Don’t you just hate it when a police detective asks you a question like that? My first thought would probably be, “Uh oh. I need an alibi for something, probably something bad.” In “real life,” I wouldn’t have a clue even though suspect characters in police dramas seem to have a clock inside their heads that remembers, “No, yeah, I was drinking sidecars with Bill Smith and Bob’s bar on 79th street.”
No worries, though, I’m not a cop. According to WordPress statistics, a fair number of you were reading this blog last Friday at 3 p. m. Why I wonder.
Did you just get home from school?
Did you wake up from last night’s drunk (all those sidecars with Bill Smith)?
Did you get bored staring out the windows of your corner office on the penultimate floor of a downtown office building where workers assumed you were making important decisions on behalf of the company?
On the other hand, there might be positive, less frivolous reasons why you were here last Friday at 3 p. m.
You were looking for information and didn’t want to go to one of those websites with a paywall there it costs $45/hour to read something that only a person with 25 PhDs can understand.
Reading my words has become a religious experience; no drugs or costumes required.
You keep hoping I’ll blurt out the endings of my novels so you have an “edge” for the book report in Mrs. Johnson’s 4 p. m. English 401 class.
Quite possibly, you’re stalking me because you think that, as a writer, I have $10000000000000 in my checking account. If so, you’re wasting your time. Most writers, not counting people like James Patterson, don’t make enough off their writing to pay the bills. But it’s flattering if you think that I do.
Frankly, I’m happy you stopped by even if it wasn’t on a Friday at 3 p.m. Of course, reading my blog isn’t much of an alibi. But then most of us don’t need an alibi. We don’t, do we?
No, I’m not turning over a new leaf with this new blog theme, nor launching a series of books that knocks James Patterson off the bestseller list. I get bored with themes fairly quickly. When products come out with new packaging, they write something like “NEW LOOK” on the packaging often followed by “SAME GREAT STUFF.”
Makes me wonder why the new look. Perhaps the manufacturer removed something bad from the product. If so, they can’t really say, “No longer with traces of mercury.” Or, “No longer infringes on patents of three competing products.” Maybe they just wanted to attract the younger generation.
Years ago, we worried about subliminal messages, primarily at movie theaters when we learned that some theaters were flashing messages on the screen so quickly that the eye couldn’t register them, stuff like “BUY POPCORN.” I can’t remember how effective those messages were. People took a dim view of them because behind the fairly harmless urge to rush out to the concession stand, there lurked darker possibilities.
Those were the days of the BIG RED SCARE. Or, as the McCarthy hearings thought: “There’s a communist in every pot.” Or maybe it was a chicken. Whatever McCarthy thought was in the pot–and I don’t mean marijuana cut with oregano–it all led back to Stalin, Lenin, Marx, spying, and other nefarious stuff that might be hidden in those subliminal messages.
Even today, hidden code lurks amongst the pixels of the graphics in the PR and ADS we get via e-mail. They mainly tell the sender whether you opened the e-mail or not. That seems a bit intrusive to me, but I’m not worrying about it unless the code in the graphics is telling me to buy popcorn, join the communist party, or cheat in Angry Birds games.
If I stooped that low, I’d say “BUY MY BOOKS” and you would have a sudden urge to buy hardcover editions of all of my novels. Or, possibly, “SEND MALCOLM $1000000 TO LEARN THE SECRET OF LIFE.” There are endless options here.
I do suspect the major political parties of using subliminal messages, and they sure as hell aren’t “BUY POPCORN.” There’s a lot of weird stuff happening these days that can’t possibly be attributed to fate, rogue conjure women, or haints. But that’s a subject for another post, and possibly somebody else’s blog.
I just wanted to set your mind at ease that there’s no hidden agenda behind this blog’s new look. Of course, if there were, I’d say there wasn’t.
I appreciate the fact WordPress catches these comments rather than dumping them into my weblog as purported real responses to my posts.
