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

Freelance Writers: Beware the Scammers (The GLV Experience)

Person in a hamster wheel

There are a number of websites that advertise for “Freelance Writers.” Of course many do not come out and call these aspiring writer’s freelance. Some, like the site I stumbled across almost two years ago, just asked for writers who wanted to be paid for their efforts. Like any rube at the county fair I was suckered in, and it took me a long time to realize that the promises made were never going to match reality. So potential writers should beware the scammers.

A freelance writer and blogger, Carol Tice; wrote an expose on the Guardian Liberty Voice, the publication that caught me in its opportunistic web of half-truths, full-out lies and “black-hat” practices that got the site hammered by Google repeatedly.

Her article came out in 2014 at a time when I was living in the same house as the publisher, DiMarkco Chandler. Carol did not shirk her duties in doing research and contacting members of the site. I remember walking past Chandler’s office and seeing Carol on the big screen monitor asking him questions. Rather interestingly, the two people who had been with Guardian Liberty Voice the longest, the chief editor and myself, were never asked to take part in this rebuttal to her investigation.

No other writer or editor came near my output on the paper. I wrote nearly 1,900 articles for GLV and worked very hard to give the publication a credible Entertainment section. Attending fan conventions, film screenings and doing interviews with professionals from the entertainment community. Since I was an editor who did not recruit, I was never interested in building a team, my focus was on writing and developing a good reputation as interviewer and scribe. That probably explains why I was never asked to add my two penny’s worth of experience to the Tice “attack” (as DiMarkco called it).

I wrote a little about my experience working for GLV in a prior post. I mentioned no names and only do so here because the referenced article by Carol does.

During an emergency meeting last year, DiMarkco urged that no one in the GLV fold should answer any of the “allegations” made by Carol or to stand up for the paper. I was too busy setting up film screenings, attending events and doing interviews. I was also writing around 50 to 70 articles a month while trying to establish television show coverage for popular scripted TV rather than the reality rubbish covered by the publication.

It was only when things began to fall apart and my pay continued to be less than promised that I started reading the comments. Too late I realised that DiMarkco’s version of events was always given in a way that made him look good and everyone else look conspiratorial. In one case, the other temporary “crazy” roomie in the big house in Vegas, to be fair the guy did come across as some kind of nut, (He sniffed Prozac for Christ’s sake!) did turn out to be off kilter. But, initially this guy came across as  normal until his meds (Prozac) came in and then he flew out into left field. As he had the room next to mine, I slept with the door to my bedroom locked and with a computer table wedged against it.

Around the same time that  DiMarkco was arrested for domestic assault, he  braced me after I asked him, quite reasonably I thought, to not move “my shit” without telling me. This 57 year-old one-legged man came up to me ready to resort to fisticuffs and he cursed me out while claiming that I was two-faced.

A former Prison Officer, I didn’t react the way he expected me to and it confused him. I looked him in the eye, as I moved closer (as a Prison Officer when threats are made we were taught to escalate and dominate if we could not calm the prisoner down) and asked him, “You want to fight? What? Are you 10 or 12?”

This slowed him down but he did not talk to me for three days after the incident. This little event soured our relationship of trust; which never did get back to its initial state. Later, when he was talking to me again, I took him aside and explained that bracing me like that was not wise. I told him, truthfully, that I would not attack, but my defense would put him on the floor crying. “10 years of training in the prison service, mate.”

He never acted up again, but that “circle of trust” was broken and only lack of money, and faith that my hard work would eventually rectify the dollar situation, kept me at the house and at the publication. That and the fact was I was having a great time meeting film and television stars, going to Comic Con in Vegas, and the Star Trek convention.

I was actually doing my dream job, writing and getting paid for it. Sadly, I was too busy to realize that I was being paid abysmally for my hard work. While turning a blind eye to the various things that were occurring around me; massive turnover, editors fleeing like crazy, and stories from DiMarkco about how all these new folks were trying to “take over” the company, I kept writing and trying to get my health sorted out.

