Saturday, November 20, 2010

Missing magazine fiction

I picked up a copy of Glamour magazine this week.  I realize that I am not the demographic that the editors are looking for, but I happened to be waiting in line in Target and rifled through the current issue -- there was a short story by Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse books.  I must confess I have never read the Sookie Stackhouse books (although my daughter is a big fan of her work), but I was so excited to see a piece of short fiction in a magazine that I shelled out $3.95 on the spot.

I grew up in the days when every woman's magazine was brimming with short fiction. Redbook -- now a magazine so awful I won't even pick it up while waiting in line -- once used to publish two short stories and a novel excerpt every issue. Even Good Housekeeping and the Ladies Home Journal, not to mention long-gone mags like McCalls and Mademoiselle, all published stories that for a few minutes swept you into another world.  Nothing high literary that would rock your world -- just good stories with strong plots and characters that were, well, like me at different stages of my life.  When I was young, I read American Girl -- a magazine published by the Girl Scouts that had nothing to do with $100 dollars.  The stories were about teen-aged girls trying to find their place in the world, just like me.  As I grew older, the magazine fiction I read reflected my single-and-dating stages, my  young mother stages. Then it disappeared. As did the general interest magazines that also published fiction.

I write short fiction myself. I take a workshop with an excellent teacher, and the other writers are all intelligent and talented. The group is under the auspices of Philadelphia Stories,  a slim literary magazine that is distributed free around town. In every class, we read a piece of modern short fiction.  As we discuss them, I admire the technique that goes into writing them, but I must confess, I don't like any of them. The characters are, for the most part, warped in some way.  They've been beaten by their mothers or molested by their fathers or killed their own children.  These are not people I want to spend my time with, and although I'm happy that these writers are getting published, I don't want to read their work.

Most of these stories have been published in literary magazines, and when they collect enough of them, the writers put them into a collection.  But who reads literary magazines?  Other writers, I imagine.  When was the last time you saw someone on the subway with a copy of Paris Review in their hand?  So it's mainly writers writing for other writers, who can admire their technique.  This creates a kind of literary incest that leaves the general reader in the dust. Even the stories in the New Yorker are on such a high plane, I usually give up half way through.

I miss short fiction written for regular people.  I have collections on my shelves of short fiction from the Saturday Evening Post and theSaturday Review -- general interest magazines that published writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ring Lardner.  Good writers who cared about their writing, but who wrote for readers, ordinary people who wanted the blissful reading  experience that only a dose of short fiction can give.
Meanwhile, thank you Glamour.


Sheila Siler said...

Oh how I agree! I loved the simple stories that would take me away for a few minutes. I am sorry they are disappearing.

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