Adventures In Freelancing: Looking Back At 2015

monkey-typing2015 was the fifth full year that I worked as a freelance writer. It’s wild to think about. I got unceremoniously and somewhat surprisingly laid off from Wizard in September of 2009. With no idea what I would do with the rest of my career (a fun thought to have at 26) my friends jumped at the chance to set me up with freelance work. I wasn’t sure if it would stick, but dove in and am still rolling today.

That year I wrote for Marvel.com, Maxim.com, Topless Robot, Wizard, ToyFare, UGO, MTV Geek, Click and even a bit for CBR and realized I could actually do alright for myself with just my brain, a computer and a solid internet connection. Since then, a few of those outlets have gone defunct (I miss seeing my work on the magazine stand) and some completely changed directions since then. These days I find myself mainly working for three sites: Marvel.com, CBR and Geek.com and I’m digging it. Looking back at the past year, it seemed like an okay time to reflect a bit on the ups and downs of the year. Continue reading Adventures In Freelancing: Looking Back At 2015

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Halloween Scene: The Self-Promotion Post

I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis or knows me personally that I love a good scare (as long as its in book, comic or movie form, not real life). Since I don’t currently write for a site with a horror focus, that means I save up a lot of my best ideas for October. Luckily, I had a lot of ones that my editors also thought were good, which means I’ve been busily reading, watching and writing scary things since September. Now that Halloween’s hitting tomorrow, it’s time to toss out all the links for wider consumption!

My biggest project this fall by far was a series of posts at Marvel.com called Marvel Spooklights. Last year I did four of these shout outs leading up to Halloween. This year, I did 22, one for each weekday of the month. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun and I got to check out a lot of books I hadn’t read before. Particular favorites include the Juan Doe-drawn Legion Of Monsters mini, Steve Gerber’s last Man-Thing story and the surprisingly good Journey Into Mystery #1. I read them all on Marvel Unlimited, which is an awesome Netflix-like service for comics.

In other reading news, I went way back to my earliest days with the genre and did a list for Geek.com about the best stories from the three Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books that I got a few months before from my parents’ house. The stories themselves are fairly simple, but those damn drawings still made me wince every now and then when I turned the page.

I also pitched a few lists for The Robot’s Voice that got approved. First, I tackled The 10 Best Stories From The Early Days of Eerie, a companion piece to the one I did about Creepy not too long ago. Reading these books is always a treat, I’d like to get them all. I also watched all the Nightmare On Elm Street movies and did a list of the scariest nightmares perpetrated by Mr. Krueger. Aside from Dream Warriors, I wasn’t much of a NOES fan going into this re-watch, but I actually really enjoyed the franchise for reasons I’ll get into in a separate post probably next week.

Finally, I tried focusing much of my post-NOES movie watching on newer horror movies so I could do a few lists for Spinoff. One focused on new takes on familiar genres, while the other was about the subgenre du jour these days, supernatural flicks. I’m planning on doing a movie roundup post that will get into this in more detail, but Babadook shook me to my core, What We Do In The Shadows reminded me of my all-time favorite show the UK Office and It Follows is problematic…depending on what you want from your horror movies.

And now, with all that out of the way and a super busy month behind me, I’m going to collapse into a little ball and watch scary movies until my kids come home.

E-Book Triple Feature: The Devil In The Kitchen, Red Rain & Off My Rocker

the devil in the kitchen I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. Part of the reason is that I’m a slow reader, part is that I love reading comics and part is that, thanks to having a pair of kiddos, I don’t have the time or attention span to devote to the hobby as I once did. However, I have discovered that my three-year-old daughter’s bedtime is a good time to get some reading done. After I read her books, I lay next to her bed in the dark until she doses off. So, as long as I have a solid book on my phone, I’m pretty good to go.

The first of the bunch in recent memory was Marco Pierre White’s The Devil in the Kitchen. I knew absolutely nothing about White going into this book, but it looked like a British version of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, so I bit for a couple bucks (like most of my e-books, I got it on the cheap) and really enjoyed the experience.

White’s story begins as a child (as most do) and ventures on up through his development as a chef, to the leader of his own kitchen and ultimately a world-renowned figure in the world of food. He gave jobs to people like Gordon Ramsey and Curtis Stone  while creating award-winning, lavish restaurants in the 80s and beyond. While their stories are different in many ways, if you like Bourdain’s books, you’ll like this one.

Book Review Red RainRed Rain by R.L. Stine is one of the few fiction novels I’ve read all the way through on my phone. This was another discounted book that I grabbed. From the title and the cover, I assumed this was a vampire story, but was way off base. This one follows a woman who goes to a small island for her travel blog but after a devastating hurricane, seems changed to the point where she adopts a pair of creepy twin boys and brings them to live with her husband, daughter and son in New York.

