Saturday, July 17, 2010


I recently undertook a study of blogging and how to do it better (i.e. I accidentally surfed onto a "How To Blog Better" blog). Much of it was common sense—though it never hurts to remind oneself of the obvious—but there were a few new tidbits in the list that I could benefit from.

The primary, and most glaringly ignored, rule was: "Don't have more than one blog." Um, guilty, but with mitigating circumstances, Your Honor.

This blog, which I used to consider my back-up blog, was started as an auxiliary to my erstwhile website that, against my will, morphed into a blog. This blog was also largely ignored and I never expected it to amount to much. In fact, I fully anticipated it would be so universally ignored that I would be free to cavort naked here (metaphorically speaking) without fear of being seen. I guess this supports the theory that, if you write it, they will read.

But I digress, which goes against the grain of another rule, and the subject of this post: “Focus.”

This may fall into the category of common sense, but a blog needs to be about something, or, more precisely, some "thing." And it should be the same thing every time.

This is a writing blog, and every post should, in some way, reflect some aspect of writing. I like to think I've followed this rule; even the rare "twofer" posts that I put up here and on my other blog, are so treated because they fit the criteria for both locations, not simply because I'm lazy.

Surprisingly, I find it easier to maintain focus here than there. Here, I'm a writer, there I'm an expat, and while I actually do wake up every morning with the thought, "I am a writer" going through my head (it's what prompted me to set my alarm for 5AM, after all) I can often go through an entire day without thinking, "I am an expat."

The other consideration is, not only am I an expat on my other blog, I am a funny expat, so I need to write about being an expat while avoiding weighty subjects and controversial issues. Maintaining this sort of focus is limiting but crucial to retaining and expanding my readership. It also keeps me out of trouble: much as I might like to be a serious journalist, I know I am woefully under-informed and allow knee-jerk reactions to dictate my politics. In short, my views on weighty subjects are about as deeply researched and valid as those found in The Daily Mail, and airing them will not give my readers what they came for. I forget this at my peril.

(Incidentally, I am not writing this post because of anything I recently wrote over there, so don't go looking for an ill-advised post on abortion or immigration where I make a pillock out of myself. I'm just acknowledging that I am occasionally tempted to.)

So the point of this post is simply to remind myself, and anyone else who cares to come along, to "dance with the one that brung ya." If you pause here, expect to read my views on publishing, technology, train travel, sheep farming, income tax or the best way to arrange your sock drawer, but all of it will, in some small way, be related to writing. Visit my other blog, and expect to be mirthfully reminded that I am an American, out of my depth in a strange land. And if you find me doing anything else, post a comment reminding me to focus.

One last rule of note that the article mentioned: “Don't expect to make money with your blog.”

Well, no problem there, at least.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Interview With Meg Gardiner

A week or two back, I managed to snag an interview with Edgar award winning author Meg Gardiner, for my other blog (no, not that one, this one). This came about because Ms Gardiner, in addition to being an internationally famous writer, also happens to be an expat.

But she is primarily a writer, so she kindly gave me permission to reprint the interview on my writing blog for the benefit of my half-dozen readers.

Writing, as Meg points out on her blog – Lying for a Living – is her third career. Born in Oklahoma and raised in Santa Barbara, CA, she practiced law in Los Angeles and taught writing at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Several years ago, after living in California most of her life, she and her family moved to the UK where she began writing suspense novels. She now writes full time and says it is a job she feels immensely lucky to have.

Meg has recently released her eighth novel, Liar’s Lullaby. I have not yet read that one, but if China Lake and Mission Canyon are anything to go by, it is bound to be a cracker.

1. How did you come to live in Britain and how long have you lived here?

My husband was offered a job at his company’s London office. And I was an avid anglophile, thanks to Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, and the English pub I frequented on Santa Monica beach. I couldn’t wait to move. Plus I’m a James Bond fan, and wanted a jet pack.

We came for a two-year assignment. That was in 1994. When the jet packs are delivered, we’ll load them up and head back to California, like the Beverly Hillbillies.

2. Was your transition to British life easier or more difficult than you had imagined?

It featured some surprises. For instance, my new British friends constantly said, “Brilliant!” to me. It took a while to understand that they didn’t, in fact, consider me an earth-shattering genius. They were simply using the local equivalent of “Cool.” This ego-deflating insight came when a friend said, “Pop-Tarts for breakfast? Brilliant!”

And, like most Americans, I presumed that British television would be all high culture, all the time. The first evening I turned on the TV (“after the watershed,” whatever that meant) eager to expose my daughter to E.M. Forster and the Tudors. We sat down and – Breasts! Big and bare and onscreen. And butts. More than one, and in bed, and… where the hell is the remote?

Transition? What transition?

Actually, the kids are now fluent in both Yank and Brit. One’s a cheerleader and two are Eagle Scouts. They drive a Mini, love ham, egg and chips, play rugby, and can’t live without Top Gear.

3. What preconceptions about Britain and the British were shattered or confirmed after your arrival?

I assumed that in Britain, I would stroll to the quaint neighborhood market to do the family’s grocery shopping. Instead, I walked into a Tesco the size of Heathrow airport. It was apocalyptic.

And I assumed that Sundays in Britain would be like something out of Mrs. Miniver: pews packed with devout Anglicans singing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

And that my fridge would be larger than a shoebox.

However, the coach and footman, and the ladies in waiting, make up for all of that.

4. Having spent most of your early life in the American south and southern California; do you consider the British climate a trade up, or are you thinking you got the short end of the weather-stick by moving to the UK?

As I tell my children when they face a challenge: It builds character.

5. What, in your opinion, is better about living in the UK as opposed to the US?

Pubs. Stonehenge. Prime Minister’s Questions. Long, lingering summer evenings in the garden. BBC reporters who don’t shout and whose careers clearly, endearingly, don’t depend on big hair and shiny teeth. “Jerusalem” – Give me my bow of burning gold; bring me my arrows of desire… I’m tearing up just thinking about that hymn.

6. What do you miss about life in the US?

My family. Good Mexican food. Customer service. College football games on crisp autumn afternoons. Marching bands. Midnight mass at the Old Mission in Santa Barbara. Wild thunderstorms over the New Mexico desert. Hitting the road and driving out where even radio stations can’t reach you.

7. Your books are set in the US; while writing, do you have to remind yourself that America has no zebra crossings and they don't queue, or are you fluently bilingual?

Books can be edited before publication, so I don’t worry about dodgy, or sketchy, language goofs. But when I travel between Britain and the U.S., I have to remember which side of the car has the steering wheel, so when I climb in I don’t look like an idiot.

8. How do you stay connected with friends, family and novel locations in the US?

An extensive network of miniature spy cameras.

9. When you visit the States and people realize you live in Britain, how many of them ask, "Have you met the Queen?" (BTW, have you?)

None, fortunately. Unfortunately, many ask: Why don’t you have an accent?

But I do have an accent, I insist. A California accent, dude.

10. I understand you used to be a mime and, while this has nothing to be with being an expat or an internationally acclaimed writer, I have to ask: are you better now?

I can’t speak as a mime.

I hope you enjoyed Meg’s interview. Now go out and buy her books.