Ferlinghetti, King, Kerouac, Vonnegut, Hemingway: Coolest Issue of WD Mag Ever? (Plus Prompt)

Admittedly, I’m not the world’s best pitchman. I try here and there, but my theory has always sort of been that if something rocks hard enough, people will find their own way to it.

But this is different: I’m wild about the January issue of WD magazine (and not just because my livelihood is dependent on people, well, buying our magazines). The issue is shipping to subscribers as we speak (it hits newsstands Dec. 15), and we received our in-house copies yesterday. Not only is the entire magazine redesigned with a sleek facelift, but it’s also our 90th Anniversary edition.

-Exhibit of Awesomeness A: A full feature package about novel writing, from taming ideas to incorporating facts to adding some throttle to your plot to revising.

-EOA B: Editor Jessica Strawser’s 90 Secrets of Bestselling Authors feature, recapping WD advice from the last 90 years from Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut, Anne Lamott and 84 others. One of my personal favorite bits is this, from Anthony Burgess: “I’ll tell you a thing that will shock you. It will certainly shock the readers of Writer’s Digest. What I often do nowadays when I have to, say, describe a room, is to take a page of a dictionary, any page at all, and see if with the words suggested by that one page in the dictionary I can build up a room, build up a scene. … I even did it in a novel I wrote called MF. There’s a description of a hotel vestibule whose properties are derived from Page 167 in R.J. Wilkinson’s Malay-English Dictionary. Nobody has noticed. … As most things in life are arbitrary anyway, you’re not doing anything naughty, you’re really normally doing what nature does, you’re just making an entity out of the elements. I do recommend it to young writers.”

-EOA C: A column about low-residency MFA programs by Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab’s Wife.

-EOA D: A relaunch of our First Impressions column, deemed Breaking In and focused on how new authors scored their deals.

-EOA E: The magazine has shiny silver ink on the cover.

Finally, as perhaps my favorite EOA, I interviewed legendary poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti (appropriately, 90 years old) for the 90th anniversary edition of The WD Interview. One of my favorite moments from the chat:

WD: What do you think is the best way to pick up the art of writing?
Ferlinghetti: “If you’re going to be a writer you should sit down and write in the morning, and keep it up all day, every day. Charles Bukowski, no matter how drunk he got the night before or no matter how hungover he was, the next morning he was at his typewriter. Every morning. Holidays, too. He’d have a bottle of whiskey with him to wake up with, and that’s what he believed. That’s the way you became a writer: by writing. When you weren’t writing, you weren’t a writer.”

So, there you have it: My pitch for the new WD. In all honesty, I’m smitten (and not just because of the silver cover).

(And since I’m pitching: Subscribe here and save 58%! Looking at our editorial calendar, I can assure you there’s more awesomeness coming down the pike. Although it may not always feature silver spot gloss.)

Leap of Faith

Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional around-the-office swag drawings. From the January 2010 issue of the magazine:

“Please don’t. This isn’t going to work. I’m not qualified at all for this.”
“Sure you are.”
She doesn’t believe you, so with the crowd looking on, you prove your point.

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5 thoughts on “Ferlinghetti, King, Kerouac, Vonnegut, Hemingway: Coolest Issue of WD Mag Ever? (Plus Prompt)

  1. Baron

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  2. Kate L

    “Please don’t. This isn’t going to work. I’m not qualified at all for this.”

    “Sure you are.”

    She doesn’t believe you, so with the crowd looking on, you prove your point.

    You walk up to the mic, and announce, “The performance you’ve been waiting for, ladies and gentlemen, Chicago’s own Lacy Sanders!”

    You beckon her onto the stage encouragingly as she hangs in the wings. Terrified, she shakes her head and fumbles with a guitar pick. “I’m going to kill you, Sam” she threatens as she scurries onto the stage in a rustle of denim and floral perfume.

    The spotlight hits her face like bright moonlight, and picking up the shiny, black acoustic guitar from its stand, she comes alive. A quick strum to check the tuning, and your best friend begins to play. An appreciative murmur rumbles through the crowd, and she begins crooning her first song.

    “Like starlight glimmering far away…”

    Her voice catches a little as she fights off her nervousness. Her fingers expertly pick the strings, and strum the melody she’s been working on for years. The song envelops her as she closes her eyes, and sings it the way she always wanted to.

    In the wings, you fall onto a stool in relief as she performs, hoping she forgives you for shoving her into the light, and onto the stage. She’s been playing this one in her bedroom for long enough. Stage fright or not, there comes a time when a friend has to stand up for a friend– and be just a little pushy. Abruptly, you realize the last resonating strum of her guitar is humming through the auditorium. The crowd erupts into applause, and Lacy, blushing scarlet from head to toe, takes her bow.

    “Okay, this time you were right.”

    “About what?” you yell over the din of applause and chatter. You raise your eyebrow, grin broadly, and wait.

    “I was ready after all,” she calls out to you as she is ushered back onto the stage.

    “Told you so!” you yell as she thanks the audience and prepares to sing another original composition she’s labored on for half of a decade.

    Walking toward the stage door, you make your way to the side of the auditorium. Unable to find a seat, you stand along one side and listen to the rest of the performance. The stakes are high with the grand prize being a demo with a major label, and you’re just a tiny bit nervous for your best friend. You did, after all, get the ball rolling. Watching Lacy from out here, the connection between her and the audience is so clear, so tangible, like a shimmering web of joy.

    You smile to yourself, knowing it’s in the bag. It was never a matter of her not having the talent, it was the lack of nerve to just try it once. Sometimes, a push in the right direction is all it takes.

  3. Dorraine

    The cover is all aglitter. Your excitement is contagious, Zac. Let me throw in some whoops, whees, hoots and hollers! Happy 90th anniversary WD! I’m enjoying the new look and have always loved the magazine!

  4. Mark James

    Zac: EOA (E) has my vote. Shiny silver ink . . . well, that’s just cool. I can’t wait to pick it up.

    Martha: That was hysterical. This is classic, “There’s a reason you don’t cook.” Interesting that we both chose a “performance” gone wrong.

    Ellie backed away. “Please don’t. This isn’t going to work. I’m not qualified at all for this.”

    I grabbed her wrist. “Sure you are.”

    I knew she didn’t believe me, but with the crowd watching us I had to prove my point. From this high up, the audience was all eyes and craning necks. “You did it in practice a hundred times.” I swung the trapeze at her. “You can do it.”

    She tried to pull free. “I was eight feet off the ground, with the net right under me.”

    “Look Ellie, I don’t know who gave Sheila booze, but five minutes ago, she couldn’t walk a straight line a mile wide.”

    She looked down. “I can’t.”

    I grabbed her face, smiled for the crowd. “Close your eyes if you have to.”

    Ellie was almost begging. “It’s opening night. If I fall – -”

    “We’ll make headlines and twice as many marks are gonna come tomorrow to see who falls next.”

    In the middle ring, Jimmy was keeping up a steady stream of patter, but he kept glancing at me, waiting for the okay. Next time he looked up, I nodded.

    My hands had just about sweat through the chalk. I grabbed my bar.

    Ellie kissed me. “If I die, so help me, I’m coming back for you.”

    I swung off the platform, let myself fall back, and hang down, my legs wrapped around the bar, arms loose, waiting for Ellie.

    I saw her take the bar, step out on air and swing across. Her arc was perfect. She flew like an angel. I timed my swing. When she let go and turned, I’d be there.

    No. I wanted to scream it at her. Her eyes were closed. She couldn’t fly blind yet.

    I waited, watched her swing, and saw her let go a second too soon.

    Our fingertips touched in mid air, then she was slipping away.

    The audience gasped, Jimmy stumbled, Ellie let out a breathless sound that could have been a scream.

    Leo was swinging toward us, yelling. “Go after her.”

    I trusted him with my life. But both of us?

    Making my body as straight as I could, I let go, went after Ellie, arms reaching out.

    Made it. Caught her wrists. “Got you.”

    “Idiot.” Ellie wasn’t exactly grateful to feel us both crashing to earth at twice the speed. “We’re falling.”

    Leo grabbed my ankles.

    Every joint in my body snapped tight. I almost dropped Ellie.

    But she was fast. At the top of the swing, she said, “Let go.”

    I couldn’t see if there was a bar there or not. I took her word for it.

    Leo swung me back to the other side and let me flip out of his grip. I landed on the platform.

    Jimmy was saying, “You’re seeing it here for the first time. The Flying Death Leap.”

    The audience surged to their feet, went wild.

    Ellie waited ‘til she caught my eye. She pointed at me, then slid a finger across her throat.

    I was guessing that if I didn’t make it to our trailer first tonight, I was gonna have a really hard time getting in.

  5. Martha W

    Zac: Love the comment by Anthony Burgess. Fabulous idea – and I think I’m gonna steal it for a regular on my blog. Hhm… definitely has merit. And I can’t wait to see the new WD. Sounds great!

    Mark: Tag, you’re it.


    “Please don’t make me. This isn’t going to work." Your voice takes on that whiny quality you hate so much. "I’m not qualified at all for this.”

    “Sure you are.”

    She doesn’t believe you, so with the crowd looking on, you prove your point.

    "Hi ladies and gentlemen, welcome to ‘Cooking at Home’." You reach over and turn on the burner. Nothing happens. Isn’t there supposed to be a flame? With a flick of your wrist and a smile for the crowd, you turn the burner off.

    Things are not what the producer told you they’d be. A nice studio with couches, interviewing chefs, and giving tips on different herbs and spices. That was your promise. No cooking. There’s a reason you don’t cook.

    You flinch a little as a horn blares and you hear the school bus driver, who brought the wonderful class of fourth graders, curse out some guy who won’t move his car.

    It is a struggle to keep your voice even, to not let this day get you down. "Today we’ll be making Mock Goulash. Easy enough for even the most stressed of cooks and delicious enough to please your kids." You try the burner again. Still nothing.

    Casting a furtive look at your producer, who is completely oblivious, you turn it to the highest setting. "First you start by boiling the pasta to al dente."

    Something has to be wrong. Despite the rumbling of the crowd because you’re not moving things along, you try to figure out the stove. Leaning close you read the labels, muttering aloud, "Low, Medium, High, oh! Ignite."

    The crowd falls silent at that very moment, sensing something big was about to happen. Or maybe your mic was still on and they know it’s going to be bad.

    A quick flip and the gas stove clicks. Once is all it takes to ignite the gas hovering just over the stove top in front of your eyes. Thinking back, the best way to describe it is the Big Bang Theory.

    The paramedics quickly rush to your side and your producer hovers behind them. Not that you could see her. Not after that explosion. But seeing her isn’t necessary. Her perfume precedes her everywhere she goes. On most women ‘America’ by Perry Ellis smells absolutely divine. Not so much on Diane.

    As the medics shifted around, putting some type of compress over my eyes, they said it most likely was flash burn and you’d be okay in a few days.

    "Diane?" you call out.

    A slight shuffling and her perfume all but suffocates you. "Yes, Laney?" Her voice is tight, she’s probably afraid you’re going to sue.

    "The next time I tell you I’m not qualified…" You pause, letting the air shimmer with ripe tension. "Take my damn word for it, okay?"


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