Speaker Spotlight: Mary Laura Philpott

Mary Laura PhilpottMary Laura Philpott has definitely not written every *single* word in the English language. Probably she hasn’t even written 80% of them — there are loads of words out there that just aren’t used that often — like “smaragd” and “stibnite” — so including them in your article isn’t necessarily a good idea (unless you’re writing about minerals).

That said, Mary Laura has written a lot of words in a lot of different combinations, sizes, and flavors. Articles, essays, book reviews, advertising copy, style guides, interviews, columns, blog posts, listicles, poems… she is prolific, and her publishing experience is robust. Also, she draws penguins in a very endearing way.

Mary Laura is the editor and producer of MUSING — the online literary magazine from Parnassus Books, the legendary independent bookshop in Nashville, TN. She’s also the co-author of Poetic Justice: Legal Humor in Verse, so it’s pretty clear she can see the humor in just about anything.

A rough sketch of a penguin holding a pen and a pad of paper
Or can they?

Lots of people get to enjoy Mary Laura’s sense of humor on her blog I Miss You When I Blink, which features her “on deadline, off topic” writing, including tips for ladypersons, interpretations of fashion ads, and our friends the Random Penguins, who have a book coming out. (A book about them. Not by them, by Mary Laura. To the best of my knowledge, penguins can’t write.)

So, that blog of hers? Well, it wasn’t always possible to connect Mary Laura Philpott, author and editor extraordinaire, with I Miss You When I Blink, because she started that blog anonymously as a side project. Do you want to hear the really interesting story of how she went from anonymous blog to many-professional-opportunities-plus-book-deal? Lucky for you, she’s agreed to tell you all about it at Press Publish Portand on March 28!

In the meantime, here’s your chance to get to know Mary Laura a little better by reading an interview:

Q. What made you start blogging on I Miss You When I Blink?

A. I started I Miss You When I Blink in 2012, right after finishing up a big project that had eaten my life for two years. I found myself with a bunch of time on my hands all of a sudden, and I didn’t want to immediately hand that time right over to another work project or volunteer endeavor. So really, I guess I started blogging as kind of a placeholder. It was a fun little side project that I thought might keep me occupied until I decided what I wanted my next big thing to be. Blogging wasn’t much of a stretch at the time — it was fun and easy. Writing is what I do naturally (and what I do for a living), and I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh, so a humor blog just made sense.

Q. What kept you (and still keeps you) posting regularly?

A. I Miss You When I Blink is a space for the things I create that don’t have a place anywhere else. That’s not to say it’s a place for my writing that’s not good enough to be somewhere else, or that I’m not editing and composing what I put there — I am — but it’s a good spot for more casual, more silly, sometimes more bizarre writing and illustration. Some days, I’ll work for a few hours on a professional project and then do another little bit of work on something else, and then I’ll work on something kooky for the blog and think, “Now this one’s just for me.”

a picture of a champagne cork dressed as a duchess
Cork, the Duchess of York.

If I were a painter instead of a writer, I guess it would be like coming home at the end of the day after painting a bunch of portraits and landscapes and doing a finger painting of a monster with five eyeballs. It’s fun to let loose a little bit. And because this site is entirely my own creation, I decide what goes in. Maybe one week, I write about something I read in a magazine, and another week, I post pictures of Champagne corks that I’ve dressed in tiny outfits.

Having a blog also takes the place of those really long email threads that used to go around, where you send something funny to a friend, and then they respond and forward it to more friends, and then before you know it, you have 100 emails in your inbox with “Fwd: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: re:” as the subject line. With a blog, it’s all in one place, and it’s much easier to share and comment.

Q. What’s your most popular post? Is that also your favorite post? If not, what are a few of your favorite posts, and why?

A. The most popular posts on I Miss You When I Blink are the ones about fashion ads. I actually love fashion — I can get lost in an issue of Vogue for hours, and I love to dress up — so it’s not really that I’m saying, “Boooo on this industry.” I just love to take a moment and look at those ads literally, to imagine what they’d be telling us if they were part of an actual how-to guide for life. When you look at them that way, they’re just so hysterically bizarre. The most recent post on that theme, “How to Be a Ladyperson at the Holidays,” went a bit viral. I think it was shared on Facebook almost 100,000 times? The posts along those lines — or like this one, where I studied the J. Crew aesthetic — are among my own favorites, too.

Some of my other favorite posts resonate with smaller groups of readers, but are just as rewarding for me. As a lifelong reader and writer, I’ve always loved talking about books. I used to post little book reports on the blog about what I’d read lately, and those didn’t exactly go viral, but they did spark some really fun, nerdy conversation when they were shared. And eventually, those led me to start writing for outlets like the Barnes & Noble Book Blog and Book Riot, which then led me to what I’m doing now, which is editing and producing Musing, an online literary magazine for the indie bookstore Parnassus Books (which, of course, we built with WordPress.com). So in a way, those less popular posts are my favorites, because they helped me make a shift in my professional writing life that has been really fun and rewarding.