While the penny dropped about the state of reliability of my “boss” fairly early in 2014, my financial situation kept me prisoner at the GLV and the house. One clue was Chandler’s claims of ill-health. I was told: That he had been diagnosed with cancer, had a tumor, a failing liver, a hernia operation that was done multiple times and deadly high blood pressure. I finally realised that he was massively stretching the truth after being told that he could no longer climb up the stairs due to the hernia.

Two weeks after being informed of this, he sprightly shot up the steps to the second floor to ask me a favor. My jaw dropping did not register with him as he’d obviously forgotten his claim of two weeks prior. Perhaps a little explanation is required here in my role of gullible village idiot.

I always take everyone at “face value” until they prove that their word cannot be trusted. To me, broken or “delayed” promises did not immediately equal dishonesty. Many people promise more that they can instantly deliver, so these claims did not register as dishonesty or scamming.

They should have. Still, once I realized that the man was just another greedy snake oil salesman, I had to get away before I got caught up in the “con” as patsy. I was staying alone in a three bedroom, with pool, house. He was living somewhere else, buying a new car and setting up another “scheme.” All this took place while telling me and everyone else that the company was going under and broke.

Meanwhile the steady stream of “investors” who used to come trooping through the house, I met most of them, suddenly stopped. Whenever these men and women came in, money was made by DiMarkco but no one else. Gifts were made, a big screen telly was put downstairs after one visit, but no extra pay was laid on.

As Publisher, Chandler kept everything segmented, a lot of the editors had no idea what others were doing. There were complaints. One “high earner” fell out of favor after complaining too regularly about being left out of the loop. DiMarkco’s way of handling anything he dislikes is to ignore it. He will stop responding to phone calls, Skype calls, emails and texts.

He will designate someone else to handle the “problem.”

Finally, after accruing enough credit to do so, I made my escape. My main excuse was to come down and look after my parents (which was, in part, true) and I left. Shortly after arriving in Arizona, the only other editor who’d been at GLV longer than I, left.

I read Carol Tice’s 2014 article then and realised that I should have read it sooner. Although to be honest it would not have helped too much as I could not afford to leave the publication or the house. Reading it again today made me wonder just how many other folks have been taken in by the scammers out there in Internet-land.

For the novice freelance writer, like I was back in 2013, the Internet can be an arena full of landmines. Searching for paid work is difficult. I’d already had one unhappy experience before hoisting my flag with the Guardian Liberty Voice, née’ Guardian Express, so I knew the playing field  can be fairly dodgy. My experience at GLV has left me a little wiser and poorer, but I can impart some advice.

HEART-FELT ADVICE:

If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. This adage has been around forever and applies to this situation, even if the sales pitch doesn’t seem too far-fetched (the GLV pitch certainly didn’t at the beginning) look at it cautiously.

The minute something doesn’t add up, get out. When two plus two end up equaling more or less than four, it’s a clue that this is shady business; so turn around pick up your laptop and get out.

If English is a second, or even third, language of many who work there as writers. Same deal, grab that laptop, PC or MacBook and get out.

Quantity is more important than quality? Get out, it’s a content mill and they will leach you dry. Enough will never be enough and your rate of pay will not equal your output.

Overall, any place that caters to people who cannot really write, should be avoided. At GLV there were many who will never get a job writing for any reputable company. Sad but true and many editors were driven mad by having to rewrite entire 500 word articles and consequently left disgruntled and disillusioned.

The advice to start one’s own blog for money is good, if you can write. I’ve always said and repeated this the entire time I was at the GLV, “if you have no talent in this area, no amount of training will teach you or make you a better writer.”

