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Everything wrong with publishing: Sy Safransky of The Sun

Friday 9/9/22

It was recently made known--not by me--to Sy Safransky, editor of The Sun, that he was mentioned in this record. There is no one I'd say is more unstable in all of publishing than Safransky. When we do these entries, we're talking about people that encapsulate all that is wrong with this industry. They have played a major role in why no one reads. When we have a society in which no one reads--or has reason to--so much breaks down. Devolves. How we think, communicate, process reality, how well we deal with reality, how well we live, know the world, see the world, experience and feel the world.

Safransky founded The Sun, which is based in Chapel Hill, in 1974. It has the shape of a magazine, but it's not a glossy, with the stock of a newspaper. It's independently operated and has a rather high circulation so far as this kind of publication goes.

My experience with The Sun dates back to when I was in college. I'd written an inferior piece about baseball. Nonfiction piece. Even had a cliched title. I was figuring out how to write at the time, so this was my juvenilia. As I fully admit what this work was, I'll add that it's still better than anything that comes out now. As we've seen, no one is worse at anything than these people are at writing. There were these hints that I could do consequential things as a writer, but it was a poor and inchoate piece, and shortly thereafter I progressed well beyond the likes of it.

I sent it to The Sun--this is coming up on a quarter of a century ago--and they were interested in the piece, allowing that I made some changes. I didn't really know how all of this worked at the time, and I put the letter aside, because it simply didn't matter that much to me. I was of the view, back then, that if you wrote something great, it'd be appear where it should appear. That people in publishing cared about ability and quality. I didn't stress it. There'd be plenty of opportunities, so long as the writing was there.

But then reality entered the picture. What I can say now, a quarter of a century later, is that that poor piece of writing, was, according, to The Sun, the best thing I've ever done. I was twenty-two. Because in this quarter of a century, I've had to deal with the likes of the bigot that is Sy Safransky.

Let's look at how this man works. The Sun had an editor named Carol Ann Fitzgerald, who had been the managing editor of The Oxford American--a venue that prefers to employ sociopaths--where her husband Marc Smirnoff was the editor in chief. This man was a nightmare to try and work with. Unbalanced. But, compared to most people in publishing, amazingly not as bad. Which is a remarkable statement. He liked to put his hands on the younger female members of staff--people not much more than kids--which his wife, Carol Ann, was okay with, and tried to justify. But, when you molest interns, you lose your job, or you certainly can, and that's what happened with Smirnoff. His wife stuck by him for a while--peas and pods, right?--and then they divorced, and shortly thereafter, she was married again. I mention this because this is how unstable people act. So of course Safransky hired Carol Ann at The Sun. Again, you always have a collection of broken freaks. That's what you're contending with; how to advance forward with people like that.

I offered Safransky masterpiece after masterpiece, for twenty-five years. You've seen the excerpts of enough of them. They're in books, and they ran in venues of much renown, though we know, of course, how meaningless that really is. Harper's, the VQR. But I'm someone who has written ten stories in the last four weeks that are every bit as good as those stories of mine in those "fancy" venues, which, again, mean nothing in and of themselves, and really represent, for other writers, a handout, an "achievement" because of skin color or gender, cronyism, nepotism, being a system person, the flavor of the month, etc. But not with me, because I have never been given anything or had anyone on my side. I've had to go against the armies on my own, so when I was in there, it was more than even having earned something against all odds.

Back to our account. Carol Ann wrote me and she said that in order to get in The Sun, you had to make Sy Safransky cry.

Think about that. That's how insane these people are. He has to cry. Let me give you an example of what made Sy Safransky cry. This is a story called "The Donkey at the Gates of the Kingdom of Heaven," by David Rutschman. You've seen it before, if you're a regular reader of these pages. It's been cited here. But let's be thorough. Yes, this is the whole thing. I'm not trying out a joke on you. What is worse than this story? What is more pointless? What is more comically bad? Further: Safransky took not just this story from this writer, but another as well, and paid him thousands of dollars for them.

You are meant to believe that "The Donkey at the Gates of the Kingdom Heaven" is better than anything I've ever written in my life. Do you believe that? Do you believe that it's at all possible for anyone who has ever lived to believe that? Of course not. You are dealing with an unstable bigot. What else can we call it? What is the other term? What is the better fit? Can you imagine writing that story, something that trivial, stupid, and even wanting to show it to anyone? To thinking anyone needed to read it? That that story could belong in a magazine that is supposed to run some of the best fiction? Because that's how The Sun is viewed by these people. Think of that level of delusion.

