Now that I have your attention…it has recently come to mine that Esquire has reinstated the practice of publishing fiction. At least online. The last time I bought a hard copy of Esquire was about two years ago, and it appeared they had given up fiction for good. They had always published great journalism and essays—but their fiction had become history.
A shame, because their literary heritage is long, having published works by Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Hammett, among many other greats. Who can forget this iconic cover from October 1973 showing all literary lions (along with a scant two lionesses) past and (circa-‘73) present?
Crack this decades old issue and you'll find 540 pages of great writing. What are the chances of this happening today? Slim. And if it did, it would be about how the authors looked, not about what they wrote. Nothing more than a fashion spread with token essays and one or two stories thrown in to make it look legit. Still, I'd probably buy it.
I also dusted off this paperback that I picked up at a book sale a couple years ago. Great Esquire fiction from the first fifty years. Will they even be able to fill a comparable-sized book for the second fifty?
If the current fiction page of their website is any indication, yes. Here I found stories by Don Delillo, Richard Russo, Chris Adrian, Jonathan Lethem, and David Foster Wallace. Good news all around. Well, for the most part. Esquire is still a magazine for men, so most of the stories are by male authors. And a cursory search of the site yields no address, email or otherwise, to send unsolicited manuscripts. That means an un-agented writer doesn't have a chance. Unless…
That's right, Esquire is running a fiction contest. The winner gets a cool $2500.00 and the winning story published in Esquire. But before you upload your latest short masterpiece to their site, check these posted rules:
"The first and most important rule — besides, of course, that the story has to be original — is that the story must be based on one of three titles that we have provided.
The titles are:
2. "An Insurrection"
3. "Never, Ever Bring This Up Again"
A date, a thing, and a statement. No exceptions. Make of them what you will, do with them something great. But no taking an old story and slapping one of our new titles on it. We'll know, and we won't be happy.
Second rule: Your story cannot exceed 4,000 words. We are serious about that, too.
Other rules: You may submit only one story. The contest begins on May 1, 2009. All entries are due by midnight of August 1, 2009 and must be submitted electronically here at esquiresubmissions.com."
Hold up, there's more:
"Return to Esquire.com frequently for inspiration. Because we also have a second announcement:
Starting immediately, we will be publishing great new American fiction exclusively online, starting right here with "The Gray," a new story by Aaron Gwyn and the best bar-fight story we've ever read. It is just the first of many new stories that will find their first publication at the all-new esquire.com/fiction. Bookmark it. And get to typing."
I'm put off by prompts, but maybe I'll give the title suggestion thing a try. How about you? Thinking of entering? Which title would you use? I like 3. "Never, Ever Bring This Up Again."
I'm off to pick up the latest Esquire. Meanwhile, Megan decides what to read next: