Experience Counts for Little With a Writing Sample: The Inquisitr

Screenshot of The Inquisitr recruitment page
It is interesting to note that The Inquisitr, which appears at first glance to be a content mill which requires 100 plus articles per month from its “staff,” require applicants to provide three examples of work published and then ask for a written sample. When submitting your three urls of past work they then state that to save time you may want to write a sample article based on topics provided by them.

After submitting prior work they then inform you that the sample must be written anyway. Fair enough. It is, after all, their company and if they prefer to not mention up front that the sample article is a requirement, so be it.

At no time are any guidelines offered for this sample. After punching out a fluff piece on Heidi Swedberg, a former Seinfeld cast member, I waited over the weekend with no response from my contact at The Inquistr. No email stating that they had received the sample and no feedback. After following up my submission with two emails, the first was a one-word query, “Feedback?” The second asked if they had even gotten the sample.

After getting a response saying that they had and it was being evaluated, the very next day I learn that they do not like the sample and it has not “passed the quality” evaluation required. Could I please write another one.

Uh…That would be a no.

Since 2011 I have written 2478 blog posts for my personal site, I wrote just under 2000 articles for the Guardian Liberty Voice, where I worked as Deputy Managing Editor for Entertainment, 40 articles for Viral Global News, since December 2014, around 7 for Rogue Cinema, I left to work at GLV, and around 3 or 4 for another company called WhatCulture! the last two sites paid nothing to their writers. These stories include interviews, film reviews, television recaps and reviews as well as other types of articles.

I did mention that I’d worked at the Guardian Liberty Voice for 18 months, my position and even provided a link to the site, where I wrote my little heart out, for pay. Their response was that they still required the sample. Again, fair enough. Except for the lack of guidelines, apart from it had to be around 400 words, I had no real issue with the requirement.

Such a short bit of work was a “walk in the park” and took little time to put together. Ensuring that nothing was plagiarized (to the best of my knowledge) and that it contained the “trending” information relevant to Ms. Swedberg was not a problem. This was to be, after all, a sample article, not to be published but used, I thought, to show what I could do. A little something that they would use to provide proper feedback on what they were looking for.

This was not the case. Their response? Write another one which may show your skills a bit better. There was no explanation of what I did “wrong” or what they were expecting. Entertainment pieces are not “real” journalism per se, I should know I’ve been writing these pieces for the last two years, so the bit I submitted should have been fine, on the off chance it was not, I expected a reason more forthcoming than “sorry, it’s not good enough.”

This “writing in the dark” process of applying for what appears to be a content mill site may work fine for them, and for other writers, but I am not playing this game. For one thing, it tells me that this is some sort of power play thing where they can tell then me I cannot write, ergo justifying a lower wage for my product. Either that or they surprised me and read my other blog post where I voiced my suspicions that they were either a sweat shop or content mill publication. I sincerely doubt the latter as they seem to have a system in place that does not recognize other work.

It seems that the requirement to submit three url’s of published work is nothing more than a chance to prove you have been published. The real part of the application is the sample article which does not include any guidelines.

Perhaps I am being picky here. They may be assuming that the basic journo rules that have been in effect for ever and ever, amen, are enough in the way of guidance. Fair enough, if that is the case, but when writing fluff, aka gossip, aka entertainment, the rules bend…a lot.

I already write for a site, which may or may not ever pay me anything. I do not contribute on a daily basis for a number of reasons which includes divvying up my time between memoirs, their site and my own personal blog all while trying to get my site monetized. On top of these time consuming things, I have no Internet, apart from my slow iPhone hotspot so I must ride to either the library or Burger King for Wi-Fi on my bike. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, the trip takes a minimum of 45 minutes one way.

Living on a pittance, and believe me it is a pittance, and trying to come up with money for Internet and still be able to eat is a challenge and one that I will not attempt until I can get a few more paying jobs under my belt.

I will end this long winded rant with one thought.

