Francis Ford Coppola has never been satisfied being just a movie director. So over the years he has dabbled as, among other things, a vintner, cigar maker, resort innkeeper and studio chief.
Now the director of “The Godfather” trilogy has added another line to his resume: magazine publisher.
Over the past few weeks, Coppola and his minions have begun mailing copies of Zoetrope Short Stories, a new quarterly literary magazine dedicated to short fiction. The first issue runs 60 pages and includes seven stories and one essay, plus a letter to the reader from Coppola, who is listed on the masthead as publisher and founding editor.
“I do hope that this publication will form a bridge to storytellers at large, encouraging them to work in the natural format of a short story,” Coppola writes in the letter.
Like many Coppola projects, Zoetrope Short Stories seems a mix of the whimsical and grandiose. The publication was launched with a minimum of fanfare, quietly mailed out to writers, editors and students after its official start Jan. 30 (issues will also be available free at selected coffeehouses). John Masterton, an editor at the New York-based trade journal Media Industry Newsletter, said he was unaware of its existence until a reporter called to inquire about it.
On the other hand, Coppola, 57, appears to have great expectations for his latest venture. The initial press run is 50,000 copies, which is five to 10 times the circulation for many established literary magazines. According to Editor Adrienne Brodeur, Coppola is planning what he describes as “barn-raising” parties in several large cities, including Los Angeles, to celebrate the magazine. (Coppola was said to be editing a trailer for his latest film, “The Rainmaker,” and unavailable for an interview, although he did respond to some questions by fax.)
But the magazine may serve another purpose beyond the sheer love of letters. Coppola’s letter to readers disdains the current state of screenwriting (“I have never met a person in the film business who enjoys reading a screenplay”) and takes the unusual step of warning writers not to submit scripts or treatments. Screenwriters have strayed from the “storytelling tradition” of John O’Hara, Dorothy Parker, Ring Lardner, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others, Coppola writes.
But he adds: “If Zoetrope publishes a single short story that evolves into a memorable film then, in my mind, it would more than justify our efforts to produce this magazine.”
Brodeur, 31, whose resume includes a six-month stint at Paris Review, confirms the magazine may prove useful to Coppola’s San Francisco-based production company, American Zoetrope.
“If [Coppola] fell madly in love with a story, he would certainly pursue developing it” as a movie, Brodeur said. As if to telegraph that goal, the first issue concludes with a reprint of “The Wisdom of Eve,” Mary Orr’s 1947 short story that was the basis of the 1950 film “All About Eve.”
Whatever its exact mission, Zoetrope Short Stories has dedicated itself to an increasingly marginal genre. Once a staple of popular magazines, short fiction has recently grown harder to find at the newsstand. The New Yorker, for instance, roughly halved the number of short stories it published after Editor Tina Brown took over in 1992. Over time, fiction has become the province of academic journals, the Internet, grass-roots newspapers and other relatively esoteric outlets.
“I don’t think there is a strong demand for magazine fiction,” says Masterton, the industry newsletter editor, adding that readers apparently prefer to read fiction in novel form.
Reginald Gibbons, editor of TriQuarterly, a respected 5,000-circulation literary journal based in Evanston, Ill., received the first issue of Zoetrope in the mail and his initial reaction was favorable. “I welcome anything that increases the audience for short fiction, that’s for sure,” Gibbons said. “I only read the first story [a commissioned piece by Sara Powers called “The Baker’s Wife”], but [the magazine] looks pretty lively. . . . Everything in there would be seriously considered [for publication] here.”
Although Gibbons said he believed the magazine was aimed at readers in their late 20s, Brodeur disputed that view: “I don’t think there is a single story aimed exclusively toward a particular age group.”
Budget figures were unavailable, but Brodeur says Coppola is supporting the publication for now. The magazine has a full-time staff of two, including the editor, although a number of part-timers and volunteers also work in its New York offices, Brodeur says. The first issue, published on relatively inexpensive newsprint, contains no advertising and offers free subscriptions to readers who mail back address cards.
While Coppola seems committed for the long haul, he has been forced to scale back or abandon ambitious projects in the past. He lost his studio, also called American Zoetrope, to creditors in 1983, after the disastrous reception to his movie “One From the Heart.” And after government officials in Belize hesitated to embrace his vision of a high-tech utopia in their country, Coppola built a luxury resort hotel there instead.
But for now, Zoetrope Short Stories is marching headlong into the future. Asked how the magazine might change over time, Brodeur responded, “We prefer to keep our readers surprised.”