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.

Casting Internets

Last Sunday I went down to Toy Fair and covered the show for CBR. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. Anyway, you can click this link and read all the coverage I wrote.

I think DC was shortsighted and foolish for hiring homophobe Orson Scott Card to write a Superman story. I think it’s fantastic that people are standing up against it, people like my pal Brett White and Patrick over at Geeks Out. The comments that I read on the page made me sad for humanity.

My pal Sean T. Collins was featured over on a site called The Setup which features creative folks talking about what kind of place they do their work in and with what equipment.

Speaking of Sean, our mutual friend Ben Morse interviewed him about Gossip Girl over on The Cool Kids Table. I have no idea what any of it means, but it’s interesting.

 

I’ve written about my unabashed love of Fall Out Boy, so I’m pretty excited to hear they’re back together. Better yet, they’ve got a new album coming out on May 7th called Save Rock And Roll. As if all that wasn’t good enough, the first single “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)” is damn catchy. (via Rolling Stone)

 

I think the Young Justice freak-out is a little premature (I’m guessing Cartoon Network just wants to keep DC Nation to an hour) but I’m also pretty excited about Young Justice: Legacy” a video game set in continuity and written by the show’s creators. I’m not a big RPG guy but I think I can get into this if it’s like that PS2 Justice League game or the X-Men ones that were good for a while.  (via CBR)

Whoooa. Charles Band cleaned out his warehouse and found a ton of vintage Wizard Video clamshell cases and Atari game boxes. They’re selling four a month for the foreseeable future, but for $50 each! Yowza.

I used to watch Dragonball Z after school and have a box of DVDs from the old Anime Insider library after that magazine was shut down, so I was pretty interested in reading about the first new DBZ movie in 17 years heading to IMAX theaters on SuperHeroHype.

Diablo Cody’s films don’t really speak to me personally, but I like reading her interviews like this THR one about directing while also pregnant and being a mom to a 1 year old. Sounds exhausting.

Walter Hill talked to Hero Complex about making Bullet To The Head with Sylvester Stallone and a potential Warriors remake, so it’s a must read for me and mine.

Charles P. Pierece’s Esquire piece about how a religious faction somehow overtook a major political party is instigating and insightful.

After just watching Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, I’m pretty excited for any Scott Adkins movie, especially one co-starring Randy Couture who has proven to be a ton of fun to watch in the Expendables movies. The story sounds pretty heavy, but we’ll see how it works out. (via THR)

Nick Kroll and Bill Burr are going to guest on New Girl as Nick’s family members? Holy nuts, that’s amazing. The episode will be amazing, the outtakes will be fan-friggin-tastic. (via THR)

Mark Neveldine of Neveldine & Taylor fame is doing a solo flick called The Vatican Tapes, I’m pretty excited about this. (via Variety)

 

Feeling a little violent? Want to watch pixelated carnage? Then dig this video of Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion going yard on the first level of the original Double Dragon! (via Topless Robot)

500days of summer glen brogan

I’m having trouble focusing after checking out Glen Brogan‘s (500) Days of Summer piece for an upcoming art show. It’s pretty erect.

I’ve become a huge fan of the Black Keys in the past few years, both their music and the guys themselves. I love drummer Patrick Carney’s attitude towards this whole fame thing, including his recent dust-up with Justin Bieber’s fans on Twitter. Laughed out loud at the one about the Keys being a one hit wonder and Bieber being around a long time. (via Rolling Stone)

I feel the same way about The Real World that Andrew Seigel does. Read her Vulture piece to see how alike we are!

 

I’ve always thought of Eric Clapton as a professor of guitar (partly because he reminds me of my friend’s prof dad), so listening to him talk about his history with a Gibson guitar is right up my alley. (via Rolling Stone)

Over the past few years I’ve become a big fan of digital media, but my one complaint is the lack of a secondary market for things I no longer want/need. As such, I’m interested to see what Amazon does with this patent for re-selling digital content. (via THR)

Ron Marz‘s comparison of binge TV viewing on Netflix and the comic book market makes me wish more than ever that there was a Netflix for digital comics.