I very rarely write about my family, because my spouse is a much more private person than I am, and I also want to respect my kids’ privacy and let them tell their own stories whenever and however they’re ready. (Also, I just feel like there are so many people doing such a nice job writing about parenting already that I can’t see that there’s much for me to add on that topic.) But occasionally, I will post something family related. This was a favorite of mine, based on a weird experience we had in an elevator.

And then every now and then, I’ll just throw something together in the moment and post it purely because it makes me giggle, like this. And that’s actually how the little “random penguins” characters started out — just a one-time joke, which then become a recurring thing, and then a spin-off site of their own, and now a book, Penguins with People Problems. I love when a spontaneous thing like that grows legs.

Q. How have readers responded to your writing?

A. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how positive all the feedback is. I really love to make people laugh; so when someone comments that a post made them laugh or is the funniest thing they’ve seen all week, that’s music to my ears. I’m sure there are people who’d think the stuff I post on my blog is ridiculous, but I guess they aren’t looking. Or they aren’t commenting, in which case I appreciate their restraint.

There was a reader once who wrote, simply, “This is stupid.” That’s all. It was tucked in among a bunch of positive comments from other people, and it was so understated and simple, I just loved it. Now at the bookstore where I work, whenever someone does something that everyone’s fawning over and calling brilliant, one of my coworkers will deadpan, “This is stupid,” and it makes us chuckle. Not everything is going to please everyone. Frankly, I’m surprised whenever anyone I don’t know even notices that this blog exists.

Q. Is there anything you’re hoping to share with the Press Publish audience? Is there anything you’re hoping to learn at Press Publish?

A. Well, I’m happy to share any experiences I’ve had, to the extent that they might be helpful, or at least entertaining. I’m also looking forward to seeing what other people are doing. There’s some great undiscovered talent out there. It’s so fun, when you’re just wading through the muck online, to stumble upon something brilliant or hilarious. And oh yes, there’s plenty I’d like to learn. I manage a few different WordPress sites, and I’m sure there are lots of things I’m doing wrong, plus cool features I have no clue about. I’m bringing a list of questions for the Happiness Engineers. Thanks for having me!

Want to see Mary Laura speak at Press Publish Portland on March 28? Get your ticket!

Speaker Spotlight: Christine Lee

Christine H. LeeTo say Christine is a veteran blogger is an understatement. She’s had a website since 1993, and has been blogging since before WordPress — heck, since before the term “blog” was coined! With more than 20 years of online writing under her belt, Christine says, “Blogging kept me writing.”

Christine’s experience of interacting with the community built online is unique. In 2006, she started a blog under a pseudonym.  A few months later, at the age of 33, she suffered a stroke. She didn’t recognize her symptoms as a stroke, but she knew something was off. A few days later, she wrote:

something in my brain burped. most of what i want to do is just out of my grasp. i feel like i know how to do them, but then when i go to do them, i just…CAN’T. day by day, i’m regaining my abilities, so i hope this is just temporary.

Her readers urged her to seek medical attention, in comments on the post as well as — for the few readers who knew her personally — in emails. A day later, she commented from her hospital bed:

I had a stroke! Will be better.

She continued to blog at jadepark.wordpress.com through her stroke recovery, for the next two years. Throughout her blogging, she maintained that close relationship with her commenters.

Eight years after her stroke, Christine wrote an inspirational personal essay on BuzzFeed, and that post went viral. Again, commenters reached out — this time in overwhelming numbers, creating — notice a theme here? — yet more connections. In a post about the essay going viral, she wrote:

When I was going through stroke recovery, I felt incredibly alone. Each stroke is unique, so that just furthers the isolation. And while recovering, I basically sat shiva for the person I lost, unready to face the person I’d become. So if this piece eases that solitary for others, I’m so happy.

Christine recently signed a deal with Ecco Press, an imprint of Harper Collins, to publish two books: WHOLE, based on her BuzzFeed essay, chronicling the debilitating stroke she suffered at the age of 33 and her subsequent transformation; and THE GOLEM OF SEOUL, which follows two Korean immigrants in 1970s New York City in search of a lost relative who take a cue from Jewish mythology and make a golem from Korean soil. We’re so happy for her!

Christine will be speaking at Press Publish Portland on March 28, delivering a talk entitled “Comments Saved my Life.” (Tickets are now only $150get yours today!)

Get to know Christine a little bit better by reading the traditional Speaker Spotlight interview:

photograph by Kristyn Stroble
photograph by Kristyn Stroble

Q. What made you start blogging at jadepark.wordpress.com?

A. While my current main WordPress blog is part of my author website, and relatively new, and I had a blog before that at czilka.wordpress.com, I’ll define my main blog as jadepark.wordpress.com, where I blogged anonymously in the wake of my stroke. I started blogging at “Writing Under a Pseudonym” as a place where I could write without judgment, without high stakes, and where I could chronicle my recovery. I didn’t have an agenda other than it be a semi-private space where I could be honest and frank and speak my mind in the wake of trauma.

