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.

#PenguinsWithPeopleProblems
#PenguinsWithPeopleProblems

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!