Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Blah, Blah, Blah

VQR's Ted Genoways stopped by on LROD's comment section yesterday to join the discussion. He wants us to read his stories at VQR by "all by young writers" (as if that is going to be a selling point for us old shoes), and then to explain to him how they represent "one type of sensibility," which is an ongoing accusation about literary magazines in general. Feel free to read his stories and comment, if you wish.  Or read these stories instead.

Here's what Ted said:

"The thing that provokes me from my silence, however, is the obvious fact that you criticize the fiction from VQR while evidencing the fact that you haven't read a word of it.

So let me help. Here is a healthy dose of fiction, a half dozen stories, from recent issues--all of by young writers. You want to complain? Let's be specific:

http://www.vqronline.org/articles/2007/winter/alarcon-circus/
http://www.vqronline.org/articles/2007/spring/habila-hotel-malogo/
http://www.vqronline.org/articles/2007/summer/kamlani-zanzibar/
http://www.vqronline.org/articles/2007/fall/roncagliolo-internal-affairs/
http://www.vqronline.org/articles/2008/winter/johnson-last-dead/
http://www.vqronline.org/articles/2008/spring/snyder-13th-egg/

When you finish reading, I hope you will explain to me how these stories represent "one type of sensibility." Of course, I guess they represent MY one sensibility, but if you think there's a sameness here, I'd very much like to hear your description of what it is--not in generalities, but in the specifics of what appears in our pages."

79 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think it was very good of him to come here and talk to us. Much more ballsy than David Granger responding to our legitimate complaints with modern-day Esquire by posting F. Scott Fitzgerald on the front page and otherwise ignoring us.

I'm the anonymous who mentioned his name, and I replied to him in the original post.

It might take a few days but I'll read his stories and your stories, W,R, and give my true and honest thoughts. I hope the rest of us do this, too -- especially those who are mad about the "one type of sensibility" in the mags.

Anonymous said...

I'm the "one type of sensibility" guy, Mr. Genoways. In that comment I also wrote, addressing you, "I'm sure he does not exempt VQR from the problem." That problem being, in your words, "the shortcomings in American writing."
But apparently you do exempt your magazine (they ALL do), because you throw down a gauntlet: Read these, buddy.
I read one, the last in your list. Before I get to it, let me say that my dislike of what literary journals publish is based on reading them; then I decided life is too short to waste on such stuff, so now I read mostly dead people.
Also, w,r, I read, several years back, the winner of the Million Dollar Writers competition -- "Toggling the Switch" -- and thought it was one stupid bit of writing. So to hold that up as an example of what's good out there -- you're only providing fodder for the critics.
Anyway, I read all of "The 13th Egg."
I couldn't help but notice that the author teaches at Columbia. What a shocker -- you almost never find MFA grads (Scott Snyder got his at Columbia) getting published. It's like they're pariahs or something. So I commend your courage, Mr. Genoways, in stepping out of the box and publishing an MFA grad. Bravo!
You have a comic book scene as the intro picture. Turns out to be appropriate.
Here are some aspects of the story that show that "same sensibility" I'm complaining about:
First, the Biggie. There's no authenticity in this story. The characters and situation are based on imaginative roamings (what shall I, who has no life experience, write about?).
We get sex, research. We all know what sex is, but some don't like it shoved at us, gratuitously. As for research, Scott Snyder did a lot regarding WWII. But research shows its seams, where it's stiched together. Authenticity asserts itself. Scott doesn't know a damn thing about the war, the bomb. Just that they're bad.
Inauthenticity is boring.
Another thing that reflects the "sensibility" is the use of arty images. We have the iceberg (hushed silence, folks, for the iceberg -- the refuge where our damaged hero flees, in his mind, and finds a still peace). This is "precious" writing. Imagery that is impressive in a MFA seminar room. As is the image of the pond water boiling for three days, leaving turtle shells boiled clean.
That pond... What's missing here is logic. The story of the pond ran for three days in the newspapers -- created quite a stir. But the story's hero is not linked to it (wasn't he last seen running that way, and didn't his girlfriend last see him glowing with radioactivity?). How did he get home, and in what state? How did he survive the boiling pond waters? Did he get back to his girlfriend or just leave her waiting in the car (which would be suspicious)? Etc. The reason why these questions are not addressed is because they can't be: it's foolishness!
By the way -- is there any scientific basis for all this? Oh, I remember: the comic book cover. Radioactive Man.
We have a contrived scene where it's revealed that Everett's girlfriend has been "fucking" a clubfooted guy named Paddy. Then we spin into total Fantasy Comic land. And, please, for the sake of everything holy, don't tell me, Mr. Genoways, that I didn't get the symbolism (or something). There was nothing worth "getting."
We have a closing Beautiful and Profound (in its hard-won simplicity) sentiment: "He wanted them all to know, to see how fragile things were, how precious."
So I guess he incinerates the town. I don't know.
I don't know... I just don't know. If you can't see what a mess this story is, Mr. Genoways -- and you obviously can't -- you're only supporting my last point in the comment I made previously: editors have that "sensibility" that is at the root of the problem. They don't know what's good or bad.

Steve said...

Good and bad? Where does "interesting" or "thought-provoking" or "original" fit into that scenario?

I think, anon, we've had this debate before...but could you remind me again how you arrive at good and bad? Aren't good and bad issues of taste, which are the product of any number of variables? Can't people of good will have differing tastes?

Steve said...

Not that I disagree with your assessment, mind you. Because I don't. I just want to know more about the larger point you're trying to make.

I mean,it's like math class. You might have the right answer (that the story blows), but the work you've shown doesn't help me understand how you got there. It's not enough to me to say editors don't know good from bad, because it diminishes the editor's job to being a guardian of the culture rather than a visionary.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we've had this inane conversation before. I think it was in regard to that terrible story in the Rejected Story Corner -- the Fish one.
Everybody has opinions (or call them "tastes") about everything! They call in by the millions to American Idol with their picks.
In the world of fiction today, Mr. Genoways' opinion of what is good or bad counts. He rejects, he accepts. He's a gatekeeper.
I give reasons why I disliked the Egg story. Didn't I? Doesn't that suffice?
How do I arrive at my opinions? I base it on a lifetime of reading. Reading with a sense of discrimination. There are many, many things I won't venture an opinion on, because I feel that I'm not qualified.
People of good will can differ. But -- again -- I say why I differ from Mr. Genoways in my opinion of the Egg story.
(By the way, if you want to read a really good story, read Sherwood Anderson's "The Triumph of the Egg.")

