Saturday, May 11, 2013

Where I’ve Been, And Why

  So, in the middle of December, last year, I suddenly stopped posting on this blog. Absolutely nothing for over 3 months. I basically avoided any updates on Facebook, although there were a few drive-by snippets here and there. I didn’t throw anything out on Twitter, although, to be fair, I never really got invested in the Twitter thing. (There’s something about the 160-character thing that just irks and inhibits me.) My Pinterest boards went silent, I apparently stopped perusing books according to Goodreads, and Google Plus became Google Minus.

  Last month, the silence on this blog was briefly broken, with three half-ass posts, not my best, then the tumbleweeds started rolling again. I essentially went AWOL from social media, and I gave no reason why. But today, with the arrival of a certain something in the mail, I decided it was time to chat a little bit about what’s been going on.

  Despite the concerns expressed by a few people who emailed me privately, I did not go into a depression. Rather, I went into a distraction. Two of them, actually. My creative juices did not dry up. Instead, the juices were squeezed into different containers than this one.

  The first container was one of my other blogs, “Backup Dancers From Hell”. At some point late last year, something I did, or perhaps something someone else did, caused a huge spike in hits on that blog. I went from an average of less than a hundred hits a day to over a thousand a day. And the spike held strong, continuing for weeks. It eventually abated somewhat, but I still regularly get 500-600 hits a day.

  Granted, an analysis of hits is rather mundane and boring for people who aren’t writing an actual blog. But if you are a blogger, any time you see a spike, you do the best you can to recreate or reinforce whatever caused that activity. Trouble is, I couldn’t figure out what was causing all the commotion, what  might be the source of the influx, because the tallies of hits on the individual posts did not add up to the overall total that Blogger was reporting for that site.  And I still haven’t figured it out, even after I went to the Blogger IT people. They were just as flummoxed as me about the discrepancy, but they confirmed that the overall total was a valid and wonderful thing.


  Bottom line, something or somebody somewhere was paying attention to that blog. And the only way to guarantee the attention was to keep posting. So I have been. Which means less time for this blog.

  The bigger container for my juices (that sounds a bit naughty, but I’m keeping the phrase anyway) had two fundamental ingredients. The first was the abysmally low number of hits for this blog. Although I like ALL of my blogs, at least those that are still active, this one is my pride and joy. This is where I have the most fun, where I don’t limit myself, and where you can get the truest glimpse into what I’m really trying to do. But nobody was coming to visit, despite my promotional efforts on social media.

  And that’s ingredient number two, social media. I had been spending an enormous amount of time on the various outlets, from Facebook to Pinterest to lesser-known vehicles that might generate some visits, especially repeat visits, which is crucial, to my blogs. Yes, some of my time, especially on Facebook, was purely social in nature and I do enjoy that angle, but a big chunk of my efforts were concentrated on the business side.

  And it really is a business, for me. I love writing, don’t get me wrong, if The Fates decree that I am never to earn a penny from my writing, so be it, I will still continue. But I would like to earn some pennies from it, many pennies, to be blunt. I would like it to be my career. Scratch that, I dream nightly about it being my career. It’s the one thing I’ve always wanted, since day one when I first composed a sentence as a young child and thought, wow, that felt really good. More, please.

  But we all face obstacles when approaching  fervent goals, and mine are currently these: I have a soul-sucking day job that takes up a tremendous amount of time. (And most of us do, I realize, I’m just listing my grievances to present a better case in court.) I’ve been spending a lot of time on social media promoting my material, instead of producing my material. (And as I’ve mentioned, that promoting doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere.) And I have a tendency, on this blog, to create hugely-epic, multi-part posts that only attract my few hard-core readers. (The average visitor drops into the middle of this mess, immediately gets confused about what is going on, and leaves.)

  Those are the lesser-evils. The biggest impediment? My using the above excuses to justify and explain why I’m not getting anywhere with this blogging thing. It was time for me to suck it up, get real, and do what I’ve always wanted to do, which is write books. The blogs are fine and dandy, for what they are, and I’ve had many fine moments where I’m overwhelmingly proud of what I’ve done, even if only my hard-core readers pay any attention.

  So that’s what I’m going to do, write actual books. More importantly, I’m actually doing something about it instead of just wishing and hoping. I’ve started on the first book (in this decade anyway, more on that later) and things seem to be going okay. It’s a reworking of the “Paris Chronicles” series from this very blog, which originally ran at the tail-end of 2009. I’m chopping and shifting and adding and subtracting bits of those 52 posts so that they read in a smoother narrative flow, so that it proceeds like an actual novel and not something that was invented on the fly, as it was, one post at a time.

  Why revisit something that I’ve already done? Why plunder that which was once writ? Well, because I think it’s worth the recycling, and the opportunity to revisit “old friends” has been rather fun, both the good (“oh, I like what I did there”) and the bad (“holy cow, that sucked”). Over the years and all the various blogs, I’ve amassed a huge number of posts. If you lay them out end to end, you probably couldn’t circle the world, but by sheer odds alone there’s going to be a nugget or two worthy of rescue.

