By Daniel Ford
I asked essayist Dave Pezza what makes a good essay before I started this post. Here’s his answer:
I have always been drawn to essays because of their straight forward nature. The author speaks to you directly, without the added guise or filtration of a narrator or characters (although the best essayists manage this even in their essays). A truly good essay allows the writer to talk directly to complete strangers about a subject, grasping the reader’s attention and interest in a narrative. Facts are boring at face value; good essayists turn facts into a plot, conclusions into endings, and arguments into conversations. David Foster Wallace, one of the authors who fiction and nonfiction shine with equal luminescence, is one of my favorite essayists because he presents his argument and facts in a pseudo-factional situation. Wallace typically frames his essays in a narrative and eloquently makes his case, not always in the most factual of circumstances, but this gray area is where Wallace is at his best, blending reality and narrative seamlessly.
It wouldn’t be a Dave Pezza answer without mentioning David Foster Wallace.
Anyway, he’s right. Since Sean and I started collecting essays, lists, and musings from our writer friends, we’ve made sure that each post reflected our central belief that writing should be direct, honest, and entertaining. Here are my personal favorites (and judging by our traffic numbers, they are our readers’ favorite as well) from the past year:
Sean Tuohy is everything you could ask for in a podcast/website partner. Honest, determined, funny. He’s the beating heart behind this whole operation. Whenever I find myself in a writing rut, I know I can email Sean and he’ll have some choice words of wisdom or a joke to bring me out of my funk.
He’s also got one of the most interesting backstories of anyone I’ve ever known, and the essay he dropped on my desk in July made me appreciate him on an entirely different level. This guy is going to win an Oscar for a screenplay one day, so I’d jump on his bandwagon sooner rather than later.
I started watching “How I Met Your Mother” because I knew it was Stephanie Schaefer’s favorite show, and I was trying really hard to get her to like me. I wanted any and every excuse to talk to her. Did I end up identifying with poor Ted Mosby at times? Yes. But unlike Ted, I’m not with my soul mate while secretly jonesing for my kids’ sexy-in-a-lesbian-kind-of-way Aunt Robin. Stephanie wrote this essay in a white heat following the horrid series finale and continues to foam at the mouth whenever it’s mentioned. We’ve been binge watching the show during our holiday break and while the early seasons are great, there’s a bitter taste in our mouths we’ll never be rid of. Thanks a lot Goliath National Bank.
Additionally, if you want to date Stephanie, you need to suit up. Read her other popular essay, “Living in Generation Hoodie: An Ode to Dresses, Jewelry, and My Great Grandmother” to find out why.
Every now and again I have an idea for our photo essayist Cristina Cianci (who works as Town & Country magazine’s assistant photo editor) and email her at odd hours. Sometimes she takes a few days to respond, typically asking me to refine my harebrained thoughts. However, not too long later, I’ll have 10 or so photos in my inbox with heartfelt captions. Cristina is a dear friend and I can’t wait to see what her camera lens finds in 2015.
I gave Dave Pezza two instructions for this essay championing vinyl music: make it fucking long and write it on a typewriter.
It damn near killed him, but it’s one of my favorite essays of 2014. Thanks to him, and the generosity of Stephanie Schaefer, I now have a record player in my apartment and a growing vinyl collection.
He also did an admirable job listing things he hated this year in his essay, “Hate Is A Strong Word.”
Robert Hilferty recently admitted that he loved Toni Morrison’s most recent novel and was looking forward to her next one that will be published in 2015. Some of us didn’t know she was still alive and/or still writing.
Before that, he wrote one of my favorite lines of the year in his first Writer’s Bone essay: “I still may not consider myself a writer, but it’s what I do, and it means too much to me to quit now.”
No fear, just write.
I thought I was going to have to sedate Sean after he read this essay by Lindsey Wojcik (whose nickname continues to be LWo Lane). “Seriously, who fucking steals a jump drive?!” He emailed me, echoing the post’s opening lines.
Writers are resilient creatures, so it was no surprise to me that Lindsey got over the crime and started her personal archives from scratch. I’m reminded of Ernest Hemingway’s later musings about the theft of a suitcase that contained the beginnings of his first novel. He admitted that it was all probably crap anyway. Like Hemingway, Lindsey has written plenty of worthy content since losing some of her art, and will continue to do so as long as she works as a reporter/essayist/blogger/etc.
It’s a win any time you can give your eighth grade English teacher homework. I don’t care what Lisa Carroll says about the inclusive nature of musical theater, it’s pretty badass that she beat Amy Poehler out for a role. The fact she’s also on the front lines protecting literacy is pretty badass as well.
Creativity is born in myriad places, but home might be the most important. Kerry Liss is the most recent newcomer to Writer’s Bone, but her earnest writing makes it plain she’ll be a big part of our 2015 plans. Her conclusion to this post is one of my favorite descriptive sentences of the past year:
“I smile at the site of a grown man finding such joy as the little bird cradles itself into the palm of his strong, blistered hand.”
I owe all the writing I did in the last quarter of the year to the events that inspired this post. I shudder to think of all the words I would have lost if I hadn’t spent time with my best friends in familiar New York City settings.
I’m going to let my buddy Dustin Hockensmith to end this post the way it should be ended. With copious amounts of “fuck.”
Look for Writer’s Bone thermoses in 2015!
For more essays, check out our full archive.