Anonymous said...

What's inane is that you think you're so right, that it's such a slam dunk, that you are unwilling to acknowledge any other point of view on the issue, or any complexity that might blunt the axe you're grinding.

Anonymous said...

I gave my POV! So did you -- about me.
Aren't I entitled? Why does my POV become close-minded? Why am I seen by you as grinding an axe? Do you have an axe to grind with me?
What complexity have I missed in the story? Be specific -- about the story, not about me; I was specific in my critique.
Of course I think I'm right. Do you think you're right?

vanderbilt44 said...

I'm just curious: how does Mr. Genoways know the ages of his contributors? I've never been asked my age by an editor. Is this a VQR policy?

Pauline said...

I'm not certain Genoways means this, but a lot of people say 'young writer' to denote not a writer's age, but the early stage of their career.

Pauline said...

To the second anonymous poster: It's unfair to judge Genoways for publishing a writer with an MFA--there are plenty of groundbreaking writers who have advanced degrees--just as it would be unfair to judge him for publishing a writer without an MFA. Also, Snyder isn't currently an MFA student, so I doubt his story was lauded by his peers in a workshop before getting it published in VQR. (Also, I assume by your dersion that you don't have an MFA--and yet you seem pretty certain about how MFA workshops work. How do you know how they work?) Your bias against MFA students discounts your arguments against this particular story, since you are obviously biased.

Judge the story, not the author.

m. said...

I agree with Pauline, judge the story and not the author. For the record, I really enjoyed The 13th Egg. I read Snyder's story collection last year and was impressed, and this new story proves that this young author is someone to keep an eye on. Can't wait for his full-length novel.

Anonymous said...

I judged the story. I wrote down what was wrong with it. If someone with a MFA writes a good story, I'll say so. Really.
Someone at VQR (where they laugh at bad writing) should answer my questions about the burning pond.
My problem with MFAers is that they dominate literary fiction. Haven't you been reading the griping here at LROD? About contacts and credentials? So, yes, I was being sarcastic in my reference to Snyder's MFA. I don't think contacts and credentials should matter. The system in place is not fair. Does that constitute a bias on my part? I suppose so.
I never said anything about his story being lauded by his peers in a workshop. Where did you get that?
I don't have an MFA. I needed to make money. You know, work. In the world. I judge MFAers by the product they come out with.
Again, I'm the one being criticized -- but do any of you care to read the story and defend it? Not just find fault with me?
For example -- would it be fair if I accused you people criticizing me of being MFA students/teachers? Simply defending the sysyem you're part of?
I'm not going to respond to any more comments that focus on me, as a person.

Elizabeth said...

Anonymous said:

"I don't have an MFA. I needed to make money. You know, work. In the world. I judge MFAers by the product they come out with."

Hi. This strikes me as contradictory. The first three sentences imply that people pursuing or having earned MFAs have not made money/worked/in the world. The last sentence claims not to make judgments based on the life experience of said MFAers.

I don't think you can have it both ways: you can't make snide and sarcastic generalizations about any group and in the next breath claim not to.

Erm... as someone who has lived nearly 46 years and made money and scrapped and saved and is now in an MFA program that pays me to be there (tuition remission, stipend, fellowship, etc.), I stand as a glaring exception to your presumptions. And there are many, many more like me.

By the way, I've not yet been published, despite my academic credentials and perceived "connections."

I agree that the 13th Egg story is flawed. I enjoyed it despite its flaws. I can't think of a piece of literature that isn't flawed -- even the ones that transport me. Maybe especially those.

Gives me hope that I don't have to create perfect art in order to create resonant art.

Cheers,
Elizabeth

Anonymous said...

Dear m.,

"For the record, I really enjoyed The 13th Egg."

Why? What did you enjoy? What was the story about? What was good -- or great -- in the story? What are your thoughts on the burning pond?

timothy s said...

"Erm..."

You just lost my respect.


"And there are many, many more like me."

And you all stand to network and dominate by your shared background and positions?


"I can't think of a piece of literature that isn't flawed ... Gives me hope that I don't have to create perfect art in order to create resonant art."

So that's what they're teaching these days? And probably also "Everybody can be an artist" (so long as you take the MFA) and "It's all relative." Wisdom of the Ivory Tower!

Would love to know the name of the school you're representin'.

Anonymous said...

Me again (the previous nay-sayers were not me).
Elizabeth -- I responded to someone's comment about whether or not I had a MFA. I told why I didn't.
Yes, I was sarcastic in regard to the prevalence of MFAers in the top journals. Before I started to read the Egg story, I see Columbia staring me in the face. I just couldn't resist being, as you call it, "snide."
I do think there's a lack of life experience among many (not all) MFA-trained writers. They go from high school to 6 years of college. Then they get a teaching job. I mean, come on. Campuses are pretty, are pleasant, but they're not the real world. Maybe that's why we get so much writing like Egg. Juvenilia.
But I value literature too much to let a MFA degree prevent me from appreciating good writing. I could name names. People with MFAs whose work I admire.
You didn't say much about the Egg story. Just that you enjoyed it despite its flaws -- but, heck, even literature that transports you is flawed.
Still no in-depth analysis of "The 13th Egg." Maybe this reflects an inability to exercise critical judgement. Instead we get "enjoyed it."
You'd think that Mr. Genoways, who gave the link to the story (and so must have valued it), would weigh in. At least explain the burning issue of the burning pond.

Steve said...

Timothy S.,

Do you believe that a piece of writing can be perfect?

Steve said...

And anon,

You still need to explain to me how your condemnation of a singular story somehow makes your larger case.

It wouldn't make sense if I tuned into pop-radio and said, "All the music industry is f-ed in the head." It might just mean that pop-radio ain't for me.

Anonymous said...

