Monday, September 10, 2007

A Note From The Author

One of the things that first made me want to be a writer, back when I was a kid, was the author's notes in the back of Stephen King's story collections. King would explain how each story came to be, and give the reader its publishing history, and I wanted nothing more than to someday get the opportunity to do this myself: explain, in public, something I had done.

Later, when I started reading the Best American Short Stories and O. Henry Award Stories collections, it was to the back that I turned first--for the authors' notes, and for the lists of magazines the anthologies drew from. Again, I couldn't wait until the day when I would be in those anthologies, and I would get to write those mini-essays, and talk about the creative process, and offer up tantalizing little personal details of my private life, and thank some editor or another for their help.

Something intervened, though--a job I got at the Missoula Art Museum (then called The Art Museum of Missoula), a great little gallery in Montana, where I worked with great pleasure as a receptionist/preparator/handyman for a couple of years. I loved watching a new show go up--I was often the guy hanging the stuff, in fact--but I always felt slightly deflated when it was time to hang the artist's statement on the wall. The statements were lame. Reductive, uninsightful, pretentious, they rarely failed to make me dislike the work a little bit, no matter how much I'd enjoyed it to begin with. Show after show, I waited for some brave soul not to bother with the statement. But nobody ever did.

By this time I had finished grad school and was actively striving to get into those damned anthologies, and I had begun not to like the authors' notes anymore. They'd begun to seem like the artists' statements--smug and demystifying. Sometimes one would contain a funny anecdote, or a semi-interesting insight, but overall they never enhanced my enjoyment of the stories one bit, and often detracted from it. My romance with the things was over, and I began to long even more deeply for my own anthologization--so that I could snub the author's note.

And then, at last, I managed to weasel my way in to the O. Henry. Hot diggity!! In the end, I couldn't resist--I sent in a five-line note, thanking my uncle for inspiring the story, and the editor who published it. I was sure that it would be the shortest. I was wrong--Mary Gordon beat me with two lines.

Last night I read William Trevor's contribution to the latest O. Henry. It's a good story! But I was almost as pleased by his author's note. There is none--just a bracketed note from the series editor, informing the reader that Trevor had declined to provide a note.

Now that's class.


the individual voice said...

I suppose the story should say everything about it that needs to be said. No explanation necessary. No thanking the Academy.

Anonymous said...

Aw, c'mon, just tell us straight out that you got a piece in the O'Henry and let us congratulate you straight on.

Way to go! That is awesome. Truly astounding.

I hope you don't treat your mother this shabbily, letting her learn of your accomplishments in the course of a rant about a typeface or some such minutiae.


I can see your Nobel Prize blog now: "A discussion on the trouble of dusting around a crowded mantel."

Anonymous said...

Ha, thank you, that was back in I think 2000. Sorry mom!!!

Nobel Prize! As if!

*takes Swedish lessons*