Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fire Storm At "Get Real"

Looks like my post about getting some friends in high places has caused a bit of a sh*t storm in the comments section at Kelly Spitzer's blog.  She and her participants don't exactly appreciate my reaction, which seems like a pretty natural one for a writer, rejected like me.  I always enjoy Kelly Spitzer's blog, and link to her interesting discussions often, calling her the Spitzmeister, and sending all of you over there for an insider's view.  I guess I'm just never going to be popular among the editor set, whether big guns or small potatoes.

Anyhoo...they are mad as hornets over there at me (one commenter called me a "dork," and another called me an "asshat," and there's some question about my balls, which is kind of fun.) 

So, Kelly, who is pissed, and never mentions all the good press I give her, has asked the following question:  

"I guess my problem with Writer, Rejected and [another blogger] Vanessa’s comments are lack of evidence. Can either of you back up your argument? Do you have personal experience? An editor who rejected you because they solicited a piece instead, maybe? I’d like to know! I’d be stunned and find that despicable, but at least I’d understand where you’re coming from."

Hello? Has Kelly read LROD and my 9 million rejections? I would bet (but can't prove) that a few editors have solicited a writer from another lit mag, or from a friendly workshop, or from their friends on Face Book, after passing my work up.  But what does that prove?  They will just say what they always say, which is that I'm clearly not worthy of being published.  

Anyone want to answer her question about why editor solicitation is so irritating a practice to the serious writer who banks on good writing to open doors?

72 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, well, well. You know what? It looks to me like all the editor/writer in the solicitation discussion at Kelly Spitzer's blog all just publish each other. Seriously, most of them have appeared in each other's literary magazines.

No wonder they are all so defensive!

Anonymous said...

Yes, the lady doth protest too much.

rmellis said...

I don't know how I missed that earlier post of yours. An interesting subject...

When I had a lit mag, I solicited people. It was a puny mag and of course I solicited my friends, but I mostly wrote to writers I admired or who I found in other mags hoping to get something good -- something good in a specific way. I wanted funny, sharp, odd work, and that practically never came in the slush pile. I wanted it to; it's embarrassing to beg people for stuff.

As a writer I've been solicited, too, but I don't think I ever gave anyone any work that way. It's one thing to be rejected by an anonymous editor, but another thing to be rejected by someone who thought they liked your stuff...

I think good writing does open doors. The whole solicitation thing is more about one success leading to another, than it is about editors publishing their shitty friends and not the good stuff in the slush (though I guess that happens, too. But who wants to be in that kind of crappy mag?).

Anonymous said...

"I would bet (but can't prove) that a few editors have solicited a writer from another lit mag, or from a friendly workshop, or from their friends on Face Book, after passing my work up."

Bet but can't prove it.

That's the problem with publishing today. These rats know that you're a nobody and can't prove nothing they do.

This is how all the nepotism in publishing works. How all the favoritism works. How all the discrimination works, which is in full force. A new kind of discrimination. Not the inaccurate stereotypes they force-feed on you to keep you dumb and docile. Editors and publishers want sleaze and they want it bad. They think it's more "real" that way. (The rulers also know it keeps the citizens docile and distracted.) Got to be "edgy" (how lame is that, yes, but that's how they think). If your story isn't sufficiently "edgy" or "gritty" or disrepsectful of certain institutions (never theirs) or "questioning" enough of authority (never theirs), then they don't want it. I've had stories rejected because they weren't "obscene" enough, not enough of certain approved obscenities and obscene concepts used. Try querying a magazine article for a mainstream magazine, keep the article clean and with a sense of morality that they don't share, and see how far you get. Try submitting a story whose worldview is not of their own and see how far you get. You won't get far.

Oh but people know it. They do. They see it. You'd have to be brain dead not to. Eventually this is going to break and these people are going to find themselves down, way down.

Anonymous said...

BTW, forget Kelly Spitzer and her blog. These people are part of the problem. The yes-men of literary publishing. These journals all need to get shut down. They don't rely on subscriptions, that's for sure, since nobody reads them - we just need to make sure that funding stops for this kind of garbage. Make it a point, as I do, to protest all funding for these "arts" ... as economic times worsen, we can hope these universities will feel the pinch and cut back their useless journals. The academy has hijacked literature. $#@! them. We need to take it back. We want commercial, mainstream publications that pay - and that print decent stories. We don't want these precious little journals and their garbage. Forget Kelly Spitzer and her friends. Forget POETRY magazine. Question them. They want us to question authority, well I question the morally bankrupt Poetry Foundation and the garbage they support. Notice that they ONLY publish school teachers and students who are studying to be teachers. It's all a sham. It's corrupt. It must be destroyed.

Writer, Rejected said...

Forget them? Don't we want to get published in them? Hmm. Such a confusing literary world in which we live!

Anyway, Anon, it's good that someone still believes in a revolution. I wish I did. Seriously. I'm so tired today.

Pauline said...

Writer, Rejected: If an editor solicited a story from you, would you turn them down? I don't see the problem with soliciting work, especially if the person soliciting reads it closely and makes an informed decision on whether or not to accept it.

There are so many people who comment on this blog (I don't include you, Writer, Rejected), who are obsessed with some grand conspiracy of publishing and literary mags and, the most monstrous and well-connected of them all, MFA graduates! I think it's easier to blame rejection on these factors, rather than on your own work (which may need improvement, or maybe it simply wasn't a good fit for the magazine/agent/editor). I read this blog because I get rejected a lot and it fucking sucks, but the alarmist cries of some of your readers usually feel unfounded and just downright ridiculous. The people who work in the publishing business, in my opinion, are generally hard working and underpaid, and they love literature.

Making connections is useful in the publishing business, but I think a writer does so over time anyway, simply by meeting other authors, submitting a lot, getting published (eventually), and so on. It just kind of happens.

I guess I don't see the point of being all apocalyptic about this. I just keep writing, and I keep submitting.

Writer, Rejected said...

Of course I'd give a story if someone solicited me. But, what else would you expect from a whore like me?

Business is dirty. Period. Even the business of tiny literary magazines.

Anonymous said...

