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Everything wrong with publishing: Raluca Albu of BOMB

Friday 10/15/21

If you know me, you know that I'm someone who tries to avoid confrontation as much as is possible. To the point that knowing what is often going to be in my inbox--so many examples of hate, discrimination, envy--I had something of a breakdown, which made it impossible to go into that inbox save every two months. Because I knew that there were certain things I'd have to do.


Likewise, if you know me, you know that I'm someone whom, even if you've done a lot to me, if you need me, I will set that aside and help you. It's a way I've also been exploited in my life. Then other people will say to me that I'm too kind--which is different than too nice. It is my nature to be kind, and it is also my nature to expect to be treated fairly. Obviously I've known people who went past that point where I was willing to be there for them, eleventh hour, with a strength and perspective that others didn't have; which is why such people will come to me.


Similarly, if you know me, you know that I am as principled a person as can be. I'll do what I have to do, for instance, on behalf of my work, which is often degrading. It takes my dignity away. It makes me feel disgusting. Kissing the hindquarters of truly evil, weak, broken, petty, nasty people. But I think the work is special. There's never been anything like it. I feel like that's obvious. That that is true, and that that is obvious, is part of the problem, when it comes to the evil monolith of publishing.


If it meant saving my work, and getting my work to where it should be, I would sacrifice my soul for my work. I believe in my work more than I believe, or could believe, in anything. That the sun is hot. That I am even alive. That any of us are. That too, will hit a point, where years and years of abuse--there's no other word for it--and bigotry--there's no other word for that, either--make it such that I have a choice. I know what it is happening, I know why. I know what is being done to me. I know it won't stop. I know that that person has no intention of ever not abusing me and discriminating against me. I would have, over these years, tried everything. Every approach. Appeal. They'll know I do what they can never do. They know, too, that even with an entire industry against me, I am beating them.


I write about 10,000 a day, 365 days of the year. I've had a stroke, I'm alone, I'm poor. I work twenty hours a day. Every day. On Christmas I am alone working. On a Saturday I am at the desk by four working. I then run stairs--thousands each day--to be able to withstand the stress. I produce thousands of works of art in an endless array of voices. Every day I make art. Works that stand alongside anything. At any time.


Every single thing I get--earn--I do against all odds. Because if you are not like the people in publishing, the people in publishing will hate you. What that means is everyone who is not like these people is flushed out early. One would not be able to fight against what one would have to fight against. One would not be able to endure, either. You could go off and teach, and your three friends could publish you in literary journals, but that will be the whole of it. And that whole, is nothing. Now, it might be appropriate--as in, the realistic limit--for what that person's work can do in the world. But that's not my work. My choice is to either let this happen indefinitely, as if I'm complicit in their abuse, and willing to let them get away with it, and live in filth, poverty, anonymity; or, I have to say something.


Which is the right thing to do. The only honorable thing to do. The only dignified thing to do. The only human thing to do. And it is what must be done for my work, which I believe--again, more than I believe the sun is hot--that this world needs more than it has needed anything else.


So every time I publish something for $50, that's an epic battle that took years and years to complete. It's never just, "write the best thing, send the best thing, in the best thing goes." Nothing--there are no exceptions; not one; I want to be as clear as possible--happens in publishing that way. And on the merit of that way. Of the merit of the work. Never.


I will give you one example of how these people are, from yesterday. This is the end of two years of trying to move a work of fiction--any one of a number of great short stories--with a woman named Raluca Albu at BOMB. I used to go to NYC to meet with these people. That was back when I thought that making the rounds, putting faces to names, would help. These were miserable trips, because these people have no social skills. They are clannish. All they can do is look after their own. I'd meet them, I'd do my thing--which you can hear on something like Downtown--and be affable and enthusiastic and witty, laugh easily. They'd hate me. Because they are not like that. They're broken. They are petty. They are envious. Speaking of Kimball--after what happened with Raluca yesterday, which I'm about to tell you about, we had this conversation:


Kimball: Good God, these people are so weak and spineless. Do they not realize how easy it is to catch them in their lies? You're calling them on their dishonest behaviors. I don't see that as crazy but at the same time, what's the endgame? I don't know how anyone could handle that situation. You don't want to burn bridges but you also don't want to compromise your principles. Is it worth selling your soul to get people to do the right thing? Will exposing their lies and bigotry change their behaviors or making other people step up to right those wrongs? I wish I had an answer.


