought about social activity. English mystery writers, especially Dorothy Sayers, the way a mystery must be constructed from the first page to inevitably lead to one conclusion. Terry Pratchett’s social satire disguised as fantasy, brilliantly funny and devastatingly clever.

In your reading do you seek out different points of view?
Yes and no – I want to know what the enemy is up to, but I don’t have the time and energy in my life to spend on agonizing about disagreeing. It’s been hard for me to learn to accept that other people have diametrically opposed viewpoints, and it’s not because they just don’t understand. It’s not my mission to correct them, or absorb their views. But I do like to get new angles and have my thoughts challenged on issues I’m thinking about.

How do you choose items to link?
I have a blogroll that is only blogs I read often, that update often, and that have a quality of writing I can honestly recommend. I link to articles (on and off my roll) in the context of my posts if they inspired me or they have a different take.

What is your policy on comments?
So far un-moderated and delete the occasional spammer. I sometimes step in and request civility, but my readers are generally smart and well-mannered.

Do you ever receive abusive comments and how do you handle it?
I haven’t yet – there are those who advise, or disagree with a course of action, but no-one (knock wood) has been nasty or abusive. Things like that hurt me, though, so I’m sure when it does happen I’ll delete, then go lie down. The illusion is that people know me by what I write, and I am extremely personal, but when it comes right down to it, they really don’t know me personally, and how wounding can blind spite really be? God has already punished them; they have to be themselves.

Where do you find interesting links?
In the other blogs I read, by listening to public radio, and that my friends and readers send along.

Do you ever write to provoke a reaction and how do you do that?
My sweet post about rediscovering my relationship with Lover drew no comments, but the piece that agonized about saying no to a particular client drew many comments and a personal conversation with a reader with strong advice, as well as chat with Lover in real life. So trauma draws people online as well as off. That said, I can only write what really happens – sometimes it stirs something in people wrestling with a similar issue, compels them to respond. I’m not deliberately “stirring things up” but I am dramatically constructing my narratives to evoke the strongest possible response.

How much traffic do you get?
Over eighty-three thousand unique hits since February 2007.

What is your rank on technorati?
Around twenty-two thousand.

Has your writing changed since you started blogging?
Yes – more often, more of it, and the style is shaping itself. Non-fiction is definitely my favorite.

How many hours do you spend online a day?
Far too many! I try for about three but it’s often five to seven. Research, email, and blogging start to add up. I’m thankful to have friends to go to the gym with and an active “real life” job.

How much time do you spend on your site a day?
Not more than an hour – scan the blogs on the roll, post something, that’s about it. Sometimes add some buttons or join a blogging resource. I write in a notebook that carries with me, transcribe and refine in Word and copy-paste.

How many blogs do you read?
I scan 30-50 and I care about 5.

How do you find new blogs?
Recommendations from others I read, links, and Googling on topics of interest.
How much reader email do you get?
Enough to make me feel special but not overwhelmed!

What do you think makes a successful blog?
Foremost, a unique style that suits, supports and enhances the material. It’s how, not what is told. Frequent, well-written content relating to a subject of greater interest than just “this is my life,” and an awareness of context. Like academic writing, you must demonstrate a grasp of the existing views and beliefs for your challenges or expansions to be taken seriously. As an example of a light-hearted blog that is nonetheless rigorous in background and research, The Fug Girls (www.gofugyourself.com) are not just writing catty opinions, they know what’s going on in the socialite, entertainment and music worlds, they know what the fashions of the season are, they have an overall grasp of historical standards of taste and decency, and that’s what makes them hilariously clever instead of just a couple of bitches badmouthing things they personally don’t like.

What is your advice for a new blogger?
Write about things you really care about. But to make your personal crappy-crap relevant to the readers, take in information from your favorite sources and make notes about how to use it to round out your own ideas or as a starter for your own responses to a topic or idea. Connect your family life or your sex life or your creative life to ideas about the world, so that your personal experience becomes the illustration rather than the point.

Audit a creative writing class at your local college to experience reading and listening to other writers and thinking critically about what works. It’s easier to pick out a problem and say, “Ohhh! That’s why that doesn’t work and here’s how to fix it!” on early-career writers than with published, successful material. It’s also good to get feedback on your own writing style and abilities. Sometimes the criticism is useful in unexpected ways – my pieces always got marked up by other students who thought I wrote run-on sentences. I do. On purpose. And hearing their feedback helped me realize that and use long phrasings better and more deliberately as a stylistic choice.