Interesting...
There are two "sides" and the gap between them is vast. And boggy.
If the One Sensibility guy/gal (let's say it's a guy; call him Mr.S) were an editor, and Mr Genoways were a writer, Mr. S would not publish Mr. G's work. Just as Mr. G would not publish Mr. S's work. Can't we assume that?
The thing that rankles many is that the Mr. G's dominate the literary world.
Some say that there's a potential market for a different type of fiction. I think it should at least get a chance.
So I visualize a magazine with writing coming from a whole different sensibility. If I were the Head Man, I would take draconian steps.
First, nobody associated with literary academia could be on my staff or submit; their work and opinions are not wanted.
Second, since I believe you are what you read, in place of a cover letter I would want a list of 20 novels or short stories that the author valued. Based on that list, I would read -- or not read -- the submission.
Dictatorial? Unfair? Sure is! But is the way the present literary world operates dictatorial and unfair?
Maybe this magazine I publish would be just what the public is looking for. It would sell like hotcakes. Reading would be retored to a place in American culture...

richard savage said...

See, but you can't be dictatorial and unfair, Mr. Anon. That's because your view doesn't count. You don't count. The only ones who can be dictatorial and unfair, biased and discriminatory are the ones in charge. Their discriminations and biases are different from yours and mine. And their interests and goals are also different from yours. They don't want the future that you do. You expect to get along, form a true, engage in constructive "dialogue"? Dream on!

Anonymous said...

It's long time that some "retore" American Lit!!

Anonymous said...

I think the "Head Man" was indulging in an idle fantasy.
Mr. Genoways gives links to six stories, and I want to see hands: How many of you read them? How many read at least one?
Why the hell not? If you want to criticize, base it on something.
We got a long critique and an "enjoyed it." And that's about it.
You lazy jerks.
Course, Mr. Genoways remains silent. Doesn't he like to get a rejection -- and such a detailed one?
Steve questions whether a piece of writing can be "perfect." Of course it can't! Who said anything about perfection? The review was about gross problems in plot and character. The larger point was that these same problems are rampant in literary fiction.
In its unique way, Gogol's "The Overcoat" is a mess, but it's a masterpiece.
How many read that one?
You people are hopeless.

Anonymous said...

First anon here. Still reading. Have deadlines to meet but I will, of course, take part in this. I will comment on all.

Has America become a hopeless nation? That's the bigger question. I'm not sure. Doesn't the Civil War dwarf any of the problems we have now? Maybe. Maybe not.

Writer, Rejected said...

Settle down there, "you-people-are-hopeless" anon. Give some of us a chance to finish reading and formulate our thoughts, please. Some of us are out working in the field during the week and save our reading until the weekend, if we get a weekend at all. We'll get there. We'll read the precious chosen stories. Don't you worry.

JohnFox said...

I'm afraid Ted Genoways is going to think that everyone who reads this blog is slightly crazy, due to some of the comments left by anonymous individuals. I would hate for him to think that.

I just read the 13th egg. It is an incredible story. It makes my fiction (I just finished an MFA program) seem pale in comparison. From the title -- which not only denotes the name of his race car, but also his status as an outsider -- to the beautiful metaphor of witnessing a terrible act of nuclear devestation and carrying around that radioactivity inside of him (which is the pond and the fire-flaming at the end) -- this is such a beautiful story that stands in the tradition of Hemingways A Soldier's Home, detailing the outsider status of soliders returning from war. It works emotionally, the pace is strong, the details haunting, the pieces arranged perfectly, and so much more.

I'm afraid that if you don't like a story like this, that you're going to have to chalk it up to taste. In other words, you just don't like stories "like this." Which is okay. Everyone can have tastes. But you just can't say that this story isn't "good" or "well-written" or that the author isn't talented. Those who disagree with that are philistines. Sorry, but it's true.

As far as sameness, anyone who argues lit journals are all publishing the same thing are not only not reading one lit journal (the diversity of VQR is evident) but not reading a spectrum of lit journals. You're going to tell me that the eccentric, experimental flavor of Conjunctions is just the same as the simple, pathos-heavy stories of Glimmer Train? Or that the quirky selection of Howard Junker at Zzyzzyva mirrors the strong narrative of StoryQuarterly? Please. Don't be ridiculous.

JohnFox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Don't apologize for our crazy. Just speak on behalf of yourself. Oh, yeah, and let Ted have his own opinion. He isn't the king of us....well, he is, but we don't have to act like it.

Anonymous said...

"the diversity of VQR is evident"

It's not diverse. It's not diverse at all. The modern-day VQR is one of the great offenders here. Well I guess it depends on what you mean by "diverse"; however, zero of these journals "in the spectrum" are diverse, if by "diverse" you mean displaying a great many varied, often underrepresented (and even opposing) viewpoints, aesthetics, philosophies, cultural worldviews, and so on, with the rules that no possible positions are banned and that those despised by the publishers are always given fair and equal play. No. You won't have that. Yes, VQR and all these journals do showcase multiple aesthetics, fetishize the work of perceived or approved minority groups, and so on -- the illusion of diversity is always impeccably maintained (as if such diversity is, in itself, a virtue for all to strive for), while keeping steadfast on one party line that leaves out huge gaps as a matter of course. So long as people believe in the illusion that comes with depicting the arbitrary poles of A and C and then saying you've got the spectrum covered, you'll be happily steering them toward your goalpost, B.

That's how it works. It's the same with politics or television programming. You'll find a lot to pick from between the Dems and Repubs or on your 120 channels, but that doesn't mean that a giant world of thought or ideas aren't being totally and carefully squeezed out. You get the permitted, official views; and that is all. People are so conditioned at this point that if you even bring it up (with examples) and simply speak in a human voice and show that you have no real choice, you point out the biases, agendas, discriminations and double standards, all debate and reason comes to a complete halt and you cause a total uproar.

I don't believe in the modern-day VQR's party line. I find it repulsive, especially so considering the state of literature and culture. Repulsive because it keeps whole avenues of fiction and poetry, whole worldviews and philosophies, out of the public eye, while pandering to and promoting what is often substandard and even void of all value. You might even say that it's their job to do this, these thousand "literary" journals. Because they're all the same, almost all of them. They practice all the same biases and discriminations. I have no interest in the great majority of the work they publish, certainly not of the worldviews and ideas they ceaselessly and rabidly promote.

