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Prose off: Story by deeply prejudiced Carolyn Kuebler, editor of New England Review, v. story by the guy she said just wasn't very good at the whole writing thing

Tuesday 5/14/24

I had mentioned that there would be multiple parts to our consideration of editor and writer Carolyn Kuebler. There are always multiple parts once one goes up in these pages, and they just keep coming. There's no relief, no "that's enough," no "It's over now," no "I can rest easy tonight." Why should there be when the discrimination, bigotry, incompetence, and immorality is that blatant? Let it be a continuous problem going forward, without cessation, unless one wishes to try and make it right. But even then there are no guarantees. It'd have to be worth it.

Carolyn Kuebler is the editor in chief of the literary journal, New England Review, housed in the MFA program--of course--at Middlebury College in Vermont. She also writes. Poorly. It's nice when saying such a thing to have full winds at one's back; that is, it's impossible--a theme--that someone could come along--and by all means, go ahead if you'd like, I'll include you on record in these pages--to argue otherwise in good faith and without making a fool of themselves. Maybe the odious Ladette Randolph, editor of the literary journal Ploughshares, and someone lying her face off for the latest time as she rolls the log for Carolyn Kuebler as we speak would like to step forward and have a word before her own reckoning in these pages? Don't you want everyone to see that on Google? No? Hmmm. Curious. Come, ye log rollers, liars, sexists, racists, hooker-uppers, bigots, let's hear it: Tell me how I'm wrong. Enlighten me. Educate ignorant me on the brilliance of, oh, how about Motorollah?

You put this work out there in the sun, and it's so embarrassingly bad and everyone who looks at it knows it. The key to the publishing system for people like Carolyn Kuebler is darkness. They operate in darkness. They have killed off reading so what they do happens away from the prying eyes of readers and the public. Wouldn't want any of that to interfere with the bullshit and the lies and the pettiness, to say nothing of the reindeer games. It's a closed club. You better be like them--which is to say, you better be nothing good--or you are not coming in or being allowed to pass when the likes of a Carolyn Kuebler can help it.

As I wrote about her initially, this is a person, in Carolyn Kuebler, who told me I just wasn't very good at writing.

Huh. Do you think she actually thought that? Or do you think she saw writing the likes of which she could never do, from the person so unlike her, with a track record she can't even dream of, and she had an opportunity, in her mind, to exact revenge upon that person for being and doing those things?

She said it in the tone of the harridan, someone saying something they knew was absurd because their envy compelled them to. It was plainly personal. I don't like him. He's better than I am. I'll show him.

Okay. Is this you showing me? Sort of feels like it isn't.

I had said before that what we'd do is first give an example of work that Carolyn Kuebler, as editor of New England Review, thinks--at least going by what she said and how she has conducted herself--is better than anything I've ever done in my life or could do. And we did that. It was quite the merry prose off, wasn't it? (If we had a prose off among the losing entries of these prose offs--so like a battle of the losers, where these writers try to out-suck each other--I could see some people having that New England Review story atop their bracket.)

At the time, I'd also said that we'd be getting to her own work. I mean, she's a much better writer than I am, right? That's what I'm supposed to think, no? So this shouldn't be humiliating at all for her. How could I compete with her prose? But first I did a bonus prose off, featuring three examples from stories by three writers in all of their arid lifelessness that are also, according to Carolyn Kuebler, better than anything I've ever written or could write. And we did that.

Kind of seems not very on the up and up in terms of the whole ethical, equitable thing, does it? Almost seems like this isn't about the work at all, save insofar as you having obviously superior work is a problem.

A question: Could you have better or more convincing proof of someone's prejudice? How? What would that look like?

Do you have any respect for Carolyn Kuebler? Do you have any doubt what she's all about? Do you fear her brow of death?

But Carolyn, this is your lucky day: Because we're going to put some of the words you wrote in your fiction against some of the words in a story of mine. This should go really well for you, right? One must be wondering what I am doing, subjecting myself to such a beatdown. I'll take one for the team. That's cool.

Ah, we're just having some fun. Because we all know how this is going to go. Someone is about to look like a boring, no-talent nothing, but worse than a boring, no-talent nothing--someone who is all about discrimination and prejudice. A person of deep envy, actuated by envy, and ruled by that prejudice. A crabbed, scuttling creature.

So would you like to see some fiction from this master? Because she's a master, too. Just like Halimah Marcus is a master. Let's preface this excerpt from one of Carolyn Kuebler's stories by saying how it got where it did. A Carolyn Kuebler requires the hook up. She is, as we've seen, in New England. The Common is a literary journal run by another person who is all about discrimination in Jennifer Acker. I could send Jennifer Acker 500 stories. Same as Carolyn Kuebler. There was whatever the number was. Why do you think that not one of them would go in? Is this the poorest excuse for a mystery ever? Jennifer Acker might as well be Carolyn Kuebler. Want to turn right around in the next entry and look at how awful her writing is? These people are always the same. They have nothing positive going for them. Not as writers, not as people. They're empty and sniveling. Gross. Without any honor or an original thought in their lives. They slither together and hook each other up. They're not here for writing, they're not here for art, they're not here for entertainment, they're sure as hell not here for readers. They hate readers. Why? Because readers want something good to read that impacts their lives, adds to their lives, in some way or ways. These people can't do that. They detest the very idea of a reader who wants something of value. Think of that. They've performed a kind of readerly genocide. They have banded together to kill off reading and readers.