I worked for almost two years on a site that recruited new writers constantly. Hundreds applied on a regular basis and out of the stream of applicants who thought they could write, very few actually could string a sentence together and many of them knew English only as a second, or third, language. So thanks, but no thanks chaps at The Inquisitr. I’ll not play your game. Many will, I have no doubt, but I refuse to believe that my work failed a “quality” check and will not submit again (as I stated in my short email back).

Your loss.

9 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

A Trophy For Little Old Me

Wordpress trophyI do love how WordPress sets these somewhat eclectic targets (for lack of a better word) which when reached by the blogger gives them an automatic trophy. The first thought that goes through my mind is ‘Wow, a trophy? For little old me?’ *By the by, a single quotation mark by some authors is meant to convey thought versus speech anyone disagree with this method? Just curious, answers on a postcard please or conversely you can tell me via the comment section below.* Anyway, as shown by the image above, I now have reached 1,337, with a “real” total of 1,339 followers on my blog.

Cue fireworks, confetti and cheering, even if it is only my hoarse voice you can hear, in wild celebration. I do celebrate these milestone events, albeit rather quietly, since these follower counts mean that slowly but surely, I am building up a core group that like my meandering messages.

Here is where I insist that you give yourself a pat on the back for having such great taste! Seriously, it does mean a lot that either some of you have come back or others have enjoyed my ramblings enough to pay me the ultimate compliment. Thanks to both types of folks and to those who fall into neither camp.

For those still “on the fence” about my writing, that is fine too. I’ve not published anything yet, but I will. In this day and age of self publishing if I cannot get picked up by a publisher when I’ve finished, I’ll do it on my own. I know this is now the norm and quite successful for some folks, like the Winner Twins who I have met, interviewed and still interact with now and then. *On a side note, two nicer young ladies you will never meet and their work is entertaining and good.*

For those who have been here for awhile, thanks for being patient. I’ve veered off the path, most notably working for the content mill and sweatshop GLV where I had no time to devote to my baby. (But I did manage to attend some geeky type cons and meet some dynamite actors and in that aspect had the time of my life.) Now I am back and casting my hook around to see what other writing opportunities are out there.

Thanks to you all; I know that regardless of where my laptop and I end up there are folks who like my writing and will stop by to read and comment. Even though I do not get out and about as much as I used to, and those of you with your own blogs will know what I mean, but as soon as the Internet issue is sorted and I learn to be more organized, I will be more visible at other blog sites. I promise.

Till then, I remain humbly overawed that there are that many people out there who like my work. I think you all are the best. Thanks and I raise my metaphorical glass to you. Cheers and all the best.

7 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

America: The Land of the Big

Two overweight people on a benchSince I have been coming to Burger King to make use of their free Wi-Fi it has become apparent that America is the land of the big. Big Gulps being swallowed by big girthed people. The same huge folks who always go extra large for the small extra charge. These gargantuan folk are all ages and all seem to share the same appetites.

Watching these rotund and elephantine people from behind, they look like carbon copies of each other. The arm swinging waddle with bulging areas of fat beneath each armpit, the roll of fat round the waist and lumped on each hip. It is exhausting to see these huge examples of humanity move. The amount of effort required to move that much mass is amazing and tires me out just watching them move awkwardly toward their SUVs.

When I was a lad, being hefty was considered healthy. Skinny boys and girls were looked down upon. Those were the days when parents urged children to “eat that fat it’s good for you.” Put some meat on those bones boy. A time when those who did not have “love handles” would drink banana shakes with an egg or two in it to gain weight.

Times changed and people learned that eating fat was not good for you. Carrying around all that excess poundage was bad for your heart and meant that more than likely, those who had those “love handles” would meet their maker that little bit sooner.

Living in England for 32 years, I used to hear about “fat America” from mates and colleagues. While there, I observed quite a number of folks with weight problems and felt they were exaggerating. Surely the US was no worse than the UK. Since moving back though I noticed that the average size of the average American is “big.”

You can see them with those Big Gulp drinks, or their equivalent, eating the double whopper with extra cheese and the super-large fries, followed up with a large desert. Afterward, their hearts pound while moving all that fat through their veins and arteries. Heart attacks and strokes waiting to happen and when they fall, the floor will tremble.