  To put it another way, here’s an excerpt from what is now the opening chapter of Screaming in Paris, a working title that suits me now but is obviously subject to change. In this bit, I address those well-intentioned folks who ask why I’ve never written a book…

  In the years since, as my blog-work wandered through a range of stories and experiments (some efforts producing pieces of which I’m proud, other efforts calling into question the severity of my alcohol intake), there was one thing which remained constant: People were always asking me when I was going to “write a book”. (Because, as the snooty authors with actual “hard-cover” trophies on the mantel loved to point out, a blogger just isn’t a “real” writer, he’s only playing in his own little sandbox.)

  But the truth is, I have written a book. Three of them, many years ago. None of them were exceptionally brilliant, and all of them were soundly (and probably wisely) rejected by publishing houses back in the day. (The first effort no longer exists, the worn pages having been lost at some point as I moved between houses and cities and states. I believe there might be a copy of the second manuscript in a box in the attic, but I haven’t tried to find it in years, fearing that it, too, may have joined its older sibling next to a manual typewriter in the sky. The third and last child is neatly tucked in a cardboard box and shoved to the back of a shawdowy, rarely-used drawer in my desk, patiently waiting for me to love it again.

  There was a dark period where I wrote very little, a lost decade or two, running in place and even slipping back down the stairs from time to time. But I never stopped paying attention, observing, filing away images that planted seeds, quietly distilling a new approach to my writing. And then this magical concept of “blogging” came along, a new playing field where you can get real-time reaction from readers, and you realize rather quickly whether or not an experiment is working. My seeds now had plenty of water, I just had to keep fertilizing them.

  My farm, over time, exploded. At one point I had nine separate blogs, each constructed around completely different concepts, using various writing styles. The years of pent-up non-expression came pouring out of me, two or three posts a day. I don’t think my fingers ever stopped moving in 2010 and 2011. It was a glorious, wonderful release. But there was a potential price. “You’ve got to slow down,” warned my more-seasoned blogger friends. “You’ll burn yourself out, you’ll get all cranky, and people won’t invite you out for cocktails anymore.”

  And they were right, of course. The little engine that could can only cover so much track before the scenery starts to get a little too familiar. I transferred my engine to a smaller network of tracks, one with fewer departures and a more relaxed schedule, and I spent some time reviewing the logs to see just where my train had been.

  My overgrown garden is now full of thousands and thousands of pages. Bits of this, long stretches of that, weird snapshots of whatever, planted hither and yon. THERE are my books, the new and preferably better ones, the books I actually have been writing during the years when people thought I was just playing. It’s time to get out my trowels and shovels and pruning shears and, yes, the dreaded axe, harvesting the good stuff and sadly sending the not-so-tasty produce to the compost heap so they can help feed next season’s crop.

  And there you have it, a snippet of the future, at least for me, one wherein I focus on writing books and not so much on my blogs. There’s a bit of pain with that, because I like the immediate response of comments on my posts. But it’s clear at this point that I’m not doing whatever is necessary for the blogs to become a source of income. I can’t keep pointing fingers and hoping for something magical. I have to take concrete steps.

  And one of those firm steps involves what I hinted at earlier, the arrival of something in the mail this morning. This package contained finalized documents between me and the county of Dallas, state of Texas. Officially, I am now a publishing company, Bonnywood Manor. (A name which should come as no surprise if you have followed me for any length of time.) It cost me a little bit of money to do so, not overwhelming, but still, it would certainly cover the tab of several consecutive happy hours at my fave restaurant, Ojeda’s.

  What does this mean? It means that I can retain complete ownership of anything that I publish, and that seems rather important to me even if it really isn’t in the long run. It also means that, someday, once I’ve figured out the hazy maze of getting things published, I have an umbrella to hold up, where I can reach out to others who type endlessly into the night and dream during the day, and help them share what I hope to share. Baby steps now, strong strides later.

  But first I have to finish my first/fourth book, make it festive and enticing. Which means, somewhat sadly but also encouragingly, that this blog will transition. I’ll still be using this site to post original material, especially when I need input on tricky bits where I’m needing critical insight. But it won’t be what it once was, which was a repository for my literary whims. Instead, it will become a sounding board as I reflect on life, liberty, the pursuit of publication, and a never-ending quest to find the perfect queso to compliment a margarita.

  Or, as some purists will say, it will become an actual blog, a hitching post for what is happening in my life. This scares me a little bit, because I have a tendency to hide the real me from the spotlight, after years of being misunderstood and defaulting myself into obscurity. I initially named this blog “The Sound and the Fury” for a reason. I’m going back to that reason, and I hope you’ll join me.

  But there will always be my stories, either here or somewhere else, that I promise.

  Stay tuned. Please.