Category Archives: Publishing

On Reading An Unpublished Novel I Finished 15 Years Ago

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The novel has been sitting in a box, both a real box on my desk and a virtual box on my hard drive. I miss it. I finished it some fifteen years ago, having labored over it throughout the preceding five or six years. I have fond memories of its composition and of the way I felt about its success on the page, bolstered by lots of voices from the past of folks who had read it, had good things to say about it, and encouraged me to get it out into the world. And finally, I feel a kind of sadness about the loss into obscurity of its subject matter, a subject matter I haven’t written about since then, but nevertheless a subject matter of monumental importance to my inner life and personality.

Why has it been so long inside the box? Well, the agent search yielded over and over again the kind of response that most good writers are quite used to seeing: “This is good; you’re a fine writer; here’s a list of laudatory adjectives to describe what we thought of your work; but it is not the right thing for us at this time. Some other agency will feel differently. Good luck to you!”  That’s not a bad kind of note to get. But it went on and on.  Until I had agents who wanted to take it on–for a fee. Or until I had agents who wanted to take it on, but  couldn’t tell me a damn single specific thing about why they loved it and thought they could sell it. Or until, (and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back), an agent loved it and asked for a series of quite lengthy and difficult revisions before she felt she could take it on. I complied. I complied because I thought the feedback was sound and the revisions would make a better novel. And I complied because I believed (don’t ask me why), that an agent asking for a revision would not do so unless they meant to take on the work.  Well, I was wrong about that. Ultimately, this particular agent passed on the novel. By now, I was shell-shocked. By then, I had been working on a new book. I shelved my little book about an epidemic of spontaneous human combustion (not really its true subject matter) and started in earnest on a new idea. 10 years later, still smarting from the agent search for the first novel, I skipped that trauma altogether and decided to self publish through iUniverse. Thus, the second novel I ever wrote, Monster Talkbecame my first published book. Then, I was on to the next idea, the idea that I am just now wrapping up, while my first novel continues to sit in its literal and virtual boxes.

Over the last several days I have liberated this work from its box on the desk and reread my first novel. What a strange experience. It’s probably been at least 13 years since I last read it from “cover to cover.” Some of it I didn’t remember writing, and as I was reading I was not sure where the novel would take me in the pages to come. That was a pleasant surprise, but odd, like looking at photographs of yourself doing things or being places that have totally fallen out of memory. Initially, I was afraid I wouldn’t like it, that it would seem green to me and unaccomplished, structurally incoherent. After all, I was 35 or 36 years old when I finished it, just a baby, and fresh out of writer’s school. But as I read, ultimately and happily I thought to myself, hey, this is pretty good. And it occurred to me, too, that its strangeness was in part because of the fact that the writer of this work was a different guy. We’ve already established that he was younger, yes, but there were other things that struck me about him. He was brave and brash. He was writing about things honestly that this older version of him would have difficulty articulating. His book was kind of dirty–but in the best possible way. Erotic might be a better word than dirty, but that would depend on the reader. But he was funny, too, and his sex scenes were funny. He could really write a beautiful sentence. And he captured, far better than I could capture now, 1980’s and 1990’s suburban life. Reading now the fictional work of a man who was alive then and living through it, the details are convincing and immediate. The internet was brand new in the 90’s and slow, non-existent in the 80’s. Email was just becoming a thing in the mid to late 90’s. People were still renting films from video stores. There were very few cell phones. Teachers were writing on chalkboards. Young people, when they wanted to go some place, walked to their destination. In this way, the novel felt like a kind of time capsule to me, and this writer captured what it was like to be a teenager in the 80’s, part of the true subject matter of the book, something I might have difficulty writing about now given that I am surrounded nine months out of the year by 21st century teens, whose lives, I suspect, are very different from their counterparts of 30-some years ago, but, who knows, might be in more danger of spontaneous human combustion then their predecessors!

So happily, I find suddenly and again that I have another work that is perhaps worthy of publication and I am psyched to try once again to find a good home for it. And to other writers who have older works languishing in drawers, boxes, and hard drives, I say, get those suckers out and reread. At the very least you’ll be surprised and you’ll learn some stuff about your past selves. And if you like what you find there, that work may just have another life to live.  Set that baby free.