Fleming: They’re not discriminating against me because of what I do or say to them. It’s not that. It’s because of who I am and what I do. So, bridges are moot, really. There are no bridges to burn. So, I kissed this woman’s ass, for two years, and it was degrading, because she's unprofessional, all she cares about his hooking up her own. She isn't a good writer herself, she's achieved nothing, and certainly would never actually earn anything. And I was truly kind. Even a friend. Highly complimentary as well. But it was always going to end this way. Because of greatness. Art. Achievements. Productivity. So I'm left with what I'm left with. Die, or say something and fight. In other words, soul selling isn’t even an option. It’s my ability that is the issue. Because I could sell my soul. But I can’t erase my mind and talent and genius. That’s ultimately what they hate. And that I'm a guy, and I look a certain way, etc.


Once I took the bus to NYC and met with a woman who is no longer at BOMB called Monica de la Torre. She was condescending, joyless, the type of person who'd just snap at you as you were talking. She was going on and on about Lydia Davis. Lydia Davis is a terrible writer who writes these eight word short stories--they actually call them that--that these people pretend are brilliant. Here are four from the VQR, to give you an idea. Did you love them? Probably not, right? In our conversation, Monica de la Torre actually threatened me. She got angry, and she threatened me. She said that if I told her I did not like the writings of Lydia Davis, my work would never appear in BOMB. That's how unstable these people are. Angry and unstable. Who thinks that way? Who does business, for lack of a better term, that way?


And Monica de la Torre was by far the best person I ever dealt with at BOMB, and she was completely unbalanced. I never knew when she might just attack me out of the blue in an email. She'd tell me to send her something, to follow-up in a certain amount of time, and when I did, she'd yell at me. It was brutal.


As I've said many, many, many times in these pages, the last thing I ever want to do is write an editor. But these people are so delusional, that they don't have the self-awareness to know that they're only hooking up their kind. They also look for people who are the right color and gender. Especially now. They have all of the time in the world for the right kind of person to them. You can write what is literally the greatest piece in the history of humankind. You can have a track record where you've published thousands--actually thousands--of great works in what they would call great places. But if you send that piece, with a little letter, to one of them, they're not getting back to you if you are not one of them. So then you can just never do anything, and you can all but set fire to amazing work, if amazing work is what you have, or even the best work ever. Or you can try to get a response. Maybe you wish them a happy birthday. You know something about their life that they have in common with yours. You have a new interview somewhere. A new book. Any excuse. And it sucks.


As I said, I write 10,000 words a day. Yesterday I wrote 70 letters. I did edits on a TLS piece. I had a Beatles thing fall through at The New York Times. I had a disastrous email from The New Yorker that took me two years to get. To have five works summarily dismissed. But I had to fight for two years to get this email that said nothing, because I was obviously just be handled. I had to do corrections on the jacket for the upcoming Dzanc story collection. I wrote an op-ed on Fyodor Dostoevsky. I had to try and get a response from The Wall Street Journal about my Sam Cooke piece, after not hearing where things are at going back to August. Do you think I want to do that? I never know what these people might say. Every email, that I hate sending, is loaded with stress. What will happen now? I think. They can do anything. They never have to explain themselves. You can do what they told you to do and then they can ban you for life for doing it. You read about what happened with the Singles series yesterday. I found out who I was supposed to send my fiction to at Harper's now and did that. I tried to determine where things stand with The Smart Set about a half dozen essays of mine that they have. I begged Rolling Stone again for coverage of the Sam Cooke book. I pitched JazzTimes. Pitched Outside, after my last pitch was ignored. I wrote an awesome new 1000 word story called "Burgie." From three in the morning yesterday until midnight, I didn't leave this chair. I didn't run stairs. I didn't go outside. I spoke to a guy about doing a Billie Holiday book which involves a lengthy proposal for a book that wouldn't pay me a dime. I had a book deal for a novel fall through, because I didn't like how this guy was talking to me, I don't think he has a clue, and again, there was no money and no chance with a press that I should not be at, where the other writers are akin to the local history teacher at the high school who retired and now has this writing hobby. Where I am at because of the blackballing. Because of people like I am describing in this entry.


