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Prose off: Story put forward by toxic, discriminatory editor Carolyn Kuebler of New England Review v. Fleming story

Saturday 3/30/24

I had said some time ago that a couple prose offs would be coming, one of which would involve a short story put forward by a bigot of an editor at a literary journal, with me also sharing what she said to me about my work, and the second of which would involve a short story of her own, with me revealing the nature of the relationship--the hook up--that led to it being published, and then we'll get into how her lone book came to be and how the press behind it works.


The time has come. Carolyn Kuebler of New England Review, you are now on the clock. And don't be fooled that these two posts are anything other than but the start. The clock just keeps on going.


Some background: Carolyn Kuebler is editor of the New England Review, a literary journal based out of Middlebury College in Vermont. It publishes the worst--well, let's call it tied for the worst--fiction there is. Fiction that is so bad, so embarrassing in its pretentiousness, that if you read any of it aloud to someone--try it with what you see below--they're going to respond by saying something like, "Is this for real?" because they will (understandably) struggle to believe any writing could be this awful, let alone writing that is put forward by what you're told--and we all know what that's worth--is one of the best literary journals.


I take pains to be very clear in giving you this information, because I realize how hard it is to accept that anything could actually be this way, function this way, and that someone could be this sick and twisted and invested in discrimination never mind how absurdly blatant it is and that they could be called out and exposed for it, when they just could have published work that is superior to what they have published, by someone with a staggering track record, and basically for pennies.


But that's how this system works, and that's how Carolyn Kuebler is.


Carolyn Kuebler made a similar mistake to that of Michael Ray of Zoetrope, when her envy for all that I am--and her crippling awareness of all she is not and will never be--got the better of her and she essentially told me that I just wasn't very good at writing. There's virtually no financial compensation at New England Review, no one outside of this subculture reads it, and in truth no one in the subculture reads it--they just say what they think they're supposed to say about it. And there I was, year in, year out, with one outstanding story after another. I knew what was going on. How could I not? But I detest confrontation, and so I put off what I knew I was eventually going to have to do.


No longer though.


Kuebler is in the Wendy Lesser mold of the fossil-termagant. This is a person as an unpleasant piece of work, someone so filled with animus for another person on a clearly different level as a writer--and as a human--that they issued what we all know to be as obvious and as absurd a lie as possible.


Think of how much of a bigot you have to be to act that way, or how deep in the dark tunnel of bigotry to be incapable of stopping yourself from acting on your obvious prejudices. Of course, being as entitled as she is, as hubristic, and, frankly, dumb, she thought there'd be no recourse and she could get away with it.


No one is getting away with anything here.


And you're certainly not getting away with discriminating against me for years--because that's how long it went on that I offered Carolyn Kuebler stories that crush everything else she has ever printed. They make a mockery of them. As we're about to witness.


And like I said, wait until you see the prose off I have coming of her work against mine.


What you're now going to see is typical of the fiction in New England Review. I could do this with every single story in there. And I'm going to do it with a lot of them. You have a subculture of toxic, broken people, none of whom can write at all. So what they do is akin to flashing each other the signs of their gang. They don't write to tell a story, to move anyone, to add something to your life, to entertain, to edify, to create art. They write simply to make those gang signs of their subculture to each other. Nothing matters more to these people than being one of them. They think entirely in the terms of "one of us" and "not one of us." You know how jeep owners like to honk when they drive past each other on the road? That's how these people write. Their decisions on who they will let pass and who they will award and who they will support can be summed up in one question: "Are you one of us?"


In what you're about to see--which is Motorollah bad--you'll be able to count about twenty such references to their subculture. Again, like the showing of gang signs. If you tried to write something that was a satire sending up how truly terrible and embarrassing and cringe-inducing this writing is, you couldn't do much if at all better than what I'm about to show you.


But let's slow down and rewind. I told you what Carolyn Kuebler said about my work. It's not very good. So by definition, what you're about to read is excellent writing. Again, I'm just being thorough. You should also know that it's this kind of thing from this kind of place--which is all there is at any of these places--that gets reprinted in Best American Short Stories and the like. What does that tell you? It's like no one pays any attention because no one cares and no one reads any of. So then it just become this kind of mean girls popularity contest of broken, toxic, envious, talentless people.


This is from the beginning of "Hasina," by Matthew Lansburgh, which Carolyn Kuebler published in New England Review, and which is, according to her, better than anything I've ever written. I'm giving you the link so you can go check this out for yourself, because I totally understand how difficult all of this is to believe. Believe me, I get it. Even as someone who lives it.


Ready? Here we go:


Stewart and Hasina didn’t actually become friends—true friends—until their sophomore year, when they sat next to each other in a class called “Women, Gender and Society,” whose reading list included The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, and the Radical Lesbians’ founding manifesto. They did a presentation together on Hélène Cixous and poststructuralist feminist theory, and they participated in rallies against Cornell’s investments in South Africa and the rape culture perpetuated by fraternities, and, when they were juniors, they lived in the college’s pansexual co-op, Von Cramm, where they made seitan lasagna and vegan pizza with basil grown in the co-op’s garden and stayed up until 2:00 AM drinking chamomile tea, because a doctor told Hasina that she was developing an ulcer and needed to avoid coffee.


