Wonderstruck

“Curiouser and curiouser.”

Wonderstruck

The Invention of Hugo Cabret was a colossal breakout hit for the already refined author Brian Selznick back in 2007. Not only did he create an enchanting story, he also bordered on damn near birthing an entirely new genre! Now, some may argue that point with a misguided dismissal: “It’s an illustrated novel. How is that new?” To those I retort, just go read the book. Not only will you marvel at Hugo’s story, you will also get lost in Selznick’s gorgeous detailed sketches… a misnomer he made work.

But we aren’t here for Hugo today! Today, we are to be wonderstruck!

I finished reading this ten pound tome (slight exaggeration) a couple nights ago with some rough northeastern thunderstorms thrashing around outside my bedroom window. As lightning plays a big part in the book, I was, predictably, enchanted by the coincidence. Then again, it doesn’t take much of a chance encounter to enchant me. Bygones. Wonderstruck is a delight.

There are two stories here, folks. One is told in text, the other in the aforementioned, hypnotizing, pencilled-in style. The text takes place in 1977. The drawings, 1927. The words tell the story of Ben, a young boy who is struck by the recent loss of his mother. The art tells the story of Rose, a girl who is struck by the recent realization that her mother is somewhat of a loss. Though 50 years separates them, these two kids have much in common. As both of their stories progress, we learn that, among other things, they are both deaf. In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Selznick said, “I had met deaf people who told me the thing they liked most about Hugo was the silence. Even when you’re reading words, you hear those words in your head but telling a story through pictures, there’s a feeling of silence about that and they really liked that.”

You’d have to be quite an uncaring reader not to like that quote! Here’s another:

“One of the things I love most about writing and illustrating,” Selzinck says in the book trailer’s video (see below), “is simply telling a story about characters that you care about and having it unfold in a surprising, interesting, hopefully exciting way. I write about things I love.”

Selznick is able to write (and illustrate) such touching novels because he practices what he preaches. He writes what he loves and in this case he loves a very prominent setting in his book, the American Museum of Natural History. In Wonderstruck’s acknowledgements, he says as much. And he pays homage to AMNH (and all museums for that matter) in his writing but even more so in his explicitly researched, detailed illustrations.

The only negative thing I can say for this book is that, like Hugo, the pencil drawings do have a certain texture about them that make a dainty reader’s fingers feel yucky. That’s hardly anything to gripe about though and it’s a pitiful problem that can be solved by some simple, well-mannered hand-washing, you heathen! Two dirty thumbs up!

Oh, and one final thing, it’s not available on your Kindle. Boo. But honestly, I wouldn’t want to read Selznick’s novels on an e-reader. I can’t say that about many other authors. Selznick is truly a one-of-a-kind gem who is well worth your investment in an actual printed BOOK here in 2012.

Today’s writing tip:
Take it from Selznick—write what you love.

 

Life of Pi – The Trailer and The Book

The highly anticipated new Ang Lee film, Life of Pi opens in November and today, the movie trailer was released. My initial reaction is that it looks spectacular. The novel, by Yann Martel, was first published by Harcourt in 2001. I was working at Harcourt at the time. In fact, it was my first foray into the publishing world! I started as a temp in the publicity department in the summer of 2000 and, as a bright-eyed, 20-something, voracious reader, I was giddy with dorky enthusiasm when I was allowed to read the galley of Martel’s new book before it came out. I wasn’t really even quite sure what a galley was when it was handed to me but I quickly learned that it was a proof of a novel that would soon be published. I was amazed to be reading something that was not yet released to the world.

I tried (and was mostly successful at) putting those privileged emotions aside and simply read the book. It was one of the best novels I had read in a long time. Pi Patel, an Indian teen, is the sole (human) survivor of a terrible accident at sea. His family had owned a zoo and they were transporting some of the animals when the boat sank. What follows is a rich and rewarding survival story where Pi climbs aboard a small lifeboat and must share it with a bengalese tiger named Richard Parker. It really is an awe-inspiring tale that blends religion with the very art of storytelling—it is told as a flashback from an older Pi and his version of the events are somewhat unbelievable to those he tells.

Twelve years ago I devoured that galley proof of Life of Pi much as Richard Parker devoured… well I don’t want to give anything away! But now, after watching this visually stunning trailer for the film, I would be remiss if I do not pick it up again before November. No doubt I will do just that. If you haven’t read Life of Pi yet, won’t you join me? Not right now though. I don’t know why but it feels more like an autumn read anyway. Plus, I still have to get through three more massive Game of Thrones tomes, Brian Selzinck’s recent Wonderstruck, and maybe a couple classic Vonnegut masterpieces. Yay summer reading!

