At The Writer
we’re starting to put our December issue to bed this week and an essay in there
by fiction writer and poet David Harris Ebenbach has managed to press a nerve
and bring to mind one of the many pleasures of reading—coming across a writer
who’s been wrestling with an idea somewhat similar to your own and has
gracefully put it into words.
Having thoroughly marinated in a sea of newspaper journalism for 24 years, then
gotten myself immersed, at The Writer, in editing craft stories that consistently advise conflict
and negative experiences of one kind or another as the essential stuff of
fiction, I’ve been increasingly wondering for years: To what extent do the
“formulas” of writing distort reality? For true measure, let’s add to
journalism and literary fiction the conflict-heavy nature of mainstream
television and all types of movies, even the often mindless, imposed
“storylines” of athletic contests so eagerly developed by announcers. What is
the accumulative effect of all of this reality-molding?
It takes a complete separation from newspaper work to gain a perspective on the
distorting quality of daily journalism in its various forms--which so worships
what is new, different, divisive, negative and not holding--and on the infinitesimally small slice of day-to-day global
life it actually captures. (And yet journalism, most of us would argue, I
think, is more important--and threatened--than ever. For all its faults, it
remains our truly crucial spotlight, one of the best means of speaking truth to
What also fed my changing view of reality was a considerable amount of travel,
which included, as it happens, traveling around the country for The Writer to a lot of writers conferences and
talking to a lot of new people. This, of course, does not a random, scientific
sample make, but it was reassuring to meet so many decent people in so many
places doing their best to maneuver through life.
Along these lines of how one sees the world, then, comes what I think is an
unusually stimulating Off the Cuff column for our December issue, selected by
the column’s editor, Sarah Lange. In the article, headlined “Writing toward the
light,” Ebenbach describes his literary journey toward a new conception--that
the short story is a form built not only for sadness, as he puts it, but also more
positive themes: humor, hope, possibility, awe. “Have you examined your
worldview?,” he asks readers. “Is there another truthful way you might see the world?”
I want to keep quoting from it, but that would be bad. Instead, I urge you to
read the article in our December issue, which is due out in early November. And
as always, your comments are welcome.
-- Ron Kovach, senior editor, The Writer
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