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10/25/2007

Comments

ed

Interesting thoughts, Dan. And obviously I disagree with most of your post, while I likewise remain more sanguine than you about the situation. Beyond the fact that the likes of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and many other "tame, conventional" writers regularly contributed to these mass-market magazines, I want to clarify that I am not calling for the extirpation of literary journals, but a field of magazines that specialize in also entertaining readers -- particularly, those who do not normally read. If we're going to toss around what-if speculations, I'd likewise suggest that such a magazine may lead this audience to gravitate towards more literary fare. I don't with to parrot my points, but I don't see how you can draw a correlation between the rise of a hypothetical mass-market magazine and the death of literary journals. Writers who wish to continue writing in idiosyncratic and "literary" styles will continue to do so. But I must ask you, Dan, purely out of curiosity, are you fundamentally against the idea of fiction entertaining its readers?

Dan Green

I surely hope that most people who read fiction find it entertaining in some sense. But I think that people who read "difficult" or "challenging" or "idiosyncratic" fiction do find it entertaining, just not in the sense implied by the mass-market definition of the term (or not only in that sense.) Certainly you or anyone else can try to make short fiction more entertaining or accessible and thus increase its market, but I think you're doomed to failure. The time has long passed when short fiction of any kind is part of the mass audience's entertainment diet. The audience for it is unavoidably "niche," and I don't see why we should be upset about that.

Chris

It seems as if what Ed is looking for are more magazines to be published to duplicate what the New Yorker already does and to serve the market the New Yorker already serves. I don't know that such a development would do much to preserve the short story as a vibrant form or to widen its appeal. A hypothetical magazine like this would probably publish the same sorts of stories from the same authors currently published by the New Yorker. And I think it's fair to suggest that the reason why there aren't other magazines doing this is because the NYer already has cornered this particular market.

I also wonder if Ed's looked at mass-market magazines that have launched lately: the emphasis on graphics, charts, Q&As, lists, and other front-of-book stuff that now pushes far into each issue; the photo essays and features that top out at around four thousand words; the constant shilling of clothes and gear and electronics -- none of this seems to indicate that publishers of general interest magazines, from small independent ventures to large conglomerates, believe that the formula for success is in providing their readings with "literary fare."

Eric Rosenfield


It seems as if what Ed is looking for are more magazines to be published to duplicate what the New Yorker already does and to serve the market the New Yorker already serves. I don't know that such a development would do much to preserve the short story as a vibrant form or to widen its appeal. A hypothetical magazine like this would probably publish the same sorts of stories from the same authors currently published by the New Yorker.


Which is not what he's saying at all. And frankly, the New Yorker usually publishes a very specific kind of slice-of-life story that I (and I think a lot of people who otherwise read fiction) find incredibly boring. I think there's a hug potential audience for short fiction that isn't the kind of meandering realism that is all too often all we can find on the conventional magazine rack (if there's any fiction in there at all).

Chris

"...a field of magazines that specialize in also entertaining readers -- particularly, those who do not normally read. If we're going to toss around what-if speculations, I'd likewise suggest that such a magazine may lead this audience to gravitate towards more literary fare [...] Writers who wish to continue writing in idiosyncratic and "literary" styles will continue to do so. But I must ask you, Dan, purely out of curiosity, are you fundamentally against the idea of fiction entertaining its readers?"

Sorry, Eric, but dat's what de man say. In my comment I deliberately set aside, as Ed did not, the quality and nature of the fiction to be published in this/these proposed mass-market magazine/s. Personally, I usually find the New Yorker's fiction to be at least as boring as you do, not to mention its pathological quest reassuringly to affirm the preconceptions of its middlebrow readers. But I'm curious to know how Ed's description of an entertaining mass-market magazine that aims to draw nonreaders toward literary fare doesn't differ in either its broad outline or its particulars from the New Yorker's longstanding mission. Those writers "who wish to continue writing in idiosyncratic and 'literary' styles," as Ed puts it -- it seems implicit that they wouldn't find a place in Champion Monthly, given that they don't entertain, no? If there were a "huge potential audience" for adventurous fiction, no doubt it would be discovered and exploited. But what I think there's a huge audience for is: graphics, charts, Q&As, lists, photo essays, features that top out at around four thousand words and the constant shilling of clothes, gear and electronics.