 

Weekly Reader folds into history

The Daily News reported today that Weekly Reader was sold to Scholastic last February. It was cited that Scholastic was “axing all but five of Weekly Reader’s 60 employees in White Plains, NY.” I suppose that is an accurate (albeit broad-stroked) account. Those of us who have not been picked up have, for the most part, moved on. Though it’s probably safe to say that none of us will ever forget the work we did or the extraordinary people we collaborated with at our beloved company.

From my own perspective, working for such an inspiring piece of Americana was always a delight. Whenever I told someone what I did for a living, regardless of their age, they would more often than not respond: “Ohh, Weekly Reader! I used to love getting those in school! You guys are still around?” Heh. Well…

Despite the many challenges we faced in our final years, the incredibly talented team of dedicated people that put those educational periodicals (both elementary and secondary) together always gave it their all. ”Like all papers,” the Daily News reported, “Weekly Reader was struggling with changes roiling the print world and was under pressure to develop digital editions.” True, we struggled inasmuch as any other publishing company does in today’s world. But rather than shy from new technologies, we embraced them. We created digital editions of all our magazines, launched “e-issues” (educational, interactive, themed web sites), wrote blogs, and kept the lines of communication open with teachers and educators as we attempted to stay one step ahead of the ever-evolving classroom environment. In the end, I suppose Weekly Reader became a casualty of the times. It’s sad that we no longer get to work together in White Plains, doing what we love to do. But what’s more depressing is that this time-honored brand that so many of us grew up with, loved, trusted, and learned from is now but a memory.

I do look forward to seeing what Scholastic does in the future and I am confident that, though WR is no more, what it stood for will live on.

And to exit on a promising note: if anyone out there should ever require a talented, dedicated, creative editor, art director, photo editor, copy editor, production designer, or web designer for an educational or otherwise, print or digital publishing task, gig, job, or consult… I know sixty extraordinary candidates.

 

OZ

Oz, The Great and Powerful is a film by Sam Raimi that hits theaters next spring. As the trailer states, Mr. Raimi directed The Spider-Man Trilogy and produced Alice in Wonderland.  First of all, I appreciate the snide, subtle dig at the recent film The Amazing Spider-Man. As if the original (and yes, I understand the irony behind calling it such) Spider-Man movies are on some higher plane than the new, too-soon, web crawler film. But more importantly, Raimi directed the always overshadowed The Evil Dead genius saga! Has the world forsworn Ash’s beautiful legacy? No. Hollywood just doesn’t work that way. Spider-Man and Alice are obviously fresher in everyone’s minds, not to mention that they are much safer, despite Tim Burton’s dark crush on the macabre.

Bygones. The teaser trailer for Raimi’s scary-looking Oz works. It entices. It grabs hold of our fond memories of Dorothy and Auntie Em and precious little Toto and rattles them in a discordant cage where evil, flying monkeys reign. And though the twister that sucks up a hard-to-pin-down Franco seems unassuming in its short air time here, no doubt it will be a brutal, paralyzing force of nature that crashes through the full feature.

I do enjoy the cute little porcelain figurine that seems frightened in her one second cameo. I fear for her and all her friends. But in the end, this is Disney. And though that doesn’t necessarily always guarantee a happy ending, the odds are forever in a moviegoer’s favor. Plus, like the Star Wars prequels, we have the benefit of knowing (for better or for worse) where this is going. Franco’s Wizard seems like someone we will root for, someone with an entrepreneur’s spirit and a desire to excel and succeed, but we know that Oz will harden him, make him cold, make him greed for power and get it! I suppose then, this film should fall on the darker side of the spectrum after all. It will probably be about one wizard’s reckoning. Bring on the witches! Which witch is good and which witch is behind the terrifying green clawed arm at the end? I guess we’ll just have to wait for spring to pull back these curtains.

Releases March 8, 2013

Stop Thinking Full Time

One challenge I find myself trying to overcome in this freelancer’s life is constantly avoiding the urge to apply to full-time positions listed on mediabistro, craigslist, etc. Why, just today I considered two very intriguing editorial positions and I had to physically restrain myself from sending the ol’ resume. Would it hurt anything to do so? Of course not. But it would probably be a waste of good people’s time in that I have little to no desire to jump right back into the corporate world so soon—especially when I have my hands pretty full with writing gigs, projects, budding hopes, etc. On the other hand, if some position did scream out to me and seem like it could be something that could hold a candle to my last job in terms of having the perfect blend of self-fulfillment, purpose, location, and salary, well then that kind of position would be too good to pass up, would it not? Hard to say, really. I am enjoying my independence. But…

There’s always a “but,” isn’t there?

