Our new issue is by Douglas Watson, one of our 2013 Literary Debutantes. “The Messenger Who Did Not Become a Hero” appears in his forthcoming debut collection, The Era of Not Quite, which will be published by BOA Editions next month. Part fable, part comedy, and part philosophical meditation, “The Messenger Who Did Not Become a Hero” reminded me of one of my favorite authors, Italo Calvino. I’m thrilled to have Douglas Watson in our pages, and excited to celebrate his debut on June 6th at the 2013 Literary Debutante Ball. Now I’ll turn the mic over to Will Allison, who found this remarkable story and brought it to our shores. –HT.
Many years ago, when I was working in Cincinnati at a magazine called Story, our wise old contributing editor, Max Steele, said to me, “Will, I have never seen a story that could not be improved by editing.” I took those words to heart, not only as an editor but as a writer. To this day, it frankly makes me nervous when an editor accepts work of mine as-is.
Here at One Story, we pride ourselves on thorough editing. Sometimes we go back and forth with an author through multiple revisions before we feel the story is just right—a process that can take upwards of a year. At the very least, Hannah and the issue editor give every story a good, hard scrub, with plenty of editorial suggestions.
But then there’s the story in our current issue, Douglas Watson’s “The Messenger Who Did Not Become a Hero,” a brilliant, funny, heartrending tale of a king’s messenger who finds his life turned topsy-turvy just when he thought he was more or less done living. (Be sure to read our interview with the author.)
The day after we accepted the story, I sat down with my editorial scrub brush and went to work—only to discover, after several reads, that I had not a single meaningful editorial suggestion to offer. Not a one.
Usually, when I don’t see ways to make a story better, I assume I’m blinded by my admiration for it, and I rely on Hannah to bail me out, to see what I don’t. But this time, Hannah didn’t have any edits either.
I don’t, of course, mean to suggest that Douglas’s story is un-improvable. That I didn’t see how to improve it is as much a testament to my shortcomings as an editor as it is to his strength as a writer and editor of his own work. If anything, “The Messenger Who Did Not Become a Hero” is the exception that proves the rule—and yet it’s also a reminder (my apologies, Max!) that now and then, we editors should just leave well enough alone.