Yes, the latest VQR is actually a wonderful example of this. Read it, read every article (unfortunately a lot of the good examples aren't online) and think about the "diverse" message this publication is presenting to the world. See that "diverse" message anywhere else? That's right, in the media. Which is where its editor has an awesome future in store for himself if he keeps on doing what he's doing. Not that he doesn't already know that.

Anonymous said...

So what is this alternative style of writing you claim is missing from the journals? I'n my limited experience reading through journals, I've come across everything thing from classic "Araby" inspired stories to experimental modern day fairy tales. On the sentence level, I've found lyric, possibly overly descriptive prose as well as stories I might consider too sparse. There have been stories I really liked and stories that I probably wouldn't have published if I were in charge. So, please share with me, what is it that you want to see?

Anonymous said...

Finally, someone who has something of substance to say about "The 13th Egg."
You found it, Mr. Fox, to be "incredible" and "beautiful."
You speak of things denoting other things, of metaphors, etc.
In O'Connor's "Guest of the Nation" the title has signifiacance not for some lame reason (I'm an outsider), but because we see/feel the tragedy of what decent people do to each other in war.
I can appreciate the type of thing you're lauding in "Egg" only if it grows naturally from an authentic story, with authentic characters (not comic book cutouts). Earn it, don't just use it.
I might point out that Hemingway was in the war, so his "Soldier's Home" has authenticity.
You're right -- we differ in our tastes -- in our sensibility as to what's good.
You write, "But you just can't say that the story isn't 'good' or 'well-written' or that the author isn't talented. Those who disagree with that are philistines."
Whaa? Read that over, Mr. Fox. What does the word "that" in your last sentence refer to? Am I a philistine because I don't think the story is good?
You're brave to give us your name and to state that you're a recent MFA grad (though I was not a bit surprised). I checked out your blog. You teach, you do interviews with other writers.
You're doing what you should do to succeed!!! Keep at it, man. Even your sensiblities are in accord with what the academic crowd values. I'm sure you'll be published in a "top" magazine soon -- maybe in VQR.
Don't you see that you HAVE that one sensibility I talked about? I approach a story, both as a reader and a writer, with a different sensibility, and there's no place for it in literary world today.
(Last Anon -- I just saw your post. I could give you a list of ten stories, but I'm tired now. I previously mentioned Anderson's "The Triumph of the Egg." Editors will adamantly claim that if that story arrived in their slush pile, it would be recognized and published by them. Hogwash.)

Anonymous said...

Hell, John Fox wasn't being "brave" in posting under his real name. He was being foxy -- trying to score points with the likes of Mr. Genoways.
The most important lesson you learn in writing school is to kiss up to those who can help you in your "career."

Steve said...

"...these thousand literary journals. Because they're all the same, almost all of them. They practice all the same biases and discriminations."

Man, anon, you surely are an avid reader. No wonder you're so pissed. You must stay up all night in order to keep tabs on ALL of these journals so as to know their ins and out, their preferences, and their varying degrees of sameness and shame. And I don't know about you, but me, shit, if I don't get a full eight hours I'm a bear to be around.

But in all seriousness, here's what the sad thing is: I don't disagree with you in most of your ranting about crap writing, crap journals, etc. Not really, I don't. It's just that I'm never-ever going take the sky is falling mentality about something like literature (or the state of literature or whatever label you want to label it) very seriously. Why? Because that sky fuckin falls every generation. Maybe you should go back and read old Rilke's letters to a young poet: what's his advice about the publishing business?

JohnFox said...

I kind of feel sorry for some people here - they're really bitter, and I'm not sure why. Too many rejection slips?

The word "authenticity" is a word so overused that it has become meaningless. You could claim anything lacks it, and not be forced to actually defend what you mean.

You can dislike the thirteenth egg because you tend to dislike magical realism, but from the perspective of CRAFT, yes, you are a philistine if you don't admit that this is impeccably crafted.

No one's addressed my pointing out of the differences between Conjunctions, Zyzzyva, Glimmer Train and StoryQuarterly. Are these not important aesthetic differences, and do they not signal the diversity of literary journals?

I use my real name because, well, I'm in the habit of standing behind what I say. You anons might try it sometime.

You: "I approach a story, both as a reader and a writer, with a different sensibility, and there's no place for it in literary world today." I don't buy that. Unless your sensibility is simply crap, or commercial, or cliche, there is no aesthetic preference that is not embraced in the Lit Journal world. Sorry. You just have to find the right editor and the right publication. Otherwise, you might want to start to ask yourself whether your material simply lacks Quality. Also, want to name this aesthetic preference? What exactly does it look like?

ANON: "with the rules that no possible positions are banned and that those despised by the publishers are always given fair and equal play."
This is a ridiculous notion. Why would a publisher want to give "fair and equal play" to a [aesthetic] position they despise? It's absurd, would never work, presupposes that the tastes of the editor are bad, and could only come from a culture that has imposed a false sense of diversity.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this would help me understand the argument that journals only publish one sensibility. Could those of you on board with that argument please list a few authors that you think are a part of this other sensibility? If you want to be taken seriously, you have to define your terms.

Anonymous said...

"Kiss up" gets "bitter." Fair enough. And predictable.
John, you explained the burning pond with some impressive-sounding words: "...to the beautiful metaphor of witnessing a terrible act of nuclear devastation and carrying around that radioactivity inside him (which is the pond and the fire-flaming at the end)."
But the story has the burning pond incident happen in the "real" world, to "real" people. The newspapers carry the story for three days. All the questions I asked (in my second comment on this post) still have to be answered. And they can't. This is inauthenticity: an inability to portray things as they are.
"Impeccably crafted"? The story is nonsense. You can call me a philistine, but I don't respect you as a reader. (And you and Snyder are teaching the young how to write?)
I like some magic realism. But as taught in an MFA seminar room, it usually comes off as phony. "The Swimmer" works because at some point we realize that we're seeing a man stripped of all his illusions. We know what the terms of the story are. Cheever plays fair.
As for your "standing behind what I say," I bet you wouldn't use your real name if you were criticizing the establishment.
To those who wanted a list:
Following are ten stories that are excellent. They have value, should most definitely be published. And they were, in a time long past.
I believe that if they were submitted in 2008 to the slush piles of top magazines (including all those John mentions), under different titles and authors' names, with cover letters devoid of credentials, they would be rejected again and again, to the end of time, Amen.
They represent a different sensibility.
John O'Hara - Across the River and Through the Woods
Katherine Ann Porter - The Downward Path of Wisdom
William Maxwell - The Pilgrimage
Mary McCarthy - Yonder Peasant, Who Is He?
James Gould Cozzens - King Midas Has Ass's Ears
Richard Yates - Regards at Home
Jean Rhys - Sleep it Off, Lady
J.F. Powers - The Valiant Woman
Willa Cather - The Best Years
William March - The Arrogant Shoat
I'll add one more, a story in LROD's Rejected Story Corner:
pr - A Change of Season
By the way, it's magic realism, of a sort.