After reading Please Kill Me and becoming a fan of Legs McNeil, I’m very interested in reading the entries on his list of the ten best rock books of all time.

Casting Internets

Goodness. I started keeping notes for this particular post before freaking Christmas. We were pretty busy, so I lost track of links and time. Anyway, here’s the links I liked with a few irrelevant ones removed for extreme oldness.

In addition to my usual posting on CBR and Spinoff, I also contributed to CBR’s top 100 comics of 2012.

Friend and all around wonderful writer about comics Sean T. Collins‘ review of My Friend Dahmer is, as you might expect, wonderful.

Sean also wrote a really moving piece for Buzz Feed about how a certain album helped him get through a tough year.

My buddy and former Topless Roboteer Rob Bricken wrote a piece called “The Theologically Confusing Nightmare that is the He-Man & She-Ra Christmas Special. It is as fantastic as you would think knowing him and after reading that title. It’s on io9 of course. I know this one’s super old, but read it anyway if you haven’t already, it’s hilarious. lilostichThe Ashcan Allstars did a wonderful run of Disney Women a while ago. Riley Rossmo’s Lilo and Stitch was a big favorite of mine.

I love that chef and food writer Michael Ruhlman self-published this e-cookbook about Schmaltz. I don’t think it’s for me both because of the topic and because I don’t have an iPad, but I hope to see more of these in the future.

Halloween Scene: Jack Frost (1996)
I don’t usually care who likes what things that I like, but I’m glad Brian at HMAD liked Jack Frost.

Sketch Attack is dead, long live Sketch Lottery. I might get in on some of that action. I like not having to think of a subject and just joining in on the fun.

Check out T Lo’s run down of the Miss Universe pageant looks, hilarious commentary as always. Dig parts 1, 2 and 3.

kamandi klassics

CustomCon 33 was a few weeks back and it was a pretty great offering. My personal favorite line was the Kamandi Klassic one by Joshua Izzo, those are some damn fine looking figures.

I would very much like to listen to the full recording of the Merry Minstrel Musical Circus performance from earlier this month. Jeff Lynne, Jackson Brown, Bob Weir? Yes to all that. (via Rolling Stone)

I agree with all of Nicholas D. Kirstof’s points on gun control and refutations of the points brought up by many in regards to the subject in this New York Times piece.

On a similar note, this New Yorker piece on the history of the Second Amendment fascinating. Funny how things that are only a few decades old are taken as gospel by some.

Another New Yorker piece not only laid down some compelling facts about other countries’ gun control laws but also an amazing virus/faith healing/antibiotics comparison in the opening that was near perfect.

A show about a summer camp that’s supposed to be a cross between Meatballs and Dazed and Confused? Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. (via THR)shark tank
TVGuide has a pretty cool story on why Shark Tank is doing well, I’m a big fan of that show.

I haven’t checked out any of DC’s digital comics yet, but I love the idea of them doing a She-Ra book in that format. There’s no reason this shouldn’t blow up amongst that fan community. (via CNN)

Jim Zub is one of my favorite people in comics to interview. I also dug his 2012 recap post. Dude’s blowing up and totally deserves it.

Zub also wrote this really great piece about why The Big Two won’t give any rookie writer a crack at their characters.

In more “truth about comic news” pieces by creators, dig this ComixMix post by John Ostrander about how tough it can be being a comic book freelancer.

Finally, I’m sad that James Kochalka’s diary strip American Elf has come to a close, but this was a pretty good last strip.

Casting Internets

If you want to see what I’ve been working on lately, head on over to my author page on CBR. I talked to Paul Pope and John McLaughlin and also did another installment of my collectible column Toying Around!justin aclin's star wars comic

My pal, one time boss and all around rad dude Justin Aclin talked about writing a Star Wars OGN for Dark Horse over on his blog. As you  might expect, I’m super proud of him and super jealous at the same time.