Q. What kept you (and still keeps you) posting regularly?

A. Engagement with my readership. The writing. There’s twitter, but I’ve always blogged, because it’s the blog where I feel I have more liberty. Also, my blog is key to refining my voice as a writer, especially with my nonfiction.

Q. What’s your most popular post? Is that also your favorite post? If not, what are a few of your favorite posts, and why?

A. When I first had my stroke, I put up a blog post. It was an aphasia-ridden nonsensical post, and it was a very short post. It has since become my most popular post—and in a sense, it is also my favorite. In so many ways, it is genuine, because I lost the ability to organize thoughts and filter information.

Q. How have readers responded to your writing?

A. The response to my writing has been phenomenal. I have made lifelong friends from my blog once I came out from behind the curtain—and it has driven so much support for my narrative.

Q. Is there anything you’re hoping to share with the Press Publish audience? Is there anything you’re hoping to learn at Press Publish?

A. Well–! I’ve got a literary agent now, and I’m writing a memoir about my stroke. Jade Park; Writing Under a Pseudonym has been an invaluable resource as I write my book, because my memory was very affected in the wake of the stroke. That I wrote everything down has been helpful in recovering facts. At Press Publish, I just hope to connect with others, and promote blogging.

Come see Christine speak in Portland on March 28!

Get your ticket!

Press Publish Price Drop!

We’ve been working hard on the upcoming Press Publish events — Portland on March 28 and Phoenix on April 18 — fine-tuning the programs, spreading the word, and putting the finishing touches on some outstanding conferences that will be educational and entertaining at the same time. We’re so happy with the way these events are shaping up that we don’t want anything standing between you and the amazing talks we’re bringing to the stage — nothing we can control, anyway.

I’m very excited to announce that Press Publish tickets are now selling for $150 each! Each ticket still comes with a one-year WordPress.com Premium upgrade (a $99 value) or VaultPress Backup Bundle ($99/yr plan) that you can apply to your site.

There simply isn’t another conference in existence that offers this unique combination of WordPress.com know-how and successful bloggers describing how they made their mark. Inspiring stories + intensive workshops + helpful tutorials + one-on-one help with your blog + a year of WordPress.com premium = what are you waiting for? 🙂

Get your ticket!

Workshops, Classes, and Clinics — Oh My!

You may have checked out our speakers and sessions before, but check again! We’ve added a track of Blogging U. classes to both the Portland and Phoenix events featuring a variety of formats, but all of these sessions are hands-on, not lectures. Some classes are the same in both cities, while others will vary based on who’s teaching. Most classes last half an hour, while the more advanced workshops/clinics are an hour long. But enough with the logistics, here are the class descriptions!

Writing 101: Storytelling
Blogging is just another way to tell a story. Join Mike Dang and Mark Armstong, editors of Longreads, for a 30-minute writing class focused on practicing the art of storytelling. A combination of writing, sharing, and providing feedback, this class will get your creative juices flowing. What’s your story?
Portland, 30 minutes

Writing 101: A Daily Practice
In this 30-minute class, we’ll talk about how to build a writing habit, give yourself the space to write, and try different techniques to unlock your mind and tell your story. This session will be led by Cheri Lucas Rowlands, a story wrangler for WordPress.com and Longreads.
Phoenix, 30 minutes

Blogging 101: Planning Ahead
One of the most important things when trying to grow a blog — posting regularly — can also be one of the greatest challenges. What if some days you don’t know what to say? Or don’t have time to write? We’ve got your back! In this class we’ll take a look at some of the programs on WordPress.com aimed at helping you get the creative juices flowing, like Blogging U, Daily Prompts, and weekly Photo Challenges, and we’ll help you set up a posting plan for your blog. We’ll also create a few draft posts and learn to use the post scheduling tool, so that you can put your plan into action! This class will be led by Josepha Haden.
Portland, 30 minutes

Photography 101
Get photography tips, learn how to use the WordPress media editor, and optimize images for the web! Taught by Sheri Bigelow and Ash Rhodes.
Phoenix, 30 minutes

Design 101: Customize
The first thing people notice when they visit your site is how it looks. In this workshop, bring your laptop or tablet and begin the process of making your site feel more like you by using the customizer to update things like taglines, fonts, and theme options. Taught by Kathryn Presner in Portland, and by Kathryn Presner and Erick Hitter in Phoenix.
Portland & Phoenix, 30 minutes

Design 102: Menus and Widgets
Dig deeper into customizing your site. In this session, you’ll use the WP Admin screens to set up custom menus for your site navigation, and widgets to bring more shazam to your sidebars. And yes, you’ll even try out the custom menu widget. Worlds collide! Taught by Kathryn Presner in Portland, and by Kathryn Presner and Erick Hitter in Phoenix.
Portland & Phoenix, 30 minutes