It is depressing to witness so many trying so hard to kill themselves slowly with big appetites, big servings and little exercise apart from struggling to hit the next fast food outlet. Seeing fat parents, fat children and fat babies, is enough to put one off eating.

America land of the big you are burying yourself under the weight of food and drink. Learn moderation and exercise, before the entire country becomes a welter of bulging XXXL people who lose the use of their legs when these appendages refuse to carry the excess poundage.

For your own sake stop.

6 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: Riding Through a Dust Devil

Photo of dust devil in Arizona Living in the real desert has definitely been an eye opening experience thus far. (Not to mention a chance to clean my cluttered mind of the trappings of too much civilization, which has been an unexpected plus.) Recently the weather has matched my life to a certain extent. A lot of air turbulence, aka wind, has kept the dust and sand in constant upheaval. Quite a number of “dust devils” aka mini cyclones have been created and move across the hardpan floor recklessly ignoring traffic to traverse roads and avenues.

A few days ago, a volcano in Chile erupted. This lava-spewing spectacle occurred twice in a short time period, if I can remember the Facebook notices correctly, and like the Icelandic eruption a few years back, it has affected the weather noticeably. Cooler temperatures, clouds, a lot of gusting wind and heavy showers are making their presence felt in the normally hot area.

Clouds of debris have entered the atmosphere once again and will loom up there for some time. With my sporadic Internet, and no television, I do not know if the event has messed with air travel. The Iceland volcano certainly did; shutting down flights for several days in England and other countries.

Years ago, when I lived in New Mexico with my first wife and our son Donovan (who was a fearless 8 or 9 month old that walked boldly off the end of the settee…repeatedly) sand storms were a regular occurrence and dust devils could be spotted easily.

During one sand storm, according to my white-faced then wife, I was almost decapitated by a whirling sheet of galvanized steel. However, the most spectacular sand storm took place during the filming of a Sean Connery film, “Wrong Is Right.” The film set was in White Sands and a small group of locals were there to watch the professionals go through their paces.

The wind picked up steadily and suddenly, in mid-scene, a white wall of sand could be seen approaching. A park ranger announced over the PA system that if people wanted to leave, now was the time to do it. Along with a number of other locals, the wife, baby and I left, only to be caught up in the advances of the wall of sand.

Before we got into the car, a cameraman on the crew grabbed my arm. Sounding like the epitome of a “surfer” he excitedly asked, “Whoa dude! Is it like this all the time around here? This is so cool!” I agreed and suggested he take cover and protect his equipment as these natural events could strip paint off cars and deliver sand in unbelievable places.

Dust storm picture from Google images

In those days, sand storms were a new experience. I had only ever been through one similar incident a few years previously. A dust storm had roared over the Oklahoma state line and enveloped a small Arkansas town where I was doing drywall work. Purple clouds filled the sky and suddenly the whole world was swirling dust and darkness.

Creepy.

Back to present day and my ride through the dust devil. As I was already fighting against 11 to 17 mph winds, my concentration was more on getting home than on the birth of the mini cyclone up ahead.

For a split second I thought of the Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt film “Twister” and their experiences in dealing with tornadoes. The cyclone grew steadily, from a few bits of debris swirling around to a lot of sand, dust and more debris building up to a small twister about six feet in diameter.

Biking with my eyes squinted against the wall of wind pushing against me I noticed that the dust devil was almost stationary ahead of me. Up to the left of me, it seemed to be waiting for me to pass. As I drew nearer, it began to move into the road. I thought briefly about stopping and trying to get a video of the thing.

It was not going to happen.

The thing was upon me in an instant. Suddenly all the pressure that had been trying to force me back the way I came stopped. The bike and I were being pummeled back and forth. The wheels actually slid sideways for a second or two and the bike began to wobble in the wind.

Luckily I was wearing my prescription sunglasses so the dust and debris did not blind me. Eyes almost shut I could see from inside the small cyclone. I felt a little like the surfer-dude cameraman from the Connery film being filmed in 1981.

“Whoa dude!”

Just another experience of living in the real desert to be savored; riding a bike through a dust devil, aka mini cyclone, and living to tell the tale.

