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Everything wrong with publishing: Hanh Nguyen of Salon

Tuesday 7/4/23

Salon has a guy named Kenneth Womack who does Beatles pieces for them. They are very boring and of no value. That's what he does. He writes mediocre Beatles pieces as their Beatles guy. Not on occasion--regularly. You're going to have a writer who is your multiple-pieces-a-month Beatles guy, and he's this mediocre? If he's even mediocre?

I invite one to compare. Please, and by all means: do the Pepsi prose challenge. Because there is no comparison. Here is Womack. Here are some Beatles works by me. There are many more in the Op-eds and On air sections of the site.

Or, just to pull some sentences, this is from something he recently did:

"Love film? Love music? Steve Matteo's "Act Naturally: The Beatles on Film" is the book that you didn't even know you needed."

That's bad, cliched writing. It's embarrassing. He can't write. Perfunctory, pointless. Anyone could do that.

This is from a piece of mine from the other day:

"What has become popular critical opinion—that the Beatles of 1969 were more inventive than the Beatles of 1963—is also one of the chief fallacies in all of popular music. A wizard tasked with creating a hundred patents a year would be hard-pressed to invent more than those early Beatles did."

Kind of different in quality, right? And that's just a few sentences, before you get into the overall quality.

You know how someone described the difference to me today?

"It's great art compared to a sales pitch. Really it's like you and me doing something on the Beatles. It's actually shocking when you put the two side by side."

I was a regular at Salon, then a new culture editor came in named Hanh Nguyen, and I was, presumably, banned. She took one look at me, and that was it.

No pitch--every one centered on a sterling idea, in emails impeccably written, of the utmost politeness and professionalism--received a response. As I was treated poorly, I simply kept trying. Politely. Professionally. There was no attitude. No expressed anger. I took it. I knew what was happening, but I still conducted myself as I did. I expended the time, the energy. I never lashed out. Despite how obvious it was what was happening.

Hanh Nguyen thought that was how she should behave with a contributor. Further, someone who is a unique writer, thinker, artist, with a unique set of skills and depth and range of knowledge, with a unique track record--all of which is extreme understatement--despite there never being a single person who has said, "You know what? I'll hook that guy up."

In other words, sans cronyism--which is how most of this works--and against all odds. Inconceivable odds. And someone doing everything they do with honor, professionalism, a patience that borders on the unbelievable, the same as what we might term their ability to withstand and absorb abuse for years--and continue trying, again, politely and professionally--and integrity.

How is that not the behavior of someone unprofessional in the extreme who is also behaving the way a truly bad person does with what we see here from Hanh Nguyen? The way a person of envy and bigotry behaves? And someone bad at their job.

So why does she have that job?

You do this long enough, and you often know how it's going to go--from prior to the jump; really; or from the start before the start, if you will--based on things that aren't the things that should ever play a factor, but they're the determining reasons.

For instance, if I take a masterpiece of a book and send it someone who has pink hair, the rainbow filter all over their Facebook page, there is virtually no chance they are going to give my work any chance. It can be the best thing ever written, and some press that pays nothing, and which publishes people who have published two bad stories in eleven years on literary webzines with which no one is familiar. The subject matter won't matter, the range, the importance of the work.

What that person wants to be able to do is look at you and see themselves and their own mediocrity reflected back at them. Then, they are comfortable. That's how just about everything in publishing happens. It's not because someone says, "Wow! That work is amazing!" and believes it. They don't even think in those terms, and they don't allow for them, though what I do is still plain to them as what it is. Because there isn't a writer like this one.

Very rarely is it ever about the work, except insofar as the better the work, the more people like this are threatened by it and the person who made it. When they have the power to say no--or think they do--without fear of exposure for why they really made that "decision," they are going to use that power to do just that. There was no consideration at all. There was no chance. There wasn't .01% of a chance of intention--or possibility--to include.

This is the definition of discrimination.

The chances of someone I've just described reacting favorably to someone like me--and there is no one else like me, but let's say for argument's sake--is less than nil. I can put up some rather nice examples on here. Then I can show a roster of books that those editors and publishers put out. What do you think that's going to reveal?

Often, one sees fit, young, athletic-looking white male, and that's enough to lock you out in publishing. And none of that is the kind of threat to people like this that genius, knowledge, productivity are. That's a threat at an otherworldly level. A threat shakes people like this to their rickety foundations.

So now we have someone who has been caught and is getting exposed exactly for what they are, for everyone to see.

But let's vet this. Let's try to allow for any vestige of the doubt that we all know does not exist, because everyone knows what's happening here. But all the same. I'm always thorough. I'm always fair.

We'll play a game of logic and elimination. So, what? I wasn't good enough? That's a laugh. I went from being plenty good enough to not good enough at all? Anything I write pastes what is in there. Further, Salon owes me money. I did nothing to this woman.

Then I appealed--politely as always--to her boss, editor in chief Erin Keane, with an idea, after being ignored for a long stretch--so it's not like I ran upstairs because a few emails were ignored--who sent me a tetchy note saying that Nguyen (whom I hadn't mentioned) had been the culture editor for some time. As if that addresses anything.

So, it wasn't my work, it wasn't my track record, it wasn't my track record with the venue, it wasn't anything I did to this woman or anyone at the venue.

Where does that leave us? Pretty simple: discrimination.

There is no one who honestly thinks that a guy like Kenneth Womack writes about the Beatles nearly as well as I do. (And obviously, my work and expertise ranges far beyond four fellows from Liverpool.)

But: he is older, mediocre, bland, uninteresting, he hasn't a single fresh idea, he does factoids that one can locate wherever if one wishes (mixed with the most vanilla information, presented in a dry, perfunctory way), his prose is stiff in style, and all of this adds up to make him nonthreatening because you take no side about him or his work; you just don't care. Passive prose, nonexistent ideas.

That's the kind of white male that is preferred, if that's even going to be allowed.

Whereas someone like this woman looks at me and everything about me--the ability, the range, the knowledge, the constant production of highest-level work, this journal in its voluminousness, the overall presentation of that person/writer/artist, even the physical aspect--and nope, not gonna happen on her watch.

That's how this works. Sometimes there's a person who is not this way. They're very rare in this industry.

But it is going to change. The industry is dying, because people like these people have killed off not just reading, but writing. There is virtually no one out there who writes well, because if one wants to be in publishing, one is instead devoted--insofar as that kind of person can be devoted to anything--to being like the other people in publishing, rather than being devoted to their writing. And devoted to readers. To audience and connection. To substance and value.

It's all about other things--bad things--in moving forward with people like this, or, rather, being such that they'll allow you to move forward, when they have say or think they do. It's not about talent and cultivating that talent. It's all about being their kind of person.

That's a person with no ability, no knowledge, no substance in their work, no values, no character, and nothing, really, to offer anyone. And typically someone who thinks they can get away with discrimination, until they find themselves disabused of that notion.

To whom it may concern: Everything has been screenshot. Removal of published work will be recognized as an admission of guilt and documented as such in an entry (-ies) in these pages.

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