Here's something typical. Stephen Corey, who recently left as editor of The Georgia Review, hated my guts. Absolutely hated me. I learned they had a new editor, a Gerald Maa. These magazines--by which I mean, most literary magazines, not all--are not read. They are almost impossible to find in stores and they are almost never stocked in stores. There is no interest in them. They publish awful work by MFA people, for other MFA people, who wish to be in these magazines, so they can get tenure where they teach, or brag about it to a colleague. You're not going to be read, you're not going to be paid, and it's just these people, lousy writers, favor traders, hooking each other up. There's nothing else to it. The stories must be staid, they must bore you out of your mind, and I wouldn't wager that more than twenty-five people in the world read a single story in a journal like this, and that includes the author, their partner, their parents. But, because everyone can only write in this limited, boring, imagination-free way, no one else, essentially, publishes short fiction, because these people have killed off any market for it, and have killed off any reason to read it. And they all write the same way.
My problem, for now, is that I have 100 works of available short fiction. Because I am the antithesis of these people, in every way. Further, my work is the antithesis of staid, of boring, lifeless, pretentious, all of the hallmarks they look for. Eventually, I am going to have to create the market myself, because there is not a preexisting one. I need to be the market. And I will become the market. But in the meanwhile, as I work, as I fight to get to that point, where I am going, when there is a new editor at a venue, after the former editor has hoped that I'd die, I'll send something.
You must realize that I know--I can list the examples, I can show you, person by person--that almost all of this is a favor trade. That people are going in without doing what this guy--because he gets off on it; it's a power trip for him, seeing what I do, to be able to talk down to me, treat me like I'm a high school kid writing his first poem--tells me to do. Which is: pay him $3 to have a student--who is taught to look for all of the bad MFA hallmarks, as they help in further killing off reading, in their way--look at my fresh, innovative work, perhaps see the cover letter, seethe with jealousy--helped along by me being a white male, and all of the attendant negativity that often comes along with that for these people--and form reject me, because, again, that's how this works, that's the hold they have, the power they have, as such.
Meanwhile, some professor, with four clips from places you've never heard of, will be waived right in, because that's how everything goes down.
You'll note in the correspondence below that he couldn't call me by my first name. His refusal to do that--trust me, I know these people better than I know my own mother (love you mom)--is their standard passive aggressive way of being a scold and pretentious. That's how lifeless these people are. They're not really people. You hope that they're good parents or siblings or what have you, because they're awful for writers and would-be writers to be around, awful to instruct kids and young people about writing and completely unaware--and arrogantly unaware--about any idea of work actually connecting and meaning anything to anyone.
Here is the first Georgia Review story I pulled up just now, to give you an idea. They're all like this. I could have picked any. Do you see how basic Writing 101 this is? It's just stock description, that simple, "I'm going to put on my writer's cap now" voice. Description for description's sake, filling up a word count, and you are hyper-conscious that you're reading someone trying very, very, very hard to sound like a writer. (See how laborious it is for this guy to set his scene, too? Anyone good at writing puts you there immediately, in a handful of words.) No, a writer. And it sucks, and it's boring, and no one wants to read this or could get anything out of it. It's also utterly jejune and without consequence. It's pointless. And safe and antiseptic. MFA fiction is placebo fiction.
Now, you must understand, these people, they think they are better than you. That you don't read this or you couldn't care about makes them think you are dirty and beneath them, and they think it's a good thing you don't read it, because you're not worthy, plebian. And they've killed off something that should matter so much, the experience of sitting down with something truly worth your time, that connects with you, imparts wonder to you, recharges you, awakens you, stimulates you, inspires you, comforts you, helps you grow, thrills you, makes you laugh, cry, feel so deeply and be glad that you are feeling so deeply.
They don't do that.
I do that, but they don't do that.
My first letter to Gerald Maa:
How are you? I had some work for you if you might be up for a look. My fiction has recently appeared in Harper's, Boulevard, and Glimmer Train. In the last few days, I've had high-profile op-eds--by which I mean, they've drawn a lot of attention--run in The Wall Street Journal and the New York Daily News, and spoken on network television about my work.
A popular Chicago radio station did a segment on my work last week, I spoke on a different radio program about Ella Fitzgerald. I'll do a couple radio segments this coming week. I sold a novel this past week, and along with that book, three other books--a story collection, film volume, book on Sam Cooke for Bloomsbury's 33 1/3 series--will be out in the next two years.
My work has appeared far and wide, in The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Vanity Fair, The New York Times. I also keep what has become a very popular blog at my website, looking at how publishing really works from top to bottom, sports, art, film, literature, nature, the ballet, endurance.
Weeks have become pretty crazy here. It sounds incredulity-inducing, but I've composed over sixty works of short fiction going back to last summer, in addition to all of the books, essays, reviews (I think there will be a review of an Orson Welles volume in the TLS this week), and personal essays.