26 April 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: Hummingbirds

Hummingbird wikipedia I love hummingbirds. A lifelong fascination with these constantly moving tiny collectors of nectar has been around since the first one spied on my Grandmother’s honeysuckle bush. Since my new life in the real desert began this year, I’ve noticed a plethora of these nimble creatures.

These beautiful miniature birds, with their long needle-like beak, are as adept at avoiding the camera as the many lizards that populate this area of the world. Although the lizards are getting used to my presence. One who scampered by me two days ago stopped and turned around to look at this odd creature that it had zipped past.

Moving back toward my still form, the little chap slowly walked right between my legs. Demonstrating complete nonchalance about this huge thing that had initially startled it. My imagination had the scaly fellow thinking, “Ha! I’ll show you I’m not afraid of any giants or strange creatures.” In reality, since I was not moving and the day was incredibly still, the lizard with the long black tail just could not sense me. Still, it was…entertaining.

Equally entertaining has been watching the hummingbirds getting used to the feeder I put up two days ago. After finding the thing at the house, empty, I asked my mum about filling it. She was unsure about the recipe for homemade nectar. I looked it up on the Internet. (4 to 1, if you are interested; i.e. 1 cup of sugar to 4 cups of water, add to a pot and boil, but not too long as it weakens the sugar content. Let the mixture cool. Do not add food coloring to make the stuff look like the red store-bought stuff, trust me, the birds do not need it.)

On the first day, after I’d cleaned the thing thoroughly, I prepared the nectar and let it cool as per instructions. Later I filled the feeder and placed it in the shade of the porch. These was a larger hummingbird who was flitting about the front garden (yard) all week. I retired to the RV and watched his flight pattern throughout the day and he seemed bound and determined to ignore the nectar recently placed for his pleasure.

Speaking to a neighbor later the same day, I explained that I was worried about the recipe used. Perhaps the sugar to water ratio was off? I told him that if after another day the birds had not stopped by to have a drink, I’d take it down and find another formula to make the nectar.

The next morning, Mr. Large Hummingbird continued to flit about the small courtyard, but now he seemed to be looking for something. Flying up about the same height as the feeder but a good 20 to 30 feet away he hovered and floated this way and that, searching. A bit later he made a maneuver that can only be described as the hummingbird version of “sidling.”

He (or she) edged up to the feeder slowly and cautiously. Any noise, like my television or a car moving past frightened it off.  The creature was large for a hummingbird, but the constantly moving wings and tiny talons put him in that class of feathered friend.

Eventually, the thing approached the feeder and sat on the edge. Looking all around, it finally dipped its beak into one of the slots and after the first time, did so repeatedly. Funnily enough, this was like a signal to all the smaller hummingbirds in the garden. Presumably if the big chappy liked it, the stuff was considered okay and lots of the wee little, and colorful, birds stopped by for a drink. Before the sun went down around 9 came by for a leisurely drink.

As I sat on the porch, reading yet another Louis L’Amour book (this one about a female Sackett named Echo) several came up to drink. The sounds of their wings up close has the same effect of a wasp’s wings in one’s ear. Unlike a wasp, the tingly feeling was not one of alarm but just the start of gooseflesh which dissipated rapidly. The texture of the flappy wings was more leathery and not insectile and the sensation was odd, to say the least. It was, however, enjoyable.

More so because the little frantic creatures accepted me sitting there with my cup of green tea and western novel. It was very nice and calm, despite the leathery flapping.

There are a huge amount birds in the real desert. One, who obviously is not a friend to the hummingbird, attacked the large chap who first took a drink at my refilled feeder. The other creature was gorgeous. Yellow, with darker tones mixed in and much lager than the tinier bird. I have not looked up what sort of bird the yellow, and disagreeable, bird was, but will do so.

This morning, I laughed till tears rolled at a sparrow who was bound and determined to catch, and eat, a moth on the inside of the window where I sat working.  I had paused, taking my hands off the keyboard for moment and was surprised to see this small bird about a foot away from my face, pecking at the glass.