I read this pretty dated web article by a passionate lunatic a few weeks back. I’m not going to dig it out because it was repetitive bad writing that was repetitive and all other kinds of ridiculousness; in fact, it may even have been spam. With that caveat in place, I will say that the themes and thoughts within the piece were akin to: You Are Insane If You Think You Need To Work A 40+ Hour A Week Salaried Job. The amaetuer author (or super-skilled spambot) made a few amusing points about how, in an office position, you can often find yourself wasting your time and not getting the job done. The “water cooler mentality” can take over the day and before you know it, you have tailored your position to be mediocre, just as everyone else around you has done. Now of course, I’m not saying that this sluggish extreme ever penetrated my work ethic, but I can see how, in a milder sense, it could become apparent. When you are hired at a company to do a job, over time, you can unconsciously discover ways in which to do the bare minimum your job requires of you and still receive high accolades. It’s a bizarre truth in corporate America and one that should be stamped out. But who will do the stamping? It’s just business as usual and if business is good, let’s not rock the boat.

Freelancers have no room for merely rolling with the punches because if we let the “do nothings” get us down, we’ll be knocked out for the count. This is why I believe it is the freelancers who truly work the hardest for their bacon. When you don’t know where your next paycheck is going to come from, you are going to strive to excel at whatever current job you’re working on to the best of your ability. If you slack a bit at your office job, chances are probably decent that no one is going to notice. If you slack off in a freelance gig, you may not see another one. Reputation spreads wide.

But this isn’t to be a scary ordeal. It should be exciting, joyous! In the day to day cubicle malaise, you pretty much know what to expect next week, next month, or hell, maybe even next year. In the world of freelance, who’s to say where you’ll be this time next whenever. Perhaps you’ll write the first culinary review of a lunar restaurant! By the way, how was the cheese flambé? I hear it is the chef’s speciality up there on that rock.

Take this all with a grain of salt. Of course you can have a very pleasant and satisfying professional career in the corporate realm. I did it for a long time and I am never 100% sold on the fact that I’ll never do it again. I just think that, for now, I should probably focus on being this and not that. After all, I have only just begun.

Get Smarter.

Pay it Forward, Bring it Back – A Freelancer’s First Month

Of all the careers, in all the towns, in all the world… …you had to be mine.

Since the sad, sorry closing of my old company and the beginning of my new career as a freelance writer/editor, I’ve been pretty lucky. I sort of fell right into my first contract job by paying it forward. By that I mean that while I was scouring the web for freelance gigs for myself, I was also looking out for others. If I saw a job that wasn’t necessarily right for me but might be right for a colleague, of course I would forward that information on. As it turned out, one of these did actually result in a good friend of mine snagging a pretty impressive project. That, in and of itself, made me happy! Then, come to find out, the contract she received was such a large undertaking that she was alloted a small staff! So she came back to me and asked if I’d like to join the team. Heck yes, I would!

Without saying too much about the project, I believe it would be all right for me to say that it involves working on a career-focused educational game for students. In doing much research of hundreds of different professions over the past three weeks, I have come to really appreciate where I am in life right now as well as becoming more aware of  how many other opportunities there are out there. I don’t presume to understand how one child grows up to be a neurosurgeon while another becomes an editor while another becomes a game show host while another becomes an electrical engineer while another becomes a candlestick maker. The paths we choose are based on an incomprehensible amount of conscious and unconscious decisions, traits, skills, etc. as we go. All I know is, out of the countless professions that could have chosen me, I am very content with this one so far. Of course, I am still a newbie as a freelancer and I don’t pretend to think it’s all wine and roses just because I landed this first gig pretty pronto. I am sure there will be days in the future where I will be at my wit’s end trying to find work. I hope those days will be few and far between. But in the meantime, it’s pretty groovy to make your own hours, choose your own projects, write-off office supplies, meet interesting people, learn new things, and do it all in footy pajamas! Just kidding, those only come out in the winter.