Subject: the importance of contacts. Personal experience.
Hand-delivered story to office of an editor (at a nearby university). Was told he had just departed for summer vacation, but to send the manuscript to his home. Would I be intruding? No, no, that's where he reads submissions. Was given address.
Received a form rejection about two months later. No comment on it (and I live 20 miles away!).
Years go by. Professors of English and history from university give a seminar at local library. I attend, strike up conversation with English professor (head of the department; not the editor) because I notice he has some old paperbacks. Next session I bring some of my oldies. We talk about literature on breaks. I never once mention that I write.
A friend attends university, talks with paperback professor; he finds out she lives in the same town I do, asks her if she knows me. Sure does! Does he write? Sure does! I had a hunch he did. Would it be OK with him if I see some of his work?
I send him 3 stories, including the one previously rehjected. He likes them -- a lot. Writes me a long letter, asks if he can pass them on to the editor of the university journal. I say, Go ahead.
Shortly thereafter get a letter from the same editor accepting the same story that he rejected without comment, and lavishing praise on it.
Is there a lesson to be learned in all this?

Anonymous said...

"Is there a lesson to be learned in all this?"

Editors don't read, have no balls, do as they're told. Want to succeed socially at all cost. No they do NOT read, they do not really scour the slush or evaluate their incoming material equally.

Similar experiment is sometimes worthy. Take a few famous stories by famous authors. Something that was published oh maybe 50, 60 years back. Change the title, change the author name, change the names of all the characters. Submit the story. You will be surprised at the reaction.

Kelly Spitzer said...

Hey, LROD,

Sorry about the name calling. I'm not a fan of that aspect.

For the record, I've never been published in Dave or Ellen's magazines. I've submitted, but was rejected every time. Of those submissions I think only one found a home elsewhere. The rest I eventually decided needed more work.

We all get rejections. You shouldn't take them personally. It's hard not to sometimes, but one thing I learned editing for SmokeLong is that it really isn't about the writer behind the words. We read submissions blindly, so we don't even know who is behind the stories!!

Furthermore, just to reiterate, we would never reject a good story from the slush just because we solicited another. They'd be published side by side.

But I've said all this over and over.

So we disagree. That's life. It doesn't mean I'm pissed at you or Vanessa. I totally think you're both wrong, and yes, your initial post irritated me. But you both feel the same about my reaction, no? It doesn't mean I won't stop by LROD, or that I'll stop associating with Vanessa. We have different views. Isn't that what makes Get Real interesting? (And yes, maybe frustrating, because we're all strong-headed, after all.)

Anyway, keep on, LROD. That's all any of us can do, right?

Dave Clapper said...

Here's the thing: yeah, as writers, we all get rejected. And yeah, sometimes it stings. But I agree whole-heartedly with what Pauline says above. I think it's a disservice to ourselves as writers to get so hung up on why OTHER people are getting published instead of us. It's a much better use of time, in my opinion, to move on, write something else, submit, keep improving.

The reason some of us editors are so freaking touchy about this issue is because it gets lobbed at us again and again. Some of us go way the hell out of our way to try to find writers who don't fit the "friend" stereotype we're accused of. And then we find writers we really like, and maybe publish them more than once, and suddenly they're "friends," too! How do we win that battle? By publishing only people we've never published before? Make every single issue of our magazines people appearing in the magazine for the first time? Do you know how much time it would take to FIND those new authors every time? Most of us have full-time jobs aside from editing lit mags. We WANT to find everything we need for an excellent issue in the slush. It'd sure take a lot less time.

I'm gonna paste here what I said about the slush in the "Get Real" installment on that. I suspect my experience as an editor reading the slush doesn't differ much from other editors:

Well. Truth is, I’ve started to write an answer to this a few times and I just wasn’t feelin’ it, yo. But… I’ve now had two reposado margaritas I mixed myself, so… whee, right? The slush. If I had my druthers, we’d never solicit one damned thing. I’ve reported (I think) that our acceptance rate runs about 4%. Actually, I think that was even in our form rejection for a while, as in, “Our acceptance rate is only 4%, so it’s very tough.” Gag! We got rid of that line. And 4%, I’m here to tell you, is overselling things. Our acceptance rate from the slush is more like about 2%. We input our solicitations into the same online admin center where the “unsolicited” subs go. (I put unsolicited in quotes, because frankly, anything that comes in through the online submission form is solicited, via the guidelines and the form itself. We want “unsolicited” submissions.)

So… 2%. That’s one in fifty. But if what was in the slush warranted it, I’d be ecstatic to never ever ever solicit one single solitary thing. I want to be dazzled by everything that comes in. I want to publish lots of stuff by folks who’ve never been published before. Do you know the cred that goes to an editor for “discovering” a great writer? If we could “discover” eighty new writers a year, we’d be selling our shit for millions on eBay, it’d smell so good.

But.

It doesn’t happen.

Here’s why. I read the 12th issue of Quick Fiction the other night. I was blown away. I was inspired. I was awed. My beloved just told me that our last issue of SLQ was as good, that she leaned into her monitor with her mouth open while reading. Hallelujah! That, my friends, is what we want! From where I sit, it’s hard to be blown away in quite the same way from story to story to story. By the time we put an issue of the magazine to bed, I know the stories awfully damned well. When one knows twenty stories as well as I do by the time we publish, it’s hard to read them with one’s mouth ajar. But lemme tell ya… if a magazine’s put together right, that’s the effect. Quick Fiction did that to me. SmokeLong, hallelujah, did that to at least one writer I really respect.

And that’s why. The stuff we receive needs to make me drool on my desk, at least a little, if it’s going to make it in. Or, rather, it needs to have that effect on at least one of our editors. We’ve run stuff that only one editor voted yes on, but whose yea was so enthusiastic that the rest of us had to look askance at our own nays. And we’ve turned away stuff that was almost a unanimous yes, but the yeas were moderate.

In light of that, yes, we solicit. We don’t particularly want to. If the slush read like that issue of Quick Fiction that so awed me, we could publish twenty stories weekly, and I’d do a happy happy joy joy dance. The reality is, though, that because we have our own subjective versions of what we like and because those are sometimes startlingly specific (yet nearly impossible to define)… 2%.