Those were some of the things I did yesterday. Would you like to then have to write editors, who you know are not doing their jobs, will not do their jobs, are ruled by their streak of discrimination, by the ways of this sick, vile system? Do you want to work that in? Or is that the last thing you'd want to do? And just have them act like vaguely professional, non-evil people who did their jobs, cared about merit, cared about fairness, and got back to you and responded to the great pitch, the masterpiece story?


Ironically, all of these people, with very few exceptions, also hate me because they think I spam them. Again, they have the complete lack of self-awareness. They see emails from me, and they think I'm manic, or pushy, or what have you. They won't know how long it's gone on, or even that they had no intention whatsoever of doing their in this case. So you have this person who hates writing these people, who does not have the time to write these people, who finds the time by working twenty hours a day, who these people then brand a spammer. A giant pain in the ass.


That's a fun irony to live with, eh?


Over many years, I tried the other people at BOMB. They all hate me, because every last one of them is a bigot. Betsy Sussler. Sabine Russ. Chantal McStay. I'm not trying to be glib, but a person like me, who looks like me, who is self made, who does not write this pretentious, meaningless, asinine garbage--here, for instance, is a Blake Butler piece they published--has no chance with people named Sabine and Chantal. Experience tells me that. You're just done before you get there.


I never stopped trying. I'd have some new work that no one could touch. Easy to say. Go through any of the short story excerpts in this blog. Why do you think I put them there? Go read "Find the Edges" in Harper's. Nothing to touch any of it. And I just wrote 330 stories in a little more than three years. I sent a very, very small percentage. A "Fitty." A "Dead Thomas." It was never, "Hot damn, I have yet another, send out the email blast!" You have to understand, the people in publishing produce one shitty work--if that--every year. There's no talent here, and what's more, these people don't work. They're lazy. And if you are not working at your writing for a lot of hours every day of your life, you're not going to get to be any good at it. I'm at a disadvantage, too, because I produce. They hate that. It makes them so envious. So, they get the new great story, and instead of thinking, "here's another option," they project. They think, "I hate him, he's spamming me." Because that's the easier thing to tell themselves. And, again, no one else produces anything. So it's a very easy leap for them to make in their diseased minds. Then they'll also think I like sending them anything. Trying to get somewhere. When these people have had me nearly end my life at my own hand. And I simply haven't sometimes because I don't want to give them the satisfaction or pleasure.


But we're talking about Raluca Albu. Raluca Albu is someone who publishes something like this, by Ben Loory. Ben Loory is another one of these dreadful writers. He has no talent. Every single last piece he does--again, there are no exceptions--is written just like this. You're to laugh. This is third grade writing, yes? Now, I get it--he's doing his little fairy tale thing. He's a literary citizen, Ben Loory. That's what they call the people who love the system, who cheerlead for the other literary citizens of the system. He sort of had his big moment when one of his third grade stories was in The New Yorker, but that was a while ago, and he's nothing now. He's just a guy who gets hooked up by people like Raluca Albu. His forehead is stamped as one of them. What was going to happen with work like this? The world was going to love it? Obviously not. So, he had his platform in The New Yorker, got his book deal with a major for a collection of his ridiculous third grade stories, and that was that. No he just puffs other bad writers, and they puff him. Click on the link. Click on it for real. Because you should see what someone like Raluca Alba is putting forward.