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#110: Shameless Self-Promotion (An Advertisement Poem)

MichaelJarmer_cover_small

The NaPoWriMo website today suggests that we try an advertisement poem. That’s an actual thing, apparently.  As an example, the NaPoWriMo curator provides Exhibit A:

Said Farmer Brown
Who’s bald on top
“Wish I could
Rotate the crop”
Burma-Shave

So rather than create a poem advertising Burma Shave or a made-up product or some thing I dig and would like to promote, I thought, why not promote my own bad self and write an advertisement poem for my novel, Monster TalkIt’s terrible  poetry, but I hope it will have an effect–because I could use the revenue.

Shameless Self-Promotion: An Advertisement Poem

My elevator pitch:

the end of Frankenstein
was such a bitch
somewhere I wish that I could find
a story just as rich.
Monster Talk

The creature, in perfect health,
through his eloquent speech
convinces himself
to come back from frozen beach:
Monster Talk

Makes his own bride
and comes to the new world
to begin a new life
with his creature girl.
Monster Talk

Two hundred years later
a child is born of human parents
descended from parents greater
and becomes their heir apparent:
Monster Talk

The story of a boy’s adventure
learning to read and learning to love.
And in these endeavors he finds some danger
and must find the strength to rise above.
Monster Talk

It’s a book you won’t be able to shelf
about a boy who’s less monster than charmer
Don’t you owe it to yourself
to read this novel by Michael Jarmer?
Monster Talk

Click on any of the hyperlinks
in this little poem,
and Monster Talk will be delivered
directly to your home.

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2013 in review: Not Bad

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.  I’m not sure if people are interested in this thing or not, but the WordPress.com helper monkeys sent me this report and offered me a link that would allow me to share it with my readers, so at least in the opinion of the helper monkeys, some people might think it’d be a cool thing to see.  What’s most interesting to me is the info right out of the gate there, which you don’t even have to see the whole report to get, and that is that 2013 was my best year.  7,600 views.  I have nothing to compare that to, so I don’t know if I have a hit or a dud; what I do know is that I’ve been doing this for two full years plus now, and with a total number of views at 10,737, my readership has, in the last year, how do I say, blossomed–at least comparatively speaking.  Hey, all you readers: thanks so much for that!

For those of you blogging and for those of you otherwise interested, I have two theories about my bumper year.  On my best day ever here at michaeljarmer.com, I stirred up some controversy.  Actually, I didn’t stir it, somebody else did–by reading a particular blog entry I’d written about the rigors of teaching writing for your average high school English teacher and then by posting the link on Reddit with the headline “This Guy Is What’s Wrong With Education in America” or something to that effect.  So, one lesson about getting more readership might be to piss someone off to the extent that they would say nasty things about you on some other social network site and post links to your blog.  That was an interesting experience, but it consumed me for several days running, and that was bad.  It wasn’t all bad.  Readers stood up to the guy and defended me–people I didn’t know, and that was good.  And of course, it was my busiest day ever, and that was good.

My other busiest time of the year was during the cruelest month of April when I participated in the NaPoWriMo, meeting the challenge of writing a poem a day every day for a month.  And here’s the other wisdom nugget:  a way to increase readership is to post something every day.  That’s it–but you already knew that.  That’s no easy task–for so many reasons, not the least of which is time, and not the least of which is the problem of having a new idea every day–those two reasons are often insurmountable for people.  I doubt very much I could sustain that for any longer than a month, not without neglecting things around the house, or neglecting people around the house, or neglecting work and sleep around the house.  And as far as I can tell, I’m not earning anything, monetarily speaking, from my blog.  That might be a game changer.  Anyone want to pay me to do this?  For right now, I do it because I dig it, and for now, that’s good enough.