Anonymous said...

"Kiss up" gets "bitter." Fair enough. And predictable.
John, you explained the burning pond with some impressive-sounding words: "...to the beautiful metaphor of witnessing a terrible act of nuclear devastation and carrying around that radioactivity inside him (which is the pond and the fire-flaming at the end)."
But the story has the burning pond incident happen in the "real" world, to "real" people. The newspapers carry the story for three days. All the questions I asked (in my second comment on this post) still have to be answered. And they can't. This is inauthenticity: an inability to portray things as they are.
"Impeccably crafted"? The story is nonsense. You can call me a philistine, but I don't respect you as a reader. (And you and Snyder are teaching the young how to write?)
I like some magic realism. But as taught in an MFA seminar room, it usually comes off as phony. "The Swimmer" works because at some point we realize that we're seeing a man stripped of all his illusions. We know what the terms of the story are. Cheever plays fair.
As for your "standing behind what I say," I bet you wouldn't use your real name if you were criticizing the establishment.
To those who wanted a list:
Following are ten stories that are excellent. They have value, should most definitely be published. And they were, in a time long past.
I believe that if they were submitted in 2008 to the slush piles of top magazines (including all those John mentions), under different titles and authors' names, with cover letters devoid of credentials, they would be rejected again and again, to the end of time, Amen.
They represent a different sensibility.
John O'Hara - Across the River and Through the Woods
Katherine Ann Porter - The Downward Path of Wisdom
William Maxwell - The Pilgrimage
Mary McCarthy - Yonder Peasant, Who Is He?
James Gould Cozzens - King Midas Has Ass's Ears
Richard Yates - Regards at Home
Jean Rhys - Sleep it Off, Lady
J.F. Powers - The Valiant Woman
Willa Cather - The Best Years
William March - The Arrogant Shoat
I'll add one more, a story in LROD's Rejected Story Corner:
pr - A Change of Season
By the way, it's magic realism, of a sort.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. I clicked twice.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the list. I'll look into those stories. A change of season could be publishable, it's just not ready yet. A few more rounds of revisions to fix some of the sentence level problems and it would fit in most places. Also, I wouldn't put too much weight on credentials. I'm a reader for one of my program's journals. I never read the cover letter until after I've given the story a yes or no. I think the writing should stand on it's own.

Steve said...

Question: were these works emblematic of the kinds of story published in their day? Or were they brilliant exceptions to a body of publishing that was more or less boring and long-winded?

joebob said...

Wow, just read the egg story. Sucked deluxe. Couldn't ever really make it past the first paragraph or two because the writing was so...sophomoric? flat? limpid? it reminded me of something I might have thought was cool back when I was nineteen. When I thought Busch Light Draft was a delicious beer. Man. Frickin' awful.

Anonymous said...

Hey Joe Bob -- You didn't "read" the Egg story if you only read the first paragraph or two. I read the whole damn thing.
My list. I think the stories represented a sensibility (that word again): Tell an interesting story about real people. Though the people are varied (very!) none of them are named Rashid, and none glow with radioactivity. The situations they are in are ones that walking around, scratching people can relate to.
Are they brilliant exceptions? No, because none of them are "brilliant." They are excellent, and solid. The wave length authors were generally transmitting on in the past was one I could (and can now) relate to.
Is boring and long-winded writing being published and praised today?
In my list the odd one of the bunch is "Season." It doesn't fit in with my description above, because the characters in it are props, the story a format for ideas -- but that's the way the story works. Pr's "Deus Ex Machina" is very character-driven. I liked that one too. Ray is strong, the situation a neat psychological trap.
No response from pr to the anonymous "reader for a journal." Wonder what journal. Was she offering to work with him on the "sentence level problems"?
I found her letter lacking in one thing: enthusiasm for the story. John Fox called the Egg story "incredible," "beautiful," "impeccably-crafted." For laughs (really, I do this) I read the blurbs for novels. Some suggest that the book is lethal, such as "heart-stopping."
I'm enthusiastic about what I like (and don't like), and I believe in generosity (that's why, among the dead-but-successful-in-their-time authors on my list, I wanted to include a rejectee). Writing is hard. If someone succeeds, tell the author, in strong terms. Give him more than a crumb. Because that's what he winds up feeling like -- a crumb.
But I guess the "reader for a journal" should be given credit. It's none of my business anyway.

joebob said...

hey anonymous,

has anyone pointed out (lately) that you're kind of a dick?

Writer, Rejected said...

No name calling, dude. If you don't like an opinion, or a style of response, find a different way to express it. Thanks.

joebob said...

i will find a different way: i'm out, yo.

Anonymous said...

No loss there.

joebob said...

fuck you, i haven't left yet. now i'm out.

:)

scott snyder said...

Dear anonymous - this is Scott Snyder. A buddy told me about the discussion. Just wanted to say thanks for reading the story. Sorry you hated it so much. Maybe you could send me something you've written recently and we could further this discussion about literary diversity. What do you say? Look forward to hearing from you. www.voodooheart.com.

and sorry to you, too. joebob. sigh...

Anonymous said...

Scott Snyder's bio by the way: "Scott has been published in Zoetrope, Tin House, One-Story, Epoch, Small Spiral Notebook, and other journals. He teaches at Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence University and lives in New York with his wife, Jeanie, and his son, Jack Presley. He’s currently at work on a novel for the Dial Press."