Albu is thirty-seven. She lives in Brooklyn. She's one of them. She's published next to nothing in her life. She goes on Facebook and posts extremely splashy, dramatic, narcissistic things from her life. What we'd call drama, too. About her suicidal family member. How she hates her job teaching at college so much. She posted something right before classes started about how she was dreading going to work, hated teaching. That's kind of awful for a teacher to put out there, no? She trashed her employer--that particular one. A lot of this kind of thing over a lot of years. People would weigh in. Because that's what she wanted. When people weigh in in these situations, it's to say something useless, usually. "You got this lol." But I saw someone I thought was hurting. So even though I'm not on Facebook at all, really, I'd comment from time to time. Words of actual help. I lost my sister around this time in 2014. She was in her early thirties. She overdosed on heroin, and my mother found my sister dead, upstairs in her old bedroom. I shared my experience with Raluca. I said if there was anything she needed, she was free to contact me. I gave her my number. I said "no pressure, just so you have it. I know this is hard." That was typical of me, of this person who'd had a story of mine for a year. And nothing. Regarding hating her teaching gig, I suggested--as everyone else was saying what they did--to not look at it as her and the school, but her and her students. That that was what really mattered. Connections that might be formed in that context. What she might be able to bring to the lives of those young people, and also, too, what they might bring to hers. She comes back from her first day, and she gets on Facebook and starts thanking everyone, because it was a really good day, she said, and now she was excited. She'd reply to me when I posted what I did, and she'd be super friendly. Gracious. Thankful. Jokey. She liked my Facebook author page, which I do maintain. Talking about her students, she said that a bunch of them loved writing and music, had real passions for both. I sent her an email some time after, saying that I started out writing about music, and music taught me a lot about stories, and fiction, and that was more my background, in one way, than books. There's a fascinating relationship between musical sounds and words, and what occurs, if you understand it, with the sounds of words. How that can foster meaning. Create meaning. I always couched everything in this very "if you want it, but no biggie, just putting it out there" kind of way and tone. Not as someone who had all of the answers. Or even necessarily any answers for her. Just kindness. I said that I don't know how this works, and it could be silly for me to suggest it, but if she ever wanted someone to talk to her students, about this particular subject, I was happy to do that, on Zoom or whatever people use. Just volunteering my time.


On Facebook, she'd also quote from my fiction. Because she loved it. One time I saw a reference to a "doughty gaze," and I thought, hmmm, that's familiar, and sure enough, it's in a story of mine that she had called "Eyejaculator." But then one day, I saw that she had unfollowed my Facebook author page. That was this year. I knew what had happened. These people are always weak and broken. They only listen to each other. None of them think for themselves. Someone--perhaps one of the people I mentioned above at BOMB, or several, or who knows, thousands of people in Brooklyn, in this industry--said something to her about me. Because this is real. It's an industry-wide blackballing. Nothing's in my head. It is the reality of the situation. For all of the reasons documented in these pages. For virtues. Not for vices. Not for crimes, not for immoral acts. For virtues.


I knew how this was all going to go, more or less. She had no intention of doing what she said she was going to do, which you'll see below, in a letter within a letter that she sent me in April. Someone got to her. They said, "I hate him, and you will now hate him, too," and Raluca Alba, being what she is, said, "of course." Because none of these people are capable of saying, "You know what? No. He's actually been super nice to me, and even if he wasn't, it's the work that matters, that's what we're all here for."


I want to share something else from my text exchange with Kimball yesterday.


Kimball: Do they think your work wouldn't sell (which is crazy) or are they so corrupt they don't care? Would they rather push their narrative and agenda even if it means ignoring someone whose work could be huge?


Fleming: Yes, the latter. It’s a clubhouse. For broken evil people. I could offer their children eternal life, no pain, perfect health, complete happiness. It wouldn’t matter.


Kimball: I wish I had some wisdom. You keep creating brilliant works, I guess, because that's what you do. I still believe that greatness will have its day and that the time will come when everyone recognizes what some of us already know.


I am, as I have shown in these pages, a man of principle. Even when there is nothing less in the world I'd rather do than something I have to do, I will do it if it is the right thing. No matter how much frustration, suffering, pain, it might bring me. I will never take the easy way out. I will never allow someone to abuse me either. They can go pretty far, and I will give them lots of rope--they'll shit all over me--for years, to just try and get a masterpiece like "Fitty" published for pennies. But eventually, they'll take it to a point that it stops.