Again, thanks so much for being here, for reading, for commenting or not, for sharing or not, and even for saying nasty things about me on Reddit.  I couldn’t have done it without you, without all of your 7,600 views.  Happy New Year and happy blogging.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,600 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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On New Year’s Resolutions, Or, On Having Blogged A Bunch and the Dangers of Repeating Oneself

new-years-bucks-county

I began composing a blog entry this morning about New Year’s Resolutions.  The direction I was going felt compelling.  I was proud of the opening paragraph.  I was on to something and feeling clever and witty and all of that jazz. I was also feeling a bit of deja vu, like somehow, I remembered writing, if not these very words, about this very topic at least.  So I started doing some research in the archives of my own damn blogsite, and lo and behold, I found an entry called “Of Resolutions,” published exactly 365 days ago today, on December 30, 2012. It made me wonder how many times I have already done this.  In 131 blog entries, how many times have I said the same dumb thing over and over again in just slightly different ways?  Have I become a broken record?  Have I run out of ideas?  After a brief little panic, I come to the conclusion that no, that if in fact this has occurred throughout the annals of my blogging, it is no big deal, because I think it might be possible that some things are worth repeating.  It might also be possible that my memory is not as good as it once was–but I’m sticking to this first possibility.  Some ideas are worth repeating.  Many good ones are.  And sometimes it helps to repackage the same ideas in a new way, for fun, to keep them fresh, to try them out again in a different way.  Other times, perhaps the best option is just to repeat yourself verbatim.  I read that original post of a year ago and I did not find it lacking too terribly much.  So I choose now to repeat myself verbatim, because I can, because these ideas are worth repeating, and because of this recent mini-lecture I found on Upworthy.com by Dr. Mike Evans:

Recent Mini-Lecture I Found on Upworthy.com by Dr. Mike Evans

So, with that, here’s this, again. I’ve only changed a few words so that the thing can be about 2014 and not our current but waning year:

Of Resolutions

The only new year’s resolution I’ve ever made and then kept was the one I made two years ago to publish my novel Monster Talk in 2012. But I think I was cheating because the decision to do the thing was made before the close of 2011 by a couple of days–so the ball was in motion and there was very little I could do to stop it, even if I wanted to. I mean, I could have dropped the ball at any point in the process, but I didn’t, and there was lots of work to do around revision and editing and proofreading and arranging art that kept me busy all the way into spring of 2012.  That was an impressive resolution to make, though, the results of which were public and out there in the open for all to see, unlike most resolutions people make to drink less or eat less or lose weight or be nice–things that are very difficult for anyone other than the person making the resolution to see or keep track of.

So, I’m having some difficulty this year thinking of a suitable resolution.  Maybe I will resolve this year to make no resolutions.  Isn’t it true that people, on the whole, do things they really want to do, achieve the things they really want to achieve, and those things they don’t want to do or achieve, even if they’re really good for them, don’t get done–whether a resolution is made or not?  Maybe deep down I don’t want to drink less, eat less, lose weight, or be nice.  And most of the things I might resolve to do in 2014 (write more, finish the draft of the new novel, read more, record more, stress less, meditate)–these things just might happen anyway. But perhaps, even when a resolution is not kept, in part or in full, there is still some value in resolving to do something in the new year.  Just saying the words–especially in earshot of someone who might notice or care–might be worth doing.

It’d be nice, though, wouldn’t it, if resolutions could be more transformational and radical.  If resolutions could really shake things up, present real significant challenges, create profound  and lasting changes.  I imagine that some people accomplish these things with their resolutions, but I bet it’s more likely that these people are transforming their lives or the lives of others through a daily process of working toward some goal, some dream or another–it’s a part of their daily living and their way of being in the world and likely has nothing to do with a promise they made on New Year’s Eve.  This is just leading me down a kind of sad path as I realize how little agency I sometimes feel to make radical changes in my life–whether it is about some significant change professionally, creatively, personally, in my relationship to people and things, in how my values reflect or don’t reflect the way I actually live or work.  It’s an interesting, profound, and difficult question–if there were no limitations on things you could decide to do or try in the new year, what would you do? What would you try? What’s holding you back?  Would it help to make a resolution?

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In Celebration of My 100th Blog Post

It’s a milestone, don’t you think? It seems so to me. This blog post right here, the one I hope you are currently reading, is the 100th blog entry by Michael Jarmer. It took me two plus years to get here. So help me do the math. What is it? 50 posts a year? That’s 4.166 posts a month–but that wouldn’t be accurate, really, because there have been months at a time when I posted not a thing, and I’ve never posted less than a whole post, a fraction of a post, unless you consider a poem as something somewhat less than a full post, but then you’d be in some hot water with the poets. I wouldn’t want that for you.  But, to be truthful, the 45 poems I’ve posted, 30 of which were composed one-a-day as part of National Poetry Writing Month in  April, did enhance my numbers, productivity speaking. So, suffice it to say, I’m pleased with myself and I hope you are too–and to all of you who have made this blog site a regular stop of yours, I thank you from the very depths of my being.