Sometimes I glance at the queue just to see what’s there. I’ve never once found a real comment mistakenly labeled as SPAM. I’m often amused by he things spammers (or their bots) say to get past the SPAM catcher: “This is my favorite blog,” “What a timely topic; I’m bookmarking this page” “Did you know your posts don’t display properly on my cellphone?” and “Can I help you with SEO optimization.”
The Worst Ruse
“Would you like to save time and energy using curated posts from real writers in this blog? Trust me, I know it’s hard finding new things to write about and composing them properly.”
Are you crazy?
Of course, I don’t send that response because I don’t want more SPAM. But I do want to say, “You pretend to follow my blog and yet you haven’t noticed that I am a writer. Why would I want other writers writing my stuff?”
So bloggers ever allow these kinds of comments to see the light of day? That is, does SPAM like this ever work? Should I feel heartless about the 59, 976 SPAM comments that I threw in the cyber trash can?
Now, if a spammer wanted to send me some real SPAM® from the Hormel Foods Corporation, I might consider it. When I was a Boy Scout, we sometimes took SPAM® on camping trips because it was easy to cook even though the Scoutmaster wanted us to cook our meals from scratch–and that was back in the old days before all these choices were available:
I’m not tempted enough to buy these at the store, but if all these wonders had been on the shelves when I was an eleven-year-old Tenderfoot Scout, I may never have cooked any real food over a campfire and earned a merit badge for it.
But, alas, none of the SPAM is the real deal.
The phony stuff posted by leeches in the WordPress Akismet swill catcher just doesn’t light my fire, much less make me feel loved and treasured as a blogger.
Many websites ago, I noticed that the number of visits a page had over the previous day or week or month took on quite a different meaning when I considered the average length of each visit: usually in nanoseconds. So, most of those visits that I first thought were people actually considering my words or the books I talked about actually were bots that came and went faster than human fingers could possibly operate a mouse or keyboard, and that when the time-length of each visit finally got long enough to suggest a human saw my page, it was apparent that s/he was only there long enough to give my presentation a momentary glance.
Ah, so that’s why a thousand visits to a page in a website translated into so few clicks on links to other pages, much less to my books sitting there on Amazon waiting to engage you in a conversation. What a humbling epiphany it was, discovering that most of what I perceived as attempts to engage were machines scouring the web for this or that or people in a hurry to go somewhere else when they found nothing to slow them down on my page during their frenetic pace through cyberspace.
To my knowledge, WordPress isn’t telling me how long you are here, much less the impact–if any–upon you from what you see. So, as I sit here at my Dell desktop computer screen with my cat occupying a fair share of my desk chair, I wonder who you are and what you make of this place. If you’re here long enough to grok what I’m saying, you know by now that this blog has no niche. That’s good and bad, depending on what the gurus are saying.
I don’t care what the gurus are saying because if I really listened to their prescriptions about how to manage this weblog, I would become too bored to manage this weblog. Yes, I understand the value of knowing what you’re going to get before you arrive on a page, the certainty that one blogger provides daily writing tips and another provides humorous commentaries on national issues. So, I don’t offer any certainty, because I might talk about anything here from Trump to tadpoles to transformation.
I’m unrepentant about my overt lack of a niche. I thrive on chaos because as a writer (you do know I’m a writer, capeesh!) I think our most creative moments come out of chaos rather than plans and outlines.
So, you’re brave to come here because the whole place probably is about as sane as the movie “Fargo” or some film from Federico Fellini. If you’re a bot, I don’t care why you’re here, and (frankly) I hope the chaos shorts out your circuits. If you’re a person, I appreciate your brief glance at this page and can understand why it may not be your cup of tea. But then, if you’re here long enough to read today’s post and think “well, this is crap” or “hmm, he might have a point,” then thank you for stopping by–you’re the person I’m writing for.
Publishers and publicists often ask authors who their readers are. The one thing you’re not supposed to do is pick a famous author’s book and say, “People who liked Fire Ants in the Birdbath will love my book.” That’s usually considered arrogant.
If a writer is a blogger, s/he is often asked about the blog’s demographics. If it has a niche, then how many people stop by every day? If it’s more general, what subjects get the most readers and comments?