Stepping outside of that for a sec… just because we don’t want to print something doesn’t mean it’s bad. There are a lot of venues out there that are great that may better suit a writer’s sensibilities. I know that a lot of editors virtually beg submitting writers to read their publications before submitting. I’m not gonna do that. But. As a (terribly lazy, of late) writer myself, I’ve gotten to a point where I have zero interest in submitting to a magazine I don’t already personally love to read. My stuff is splattered all over the place from a phase when I wanted to be as many places as possible. Ooh, look at that Dave Clapper, he’s so talented. Fuck that. At this point, if/when I submit, it’s only going to be to places I already love to read. Those would include Quick Fiction, Night Train, elimae, and a few places I’ve been before. If, for example, my work only appeared for the rest of my life in FRiGG, I could be pretty damned happy with that. Writers: it’s not a crime to find a publication you like and get comfortable there. You do not have to appear in a hundred different publications to be successful. If SmokeLong happens to be a place that you love to read, then hit us hard (within the guidelines). But if it’s not… why are you submitting? If you’re submitting, you’re either a) trying to fit stuff where it won’t, or b) trying to change your voice to match our vision. Neither is productive.

And shit, I shouldn’t say that, because quite often it’s the voice that comes at us from a direction we never even thought of that makes us all hurl hosannas at the heavens.

Steve said...

Hey, latest Anon: start drinking decaf, pal. Oh, and by the way: are you an editor? You seem to know an awful lot about "them"? And do you recognize that you really can't lump all of "them" together and still make a cogent argument? If you're writing is as flawed as your logic, small wonder your results with publication.

There are some damn good editors out there in the world. They are about as rare as damn good writers.

I couldn't tell you about their balls or lack thereof. Nice to know, however, that a kind individual such as yourself is so interested in matters testicular as to go around confirming such things.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Kelly, and all you editors out there. How about the "personal experience" post? You wanted an example.
It happens all the time, in a thousand ways. I've experienced it, I've seen it. Contacts count big time. The higher up you go, the more they count.
Dave Clapper: brevity, sir, is a virtue in a writer. As an editor, and therefore an expert on writing, you should know that.

Anonymous said...

"The stuff we receive needs to make me drool on my desk, at least a little, if it’s going to make it in."

And you pay HOW MUCH for this stuff that makes you drool on your desk?

HOW much?

I thought so. Which is why you've never gotten a submission from me.

Could also be why 99% of published work with my name on it is non-fiction. See, I am not a teacher, I have no degree. I am a full time working writer. And I'll be damned if I'm going to submit my work to places that want me to do so for free. Which is why the "literary journals" only run stuff from teachers, they got the time and paycheck for that sort of thing. I don't.

Anonymous said...

you people will never get published

Writer, Rejected said...

Exactly our point.

Dave Clapper said...

Good question. How much do we, as editors get paid?

Yeah, that's pretty much what I thought.

Anonymous said...

"How much do we, as editors get paid?"

Volunteer work? Thanks for the frank admission. Makes so much sense. Also means nobody wants to buy your stuff. Ie, please stop publishing it.

Pauline said...

Dave, thanks for sharing your editing experiences with us. These haters are just bitter.

Since when did getting paid for something meant you cared about it, or that it was a viable practice in the world? Paris Hilton gets paid to show up at a dance club--does that make her vocaton more valuable than Dave's? I hope not. Clearly, he's editing this magazine because he loves the work, and I assume that's why you're writing--because you love it.

If you guys want literary magazines to be commercially successful then start subscribing to them! Getting the world to care about literature starts with you, and you, and you.

Gloria, Writer Reading said...

Having connections? Friends in high places? Tell me where in this society that is not a major factor for success? Half the freshman class of every ivy league institution is a "legacy" kid, or at least the kid of a parent who just promised to donate a shitload of money to the school. Everything in the U.S. is run like a business, including the War in Iraq and its body count. This is not just about publishing our insignificant little manuscripts. This is the American Way.

Anonymous said...

"Clearly, he's editing this magazine because he loves the work, and I assume that's why you're writing--because you love it."

We're talking about professional careers, not avocational hobbies. If fiction is no longer a professional career, as I maintain, than the problem is much bigger than some hobbyist "literary" web site.


"Paris Hilton gets paid to show up at a dance club--does that make her vocaton more valuable than Dave's?"

In a word, yes. Are you kidding me?


"If you guys want literary magazines to be commercially successful then start subscribing to them!"

No way! NO WAY! I do NOT want these lame little literary magazines to be commercially successful. Please get that straight. Please understand our point here. Please listen. Don't you get it? They publish trash. They are idiotic and pointless. It's not a matter of "getting the world to care about literature" -- as if what these dumb magazines published was so important that the world was missing out! I deplore these dumb magazines, I hate the writing in them, and I wish they would all dry up and disappear. Well, I've got at least half my wish because if you go out in the real world you'll never find them.


"insignificant little manuscripts"

Speak for yourself.

Anonymous said...

Obama was actually talking about rejected writers.

Dave Clapper said...

Anonymous, we have over 200,000 page views per issue. How many people are reading the print mags? A tenth of that? Maybe?

Dave Clapper said...

Ah, never mind. I didn't read further. You hate ALL lit mags. Carry on.

Anonymous said...

Just like an editor not to read till the end. :)

Dave Clapper said...

Touché. :)

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous, we have over 200,000 page views per issue. How many people are reading the print mags? A tenth of that? Maybe?"

And YOU DON'T PAY YOUR WRITERS?

Sorry, but NO serious writer should EVER contribute to something like that. None. Oh sure you'll get some of the MFA crowd, lining up to pad their CVs, but that's all you'll get. You won't ever get the serious, professional full-time (usually agented) writers to take part. Never. You won't. Hey, has Jay McInerney ever contributed to your journal? Why not? He's writing books right now. He's not retired. He's a real writer. How about Richard Ford? Zadie Smith? Jonanthan Franzen? Bret Easton Ellis? Arthur Phillips? Amy Hempel? John Updike? Saul Bellow? Phillip Roth? No? Tom Wolfe? Martin Amis? Margaret Atwood? Joan Didion? Rick Bass? Charles Frazier? Toni Morrison? Ian McEwan? T. Coraghessan Boyle? Jeffrey Eugenides? E. L. Doctorow? Joyce Carol Oates? Tobias Wolff? Pat Conroy?

No?

Why not? These are all writers, they're all fiction writers, living and working in the here and now. So why don't they contribute to your journal?

