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Prose off: Story put forward in Zoetrope by editor Michael Ray, a blatant practitioner of discrimination, v. Fleming story

Thursday 3/28/24

In this prose off, we're going to focus on the words and actions of Michael Ray, who is the editor in chief of Zoetrope, a West Coast literary magazine that is considered "one of the best," and I think we all know what that's worth and what it really means.

But what we're going to do is return to Michael Ray--and what he puts forward in his magazine--again and again, because with Michael Ray, we're dealing with someone who himself deals in blatant discrimination.

Let me set this up for you: Michael Ray once took great relish--I mean, he really enjoyed this attempt at belittlement, thinking there'd be no recourse and that he could get away with it--in telling me that not once in my life had I ever come close to writing anything good enough for Zoetrope.

You know who I think believes that? You know who I think could believe it? No one. Because it's not possible. Michael Ray doesn't believe it. But what Michael Ray believes in is putting forward the right kind of person. And Michael Ray made the mistake of thinking he could belittle someone who he knew was operating on a different level than his own, or that of any of the writers he includes instead.

We all know what's about to happen here. Do you have any doubt? Do you think someone is going to be able to take the link to this page--and you should share it with your friends--and say, "That second writer just doesn't measure up to that fiction master in Zoetrope."

But maybe...maybe!


Ready? This is from Elizabeth McCracken's"When Monster Trucks Broke Through the Pyramids of Giza."

“Look at us on the beach.”

“Yes,” said his sister, Victoria. Morris’s sister. He was the first and most important, the antecedent. They weren’t on the beach yet, they were walking through a scrubby forest on the way there. Another brother they didn’t speak to was far away, nameless for our purposes.

“Have we ever been on the beach together?” Morris asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“Not once in fifty-eight years.”

“You’re fifty-eight,” she said.

“Not once on the beach together before you were born, either.” He gave his habitual sniff: he’d figured out a way to be accurate if not correct. “I love this spot. At high tide, it disappears completely.”

The children had run ahead, out of the thicket and toward the water. Morris’s Teddy, Victoria’s Millie. She was small and fair, had her hands on her hips, wore a flowered dress and a pair of baggy velvet trousers, a sun hat, was twelve, carried with her everywhere a satchel, had a lisp and anxiety and dreams of becoming a singer. He was brown, glint-eyed, shirtless, his glossy basketball shorts low on his bearish torso. His cast-off shirt hung from an otherwise naked tree. He was nine but so tall for his age people forgot. I’m nine! he liked to bellow. A fact and excuse. I’m this tall, and I’m nine.

“Teddy!” Morris called, retrieving the shirt. “Teddy boy!”

It wasn’t summer. Everything had the feel of an old children’s book, as though they might build a canoe and discover an island. As though they were strangers who’d found themselves on this beach, which appeared and disappeared with the tide, and they would now have to rely on each other for survival. The grown-ups were middle-aged. Late bloomers. Parents of only children, who are all odd: mathematically, and to their parents.

“You need some sunblock?” Victoria asked Morris. She had taken a tube from her purse and now rubbed the cream onto her nose overhandedly, like a cat.

“Is it so hot?” he asked.

“Don’t look into the sun.”

“I’m not.”

“Anyhow,” she said, “it’s not how hot. You should sunblock every day.”

Look how basic that is. Do you care about any of it? Of course you don't, because there is nothing--in theory, in actuality--to care about here at all. It's the same shit, the same replacement-level writing from a replacement-level writer. There is no ability here. There's nothing. We have the usual strained attempt to be "creative" by using the word "sunblock" as a verb. Wow. You are so deep. Someone can play devil's advocate and think I tried to find the worst part, but go and read the entire story for yourself. That's how it all is. Why?

Because that's all these people are capable of.

Look how syntactically awkward that double "as though" is when the writer starts that next sentence with the same construction. Grinds the thing to a stop. And the thing was barely moving anyway. Look at the forced description for description's sake. Do you hear that Creative Writing 101 cadence that's so common to these dreadful stories? And no one would ever say, "Look at us on the beach." That's a writer who has no talent trying to set up a scene that's meaningless. The entire thing, a whole story, as filler.

All of it is valueless. Ordinary. Anyone could do it.

But you know what no one on earth could do?

Give a fuck about it.

So, Michael Ray, let's look at something from that guy you thought you could get away with telling that he has never come close to writing anything as good as what we all just saw above.

Ready? This is from my own "Why I Hate My Friends."

You know how people—and let's face it, it's usually women—will act like they're some sage, the Yoda of their time period, corner of the internet, and peer group, and say, "Quality over quantity!" as though this had never been thought or expressed by anyone else before, or there was someone who has decided, "Nope, it's quantity for me, not quality. Quantity all the time. Quantity gets my vote."

Then again, Rich is kind of that person. We were talking about this once at a pool party. The guys go off over here to do something manly like the grilling of meats with Coors cans nestled in the hollows of their hands, and the stupid talk starts.

Quality and quantity were referenced, and sure enough Rich says, "What about cock length?" while raising an eyebrow as if in doing so he’d lifted the latch of a gate to another dimension where superior, surprising logic was to be found and until then we’d all been fumbling in the dark, eating unpeeled bananas.

And try to repress this memory as I have, it’s proven impossible to forget that occasion in the men’s room at the gym where our kids were playing basketball when Rich pulled up at the urinal next to me, unzipped, looked down, and said—to me, to himself, to the universe, or all three—“Whoa, Nelly.”

What about cock length, indeed.

That's a phrase I call to mind now ironically on account of Rich whenever I observe some instance of fleeting tenderness in a life where I've come to view the very moments of bestowing and partaking of this tenderness as unregisterable, as if they could raise a hand to all of the clocks that have ever been made and the uncountable total seconds of existence, and say, “You don’t get me.”

You'll see people in a long distance relationship, for instance, saying goodbye at the train station, holding on for that extra beat of a moment, because it matters. If life has an honorary unit of measurement, which itself laughs a song of fiddle-de-dee in counterargument to the ordinary concept of mensuration, it is this.

And I think, "What about cock length?"

When you are a bigot, you will be exposed as such on here.

When you're a racist, you'll be exposed as that.

A sexist.

When you're a thief--and believe me, we have a doozy coming up about one such fellow--you will be exposed on here.

The shitty writing you write and/or put forward will be revealed as such. You will be laughed at. Derided. And it will never be over. Your only chance is to try and make i right with me. Otherwise, I will bury you, dig you up, bury you again, dig you up, and so forth, and this is what you will be known for. You are not getting away with the discrimination, the bigotry, the lies, the bullshit, any of it.

You want to recap? Let's recap.

We have someone who writes this:

Look at us on the beach.

versus someone who writes this:

That's a phrase I call to mind now ironically on account of Rich whenever I observe some instance of fleeting tenderness in a life where I've come to view the very moments of bestowing and partaking of this tenderness as unregisterable, as if they could raise a hand to all of the clocks that have ever been made and the uncountable total seconds of existence, and say, “You don’t get me.”

Yeah--I'm going to say that's not very close.

Just getting started, Mr. Ray. Maybe if I keep at it in exposing you for what you are, I'll get better at writing and perhaps be able to come up with something that's somewhat close to being good enough for Zoetrope.


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