Tagged: college of charleston

Whoa, a new blog post, and it’s not about Doyle

cocmagcoverLet’s see, about 23 days since my last post here. The Fall 2013 issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine has been a . . . chore to finish,  and has occupied all of my time and energy. Plus are editorial offices our moving—more on that tomorrow—and we have to be all packed up by Labor Day. Hence the unplanned and prolonged hiatus.

But now I’m back, with a few lines about the story I’ve most liked in the last few weeks: “Shattered Worlds,” by Alicia Lutz in the most recent issue of College of Charleston Magazine. It’s a profile of alumnus Hugh Howey, who incredibly became rich from a self-published science fiction novel titled Wool. Howey had already written nine novels or novellas and published all of them himself when he sat down at his Macbook Air and tapped out a 40-page short story and used Kindle Direct Publishing at Amazon to zip it out to the public. It cost $0.99 to download and read and Howey sold a thousand copies (so to speak—we’re talking electrons here) in three months. That encouraged him to write four more installments over the next two months. In January 2012, he released, again for Kindle, an omnibus edition of all five stories as Wool, and 23,000 readers bought copies in the first month. Before long, the author was pulling in $150,000 a month from sales of the ebook; Amazon named Wool the best indie science fiction title of 2012.

Hugh Howey has always gone his own way. He’s always done what suited him. As a kid, he was somewhat of a loner, an introvert. Not that he was antisocial or disruptive – not at all. He was a good student, a good athlete and a good classmate. He had one close friend, but got along with everyone. Still, he always preferred the company of the book sticking out of his back pocket. 

In high school, he managed to stay above the fray – remaining completely unaware of the peer pressure that plagued his classmates. He grew his hair long, played soccer, rode a skateboard and listened to his parents’ rock ‘n’ roll. 

“I thought of myself as a romantic, reading and writing poetry all the time, which often led to interest from girls who would grow frustrated by my lack of moves and run off with my best friend,” Howey sighs. “It worked out great for him.”

What makes the story work is Lutz’s sure hand with a narrative and her consistently sound judgement in what to harvest from Howey’s oddball life. It took the writer three tries to graduate from Charleston because he kept leaving to go to sea on various boats. He was on a boat at the base of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

shatteredworldsspreadHowey eventually made history, of a sort, by signing a substantial print-only contract with Simon & Schuster. The publisher would bring his work out in print, but Howey would keep the digital rights and keep on selling his ebooks. He’s peddled the film rights for Wool to Ridley Scott.

Two other things make this a great magazine feature package. One, Charleston convinced him to pose for Jason Myers (who is a hell of a portrait shooter) in what looks like a circa-1962 spacesuit, the sort of thing that would not look out of place on the cover of a 1950s pulp science fiction magazine. (I know this because I was once an avid reader of such magazines.) And second, illustrator Justin Fields did some killer art for two of the spreads. The story runs 12 pages in the magazine, including a page devoted to an excerpt from Wool, and it had to be expensive. But College of Charleston does this kind of thing really well. Nice work.


Remember when I referred to my three-part strategy for posting to UMagazinology despite deadline hell? Strategy One was cut and paste an insight from somebody else for elaboration. Stategy Two was just outsource the whole post—thank you, Paul Dempsey! Strategy Three—monopolize the office scanner to post visuals and let the images do the talking! Let’s begin, shall we?

Clever new covers from NYU Alumni Magazine and Middlebury Magazine.

I feel certain that were Johns Hopkins Magazine to run Middlebury‘s cover, we would get at least one letter complaining about the hand containing three Obama cards and only two Romney cards. Probably from the same guy who sent us a huffy note a few years ago when editor Catherine Pierre referred to Gloria Steinem as “still beautiful.”

Next, a pair of cover portraits of attractive women that seem much different to me. College of Charleston Magazine has a great cover shot of boxer Lucia McKelvey. I especially love the pink boxing gloves. I’m less enamored of the cover of Georgetown Law. The magazine always has a cover portrait of a Georgetown law school person looking all lawyerly. Visually unexciting, but appropriate. This time the magazine opted for a portrait of Today co-anchor Savannah Guthrie. The fighter McKelvey is subject of a substantial feature profile inside Charleston. There is no cover story on Guthrie, per se—you have to page through all the way to the back cover before you come to a few hundred words of editorial content pertaining to her—which to me makes the Georgetown Law cover feel gratuitously babe-ish.

I am rarely in favor of smiling-subject-facing-the-camera covers, but is this Sarah Lawrence cover not the best? (Photo by Don Hamerman.)

Apparently great Wisconsin minds think alike. First, from the new issue of On Wisconsin, a feature spread on something called Little Free Libraries.

Then, in Beloit College Magazine, a feature spread on . . . Little Free Libraries.

Finally, I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Cute animals are cheating. But look at this guy’s face. What’s not to love? From Portland.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. UMagazinology should resume some semblance of normal publication next week.