I have three really strong works here, I feel, that I picked out to send you after much mulling.
One is called "Fitty," which is, perhaps, the most powerful work, in my view, that I've ever written. I think, too, it is a story this country needs right now, that can gain traction and do what it might do--and generate talk--beyond the literary community. Then there is "Jute," which is much shorter, but has been knocking people square in an emotional solar plexis, I've found. Those whom I have shared it with go for it in a big way. The last story is called "Net Drive," which looks like it is going to be a sports story (and has an element of Kafka's "The Badger" in its level of detail/exegesis), and then becomes something larger, more dramatic, more timely to our age. While, I think, being about as strong as a sports story has been.
Congrats on your new gig, and I appreciate the time.
How are you? Just following-up on this. Many thanks.
Dear Mr. Fleming,
Thanks for your interest in publishing in The Georgia Review. Please submit anything you see fit for the journal via the proper channel.
All the best,
I was being exceedingly generous in even offering you my work. What would inclusion in your journal even get me? It's a story off my hands and $150. You are the one who makes out, so, no, in no universe am I, with the work I do, its quality, and the places I do it, going to pay you to have an MFA student read and form reject it. This is why magazines like yours--in addition to the MFA-bilge they publish--are dying and will soon be all gone. Thank you, though. And happy Christmas.
Nobody buys a magazine like this, nor reads it, nor even knows the name of it--which, if you mention it to someone, sounds like it's some general tourism guide or agricultural study for the state--so what they do is function as a clip joint. They get their money through charging $3 per submission, while at the same time they're publishing the usual suspects--the connected people you see again and again--and the mucky-mucks of the system, which is different--vastly--than being a mucky-muck in life, as it is predicated on being like one of them.
And those people are sending their work over the email transom, and it's often being accepted sight unseen, because of the name at the top, and the connection. Being one of them is crucial here, because talent terrifies these people, as does productivity, as does someone who has honestly made it on their own. All the more so if they've made it on their own when these people die inside a little more each time they see that person make it somewhere on their own, with no help, and much--so much--resistance. From their confederates who are wired exactly as they are. They crave power (and it's such petty power, too), they crave being the royalty of the fiefdom, and they all but coat themselves in ejaculate when they can wield that power over someone who is not one of them who has done infinitely more than they ever could. They collect the submissions-charge money, while they publish awful writing from their friends and their type of person. For whom entirely different rules apply.
Here's what a reasonable person, whose breath doesn't all but reek of envy, would do in the case of Gerald Maa. They'd think themselves fortunate that here they are in their new gig, and along comes this person, whose work they know--which they should know, if they read at all; or can learn about very quickly--who is generously offering several stories. They would know--or can learn, swiftly--that this person does what he does the right way, with honor, character, and quality of work, nothing odious, not favor trades; he's the model for what you want to be.
Now, publishing a story of his can't help him. Can't help him in his career, can't help him financially. But it can help the journal. And he's willing to do that, he wants to move a story because, again, doing things the right way, he produces a lot, because his talent dictates as much, and his work ethic, his drive, his steadiness of purpose, but again, more than anything, far more than anything, his talent. There is enough of his work to go around everywhere.
You go to the website. You say, "Holy shit, look at what this guy does." What Gerald Maa knows is that when he tells me to pay him $9, he's never going to see the stories, they won't reach him, because it is impossible to give work to wanna-be writers who are MFA students, who see it first, who look for bad, boring, predictable work, who often hate white males (let alone an athletic-looking Boston white male who seemingly knows everything about everything and has published thousands of times despite a system arranged and running such that he shouldn't have been able to get anything out anywhere; they will hate that white male even further in the case of this one, as two of the three stories in this batch--"Fitty" and "Jute"--are about women, and there is no one of either--or any--sex who could have written them better), who will hate someone who does what I have done and as much as I have done, and that student, that would-be who never will-be, is also coming to make themselves climax with the power trip of the form rejection. But Gerald Maa wants me, at The Georgia Review, to get out my credit card for him.
The arrogance of this man, and the sheer incompetence, because he is that bad at his job, at putting out the best product, that he cannot even be arsed to say to himself, "Damn, this is great, what a chance, I should at least take a half hour and look these over, people like this just don't come along, he's reached out to me, this can be good for me, for the journal," is typical. I should add, too, that in the inane world of Misfit Toys that these people live in, this is considered one of the very "best" literary journals. This is considered one of the very best outlets for short fiction in a world that does not read it or care at all because of 1. People like this and 2. The fact that almost all of it is godawful, and you see the reaction when along comes someone entirely different, with masterpieces to last.
But if you're the right person? Come on in, add to our irrelevance, maybe you can help us cop some meaningless award--ooooh a Pushcart Prize--no one has heard of to further bolster our smugness quotient here in the detached reality of our private, segregated blip of an island.
This blog post now becomes the most relevant, worldly thing about The Georgia Review. It's nice to team up on something.