The Common--big shocker--is based in New England. Gee. Do you think Kuebler and Acker got together and the hook up was agreed upon, sight unseen, a fait accompli agreement between two talentless, envious, soulless people? Would you like to bet that that wasn't the case?

This, then, is from Carolyn Kuebler's "Detail from Post Blue Six," in The Common. What is remarkable about a story like this--all of these stories by these people--is that nowhere in the story is anything of consequence said, does anything of consequence happen. Each paragraph is an empty shopping basket. There's nothing in it. You read or skim and you think, okay, that paragraph is all description, and so is this next one, and the one after, surely this fourth paragraph has to have some substance, but it's never there. Nothing happens. Nothing happens emotionally. There are no stakes. There is not a single reason for this story to exist. Give it to me if you like. Stand up, put your name behind what you're saying, and you tell me why what you're about to see is awesome. I stand here in the middle of the public square and I challenge and dare people to stick up for any of this. You know how many times that's happened? Have a big guess. That's right. And it's not like something subtle happens in the story that you need to pay attention to with "close reading," which is a term these people like to use when they're talking about this shit that has fuck all in it. This is 1. Their passive aggressive way of blaming you, the reader, for what they, the writer, can't do and 2. It's an excuse meant to obscure your natural readerly reaction of, "That's it? Seriously?" You have a writer who is a fraud, and a toxic fraud--and you can't write well if you're a fraud, because writing well is about legitimacy. Or if you're toxic, I'd argue. It is not possible for Carolyn Kuebler to add any value to a reader's life. It will never happen. All there could ever be is paragraphs like these that say nothing, and go nowhere:

Allison can see from the map that they’re close now. The last detour got them around the worst of the road damage, and arrival is a near inevitability.  She’s even more anxious now than when they saw the first signs of damage more than an hour ago. “Do you think they’ll have wine at the reception?” she says.

“Sure. They always have wine at art openings,” Bruce says, though he’s been to only one in the years they’ve been together. Allison remembers the boxed wine in plastic cups, cubes of Swiss and cheddar cheese set up in the bank lobby. “Or maybe not,” Bruce says. “Maybe cider. Yes, they’ll probably have apple cider, a little plate of artisanal cheese, from goats.” He’s been reading up on the local-foods movement and is eager to see what it’s about. He’s a better tourist than she is.

“Well, I hope they have wine. Lots of it.”

“Don’t get carried away, baby—it’s just an art show.”

A little green sign says Wickersfield: Population 1,170, and the next few houses are painted with water lines and dates scrawled up near the secondfloor windows. Within moments, they’ve entered the town. Allison cranes her neck to read the addresses on the houses and shops, but Bruce is still watching for divots in the road, taking it a little too fast. The main street, only a block or two long, appears to be pretty much unscathed. Free meals for volunteers, says a sign in the bakery window. In the hardware store, a handwritten sign advertises generators and free coffee, open Sunday.

“It should be right up here,” she says, “the intersection of Main and Water Streets. Oh, wait—that was Water Street! We just passed it!”

Allison’s heart is racing now. She doesn’t want to get out of the car. She wants to just keep watching through the window, taking it all in without needing to respond just yet. She wants to see her little sister and Michael, to see Grace and the mysterious paintings of paint—she does. But not yet. A few more hours maybe, maybe then she’ll be ready to do what she came here for. To stand together with Kate in an art gallery. To congratulate and smile.

Look at that nothingness. Wow, right? Look at all of the basic mistakes. Mistakes that would be corrected for the high school creative writing journal. The use of the word "now" twice at the start. The use of the word "more" twice in the same sentence. Right at the beginning. The use of the word "been" twice in the same sentence. There's rhetorical repetition, where something repeats because of the construction or voicing; then there are just mistakes. These are rookie mistakes. Amateur hour mistakes. And she's an editor, too?

And the paintings of...paint. Brilliant.

Why do that? I mean the endeavor. The whole thing. What is the point? The entire story is available at the link above. If you click on it, you'll see there's nothing else in it. That's all you get, all you will ever get from someone like this, if you're even bothering to look, which you wouldn't be unless you were one of this prejudice-loving person's cronies in the old alma mater--the publishing system clan--or you came to this journal here of mine. I'll put it another way:

That is all Carolyn Kuebler can do as a writer. That's the extent of her ability.

What, exactly, would having less ability look like? Less to say? Less to give?

Kuebler has her first book out today, published by the unhinged, slanderous narcissist that is Dennis Johnson at Melville House. As I said, we'll be documenting his methods and forms of behavior, complete with quotes from his own employees about what a toxic monster he is. An accounting of my own dealings with the man will say much.

So we have a toxic, petty germ of a person hooking up another toxic, petty germ of a person.

Well. That's not very surprising, is it?