One last bit of hard-earned advice. It is hard to navigate the world of freelance writing and even harder to find any site that wants to pay writers anything that can be called significant. This is not just prevalent to the Internet; I met a critic who wrote for a “real,”  but small, printed publication who only got $10 per review. So here is the last bit of my “heart-felt” advice: As the old joke goes, unless you’ve gotten a real break? Don’t give up your day job.

Yet.

5 February 2015

The Arizona Desert: Old West Revisited…Sort Of

Old Tucson Studios Western Town SetSince heading down to the Arizona desert, it does feel sort of like I’ve revisited the old west. Of course a lot of that feeling is down to the fact that if I’m not bicycling or traveling “shank’s mare” to make the 13 mile round trip (plus) to town and back, I’ve no satellite for television. [Or Internet that works well enough to watch anything else.]

Now before folks start thrusting fingers and shouting at me to stop whining, let me explain.

I’ve spent most of the last year watching television shows and doing recaps/reviews each and every week. There was a long list of shows that I covered. From new ones like” Gotham” and “Scorpion,” to older popular ones like “The Walking Dead,” I covered as many as I could. Since many came on at the same time, I used the DVR and Hulu Plus to the maximum extent possible to catch-all that were available.

Now, I’ve only my DVD collection to watch, and write on occasionally, to keep me amused. I’ve discovered that free WiFi, while not strong enough for the screeners sent by Sony/SyFy for “Helix”, work (just barely) for Hulu and Netflix. I’ve not tried Amazon Prime just yet to see if this works at Carl Jr’s or Burger King.

Oddly enough, I had gotten out of the habit of watching telly while living in England. Oh, I had a few favorites. I spent a pretty exciting and very entertaining time binge watching Breaking Bad after finally discovering what all the fuss was about. The Walking Dead was another instant addiction as was American Horror Story.  But other shows on the box were ignored. My biggest passion was playing video games, doing the odd YouTube video on films and writing for this blog.

I am slowly trying to sort out the Internet situation and getting back on the television teat so I can write about shows I like, or in the case of Gracepoint, dislike…a lot. Funds are low and eating, along with paying off bills and medication are the highpoint of my existence at this moment so the problems with reviewing will have to stay unsolved for the time being.

Desert Mountain

Apart from discovering that walking the desert on the way to town (and WiFi) and back feels like revisiting the old west when one strays from the road and crosses the hardpan, I’ve learned that 56 year-old legs, knees, ankles and the back take a pounding. I’ve even gotten the odd blister… Granted, I do tend to powerwalk where I can, after all I was a Prison Officer for 10 years and passed my fitness test each and every year, but my body, since the very invasive operations in 2012, is complaining.

Loudly.

Aches, cramps and bruising aside, the walks are brilliant. The landscape is breathtaking, inspiring and addictive.  This is during the day of course. After dark is another matter. Dusk is interesting, but hazardous. (Dusk was when I did  my faceplant in the dusty desert floor.) There are animals roaming the desert when the sun goes down; most of which are better equipped than I at survival if we should meet.

Listening this evening to a couple of coyotes yipping, yowling and howling just around the corner from my temporary home, goose-flesh marching up and down my entire body while doing so, reminded me that these pack roaming creatures will attack a singleton wandering across the hardpan.

Then there is the mountain lion that is hanging around the area, I have seen his (or her) prints and the thing is huge. Neither of these would have anything to fear from me. Like any unarmed red-blooded male, I would most likely scream in terror and might just get a couple of steps away before getting nom-nommed for their tea.

Still, in the moments where I am walking the desert floor and the 4X4’s, Quads and motorbikes are nowhere too near, I can hear my footsteps. Crunching through the crusty sand and gravel as well as puffing through the dust.  The birds, one who sounds just like he/she is whistling to get your attention, dart and flitter by to have a quick look at the desert newcomer.

