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Writers Blocked



Somedays, judging from the stack of letters in my in-box, everyone in America wants to write for Memphis magazine -- no doubt enticed by all those tabloid stories of sex, drugs, and our decadent rock-and-roll lifestyle. And, folks, that's just in the accounting department. For those lucky few whose names are at the top of the masthead -- the publishers, editors, and writers -- life has no limits.

So I can understand the desire. But a depressing number of applicants completely ruin their chances of joining our exclusive club by saying, or writing, the completely wrong thing. Here, in no particular order, are the best (or worst) ways in the world NOT to work for Memphis magazine -- or anyplace else, for that matter.

Confuse us with our rivals. Writers are sensitive types, and it makes us cry when letters begin, "I've always wanted to work for The Commercial Appeal." Well, good for you! It's nice to have a goal. Perhaps you can achieve that one by mailing your resume to 495 Union Avenue.

Approach editors we have not employed for years while insisting that you faithfully read every issue. A letter addressed to "Ed Weathers, Editor" -- directed to a fine gentleman who last worked here a decade ago -- doesn't earn you points with us.

Pitch us stories on such over-looked topics as, oh, Elvis Presley. A freelancer from Ohio offered to write a story about Elvis, and then proceeded to explain, in detail, just who Elvis was. Feeling crankier than usual, I replied that pitching a story on Elvis to Memphis magazine would be "like pitching a story on snow to Alaska magazine." The writer, no doubt offended by my flippancy, wrote back and argued that her story -- written from the "outsider" viewpoint of a Clevelander -- would offer a "fresh" look at the man -- implying, if not downright declaring, that our previous stories, the ones penned by Memphians, were decidedly stale.

Complain that other publications have inexplicably failed to recognize your genius. One applicant, interviewed in person, brought writing samples from a previous employer, but they were her typed pages, not the published versions. "The other editors always hacked [my] stuff to pieces," she grumbled, and wanted me to see what she considered the unhacked (and decidedly superior) originals. They weren't.

Ask why we dress like, well, magazine writers. One young fellow came to our office in a three-piece suit, complete with pocket hanky. Very dashing. During the interview, he glanced in disdain at my rumpled jeans, corduroy shirt, and battered hiking shoes, and asked, "Is today 'casual day' here?" When I explained, no, this was how English majors dressed (we pretend we're still in college and will someday find a real job) he could not conceal his dismay. Clearly, he did not want to consort with riffraff. And so we didn't make him.

Send us poetry. We don't publish poetry. We have never published poetry. And we aren't going to start now, just because you have mailed us a 140-stanza epic titled "How I Long to See Tennessee" which began: "How I Long to See Tennessee / Driving through you can see cedar / So I've been told." We were actually intrigued until the author tried to rhyme "Nashville" with "rock-and-roll." That just doesn't work.

Litter your resume or cover letter with mistakes. One recent email said, "I want work for Memphis magazine I enclose writing samples." It went on that way -- like reading an email from Tarzan. Apparently it was too much effort to include those pesky little words -- to, an, the. Good gosh, doesn't he understand the concept of getting paid by the word?

Include pornography with your writing samples. I interviewed a woman who brought along her portfolio along. I didn't have time to study it just then, but promised to look it over later. I'm glad I waited, because everything in it was completely XXX-rated. Now there's nothing wrong with that (some of the dialogue was, well, interesting) but a bit more range -- in this case, even poetry -- would have been nice.

Finally, lack even a shred of common sense. I'll never forget the young man who concluded our interview by declaring, "Thank you so much for your time. This is definitely the second-most favorite place I want to work in Memphis!" Puzzled, I asked who had been his first choice. "Oh, The Commercial Appeal," he said brightly. "But they wouldn't hire me."

And you know what? We did. His writing samples were fine, he seemed like a nice kid, and he turned out to be a good employee -- after I told him that, in certain situations, honesty is not always the best policy.

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