Interview With Amber Dusick

*First appeared in SLO NightWriters Newsletter

Amber Dusick is a Mom. She deals with the same issues that infuriate parents all over the world on a daily basis. Only she makes you laugh, because all those infuriating things happen to her. It's always funny when it happens to someone else – whether it's your toddler dropping an F-bomb, or your baby yelling “cock” in botanical gardens (referring to a nearby peacock), or your kids always disagreeing (what movie they want to watch, what book they want to read), until they agree (when there are only 2 popsicles left, one red and one blue, and they both want the red one). If you have not come across her blog yet, you need to check it out. Here are some of my favorites – her guest blog post about Boys vs Girls, and Mama, I want a Rat (make sure to read the crappy update at the end of the post).

What did you do before "Illustrated With Crappy Pictures"?
I ran a handmade wooden toy business on Etsy called woodmouse and sold wholesale to shops around the country. I also ran (and still run) a network of craft websites. I ran an eco-homemaking site but I sold it. I kept up my personal blog and my homeschooling blog I also did ceramics and painted and sewed a lot more than I do now. No time! Crappy Pictures has taken over.

Crappy Pictures blog became an instant success. I imagine as exhilarating as it must have felt, it must have also been stressful. Suddenly you have a large audience. Bloggers are expected to produce a post once, or even several times a week. How did you handle it?
I’ve been “living” online long enough to know that when an opportunity is thrown at you have to catch it. You can’t drop it, you might not get another toss. When my second post went viral I immediately bought the domain name, started the dedicated illustrated blog, moved the posts over and started a facebook page to “capture” the new readers. I stayed up all night. If I had waited even a few days to do this the buzz may have already died down. I was having fun and I was high on the whole experience. I never thought I’d wind up with a book deal or that the whole thing would last very long, I was just riding the wave. Only now, two years later, has the reality sunk in. I get bored and I burn out fairly easily. If I find myself not wanting to write I just don’t. I don’t really care that you are “supposed” to write at least two posts per week or whatever the blogging advice is these days. Sometimes the sun is shining too brightly and my kids are playing too sweetly and that is where I want to be. I don’t have a problem with taking breaks. I’d rather do that than crank out a bunch of drivel just to fill space.

Your posts get hundred of comments. Most of them are people who relate to your stories and often share their own. With the number of people who read your blog, you must have received negative feedback as well. How does it affect you and your work?
There have been times early on when comments and email messages made me want to disappear from the internet forever. I used to get defensive and angry, “How can someone say this, they don’t know a thing about me!” But then I realized that was actually a reason NOT to get angry. They don’t know a thing about me. So who cares? Humor is weird. Everything I write seems to offend at least one person. So I started writing these crazy, sarcastic disclaimers at the bottom of my posts for a while, things like apologizing for writing about candy because candy might be offensive to some people. That mostly calmed everyone down. For the most part though, the people who read my blog know when something is satire or exaggerated. When my work has reached a wider audience some people get confused. An article of mine was on the MSN homepage and while I got tons of positive feedback from people who thought it was hilarious and understood it was a humor piece, I also received one “You are a horrible mother!” style email. Those are always a fun read.

Are there topics you rather don't write about or avoid?
As my kids are getting older I don’t share everything about them the way I so openly did when they were babies. I’m finding myself holding back some really funny stories out of respect for their privacy more and more. The same things goes with extended family and friends. I always ask first to make sure someone is okay with me illustrating a story that involves them.

Did you ever want to stop? If so, what kept you going?
I want to stop all the time. Each time the stress outweighs the enjoyment I want to throw in the towel. So I do. Only for a day or a week but I’ll just completely ignore the blog and everything that has to do with it. This is probably why I’m not particularly “good” at social media and all of that stuff. I really don’t enjoy being on twitter all day so I never am. I’m much happier when I can unplug for a while. My blog and my writing is cathartic for me. It calms me to write. When it stresses me to write then the balance is off and I can’t do it. The thing that keeps me going is connecting with readers. I love reading comments and getting emails from people. Plus, eventually something always happens that I want to write about.

Is running a popular blog a hobby, or can one make a living out of it?
I’m sure that people can make a living out of it but I haven’t had any luck with that. I’m definitely not a successful blogger in this regard. I have a store but I haven’t broken even on the products yet and I’m planning to close it eventually. I have sponsors here and there but after paying for hosting and tech support related stuff I make very little. I have had no problems making money with my other websites but this one (mostly due to it being illustrated and solely narrative stories) has been very tricky. It is hard to get companies/sponsors to take it seriously, despite my high traffic numbers. I have started working directly with a few companies though and will probably do that more. I’m at the point where I have to start making a living from the blog because it has completely taken up all of my time and my other businesses are suffering.

Parenting blogs are popular and the bloggers are getting book deals - you, Adrian from Dad or Alive, a compilation of blog posts like "I Just Want to Pee Alone", even Babble's campaign "The Best of Blogs" in parenting. Do you have any advice for bloggers who are hoping to get a book out?
Get a literary agent. Seriously, I knew so very little about how book publishing worked, I couldn’t have done it without the help of my agent who explained everything to me. And ideally one who has done blog-to-book deals before and who is online savvy. Ask other blogger/authors for advice. Before I even got a book deal, I talked to a few bloggers who had published books and chatted with them on the phone about their experiences. This was hugely helpful in knowing what to expect. We discussed things like timeline, post-pub blues, editors, cover designs, promotions and contract negotiations. Talking directly to someone who experienced it was so helpful.

What are your future plans? Is there a crappy movie or animation in the future?
I’d love to do a crappy movie but there are no actual plans for that, just fantasies. I’m working on my second book, Marriage: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures which will come out a billion years from now because I’m only half done with it. Hopefully in 2014.

Amber Dusick is the author of the bestselling humor book Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures. She writes and illustrates the blog Crappy Pictures where she captures the hilarious and frustrating things that happen in life, marriage and parenting. She lives in Los Angeles in a happy yellow house with her husband and two sons. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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