Karen Burger leaving Vertigo is pretty huge when you think about all the amazing series’ she helped foster. Good luck to her! (via The Mary Sue)

Everyone interested in comics and comic production should read Jim Zub’s breakdown of costs and profits for such books. Then he wrote about digital comics. Eye-opening stuff.

I fell in love with Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere when I first read it. I’m very excited about the BBC radioplay version that will include James McAvoy, Anthony Head, Benedict Cumberbatch and Christopher Lee! (via Hypable)phil noto 70s storm

I love Phil Noto‘s series of original art pieces that are supposed to be photos from Hank Pym’s collection. Dig this Storm he posted.

Esquire scored an interview with June Diane Raphael, the wonderfully funny co-host of one of my favorite podcasts How Did This Get Made and a  recurring player on the equally wonderful New Girl.experiencing nirvanaI’m pretty curious about Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt’s e-book about Kurt Cobain and Nirvana in Europe in 1989. $5 isn’t too steep, but is it only available on the iPad? That’s no good. (via Rolling Stone)

Billy Corgan talked to Rolling Stone about my first ever Smashing Pumpkins album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

Rolling Stone talked to Jimmy Page about his days in the Yardbirds. I’m sure I knew most of this stuff from Hammer of the Gods, but it was still a nice read.

Speaking of music, I discovered The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” by way of a cover and fell in love with it. This Guardian story about the song’s origins are pretty interesting.

Whoa, this skateboarding video posted over on One Cool Thing A Day is AMAZING. Tricks you’ve never seen before, guaranteed.

I hope you’re enjoying 25 days of Doctor Who goodness over on the BBC’s Adventure Calendar.

I’m pretty excited about Comedy Central giving shows to Nick Kroll, Amy Schumer and Anthony Jeselnik. Here’s hoping I’ll actually know when they’re on. (via THR)

Speaking of funny people, Louis CK answered the Proust Questionnaire over at Vanity Fair.

Lastly, I’m grown to really love Judd Apatow’s movies. I always liked them, but as I get a little older I can relate to the truth and honesty in them a lot more. As such, I’m very excited for This Is 40, though I have no idea when I will see it. Until then, I’m happy reading interviews about him and Leslie Mann from The Chicago Tribune.

Casting Internets

Got behind on these again, but wanted to get this post up today. I’m heading off on vacation next week, but have posts lined up for every day. Enjoy!

As always, I’m talking to people about comics for CBR including Chris Roberson about his upcoming book Reign and Fiona Staples about Saga.

I also wrote this list for Topless Robot about the raddest mall scenes in movies. I had a blast writing and researching this one.

Sean T Collins wrote a comic called Hottest Chick In The Game, give it a look.

My pal Brett White has a new column at CBR called In Your Face Jam, check out the first post about Deadpool.Did you see Rickey Purdin’s drawing of Doc Holliday, Marty McFly and The Gunslinger? You really should follow him on Sketch Attack.

There’s gonna be a Bond documentary called Everything Or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007, count me in on that one. (via SHH)Speaking of Bond, I want to get this book that features 50 years’ worth of 007 movie posters. Looks so rad. (via Illustrated 007)

If you’re not following Maude Apatow on Twitter you’re really missing out. I really dug her piece on Hello Giggles about the love/hate relationship with the social network site.

Bryan Grazer’s producing a documentary about Jay-Z’s upcoming festival that will also be directed by Ron Howard? That’s an amazing team-up. (via Rolling Stone, THR)I love this Lego Mad Love interpretation posted on Covered. Go look at the comparison.

I really enjoyed Ron Marz’s recent Shelf Life column on CBR about stealing as well as the one it inspired from Darren Kappauff. I’ve never understood how people don’t get that it’s stealing to have something you didn’t pay for or weren’t given. There are serious moral implications here even if it doesn’t seem like it.