Other than just to make a celebratory statement about my 100th blog entry, I’m not sure what to write about here.  Perhaps I could just muse a little bit on the effect blogging has had on my life and on my writing.  That might be good.  Perhaps, I could talk about the pros and cons of blogging.  At the very least, there may be some learning about the whole process that I could discover and then articulate for your reading pleasure, that is, if you find that kind of thing pleasurable.  Let’s have a go at that, shall we?

Blogging has made me more productive.  I’m a fiction writer, primarily, but I find that to write fiction, I need sustained amounts of time to immerse myself in the fictive dream, so to speak, sustained amounts of time that don’t occur for me on a regular basis–so my fiction composition is as slow as mud;  it took me ten years to finish Monster Talk and probably another ten years before the start of that project to finish my first novel, the one that’s been sitting in a box on my desk now for the better part of the last decade, yeah, the one about Spontaneous Human Combustion. Outside of my fiction writing, before blog (B.B.) I’d find myself writing poems every once in a while, sometimes in flurries far and few between, and sometimes I’d write a little bit of something in the context of my teaching for my colleagues, and whenever I could I would write alongside my students. But never could I say, that over the course of a year or two, that I had “finished” 100 pieces.  I’m still writing my fiction, slowly, I’m still doing odd writings here and there at work for colleagues and students, but on top of that, I have completed 100 blog entries. Perhaps, embarking on this endeavor, I have written more, finished more short pieces than I ever did B.B.

Blogging has widened my repertoire. I’ve written here essays about teaching, essays about parenting, essays about music, essays about writing, essays about fashion for crying out loud (thanks to Betabrand), autobiographical essays, cultural criticism essays, and blogs about blogging.  And I’ve written poems about 45 different things.  First off, my non-fiction output has shot up from no thing to 100 things! And secondly, none of those things are the things for which I think I am truly skilled and for which, as evidence of said skill, I have a piece of paper and a book! So blogging is helping me come into my own, I hope, as an essayist.

Blogging is spontaneous, improvisational in nature, at least it is for me, and that’s helpful because it has enabled me to explore things about which I have questions.  I choose a blog topic simply by intuition.  I’ve got lists here and there, but I don’t often refer back to them.  Rather, an inspiration will hit, stick with me for a day, an hour, or a few minutes, and I kind of know right away, I get a kind of temperature, and if it’s hot, if it sticks with me, if it compels me to sit down and begin typing, I go for it.  I rarely abandon a piece that I’ve started writing.  So blogging has also brought me a level of commitment toward finishing the things I start.  I appreciate that.

Are there any negatives in my blogging experience?

There’s a part of me that says ANY writing I do is a good use of my time.  Writing is something I want to do, so if I’m doing it, that’s a good thing.  But I have to ask myself, if all the time I devoted to creating blog entries over the last two years had been spent on fiction writing, how much further would I be toward the completion of a new novel–and wouldn’t that have been a BETTER use of my time?  My gut response is to answer no to that question.  When I think about the pleasure I have found in blogging coupled with the productivity and the way I feel like it’s broadened my writing, I am glad to have started the blog site and glad to have kept at it for two years.  I wouldn’t want to undo that progress in exchange for a draft of a new novel.  And what’s to stop me from blogging progress on the new novel?  What’s to prevent me from blogging fiction?

Now this is a difficult and dicey proposition, one that I have explored a little bit in an entry I wrote after National Poetry Writing Month.  There’s something scary and negative and offensive to me about drafting fiction in public.  I’m not sure exactly why–but I kind of feel like it demeans it somehow, and I’m guessing real poets feel the same way about publishing poems on a blog site.  I’m not sure I consider myself a real poet.  No, that’s not true.  I’m as real a poet as any other poet. Maybe it is that I have a different relationship to my poetry than I do with my fiction.  My poetry is kind of offhand, not meticulously crafted, and doesn’t have behind it a piece of paper and a book.  I know that and accept that about my poetry, so I’m not as guarded about it or as protective.  And the comment earlier, that I’m not a real poet, is only an effort to honor those poets who are guarded and protective about their work,  who feel like publishing their poetry in a blog post would somehow be demeaning or disrespectful to the work.  I’d love to hear other writers’ takes on this.  Ultimately, I think it’s all in my head.  That’s the truth of it.  And that leads to another potentially negative aspect of blogging.  This stuff in my head, emerging, not quite perfectly formed, sometimes even faulty, frail, wrong–it’s all right here on my blog site.