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A random walk through the newish—defined as current sometime in the last seven or eight weeks—issues of alumni magazines turned up some things worthy of notice. Open, the magazine of the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, was clever with its letters page (click image to expand). Editor Cory Leahy ran two “letters” about an embarrassing typographical error in the previous issue; one of them reproduces exactly what the magazine received from a member of the Class of ’97, which was the offending page torn out and critiqued via a purple stickynote. Another reproduction tops the page, this one the image of a repurposed opt-out card—the correspondent altered the card so that instead of opting out of receiving the magazine he’s requesting two extra copies. Open also has a Tracy Mueller feature that takes 10 business “rules”—the customer is always right, you have to spend money to make money, etc.—and asks if they still obtain, or ever did. One of that story’s sections begins with what, so far, is my favorite sentence all day: “If a food truck doesn’t tweet, does it really exist?” This story also is part of a peculiar editorial harmonic convergence. More on that later.

LSA Magazine, from the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, has a feature on copyright in the digital age, and I’ll stick my neck out by saying LSA is the first magazine in history to illustrate a copyright story with a photo titled “Zombie Bunny.” (If I read Mary Jean Babic’s story right, I could be sued for reproducing the opening spread here. Lara Zielin edits LSA, and I’m hoping she opts for a cease-and-desist letter first.)

College of Charleston Magazine‘s cover story “Rebel Without a Pause” was scribbled by editor Mark Berry, and it’s awfully good. The piece is a profile of writer Padgett Powell and opens with a well-wrought narrative recreation of Powell’s arrest in the parking lot of his high school for distributing an underground student news-paper titled Tough Shit, which ranks as one of the all-time great names for a newspaper, underground or otherwise. That episode set the tone for Powell’s academic and literary careers. The future novelist began as an English major at Charleston, until an English teacher gave him a D on a paper; Powell took one look at the graded paper and changed his major to chemistry. Clearly, Berry had a lot of good material with which to fashion a profile, and he brings it off with zest.

OK, so back to this harmonic convergence business. As already noted, Open from Texas has a feature that revisits, and questions the validity of, 10 business rules. The new issue of my own Johns Hopkins Magazine devotes part of its feature well to assistant editor Kristen Intlekofer’s round-up of 10 things that people do in the name of health that might actually be injurious to their health. Minor as coincidences go—10 business rules open for debate, 10 health practices open for debate—but wait, here’s where things get weird. Elsewhere in the Hopkins winter 2011 feature well is a long Mike Anft piece on contemporary neuroscience and memory, including help for people suffering from memory loss, plus a feature story on distraction in these digital days. Then I pick up the latest edition of Washington State Magazine and find in editor Tim Steury’s feature well a long piece by Steury about neuropsychologists helping people cope with memory loss, and a second feature, this one by Eric Sorensen, called “Attention!”, about the “poverty of attention” in these digital days.

After a long search for an explanation, I’ve settled on great minds think alike.

Eight questions for Mark Berry

The estimable Mark Berry took a few minutes off from editing the estimable College of Charleston Magazine to re-spond to the UMagazinology questionnaire:

How long have you been in your job?

I’ve been at the College of Charleston for nine years and head of the magazine and college publications team for five.

What has proven to be the most significant thing you had to learn to do that job?

How to vary our storytelling, both in word and in image. Every writer/editor has a go-to formula and that’s where you get stale writing—or “dead” pages. As a team, we try to push each other to change it up, whether it’s in the way we write a story or shoot an image. A lesson that I need to learn is how to be more concise and precise (you’ll see that clearly in my answers).

What has been your best experience at the magazine?

My team and I have had a lot of “bests” over the last five years. We’ve interviewed professional athletes, roller derby chicks, a beauty queen, fashion designers, an experimental writer, groundbreaking scientists, national and international policymakers, a waterkeeper, people who make magic in front of and behind the camera, a Time magazine cover photographer, and some pretty amazing professors and students. For me, the best part is access, getting that rare glimpse into someone’s everyday world and having a chance to tell that story to others—not a bad way to make a living.

What has proven to be your biggest frustration?

All university editors navigate an obstacle-ridden path of people/departments pushing—either overtly or subtly—various agendas/short-term goals without thinking of the reader experience and the long-term connection of the magazine’s audience to the campus. That’s an obvious one, and it just goes with the job. But probably the one that weighs on me most is the fact that I don’t know yet how to access the best stories in our overall college community. I feel like there are thousands of amazing stories about our students, our faculty and our alumni hiding in plain sight that I just can’t seem to see.

What part of your magazine never quite satisfies you, despite everybody’s best effort?

That ties into my greatest frustration—of not knowing more about our campus, what goes on behind each door or around every corner. We have a section called “Making the Grade,” where we highlight interesting students. We usually profile outstanding, award-winning students (you guessed it, those who achieve in the classroom), but I would love to make these pieces more compelling and find students doing something different, something that really inspires our readers, or at least catches their attention and makes them say, “wow, that was cool.”