Writing 201: Clinic
For this one-hour session, bring some writing with you (your blog on your laptop or other device counts!) that you think could be better, and participate in a writer’s workshop led by Longreads editors Mike Dang and Mark Armstrong. They’ll guide the group in giving feedback, and will provide their own constructive criticism on how to improve the elements of your writing that you want to improve.
Portland, 1 hour

Writing 201: Clinic
In this open and informal discussion session, WordPress.com editor Cheri Lucas Rowlands will talk a bit about what makes a great post. Be sure to bring your laptops, notebooks, or drafts to work with: you can ask specific questions, learn about others’ techniques, and brainstorm story ideas with the group.
Phoenix, 1 hour

Design 201: CSS Basics
How many times have you heard, “You can change that with custom CSS,” but you didn’t know how to get started? In this half-hour class, learn the basics of working with CSS as our teachers walk you through the process of making some simple CSS changes on your blog. You’ll want your laptop with you for this one! Taught by Kathryn Presner and Michelle Langston in Portland, and by Kathryn Presner and Erick Hitter in Phoenix.
Portland & Phoenix, 30 minutes

Design 202: CSS Clinic
You understand the basics of CSS, like how to change a color or the size of your headlines, but what about the more complicated stuff? In this open clinic session, come prepared with your CSS hopes and dreams, and our teachers will walk through how to make people’s dreams come true in a classroom setting so everyone can learn together. What kind of dreams can be solved by CSS? Move your sidebar to the other side, add a new border around all your photos, hide elements from being displayed — dream big. Led by Kathryn Presner and Michelle Langston in Portland, and by Kathryn Presner and Erick Hitter in Phoenix.
Portland & Phoenix, 30 minutes

The full session schedules are posted on the city event pages for Portland and Phoenix. Don’t forget, your ticket includes a year of the WordPress.com Premium upgrade or the VaultPress backup bundle, so get your ticket today!

Speaker Spotlight: Cecilia Gunther

Cecilia Gunther headshot
Cecilia Gunther

Once upon an time, in a land across the oceans, a girl named Cecilia was born. If that sounds like the start of a fairy tale, it’s on purpose. Though speaker Cecilia Gunther’s life hasn’t actually been a fairy tale, its zigs and zags have been so fascinating that it could easily be written up and sold as fiction.

Mother of five. High school drama teacher. Director. Photographer. Film industry professional in London. Quite honestly, any of those roles could be easily be a subject tackled by a script developer (another former career), but the shift from where she was to where she is now — down home on the farm in Illinois, growing her own food and raising animals with the moral support of her blog’s community of farmers — sounds like the kind of Amazon or BBC series I’d binge-watch in a weekend (well, if the writing was good, obviously).

We discovered Cecilia when we asked on the WordPress.com official Hot Off the Press blog if readers could suggest any great bloggers that we should consider for Press Publish. We’re so glad someone brought her to our attention! Her photographs are amazing, and seeing the connections that have formed in her commenting community is an example of the social richness that blogging can bring into your life.

But back to that fairy tale… this isn’t the first time Cecilia has been on the farm. As a teenager, she came to the U.S. as an exchange student. Cue a meet cute on the farm followed love, loss, travel, and all the other things that come with living. Fast forward a few decades to London, reconnection, more love and travel and another wedding, and back to the farm! I’m leaving out lots of details, but you get the idea that Cecilia has kind of an incredible story, right? Don’t worry, she’s going to tell you all about how she wound up where she is, and how her blog has helped her succeed and make great friends along the way. You won’t want to miss this session, and you definitely don’t want to miss her photographs!

Here’s our usual interview to help you get to know Cecilia, and you can also chat with her in her community conversation on how blogs evolve over time.

Q. What made you start blogging on thekitchensgarden.com

A. I came to live in the Midwest of America from London (though I am a New Zealander) about nine years ago. I was used to being surrounded in people and the prairies felt very wide and very lonely. Not being happy with the food in the supermarkets I decided to grow my own food embracing the challenge of self sufficiency. I took advantage of the land around my house and began to grow my own food. I started blogging to document the development of my little piece of land, taking photographs so that my own grown children and friends who do not live anywhere near closeby, could still drop in on any given day and see what I had been up to. I continue to blog with a growing readership of like-minded and very clever individuals who are always ready to help a lady farmer.

Q. What kept you (and still keeps you) posting regularly?

A. I promised myself and them that I would tell the truth of every day and that every post was about what happened yesterday and that the images would be what I saw that day. When I travel I take the readers with me, but 99 percent of the posts are just me pottering through an ordinary day farming, raising and cooking my own food using old fashioned methods. Mostly Organic. Mostly sustainable. Always tasty.

I post every day at about the same time. So, routine has a lot to do with the continued posting of the blog. I work on the images in the evening and write and post early morning – usually around dawn just before I go out to start my chores. The blog is a soap opera. Slow moving, the dialogue is not terribly challenging and there are lots of pretty pictures. I have made it easy for myself. And easy for my readers too.