And we come here. I'm going to be doing a lot more of this, publishing people. I am going back through what has happened, and I'm putting it all up. So, fix it before I get to you. Because I will get to you. An entry like this is also a warning: knock it the fuck off. I'm a man with nothing to lose. I'm smarter than you are. and you can't kill me, and this is not going to go away. No one is going to get away with what has been happening. Treat me like a human. Treat me and my work like I deserve and it deserves. Treat your readers like they deserve to be treated and let them have this work. We don't need to be friends, we can detest each other. But don't make me put you up in these pages. Do the right thing. All the bygones go away. We start over. You need not apologize to me, you need not write me some dramatic email. Just start over, and do the right thing by me and my work. No questions asked from me about what you've been doing for so long, what you've been doing to me. I just want to move forward, and I want to give readers something I have, that no one else does. And they fucking deserve that, too.


What this all means, in this situation, is I was going to have to confirm what I knew about what had happened with Raluca Albu. What she wanted to happen, as someone with no integrity, no real concern for what is published, but rather who is published, was for me to just go away. And the problem would be over. No. I'm going to see it through. Here's what that looked like yesterday. This was the email I sent her around noon. Remember, this is two years of my life, of having to show a level of patience I can't really imagine anyone else would have. You'll note, too, how self-deprecating I am in the first letter, how I clearly don't want to be writing this woman.


Dear Raluca,

How are you? Checking in again to see where things might be. I've spoken recently to a couple writers who have had work waved through, and I think they're probably being honest with me, with that work coming in not that long ago.


I know this has kind of stretched out, and you wanted to do one of these, it was just a matter of which of these, and I feel like a wretched and vile person sending along more work. The guilt is actually getting to me. Or maybe that it's that I have ten people screaming at me today.


Here's what she said:


Hi Colin, You do send a lot of emails and have submitted at least a dozen stories. We only accept one submission at a time per writer. Please choose one story you’d like us to consider. Work doesn’t get “waved through.” It’s either solicited or if it is accepted before someone else’s work that’s likely because it fits our editorial needs and/or is at a place of readiness that works with our production and work schedule. I work at BOMB two days a week (and then three other jobs, two full time). I work within my capacity to produce the 8 pieces a month we run in our lit section during that allotted time (and it’s rarely fiction — usually interviews, poetry, and other short pieces that fit my bandwidth). Thanks, —Raluca


Her tone is completely different than in the past, or when she was quoting my work on her Facebook page. Again, because someone has gotten to her. And she's also lying to me. Because that's not how it works. Like I honestly don't know, after twenty-five years of doing this, exactly how people are getting their stuff in there. So now, here we go. I sent her this:


I'm not trying to give you a hard time, Raluca. I understand that you have a lot going on. I think I've been very supportive of you, over a long period of time, and have gone out of my way to offer what help and input that I could.


You sent me this on April 4, so the letter below is a somewhat puzzling response to me:


Hi Colin, Wow, I don’t know how you do it — produce so much. The op eds, the reviews, the books, these amazing stories. We haven’t accepted any new stories yet since we’re still backed up with running things we took on in early 2020. But we’re sitting down to read and make decisions later this month for stories we want to run throughout the summer. I’ll bring “Fitty” to the table. I love “Eyejaculator” too. What a character! The twists and turns — not what I was expecting, in the best way. You captured something very real here. I think you sent some others too at some point that I have to dig up. I can’t bring them all but I’ll choose my favorites and then we’ll decide by consensus. More soon(ish), —Raluca


You see the different tone, yes? Simple--no one had gotten to her yet. I've been precise and thorough in this accounting, in mentioning that I always couched anything I might offer in self-deprecating tones; there was no "mansplaining." There was simply good faith kindness and a "if you want anything, I'm just one other person out there if that matters to you." That's it. Did I have another part to my agenda? Yes, of course. This is what I have to do to get one of these monsters to maybe act a little less like a monster. For my fifty bucks. Over multiple years. It's always some epic horror show of effort and ungodly patience. While having your dignity sucked out of your being. You'll love what happened next.


Right. I brought them both to the meeting and then you kept sending others which confused me so I pulled them off the table since the other editors said we need to pick one to review. So please make that choice when you can. I’m also not looking for your “help” or input. I’m an editor at a magazine — just looking for work that fits our content. You’re taking advantage of my openness and communication style, I see why many editors just don’t write back at all.

