“The Turnaround Is At Hand,” a short story

Pub­lished in the Sep­tem­ber, 2007, issue of Esquire (actor Sean Penn on the cov­er). Avail­able for free on the magazine’s Web site.

The Esquire pub­li­ca­tion of this piece involved some exper­i­ments that I still con­sid­er wor­thy and not mere gim­micks. Worked into the lay­out of the sto­ry itself (both in print and online) are first-per­son side­bars by sec­ondary char­ac­ters in the sto­ry. I wrote that mate­r­i­al for this purpose–some of it from whole cloth, some of it adapt­ed from my own out­takes. (And there were plen­ty of those. The man­u­script was near­ly 80 pages at one point. It was sub­mit­ted at the ridicu­lous length of 39 pages and then cut–almost entire­ly by me, with fic­tion edi­tor Tom Chiarella’s gra­cious deference–to 28 man­u­script pages for pub­li­ca­tion.)

The first-per­son side­bars were inter­est­ing to do (the sto­ry is in the third-per­son), but even more fun (poten­tial­ly) are the dead­pan ref­er­ences to the sto­ry pub­lished in oth­er sec­tions of the issue. A book alleged­ly writ­ten by the main char­ac­ter, Ger­hard Hook­erdick­er, was giv­en a brief review. The char­ac­ter Ver­non DeCloud had a let­ter to the edi­tor. The Leisure Meter sec­tion sug­gest­ed pre-order­ing a DeCloud inven­tion that fig­ures in the sto­ry. There may have been a cou­ple of oth­ers. Some of these extra items were accom­pa­nied by Web URLs that redi­rect­ed to the sto­ry on the magazine’s site. (The items on Hookerdicker’s book and DeCloud’s inven­tion made it to the online ver­sion.)

All of the pro­duc­tion inno­va­tions were (I believe) entire­ly asso­ciate edi­tor Tyler Cabot’s ideas, in response to edi­tor-in-chief David Granger’s direc­tive to “do some­thing dif­fer­ent” with the piece. (I was offered the chance to invent this dif­fer­en­tial myself, but had no great inspi­ra­tions.) Tyler’s notion of break­ing down the mag­a­zine-mem­brane around the sto­ry was bril­liant, I thought, but Granger’s imper­a­tive had come fair­ly late in the process and there just wasn’t time to imple­ment the idea to the degree it deserved.

Nonethe­less, we all gave it a good bit of extra effort. Then the sto­ry came out and no one among the read­ing pub­lic–to my knowl­edge, not a sin­gle soul–noticed the East­er eggs scat­tered around the issue. Would it have been dif­fer­ent had there been fif­teen or twen­ty rather than only four or five? Maybe. Who knows. But every­body at Esquire threw them­selves into try­ing to do some­thing new, which gets a gold star in my book.

Comments 2

  1. Hel­lo Ralph-
    Well, I read that sto­ry in ESQUIRE when it came out with great delight, not only because it was such a great sto­ry but because I was sure that it’s pub­li­ca­tion pre­saged the pub­li­ca­tion of a brand new book of sto­ries by one of my favorite dis­ap­peared authors from the gold­en age of Amer­i­can Fic­tion- you know, before 9/11 forced seri­ous­ness on us all and cor­po­rate down­siz­ing did away with edi­tors help­ing to shape (short­en over­long) books.
    I did notice the east­er eggs and found them quite amus­ing. Not essen­tial, but kind of divert­ing and a good reminder about the sto­ry, as if I need­ed remind­ing that a third book of sto­ries was on the way. I just don’t write let­ters to the Edi­tor. Nev­er have. I don’t write respons­es to blogs, either. But here I am, main­ly to ask, Is there anoth­er book forth­com­ing? I’m not a writer, in fact, I’m strict­ly a bot­tom where writ­ing is con­cerned- I read. I am a con­sumer of writ­ing and I could eat your words.
    And, I would like to.
    When can I?

    1. Now that’s a nice com­ment, Christo­pher. Thanks. I’m hap­py you’re out there.

      You caught the Esquire East­er eggs! Cool. You belong to an exclu­sive club, my friend. In fact, it might be you, me, and the edi­tors.

      I can’t offer you a new book right now, though a cou­ple of books are get­ting done, so stay tuned. A new sto­ry, “Moun­tain Peo­ple,” will appear on the Web site of The Amer­i­can Schol­ar soon—maybe this month. I’ll men­tion it here when it comes out. It’s noth­ing like “Turn­around,” but you might like it.

      If you missed it, The Amer­i­can Schol­ar ran anoth­er sto­ry involv­ing Ver­non DeCloud, called “Unrip­pable,” a year and a half ago or so. It’s on their Web site.


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