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From Internet diarist to published author

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The recent rise in the popularity of political blogs (due in part to ex-Democratic presidential nominee hopeful Howard Dean's Internet-saturated campaign) has successfully introduced the word "blog" to the vernacular. But hundreds of thousands of blogs -- online Web journals documenting personal experience -- are now regularly updated by people all over the world. Teen-agers, mothers, businessmen, liberals, conservatives, and a glut of others all find the autonomous nature of the Web journal a valuable form of self-expression.

This new cadre of writers has not gone unnoticed by publishing houses. Several blog authors, or "bloggers," have earned book deals. Mimi Smartypants of http://smartypants.diaryland. com and Wendy McClure of www.poundy.com are two such fortunate blogging celebrities.

Both women, Chicago residents in their early 30s, write personal blogs covering distinct material. Pound, McClure's Web site handle, focuses primarily on her experience with weight loss and body image, while Mimi Smartypants describes her blog as "a big rambling E-Mail To The Internet."

Both writers began posting to their blogs in 1999. McClure was "getting paid to write funny stuff -- recaps of television shows (on the Web at www.televisionwithoutpity.com) and a couple of the people on staff had their own sites.

"Two of them have books now, actually," said McClure. "Pamie Ribon at pamie.com wrote a novel based on her journal, and Gwen Zepeda (gwen world.com) is doing an essay collection."

"It never occurred to me to write about my whole life in a journal," she continued, "but I found myself wanting to write stuff about trying to lose weight and being ambivalent about it. I hated that most online weight-loss journals were so rigorous and one-dimensional, and I wanted to write about it differently, write essays about it."

Mimi Smartypants began posting to her blog after she received an invitation from the designer of www.diaryland.com, a free blog hosting Web site (other such sites include livejournal.com, www.blogspot.com, www.blogger.com, and www.xanga.com, among others).

click to enlarge Wendy McClure of www.poundy.com will have her blog published as a book in 2005.
  • Wendy McClure of www.poundy.com will have her blog published as a book in 2005.

Neither Smartypants nor McClure began her blog with a book deal in mind. When Smartypants received a call from Harper Collins UK, she was unprepared.

"I was stunned," she explained, "and kept saying things like, 'But it's NOT a book, it's a diary, and I write each entry in about 10 minutes on my lunch hour' and 'Who would read such a thing?' Eventually I realized they were totally serious (when they sent me a contract), and I just am not punk rock enough to turn down that kind of cash, and I have a baby and I like expensive sushi and etc. It was not a ton of money but it sure seemed like a lot for just babbling online."

McClure had been flirting with the idea of doing a book since 2001, when a friend who works in publishing put her in touch with a book editor who "liked Pound a lot."

As women writers coming from a completely self-directed medium, both writers are wary of being pigeonholed in the enormously lucrative "chick-lit" genre focused around fashion, calories and men-obsessed women along the lines of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary and Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City characters.

McClure hopes that her book's title, I'm Not the New Me, due out in early 2005 from Riverhead Books, will "position it as the thinking person's alternative to the sort of patronizing body image platitudes you get from Oprah. [The Riverhead people] assured me that the cover won't be a swishy illustration showing some chick's sassy high-heel shoe on a scale or something."

The cover of Mimi Smartypants' book features just that shoe. "I seriously flipped when I saw the chick-lit cover," she said. "But they need to sell the book; that's their schtick."

-- Bettina Swigger

book info

The World According to Mimi Smartypants
By Mimi Smartypants
(Harper Collins Entertainment: New York) $12.99 (approximately $18.50) Available through www.amazon.co.uk

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