July 5, 2006

Interviews With Bloggers, Part 7: Mark of "Exclamation Mark’s Vintage Sci-fi/Horror Review"

The Bella Rossa Interview With Mark from Exclamation Mark’s Vintage Sci-fi/Horror Review

Mark is an Iowa youth care worker and former computer programmer with a B.A. in English and minors in Religion and Art. His terrific and very popular vintage science fiction and horror movie blog (226 links from other sites) is a prime example of how the 'net is a perfect medium for people to share and enjoy info about special interests.

In his Bella Rossa interview, he shares that he started blogging in the digital Paleolithic era of 2000, before he'd ever heard the word "blog" (hey, me, too!), that he's as fascinated as most bloggers by random Google searches that lead readers to his page, and that he has reason to suspect that the Pope himself might be a B-Movie fan.

He also tells a cautionary tale that all bloggers should heed. His dear wife faced every blogger's worst nightmare: heading into a work meeting about an impending promotion only to be faced with angry superiors brandishing highlighted copies of her personal blog, from which innocent quips were taken out of context and totally blown out of proportion.

BELLA: What current books, music, tv, movies, hobbies, sports, etc., are currently holding your interest?

MARK: I just finished reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom, and am currently reading various tales from The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories, edited by Alan Ryan. I often temper my inspirational reading with stories of bloodsucking ghouls.

I don’t listen to much music any more, but my wife and I have been rediscovering our love for Bob Dylan as of late.

The only TV shows I watch regularly are House, King of the Hill, and The Simpsons.
I depend on the Internet, radio, and DVDs for most of my entertainment
needs. (Though I’m not certain anyone really has entertainment “needs.”)

Creaturewalksamongus4Besides collecting old sci-fi/horror films (and recently, classic Westerns), I consider blogging my primary hobby.   

BELLA: How would you describe your blog?

MARK: I would describe it as a vintage sci-fi/horror film tribute page. Of course, it also serves as a movie review page.

BELLA: Why do you blog? What was your original goal or
intention when you started, and has that changed with time? Is your
blog a means to an end (finding work, developing creative ideas, making
money, meeting people), or does it exist for its own sake?

MARK: In 2000, I had a web page that I updated regularly as a
way to keep my family and friends posted on events in my life. It had
some snazzy title like, “The Page of Mark.” My friend, John, informed me later that I
was essentially “blogging.”

I had never heard the term ”blog”
before, and thought is sounded stupid (I still think it sounds silly).
He tried to convince me to switch to a blog format, but I stubbornly
stuck with my “Page of Mark” until 2002, when I finally signed up with
Blogger (I’ve gone through a host of blog services since).

I discovered I had an audience outside of my family and friends, I
focused more on the actual writing aspect of the medium. It was a way
to keep my writing and observational skills honed, and it provided
quick feedback. Receiving comments from people all over the world was a
big selling point for me.

I’ve gone through a lot of
incarnations as a blogger. My first blog was an online journal, but I
eventually evolved into a “link blogger.”  Most of my success came from
link blogging (in terms of daily hits, anyway) but I found it

In August 2005, I created “Exclamation Mark’s
Vintage Sci-Fi Horror Review” as a way of celebrating the sci-fi/horror
movies that meant so much to me in my youth. I have no professional
ambitions regarding my blog, but I do get a lot of satisfaction hearing
from readers who share my enthusiasm for the genre.

Is there one particular post that you think exemplifies your work, or represents your best writing?

MARK: Not really. I like to think I get better with each
review, but this isn’t necessarily true. Some of my early reviews make
me cringe a bit, but as to singling out a review that represents my
“best writing,” I couldn’t say. 

BELLA: Is there one particular post that garnered you an
atypically large reader response or number of referrals from search
engines? If so, why do you think that is?

Early on Boing Boing
linked to my review of Horror Hotel,
which brought a lot of attention to that particular post. This caused a
chain reaction, and a lot of bloggers linked to that entry, which
seemed odd to me as I didn’t understand what was so special about that
specific review. I was happy for the attention, though, and it did get
my blog on the map.

Other reviews that get a lot of search
engines referrals are Plan 9 from Outer Space
and Attack of the 50 Ft Woman.
These are popular films in the world of schlock entertainment.

an Israeli site linked to the Attack of the 50 Ft Woman review, which
increased my traffic significantly. I couldn’t make heads or tails of
the site, though, and have no idea as to why they linked to me. It
looked to be vaguely pornographic. 