The only two big cons I have seen so far are: having to buy my own insurance and the occassional loneliness. The former is just a necessary evil of the business. Suck it up and deal. Pretty soon everyone is going to have to be insured whether they have a company to pay for it or not so I guess I’m ahead of the curve there. As far as the loneliness goes, it’s not terrible. I still keep in touch with the old crew and I do live with my girlfriend and four cats so they all keep me on my toes, no doubt. And the newly installed birdhouse out back makes for interesting company every day. I do enjoy raising and shaking my fist at those damn squirrels while secretly marveling at their acrobatics. But sometimes I do miss the long commute into work, the company camaraderie, the excitement of a magazine well-done, and even (or especially) the moaning that inevitably comes in any shared office from the “same boat mentality.” I’m a one-man show now. It is at times very exhilarating and at others, kinda dull. But at least it’s where I want to be and when someone asks me what I do, I can say with pride, “I am a freelancer,” and smile.

-LW

Last Dance

Here it comes. No, it’s not my 19th nervous breakdown. That came years ago. Rather, today is the last day at a job that has defined 72% of me for over 8 years. It’s taking every bit of strength just to get dressed and go in. It’s going to be terribly sad. One positive is that we have had over three months to acclimate to this. But it is still gonna sting.

Ah but life goes on, does she not? I have a number of freelance projects bubbling and that is exciting! I can’t wait to see which one I can dig my teeth into first! But alas, I must first say goodbye to dear friends and co-workers. And to top it all off, I have to give up my beauty of a computer. Tears! Dear People at Apple. Please release the new Macbook Pros ASAP. I’m going to be going through withdrawal very very soon.

OK well I should really get moving. More on this subject later perhaps when I am not feeling so melodramatic. For now, I have my last long morning commute to tackle. My last day in the office. Last last last. Why can’t everything just last?

Write Like A Carrot

This morning I stumbled upon a site that is hosting an interesting contest. The title is pretty self-explanatory: Write Like A Carrot. It’s simple, it’s unique, it’s adorable, and it has the potential to heal the world. Also, you could win five bucks. This is not a hoax. This is not a dream. The best written entry will win a (possibly crisp) $Lincoln$. Ch-ching!

All silliness aside (there is plenty of that on the site), I find myself unable to begin to comprehend how to enter the mind and persona of a carrot. In fact, the very idea takes my brain and shakes it from its stem. It rattles out the coherent thoughts I thought I once had and shows me that sadly, I have never imagined a worthwhile thing. At this writer’s very core, I am only a product of some other writer’s imagination and even that omnipotent creator is a farce, a hack, a dimwitted buffoon probably on constant and insufferable bed rest. For how can she be anything but incompetent if I have never been given the necessary acumen to conjure up a carrot’s hopes and dreams? And what does this say of my own carrotchters whom I have toiled with for so many years? No, I mean of course characters. Silly wabbit. Say characters in 100 characters or less. Take your Lennies and your Alices and your Iagos and put them in a zoo. No carrot for you! A horse, a horse! My garden salad for a horse!

Did I say all silliness aside? I suppose I presupposed I didn’t see such madness coming forth. I blame it on the carrot.

——————-

Here, at last, I find myself withering towards death, dear Margaret. As I sink further in this foul earth, my final thoughts are drawn. I see you clearly as you once were: golden, crisp, desirable. Your insatiable, green tuft top drove me to the outer edge of reason and I am afraid I was less than admirable in your presence. The night you uprooted to some unknown pasture, the moon was full and I wept under it. Now, my tears soak the very terra we swore we’d never abandon. Alas, I leave this world alone. Dear Margaret, I forgive you.

How to know when a freelance writing project is complete

Short answer:

When your editor tells you, “Excellent job! Thank you so much for the brilliant work you have done for us! Feel free to send us an invoice, you super duper freelance trooper!”

Long answer:

Know what you are getting into from the start. Obviously, it depends on what you’ve signed up for. If you are writing an article that requires heavy research and thoughtful analysis, the project could go on for much longer than you anticipated. This is a likely case if you are just starting out with a client you have never worked with before. Any number of bumps could be in your future. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell what they may be when you are just starting out. But just knowing that they will come and accepting that is a good way to approach any project. You aren’t Shakespeare. Sorry.

A first draft is never a final draft. This is common knowledge. Even if you think you’ve written the world’s most glorious piece on how to whittle small woodland creatures out of imported balsa wood, think again. There are bound to be areas of improvement and your editor is going to show you where.

