First Words — 15 January 2021
Exactly 700 words on the editor’s letter

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore 20th Anniversary Issue

I didn’t want to write an editor’s letter for the magazine.

I know most editors do write letters for their magazines. I knew by not writing an editor’s letter for City & Shore, I would set us apart from other magazines in that regard. That I would tempt headlines in authoritative magazine trade publications:

“Editor Refuses to Write Letter to Readers! Clearly Something to Hide?”

Did I feel guilty? A little. Bad? Maybe. Stubborn? Well …

But over the years, I’ve watched readers of other magazines flip right past the letter from the editor to get to the better stuff inside the magazine. And I wondered, why should the editor write a letter telling readers all about what’s in the magazine when there’s a perfectly good Table of Contents – not to mention cover! – already there, telling readers what’s in the magazine?

So, aside from our debut issue in 2001, and occasional notes announcing redesigns or anniversaries over the past 20 years, I did not write a letter for City & Shore.

Until our art director, Anderson Greene, asked me. For artistic reasons.

For artistic reasons, he said, we needed something else toward the front of the book to help it look better. You couldn’t just have the cover and the Table of Contents, he said, then fling readers into front-of-the-book features without some kind of rest stop on the way.

So because he is a good person who wanted to give you, gentle readers, a place to rest, I agreed to write a letter for the magazine. For artistic reasons.

Anderson – a marvelous art director – is nonetheless a merciless taskmaster. He said my letter, for artistic reasons, could only be 200 words long. Two hundred words!?! I don’t know about you, but I need 200 words just to write my name. (Well, at least to spell it right.) How was I supposed to write a whole editor’s letter in 200 words or less!? I just counted, and – right here! – I hit 329 words, and, clearly, I think we can all agree I haven’t gotten anywhere near the point of this letter.

So, my first regular letter in 2010 was all about how impossible it was to write an editor’s letter in 200 words. And it was exactly 200 words long. Take THAT, I thought, as I sent it off to Anderson.

I had to admit, I kind of enjoyed the challenge. Maybe I did have something to hide.

I may have caved on the whole letter-from-the-editor idea, but I still didn’t want to write a letter like all the other editors write. You know, one that tells you what you already know about the magazine from the cover or the Table of Contents. BOR-ing!

“Editor Refuses to Write Letter Like the Rest of Us! Even Clearer Evidence of Something to Hide?”

So, for my editor’s letter, I’ve always tried to write something completely different from everything else in the magazine. Oh, sometimes they may reference a theme of the magazine. Like, how impossible it is to keep a home from growing mushrooms on the ceiling for the Home Issue, for example. Or, for an issue on taking stock later in life, how I really needed to make amends to Mick Jagger for pretending to be him several times over my life. Or, for an Arts Issue, what I did when the alarm on my watch went off loudly during a performance by the Cleveland Orchestra at Miami’s Arsht Center.

I guess readers stopped flipping past the editor’s letter, because they started to write and tell me they’d also had mushrooms on their ceilings, or significant Mick Jagger guilt or got banned from wearing watches during performances by visiting symphonies. I don’t know what judges of actual journalism contests were thinking, but they even started giving me awards for these columns. (You can win awards for writing editor’s letters? Yes! There are even Big Money prizes – sometimes enough to buy fancy word counters!)

So here are 20 of my favorite columns since Anderson asked me start writing an editor’s letter for artistic reasons. I’d love to tell you more about them, but he only allowed me 700 words for this feature.


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Editor’s note: Thanks to Elizabeth Rahe, who deftly – and generously – edits my column; to Greg Carannante, who was here with me on the ground floor of City & Shore 20 years ago, and has always made it better; to my mom, Barbara Gauert, who catches my “Sedonas” when I meant to write “Sonoma”; to all our readers and advertisers, who’ve made the magazine possible, and to the aforementioned Art Director Anderson Greene, who always makes my column look worthy of an award – and allowed me these 90 extra words to say thanks.

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