Blogging has made me a kind of statistic blip addict.  And that’s not a good thing. It’s something I want to work on–not being so needy about that. Part of the beauty and conversely the danger of blogging is the experience of instant publication and often instant feedback. How many visitors, likes, new followers, new comments, did that entry receive and what does it all mean?  This is something bloggers should be interested in, I suppose, but not obsessing about.  Only once have I obsessed–and it was terrible. Long after its original composition, a blog entry I wrote entitled “English Teacher Math: Teaching 200 Students How To Write” was posted and roasted on the Reddit social network  site.  It resulted in the busiest single day or two ever on my blog, and it resulted on Reddit in some pretty good conversation, some of it smart and helpful, but it also resulted in a number of absolute looney tunes posting comments after that blog entry on my site–all of which culminated in a near complete and total TIME SUCK in my life and in my head.  You know, hatred from strangers will have a tendency to do that–unless you have developed a strategy for dealing  with it, which I had not. I was a complete basket case for three days.  I got over that, and I have never had a repeat performance.  If another one comes up, I hope I will deal with it more effectively.  Blogging should not be a stress producer–and I’m thankful to say that exactly 99% of the time it has not been!

So there you have it, for now.  A meditation on my first 100 blog posts.  If you got this far, I thank you.  If you have been a regular visitor or a follower, I thank you.  If you would purchase my novel Monster Talk, I would be forever grateful.  It’s been a good trip, thus far.  I think I will continue doing this thing.  Cheers.

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Combustion Deconstruction: Some Musings on the Fate of a First Novel

I started writing my first novel when I was, perhaps, 28 years old, I finished it coming out of an MFA program when I was 32, revised it when I was 35, began a long, demoralizing, tedious, and ultimately unsuccessful agent search, and then, when I was 40, I put the novel in the proverbial drawer where it sits today. I’m 48 years old.

Even before my first novel went officially into that drawer, I had begun my second novel and chipped away at that, slowly, over about a decade. That novel finished, I felt like there was no way I would have the energy to do with it what I had tried to do with the first, so I made the decision to go the unconventional route (which has actually become pretty conventional) and I self-published my novel, Monster Talk, with iUniverse.

I keep peeking at that first novel where it rests inside the drawer. Actually, it’s not in a drawer. It’s in a box on my desk labeled Combustion. That was the title I gave the novel, named after the book’s central premise, that at the turn of the 21st century, the planet’s population finds itself living through an epidemic of spontaneous human combustion. That was the idea that started the ball rolling. It’s a comic novel and the germ that spawned this particular premise was indeed the great comic faux documentary called Spinal Tap. Before I knew what I was doing, the initial question was about extending the phenomena of SHC beyond the deaths of a few unfortunate heavy metal drummers to a world-wide epidemic—somewhat akin to the current Zombie apocalypse fad, perhaps. Spontaneous Human Combustion, while it literally happens over and over again throughout the plot of this thing, works as a sweet and quirky little metaphor representing a whole host of modern problems. But actually, at the heart, at the core—the novel is really about sex.

So, again, I keep peeking at this box with my first novel buried inside. I’m proud of the book. I think it deserves a life; it deserves to be read—but I’m conflicted. It’s hard to reread, not because I don’t like it, but because it’s almost twenty years old! And partly because, (this is sad) I have become in my middle aged years less of a dare-devil than I was at 35, even conservative in some ways (although not politically), and while a certain amount of mellowing is probably a good thing, in the world of writing fiction I think it’s potentially terrible. I want to be able to read those naughty bits in public. I want to be fearless like I was when I was 35—because, I think, while the Spontaneous Human Combustion element is clever, fun, effectively rendered, the sex, and the main character’s hang up and obsession with sex, is the most strikingly accomplished thing about this novel—if I’m allowed to use the word “accomplished” to describe my own writing.