Brief glimpses of jack-rabbits bounding away and, just recently, baby jack-rabbits scurrying clumsily to hide are another delightful occurence. These walks, although pretty damned painful at the moment (not to mention slow) are the preferred  way to cross the desert, rather than riding the bike with the dodgy gears. For one thing, who ever heard of biking through the old west? For another,  this rider cannot power the bike across the hardpan. Too much sand, deep dust and gravel make it difficult to keep pedalling. And of course these is the lack of silence connected with the mechanical means of travel. Ruins the desert aesthetic, doesn’t it.

3 February 2015

Thanksgiving Tis the Season to Reflect

Thanksgiving

Well hello there! Time has shot by faster than a speeding super train and it is the day after Thanksgiving, or as I like to think of it, “Tis the season to reflect.” Soon enough it will be “Tis the season to be jolly,” but since I really feel I am here on borrowed time, I am a much jollier person all year round.

As I am not out and about today, Black Friday…shudder, I felt that a short visit to my poor neglected blog was in order whilst I put off cleaning my portion of the house. Procrastination added to recovering from Turkey day illness equals blog time…Apparently.

I feel quite guilty really, this whole blogging lark started a few years ago and now that I write full time for a living, Deputy Managing Editor/Senior Entertainment Editor for the Guardian Liberty Voice, I mostly link to articles which I post to the paper, since I do interviews and reviews of both film and television,there is not a lot of time left over for my little friend here.

I do have mates here who stop by and comment on my reviews (And to them I say a hearty, “Thank you!”) I am sure that at some point in the near future I will be spending a bit more time on here, but I cannot really say when.  Dealing day-to-day with getting used to my new life after almost dying is interesting, frustrating, fascinating, and time consuming.

So…where was I?

Oh yes, Thanksgiving and “Tis the Season to Reflect.” This has been my first Thanksgiving in the USA for a very, very long time. I have been back in the land of my birth since January 15 this year. Thankfully, (I need to mention the things I am thankful for, it is that time of year, after all.) my medical needs are met by the Veterans Administration folks and apart from not having a dental plan, as well as contemplating suing the dentist who messed up my mouth when he extracted on particularly painful tooth, health wise everything seems to be okay.

Thanksgiving

I do feel very much like a stranger in a strange land. Nothing is more puzzling and confusing than to have spent the majority of one’s life in another country (And becoming a citizen of said country.) and then returning to your home country to find you don’t particularly fit any longer. Having spent a lifetime learning how everything works in the United Kingdom has left me ill prepared for life in the United States.

Everything has changed, as I have, and even the food tastes different. I have become a supermarket ghost. Wandering aimlessly up and down aisles looking for something tasty, which in my case equates to the Brit food I’ve ingested for over 31 years and not finding any. I am not a noisy wraith while I shop for something that looks appetizing, although I do sometimes mutter under my breath with frustration…

I am counting down the days till I start writing about my time as a Prison Officer for Her Majesty’s Prison Service. I have had to wait as there is a rule that one cannot divulge anything for a two year time period after leaving the Queen’s employ. There is a certain amount of excitement attached to this upcoming project, I had some very interesting and entertaining times working with the juvenile criminals of Britain. I also had to stop working with some very special and dear people.

As yesterday was Thanksgiving, a day that I spent mostly either  dozing in my chair in front of the laptop or sleeping properly in my bed, today tis the day of my personal reflection since I pretty much missed the festivities. I had a lovely meal to attend and had to beg off there apologies all around and a bucket load of guilt was in order. My solo “sickbed” thoughts yesterday were about how odd life is and how diverse the path is to where we are at any particular moment.

Thanksgiving

Most prevalent in my musings was, and is, the thought of just how surreal this whole thing has been. My life recently has been full of dealing, meeting, interacting and writing about people that, until recently, I had no chance of seeing apart from on television or the big screen or the pages of a magazine. Speaking with wildly talented people whom I admire greatly has been a dream come true and funnily enough a dream that was never at the forefront of my mind.