Also the blog has developed a life of its own. All day as I work in the fields and the barns, usually completely alone but for the animals, I find myself collecting images and anecdotes to tell my readers the next morning. The blog itself has become a dialogue, my cup of tea. I guess you could call my readers my neighbours and we meet for a cup of tea together every day. I am no longer lonely out here.

Q. What’s your most popular post? Is that also your favorite post? If not, what are a few of your favourite posts and why.

A. Do you remember the morning we skyped (when you were at the beach in Hawaii and I was at the beach in New Zealand) and you asked me what my favourite post was? I was totally stumped. Each post is a continuation of yesterday’s post, they work as a unit (I have had new readers start at the beginning of this blog’s life and read every single post to get up to date) and I have TOO MANY favourites because few posts stand alone.

So I asked my readers this question this morning. Here is what they said. If you have a moment – zoom down to the Lounge of Comments.

Firstly the most popular post (which is not my favorite post by the way).

How to Steam Eggs — No Need to Boil at All. This post is an old post in the previous free WordPress format so it has been squeezed into my new format and is now kind of awkward. But many people seem to want to know how to steam eggs!

Also for you, with the help of my readers, here are three good favourite posts that might help you get a handle on what my blog is all about.

My Enemy. We had been having trouble with an animal killing chickens and I had put a wildlife motion activated camera into the hen house to see what was doing it. This is the day we realised that we were up against minks. I chose this one as it is in fact an ordinary post about the day to day running of an old fashioned farm but shows the drama of ordinary farm life and the dangers faced by pasture-raised animals.

The Day I Almost Married the Marlboro Man. I wrote a series of stories about my life as a child growing up on a beach. These rose from the ‘I can’t do it because I don’t know how’ discussion. Many of my readers were saying that they could not do what I do. They could not grow their own food because they had never done it before. One of the main aims of this blog is to show that we can all be involved in the growing of our own food — no matter what our background is — even if it is only herbs on the windowsill. I did not grow up on a farm you see. I grew up literally just above high tide on a beach. Laying about in the sand. The day I met the Marlboro Man still makes me smile.

Feeding Sugar Water to Bees — This post carries some of my most favourite images of the bees that I have on my property. Chosen because of its beauty. Bees are magic, having them down in the back is always a joy. They are hard to keep alive here too, because we are surrounded in the GM crops of corn and beans. But the honey is magnificent and we have excellent pollination levels in the gardens.


Q. How have readers responded to your writing?

A. My readers respond with kind and informed support — always. My readers are called The Fellowship. They play a massive part in supporting me and keeping me informed on farming practices. They are an integral part of the blog. Many are actually so emotionally invested in the blog that they read daily and make intelligent and informative comments daily.

Very early on in the ever-developing life of the blog The Kitchens Garden, they began to form into a very strong collection of real people, soon naming themselves The Fellowship. This was such a tidal movement that none of us can even remember who came up with the name. We call the comments section The Lounge of Comments. This is where the commenting members of the fellowship gather every day. And I mean gather, often they will pop in and out a number of times to read each others’ comments. Sometimes when I am busy on the farm they even answer each others’ questions and if one of The Fellowship is ill or needs support, or has a farm question, this is where they support and inform each other.

We have a page called Join Us — pop in if you have a moment. It is a startling collection of personalities: this is where many of The Fellowship introduce themselves to me and each other. Even the ones that seldom comment.

Letters for my Little Sister book coverThe Fellowship have published one book already — Letters for my Little Sister — and are working on another. The books began when I wrote a post about menopause and the comments in the Lounge were so full and so interesting, that I decided to make the comments into a book. My readers expounded on their initial thoughts and sent these letters to me and with the help of another member I produced a lovely book (It is on its third print now and is sold on Amazon)

The second book is underway: I am presently collating Letters for my Baby Girl this winter and then we will begin the third in our series. The Letters Books are a direct result of the Lounge of Comments and the honesty and wealth of information that the readers of The Kitchens garden share with each other. So, you see, the readers of my blog are like a huge engine chugging along underneath my farm, moving us all forwards.

Q. Is there anything you’re hoping to share with the Press Publish audience?

A. I take it that you mean the talk that I shall give?

I am hoping to talk about the relationships that we build throughout our lives that strengthen our blogs. I believe that everything comes down to relationships. The ones we develop with our readers, our screens, our writing, the weather, our images – our content – even our time management- the people in our lives and from our lives – even our relationships with the people who have left our lives. Even the relationships we develop with technology. To develop a clear linear thread between these relationships creates a clarity of thought that, as bloggers riding the waves of the interwebs and as People in a fast moving world, ENABLE and feed a curious strength.

Once that strength is collected and fed and decanted we can draw on the strength created from these relationships.

I call this energy The Benevolent Monster. It has become a kind of THING. Once we have done our home work, made our plan, put the pieces of our plan in order and pushed Play we climb up onto This Benevolent Monster, we have informed him and fed him, now we trust him and HE begins to carry US through. This is paramount in a blog. Trusting ourselves and our readers.

