G. Xavier Robillard - Coming Soon to a Website Near You (if he hasn't already)
There's a new blog on the web. The same could be said on pretty much any day of the week, but this one marks the continuing expansion of G. Xavier Robillard across the internet, which is a noteworthy milestone indeed.
Meconium, a blog dedicated to serenely bemused observations on the insanities of raising a small child in modern America, is just the latest venue where Robillard's writing has appeared. His work can be found in such diverse websites as Yankee Pot Roast, Happy Woman Magazine, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Big Jewel, Facsimilation, Sweet Fancy Moses, The Bean, and Cracked, not to mention his own political satire site, All Day Coffee, as well as National Public Radio.
"I've been writing humor in some form or another since high school," said Robillard, a database administrator with a background in development sociology. "After several years involving motorcycles and Yosemite, with the advent of some of the humor websites in the late nineties I thought it'd be fun to try to publish in that venue."
It is not unusual for writers to shop their work around to different sites when they are looking to build an audience; but most who do so lack a publication venue of their own. Robillard's All Day Coffee, now in its fourth year, has built its own solid audience and a strong reputation (the site took second place in the 2006 HumorFeed Satire News Awards).
"All Day Coffee is a venue for me to try a lot of different things and see how the audience responds," said Robillard. "Both McSweeney's and Offsprung.com (where Meconium lives), for example, demand a specific structure and voice. I might call All Day Coffee an idea lab. There are times when I'll write for the site and the piece morphs and I realize 'hey, this will be perfect for somebody else.'"
This flexibility has led to pieces in widely varying styles; All Day Coffee is largely political satire with a trenchantly deadpan delivery, but some of his work published elsewhere, such as a collection of inaugural speeches from 80s action figures posted on McSweeney's, are more absurdist and flippant.
"I think of myself as a humor writer first and foremost," said Robillard. "I write about the things I'm interested in, particularly technology and politics, because I'm a huge political junky."
Like most writers online, Robillard's ambitions clearly extend offline. Rather than online standbys such as The Onion, he counts a range of fiction writers among his main influences, including Mark Twain, T.C. Boyle, Douglas Adams, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Berkeley Breathed; he is working on a novel about a washed-up superhero.
However, while his roots lie outside the world of online humor, Robillard finds the web to be where the most vibrant community of humor writers works today.
"Humor writing online is quite mature, and it feels like a natural niche. When you look at traditional fiction magazines and journals, they aren't accepting a lot of humor, so it's been shunted off to the web. A couple of years ago Steve Martin had a piece in McSweeney's online, and I thought, wow, this is actually credible."
The strong potential offered by the web is something not every writer recognizes, noted Robillard, who added that it's nonetheless most important to focus on the mechanics of the writing itself rather than the mechanics of the web.
"Reading a lot is critically important," he suggested. "Watch what your peers are doing. Just like any other writing, you want to think about tension and dynamics and plot arcs and all that fun stuff. A lot of new writers will try to spin something out of a one-note premise, but it's important to flesh out these single notes to find something larger. Don't limit yourself to the 300 word blog post. And be patient."