Here's why: these and 500 other professional career writers wouldn't be caught dead, NOT CAUGHT DEAD, contributing to your "journal."

Again, why?

Because you DO NOT PAY. It's very hard to make a living as a writer now, doubly hard as it was just a decade ago. Almost IMPOSSIBLE as a writer of fiction.

And the tiny, non-paying journals ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. They are not the answer. In fact every one of these tiny journals only adds to the concept of short story writer as unpaid, backwater "hobby."

PUC said...

Are we having fun yet?

Dave Clapper said...

Steve Almond, Dan Chaon, Stuart Dybek, Stephen Elliott, Melanie Rae Thon, and everyone on this page (http://smokelong.com/book.asp) disagree with you.

Thanks for that list, though. I suppose I could solicit all of them, get several of them, and then listen to the howls about editors soliciting instead of only publishing the slush.

Writer, Rejected said...

That's an impressive list of writers. I love Dan Chaon's work in particular. I have to admit, contrary to some opinions on this blog, I'm glad that small lit mags aren't dead, and I think many writers actually do publish stories for free...it happens all the time. Most of us, most of the time. It's just how it is. I make my living doing another form of writing entirely, and I write because I have to, and I always try to get my stories in the best possible magazines, through the slush pile usually, since I'm not particularly well connected. And for a schmoe, I've done okay despite obvious frustrations aired on this blog. It's a confusing time. The more I learn, the less I know what the hell is going on.

Steve said...

Angry Anon: I don't hear Richard Ford crying about lit mags. Read some of his essays about his writing life before he hit it big. He was sending to little places that didn't pay and waiting at the mailbox just like the rest of us.

Oh, I know, you're going to say what an easier time Richard Ford had of "making it" because there were more venues for "serious fiction" back in the day. I guess my only response would be that "back in the day" it was probably even more important than it is now to have a pedigree or some kind of letter of introduction. Bottom line is this: if you want to get paid like Richard Ford, you'd better write as well as he writes. You can't tell me that if you wrote something as masterful as some of that man's novels there wouldn't be a place for you in the paid publication world.

BTW, if I were you, I'd save my real angst for the aforementioned publishing racket in NYC not the lit journals at universities.

You worry that lit mags perpetuate the myth of writing as hobby while MFAers are using them for professional development? How do those go together? Oh wait, conspiracy thinkers don't bother with logic, is that right? You just get pissed about something and find the easiest scapegoat.

Gloria, Writer Reading said...

Excuse me, Steve, but to which Angry Anon were you referring? The cowboy, the gangster, the hit man, or the plastic surgeon? I'd just be careful about handling the gang of anonymice.

Anonymous said...

You people aren't addressing the POINT. You skip over it. Literary fiction today is dominated by a network of contacts. If you ain't got 'em, you're out in the cold.
Richard Ford got an MFA from U. of California Irvine; one of his teachers was E.L. Doctorow.
Do you think he didn't cultivate people who could be useful to him? One of his mentors was the poet Donald Hall, who assisted him greatly with the writing and publication of his first novel.
Can't you numbskulls understand what we're talking about?
Richard Ford played the game. I advise others to do the same.
As for the quality of his writing, some disagree about his mastery. Colson Whitehead gave Ford's book of stories a bad review, and at a party Ford walked up to Whitehead and spit in his face.

Dave Clapper said...

"It's a confusing time. The more I learn, the less I know what the hell is going on."

Me, too.

And, for the record, I'm sorry about the "no balls" and "asshat" comments.

The topic obviously touches a nerve for me, largely because I started SmokeLong in the first place in response to what I felt was poor treatment by editors at some other mags. And as we've grown, I'm constantly concerned that we're not able to treat each submitting writer with as much care as we initially did (for example, we used to respond, on average, in two days; we're averaging a bit over two weeks response time now, which is still good according to Duotrope, but nothing like it once was).

I think, over all, we're doing pretty well. In just under five years, we've published 287 different writers, so we're averaging about 60 writers new to us each year. But getting called out for the same things that made me frustrated enough to want to start a lit mag in the first place, while knowing that we're not exactly the same pub we were in our wide-eyed beginnings... it's a tough balance, and I'm touchier about it than I oughta be.

Dave Clapper said...

"Literary fiction today is dominated by a network of contacts. If you ain't got 'em, you're out in the cold."

Is that different from any other era in literary fiction? And, considering how many networks can be entered freely into today (it doesn't take an MFA to get into workshops like Zoetrope, or into a wide array of online lit mags, which okay, typically don't pay, but which yes, have led in many cases to getting agented and paid), isn't it less of a closed network now than it ever has been?

Just the existence of a blog like this is a great example of how much more accessible the literary network has become. (Of course, posting anonymously in the comments doesn't really allow for like-minded people to contact you to further your own network.)

Anonymous said...

All the connections in the world won't make you a good writer.

Dave Clapper said...

I'm aware of that. Which is why I'm not submitting anything these days until I get better.

Anonymous said...

David Clapper and Kelly Spitzer, editors of Smokelong Quarterly, are sharing their views.
How about a little experiment, folks? It's a bit like the previous experiment, where much-rejected stories were run. And commented on. (I wonder if David and Kelly read any of them, if only to see what the Great Unwashed were writing; bet not.)
Anyway. There's all this bitching at LROD about how unfair things are, how crap gets published, how deserving work goes unpublished.
Go to Smokelong Quarterly's website and read the featured story, "Wei-Chi," by Vanessa Gebbie.
Evaluate its worth -- BE FAIR, you bitter SOBs! If it's great, say so. You don't like it when editors reject your work without giving it a fair reading, do you?
Vanessa also has a website and a blog, so you can learn more about her.
(Can you, wr, do a better job than I'm doing of presenting this experiment -- such as providing a link to the story. Or maybe giving this matter a post of its own.)

Writer, Rejected said...

Thanks, Dave. And...well, just for the record, I am actually an asshat. Most of the time.

Anonymous said...

CK Williams, interview, THE NEW YORKER: "I used to send Howard Moss, the New Yorker poetry editor, everything, the way I send you everything, just automatically."

