A celebration of the writing and editing life as well as a look behind the scenes at some of the most influential magazines in America (and the writers who made them what they are).
You might not know Terry McDonell, but you certainly know his work. Among the magazines he has top-edited: Outside, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Sports Illustrated. In this revealing memoir, McDonell talks about what really happens when editors and writers work with deadlines ticking (or drinks on the bar). His stories about the people and personalities he's known are both heartbreaking and bitingly funny - playing "acid golf" with Hunter S. Thompson, practicing brinksmanship with David Carr and Steve Jobs, working the European fashion scene with Liz Tilberis, pitching TV pilots with Richard Price.
Here, too, is an expert's practical advice on how to recruit - and keep - high-profile talent; what makes a compelling lede; how to grow online traffic that translates into dollars; and how, in whatever format, on whatever platform, a good editor really works and what it takes to write well.
Taking us from the raucous days of New Journalism to today's digital landscape, McDonell argues that the need for clear storytelling from trustworthy news sources has never been stronger. Says Jeffrey Eugenides, "Every time I run into Terry, I think how great it would be to have dinner with him. Hear about the writers he's known and edited over the years, what the magazine business was like back then, how it's changed and where it's going, inside info about Edward Abbey, Jim Harrison, Annie Proulx, old New York, and the swimsuit issue. That dinner is this book."
"Intelligent, entertaining, and chivalrous.... McDonell, founding editor of Outside magazine in 1977, has had tenures at or near the top of Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Esquire and Sports Illustrated. Slashing costs and watching serious writers take buyouts felt [to him] 'like a great library was burning down.' But The Accidental Life is a fond book. It's a fan's notes from a man who, before the apocalypse, edited and often befriended many of his literary heroes.... He played touch football and ate oysters with James Salter; golfed while on LSD with Hunter S. Thompson and George Plimpton; canoed and drank with Peter Matthiessen; and helped explode an uptight dinner party alongside Edward Abbey.... McDonell's insistence on keeping the focus on his writers rather than himself has a humble appeal - this memoir is far from self-congratulatory. He writes winningly about his regrets [and] evokes the magazine-world heyday of lavish offices, drinks carts in the evening and expense-account hedonism. Some of the details will make freelance writers scream (I screamed, and I rarely write freelance any longer). The Accidental Life is a savvy fax from a dean of the old school." (Dwight Garner, The New York Times)
"A great magazine editor is a Diaghilev commanding an executive desk, a miniature aircraft carrier from which ideas launch into the wild yonder.... Long-haulers are often the founders of publications that they infused with their personalities, ambitions, and pioneer spirit.... A book devoted to the craft, rigor, career highs, and sudden pressure drops of being big chief, Terry McDonell's memoir is instructive, entertaining, and briskly told.... He has had a peripatetic journey, with stays at Rolling Stone, Us Weekly, Esquire, Men's Journal, Sports Afield, and Sports Illustrated, adapting to each new vessel while letting the distinctive voices of his writers venture across the page.... As befits the former editor of Esquire, Men's Journal, and similar sensitive-dude salons, McDonell dwells in a musky, masculine sphere, and devotes many of the chapters to friendships and interludes with guys' guys such as Tom McGuane, Jim Harrison, Richard Ford, Richard Price, James Salter, and Hunter S. Thompson: portraits that are generous, perceptive about the fluctuations of fame and fortitude, occasionally eulogistic. The twilight melancholy that creeps through is due not only to the ghosts of those now gone - Salter, George Plimpton, as well as Liz Tilberis, the gallant editor of Harper's Bazaar, and Elaine Kaufman, whose Elaine's was the watering hole of choice for accomplished menfolk playing hooky from spouses and deadlines - but also to the waning of an entire way of life, the shrinking power, prestige, glamour, and advertising clout of glossy print in the Digital Age beneath Silicon Valley hegemony and the loss of journalistic comradeship. Everything McDonell writes rings true, but the marvel is (as I'm sure he'd agree) that so much superb, adventurous work is still being done in magazines in the encroaching void of such adversity. If you're going to go down with the ship, might as well go down swinging." (James Wolcott, Vanity Fair)
"Legendary editor McDonell has lately found himself in the digital realm, having cofounded LitHub, but he's served as editor at over a dozen magazines. His memoir is advertised on the strength of its wild side, but it is most attractive for its hard-earned wisdom on the art of storytelling." (Michael LaPointe, Times Literary Supplement)
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Great autobiography of a magazine editor
interesting, great stories