Wednesday, June 22, 2011


June 22, 2011:

I have just spent the better part of two days going through the files I keep of magazine and newspaper pieces I've written over the years since I began writing them in 1976, and it's been kind of mind-blowing. Wow! So many! Stuff in men's magazines on manly subjects, in women's magazines on relationships, reviews of books I've long since forgotten, long reporting pieces on the art world, pieces on American history, sports stories, pieces on child abuse and education, on human psychology, travel stories, war stories, profiles galore, and essays--personal essays--on everything from cooking to the humor pieces Lorraine and I wrote for Glamour to the death of my father. And not everything is here. Pieces are missing. For American Heritage I wrote a long piece on literacy in America, and it's not here. There are art world pieces I don't have. So there's more. And then the ethics columns I wrote for Esquire. They're not all here, either. So where are they? In this house, they could be anywhere.

I'm doing all this not out of some sort of narcissistic impulse to celebrate myself but because I would like to collect the best of the personal essays into a book, and that has become conceivable now thanks to the ebook technology that is turning the hairs on the heads of publishers gray. All I have to do is key the chosen material into my computer, send the file to Amazon, and for a few hundred bucks, much of which goes to a book designer, they'll make it available to the world. I'll then have to publicize it myself, but for that I only need a website, and some help from my friends. and a considerable amount of luck. Or so I tell myself. But whatever happens, I will have gotten it out there, made a move to preserve it, because a certain amount of it is worth preserving. I say that without any false modesty whatsoever. I was good. That's the most amazing thing that has come out of this experience, to see just how good I was, and sometimes still am. And how can you not feel happy about doing something really well?

But it all came to nothing. Magazine careers are peculiar that way. Nobody pays much attention to the bylines in magazines unless you're writing for Vanity Fair or the New Yorker or a place like that, and I never did. It has been the most miscellaneous career, a career scrambling from magazine to magazine as one would fold and another launch, or the editors who were my friends would leave or be fired, or I would get bored writing about stuff in which I didn't have a whole lot of interest in the first place. I was a fox, not a hedgehog. The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing, and it is the hedgehog, with his monomania, who generally makes a lasting name for himself. But the regret is minor. I loved researching and writing about the art world, for example; I was writing for the late Thomas Hoving at Connoisseur and he taught me where to look to find the bodies, the innumberable scandals, large and small, the fakes and forgeries, how to smuggle statuary out of Italy (which he personally did), who were the good guys and who the bad, and it was non-stop fun. But then Connoisseur folded, thanks partly to Hoving's extravagant ways with his own expenses, so I wound up at Men's Journal writing profiles and their book review column, followed that editor to National Geographic Adventure, and so on and so forth until the book column shrank to half a page and the magazine itself died.

So it had been with American Heritage; so it had been with Psychology Today; so with half a dozen others. Versatile--you had to be really, really versatile in this business to survive. So I got to be versatile, and it became difficult to write books, which requires the skills of a hedgehog, which, as I say, get you remembered.

Well, versatility is going to put me in ebooks. I'll still write the normal kind, paper and ink, but no print publisher in his right mind would reprint my personal essays. I don't have that kind of name. Very few writers do any more. The whole business of writing has changed as the market has morphed and realigned and shrunk, and fewer and fewer people read outside the bestseller list, and publishers run scared. But it is a business and you gotta keep up with it. So here I am writing a blog, which I began well over a year ago strictly for my own pleasure and because if I'm not writing I might as well swim over the horizon, and blogs were unthinkable ten years ago; and then I took it public so anybody could read it. Now ebooks are rapidly taking a larger and larger share of the market, and the only thing to do is to go there, too. As my daughter says, you have to keep writing, Dad. It's the only part of you that has any chance of surviving.