This was an interesting story that never quite grabbed me. For some reason I was never able to zero in on what these kids look like which was a major barrier given plot points I don’t want to spoil. I also had a really hard time sympathizing with the mother character. The father becomes the punching bag, but while he’s getting dumped on, it felt like I was supposed to wonder more about the wife, but instead, I found her far too easy to write off and ignore. Because of that, I also found her to be a wildly annoying character to the point where I almost stopped reading.

But, I did wind up enjoying the end of the book which finally revealed what the kids were up to. I liked how all that played out, so while I didn’t necessarily enjoy all of this book, it ended in a way that I appreciated which is nice because I used to read Fear Street and Goosebumps books constantly as a kid. I don’t say this often, but after I was done, I felt like Red Rain would have made a better movie than a book.

off my rockerOff My Rocker: One Man’s Tasty, Twisted, Star-Studded Quest for Everlasting Music by Kenny Weissberg was another random purchase for a few bucks (the equivalent of the going through the Barnes & Noble discount table). I knew nothing about Weissberg or his deal, but when I read that he was a DJ, music writer and concert promoter, I was easily sold.

Right off the bat, this book reminded me of three others I’ve read since starting this blog. It’s got a little of The Real Animal House mixed with Sonic Boom and some of George Hamilton’s autobiography Don’t Mind If I Do in that it’s one man’s (mostly) fond remembrance of an important time in music, told from the inside. Like Hamilton, he used his confidence and skills to move from one part of life to another, often taking chances and risks that paid off.

To get into a bit more detail, Weissberg grew up a huge music fan on the East Coast and eventually wound up becoming one of the biggest freeform DJs in Colorado. Talking about music lead to interviewing musicians on the air and a career in concert and record reviews in print. When that work dried up, he fronted a band before moving to California to promote concerts, a gig that lasted him 20-something years. Along the way he met a variety of music professionals who he doesn’t mind writing about. Weissberg tells his stories with a good nature that brings you into the tales instead of feeling like you’re on the outside and also lets you in on previously unknown details without ever getting mean.

In addition to enjoying stories about people who make their own way in life, no matter how improbably, I also appreciated how Weissberg took this thing he loved and turned it into a series of careers that lasted several decades. That’s something I hope I can say down the line, though I just realized I’ve been doing what I do for about 10, so I guess I’m doing alright.

Halloween Scene: New Movie Roundup

p9523329_p_v8_aaAs I mentioned in my first post in what felt like forever, I was awful busy looking at Halloween related material for work throughout September and October, which resulted in a lack of posts here on the site, a first if I’m not mistaken. Sure, Halloween season is technically over, but I wanted to write a bit more about a few of the newer movies I saw on Netflix in preparation for two Spinoff lists: 5 Recent Indie Supernatural Horror Movies Worth Watching and 5 Recent Slasher Flicks to Take a Stab at For Halloween.

First off a little background that I mentioned in those posts, but didn’t get fully into. While looking around for horror movies on Netflix Instant back in September, I realized that a lot of movies I’d heard good things about on Killer POV (my favorite horror podcast) were on there. I tend to avoid new horror movies out of a kind of fear, not necessarily a fear of being frightened by them, but a fear of being subjected to awful depravity. Let’s face it, that was the subgenre du jour for a while there. It seemed like every new movie I watched was just filled with torture. Not my bag.

john dies at the endBut after hearing about so many quality movies that had come out — many of which don’t work for everyone, which is fine my me — I decided to focus my viewing efforts this season on new movies from this decade. With only four years to choose from, I was a little worried about slim pickings, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised and happy with the results. In fact, I think I enjoyed everything I watched (at least on some level).

Alright, let’s start with the Supernatural list. I covered them pretty well, but to take things a few steps further Don Coscarelli’s John Diest At The End and Resolution are two of my favorite scary movies in a long time. I loved The Innkeepers. Like I said in the review, between the on-screen scares and my anticipation of scares based on lesser films, I was pretty wiped by the end of that viewing experience. I thought about watching Ti West’s Sacrament, but wussed out.

rites of springI’d seen Odd Thomas on Netflix several times, wasn’t sure about it, but finally watched it and really enjoyed it. It kind of reminded me of Brick, but with less melodrama and more death-monsters. I liked it so much, I’m actually reading Dean Koontz’s Odd Hours from the library. It has the same feel as the movie. I’d like to see Anton Yelchin star in a series of films or, better yet, a TV show based on the character. I still can’t tell if All Cheerleader’s Die is a super clever film or I’m just reading too far into it, but it was definitely worth the watch.