What story are you proudest to have published?

That’s a hard one. I feel like we’ve done some pretty good storytelling, from embedding an alum humor writer with our women’s basketball team (I had just read Plimpton’s Paper Lion), to sending three professors on a search for the S.C. Lizard Man, to getting 11 alum songwriters to actually write/record a tune inspired by their CofC experience. But perhaps the biggest highlight, for me, was getting an honest story out there about the College’s diversity issues. I asked an alum (a minority journalist) to come back to campus and report what he saw. As it stood then (and now, I believe), the College has the lowest percentage of minority students in the state. However, it is doing a lot to try to change those numbers. I wanted a piece that talked about the challenges the College faced and to hear real voices talk about real problems—and if we, as an institution, were doing anything “real” about it. There were some hard truths in there, and, as you might expect, there was some concern that this story would be too negative, but our writer did a great job and shed some light on an area of campus that we don’t always talk openly and honestly about. Ultimately, the story showcased the considerable strides the institution has made and perhaps helped move the dialogue forward (a little) on and off campus.

If you could commission a story from any writer in the world, who would it be?

Without a doubt, I would love to work with Gary Smith, a Sports Illustrated writer who lives here in Charleston. His profiles of athletes and coaches, both the celebrity and the unknown, are amazing feats in nonfiction portraiture, and his writing style, which changes from piece to piece, is my greatest envy. To get his take on anyone in our College community would be a highlight of highlights. If not him, then Tom Wolfe or Gay Talese would be pretty cool.

If you weren’t an editor, what would your dream job be?

Easy, a travel writer and food critic reviewing the best hotels and restaurants in the world (on their dime and without deadlines).

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The forthcoming issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine went to press Monday, which means The Dale is back in business as UMag Supreme Blogger. Some of what’s come in the last few weeks:

I usually have an allergic reaction to life-affirming stories about plucky individuals who overcome obstacles to do great things, because they are almost always badly written. So when I came to Jason Ryan’s story “Life’s Rich Pageant” in College of Charleston Magazine, I nearly paged right past it, and would have were it not for Diana Deaver’s striking photography. I mean, not only is the story life affirming, it’s about a beauty pageant winner, for God’s sake—to my amazement, Charleston has a “Miss College of Charleston” pageant. Anyway, I started the piece, and kept reading, and kept reading, and damn if I didn’t read the whole thing. Beauty queen Meagan Orton is, indeed, a beautiful young woman, but she’s also tough as a boot. She’s been a medical disaster ever since her premature birth, enduring injuries and illnesses and serious allergic reactions, the last of which, at the end of her sophomore year, left her deaf. Deaf but undaunted—her pageant performance was as a dancer. For the story, she gamely pulled her hair up so Deaver could photograph the hearing device implanted in her skull behind one ear. The story has some treacly bits, at least to my grumpy taste, but it held me to the end. Mark Berry edits the magazine, which is worthy of attention for its photography throughout.

Reach, from the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts, notes that Poets & Writers has ranked the school’s creative writing program 14th out of 140 nationwide. Poets & Writers ranks writing MFA programs? Apparently this ranking nonsense has been proliferating. Can’t wait for Saveur‘s ranking of dormitory cafeterias, Turkey World‘s list of the best ag school poultry programs, and from Turf the nation’s 100 top quadrangles. Remind me . . . what does this have to do with education? My favorite item was that the Minnesota program ranked “10th for placement of grads in highly regarded post-MFA programs.” That’s one more way of saying creative writers still can’t make any money as creative writers. Meanwhile, Reach scored Garrison Keillor for its cover and seven pages inside; Keillor conversed with six undergraduates about “academic happiness.” There’s not much Keillor here; he wrote the intro and a postscript, but the story is all quotes pulled from the student interviews. Must be said, though, the Lake Wobegon man is spiffy in red retro Adidas runners. Editor is Mary Pattock.

I’ve come to expect fine stories from David Brittan’s Tufts Magazine. The summer 2010 issue contains two. One is Hugh Howard’s discussion of slavery in Boston; Howard notes that Massachusetts was the first of the original U.S. colonies to legalize human bondage. The other, by Al Gore’s former speechwriter Robert A. Lehrman, is an informative and entertaining explication of what makes a good political speech. In a sidebar, I learned that not only did Patrick Henry not write his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, he didn’t deliver it, either. Accept for that one notable line, the whole thing was made up 40 years after the fact by an inventive biographer.

The summer issue of Dartmouth Medicine has a great lead sentence: “My first case at Saint Francis Designated District Hospital in Ifakara, Tanzania, was to close a hippo bite.” That from a story by Meredith J. Sorenen. Dana Cook Grossman edits.