Eric Rosenfield

I'm not sure I understand how you're reading Ed this way. Ed's been well known for his championing of multiple genres; I think the kind of writing he's talking about (correct me if I'm wrong, Ed) would have a lot of plot-driven work using the conventions of mystery, crime, sf, horror etc.; you know, the kind of things that sells really well. That these genres can be done intelligently and with artistry is the point, but that's pretty far from either "idiosyncratic and 'literary' styles" or the New Yorker, and the assumption that those form some kind of dichotomy where you have to be one or the other I find very strange.

Chris

I'm familiar with Ed and with his blog, and I frequently agree and sympathize with his positions, gripes, and prescriptions. In this case I think he's off the mark. So, "plot-driven work that uses the conventions of [genre fiction]...the kind of things that sells really well." Of course these things can be done "intelligently and with artistry," as James M. Cain, John Franklin Bardin, Cornell Woolrich, Samuel R. Delany, and countless others demonstrated years ago. I never claimed otherwise, and I never claimed that there's some kind of "real writing" existing at dichotomous poles represented by, on one end, the New Yorker, and on the other by the Union of Idiosyncratic Writers. There are a couple of "points," though, and neither of them is the one you identify. The first is that with "the kind of things that sells really well" most of those sales can be accredited to a handful of authors whose work is already well-represented in periodicals. Does Ed think that the short story will be saved by publishing another magazine featuring fiction by Stephen King, Walter Moseley, George Pelecanos? The other point is that Ed is arguing for the "saving" of the short story form by removing it from its "niche market." In Vietnam-era parlance, that was called destroying the village in order to save it. How does a Leonard Michaels, a Stephen Dixon, or even a Bernard Malamud find a home in such a magazine? Art does not require that kind of "saving." What it requires is practitioners who are willing to make work that they can't imagine anyone paying them for.

Dan Green

I understand "niche market" to mean: those people who really like this thing (in this case short fiction). I understand the effort to go beyond the niche market to mean: let's abandon those who really like this thing and appeal to those who really don't. I cannot understand how this would "save" the short story.

ed

Yes, what the hell does Ed Champion mean by all this? Has he been sniffing glue again? Well, I'm off to a Halloween party right now and I'll offer a lengthy riposte to the many issues very soon. But I'll just say that you folks are wildly misinterpreting my post. What I have in mind is an all-inclusive definition, which I will specify at length very soon! In the meantime, happy Halloween weekend everyone!

Finn Harvor

If it's not too late to weigh in with a comment of my own (14 hours ahead in Seoul; Halloween's already over): I tend to agree with Dan's estimation that popularizing the short story probably won't work on the level of mass culture, especially if one measures its success against what it had in the 19th/early 20th C. But it seems to me there's no harm in trying. Before I left Toronto, one of the dailies there started a short story contest that received submissions, it seemed, from everyone in the GTA area with a computer, typewriter or fountain pen. The winning story was invariably blandly in keeping with what one would expect to appear in a "family newspaper". But the 2nd and 3rd prize winning stories were often quite good. Lobby the big papers and magazines to publish fiction, whatever the odds of this generating a renaissance of short fiction. It may not work but it certainly won't hurt.

Also, I just looked over some of the comments to Ed's original piece. One of them is from a commentator named Randa who argues that we should look more to online publishing of fiction to reach more readers. (This remark, incidentally, is seconded by Steve Augustine, who, in turn, is interviewed by me in a piece linked to by Dan ... it's a hot-house, incestuous world this lit-blogosphere, and therein lies part of its potential for greatness!) As the lit-blogosphere becomes more of a culture in its own right, and not simply an adjunct to "real" culture, its participants might be pleasantly surprised to find that, yes, short fiction has a future.

Finn Harvor

Ahh, forgot to fill out the link thingie...

Bernard

I believe that it is possible for the short story to regain readership again. Print is not going to be able to do it alone. There are several online publications that take short stories. The Washington Post is even publishing short fiction and serial fiction on its website.

The chance to keep the short story alive is possible. This is a new century with new technology and we just need to take advantage of it. Once print sees that we have found a new outlet...they will want to publish short stories again.

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