I love this quote from Hugh Hefner about how current polities are threatening the sexual freedom he helped champion so many years ago, via my buddy Jim Gibbons. Go read it, now. Have you guys seen Doctor Who Yahtzee? Pretty rad. (via Doctor Who Merch)

RZA’s teaming up with the Black Keys on The Man With The Iron Fists soundtrack? Let’s make that a bigger thing, please. (via THR)

I’m really happy for Tom and Lorenzo. They’ve got a book coming out. Don’t know if it’s the kind of thing I’d buy, but I love browsing their site. DST‘s Star Trek Select figures look so rad they make me wish I was more of a Star Trek fan.

Speaking of action figures, this fake commercial for a line of G.I. Joe-like action figures based on The Thing is pretty amazing. (via Topless Robot)

The Write Stuff: Developing Drive

My biggest regret in life — so far — is not having more drive when it comes to my writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer of books, comics, movies and whathaveyou ever since I can remember and used to spend my days coming up with characters and writing stories in notebooks. When I got to college, I started taking creative writing courses and was forced to actually sit down and create full stories from beginning to end. That was great because it actually made me finish things, something I’ve had difficulty with since.

I think the reason I stopped focusing on my creative writing so much was because I got the job at Wizard a few months after graduating from college. That was a dream job of mine for quite a while, even before I scored the internship there the summer previous. Attaining a long-time dream like that so young was such a great thing, but also kind of slowed me down in other ways. I lost a lot of because-I-had-to work ethic I had from college and just let it slip away a bit, focusing more on my job, new friends and picking up whatever freelance writing I could score in the magazines.

Essentially, I lacked drive. I hear stories about directors, actors or writers who spent their childhoods making films with their friends or writing plays (like the kid in the wonderful Son Of Rambow).  I never did that aside from drawing and creating random superheroes here and there. I didn’t even THINK about doing it. Part of that is because I’ve always been more of an internal person. I keep most of my ideas and thoughts to myself (or did before I started blogging) and didn’t think other people would be interested in what I was coming up with. I think that’s one of the reasons I leaned towards writing, because you can do it all on your own while still creating anything you can dream up.

Now that I’m married and have a kid, I wish I could go back in time and kick my younger self in the butt and say, “Take advantage of this time and get working!” Don’t get me wrong, I love my life. I love my wife and daughter and the fact that I get to stay home, take care of her and write for a living. That’s all very rad, but I wish I had just been more organized and smart with my time back then because it feels like I have so much less of it these days.

Actually, my daughter helped kick my butt into gear before she was even born. When we found out my wife was pregnant, I had an internal clock ticking away that told me I should finish something by the time she was born. I can’t remember if I succeeded in that exact time frame, but I did write a horror script that had been kicking around in my head, something I’m hoping to read through and edit this weekend. I’ve also written an entire crime/action novel, a short comic story, an outline for the first arc of a a comic book series and am currently working on a horror novel that I really hope to finish the first draft of by the end of the year. I’ve been surprisingly creative and productive and it’s because I know how limited my time is now.

So, I’ve got a better handle on my drive to write, but I still haven’t mastered it. I’m still lazy more times than I should be. Hell, instead of blogging about writing, I should be taking this time to write, right? I feel the same way every time I decompress in front of the TV or with a comic, book or video game, but I think it’s also important to give yourself time to relax. I like to think that if I had all the time in the world and money wasn’t an issue, I’d spend the average work day writing and researching, but that’s not in the cards for me right now as other responsibilities take precedence.

It’s cool though. I may lack over-drive, but I still have hope, which is equally important. I try to be realistic about things. I don’t want to be a guy who wants to be a writer for the next ten years, I want to become a writer and more importantly, I want people to actually read my stuff. What’s the point otherwise? I take some comfort in the stories of writers like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling who both worked until they hit it big with books, the former working at it for a long time and the latter turning the stories she told her children into books for everyone.

At the end of the day, it’s a delicate balance between allowing myself to decompress and forcing myself to write. Sometimes the latter wins out, sometimes the former, but I keep getting things done. Now it’s just a matter of reading through them, editing and making sure their worth putting out there.