Interesting, because for all the rest of us, our submissions are limited to what, 6 poems a year? CK Williams writes more than 6 poems a year. Same thing with TC Boyle and Jeffrey Eugenides and all the other famous fiction writers who appear in there, do they really only submit 2 stories MAX a year? Is there a special leeway for the famous writers or not? I think the interview linked above indicates that there is. And when you have the best poets and fiction writers submitting everything they write, what chances are your two submissions MAX a year?

Anonymous said...

Since I'm a bitter SOB, I decided to check out that story at Smokelong Quarterly -- "Wei-Chi."
Beginning with the faux-foreign sensibility (all the rage --aren't we international) and a heavy-with-meaning statement: "Sometime,we must come to the end of all possible permutations" (huh?), we move to the finding of...well, individual body parts.
When I got to the foot (the right foot, mind you) this turned into comedy for me. Yet I think that Vanessa Gebbie actually believes she wrote about something DEEP, and that she did it oh-so exquisitely. And I guess David and Kelly did too. When it's really gratuitous nonsense.
Which only goes to prove some points being made at LROD: editors have no taste, and junk gets published and praised. (Not all editors; not all work; but a lot.)
Or does it just prove that my stuff will never find a home?
I checked out Vanessa's website and her blog. Quite the industrious little self-promoter! That's a necessity too.
Anybody else have an opinion about "Wei-Chi"? The story is very short. I think we need more "This is what I'm talking about" moments.

Steve said...

Something has to be said for the editors who, while they may not publish the "best" ("best" being defined by established norms, tastes, etc--i.e. what has succeeded in the past) stories and poems, are publishing stories and poems that somehow push the envelope of what's happening today. Imagine the change in literary standards/tastes--just on the sentence level--from Dickens to Hemingway. Or from Dickens to Faulkner to Toni Morrison. These kinds of permutations would be impossible if all that got published were "good" stories.

And this is the thing about editors. It's not their jobs to be vanguards of taste!! It's their job to explore and chart the world of literary fiction as it evolves. It's their job to have a vision. It may not be your vision, and you may not see it, but that's the work they are doing.

And btw, it has nothing to do with any individual author, friendships or otherwise. Editors are just as predatory as writers and must beg, borrow and steal to realize their visions. That they're willing to do this at all makes it possible for writers to have a venue.

Anonymous said...

"It's their job to have a vision. It may not be your vision,"--

Absolutely. That's exactly why they don't publish some of us. Philosophical and aesthetic reasons alone kill us in their books.

Writer, Rejected said...

I was moved by the story, "Wei-Chi." I may not want my entire reading diet to be that kind of story, but I doubt that's the only kind of story Gebbie writes. Anyway, I like to read a quiet metaphor of a story like that once in a while. It reminds me of Rebecca Brown's work, and it makes me think. You certainly can't argue with the fact that it's perfectly crafted and quite well done. As for the writer's self-promotion, I say more power to her. We should all be doing the same.

Dave Clapper said...

Anon: if you're interested, I didn't find Vanessa's story particularly deep, but I didn't feel like that was what she was going for, either. I thought it was, in its way, oddly sweet, which isn't what usually makes me champ at the bit, but worked well for me in this case.

For what it's worth, the piece that probably came closest to my own writing sensibilities in this issue was Stefanie Freele's "Arlo's Big Head." Prior to reading applications for our $500 fellowship, I'd never ecnountered Stefanie before, but now, since she'll be working with us for another nine months or so, I suppose she falls into that "friends" category people earlier bemoaned.

Joseph Young said...

I think I have a solution to all this bitter feud, though I'd guess it won't work for many: love what you do. Am I wrong, or if you love what you do you won't be so worried about what everyone else is doing, which is probably just loving what THEY do? Are you going to stop writing/publishing/editing because of Dave or SmokeLong or Joyce Carol Oates or LROD or paying mags or unpaying mags? We seem to have convinced ourselves that resources are so scarce in the arts that we have to claw each other to take our share. The truth is the resources are abounding and never ending, because the will to write/edit/publish is in the hands of such boundlessly creative and resourceful people. Yeah, there's the money thing. That's a hard question to work out. But if you're either starting or ending with the money question in the arts, well, I'm not sure it'll ever be answered. Gotta start and end with the love thing, even if in the middle there's a feud.

Anonymous said...

The resources -- magazines, for example -- are not scarce, but they are the same. Scratch any first or second tier literary journal, and you find the same sensibility, the same practices.
Are these magazines headed by "boundlessly creative and resourceful people"? I think not, based on what they publish; if they were doctors I wouldn't let them cut on me.
w,r found "Wei-Chi" moving. Hmm... Well, everybody is entitled to their opinion; my complaint is that one opinion prevails.
Am I the only one to turn away from the "Wei-Chi" type of exercise? No, hordes of people, if asked their opinion of that story, would call it nonsense. It can only survive in a hothouse.
One day a nobody named James Jones walked into Maxwell Perkin's office; Perkins actually talked to the young man; took his huge manuscript (an autobiographical work); read it; wrote Jones, encouraging him by citing his strengths. Ultimately we would get From Here to Eternity. The prose is not sophisticated, but the novel has narrative drive, conviction, authentic and memorable characters. That's what I like, and so did millions. A hardy weed.

Vanessa G said...

Hello WR

Wow. There's certainly a lot of discussion about this one. A good thing.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, for the record, Smokelong has always been one of my favourite mags. The fact that the ed isnt one of my best mates is irrelvant.

I hadn't noticed that they went for 'sweet' stuff, otherwise I certainly wouldnt like it. Yerk. Hopefully, the piece referred to above is something in addition to 'sweet'...what it's like to be in the contraflow, and how it brings people down. A sudden moment of realisation that going with the herd is meaningless but you need the herd to survive.

ironic, given the last few days, and pack activity par excellence.


Whatever. I use Smokelong to teach from, have for three years and I aint going to stop over a stupid spat.

But what I wanted to say was something about believing in yourself when you write, despite the knockbacks. About accepting rejects for what they are. 'This piece isnt right for this mag', mostly.

The places that get my goat are few. Transparent, but few. And in the great scheme of things, they are pretty meaningless, as we are on that tack.

But I dug out my stats for the last few years, and wondered if it would be a decent thing to give your readers some heart?

Three stories.

1) work published in GUD earlier this year. That took 3 years to get published, and 11 rejections, 3 ignored subs, no notes from eds... just 11 'not for us'.