For example: think about your work on this conference – you are developing a clear series of relationships, you collect the people, you carve out the time, you reach out with your fingers and gently cajole the information from your team and knit it into a cohesive mass. Soon you will have created a beautiful Benevolent Monster, and when your gathering work is done – you climb up his weathered and elderly hide (you might need a ladder!) kick your heels in and then TRUST The Benevolent Monster to walk forward unaided and bring your work to fruition. Everything is in place, your work has gone Live, the conference begins and The Benevolent Monster takes over. An idea has become an entity. From then on you say Yes to each problem as it pops up confident in the Monster. I love the Monster.

This is what I will talk about and extend for the people of Press Publish. This and more! What do you think?

Q. Is there anything you’re hoping to learn at Press Publish?

A. I need to learn so much! You mentioned that you were bringing people to speak about technical matters. I am deeply low-tech at the best of times. I live a very sheltered life out here on the Mid West. I don’t even have TV. And I know I am not using the WordPress machine as well as I should be. So I am excited to be able to listen to your speakers and streamline and clean up a lot of my own antiquated practices.

As an example I shall go over to your earlier email right now and try to work out how to do an online signature!!

I am also looking forward to your other speakers. Learning how they approach their days and their own time management and motivations. How they power their own Benevolent Monsters. Bloggers are inherently solitary so it will be good to cross the divide and discuss this medium with other bloggers.

Cecilia will be speaking on March 28, 2015 at Press Publish Portland.

Get tickets!

Speaker Spotlight: Jerry Mahoney

What happens when a great writer has a great story to tell? Well, in the case of comedy writer Jerry Mahoney, you get a great blog, a great book, and a great speaker for Press Publish Portland on March 28!

jerry mahoney holding his newborn twinsJerry’s story of how he and his partner Drew had twins via gestational surrogate has been told in a Modern Love column Jerry wrote for the New York Times and in this Today Show piece from October 2012. Like many of us, Jerry blogged regularly for a while and then took a hiatus. When he came back to his blog after becoming the stay-at-home dad of twins, he found himself writing the kind of blog that he couldn’t find but wanted to read — and as it turns out, it was the kind of blog that a lot of other people wanted to read, too! It’s hard to imagine Jerry cooking up those hilarious posts about playground etiquette, minivans, and The 5 People You Meet as a Gay Dad and gathering over 16,000 subscribers during naptime, but I guess they don’t call him Superdad for nothing!

Jerry’s blog has a somewhat unusual, “you get what you give” comment policy. He doesn’t require comments to be approved before publishing, because he doesn’t want to discourage anyone from writing. He warns, “When I do respond to a comment, I try to do so in the same tone and spirit of your original comment.  If you’re nice, I’ll be nice.  If you’re snarky, I’ll snark back.”  The comment threads on many Jerry’s posts read like a fun dinner party, with a lot of interchange between Jerry and his readers, and between his readers as well.

Jerry Mahoney will be flying in from New York to speak at Press Publish Portland on March 28 about his experiences in publishing, including how he mobilized his blog’s community to shoot his book to the top of the Amazon charts. And in the time-honored tradition of our speaker spotlights, here’s a great interview with Jerry:

Q. What made you start blogging on jerry-mahoney.com?

jerry mahoney signing books at a tableA. I was working on my memoir, the book which eventually became Mommy Man: How I Went from Mild-Mannered Geek To Gay Superdad, and my agent told me that if I wanted to get it published, the best thing I could do for myself was to build an online platform. At the time, there were not a lot of gay dad bloggers I could relate to, so I figured I had a perspective people would appreciate hearing. I loved the idea of writing something, publishing it instantly to my site and within minutes, getting feedback from readers. My book took over two years to write, with no guarantee it would get published at all. I probably would’ve gone crazy trying to get it done — and who knows if I ever would’ve finished at all — if I hadn’t had the blog along the way to provide instant gratification for my creative itch and to reassure me that I had a voice people wanted to hear. So at the same time I was building an audience for the book I hoped to publish, I was learning just what that audience wanted to hear from me.

Q. What kept you (and still keeps you) posting regularly?

A. The more I wrote, the more I realized I had to say, and the more I connected with followers, the more encouraged I was to say it. I really felt like my blog was adding to a bunch of conversations — about parenting, about LGBTQ people, about twins, about raising kids in the 21st century. And people seemed to appreciate my sense of humor. That’s the great thing about having your own space online. The people who think you’re funny/informative/interesting will stick around and the people who don’t will find other sites to read. So you end up writing for a very supportive and appreciative group of people.

Q. What’s your most popular post? Is that also your favorite post? If not, what are a few of your favorite posts, and why?

A. My most viewed post is called “I Won’t Be Your Gay Friend If…” I wrote it in response to people like Kirk Cameron and Sarah Palin defending their anti-gay remarks by saying, “I have lots of gay friends.” I figured people like that deserved a little refresher on just what friendship means. I’m very proud of that post, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite.

