Zoetrope: All-Story was a project hatched out of our Crazy Idea Dept. This department handles all ideas that are typically greeted by that funny expression on people's faces. You know, the one that means "Are you serious?" Seeing that the seed we planted here has grown into a healthy young plant, I will allow myself to reflect on the many crazy ideas that have come and gone, and what I have learned from them.
Throughout my career, it has been the craziest ideas that proved enduring. I remember how my producers first reacted to the script of Patton, its Don Quixote and Roman triumph references, but most of all, to the opening with Patton standing before a huge flag and making a speech to the audience. They hated that, felt it was all wrong to have him stand there in his getup--the four stars, his ribbons and decorations, and his pearl-handled revolvers. It would be confusing, they felt: at the beginning he only had two stars and few decorations. And who was he supposed to be talking to? I'm sure I looked at them with that funny expression on my face. Anyway, I was replaced because of it, but years later when the film was made, the director did use my original script and all the scenes that my employers had felt were too crazy.
Likewise, the Crazy Idea Dept. was flourishing with The Godfather, again much to the annoyance of the producers. It was too dark and too long, with not enough camera movement. And they objected to casting Brando: he was a non-Italian, was too young, had long blond hair that he wore in a ponytail, mumbled too much, and wasn't particularly like a gangster. This simply shows you that the things that you are attacked for in the beginning are precisely the things you will be remembered for in the end. So I offer this to all young artists--these things are only crazy because they are out of the ordinary, don't go down smoothly, and stick out. Creativity, after all, is the ability to see connections between seemingly dissimilar elements.
To make things worse, there's a hormone secreted into the bloodstream of most writers that makes them hate their own work while they are doing it, or immediately after. This, coupled with the chorus of critical reaction from those privileged to take a first look, is almost enough to discourage further work entirely. I myself have always engaged in the "create, hate, and abandon" school of writing. That is, I work passionately on something until I finally hate it so much that I abandon it. Then, a year or so later, while working on another idea (which I also have come to hate and am ready to abandon), I look over the old manuscript and decide that it is really okay, pick it up again, and continue to the end. Thus, The Rain People was abandoned three quarters of the way through, when I started a new project, The Conversation. I hated that one halfway through, abandoned it, and then stumbled onto the former fragment, got excited about it, and finished it. Later I returned to the unfinished Conversation after working on The Godfather (which I really hated)--which brings me to what I'm working on right now, Megalopolis, which I have hated, abandoned, and re-created so many times that it must really be good.
When I proposed the notion of a Zoetrope: All-Story Web site (www.zoetrope-stories.com), where writers could submit work directly to the magazine on the condition of reading and evaluating other writers' work, the idea was attacked most vigorously from within my own company. But here we are a full year later, and our Web site has grown to 5,500 members, with close to 4,000 stories already submitted and evaluated. In fact, we've printed two stories from the site already.
Zoetrope: All-Story has indeed taken root, and is alive and healthy. This year we've become a quarterly; Amazon.com has selected us as the first magazine they sell online; we continue to be recognized in the great literary anthologies; literary careers have been launched; and, by the way, several of our stories are on their way to becoming promising scripts. Soon we'll hold our third annual short-story writers' workshop in Belize and next year we plan to publish a Zoetrope: All-Story anthology. Zoetrope: All-Story will always be different: nutty ideas such as guest designers, the "inappropriate" tabloid format, the lack of staples, and commissioning stories all allow the magazine to reinvent itself with each issue.
Remember, you can ridicule and even shoot down crazy ideas, but that doesn't necessarily kill them.