BELLA:  How often do you Google yourself, check yourself on Technorati, and/or pore over your referral logs and visitor statistics?

MARK:  I don't Google myself that often (seems like a rather
personal question!) but I check Technorati fairly regularly and I look
at my referral stats daily. I'm particularly fascinated with the Google
searches that bring people to my page.   

BELLA:  What are some of your favorite, "must-read" blogs?
What keeps you going back again and again? Have you ever totally lost
interest in a blog that you once really enjoyed, and if so, why?

MARK: If you check my sidebar you’ll see a list of my
favorite blogs.  As far as other horror/sci-fi/movie review blogs go,
I’ve been enjoying Taliesin Meets the Vampires and Dark, But Shining, lately. For old movie nostalgia, I
recommend Greenbriar Picture Shows.

I have a very
eclectic taste in blogs, however, and still frequent link blogs like
Cynical-C  and Bibi’s Box. There are so many blogs that I visit on a
semi-regular basis that it wouldn’t be practical to list them here.
Intelligent writing is of primary importance, but I appreciate a good
page design, too. Of course, any blog that features an interview with
me certainly rates in my book!

There have been times when I lost
interest in blogs that I formerly enjoyed. This usually happens when a
blog, which wasn’t overtly political at the outset, starts taking a
particularly strong political stance. I don’t mind reading views
different than my own, but when the original focus of the blog changes
to a political viewpoint (especially if it is one I disagree with) I
tend to stop reading. I just don’t need the frustration. 

BELLA: What kind of person is the likeliest reader of your blog? What would you hope they get out of reading you?

Fans of old local TV “creature features” are my most
likely readers.  A lot of kids who enjoyed those programs grew up to
find themselves nostalgic for the old horror show hosts and the films
they introduced. We tend to be a sentimental lot.

There was
something exciting about staying up late on weekends (in my case,
usually with my little brother, Tom, and my best friend, Tony) to watch
those old, cheesy sci-fi/horror flicks. I hope, with my reviews, to
recapture some of the awe and innocence of those days. Of course, I
have an adult perspective now, and I like to add informational touches
as well.

Many of my readers are just looking for information on
a particular movie, and may not be regular visitors (which is fine).
Because of my subject matter, I tend to attract an older crowd (I’m 44
years old myself), and I’ll get the occasional Mystery Science Theater
3000 fan, too. 

General fans of horror and science fiction films also visit regularly.   

BELLA: Are there people in your life who don't "get the
whole blog thing?" How do you explain it to them without feeling as
nerdy and defensive as I usually do?

MARK: When I first started blogging, I used to get a lot of
questions from family and friends. Their curiosity waned quickly,
though, and everyone seems to “get it” now. Or, if they don’t “get it,”
they simply do not care. Which is fine, and how it should be. 

What's your relationship with your readers? How much interaction do you encourage?

MARK: I tend to run hot and cold. When I’m in a “blogging
zone,” I’ll encourage and initiate interaction. I’ll leave comments,
write emails, forward pertinent news articles, etc. However, there are
times when I am an aloof blogger, and it becomes a challenge for me to
even respond to simple comments left on my page. This usually occurs
when I feel I’ve been neglecting the people that are close to me in my
real life.

No matter what my mood, though, I am always pleased
to hear from fellow enthusiasts. There are a handful of bloggers who I
correspond with regularly.

BELLA: How much do you self-censor, knowing that your friends and family might be reading?

MARK: I used to self-censor all the time. In fact, once I
created a “secret page” that could only be accessed through a personal
invitation.  I used that page to vent about things in my life that I
didn’t want family members (or certain friends) worrying about. It
wasn’t very practical, though, and it didn’t last long.

current theme doesn’t require much self-censoring. I do try to keep my
page at a PG-13 rating, though, as to preserve the innocence of the
films I review.

Have you ever heard yourself say something like "If
you really cared about me/were really interested in me, you'd look at
my blog"? Is this a fair thing to throw at, say, your sister, during an
argument over who gets the nicest drumstick at Thanksgiving?

MARK: Heh heh, I’ve never heard myself say anything like
that, but maybe I just wasn’t listening. All is fair when it comes to
acquiring the nicest Thanksgiving drumstick. 

BELLA: Do you video blog? Would or will you? Are there any video blogs that you look at? What would you video blog about, if you did?

MARK: No, I don't video blog and have never really been
interested in video blogging. This may be due to the fact that I'm
still using a slow dial-up modem. Call me old-fashioned.

BELLA: Have you ever blogged something that later you regretted and/or deleted from your blog?