2) Work longlisted for a big comp. (last 50 out of 5500 ) took sixteen form rejections and four ignores before it was published. I know because I published it in the book!

3) One flash, 15 form rejects and 1 ignore. Finally found a home on an ezine. Took two and a half years.

You HAVE to be tough, stand up for yourself and your work.

Not be silly... recognise when it needs work. Work when necessary. But don't give up, really.

Thats the only message id like to give writers who may be faltering.

Keep going. Learn to write as well as you can. Dont think you ever stop learning, because you don't.

And enjoy it. Life's too short to skin a mushroom.

Vanessa G said...

before I get jumped on...

'a good thing... discussion' referred to the topic of the entire thread, not one diddy flash. I cross posted with the one above.

Anonymous said...

"Hopefully, the piece above...is (about) what it's like to be in the counterflow, and how it brings people down. A sudden moment of realisation that going with the herd is meaningless but you need the herd to survive."
(Vanessa Gebbie's explanation of what "Wei-Chi" is about. I never saw any of that in the story -- which is exactly my point.)
I notice that most of the responses to the story are from folks connected with the magazine. Dave, Joseph Young, the author herself (who uses Smokelong to teach from).

Joseph Young said...

I didn't discuss the story. Given that I helped publish it, I think my opinion on it is clear. Are you in publishing, Anon? You certainly could be, if you feel there's a lack. If the world needs another Max Perkins, perhaps you could have at it. Or, you could write your dramatic and hardy novel and work to get it published. Whatever.

Vanessa G said...

You know, it is good feedback to hear what you think of the piece, anon. (sorry, sounds a bit weird... I've always been naive enough to just be me online, and have got into some unholy scrapes!)

All I can say is that those thoughts were uppermost in my mind as I wrote, and I got quite upset for Yuuto. Pathetic, isn't it?

But please don't ally me with the mag. It is nothing whatsoever to do with me. I am pleased to have been accepted there, because I value their judgement as a writer of flash, and it is a validation.

I would rather it wasn't for writing 'sweet'. But hey it's better than nothing!

Writing flash fiction is a specific skill, whether or not I do it OK...

Maybe, as the adage says, I'm teaching it because I can't 'do' it. Time will tell.

But flash is on the way to being the opposite to epic-length novels... hard to judge with the same glasses on.

Vanessa G said...

Jesus, V, get the work right.

Apologies… There’s a partner to this one, coming out in print in Southword, in Ireland.

Wei Ch’i is the first of the two. Loss.The lull before the storm.

Anonymous said...

Some Anon wrote, "All the connections in the world won't make you a good writer."
True. But connctions can get you published, and then you can believe you're a good writer.
Regarding Flash Fiction: it's fiction for those who don't want to read; one of the signs of disease in the organism.

Anonymous said...

Believing you're a good writer doesn't make you one, either.

Anonymous said...

Anon: I read "Wei-Chi," and thought it was publishable. I can agree with the first anon to comment about it above -- the "aren't we so international" trope is HUGE in these journals, and I think it's so stupid. Everyone is so touchy about race and ethnicity but nobody can speak honestly about such things. I don't like body parts appearing all over but I understand the story and thought it did what it was supposed to do. I have no criticism of that author or her work.

I don't want to get into a criticism of Smokelong, but I am not a fan of these kind of journals. I don't think they can get the best kind of work simply because they do not pay. They might get a few good ones as reprints, like something from Charles Simic. They printed a short short short Steve Almond piece that's one of his better ones (because his longer short stories, which appear in every literary journal out there, are usually about the unbridled sexual obsessions of a man (SA) and his "adventures"; sorry, I don't want to read about him defiling the family hot tub or the details accounts of the physical things he does with some woman in a hotel room. Such work titillates the college professors who edit these journals, but I'm looking for something braver, more moving ... and more classy than that.)

Anonymous said...

To Dave Clapper: I'm an anon who has nothing against you, sir, and I have no problem with you or any other editor publishing your "friends" or even soliciting. In fact, I think that's a GOOD thing. It certainly is natural, normal, pure human nature -- and, in fact, to DENY it is wrong, I believe.

Naturally, as a writer, I also want to be "friends" with good editors. And I believe that if I write well enough, and send the right editors the right kind of things, that I will of COURSE become their "friend."

However, I do have a problem with this. A big one. And that is that the editors of commercial magazines, web sites, and all other publications do not WANT good literature. None of them publish it. And of course there is the fact that the commercial short story market is almost completely extinct. But Dave, honestly, I have no beef with you and I do wish you the best -- but I do not read Smokelong nor do I submit to it, simply because I don't believe in these journals where the authors are unpaid. I'm not an academic, not an MFA rich kid so I don't have the luxury to submit to such journals. I am a working writer. I have belonged to the National Writers Union (which recommended its members to NEVER write for a magazine that pays less than a dollar word).

There was a time when fiction was relevant. And when there were good editors. And when you could make a living as a writer, and didn't have to become a professor instead. I want that world to come back, that world where fiction is popular, is read by many people, is commercially available -- and is something that good writers can make a living off of.

So my beef is not with you, sir -- your journal, although I don't read it, I do wish it the best -- but my beef is with the editors and publishers of the commercial magazines. The ones I've learned about on LROD, the ones whose work records have been detailed time and time again on this blog. The ones that killed the short story, and subsequently killed literature.

You know the ones. Someone posted on here before, suggesting a boycott of all Hearst and Conde Nast publications. Yes! That's it, those are the ones. From Redbook to Men's Journal, Details to GQ, Vanity Fair to the Saturday Evening Post, these commercial magazines are terrible, filth-ridden rags. Very base, very stupid, and poorly written, too. But I took up an LROD suggestion, and sought out an antique issue of one of my target magazines. (Actually I found a bundle of them at a book sale.) And I began to read. And first thing I thought of was how REFRESHING it was to read articles that didn't have that smarmy tone that every magazine seems to have now. And articles that were SINCERE about living, even the simple things. And I also thought that most college kids today couldn't even PARSE a 1960's copy of Saturday Review or an old Esquire or Cosmopolitan. That's so absolutely pathetic.