What would you say if I told you in these pages I was working on the piece of my life. It took all of my energy and focus! Posts here became sporadic, with me checking in every two weeks to say that I was hard at work on this work of works, which required all of my ability, but it would be worth it. Then, finally, I emerged one day, and I said, "I sold that story I worked on so hard, the best I can do, for which I was up all hours, and here it is." And then I linked you to "The Donkey at the Gates of the Kingdom of Heaven." What would happen? How hard would you laugh? Would you try and figure out a way to do a wellness check? Would you reach out to my family and say, "I don't know this man personally, but I think he's had a breakdown, and I wanted to let you know because he needs help."

Obviously that's a terrible piece of whatever it is. No one thinks otherwise. I'll say it what I say: Tell me how it's good? So you write that, and you then you think that, hey, this could be awesome, I bet this piece will have a super favorable outcome. But because everything is so backwards here with these people, that's a possibility. Here's another (this post is worth a re-read, but scroll down for the link) we recently talked about in these pages, called "Sticks and Stones"--quite the original title--by Erin Almond, if you think I'm targeting the worst story I could find. I never am. They are all this bad. Indulge me. Read those stories. Actually read them. Well, "Sticks and Stones" is longer and you won't get through it, but "Gates" will take you little time. This is all real. I can't stress that enough. This is how all of this is.

I went back to Carol Ann, the toucher's ex, and said, more or less, um, how could "The Donkey at the Gates of the Kingdom of Heaven" make someone cry? That's a more emotionally involving story than what you people have been seeing by me? Do you really think that or expect me to?

And you know what she said?

She expressed shock--shock!--that the story did not make me cry as well.

What can you even say? These people are almost always insane. Almost always broken. Almost always inept, warped, and governed by envy and bigotry. Almost always the same. What do we say now: Prove me wrong? Go for it. As I've said, if you are in this industry, and you are not this way, you are so important to the world. Act on that. Be that. Don't sit back and think you can't do anything and it's best to try and just fit in with people like this. You matter in this world. But you have to actively matter. You have to do something. This is bad. It couldn't be worse.

I know a writer whose fiction Safransky will run, but not his nonfiction, and they were telling me how Safransky talks to them. How he says, "I don't know why I don't run any of your little nonfiction pieces." That kind of condescending.

Here's a letter to this broken bigot of a coward I sent after the shooting in Uvalde:

I'm sure you know what happened in Texas today, and are shook and horrified by it. I know you don't like me. Obviously. That's been clear for more than twenty-five years. But literature is supposed to impact the world. It's supposed to matter. To make a difference in lives. To reflect the times, channel the times, and transcend them. Literature is meant to give us hope, no matter how hard life can be. Read the attached. You know it if you click on anything by me, but just read it here in its final version. Run it. Let it impact the world. Or the people who read it, anyway. I wrote it in 2019. I revised it in 2021. I worked on it again this year in prepping it for a book. It's about a shooting, but so much more. This story matters, man, however you feel about me. We are here to do good in the world when we can. This is the story version of that.

This gutless fraud didn't, of course, say a word. This is someone with an amazing work of art in hand, whose envy is so great, his hate so great, for someone who has done him no wrong, save offer one amazing piece after another, that he'd rather not do what good he could help to do in the world--and by his venue--by running that story he's fortunate to have any chance of publishing. There is not a better story than "Fitty." Ever. What do I mean by ever? I mean ever. I don't mean hyperbolically ever. I mean ever. Do you think I'd say that lightly or for kicks or to make some "splash?" No. Not this person. If I'm saying that, people know that that's not some small deal, and it's not some out there assertion.

The staff is in Safransky's mold. For instance, he employs an editor who went on Facebook in search of attention, about how hard a time she was having her life. I will often reach out to people, to help them with words of wisdom or support. I do a lot of that, for no reason beyond that. But there was an extra wrinkle here for me, given where this individual worked. I was curious. Safransky detests me. How far had the badmouthing gone? This is someone who wouldn't even open the emails with the stories that blow away everything he has ever published. I mean, before we get into the quality of what I do, how could not write better than "The Donkey at the Gates of the Kingdom of Heaven" which made this seventy-something-year-old man weep? Can you even conceive of that? How far gone does your brain need to be? Your perspective? Your reason?

Anyway, I wrote this woman, and straight away she writes back and plugs her book. Someone tries to help you, and you plug your book to them, and talk about yourself like they know who you are, when you're a lousy writer who has done nothing in their career save be one of these people? As if I was a fan of hers? This virtually unpublished person? Not that will stop you from getting an agent and a book deal for a book that sucks that can't possible sell and won't. (She also told me she was a fraud who had no business writing the book she had just plugged. Ah. Lots of stability there.) The narcissism. The delusional narcissism.

Again, it's that with which you are dealing. It's never about the writing with these people. It's about whether you suck at writing, if you're like them, if you're as insane, broken, bigoted as they are. That's everything.


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