Don’t be put off by editorial notes. Editors are wicked smart and they know how to guide you when you have steered off course. When they tell you, “I love what you are doing in this section but here’s a way you can do it better…” don’t glare at the screen thinking “You just don’t understand my genius, mannnnn!” Because that would be detrimental to the project, your relationship with the client, your writing, your willingness to improve, and let’s face it, the entire writing community at large. Don’t give writers a bad name! Even if you do feel like you’ve been shot through the heart. It’s not that bad, dude. Suck it up and accept the fact that editor knows best. In the end, it’s you working for them, not vice-versa.

Don’t be afraid to challenge a few editorial notes. If your editor gives you a note that you strongly disagree with for reasons that are valid to the project, you do have every right, as the primary writer, to challenge a note or three. But do it with the style and grace that becomes you as a professional. Don’t say, “I strongly disagree with you here because I’m right and you’re wrong and nanny nanny poo poo.” Not that you would say that. That’s not going to win you any future projects and it makes you look like a tool. Do say, “About your note: I see the direction in which you’d like me to go and I understand your point of view, but wouldn’t it be even better if we did X, Y, Z?” Examine your zipper? Nah. It doesn’t much matter if your fly is down when you are a freelance writer because you are working from the comfort of your home and no one can see you from the other side of their computer! (But seriously dude, X, Y, Z. Ha! Did you check?) … Don’t force your opinions on your editor. Rather, politely offer him/her a creative alternative to the editorial note in question and see if it sticks. Who knows? You may change their mind! Especially if you feel strongly about something and can communicate your idea clearly. And let’s be honest, if you can’t communicate your ideas clearly then you’re probably in the wrong business. Editors are people too and they are (for the most part) very respectful of the writers who work for them. Remember that, above all. You may not be in charge, but you ARE a respected writer. How do you think you got the job in the first place??

Revise with the perfect mix of patience and gusto. Second and third and <gulp> subsequent drafts are where the magic happens. Approach your revisions as if you are polishing a silver statue with a gold-painted rag. It’s not always easy. Gold paint on an old flannel tends to stick to the shirt and only a few flecks may transfer to the work at first. But after awhile, you get better and better at it and you realize… what the hell am I using a rag for? Nurse, hand me my golden paintbrush! And after you’ve cleared away all the mixed metaphors, you start to see perfection shining through. Granted, it takes work. That’s why it’s called work and not lolly gagging. Why, if I didn’t have my own project to get back to revising, I’d probably re-paint this entire bullet point. Thankfully, blogs are an exception. If no one is paying you to write them, that is.

Give your project a final final final read. When the gold paint has dried on your final draft, let it sleep for one night (assuming you aren’t past deadline). When you wake in the morning, go back and give everything you’ve written a final final final read. It’s perfect, isn’t it? You’ve done everything your editor has asked of you and you couldn’t be more pleased with yourself. Oh… there’s one dumb typo and another misplaced comma. Nice, catch! Anything else? You sure? You’ve read it through and come to know that this is the best the project can be? Well all right. Own it. And congratulations! Send that puppy to your editor and watch the accolades (and cash) roll in.

Unless your editor asks you to tweak one last thing. If this happens, you have my permission to throw a hissy fit, drink til you are rotten, sober up, and get back on the horse. Tweak that shit. Work it. That’s how it’s done.

Ahh. Now go find your next project.

 

The Future of Publishing – A Tidbit

I wrote the following honest tidbit a couple weeks back as part of a cover letter for some online freelance gig that pays an insulting amount for robotic albeit time-consuming work. Are you familiar with these sites? I’m not even sure if they are legit. Which is why, in the end, I never clicked the “submit resume” button. Instead, I just copied my thoughts for future use somewhere. As it turns out, somewhere is here. And sometime is now. I’d love to hear what you think.

—————–

The future of publishing is anyone’s guess but recent trends show that we are headed toward  (if not already ensconced in) a literary digital age. With the recent closing of so-called “brick and mortar” bookstores—most notably Borders—and the advent of e-readers and tablets, today’s common consumer is becoming more comfortable with digital books every day.

However, text will always be text. Putting aside digital books and educational games that are created for early elementary students, I don’t believe that there is much of a place for distracting bells and whistles in a novel or nonfiction article that is designed for the average adult reader. When speaking strictly of the words that fall on the page, no amount of interactivity can ever replace the inherent sensory imagery that occurs in one’s brain through the simple act of reading. Whether digital publishing continues to thrive or print makes a startling comeback in years to come, words, stories, and well-written ideas will always reign.

—————–

And then I slammed the mic down and kicked over my pedestal. Boom.