Archive for January, 2006

One of the Most Popular Writers You've Never Heard Of

Verve, ‘weird perspective’ makes blogger’s site a hit

Thursday, January 05, 2006 The Oregonian

Kelly Jo Horton is one of the most popular writers you’ve never heard of.

She’s always written; she says she’s “driven to write.” Poems. Essays. Notes. Journal entries.

But last August something changed. Oh, Kelly Jo is still writing. But now people all over the world are reading about her best dates and favorite bands, the day she met Billy Bob Thornton, her frustrations and joys as a parent, even the conversation she had with a college student she met in an aisle at Target.

Kelly Jo has become a blogger, and in the world of Web logs, she’s becoming a star. Her blog is published on MySpace.com (http://blog.myspace.com/kellyjo2), the wildly popular networking Web site with 41 million users, more page views than Google and more members than America Online.

In the few months since she started uploading onto her blog a daily tossed salad of opinions, photos and observations, the number of people reading and responding to her blog has skyrocketed.

She can’t compete with rock bands and celebrities, who collect “friends” on the site that can number in the hundreds of thousands. But “when you divide the bloggers into categories,” she says, “I’m in the top five almost every day” in categories such as “poetry and writing,” “life, work and careers,” “romance and relationships.”

Kelly Jo talks about it all on her blog: facing a cancer diagnosis, kids cheating at Uno, giving pot roasts as Christmas gifts, how to control sibling rivalry (she keeps her videocamera in the kitchen and records her kids’ fights), rock concert etiquette, grammatical errors and the gross birthday cake she made for her delighted teenage son. (He has a blog, too. Kelly Jo reads it regularly. She wishes more parents kept track of what their teens are writing online.)

She also writes about her acting jobs. In fact, her blog already has led to parts in independent films and a hosting job on a cable-access show called “To the Point.”

“The producer of the show found me on MySpace and hired me,” Kelly Jo says. She gets no pay. “It’s cable. But I get exposure. I get experience.”

The 42-year-old divorced mother of three, who lives in the Portland area, has a day job as a software support engineer. “But in every other spare moment I have, I’m acting or writing or doing improv” or being Mom. “I have one job that pays the bills and one that feeds my soul, is basically what it is.” (Full disclosure: Kelly Jo and I do improv at ComedySportz in Portland.)

Kelly avoids politics, but anything else is fair game. “The thing I enjoy most is posting subjects that get people wound up . . . when I post my perspective and I get other people’s perspectives.” She also poses questions: What should she get her father for his birthday? Why is marriage so hard?

She says she hasn’t received much hate mail. “I’ve got people who like to stir things up sometimes.” But Kelly Jo gets to edit the comments that are shown on her blog site. “If they’re personally attacking anyone else, I won’t publish it. I make them play fair.

“The worst things I get are e-mails from tons of young guys. It’s all about, ‘I like older women. Do you like younger guys?’ ”

She doesn’t respond, and she makes it clear on her MySpace home page that she’s not blogging to meet men or collect “friends” on the site. She’s selective: She’ll only let you be a “friend” if you e-mail her (“I prefer e-mails that contain complete sentences”). She then checks out your own blog to see if you have things in common. “I’m not on there to collect strangers,” she says. “I’m there to meet interesting people, and I have.”

Half her readers are men and half women, which shows both sexes appreciate Kelly Jo’s eclectic subjects and her candor. Sometimes her blog is raw. Sometimes it’s utterly sentimental.

“People tell me sometimes, ‘Your blogs are so interesting. Nothing ever happens in my life.’ I say, ‘You know, I could go to Starbucks for 10 minutes and find something to write about. It’s not that my life is interesting — it’s that I pay attention to what’s going on around me. Plenty of my blogs are about absolutely nothing, just my weird perspective on life.”

That perspective has attracted celebrity fans (they use fake names and pictures on MySpace, but they tell Kelly Jo who they really are) and new personal friends from all over the world who e-mail Kelly Jo regularly.

“One of my friends calls it the ‘coffee shop of the millennium,’ ” she says. “It’s like the old water cooler.” It’s addictive, writing and reading responses and responding to those.

In five months. her blog entries have prompted readers to get checked for cancer, listen to new bands, volunteer at the Oregon Food Bank, worry that she’s lonely.

She’s not lonely. She has a large circle of friends outside the Internet, she says. “This just allows me to have a social life on the nights or days when I have my kids and I can’t go out.”

Whether she’s discussing physics, almost missing a plane flight or smelling Ken dolls in Toys R Us, Kelly Jo Horton, single Portland mom, is sharing her sparking brain on the Internet every day, and the world is reading.

“I just love taking the most mundane things and making them interesting,” she says. “I feel better when I’m done.”

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