Jerry mahoney's familyI think the most representative of my blog is probably “How to Talk to Your Children About Gay Parents, By a Gay Parent“.  My kids are still very young — they’re in kindergarten now — and I know my family probably confuses a lot of their friends. When my kids tell people that they have two dads, it introduces a topic into a lot of families that they weren’t expecting to discuss with their kids so young, so I figured it was only fair that I offer some suggestions on how to deal with it. That post got lots of attention and was reprinted a lot, which made me feel like it struck a chord with other parents. That definitely makes me feel good.

I also like a post called “The 10 Biggest Secrets I Keep From My Kids“, including “I was an even pickier eater at your age than you are,” “I don’t know how we’re going to pay for your college,” and “While you’re napping, I shove my face full of chocolate chip cookies for two hours straight.” It’s one of my more fun posts, and at the same time really honest about some of the hard parts of raising kids.

Q. How have readers responded to your writing?

A. When I first started my blog, I was a little nervous what I might be opening myself up to. There are homophobes out there, obviously, but beyond that, parents are some of the judgiest people on Earth. I wasn’t sure what kind of response I’d get for, say, confessing that I let my kids watch TV before the age of 2. The amazing thing is that the comments on all posts are usually 90% positive, if not 100%, and the ones who disagree tend to at least be respectful. Trolls are few and far between. That’s because people usually share stuff they agree with, which brings in other people who appreciate what you’re saying. Over time, the people who keep coming back to your blog are the people who relate to your perspective.

There are exceptions, of course. Every once in a while, something I post will anger some community or other and a bunch of people will come in and rant. I get the feeling that someone’s riling people up and saying, “Hey, this guy said this. Go let him have it!” The good thing is, if it becomes disruptive or abusive, I can always shut down their comments.

Overall, having a blog has been a great way to connect with people who think like I do, relate to my struggles and laugh at the things I find funny. I feel in some small way like I’ve built my own community online. Now when a hater swings by to leave a nasty comment, five other commenters swoop in and smack them down before I even can.

Q. Is there anything you’re hoping to share with the Press Publish audience? Is there anything you’re hoping to learn at Press Publish?

A. I’d love to share everything I’ve learned about using my blog as a platform to publish a book, finding your niche and your point of view, writing share-friendly posts and using humor to connect with an audience. Of course, the main thing I want to share is my URL!

I’m looking forward to meeting other bloggers and hearing about their experiences. I’m always looking for ways to make my blog look better and to reach a wider audience, and I’m sure I’ll pick up lots of great tips on how to do both.

Get your ticket today!

Speaker Spotlight: Ananda Leeke

Ananda LeekeAnanda Leeke will be joining us as a speaker in Portland from her home in Washington, DC. Published author, founder of the Digital Sisterhood Network, artist, yoga practitioner, social media professional…. Ananda’s accomplishments are so many and so varied that it was almost painful trying to to summarize them into a short blurb for our speaker’s list. Needless to say, we feel privileged that she’ll be part of the inaugural Press Publish this March.

One of the most enjoyable parts of organizing a conference like this is getting to know the speakers a little bit as you prepare for the event and flesh out their session ideas with them. Working with Ananda has been great fun, and hearing the story of how she has evolved personally and professionally since she began blogging 10 years ago is truly inspiring. She’ll be talking about this evolution, and how you can both create and find opportunities for yourself, so I don’t want to give away the session altogether, but here are some fun tidbits:

  • Digital Sisterhood book coverShe began blogging to try and cure writer’s block while working on a novel, and it worked. Ananda is a published author several times over in both fiction and memoir, including a memoir about her development of the concept of digital siterhood. (Ananda’s books on Amazon.com)
  • She made connections and found professional opportunities through blogging conferences. One such opportunity led to her becoming a Blogger Ambassador for Macy’s, which ultimately led to her trip to Haiti.
  • She campaigned for Obama with her dad, and blogged about it.
  • She became a social media leader for the White House.

I can’t wait to meet her in person, and I know she’s really looking forward to meeting our attendees here in Portland (where I happen to live). She’s hosting a community conversation here on Press Publish this week about blogging burnout, so pop in and get to know her!

And it wouldn’t be a speaker spotlight without a little interview so you can hear Ananda in her own words.

Q. What made you start blogging?
A. When I started blogging, I treated it like a personal diary. It was a life jacket in my sea of writer’s block during my novel writing journey for “Love’s Troubadours – Karma: Book One” (Amazon). Each day I blogged, I was able to exercise my writing muscles. As they gained strength, my diary entries grew into character descriptions and dialogue I could experiment with before giving them a permanent home in my novel.

Q. What kept you (and still keeps you) posting regularly?

A. I love the power of storytelling through blogging, the capacity to share massive amounts of information (since I’m a lifelong information junkie), and the beauty of connecting and building community with people I would not otherwise. These aspects of blogging light up my creative spark.