My answer to the first question usually includes Floridians and/or those who like fantasy, magical realism, and paranormal short stories and novels. My answer to the second is “I get the most hits on stuff I’m not writing about now.”
Currently, most of my visitors are looking at blogs that focus on conjure. I wrote a lot of these when my novel Conjure Woman’s Cat first came out. I wrote these because authors are advised to blog about themes and subject matter from their novels rather than promoting the novels over and over again.
When I was writing the conjure posts, they didn’t get as many hits as silly posts, satirical posts, occasional rants, or posts about things going on in my life. Now that I’m writing posts about other subjects–some about my life, some about writing and publishing–those are getting very few hits compared with the massive number of hits on the conjure posts.
This means when it comes to blogging, I have no idea who my readers are except for people who know me in “real life” or on Facebook. I suppose I should have called this post “Clueless in Georgia.” I wonder if that title would have attracted people from Georgia. Since I’m clueless, I have no idea.
So far this year, my posts have had 15,506 views, the most popular post being an old one Barebones Structure of a Fairy Tale with 2,086 views and my navy slang post Heave out and Trice Up with 923 views. It’s also an old post.
For a while, my post about the White House Boys, the survivors from Florida’s nasty Dozier School and its transgressions received many views. Those began to fade as the story about the search for graves on school property fell out of the daily news. I thought some of those readers might find yesterday’s post about the school and Colson Whitehead’s bestselling novel The Nickel Boys ( Colson Whitehead’s ‘The Nickel Boys’ Takes Kirkus Prize for Fiction) that was based on the school. So far, only three views. That surprises me.
After all these years posting on this blog, which began on Blogger and was moved to WordPress in 2008, you’d think I’d know what I was doing. But I don’t. The posts I think nobody will notice get lots of views and the posts I think everyone will notice are slim to none in the popularity category. In “real life,” I don’t believe in fate, much less in the fates of Greek mythology (Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, et. al.). Yet, sometimes I wonder.
Are three ladies truly spinning thread that represents our lives, measuring it, and then snipping it off? Gosh, I hope not. Yet, “fate” is a popular notion even in our age of science and technology about things that happen for no discernible reason. Others are more comfortable saying “God moves in mysterious ways.” (I don’t mean to imply that God reads my blog. <g>)
Why anything happens when it happens is usually tangled up in so many variables that understanding all but the most simplistic parts of it are beyond human ken. We might say that a person was injured in a car accident because somebody ran a stop sign. The police report usually covers that part. What they don’t cover is why the two cars involved happened to arrive at that intersection at the same moment. There are lots of theories about what “Why” but most of them don’t sync up with our consensual logic about the world so all we can do is ponder them.
Many newsletters these days have within them the code (often within a pixel) which the sender can use to see who reads them. If you don’t read them for a while, sooner or later you’ll get a message that asks if you will want the newsletter. Usually, I do. But I have to logical reasons for why I read it some days and skip it on other days. Sure, there are obvious reasons: I was sick, I was out of town, &c. But then there are the times when my brain is shorted out already and I don’t have the patience for reading something I normally like.
I don’t think that’s fate, but I can’t prove it. I’m happy that so many of you keep coming back to this rather eccentric blog and are reading so many posts. So thank you for being fated to read what you read <g>.
Excerpt from Widely Scattered Ghosts: “On the band bus ride home, the stunning, first chair flute player Melinda Wallace sat beside him. She had no clue how he felt about her, not that he’d said anything. The empty aisle seat next to a clarinet was, he guessed, preferable to sitting in the back with the band’s borderline criminal element of raucous drums and tarnished brass. Melinda smelled like wildflowers and her unruly light brown hair smelled like the wind. When the band played ‘The Stars and Stripes’ Forever’ in concert and Melinda stood up into the light for her piccolo solo—the sweetest banshee cries the world has ever known—her blue eyes were frozen into ice for thirty-two measures of leaps and trills, while her hair could not be restrained.” – The Lady of the Blue Hour in “Widely Scattered Ghosts”
Since I’m not a fan of housekeeping, I procrastinate on the housekeeping chores that go along with having a website and a blog. On the website, I’m likely to let pages sit for a while without a constant supply of fresh material so that return visitors have something new to read. Here, I’ve uploaded quite a few posts, but didn’t touch the pages that display on the menu across the top of the screen for a long time.
