This article makes me want to go out and buy this latest issue of the series after getting pretty down about the editors and their selections.
Stephen King’s description of his search for material to include in BASS 2007 is telling of the trend away from the short story form and why the stories found in the magazines and literary journals are often so, well, blah.
Instead, let us consider what the bottom shelf does to writers who still care, sometimes passionately, about the short story. What happens when he or she realizes that his or her audience is shrinking almost daily? Well, if the writer is worth his or her salt, he or she continues on nevertheless, because it’s what God or genetics (possibly they are the same) has decreed, or out of sheer stubbornness, or maybe because it’s such a kick to spin tales. Possibly a combination. And all that’s good.
What’s not so good is that writers write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and The New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn’t real reading, the kind where you just can’t wait to find out what happens next (think “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad, or “Big Blonde,” by Dorothy Parker). It’s more like copping-a-feel reading. There’s something yucky about it.
Still, the bottom line is that there’s a huge supply (although the first-time novel writers still outnumber the short story crowd I’d guess) and a small demand. If that demand is then structuring the writing guidelines and forcing writers to write to form and trend, then it’s a sad state of affairs for the hopeful and truly gifted who have the artist’s soul instead of the marketing degree.