A Sneak Preview of a Future Bestseller
September 2019/ revised Dec. 2020
Since this story ran in our September 2019 issue, Rob Harrell’s book, Wink, has gained critical acclaim nationally and was named by Time magazine as one of the 10 Best in the Young Adult & Children’s category.
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Submitted
Last October, I had the privilege of introducing to the readers Zionsville resident Rob Harrell. Harrell is an extraordinary author, illustrator, cartoonist and survivor. A native Hoosier and DePauw University graduate, Harrell shared his remarkable story of surviving an incredibly rare form of ocular cancer in his right eye that cost him his sight in that eye but has led him on an incredible journey as an author and artist.
Harrell’s past and current works include illustrator and creator of the syndicated daily comic strip “Big Top” and the creative source behind the long-running daily strip “[email protected],” which runs in more than 140 newspapers across the globe. He is the author and creator of the popular kids’ series “Life of Zarf.” Last fall, we discussed his first hybrid novel, “Monster on the Hill,” that was published in 2013 and was picked by Paramount and ReelFX and inspired a CGI animated film, “Rumble,” that is in production and slated to be released in 2020 or 2021.
According to Harrell, Will Arnett has been casted as the not-so-ferocious monster Rayburn, and Tony Danza and other notable actors have supportive roles in the movie. Harrell will fly out to L.A. for a screening on September 11.
While all that is beyond exciting for Harrell, his wife, Amber, and their family and friends, Harrell shared even more exciting news about his second soon-to-be-released novel, “Wink”. This honest depiction of a seventh-grade boy’s battle—with the same cancer that Harrell was diagnosed with—is a raw but at times humorous and relatable story for anyone who has dealt with cancer as an adult, a child, a caregiver or a friend. I was honored to read the uncorrected proof of “Wink” and found the story to be a meaningful lesson about life and what it sometimes throws at us while reminding me that there is magic and humor in all things—even in the most challenging and tragic of times.
Harrell was gracious to spend time with me, sharing his latest experiences as a published author and what he would like for his readers to know about his latest book and the movie that was inspired by his work before their official releases.
“I’ve been working on this [“Wink”] for a year and a half at least at this point—maybe two years,” Harrell said. “I can’t wait to get a hold of the hardcover now. It’s very exciting when I finally get a copy in my hands.”
After the arduous writing and editing processes of publishing a book, Harrell simply said, “It feels good. Maybe because it was a personal story, this one was a true labor of love. I’m working with the same editor as I did with the “Life of Zarf” books, and there has been like a million versions of this book. It has been analyzed and reanalyzed, changed, put back the way it was and fixed again.”
Harrell credits his wife, Amber, and his family and friends for their patience and support throughout the process. It is with that extreme level of support he is able to create and bring meaningful characters to life to share with his readers.
Given that the subject of “Wink” is a seventh-grader named Ross who is diagnosed and treated for mucoepidermoid carcinoma of his right eye, Harrell is hoping that the readers—regardless of age—will find the story relatable and entertaining without marginalizing other patients’ and survivors’ experiences throughout their own personal journeys.
“I’m hoping that it [the book] helps both kids who are dealing with something tough like cancer and friends and family members of kids going through cancer treatments,” Harrell said. “I hope it helps them to not feel alone. I went through [cancer] as an adult, but I think the feelings are universal.”
While Harrell agreed that you can’t sugarcoat cancer, he wanted to make his character Ross’s story relatable for the kids in particular.
“I had been thinking about writing about my cancer, but I never felt right about it until I had this idea about writing a middle schooler going through a similar situation as I had,” Harrell said. “Writing sort of my story through the eyes of Ross suddenly seemed like I had more of a reason to write this book. I love my other books, but this book feels like it has a lot of purpose to me.”
Keep up with all the exciting news and official releases on Rob Harrell’s website, robharrell.com.