Now, the website is looking better and I have two new pages–replacing two out-of-date pages–that I’ll try to keep current with excerpts and pictures.
My view of websites and blogs is that, other than talking about my books and related subjects, they are all about you rather than all about me. I wrote an article for a magazine for nonprofit organizations in which I said that many of them were missing the boat when they advertised events and exhibits. Like commercial advertising, nonprofit news releases which appeared in the newspaper should be about the reader, that is, showing him/her why the event would be fun, entertaining, and otherwise worthwhile.
Author C. Hope Clark, who sends out a weekly newsletter from her Funds for Writers website said that author newsletters seldom do much good because instead of talking about books and interesting subject matter, they often degenerate into monthly updates about the authors’ kids and pets. That’s not what the readers want to see. As Clark but it, they didn’t subscribe to be a buddy, they subscribed to find out about exciting new releases and, in some cases, book signings and other events the author would be attending. So, I try to use my website to show prospective readers why they might enjoy my books rather than having, say, a page about what my cats are doing.
This blog is a bit more relaxed. Since I’m disorganized, I’m likely to talk about anything here and sometimes it is about what my pets are doing. Sorry about that, if you’re not a cat person.
At any rate, I hope you enjoy the improving website and the two new pages on this blog. And, if there are certain kinds of posts you want to see more of, let me know in the comments section
When I look at my Word Press dashboard, I often see that old posts are suddenly getting a lot of visitors. Today it was Review: ‘Plain Truth’ by Jodi Picoult from last September. I have no complaints about this. I simply wonder how and why a bunch of y’all find a post six months after it was written. I don’t think the post saw that many visitors last fall.
So, do Word Press readers get together in “secret” Facebook groups and say, “Hey, let’s all read Malcolm’s old review this week. That’ll freak him out.” Or, is there a mother ship in high earth orbit that beams down subliminal messages about the blogs everyone’s supposed to visit?
Posts I’ve forgotten about suddenly appear in my blog’s stats with dozens of visits, and that sends me out to them to see what I might have said. You know, did I insult a celebrity, inadvertently announce a cure for ten horrid diseases, or post nude pictures I didn’t know were available? Of course, I keep waiting for the post that goes viral, the one that attracts the attention of major movie studios who get into a bidding war for my books. So far, that hasn’t happened.
When people find old posts, I sometimes search Google to see if anything earthshaking has happened that relates to their subject matter. Usually not. And then, further adding to the mystery is the fact that a lot of those readers come from the far-flung corners (figuratively speaking) of the world. How do you find me? And why that particular post?
I’m not particularly astute when it comes to the issues of the day or the philosophical questions of our era. CNN doesn’t call me for quotes and the New York Times doesn’t review my books. Humbly, I must say that in both cases, it’s their loss. Of course, if I were invited anywhere special other than the nearest Cracker Barrell, I would decline the invitation because I have nothing to wear. I wear jeans an tee shirts; haven’t put on a suit and tie for years, and those I used to wear no longer fit.
Seriously, I grew up in a swamp–or near a swamp–and today’s social media (including Word Press and Facebook) are beyond me. As for Twitter, my blogs post there, but I seldom go there because I can’t figure out what’s happening. So, I wonder, how do y’all track down these old posts?
I’m usually too buried in writing and weekly chores to notice the stuff that many sites refer to as “trending.” So, if I’m ever trending, it’s news to me. Actually, I don’t want to be trending. That means the phone would ring and people would ask stuff like “Which of the Democrat’s 2020 candidates do you support?” and “Do you buy good wine or swill?” Frankly, I don’t need the hassle.
On the other hand, I appreciate everyone who stops by my blog. As we said in the old days, “What a hoot.”