Ultimately, I’m in a quandary about what to do with this baby. It’s difficult to let it go. It’s difficult to say, “This thing here that I poured my heart and soul into over the better part of a decade, this thing I’m seriously pleased with despite the fact that it was written by a different Michael Jarmer, I’m just going to let it sit in a box.” And it’s also maddening to think about picking up that whole agent search thing anew. I’ve thought of a few things, a few possibilities, and I’ll run through them here, for my own edification, sure, but also as a list of potential opportunities for other writers still in the same boat with first novels in boxes, and maybe too, to give readers of this blog an opportunity to weigh in. I could:

1. Look for a small press to publish the novel. This is an avenue I did not fully explore when I was trying to place the book with an agent. I think small presses are likely publishing the best writing out there and are perhaps less constrained by market influences, more interested in art.
2. Self-publish, again. Whether I chose to go with iUniverse for the second time or some other vender, bookbaby or lulu.com for example, my first experience was mostly a positive one, and, with a minimal investment, I can accomplish the most personally pressing goal—to make the work available for those who want to read; it would be no longer sitting in a drawer or a box.
3. Revise, drop the artifice of the SHC hook, use the sexy material to draft a completely new animal. This sounds painful but potentially interesting and rewarding. This might be fodder for another blog later—but what is this impulse to create a hook, no matter how clever, no matter how successfully executed, as a vehicle for the real material of the novel? This, I think, is a central impulse of mine as a fiction writer, one that perhaps might be worthy of scrutiny.
4. Go all post-modern and write a piece of non-fiction about writing a first novel, the text of which would include the complete first novel, with commentary along the way about the process, non-fiction narrative connecting real life to plot devices and characters, and self critique. There’s a genre buster for you. What kind of book would that be? A weird one: Combustion Deconstructed.

So, there you have it. I’ve fleshed out the dilemma around what to do about the first novel in a box. It’s one of those things about which I feel a decision must be made. Writers with similar experiences, please chime in. Readers of the fiction and the bloggery of this particular writer, chime in. I’m interested in hearing your stories, your opinions, your thoughts, and/or your questions.

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Of Being Tired of Writing About Teaching

I think, at least for now, I’ve exhausted my brain and my “pen” regarding teaching, issues of public schooling, educational crisis, education reform. I know I will come back to it. It’s inevitable. But for the time being I feel like anything I have to say now will be a repeat of something I have said earlier and I run the risk of sounding like a broken record. To sum up: teaching hard, class-sizes too big, public schools good, underfunding public schools bad, standardized testing bad, intrinsic motivation good, extrinsic motivation not as good, cell phones bad, closing schools bad, fire bad, Frankenstein good.  See, already in my summing up I have started to drift away from the topic.

So what else is on my mind?  What’s worth blogging about? Feel free to chime in or to cast your vote.

I’m going to stop beginning every one of my blog entry titles with the word “of.” Of is so on or about yesterday. I want to write about writing.  I want to write, in particular, about what to do with my first novel, which is, in this very moment, sitting in a box. I want to write about reading.  I’m excited about the new book by David Shields called How Literature Saved My Life and I think I could write a blog entry or two about how that has been true in my life as well.  Maybe there’s a meditation on a key book or two.  Hell, I might even write a review. I want to write about music.  Maybe I’ll write about what I said I wouldn’t write about, my band and its endeavors.  Hell, I might even write a review of the new They Might Be Giants record, or the new David Bowie (which I do not yet possess), or the new Eels (which I do not yet possess)  Maybe I’ll write about records I would like to possess.

I’m afraid, but I would like to write about religion–and, being afraid, that’s probably the sign that I should write about religion.

You get the picture.  It’s time to transition.  It’s time for a change-up.  It’s time for a new conversation.  I don’t know if this is true or not, that topic consistency might be a selling point for a blog site, the thing that makes people keep coming back, but I think I’m going to risk losing a reader here and there in order to sufficiently entertain my own bad self.  I hope you all stay along for the ride.

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Filed under Education, Introductory, Publishing, Teaching, Writing and Reading