This interview originally appeared in the magazine, THE EDITOR, dated October 1904.
Interviews with Editors.
BY BURKE JENKINS.
MATTHEW WHITE, JR., OF THE ARGOSY.
SOME TIMES we feel in a somewhat light and flippant mood when we go on these little interviewing expeditions. Not that we are not always keenly alive to our readers’ interests, but just a little light-hearted, you know. In such a frame of complacency I entered the office in the Munsey suite that is labeled ” Dramatic Editor,” for it must be known that Mr. White is not only the editor of The Argosy, but is also the dramatic editor and critic of Munsey’s. But the full effect of my jaunty entrance was lost, for Mr. White was not in. I seized this opportunity, however, to con the rare photographs and antique programmes that lined the walls in passe partout neatness. and to get myself into more repressible demeanor.
I had not long to wait, for Mr. White soon came in.
The editor of The Argosy is one whose iron-grayness becomes, and the general note of warmth and good-feeling puts one immediately at ease. He greeted me with his cordial little smile and asked : ” And what can I do for you. sir? “
” Mr. White. THE EDITOR would like to quote to its readers the Argosy market, its likes and dislikes; kind of stories do you favor? “
‘ Stories that are stories.” answered he, smiling, this time at the triteness. ” That is,” he hastened to add, ” stories with a snap and go; stories that rivet the attention.”
” Adventure? “ I tested.
” Yes; adventure plays quite a role in The Argosy, of course, as you know. Fantastic tales I like. Stories of unusual development in plot, even bordering upon the extravagant.”
” How about the love element. sir? “
” Not at all necessary. On the contrary. I reallv don’t care much for love stories in The Argosy. Of course, love enters into more or less all the stories, but the tendency is to repress it.
” You see,” he continued, ” our readers are, in most part men—architects, mechanics, business men, who read it for relaxation; and that leads me to another point—the stories must be clear, easy reading; none of the ‘clever,’ ‘ smart stuff that sometimes graces the magazines. Mr. Munsey has a term for such. He calls it ‘ fine writing.’ ” That, as I say, I don’t want. Things must drift in perfect sequence, and the reader must be carried on without any effort on his part.”
” Has the humorous story a chance? “
” Do you know a magazine where it hasn’t “
We thought a little and shook our head.
” But any humorous story that casts a slur upon, or ridicules any class of readers, is not wanted. You see, we can’t offend.”
” How about the matter of length ? “
” As to that, there is abundant scope. I should say that anything from one thousand words up. You see, there are about 700 words to an Argosy page, and we would want, therefore, hardly less than a thousand. Now, in Munsey’sthe storiettes can’t be too short.”
” Yes; but these are usually written by our regular writers.”
” Oh ! so you have your regular contributors ? “
” Yes, indeed; there are men who have been writing for me for years, but that doesn’t at all shut out others. Indeed, I am always on the lookout for new blood in- the magazine.”
This statement Mr. White did not have to substantiate, for we know a veritable little army of those who have sold him their first story—mirror associates included.
” Although I like serials,” he offered, “I don’t like the kind of stories that runs in a series, you know. Let it be all one story, not a vaguely connected string.”
” How do your regular writers get all these fantastic ideas for stories, Mr. White ? “
” Oh, we rather work together, you know,” he answered modesty. ” You see, since I’ve given up writing so much myself, the ideas for stories seem to come to me more than ever; so we just make a little family affair of it, and sit and have fun talking out the plots.
” Now, as an example of how one of our stories is suggested we’ll look at one of our back numbers.”
Here Mr. White thumbed the recent issues that backed his desk in straight-stacked precision. Selecting one with seeming abandon, he opened it to the ” complete novel ” and passed it over to me: ” There’s a story that was made up of a regular incident, and a small one at that. One day while walking along Broadway, about Forty-second Street, I think, someone in the crowd pushed me roughly against a plate-glass window. Nothing happened, and the window didn’t even break, but I began to think of the train of incidents that might well follow such an occurrence.
” I gave the idea for what it was worth to one of my men, thinking that maybe he could make a short story of it. But, after working at it a little, he began to see more and more in it, and as a result we see that he even evolved such a plot that he protracted it to 40,000 words, and that is how we have ‘ The Turn of the Wheel.‘ “
He tossed the magazine down.
” Then you like stories founded on fact, Mr. White? “
” I must know how you use the term,” he replied, ” before I can answer that.”
” Well, I mean ‘ true stories.’ “
” Ah! there’s the difference ! ” said the genial little man with the warmth of enthusiasm that cannot grow old. ” Stories that are founded on fact are far removed from ‘true’ stories as the term is generally used. Truth is stranger than fiction, and for that very reason makes poor fiction.
” My idea is that the basis of a story can be founded on fact, and such a fact that the writer can weave a plot around and about. Let him give his fancy play, bring in as much of the fanciful and fantastic as he likes, but make it all in harmony with the controlling motive of the story.”
Mr. White was warming into his theme, but I was chary of taking too much of his time, so I said : ” Well, Mr. White, if you give your writers as much time, even, as you do such sorry questioners as myself, I can never doubt their warm feelings toward their chief.”
Here Mr. White tucked his head with the same pleasant little smile, and somehow I rather wanted to join the little family that he had mentioned.
” There are a few little technical points that I favor that maybe would be of interest to you. The title of a story is very important, and preferably should arouse curiosity. That’s old, of course, as well as saying that a snappy first sentence is almost essential; but they can’t be dwelt too much upon.
” Another thing, as Argosyis not illustrated, it makes a better page, and one more relieving to the eye, to have no more than two sentences to the paragraphs.
” Circulation? Oh, we’re above the 350,000 mark now.”
” Do you pay upon acceptance, Mr. White? “
I tried to think of something else to ask him, but not a subject came to mind and do you know? the only height to which my inanity could attain, after thanking him for his courtesy, was the expression of a fervent wish that it would not rain on the morrow.