Write more than one draft – don’t write directly to your blog or it will be sloppy and possibly a poor choice. Unless it’s your style to use poor spelling and grammar (and very few people can pull that off), use good English and look up words you can’t spell. It distracts the reader from your point and diminishes the authority of your words every time there is an error of language. Use a thesaurus to expand your vocabulary and give variety to your work, as long as they still sound like your words! Which is a larger point – the more you expand your own knowledge and understanding, the more range your writing will have while still being genuinely “you.”

How has blogging changed your life?
Writing a really good post makes me feel good, and especially when I save up to write later in the day, it’s something to look forward to. I’ve also met some very interesting people, on and off line. The biggest element is that I now am often writing my life in my head as I experience it, and that’s sometimes great and sometimes a little terrifying.

What blogs do you think deserve wider recognition and why?
Mine. Because I’m a fucking brilliant writer on my good days and not a waste of time on the bad days.

(This is where I’m supposed to be all sweet and link to my friends – check them out at my blogroll).
Personal favorite posts on How About Now? are here (http://thismuse.blogspot.com/2007/03/water-water-everywhere.html), here (http://thismuse.blogspot.com/2007/05/whore-sex-vs-not-whore-sex-episode-2.html), and here http://thismuse.blogspot.com/2007/02/first-client.html).

What are your hobbies?
Reading, languages, and I adore cooking very traditional meat-and-two-veg meals. You should see me in my pearls and apron…

How has your blog changed over the years?
It’s only been 6 months, but I got distinctly more literary around the middle of February, and have since tried to balance reportage and writing. My best posts are when a metaphor that I can really play with pops into the writing. It usually comes about a third of the way in and then I go back and revise with it in mind.

Are you fairly accurate in predicting which of your items will be widely linked?
I don’t even think about it – I like submitting to Sugasm (www.sugasm.com) and that’s brought me a lot of readers as well as turning me on to blogs I wouldn’t have come across, but I’m more about the regular readers than big traffic to a single post.

Do you have a background in writing?
Yes. I have a terminal degree in my field and I’m published in a couple of other genres. Until I was in high school, I hated the physical act of writing, it hurt my hand, though I won prizes for stories and essays. Then I got into poetry and fiction and started enjoying it. I didn’t discover non-fiction until graduate school, and it was a huge realization – oh, that’s what my travel notebooks are! I continue to write professionally in addition to my other pursuits.

When do you blog?
Ideas get jotted in my constant notebook, or on the backs of receipts if I’m (rarely) out without one. I tend to formulate phrasings and the scope of a piece in my head while driving or doing work around the house, and then I compose the pieces in the morning, sitting in my library in my jammies with unbrushed teeth (very important) or in the evenings on my porch seat, ducking moths as it gets darker. My husband doesn’t read the blog, so it’s important to not shove it down his throat when I’m writing.

With regard to blogging what was your most memorable moment?
The first time I was with a client and I detached myself from the situation to write it in my head as it was happening.

Would you read your site?
Damn straight. One of my reasons for starting was that it is the kind of thing I like to read, and Belle de Jour doesn’t post a lot lately.

Thank you – what thought-provoking questions, especially about the writing process!

Mandy

7 comments:

Tom Paine said...

Cool beans! You should ask Padme to interview you, she's looking for good reads to highlight in her irregular series.

niadarkandlovely said...

Mandy,

Great interview, it gives me a lot more insight into who you are. As I said, I could not bear to see you in pain, so removed the contractions.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Nia sharing you with us. After reading Osmosis I wanted to console you because I hate to see someone I care about in pain. It occurs to me though that we tend to reject painful experiences as unacceptable parts of life whereas good stuff is just good and needs no comment.

One of my favorite moments in your story is waking up with cats sleeping on you. Golden hazy light and everything.

Take care Mandy, and please excuse my bad punctuation.

Steve

Gillette said...

Great interview, Mandy. Was fun finding out more about you and thanks for the mention.

Hugs....

la fille mariƩe said...

Wow, Mandy -- great, considered responses, and some new information for me about you. We have a few more things in common than I even realized. And thanks for mentioning me. :)

Mandy said...

Great minds think alike, Tom! Padme interviewed me back in February, and it's right here: http://darkside-journey.blogspot.com/2007/02/interview-with-how-about-now.html. The two interviews are very different, I think - Nia's is more on writing and the blogging process, and Padme's questions are more personal.

I'm glad everyone liked it - I had a great time thinking about good writing and motivation!

Steve - punctuation is always excused in comments :) I'm glad you like the cats and the light - I love that I wake up with the sun in my face, and lately it's been a little chilly, so my fattest cat has been wrapped around the top of my head like a hat when I wake. very comforting!

Al Laddin said...

Really nice, Mandy. You are my favorite read...for all sorts of reasons.