WordPress keeps sending me notices that more and more people are following this blog. That’s a little scary because it means I can’t slack off and write these posts drunk and blindfolded. Thank you!
While many of my posts do sound drunk and blindfolded, I also have fun reviewing a few books, talking about authors, and occasionally saying a few things about writing. Yet, I have madness in my method and that is something that I believe needs to be said. I say it in fiction. This Facebook cover picture pretty well sums it up:
My publisher is working on a new edition. She just sent me photographs of it this morning. Wow, for a grey and rainy day, they really make me happy. You’re going to like it. More on that later, of course.
Writers are usually advised to have websites and blogs. There are lots of reasons even though blogs aren’t as popular as they were, say, back in the 1990s when the concept began. Blogs become, so say the experts, part of your platform or presence on the Internet.
Not counting widely known writers, blogs seem almost mandatory for those writing nonfiction because they help establish subject-matter credibility. Such blogs have a built-in niche and tend to draw readers who are interested in beekeeping, home repair, investing, or whatever the author’s subject matter is. If the author is busy, s/he may have announcements of upcoming events related to that niche along with links to his/her articles along with resources links to sites and articles written by others. So the blog becomes another clearinghouse of information and (so the author hopes) will be a way of publicizing the books.
Widely known fiction writers have a built-in audience of readers who are looking for them; they want to know the latest news about new books, presentations, panels, signings, etc. Unknown writers don’t have people looking for them. So, they are often told to blog about the subject-matter and locations of their books more than their books. If they write several posts a week about their books, that’s often considered SPAM. On the other hand, after maintaining this blog for a number of years filled with posts about Montana, Florida, mountains, swamps, hero’s journey, hoodoo, the environment and related subjects that relate to my novels, I can say that after a while, the writer runs out of book-related subject matter to talk about.
And, as far as I can see, there’s little correlation between those who read my posts about hoodoo, for example, and the sales of my books in which the main character is a conjure woman. Of course, most of the people who read this blog aren’t fans of hoodoo and related subjects, so I can’t establish a “hoodoo niche” and write about that all the time. But even if I did, I suspect that readers searching on hoodoo and conjure are looking for how-to more than fiction.
This brings me to the point that some writers make: blogging takes time away from writing the novels one is supposed to be writing. Yes, it does, and while I appreciate all of you who follow this blog greatly, I’m wondering if the blog is “earning its keep.”
J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, and other well-known and wealthy writers can make political comments on Twitter all the time without harming their authors’ reputations. They may lose a few readers, but I’m sure they don’t care. I wrote a political post on this blog yesterday and deleted it today. Why? I guess I wish I hadn’t written it even though writers–among others–are being urged to speak out more and more about political matters. The thing is, politics has become so polarized these days, one can hardly say anything that doesn’t bring down the wrath of the multitudes. Suffice it to say, I’m a political moderate, yet the polarization in venues such as Facebook is so extreme that moderates get beat up by both conservatives and liberals. I don’t see a lot of real dialogue on Facebook. Just a lot of nastiness from people who wouldn’t dare say the things they say at a backyard barbecue or a bar or a party. I don’t think I want to bring that nastiness into this blog even though my political views are just as real as everyone else’s views.
So, What’s Left to Say?
My first thought is “not a lot.” I’ve been blogging for a long time on many platforms over the years. I’ve met a lot of cool people, found interesting discussions, been lured into exciting blogs of others, and had fun shooting off my mouth. But after 25 years of that, I’m not sure I know what I’m doing here on WordPress. As people reach my age (I’m not telling you what it is) they often find they’re out of sync with the world. That is to say, it becomes more and more obvious with each passing year that they are part of the older generation which is variously considered to be: (a) responsible for what’s wrong with the world, (b) out of touch with the major thrusts of culture and popular culture, (c) trapped in the past.
The days are long gone when old people were venerated for their wisdom. (Hell, my generation grew up with the admonition not to trust anyone over 30.) Not that I have any wisdom. When I was a kid, I thought I would know lots of stuff by the time I was a grandfather. Boy, was I fooled!