Mighty McSweeney's

David Eggers's Quarterly Builds a Following

It's common in the magazine business to see talented editorial folks get jobs at glossy corporate pubs once their underfunded labors of love finally go down the drain. But even the most jaded media observers were surprised when David Eggers became an editor at Esquire in the wake of the much bemoaned demise of Might magazine a few years back. With Eggers and friends at the helm, Might had taken on every brand of poseur and pretender that American culture has to offer.

So it came as less of a shock when Eggers resigned in September. As he prepared to jump ship, Eggers scored a book deal from Simon & Schuster, so, as he puts it, he'd have "a way to pay rent." Collecting a book advance, it seems, prompted Eggers to conceive of a new publication, one that wouldn't be nearly as contemporary as Might and wouldn't even be, technically, a magazine, lacking as it would regular departments, features, and columns (not to mention pictures and artwork).

The result is McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, a journal that comprises killed articles and odd, obliquely humorous experiments culled from Eggers's circle of former Might cronies, as well as from a few A-list scribes like Rick Moody and David Foster Wallace (none of whom get paid). Some of Might's more devout followers report being disappointed at the lack of current, media-centric editorial in McSweeney's— especially in its just published second issue— but Eggers says they'll have to get over it. Or at least go to the Web site.

Because there's obviously a Web site, as there always is these days. Even if you're Eggers, alone in a Brooklyn apartment in your underwear, producing the site on a six-year-old computer with one free megabyte of memory (which is either very refreshing or unfortunately reminiscent of 1995). Eggers originally saw the Web as a cheap and timely way to publish sarcastic, ephemeral rants about pop culture and the media. Indeed, one of the site's biggest draws is a serialized feature called The Service Industry, in which the editor and other unnamed guest authors eviscerate just the sort of people that Eggers worked for at Esquire.

But just as The Service Industry started winning over readers and attracting more site traffic— and subscriptions to the journal— Eggers's interest waned. Barely any new episodes have been posted in recent weeks, a situation the editor is loath to remedy (though he admits a few more are in the works). "People were livid when we stopped doing as much of that," Eggers says. "But my worst fear of all is that it become repetitive." Instead, he posted the first installment of a three-part, 5000-word interview with an epidemiologist specializing in viruses transmitted by bugs. Visit the site (mcsweeneys.com) while you can, because it's hard to know what you'll find the next time you look. Which for Eggers is precisely the point.

Village Voice: You've just published the second issue of McSweeney's. How does it compare with the first issue?

David Eggers: The quarterly is a weird, esoteric thing. I wanted the new issue to have a lot of hardcore science stuff. There's a fascinating interview with a mathematician that I modeled after The Paris Review interviews— it looks exactly the same. There's also a piece positing that Supreme Court decisions are actually decided on the basketball court. It runs about 14 pages, with diagrams. It takes a certain kind of reader to invest that much time in a lengthy piece of comic fiction or satire.

How is McSweeney's different from Might?

McSweeney's has less edge. At Might we were sneering, and everything had this gnashing tone— because we were angry. McSweeney's is more banal. It's the same reason I can only read Suck once every few weeks, because it's like having someone shouting in your ear.

How many subscribers do you have?

Over 500, which to me is an unbelievable number. It took five people three and a half hours to get the mailing together. And it's taken me four days to mail them out. We filled up the blue mailboxes in front of the pizza place to the point where you couldn't get them open, and this woman came up behind us and couldn't get her letter in. And she was just livid.

You also put up a Web site. Why?

I get really itchy if I don't have somewhere to publish things. I have all these friends with no forum for their weird satire and exercises, so we use the Web to put up reactive things in a timely way. The beauty of the Web site is that we're not answering to anybody. Early on, some people who hook up alterna Web sites with advertising came calling, but I'm not interested in any of that. There will never be any money exchanged in connection with the McSweeney's Web site.

Do you have any interest in making the site more interactive?

I've never found chat groups that interesting. I'm not even a huge Web reader, though I think The Onion is the best use of the English language in my lifetime. But my computer is from 1990 and I have a really slow Web connection. I might do all that stuff if it didn't take any time. But the idea is not to spend too much time on this stuff.

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