Plus he has everyone in the world blurbing his books. (Stephen King, Elizabeth McCracken, Rick Moody)

Dude is a star already.

scott snyder said...

ps - by the way, i teach the old to write, too. sign up anytime, anonymous!

joebob said...

hey scott,

no needs apologize. i was just being a jerk to see what anon would say if someone tried to agree with him.

conclusion: well, i'll not resort to name-calling...but see earlier post.

question, though: how were you thinking about your sentences in the 'egg' story? they seem so clipped and conversational...is this akin to the sound nirvana was going for back in the grunge days? feedback, out of tune guitars, etc?

joebob said...

now i'm out...

Anonymous said...

Been incommunicado for a while.
Thanks for the generous offer, Scott, but I'll take a pass.
My intent got lost in translation, Joe Bob. I wasn't blaming you for abandoning the Egg story. (Lucky guy.)
We are all free to read what pleases us.

scott snyder said...

sorry to hear that, anonymous. if you reconsider, send something along anytime.

by the way, that old argument about whether or not classic stories would be published today... what you fail to realize is that those stories were new and different when they were first published. take hemingway. had you been around when he was first publishing, you'd have been horrified by the style. you'd have been whining that no one would publish james or dickens nowadays. it's easy to laud stories that have long since been canonized. i love the stories you listed, too. but i recognize that when they came out, they were exciting and maybe even subversive in content or style, the same way a lot of writers you probably hate now are.

and don't be so angry at writers, who get mfa's. what's the problem? getting an mfa simply gives you time and space to write. some are expensive, some pay you to come, some give teaching experience. what do have against them? they're simply a pace to work on your craft. do you just resent the idea that someone takes the time to go? why the anger? i was in school with people all ages, all walks of life. it's not a privilege thing. it's a craft thing.

scott snyder said...

hey joebob - shoot me an email. love to talk off the air.

Anonymous said...

You people are totally fucking insane.

scott snyder said...

name-calling...oh well, the offer still stands, anonymous. happy to read your work anytime. just remember to put your name at the top of the parchment.

Anonymous said...

don't know why puc can't keep with the program...moving his comment here:
So I read “The 13th Egg.” It’s a 50’s TV sitcom, or something from The Twilight Zone series. I thought of Ray Bradbury. It’s a comic book idea story, the origins of a new superhero... I wondered if kids would use the F word like that, in 1946 – soldiers at war, sure, but to their small town girlfriends back home? But there were too few clues to any local idiom, just the F word every now and then, so I thought its use gratuitous. I also looked for accuracy, wondering why he called it a Johnny Mercer song, when Mercer wrote only the lyrics, but I decided this was unfair of me (yet, what’s the Mercer song in the story for? Is it a pun on light, “Travelin’ Light,” for our hero? But’s that’s not the meaning of light in the song). I noticed some consistency, which might be described as sentimental: "mouf" for example, from the sailor whose face is heated off; and, "assignment...had come down the pipe" the military gives orders, not assignments, and do things “come down the pipe”? Again, they do on TV – it’s a form of shorthand. Is supe a word? I don’t think so; the OED would use "soup" for souping up a car, his meaning here, not “supe.” "Yolks on you" is forced, but suits the 50's sitcom or Twilight Zone emulation we've got going here. "Sheriff Gilgoff." What kind of name is Gilgoff? It brings too much attention to itself coming so late in the story. "Fingers like tiny microphones" isn’t bad. The pilot falling from a clear sky and landing on the deck hits with the intended surprise. The iceberg motif works. The clubfoot (one word, I think, not two, but OED shows it with a hyphen) is an easy explanation that TV would use, and allows for the ending to take shape, which is how TV stories are constructed. Is it a war story? Is it even a story about how WWII affected soldiers, their girls and families and friends? No. Is it history? No. But you can’t criticize a story for being something it’s not intended to be. It’s a “Jody was home when you left” story: boy goes off to war, comes home to find his girl’s dating another boy, the boys fight – our hero wins in a nuclear fantasy ending. Is this a “good” story? Well, it’s not Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home.” It’s not Bob Dylan’s “John Brown,” (which should get a listen if you want to know what can happen to a soldier’s face). It’s not Adam Haslett, not Breece D’JPancake. No, this is not a very hard-boiled story (sorry for the pun). But it’s not supposed to be. It’s 1950’s TV. But even on those terms, it’s only moderately successful, because it lacks unity of purpose. It’s certainly not literary, not in the way any of Joyce’s “Dubliners” are. “Scraps of molten steel spun across the ground, turning the sand to black glass.” Not a bad sentence; a great sentence in a comic book. The S’s do their job. But you need more than a little alliteration for the whole to achieve what we might, reluctantly in this environment, call art. But I don’t think “art” is this writer’s intention. I think he’s having fun. In the end I guess I’m surprised that VQR prints this story when we’re spending close to $400 million a day in Iraq. Seems irreverent. Which may be part of the problem. I don’t know if the writer was ever a soldier, but I doubt it. I think this writer is having fun. The story is probably informed more by the writer’s interests than by his experience, like someone talking about their hobbies. I do not think war is his interest here (if it is, and we compare to something like “Letters from Iwo Jima,” we’ve got a problem). I think his interest here is sci-fi. But more power to him. I would like to see his short story book, to see, if placed in the context of other stories similarly built, there emerges a sharing of his interests in a way that builds a world. At close to 10K words, he had the chance here to build a world, and he may have, but in the end, it’s a shorthand world. I think of Joyce’s Farrington in “Counterparts,” or Little Chandler in his “A Little Cloud.” Or Stephen Crane’s “The Monster.” If “The 13th Egg” is evidence, I no longer think the argument is about the slush pile, but I don’t know what it is about. (also commented at Ward Six).

May 14, 2008 12:32 PM

Anonymous said...

"by the way, that old argument about whether or not classic stories would be published today... what you fail to realize is that those stories were new and different when they were first published. take hemingway. had you been around when he was first publishing, you'd have been horrified by the style. you'd have been whining that no one would publish james or dickens nowadays."

This is stupid. This is moronic and so is the whole idea that your story has to be "subversive" ... subversive to what? And if it's true, then why not some stories that are subversive to the establishment views, which are so nicely propogated at VQR (and every other academic journal)?

Well, it'd be a bit hard to "subvert" the agenda of the publishers -- as if they're going to let ideas and views contrary to their own accepted ones slip in.


"and don't be so angry at writers, who get mfa's. what's the problem?"

?