You know what else isn't surprising? That Kuebler called this book Liquid, Fragile, Perishable--so original--and that it's about a girl named Honey who works on a bee farm in, you guessed it, Vermont.

A beekeeper named Honey. What are you, seven?

These people are so stupid, so entitled, that they think they can automatically get away with whatever they want to do. No matter how blatant it is. Because they will be protected by the darkness.

They're not smart enough to think, "What if this man I am plainly discriminating against because I envy him so much, because he's everything I am not and never could be, finds a way to hold me accountable and people end up seeing what I did and what I'm all about?"

But that never entered the mind of the likes of a Carolyn Kuebler because she's just too dumb, too consumed by that envy, and that hateful of someone on a different level than she is. Who knows all the things, has appeared in all the places, writes about women and girls better than anyone does and, gasp, he's a straight white male, looks like a hockey player, publishes constantly, produces so much and of such range, doesn't sound like her, think like her, act like her.

Speaking of which and whom--shall we complete this prose off? Want to see something now from the person who Carolyn Kuebler said in an email just wasn't that good at the writing thing? Someone whose work was not close to being good enough for New England Review.

And yes, I'm laughing. Here we go.

The boy had been her oldest friend. She could say that they had been friends for as long as she could remember, and it would have been completely true. If she had to swear to God ten times she wouldn’t have had greater cause for worry than if she brought home straight A’s on her report card.

No memory of other friends predated her memory of the boy. They went back further than her memories of French fries and movies and her first dress she loved and when she realized what her favorite color was. They played in yards together. Got the skin on their knees stained with grass right through the pants. Favored the same swing at the playground that they both knew would take you higher than the others, despite not knowing why. They could have told someone else what they understood to be true, but preferred to keep it to themselves. Besides, it’s not like the swings on the sides were that much worse. Just not quite as good.

They’d despair when the other was called home at dinner time or because it was raining—and sometimes it was only a tiny bit of rain—from a house down the street, a mom or a dad standing outside the front door, booming out the victim’s name, after having worried that they’d be called first. But it wasn’t good either way. The girl had read somewhere that tomorrow never comes fast enough until there are no more tomorrows left to come. It was something like that. More care went into picking out that year’s birthday present than for her other friends. The girl’s mother would ask, “Are you sure that’s what you want to get him?” after she’d made her final final selection at the store, and she’d say, “Wait,” and commence with a quick scan of the unchosen wares to be extra certain.

The friends got older and they separated some. They had different groups. He had baseball and she didn’t. She did gymnastics with these girls and they weren’t him and he wasn’t at their houses when she went there. But then groups blend. Old friends are simply older after time apart. They don’t need to be friends and nothing else. It was almost as if they were meeting again but they already knew how much they liked each other. It felt so right to the girl. That she was growing up and this was how you did it and what everything was all about.

He didn’t just break up with her. If he had been sad, too, that would have made all the difference. Or some. Maybe. It wouldn’t be like a lot of the girl’s life had been erased. Hadn’t really happened as she thought it did. The girl’s then-best friend said that she heard from one girl who had heard it from another girl who was friends with one of the boy’s friends that these other boys said to the boy that the girl was a pig, only pigs were smart and she wasn’t, and the boy had laughed as hard as any of them.

How about a mini-prose off within the prose off? Okay. This:

“It should be right up here,” she says, “the intersection of Main and Water Streets. Oh, wait—that was Water Street! We just passed it!”

versus this:

The girl had read somewhere that tomorrow never comes fast enough until there are no more tomorrows left to come. It was something like that.

Yeah...I'm going to say...and I find myself saying this a lot...that that's not very close. That no one on earth could think that's very close.

You know who thinks it's no closer than I do?

Carolyn Kuebler, for one.

Ah, but that was the issue, wasn't it?

A friend likens the people in publishing, when they are exposed, to what goes down on that show, To Catch a Predator. (Not a Lorin Stein reference.) We could call this, To Bust a Bigot, but I don't think that goes far enough. It's one thing to practice discrimination. But it's even worse when that person has no ability and is doing what they're doing on account of that and the envy produced by their absence of ability and the quantity of someone else's. Then they're lying to that person, blackballing them, slandering them to their little cronies in the subculture of broken freaks, having their hate deepen even further (which wouldn't seem possible, but these people are so good at hate) when they see something else that person achieved on their own, with so many people having locked arms to keep that person out. The person who did nothing to anyone. The good person. The person who does things right. No matter what is being done to him. It is also impossible for these people--people like Carolyn Kuebler--to hate a single person more than they will hate that person. Someone could burn their house down and kill all five of their cats and they wouldn't hate that person as much as they hate this one, and it wouldn't be close. Nothing hits them harder, where they live, than what that other person is. You talk about hitting the nerve. Couldn't be more of a bull's eye.

People are laughing. They're laughing at you in all of your prejudice. No one respects you. No one thinks you're a good writer. No one honestly believes you don't suck at it. No one thinks the stories in New England Review are any good. You are being shown for what you are, and people are seeing it.

Was it really that important to you to discriminate against someone just because they were on a different level than you are?


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