My dreams, apart from wanting to be a writer from age 11 (Which has come true via the auspices of journalism.), have always been to be a professional actor, I have done this infrequently, last year working in a fellow blogger’s first professional film for festivals, but would love to do so more often. I may still get the chance, this is, after all, the land of opportunity (I should know, I was born here.)

At this point in time, I count myself successful, although sad that thousands of mile separate me and my lovely talented daughter and her fella as well as being closer to my son, who is very busy leading his own life so contact with my children is, sadly minimal. I am, however, doing a job I would do for free (“And getting paid!’ he said, cackling wildly) and everyday, I count my blessings and am very thankful that the “Big Guy” decided to keep me around that little bit longer. I missed the old “tis the season to be thankful” chance to have a spot of holiday refection “on the day,”  but since surviving my two close brushes with death in 2012, everyday is Thanksgiving to me.

By Michael Smith

A Guilty 1000: Go Me?

A Guilty 1000: Go Me?
On March 2012, I moved from my former blogging home to WordPress. Immediately my amount of views went up exponentially as did my followers. After a year and three months I had 500 followers and it seemed to take ages for me to attract folks to read my stuff. I posted a self-congratulatory type of “Go me” write up and now, a short 11 months later I’ve hit a very guilty 1000 follows.

They are guilty because since April 2013, I’ve been refocussed on not just what I have to say about life, my experiences, or my thoughts about how we should be treating one another. In April, I joined a brilliant man named DiMarkco Chandler who had/has a dream. He wants to be the biggest, or one of the biggest, news sites on the Internet in the world. The Guardian Liberty Voice (GLV) has been my home for writing since that time last year, it has also become my real life home and introduced me to some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.

I’ve now written stories/articles that have been read by more than a million people on one story alone and a couple of million or more for the rest. The man who brought me into this dream job is a friend, confident and brother. His dream is for writers to be paid for their writing. Unlike many other sites, like for instance Huff Post, who do not pay writers for their sweat, GLV does and has become another path in my life and I excitedly look forward to each day doing what I love best – “And getting paid to do it,” He cackled wildly…

In the short time I’ve been blogging, I almost died…twice, I lost my job to ill health retirement, I went to South Africa, I lost my house and I’ve moved back to the country of my birth after being gone for over 31 years. I starred in an Independent Short Film Once Bitten, Twice Shy – thanks Tasha met some other wonderful people whom I’ve not spoken to nearly as much as I’ve wanted to, you know what I mean Marilyn? I love all you folks I’ve met and interacted with since joining WordPress.

I’ve also interviewed some wildly talented people and one world famous forensic scientist who is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Kennedy assassinations. I will shortly meet a writer whose daughter’s murder prompted her to write two books about a mother’s search to find her offspring’s killer. My cup truly “runneth over.”

One sad side affect from my new job is that I very rarely post anything on my personal blog. Twice in the last couple of months I’ve posted articles about films. One a documentary and another short independent “autobiographical” short film starring Tony Todd, both of which I’ve supported and are on the road to being produced. I will continue to write when I can on this small slice of Mike. But I do feel guilty at reaching a milestone that, in my mind at least, would probably never be reached. Especially after making the decision to use my blog to link to my GLV work.

I would like to thank all you good folks who have taken the time over the last two years to drop by, read, comment and follow my little blog. I sit here humbled at the attention I’ve received over the years and I’d like to take this moment to say to another film blogger, I finally got to watch the film you raved on and on about and you’re right matey, it is beyond brilliant. Thanks for the heads up, I only had to wait ages to see it on American Neflix.

I will stay on this blogging platform and hopefully will see you all in another 1,000 follows moment. If you’d like to connect with me on Twitter my handle is @MikesFilmTalk, no surprise there, and I’ll wish you all a happy, happy and as good old Roy Rogers used to say, “May your troubles all be small ones.”

A Guilty 1000: Go Me?
Me and Marlon Wayans: one of the highlights of my 2014.