Over to the slashers, this was another pleasantly surprising batch of films. I was especially surprised by how much I enjoyed Curse Of Chucky as that’s not exactly a series I’m in love with. I also wasn’t sure if Maniac would be my bag because I’ve never seen the original or its fellow real-killer-in-NYC ilk, but I found it chilling and Elijah Wood captivating in the lead role. I actually felt super creepy walking anywhere near a woman when I was going from the hotel to the bar during NYCC because of that viewing experience. Stage Fright was so much fun, but that might be solely because of my experience in high school musical theater. It’s goofy and weird, but I’m okay with that.

The-Innkeepers-PosterI’ll be honest, I didn’t actually watch Hatchet II again, but those films are still some of the best slasher flicks I’ve ever laid eyes on from any decade. I didn’t really think about it until I wrote that list, but it’s difficult to think of any other series with that much consecutive quality. Finally, I really liked the look and mash-up feel of Rites Of Spring. It’s on the shortlist of movies I watched this year that had a distinct color pallet and style. I found myself wondering if the Stranger was actually satiating a kind of crop god or just a crazy person throwing blood down on a man in a weird mask for decades. It would have been nice to get some of those answers, but I didn’t think they were necessary.

I also watched American Mary. I’ve got a blog post written that I’ll throw up this week. Here’s a preview, I thought it was pretty damn unique, but I’ll probably never watch it again. I still really dig the You’re Next viewing experience and do think I’ll return to that one at some point. Speaking of repeated viewings, that was the focus of my late-October horror movie schedule which will make up another post!

Casting Internets: My Halloween Writing

Hi All, you might have noticed that I haven’t posted much here on UnitedMonkee.com recently. That’s because I’ve been pretty darn busy between work and the home buying process (which officially ends today!). I pitched a lot of different Halloween-themed freelance ideas this month, many of which got picked up. Now that they’re finally coming out, I wanted to share them with you.

john dies at the end

 

I worked on two lists for Spinoff Online focusing on horror movies from this decade. I was super impressed with everything I saw. Hopefully I can get to a roundup post soon.

5 Recent Slasher Flicks to Take a Stab at For Halloween

5 Recent Indie Supernatural Horror Movies Worth Watching

 

legion of monsters

 

Over on Marvel.com, I write four Halloween Spooklights on various scary characters from the Marvel U:

Halloween Spooklight: Morbius

Halloween Spooklight: Dracula

Halloween Spooklight: Man-Thing

Halloween Spooklight: The Legion Of Monsters

 

Michael Myers Halloween

Finally, I did two lists for Topless Robot that took a lot of work (if reading comics and watching movies can be considered as such):

John Constantine’s 10 Nastiest Moments from the Early Days Of Hellblazer

Michael Myers’ 10 Craziest Kills From the Original Halloween Franchise

 

Adventures In Freelancing: Building A Story

I can’t believe it’s been nearly three years since I wrote an Adventures In Freelancing post! I don’t have a particularly good or bad reason for that, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how I write these days and figured my strategy might work for some of you too.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts, I’ll preface by saying that most of my professional writing is for Comic Book Resources, Spinoff Online and Marvel.com. With CBR, I have a specific beat covering BOOM! Studios and Image Comics before that, plus I do a variety of collectible-related stories. My Spinoff work mostly involves rewriting news stories with our audience in mind and for Marvel.com, I do the occasional creator interview written up in a prose format. Much of my work involves communicating with a creator about their upcoming comic and turning that interview into either a prose piece or a question and answer (Q&A) style piece. I do a lot more of the latter, so let’s start there.

With a Q&A, much of the heavy lifting gets done by the interview itself. Whether you’ve done it by way of email or phone, once you have the answers written down, that’s most of your work right there. Of course, you have to edit these sections, make sure they fit your site’s style guide and also check to see if they make sense. Sometimes that involves moving quotes around and rewording your questions to better reflect the answer.

But, there’s still the matter of the introduction. For CBR, that’s usually three to four paragraphs that hit all the important facts like what the project is, who’s working on it, where it’s coming from, when it’s coming out, background information and a bit of a tease about what’s in the interview itself. Basically, I think of this section as a really good movie trailer. It needs to get the reader excited about what’s coming without giving too much away.

This week, a story I wrote about Mondo’s upcoming toy offerings went up on CBR. I did my best to get right into the story — something my Spinoff editor encourages on the regular — and explain the news right away. I usually try to start with a clever opener, something that will grab the reader’s attention, but this time the news itself was the big attention grabber, so that made sense to start with. From there it was a matter of explaining the products, talking a bit about the company and setting up the conversation. Sometimes, you’ve got to explain things in greater detail, but in the case of Mondo, I figured the poster sellers were well known enough to the CBR audience. It’s easy to get bogged down in over-explaining things you think the audience might not be familiar with, so it can be difficult striking the right balance.