MARK: In the early days, when I used to post on more delicate
topics (another blog entirely), I found that I regretted telling so
many personal stories. To make matters worse, I used my real name in
the blog title. Later, I decided I didn't like the idea that anyone
(e.g. a potential employer) could Google my name and find out my views
on politics, religion, etc., not to mention stories about my less than
pristine past.

I thought deleting the blog would take care of
everything. Unfortunately, I discovered that the Google cache can be an
insidious thing. I've become a much wiser blogger since then.   

BELLA: What are your thoughts on the phenomenon of
"doocing," wherein someone loses their job because of things they
posted on a personal blog? Are you careful to maintain a clear line
between your online self and your real world self?

I have a personal experience regarding this, and it has permanently changed the way I blog:

I first started blogging, I was more of a diarist. I posted regularly
and, as mentioned in my answer to the preceding question, my content
was much more personal. I enjoyed it so much that I attempted to get my
wife, Elly, interested in blogging.

After some prodding, Elly
started her own blog. She didn't take it too seriously and she rarely
posted. When she did post, it was usually about mundane events in her
daily life; stuff only her friends and family would be interested in.

a woman Elly worked with Googled the company name and came across
Elly's blog. Elly had made a few innocent quips about work which were
taken completely out of context and blown out of proportion.
(Ironically, the post that upset them was one where Elly stated how
excited she was to be advancing to a higher position within the
company. They thought it sounded like she was criticizing her prior
position.)  Elly was called in to discuss her "new position," but
instead, she was ambushed by a gaggle of angry supervisors, each toting
a printed copy of her blog with "the significant portions" highlighted.

of discussing her new position, she was asked to "explain herself" and
was treated like a company traitor. They ignored the 99% of the blog
that talked about how much she enjoyed her job and her co-workers, and
focused entirely on the one or two sentences that, in their eyes,
looked like treason. I can't stress enough how innocent her quips were,
and how they in no way portrayed the company in a negative light.

wasn't fired for the comments on her blog, but she was made to feel so
uncomfortable that she soon quit her position and found work elsewhere.
It really was a shock, and I felt terrible for convincing her to start
the blog in the first place.

Immediately, I deleted my personal
blog and started blogging anonymously. My content also became less
provocative, and I gradually found most of my success as a link
blogger. When I became bored with that, I started the movie reviews

Elly found a better paying job quickly, and her new work
environment was much friendlier.  Still, it was a hard lesson, and it
has made me very cautious in regards to my blog content. Elly, it
seems, has given up blogging entirely, and I don't blame her a bit.   

BELLA: Are you conscious of creating an online persona? How is that persona different from the real world you?

MARK: I suppose I consciously create a bit of a persona. I
think the tone of my reviews suggests that I am more analytical than I
really am. I also believe I come across as well-balanced, when in
reality I am somewhat of a moody person.

BELLA: How long have you been online, and what kinds of
things have you done online (chat rooms, message boards, games, aimless
surfing, etc.)? How has this changed your life, for the better or worse?

I was a late bloomer. It wasn’t until 1998 when I first started getting online regularly.

run the gamut when it comes to online experiences, though I never
played many online games. I became bored with chat rooms early on, too,
and eventually stopped posting to message boards.

I still gorge
myself on aimless surfing from time to time, but I primarily use the
Internet as a tool to research films. I’m also a bit of a news freak
and visit a variety of news sites regularly.

I don’t know if my
life is better or worse for my online experiences, but I am certainly
better informed, and that can’t be all bad. Though it probably wouldn’t
hurt me to get in the sun more.

BELLA: How long do you think you will continue to blog? What are the circumstances under which you can imagine yourself quitting?

MARK: I’ve given up blogging as often as some people give up
smoking. I’ll get bored with what I’m doing and just delete the blog
altogether.  Sometimes I quit for months, sometimes mere days, but I
always come back to it.

As a matter of fact, just this morning I
woke up and thought, “I’m done. No more blogging.” Then I thought of
all the great movies I haven’t reviewed yet, and my position softened.
When I checked my email and saw a request for this interview, I
thought, “This is fate. I’m not supposed to stop blogging yet.”

These are the things I tell myself.   

What's the coolest thing that's come out of your blogging experience?

Sometimes I just like to check out my “Geo Stats” and
peruse the list of countries my readers are visiting from. There’s even
someone who visited from Vatican City State.

Could it mean the Pope was here?

”Wow,” I think, “that’s way cool.” 


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