The tag line on Hawco's blog says "A blog about food, Montreal, and me." It's somewhat vague, but the only part of that line which really matters is the "me" part. Food is one of his passions, and Montreal is his home. So he just writes what he wants.
"I had been writing in online forums since 1995, but had grown a bit tired of the restrictions inherent in that format," he explains. "When a few friends started blogging in 2000 I picked up on it pretty quickly."
It didn't take off right away, but with over six years of history behind it, one of the city's oldest blogs is also one of its most popular. Hawco is the top-rated anglophone on Top Blogues, a traffic-based ranking of Quebec bloggers. Last year it won a Canadian Blog Award and was nominated for another.
"It is not a narrowly defined blog the way some are -- ones that are just about food, or video games, or technology tools and such. In a sense that limits my audience, but it's not a numbers game for me. It's about writing what I want to write about, and hopefully getting some response. Happily, I seem to be successful in both regards."
Hawco's food blogging also comes with a message: Eat locally-produced, fresh food instead of microwaving frozen dinners.
"As time goes on, I am emphasizing that aspect more and more," he says. "It takes only a bit more time to make chicken nuggets from scratch than it does to make them from a frozen kit. You might lose a few minutes of time, but what you gain is full control over what goes into it: real chicken meat, not processed gunk full of preservatives and chemical binding agents. And it tastes a lot better too."
Hawco is also an amateur photographer. His posts are accompanied by vivid photographs, and he runs a separate photo blog, uploading a new, interesting picture every Monday morning from around town or from his trips around the world.
Sample post: The “open door” and “close door” buttons found in the elevators of many downtown office buildings: Maybe it’s just me, but I can never figure out which button to push. To be precise, by the time I figure out which is the correct button, it’s too late. The reason is that my brain cannot decode the symbols because I don’t know if they represent the state of being or the state of desired being. Also, there is the complicating factor of the visual representation of openness and closedness implied by the triangles if thought of as nouns, versus the opposite message implied by the triangles if thought of as arrows, or verbs.
Tell me about yourself
I'm "mid 40s," originally from Cape Breton. I've been in Montreal since 1987.
What is your day job?
I write marketing copy for technology companies.
Why did you start your blog? When was the first post and what was it about?
I had been writing in online forums since 1995, but had grown a bit tired of the restrictions inherent in that format. When a few friends started blogging in 2000 I picked up on it pretty quickly. I recognized it as a way I could get my voice out there without feeling hemmed in by the perimeters of online forums (fora?).
My first post was made on December 27, 2000. It was not much -- just a note announcing the blog's launch to the one or two people who I figured would read it. I knew that it would take a while before it caught on, so the first few weeks of posts were pretty inconsequential.
What do you write about?
It's a mix, but as my tag line implies, it is somewhat focused on food, Montreal, and me. The food posts are usually in a "what I ate" journal style that includes recipes, pictures, etc., but I also comment on things such as food packaging, preservatives, and other issues involving the food industry. When I cook, I like to emphasize fresh, home-made food and often rant about the perils of packaged "factory food." It's not about being a gourmet, it's about eating well and being in control of what you eat.
I also write commentary on things that are going on in the world -- everything from the war in Iraq to the release of the Apple iPhone. When I make these kinds of posts, I try to be insightful, or funny, or both. I have no interest in simply pointing out a thing's existence, nor do I expect anyone to have an interest in reading such a thing. I try to put a personal spin on my commentary, hopefully with some insight, and I try to focus on aspects of the issue that other people may be missing.
I also like to write about my travels, but not in a travel guide way -- literary travel writing is one of my favorite genres to read, so I have some ambitions to write that way on occasion.
Do you have a favourite post or series? One that got a lot of attention?
So many! I won second place for "best blog post series" in the 2006 Canadian Blog Awards, for my series "On People and Places."
My favorite posts tend to be the ones involving travel or otherwise have a sense of place. It's something I look for when I read, so naturally it's something I put extra effort into when I write. One of my favorite posts from 2006 was a description of a man I encountered one night in Venice, last May. I know nothing about the guy, but my imagination when wild and I constructed a whole story around him based on a few of his mannerisms. I call it "The Tragedy of the Venetian Socialite."
In a similar vein, I wrote a long post in 2002 about an experience I had had in Portugal a few years earlier, when I found myself on something of a quest. I was traveling alone and reading a lot of Paolo Coelho, and had gotten myself into a bit of an odd headspace. So I wrote about the folly of phony spirituality as it played out on the back roads of Portugal's Alentejo region. As with most of my travel posts, I tried to make it funny, and I had the extra pleasure of illustrating it with photos from my trip.
What kind of traffic does your blog get?
That's a closely guarded secret. ;-) My traffic goes up and down. Right now it's up. I'm averaging around 800 visits a day (1200 page views). Plus there is an unknown number of people who read the blog via RSS feeds. However, the majority of those non-RSS visitors arrive at my blog via a Google search, so they are not regular readers. But that's just fine -- I don't feel like my blog posts "expire," or are only targeted at loyal repeat readers. A travel story or recipe that I post today will be just as valid and hopefully interesting if someone finds it via Google a year or two from now.
How has the blog changed since you first started it?
I think the quality of the writing has improved, which was one of the goals. I have a sense of a wider readership now than I did then, so the level of effort I put into it reflects that. It has also changed design, publishing platform, and even address several times.
There is far less of the "personal journal" sort of material now, and more of the kind of stuff that I hope appeals to people who have never met me or don't know me at all. In other words, while the blog still has my personality and voice all over it, it is far less about me and more about giving people something interesting to read.
One of the big changes from when I began blogging is the commenting feature. It didn't exist when I started, but now it's very much an integral part of the blog. So I do have a sense of not only writing and reading, but of conversation.
My blog consists of 1379 posts, and 4625 comments. That's a pretty good
conversation, considering first three years of posts have no comments at
What else should people know to understand your blog?
They should know the address: http://www.blork.org/blorkblog/
Otherwise, there's not much that one needs to know in advance. There are no secret handshakes. Just go there and read it. If you want to read back in the archives, you can sort the posts by category, so you can, for example, just dig out the recipes, or just the travel stories. Plus it has a pretty good built-in search engine, so if, for example, you want to know everything I've ever said about pizza, just put "pizza" into my blog's search engine and go to town!