You must not have been reading any of this. Maybe your friend told you about this site. Nobody here is angry at writers who get MFAs. Look on the right, click the popular posts and read what we say. Scroll down and read the old posts. Academia and the MFA culture has been discussed quite thoroughly in here. We don't like the system, we don't like the product, we don't like the elitism and nepotism and the way that MFA culture squeezes everything else out. Pick up a copy of Poetry magazine and read the contributor notes.e All MFA students and their teachers, every last one. That's bogus. Just like the great bulk of their poetry.

scott snyder said...

anonymous! good, you're back! i wasn't saying that everything good is subversive. just that many of those stories listed were quite daring when they came out, daring in style or content. i love the majority of the stories listed, too. not b/c they were subversive, but because they're good reads. still, there's no denying that yates and o'hara and basically everyone you listed was fresh and new and different when they arrived on the scene. my point is simply that cranking about how they wouldn't be published today is neither here nor there. they were published. by insightful editors, and most likely, you would've hated their stories when they first appeared. so. why don't you post a poem or story of yours here and let us respond to it? let us see what you're up to, anonymous. i'm dead serious. i'm not being patronizing. i really am fascinated by all your crankiness and anger. likely it makes for passionate fiction! let me have a look-see. do you have a blog of your own, where i can find your writing? how about you send privately to me via my site? i really want to see what you do. i promise, if your work is strong, i'll say so. privately, in public... i'll even help you try to place it. for real. so here i wait.

scott snyder said...

ps - i wish i could keep arguing with you here, anonymous. i'll admit it, i've been having some selfish fun egging you on, but in all seriousness, i'd love to take up issues of nepotism and elitism in mfa's, as i have my own strong feelings about those - but i simply don't have the time. so here's the bottom line: my offer stands. send over a poem or story.this isn't a trap. i'm not out to get you. i'll give you honest advice. if it's good, i'll even help you try to place it. if not, i'll help try to make it better. i won't even tell anyone you sent something if you don't want me to. but i won't be posting here after this anymore. best of luck. tcb. s

Anonymous said...

Scott - I'm the anonymous who posted the list of stories. I think you make some invalid assumptions about me.
The stories I listed belong to a very old tradition of storytelling. That's why I picked them. They weren't "subversive" or even "exciting" when they were written. No style or subject breakthroughs.
I don't believe you read any of them.
In your remarks you have me being "horrified" and claim that I would be "whining" (God, you people do overuse that word in referring to people who criticize the staus quo/Establishment). How do you know all these things about me?
MFA writing dominates literay fiction today, to the exclusion of all else. If you make the right contacts, even a bad writer like you can "succeed."

Anonymous said...

anon's jealous

Anonymous said...

Don't pay any attention to anon, Scott. He's just a bitter dude. He hasn't read anything by you other than one story to criticize you. It's obvious us that he's just jealous, like anon2 said. Don't let some old, envious guy get you down. He's just upset he'll never make it as a writer. I don't know about anyone else out there, but I'd be happy if he'd quit clogging the site with such negativity.

Anonymous said...

anon's so jealous it burns my screen.

smd said...

To the angry anon (hey, can you anonymice start using different handles at least, so I can separate the logical from the wackadoos?). Let's pretend for one moment, painful though it may be, that you're right, and there is MFA nepotism rampant in the VQR world. Here's a question, then - how did Snyder get into an MFA program in the first place? Is it part of a scheme to admit hacks and then give them the keys to the literary world in a nefarious plot to keep genius writers (like yourself?) shut out, thus eventually killing literature altogether? Or, is it possible they admit fantastic writers who go on to have a lot of things published because they're fantastic writers? I have no doubt most of the authors who have gotten published post-MFA would have been published anyway, they just chose to take advantage of a great artistic environment that allows a writer to give and receive peer feedback and really polish their work. Those of us who don't have the time or money to pursue an MFA do have to work a bit harder to carve out time and find the dedication to polish our work, but I'm sure you'll find that time if you stop trolling on the internet, roll up your sleeves, and get to editing. Then you can get published, too, and I'm sure your rampant bitterness will subside.

iowa grad said...

Hey, angry anon: I have an MFA from Iowa. I earned it in the late '80s, wrote three unpublished novels before publishing my first book eleven years after getting the degree. I also taught as an adjunct at several colleges, sometimes earning a whopping sum of $1,000 per month for teaching four classes, with no health benefits or retirement, etc. It's been twenty years now since I got my degree, and I've published a few books and have a good job, but I still get rejections from little magazines and book publishers alike. That's part of the business, buddy. No one owes you squat. Nobody. Oh yeah...I'm a first-generation college student and accumulated a boat-load of debt for all three of my degrees. Based on your rants (or maybe there's more than one angry anon on here), I should have been handed a sweet book deal and a cushy job upon graduation. I guess I'm failing to see how you and I are different, except that I've worked my ass off to get where I am, and all you seem to be doing is bitching and moaning. I'm exhausted by the anti-MFA rant. I've never -- ever -- had an editor or agent ask me where I went to school, and I quit mentioning it on my cover letter once I realized that, no, it didn't get me anything. Hell, I'll go one step further and say that there's probably more anti-Iowa folks out there than pro-Iowa folks ready to open their doors and hand me a fat check. One more thing: Would I care if you liked my work? If you did, great; but if you didn't, no, not really.

anonymustard said...

Angry Anon. Here's how to settle this. Post a piece of your own writing here. Why do you avoid this when Snyder asks? Are u scared it's no good? Come on. Prove everyone wrong!!! Show us you're the guy who can really write but who doesn't get noticed. I want to believe that there are great writers out there who don't get a chance.

salad-daze said...

POST, angry-anonymous! Please! We want to see your work!

Writer, Rejected said...

Send it to me via email, angry anon. I"ll post it right up.

scott snyder said...

in case anyone was wondering, angry-anon never sent his work to me. :(

Anonymous said...