When it comes to Spinoff posts, the process is somewhat similar, but I go about it a different way. Since there’s no interview to build off of, I tend to start with the background and basic information first. The other day, I wrote this story about the Daredevil showrunner talking about the feel of the series. I read through the original piece, copied and pasted that money quote about the grittiness, laid down some of the show’s basics and then went back and wrote the opener, which was edited to the much better one seen in the final post. I’ve found that knowing what’s involved in the body of the story makes writing that opener much, much easier. In other words, sometimes it’s better not to start at the beginning.

For Spinoff posts, I’m actually writing them in the system and saving them for the editor to read, so I’m not just writing, but also making sure the links are there, coming up with tags and finding a photo that works for the piece. Sometimes that last part can take longer to get than the actual writing. Then again, my roots are in image-finding, so I try to find the best pic for the post.

The Marvel.com stories tend to be a hybrid of the previous experiences. Most of the time, I’m interviewing a creator and using that in the body of the article, but they prefer to go with more of a prose style. This means you’re laying out the quotes, but connecting them with your own text.

Last week, this story I wrote about the new Winter Soldier comic went up. For this one, I got the quotes in via email, gave them a read through and then copied and pasted them into a new document in an order that made the most sense to me. I think of this like sedimentary rocks, which are basically larger rocks made up of pieces of smaller rocks and something keeping them all together. In this case, the quotes are the rocks and what I write acts as the connecting material. In this format, there’s still the matter of the opener which I also tackle last.

So that’s how I write these kinds of things. There are plenty of days where I look at an assignment — even a seemingly simple thing like a Spinoff post — and just can not figure out a way into it. I’ve written a lot of pieces over the years and I do my best not to fall into too many ticks or ruts, but I still find the best way to get the wheels spinning is to move past the intro — the hardest part for me — and get into the details. I might not know how I’m going to get you to read the story right off the bat, but I do know that I can lay out who’s involved, when it comes out and a few story details. I also know I can work with my quotes and figure out the best placement. Once I’m further down the road, it’s easier for me to look back and figure out a good way for everyone else to start down the same path.

Casting Internets

I haven’t done this in a while, but I think you should check out something I wrote. I did a list for Topless Robot called Ten More Marvel Shows We Want To See Besides Agents of SHIELD!

Two guys dressed up like Mario and Luigi to do parkour. Apparently, I’m a big fan of themed parkour videos because this is awesome. (via Topless Robot)eboy ATM-Atlanta-Coca-Colonization-15t

eBoy art really draws me in. It’s like a Where’s Waldo detail-wise, but you’re just enjoying all the scenery instead of looking for a stripe-loving goofball. I could lose myself in this Coke piece of his for days, if I wasn’t careful.dead weather

The Dead Weather is the Jack White project I’m least familiar with, but I’m glad to hear he’s recording more music with them through his own Third Man label. More bluesy, dirty rock can never be a bad thing. (via Rolling Stone)shivers poster

Just the other day I was thinking to myself, “Boy, I sure would like to watch Cornenberg’s Shivers.” Little did I know that sites like TheWrap would be reporting a remake in the works the next day.

I haven’t seen the un-aired Locke & Key pilot written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, but I heard good things. It’s exciting to hear about them moving forward with the project as a series of movies, as Kurtzman told Collider.

Bob Burnquist is awesome. Want proof? Watch this video about the skateboarding tricks he does on his big air ramp that include a HELICOPTER.

Alec Baldwin did a great interview with Chris Columbus on Baldwin’s podcast Here’s The Thing spanning the writer and director’s career. Man, that guy’s helped created some of the greatest films around.happy-endings-abc-tv-show-4

Like a lot of Happy Endings fans, I was sad to see that show go away, but it’s cool that Damon Wayans Jr. will return to New Girl and Adam Pally’s becoming a regular on The Mindy Project. I can’t find my links to these stories, so you’ll just have to trust me.

This New York Times article about the world of 20-somethings in the professional world is impressive because it shows how hard kids are working, but also sad because it seems excessive. Maybe I’m just lazy.nirvana in utero

I’ve been trying not to spend much money lately, but I feel drawn to the 20th anniversary release of Nirvana’s In Utero. Speaking of which, Pat Smear talked to Rolling Stone about the last years of the band.

As a big fan of both The League and the How Did This Get Made podcast, I’m really excited to hear from Deadline that Paul Scheer’s got a show in the works at ABC according to Deadline.EC_Tales-DigitalPostcardFinal

I actually gasped with delighted exasperation when I saw that Mondo is doing a Tales From The Crypt art show. That show shaped me as a kid and the comics are some of the most beautiful looking around. So awesome.