Beak open, he darted forward and smacked the window then, wings flapping, it backed up and tried again. I was puzzled at first and then saw the small beige colored moth on my side of the glass. The insect was moving slowly across the surface, completely unfazed by the predator on the other side who gave a few more hungry pecks at the glass before giving up.

Before coming to town, aka Burger King where I have coffee and Wi-Fi, the hummingbird was back at the feeder. This time he hovered at the side, dipping into the nectar repeatedly before flying off. As he zipped around the corner of the building, I was reminded of a story my mother told me when my cousins and I were playing around Gran’s honeysuckle bush and chasing the hummingbirds when we were little.

Mum said that she had an aunt (or cousin, it was a long time ago so I’m not sure which) who was terrified of these speedy little things. Apparently, at the same house and near the same bush, she was playing chase with someone else. As she rounded the corner one of the hummingbirds flew right into her hand, impaling the girl with that long nectar seeking beak. For the rest of her life she was scared to death of the tiny creatures.

Looking at the large hummingbirds beak, I can see why, that must have hurt like hell and must have been very shocking to boot. Perhaps that is one of the reasons for my lifelong fascination, this tale of a sudden involuntary attack and the phobia it spawned. I’ll ponder it later today while I watch the creatures collect more of my homemade nectar.

17 April 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: Westerns and Old Movies

Town sign outside of Burger King
My life in the real desert thus far has consisted of much more than personal injury and the shock of having no television. It includes the reading of old western favorites and movies that remain in the collection. Split into blu-ray, NTSC, Region 0 and Pal, the DVDs are spread out between RV and 5th wheel. In terms of stimulation, the tales by Louis L’Amour are hard to beat. Each story a sort of male romance novel built around rugged and hard men who must either fight, solve a mystery or puzzle, or defeat a villain who has designs on the girl of the protagonist’s dreams.

It took me awhile to figure out that these adventure stories of the old west were, in fact, the male answer to Harlequin Romance. These gunfighters, gamblers, cowboys, miners, lawmen, soldiers and so on are all just men searching for something. In the books it is either home, land, destiny and/or a woman. Each hero is an individual who yearns to put down roots, eventually for some and sooner for others, and they are tired of being a lone traveller.

The best thing about the heroes in L’Amour’s books is that the partner they seek is not a helpless and timid female. These men want strong women who will be an equal partner in the relationship. In that sense the author, through his protagonists, was an early feminist supporter way before it became fashionable. Considering L’Amour wrote during the 1950s and 60s he was ahead of his time.

While hanging the title of feminist around the neck of this self-educated wandering man may feel awkward, it is worth remembering that L’Amour himself was a strong character. A man who struck out to explore the world and all it had to teach him in his early teens. There is little doubt that his own strength moved him to admire the trait in anyone else who possessed it and this is reflected in his writing.

Each of the many books written by the late author are “page-turners,” and impossible to put down until the tale is finished. Many of his stories have been made into films or, in the case of the Sackett sagas, made for TV programs starring Sam Elliott and Tom Selleck as two of the many brothers in the large clan.

Perhaps it is the location I’m in that makes the reading of these books seem a necessity. While L’Amour’s writing about the West took in all of the frontier, many of his characters crossed not only the plains but the deserts of the southwest. Some died from attacks by indigenous tribes of the region and others for lack of water in a dry and barren land. Still more were victims of a slow draw or died as the result of poor judgement.

The area where I live, like others that have been home in the US, feels like a land “out of time” and if one suddenly came across a calvary patrol, dusty, tired and sweat stained from their efforts it would not be surprising. The people who populate the country now are just as fiercely independent as the settlers, nesters, ranchers, cowboys and pioneers that L’Amour writes of in his stories. All that is missing, when one goes to town, is the sound of spurs jangling on a boarded sidewalk.

deserted house in the desert

Rather interestingly, out of all the films in my collection, Westerns have not been viewed very often. Possibly because most of the ones on hand were filmed in either Mexico (Durango) or some other “standard” setting favored by the studios, like Death Valley et al. Although that may not be the case at all.