I'm angry-anon, I guess. Also, I'm jealous. Just because I express my feelings.
Oh, I'm afraid to show my work, too.
The fact of the matter is that I wrote the review of Egg and the comment with the list of stories, plus a few other comments, but most of the "angry" anons are NOT me. Why have I been silent? A serious illness in the family.
Strange world you exist in, Scott. Is workshopping all you know? You write that you'll tell me if my work is strong, you'll help me make it better. I got a laugh out of that. Why would I give a hoot what you think when I clearly don't respect you as a writer?
But in this silly discourse, one line you wrote stands out: IF IT'S GOOD, I'LL EVEN HELP TRY TO PLACE IT.
You will? You mean you have contacts that I don't? (Oh -- wait! -- contacts don't count. Sorry.)
You're chock full of incorrect assumptions about me. I write reviews and literary essays. Not poetry or fiction. And I'll keep on doing that.
I still believe that you didn't read one story on that list of ten (plus the one that's in the Rejected Story Corner, which is there for you to read and comment on; I commented on it, long ago).
For what it's worth (which is about zilch), I'll offer another story for your consideration: William Trevor's "Sacred Statues." It's about failure, by someone with insight and compassion.
Anyway, this has degenerated into a playground dispute, middle school level. Complete with rolled up comic books in the back pockets of jeans.

scott snyder said...

hey angry-anon. listen, i'm sorry to hear of the illness in your family. i'm also new to posting on blogs in general, so the idea that there were more than one angry-anons or that angry-anon was some kind of conglomeration of anon's... sorry if you were being mischaracterized. some other posts implied that you were a writer, too. for what it's worth (like you said, zilch, i'm sure), i have read most of the stories on your list, not all. and i'm a big william trevor fan. why you're so adamant about not respecting me as a writer is a bit of a mystery to me -you've read one story and know nothing about me- but again, however you feel is fine. wish you the best of luck writing your reviews and literary essays. would love to read those, too - not to critique them or anything - just to share thoughts. just two people who like stories. where can i find it? please let me know. wishing you the best. tcb. s

Writer, Rejected said...

Angry Dude: If Scott Snyder (or anyone for that matter) wanted to help me get published, and share contacts, and read work, and exchange ideas, I'd snap it all up in a hot second. People in the biz are not usually that generous. It's nice that it's happening here.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Scott, for initiating civil words between us. Yes, I've only read one thing you wrote. There are writers I love, but if I read the wrong book first I would not have read the six wonderful ones by them.
Actually, I think there's a vast generational divide separating us. As for the story in question -- sorry, but I have to stick to my opinion about it.
Yeah, the anons get mixed up. Again, a bunch of them are not me. But I wish we were not all categorized in a way that is dismissive of our complaints about literary fiction. Even if we get a bit strident (though most of us are reasonable in our arguments).
Trevor, in "Sacred Statues," treats failure with respect. He's done some great stuff. Like "Mrs. Eckdorf in O'Neill's Hotel," a novel which I read recently.
W,r -- are you an "angry anon"?
My point pertained to How Things Work in the literary world (while it's being strenuously denied that things work that way). If you want to succeed, get in with the right people.
Why don't you and Scott get together? I'm sure he'd like to read something you wrote. And, if it's good he can help you get it placed somewhere. Then you can be happy. Maybe even give up this blog.

Writer, Rejected said...

Yeah. Totally. I think I'm best characterized as a disappointed bitter anon who likes to whine about how unfair publishing is. I have a hard time going up against those personally who somehow make the damn literary system work for them, though it makes me feel all the more cursed. Let's face it, a lot of us are talented, but some of us are luck or smart: in the right place at the right time with the right connections anyway.

Anonymous said...

"I don't know about anyone else out there, but I'd be happy if he'd quit clogging the site with such negativity."

Then just say so, W,R.

scott snyder said...

i understand what you mean, anon. i know it can be frustrating how all writers seem to know each other. and there is nepotism and there are people who just luck out, i'm sure. but please know that really, pretty much without exception, it takes talent and hard work to make it in the door. lots of talented people don't make it through those first doors b/c of bad luck or circumstance, but that shouldn't discredit the people who do make it through. we all start from the same place, right? there's a post on ward 6 that sums a lot of it up, though a bit angrily. i'll re-post it below (hope you don't mind anon2). once you get in those first couple doors, it becomes much, much easier, which i think is what you're objecting to. but all those first steps are struggles. they were the same for me as for you or anyone else. getting into an mfa, getting into my first magazine. there were no breaks. no advantages. i didn't know anyone at any mfa's. i didn't know anyone at the magazines i sent to, had no connections. had nothing going for me. and i spent some time reading applications for my alma mater and the absolute rule was what matters most, far, far beyond any transcripts or rec.s or anything else is the fiction submission. so there really is integrity to the system at its initial levels. it's system too narrow for enough good writers to fit through, yes, and there should be more space, more opportunity. but again, why does that undercut the people who do make it through? now, as for the connections aspect once you've climbed up the ladder a bit... once you're in a magazine, of course you have connections there. or once you've published a book, of course it's easier for you to publish a second one (unless the 1st one did terribly). and of course you know tons of other writers. you studied together, or were in magazines together, or taught together (that's a big one) or did a reading together. it's no different than any other profession. you must know lots of other reviewers or critics, no? or if you have another job, you must know people in that field you'd refer people to, right? why there's anything wrong with writers getting breaks once they've made it through the first couple hoops is a bit of a mystery to me. maybe i'm being an asshole, but if i made it into a magazine off the slush once, why shouldn't i get to send directly to their editor the next time? there's no way he or she will take it if the story isn't up to par anyway (believe me, i still get rejected all the time). and i don't get to cut any line at any other magazine. and like anon2 from ward6, my writer friends are people whose work i really respect. they're people i met along the way who inspired me. we trade work as it's coming along. we're peers. colleagues. writers need those, too. just like everyone else. doctors, lawyers... why shouldn't writers know and help each other if they respect each other's work? i would never try to help someone get a look in a magazine i'd been in whose work i hated. would you refer a client to a colleague whose work you knew was shoddy? there's really no conspiracy. it's not a clique. it's a workplace where people do know each other. but there is (like anon2 says) a lot of integrity and professionalism. please let me know your thoughts. i want to understand if i'm way off here. thanks.

here's anon2's post. he said it better than me...

scott snyder said...

actually, i'll just leave it over there. feel like this thread is getting way long. it's under the should writers be critics post. s

Writer, Rejected said...

Anon: I never discourage anyone from commenting here. I like to hear what everyone says. And certainly I clog with negativity on occasion. Sometimes something just gets stuck in the old gullet and you have to spew to get it out. Everyone's opinion is welcome here.