I write for a living. And I can write an article for a magazine like Vogue about something with a third-grade mentality (but graphically sexual), and be paid two dollars a word for my "efforts." But when I do that, I feel like I'm a drug dealer on a playground or something -- it's disgusting. And I am paid obscenely well for stupid, stupid non-fiction "profile" pieces, "trend" pieces, and all manner of fluff. Again, up to two dollars a word for this stuff.

But these editors have zero interest at all in fiction. Most of them no longer print any fiction at all. If you read a GQ of today, you'll never ever realize that even in the early 90's, they used to print serious articles and serious fiction, 7,000 word short stories. The few that do print fiction, like Esquire, print only the basest, dumbest crap you've ever seen put into words. Some of it was featured here on LROD. Look in the archives and follow the links. Please, READ this stuff. Read that "story" about Heath Ledger. The sad thing is, we'll have more and more of that kind of crap from these magazines.

So I'm angry about this, and I want to do something about it. I voice my disgust with it. I say, "Voice it loud. Let the world hear it. (Especially their advertisers.)" Get them where it hurts, let everybody know that we don't think they are cool, we don't think they are smart, and we don't want to be seen TOUCHING their filthy magazines. Yes, I call these editors to task. I think it's time to name names, to call these people up, invite them to discuss -- let them defend their positions. Let's hear it from them. Why do they shovel out this crap to the world, when so many people are obviously hungering for something more?

Anonymous said...

Vanessa: "But I dug out my stats for the last few years, and wondered if it would be a decent thing to give your readers some heart?"

You are so right on. Thanks for coming here and posting. Your stats are depressing, you should have more published out there -- but I'm not surprised. My stats are similar. Good stories passed on by a dozen or more journals, with form reject slips, until finally an acceptance. And so many journals want no simsubs yet expect you to wait months and months -- why bother? It's a constant battle. I take it from your post that you're a teacher? I'm a writer of garbage. But garbage pays. I am very resentful about this situation. How'd we get here? Someone mentioned how the prevalence of flash fiction was a bad thing -- I'd have to agree. It first came to play in 87 or so with "Sudden Fiction" and the "Sudden Fiction International" counterpart. Remember those? And some of the celebrated minimalists, Susan Minot etc. But then flash became its own genre, really took off -- right at the same time the magazines were cutting fiction, and cutting the lengths of articles. No time to read. Yes, well if that's true, isn't there a big problem here? If we suddenly have no time at all to hold a complex thought, to contemplate a story or essay of only 5-10,000 words, then what good is this world of "modern conveniences"? What good is our microwave convenience drive-thru fast-food casual anything-goes "culture" if fiction, complex thought, tasteful and classy behavior etc is absolutely BARRED from the "anything" in anything-goes?

Anonymous said...

Joseph Young: in response to that anon bitter about Wei-Chi, you said: "If the world needs another Max Perkins, perhaps you could have at it. Or, you could write your dramatic and hardy novel and work to get it published. Whatever."

I don't like the attitude I detect here. Tell us: do you think the world does NOT need another Maxwell Perkins? Also, do you think the state of publishing is more or less okay right now?

Anonymous said...

This thread has gone off in all directions, but I have a point to make.

No one has yet to address my comment April 25 above. Do writers like CK Williams get a special exception? Do outlets like The New Yorker treat famous writers differently than us? CK Williams discusses how he sends "all" his poetry to the New Yorker, first, automatically. Other famous writers have short stories that appear in the magazine 2+ times a year. But the rest of us have a strict limit in how much work we can send.

Is there a double standard? Are there multiple castes of writers? Are "established" writers or "friends" being treated differently at The New Yorker and similar places?

We can't just sit back and let them do this. It's time to investigate and find out. It's time to call these editors to task. Let them defend the state of things for once.

Anonymous said...

Vanessa: "Maybe, as the adage says, I'm teaching it because I can't 'do' it. Time will tell."

I don't know about that. I wouldn't denigrate any of your achievements. And I think it's great that you're willing to come here and discuss.

But since you mention it, maybe you can tell us: if you think that you *could* be teaching because you can't *do*, can you cite any examples of contemporary authors who *are* doing it, and *not* teaching? Or are all authors these days more or less teaching? And is everything taught in school today the work of teachers, too?

I think this is an interesting point. That the schools are teaching only the work of other teachers, which is the only work that's being published.

Vanessa G said...

Anon (re posting a few stats)… glad if those stats were of interest. I have been lucky, managed to get a fair few pieces published as well, and now have a collection out, another scheduled, and all that jazz.

BUT the journey was bloody depressing at times, and I can understand that the system as is can drive writers who are not quite committed yet to give up entirely. That’s why this blog and others like it are seriously great… and may prevent a few potentially good writers stopping, in the face of all the crap.

You write garbage? Oh. It pays? Oh. There’s a surprise. Not.

Well, I can’t comment. I’m sure there are plenty of people who reckon I write garbage too. We must have a drink sometime.

But I can’t agree that ‘the prevalence of flash fiction is a bad thing’. It is, if well done, a fantastic, strong, fiction form that is capable of giving the reader a real unforgettable punch in the gut. (Metaphorically speaking).

Trouble is, there are plenty of places that will publish anything. Your laundry list would make a great flash. And these places give the form a bad name.

Sudden Fiction and Sudden Fiction International are fabulous collections of short pieces by some outstanding writers. Robert Shapard and James Thomas did a good job here. Just as poetry is different to prose, so micro fiction.flash fiction/postcard fiction is different to short stories, which are inturn different to novels.

Related. But different.

A story finds its own length, whether it is War and Peace or a tiny snippet by Margaret Attwood in the wonderful collection ‘The Tent’.

I just judged a well thought of flash fiction competition. (funnily enough, last year’s judge was Robert Shapard…). I read the last 24 out of over 900 entries. And they were all great little stories, told in around 250 words.

The one that won held more thematic depth, was more resonant, meaningful, had better characterisation, a more emotionally true voice, than 80% of the full length short stories I read. And most importantly. I will not forget it. Ever.

THAT is good fiction, no matter if it is 200 words or 20,000 or 200,000, isn’t it?

Anonymous said...

"THAT is good fiction, no matter if it is 200 words or 20,000 or 200,000, isn’t it?"

Agree completely. (Think I came off too hard on flash; I'm not against it per se, but see its rise as part of the whole end of fiction thing -- flash got popular around the same time long fiction got cut from almost everywhere.)

BTW, got a link to that winning entry?