It could well be that this part of the “old West” is new to me. From Hi Jolly’s grave to the infamous Yuma state (territorial) prison miles down the road, all the local history, from Tyson Wells stage stop to the army presence here in this part of the desert, is waiting patiently for me to discover it. It is all, except for Hi Jolly, new to me.

Once the dust has settled from my move, a lot of research into the area will be done. I have already read about the camel experiment and a short book about Arizona Rangers has provided a wealth of information about the times and, rather interestingly, about news coverage of events back then.

The small stage stop museum is only open part time and once my injuries clear up completely, I will be seeking information on the old way of living in the real desert. A lifestyle that is only remembered, it seems, in western books and movies.

14 April 2015

Life in the Real Desert: Flowers and Recovery

Flowers in the Desert
Whilst recovering from my altercation with a dark blue sedan and the curbside of Love’s Truck Stop, the real desert has been full of life and a profusion of flowers have surrounded me. Just on the property alone a wealth of pink and white flowers are sprinkled along the edges of the hardpan plot.

Blooms are sprouting from cactuses or cacti, along with the more traditional plant type bushes. The mesquite trees, which protect their yellow drooping flowers with thorny guardians, are filled with the sound of bees. These little pollinators are of such a number that their businesslike drone is almost deafening. Amazingly, despite the impressive decibel level that they emit, it is difficult to spy one.

The temperature in the local area has dipped, it initially became cooler around Easter and has not risen too much since. Handy if one is biking to and from town, but a bit chilly at night. Of course, as I am still recuperating from my accident, I’m not doing a lot of biking and most certainly not taking the 12 mile plus round trip to town and back.

Riding around the neighborhood and averaging about three miles per trip, I am pleased to note that in terms of control and exertion, my recovery is going very well. Unfortunately, the right leg still has a knot the size of Texas on the shin and at night, after a day of “limited” activity, both legs are painful enough that sleep becomes impossible despite pain pills.

Regardless of the amount of time spent getting better, and the lack of Internet access, life is limping along. Meeting lovely people who populate neighborhood, even as the general number of residents is in decline as it’s time for the snowbirds to migrate back home, and discovering that people can be kind and thoughtful and generous.

Tyson Wells Visitor Office winding down
Tyson Wells Visitor Office, winding down and soon out?

It has been an interesting time. Returning to the land of my birth has been…different. Moving from Las Vegas to Arizona has been almost foreboding. In terms of losing bits of myself, it has been frustrating and not a little annoying.

One week after arriving I lost my late father-in-law’s sweater. A favorite “in-between” garment that was a comfortable as an old glove. Taking a tumble, my first in the real desert, down a small wash, the thing went awol and I’ve never found it. Despite backtracking on the day it happened and searching the area repeatedly, the sweater has apparently departed to parts unknown and by now has most likely fallen to pieces.

Thus far, in a short three month time period, I’ve lost: A favorite sweater, hat, pocket knife, my prescription glasses, and my “cheap” reading glasses. Twice, not counting being forced off the car park surface by a car which would make it three times, I have fallen over while traversing the hardpan desert floor. Each time personal injuries were increased exponentially.

In terms of loss, television has become another missing component along with proper Internet. As someone who has spent a lot of time and effort increasing their profile on the net as a writer, both personally and professionally, this loss is the most devastating. Due to sporadic web access regular contact with my daughter has also been, temporarily, lost.

Entering the world of the self employed while relocating to a remote area of the Southwest has been an interesting move. Picking a part of the desert where there are no cinemas locally or nearby was not planned for and having no vehicle to attend screenings has been another “setback.” Rather annoyingly, most, if not all, the screenings from one studio rep are all over two hours away via car.

These “setbacks” are a bother but not overly so. Obstacles are made to be overcome. Time spent watching and writing about films and television is now spent writing the book I’ve promised myself for years. There are other books impatiently queuing up for their turn so I am still working. The biggest difference in this change of circumstance is the change in financial status.

Flowers in the desert, taken outside Quartzsite, AZ
Cactus flowers, which make me think of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and John Wayne’s character.

This too shall pass and until then I will keep plodding along, writing, doing chores and healing and I will stop and enjoy the real desert flowers, while they last, on my road to recovery.

9 April 2015