—Raluca


There you have it. Open acknowledgement of how I am blackballed by the publishing industry. Right there. She's lying again, too, about the process. As Dan Wickett said to me yesterday:


Wickett: It always amazes me how people read into what is being said to them. Also, RIDICULOUS logic---if I have two incredible stories from an author at the "read table" and I love them---I don't care how many more stories that persons sends me--if I love Eyejaculator, I'm going to suggest we publish it and then go look at the newer work. Truly a silly statement that we got confused and so set them all aside.


Remember what Kimball said about these people being spineless and how easy it is, too, to catch them in their lies? That was the part that produced those words.


Realize, I'm dealing with a dozen other things as this is going on. You think I want to be doing this? Ever with this woman? Let alone for two years? And people even worse than she is? People a lot worse than she is, actually.


But very well. I can do what I need to do.


That's a childish and needless comment. I never suggested you needed help or input. But you do put what you put out out there, obviously soliciting these things. I was simply friendly to you. In a good faith way, one human to another. It's fine for you to reference some cheap gossip, and I know exactly how things work at BOMB. I've been generous in not documenting some of it on my blog, which I'll now set about doing. I've met with people from there. I've been threatened by people from there. The last thing I wish to do is write you, ever, and try to get someone like yourself to behave with a modicum of professionalism. I see the ridiculousness you publish--like the Ben Loory piece, which is a person without any talent doing what they do over and over again, with no variation, whom you put forward, because they are the right kind of person. What I know is you're a weak person, and I could tell precisely when your attitude towards me changed--when someone had a word in your ear, and told you to hate me. You don't have it in you to think for yourself, or stand up to anyone. I knew that. You think doing what I do, writing all I have to write, I want to ever have to scrape and bow to get a response from you? You think I have any respect for what you've done or written? Get some help, Raluca. Dispense with the projection. And try growing up. But sure, we'll do this your way. Hope that was worth it for you.


What is going to now happen, after I sent that, is what happens every time with these people, when it now occurs to them that you could not abuse this person at will, and just get away with it. And that now people might know about it. And you. And how you behave. They shit themselves. They all try to walk it back now, and they do that by citing policy. Which is again, a lie, because that's not what this was about. Anyone think this was about policy? No. Of course not. That's how uncreative they are, and how busted they are. And so, here it comes.


Colin, I was telling you to choose one story to submit. The more you send, the longer it takes us to read and make decisions. So since you’re choosing not to follow the guidelines by choosing one, we can’t work together. Best of luck with your writing.

—Raluca


That's someone trying to cover their ass, because they've been caught, and they've been caught by the one person who is going to stand up to them, and the person who has the obvious ability and the obvious track record to do so, both of which prove exactly the level of of discrimination that person is dealing with. I'm not some unpublished grad student who can't write for shit. If anyone did 1/1000th of what I do, and was one of them, they'd be the vaunted figure of their industry. And beyond. Because that person would have endless backing. Awards, money, gigs. So, no. I'm not sitting back and letting you get away with it. And so it ends.


Cod official-dom will not help in terms of third party perception. That's not what happened. And we both know it. You look ridiculous and people are seeing this now, and up it goes on the blog. You think because petty, broken, unprofessional, bigoted people elect to gossip about me that you can speak to me that way? You think I don't know what happened? Wrong person to do this with. You think I was going to sit back and not put that out there? So, just as word of my nonexistent--in terms of reality--transgressions made it to your ear, try Google in a little bit, with your name. Because this now gets spread far and wide, once it goes up. Can't treat people like that. But yeah, it's because of a violation of protocol. Who do you expect to believe that? You look like like a scared child now, who tried to take out their mood on someone and bully them. Wasn't going to work with me. Good luck to you, too. And enjoy the posts.


P.S. I saw when you unliked that FB page, and I knew exactly why--you are a coward, and one of your little cronies said something to you about me, and you can't stand for your own things.


Pretty simple. Knock it off. Do the right thing. Because I am not going to stop and the problem is not going to go away. I am not losing to these people. I will fight my way through every last inch of hell to make sure that does not happen.