Vanessa G said...

Anon (2)

Re this…”if you think that you *could* be teaching because you can't *do*, can you cite any examples of contemporary authors who *are* doing it, and *not* teaching?”
--------------------------
Well, I know I *can do* up to a point. How far that will continue, as I try to write better, only time will tell. We all reach our own ceilings at some point. I’m sure there are many, many writers out there who don’t teach at all. Not everyone wants to, or can.

I do, because I try to fund my own learning, my own writing journey. So needs must. But I also love it, and share what I have learned with great pleasure. But quite apart from that, if you teach you also learn at the same time, don’t you? Most of the people I teach change my way of seeing the world. So it’s a two way process.

--------------------------------------------------------------


Or are all authors these days more or less teaching?

See above.

And is everything taught in school today the work of teachers, too?

No!
--------------------------------

I think this is an interesting point. That the schools are teaching only the work of other teachers, which is the only work that's being published.

---------------------------

I lost the logic trail somewhere here…

There is a related issue. And one that was debated recently at the Oxford Literary Festival, whether Universities are the right places to teach Creative Writing.

I don’t know the answer to that. I can only give my personal experience. I hung on for three terms of a six term ‘certificate’ in CW, five years ago. I left when I was expected to use a whole term writing in the style of someone else. We were expected to write a novel, when we had not yet learned how to write.

When you finished the ‘Certificate’ you could do a ‘Masters’. And become a Master of Creative Writing without a single publication.

Get one short story publication credit, and you could then teach on the same Masters.

Mow that seems to be perpetuating something that looks pretty frightening.

Vanessa G said...

Anon (1)
... sorry... all these *names* are scarily similar!

Do you think fiction has ended?

I can't agree. I think it is pushing the boundaries, experimenting, fragmenting, changing, evolving. It HAS to. Or for sure then it will be the end of fiction.

The competition results will be announced on Wednesday (www.fishpublishing.com), the winning story wins the writer 1000 euros, and is then published in the 2008 Fish prizewinners' anthology.

Joseph Young said...

No "attitude" intended, Anon, sorry if it seemed that way. Simply, if there is a problem, as you see it, perhaps you [the rhetorical you] would like to work to fix it. In whatever way you'd like. Or not. Honestly, I just want to write and edit and do other arty things in the way it seems right to me. And I'd like you to do it in whatever way seems right to you--because I find that inspiring and exciting, that 'conversation,' so to speak. Nobody has to like flash fiction, I don't mind if you hate it, it won't make me think less of you [still the rhetorical you], but I'm still going to love it myself. It'd be awesome if there were another Max Perkins. I suspect there already is, many of them probably. Great books still get published.

Anonymous said...

Joseph: Thanks for the clarification. Also I might clarify: I don't hate flash fiction, but am concerned about the attention span "problem" with less and less room for longer pieces in commercial magazines. Like many readers of this blog, I am trying to do something about this situation. I am only one measly little unknown person, but who knows - maybe what I am doing will have an effect. Maybe a giant effect. Whatever the case, I'm working at this problem. I think half the battle is to imagine something better than we have now: imagine some of the big commercial web sites starting to feature great short stories, and imagine magazines like The Atlantic going back to a few short stories in every issue, and magazines like GQ and Redbook featuring short stories again - something worthwhile to read at the doctor's office. I think it's possible. Doesn't anybody else? (Judging from this blog, yes, a lot of people seem to want it.) I think just talking about this is a good first step toward fixing the problem.

Also, if you or anyone else knows a Max Perkins-like editor, please, spill the beans! Let's have some names!

Anonymous said...

Be a Max Perkins-like reader.

Anonymous said...

"Be a Max Perkins-like reader."

That describes me. More vintage Scribners fiction on my bookshelf than anything else. I've tried a lot of new stuff, but it's not as good as much of the stuff Perkins nurtured.

Alicia said...

I'm coming in on this late but wanted to add that the idea of "publishing one's friends" IS offensive because it implies that the friendship is paramount, not the work. I wonder if all the bitter anons really think that a venue like SmokeLong or FRiGG or Night Train for that matter, will publish substandard work because it's from a friend. That's what the implication is. A reader may not like a given piece, but I can assure you, the editor loved it. EDITORS DON'T OPT TO PUBLISH MEDIOCRE WORK BECAUSE IT'S FROM A FRIEND. PERIOD. Oh maybe some editors do on some podunk ezine, but they won't get far. They'll fold by the time I get to Phoenix.

The most painful, awkward stuff I've had to do as an editor is to turn down the work of friends with whom I've tossed back whiskies and broken bread. When I guest-edited SmokeLong I had friends submit work, one dear friend in particular, a good writer with many prestigious credits, but we didn't like what he sent. And he sent in three stories, one after the other. They weren't bad stories, like I said, this guy's been in some of the most coveted markets and he's a damn good writer, but his stories and our sensibilities didn't match up, and I had to write him to say no. Freaking hard to do that. And we did that several times with different friend-writers during my gig as guest-editor.

And I will tell you sincerely, that at Night Train we have published work from people we personally don't like. But the work ...

An editor starts a venue to showcase the work he or she thinks is good, work that is exemplary of his or her sensibility. A lit rag, whether it's online or a university press or a top commercial venue says: This is the writing we're nuts about. If a friend sends something that rocks your editorial boat, are you to reject it because the Bitter Ones will scream nepotism? The writing community is small and you can argue that it's incestuous, but you aren't going to boink your brother if you don't love to boink him. (Can I say fuck?)

I've railed at these allegations before and will continue to rail against them but I think it's easier for a much rejected writer to think that rejection happens because they're in the wrong network, that they don’t know the right people or aren’t members of the right clique, the “in” crowd, and not because their work isn't what that particular editor wants or, hello, that it's not very good. Success—publication—comes not only from writing well, but from persistence. Finding an editor who loves your work isn't easy, even if the work is objectively good, it's the subjective that gets one published, and finding that match takes persistence. And if one isn't a good writer, all the guanxi in China (or the world) won't help get that sorry sack published.

Leigh H said...

"Do writers like CK Williams get a special exception? Do outlets like The New Yorker treat famous writers differently than us?"

YES. Absolutely, unequivocally, yes. Because 'famous writers' will sell their magazines and 'we' will not.