Q. What’s your most popular post?

A. My most popular post is titled, “My Digital Citizenship Valentine: 4 Reasons to Love #WHSocial Events.” It discusses why I love serving as a White House social media leader. It is one of my favorite posts.

Q. What are some of your other favorite posts, and why?
A. My favorite posts include my blog series on traveling to Haiti as a Macy’s Heart of Haiti Blogger Ambassador in 2011 and serving as a social media for the White House and U.S. Department of State in 2014. They are my favorites because they demonstrate how powerful blogging can be in someone’s life and the magical and memorable opportunities that arise when one person shares her voice and passion with the desire to serve others. I think they also encourage bloggers to define and pursue their own definition of blogging success.

Q. How have readers responded to your writing?

A. Some readers have told me they were inspired to write and publish their own words in a blog or book. Others have thanked me for sharing my stories and passion for yoga, creativity, and all things Internet geek.

Q. What are you hoping to share with the Press Publish audience?

A. I am hoping to share inspiration and encouragement with the Press Publish audience. I hope my talk, panel discussion participation, and interactions with audience members inspire them to fully express their authentic voices online, embrace digital wellness moments in their blogging life that honor when their energy and interest levels in blogging fluctuate and/or disappear, define and follow their own definition of blogging success, and have fun telling and sharing their stories online.

Q. Is there anything you’re hoping to learn at Press Publish?

A. I want to learn how to transform my free WordPress blogs into fabulous and fierce web sites with WordPress templates and plugins. My sites need a facelift like yesterday!

Ananda will be speaking about blogging, opportunities, digital wellness, and whatever else comes up with the Portland audience.

Get your ticket today!

Phoenix sessions announced

I’m excited to announce that today we published 13 sessions to Press Publish Phoenix’s schedule!

When you buy your ticket for Press Publish Phoenix, you’re signing up for useful tutorials on WordPress.com tools like widgets and themes, tips and tricks from SEO and marketing experts, and a panel of successful bloggers discussing the many different financial opportunities that have come to them through blogging.

Successful bloggers of many stripes — humor, food, parenting, and crafting — are represented in our lineup, and they’ll each be talking about how they made their mark using WordPress. Plus, the Happiness Lounge will be staffed all day with WordPress.com experts, available to give you one-on-one help with your website.

Tickets are available now, and come with a one-year WordPress.com Premium upgrade or a one-year subscription to the VaultPress Backup Bundle ($99/yr plan).

Don’t miss out on any of these great sessions or the other fun stuff in store for you on April 18 at Press Publish Phoenix — get your ticket today!


Poetry in Motion

Are you a poet who doesn’t know it?

WordPress.com’s Blogging U begins its Writing 201: Poetry class tomorrow. Lasting 2 weeks (with weekends off), each day the course will provide a prompt for a poetic experiment that you can share with other class members via your blog and discuss on the private course site, the Commons. Despite the 201 label, you don’t need any specific writing experience, just an interest in trying poetry for yourself in a no-pressure environment. If you miss a day, nothing bad happens. 🙂

To prove how painless it is to try out a Blogging U course, I’m signing up myself. Will it be potentially embarrassing to share poetry on my personal blog? Yes, possibly. I’m not a poet by any stretch, as evidenced by the Doctor Who-themed song I posted once that was a result of a Coursera songwriting course.

Based on what I’ve seen in the Blogging U Commons from past courses — I’ve not taken one myself yet, I’ll be a newbie just like you! — I have a feeling that it will be a lot more fun than the student assignment forums in that Coursera songrwriting course, where people seemed to be really anxious about “getting it right” and tended to sound really stressed out. In the Blogging U Commons, everyone is there to have fun, learn a little something, and create blog posts in the process.

Who’s up for 2 weeks of writing poems? Silly or serious, anything goes. Will you take the challenge and join me in Writing 201: Poetry for the next two weeks?

I leave you with a poem that was written by a trumpet player in my high school band that has stuck with me for going on 30 years now:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
You think this will rhyme
But it won’t

Blogging U logo 
Sign up for Writing 201: Poetry

(And tell me in the comments on this post so I can keep an eye out for you in the Commons!)

Portland Sessions Announced

We are proud to announce that 19 sessions have been posted to the Portland schedule!

From “Around the World in 80 Posts” from featured blogger Erick Prince-Heaggans to “DIY PR & Social Media” from Marjorie Asturias, Press Publish Portland is jam-packed with uplifting and informative talks from outstanding bloggers and WordPress experts.

Featured bloggers will talk about how blogging helped them build a business, get published, and even learn to farm. We’ll have tutorials on podcasting, mobile blogging, SEO, choosing a theme, widgets, mastering the dashboard, making the most of your upgrades, and more!

Tickets are still available and come with a one-year WordPress.com Premium upgrade or a one-year subscription to the VaultPress Backup Bundle ($99/yr plan).

Don’t miss out on these great sessions or any of the other cool stuff in store for you on March 28 at Press Publish Portland — get your ticket today!