Hasina wanted to be an artist. She spent nearly her entire senior year in the studio making paintings and collages full of meticulous images of women wearing burkas in domestic settings, juxtaposed with images of partially clad women in porno-graphic poses being straddled by men with scimitars. Often she incorporated photos from magazines of celebrities like Brooke Shields and Farrah Fawcett, along with photos of expensive perfumes and handbags. She wanted to show people how it felt to be a woman of color at an Ivy League school, wanted frat boys to understand what it meant to be marginalized by a society that turned women’s bodies into objects. She wanted classmates who’d gone to the Emma Willard School and to Chapin, who wore Jordache jeans and drove their parents’ Mercedes, to appreciate the extent to which they’d been blinded by empty materialist values. 


Back then, when Stewart was twenty years old—before he started and abandoned a PhD program in Comp Lit and eventually settled into a comfortable, if boring, middle-class life, teaching social studies at a Catholic school outside of Fitchburg, Massachusetts—everything Hasina talked about felt meaningful and revelatory. Raising your hand and asking the professor whether he believed heterosexual sex was perforce rape and whether he agreed with Andrea Dworkin that patriarchal societies eroticize female subordination didn’t feel gratuitous. Back then, questions like this felt probing and crucial.


That's from an actual short story. That is supposed to be some of the best writing in the world. That's what you're meant to believe is better than anything I could do.


Yeah...


Raising your hand and asking the professor whether he believed heterosexual sex was perforce rape and whether he agreed with Andrea Dworkin that patriarchal societies eroticize female subordination didn’t feel gratuitous.


Unreal how bad it is, isn't it?


I mean, what can you say? We all know what's happening here. You couldn't have a clearer example of bigotry.


Then again, I haven't put in my part yet, have I? The kind of thing I offer and offered Carolyn Kuebler.


We'll be thorough again. According to Carolyn Kuebler, the above was an example of outstanding fiction writing. What follows from me would then be an example of not very good fiction writing. That's the set up here, right?


Okay. This is from the beginning of "The Ghost and the Flame." Ready? Here we go:


The flame motioned and beckoned as the ghost advanced upon it—moved as a flame ordinarily does not, as though it was human and its yellow-infused shadows were limbs made from leftover fire.


The glow filled the center of an upstairs room with objects on all sides that were too dark to make out unless one were already well-versed in the particulars of the place. The ghost surmised that those were posters on the wall. Tapestries wouldn’t have made sense. Yes, they must have been posters—those posters of ballplayers and rock stars, the decorative, consoling items of childhood long ago imprinted upon a mind forever.


There was no candle, no table, only the detached flame in the center of the room touching neither ceiling nor floor, an autonomous body of light, the source for the shadows of the same liquid yellows that stopped just short of the still-darkened walls.


One of the limbs of light extended itself for the briefest of flashes—so brief as to have been something else—and alighted on a baseball bat leaning in the corner. It had to have been that bat, yes—the one with the white bandage tape around the handle for a better grip, soiled and smudged into a shade of gray otherwise to be only found in the soil beneath certain large rocks. All of those grubby, superimposed fingerprints of a life no more.


A pair of well-worn tennis shoes, bordering on battered, occupied the side of a single floorboard, as if it was against the rules to extend further than that edge and into the space of the next rectangle of scuffed wood, the laces bunched in loose coils like snakes atop a gorgon’s head, tongues of the shoes bent forward, ready for someone to leap into them with the least amount of struggle or delay.  


These objects had a collective presence, as if without individual aspect, but there they each were, as they had been. It was a room with the feeling of a known quantity, and the ghost that wasn’t a ghost prior to this moment sensed the whole of its contents better than anyone or anything else could, even if it wasn’t yet sure how to proceed.


The ghost had its own blazing desire to speak and address the flame like they were both united in what each of them were, because the flame didn’t strike the ghost as being only a flame.


“What am I to do?” the ghost tried to inquire of the flame, doubting that either possessed a voice, or what the ghost had recently thought of as a voice. Nothing and no one answered, which disappointed the ghost, despite expecting the result.


Shall we recap?


This is from the excellent writing, according to Carolyn Kuebler:


Stewart and Hasina didn’t actually become friends—true friends—until their sophomore year, when they sat next to each other in a class called “Women, Gender and Society,” whose reading list included The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, and the Radical Lesbians’ founding manifesto.


And this is from the bad writing, according to Carolyn Kuebler:


It had to have been that bat, yes—the one with the white bandage tape around the handle for a better grip, soiled and smudged into a shade of gray otherwise to be only found in the soil beneath certain large rocks.


Hmmm...it's almost like that's impossible to honestly believe, and you'd have to be seriously twisted in how hell bent you were on discriminating against someone to so much as suggest otherwise, even when you thought no one would find out.



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