Michael Ray, editor in chief of Zoetrope, is a bad person who made the mistake of thinking he could get away with behaving towards me a way he really shouldn't have, and is about to have a public problem that isn't going to go away, and will be hammered again and again, and exposed again and again, but a thought right now as I was readying something else for this journal.
When you have a story, it needs to get going right away. From the very start it needs to be moving. You can't fuck around at the beginning of a story and go in circles and circles and circles that don't take the reader anywhere.
Start your story, and move. Get it the fuck in gear.
Now, what does this mean? It doesn't mean the plot has to come roaring out, but it means something has to. Plot, a voice, engagement, involvement, stakes, envelopment, consequence, some mystery that beckons, some wonder that people want/need to know more about, get deeper into.
You can't have a story that begins with the equivalent of someone sitting there with their thumb up their ass.
So for all you writers out there, I'm going to tell you something apparently no instructor in an MFA program ever does: Get it moving.
Don't throat-clear, don't putz (or futz) about. Move. From the very first word.
Does no one say this to anyone else? Does no one know?
I read this shit--or try to--and I think, "Who the fuck is going to keep reading this?" What is the expectation? The reader is there on faith? They owe you? You have some reserve of credit with them? Sure, they know that what they're reading early on sucks and is boring, but they trust that you, author, will deliver? What? Eventually?
That's not how readers are. Nor should you want them to be. And you work for them. Or you answer to them, anyway. You're giving them something. They're not giving you something with the actual compact between "the work" and reader. I'm not talking about buying more of your work. I'm talking about when they sit down to read what you wrote, you're the one who is supplying them. They're giving their time and energy to that story, but only if you give them cause.
You have to give readers cause to keep going. And that starts with word one. Prevaricate, prevaricate, prevaricate, prevaricate--no. Get it fucking moving. Get it emotionally moving. I'm not saying it has to be plot explosions. But be moving somewhere right away. Be taking readers somewhere right away. Be going with them right away.
Now, I get it. None of these people in this system have a story to tell. There is nothing they can write that is worth reading. Jamel Brinkley? I'm looking at some of this connected poseur's slop in Zoetrope right now. Here's how his Zoetrope story, "Blessed Deliverance," begins:
Who knew that old-ass Headass was capable of even greater feats of headassery? Our little crew had become accustomed long ago to his foolishness, the imbecilic way he walked around Bed-Stuy with his lips swelled up, duh-duh, all the various look-at-me antics. We were bored with him, he was dull, the five of us paid him no mind. He might as well have been a fire hydrant. It had ceased to affect us when he interrupted our hangs in the park...
That's confusing, annoying ("old-ass Headass"--wow, so clever), dipshit-fraud writing that gives someone like Michael Ray what he wants--nonsense--from a person connected up the ass, who is as much of a system person as you can be, and checks some boxes, and always gets Brooklyn in there.
I'm going to show you something now. Remember how I said I wrote an entire story in those early hours of Saturday morning? This is the first sentence of that story:
We cut Christ down from the cross and despite what you’ve heard, he was still a little bit alive.
You see the difference? And we're off. We're off in terms of plot, we're off in terms of consequence, we're off emotionally, we're off in terms of engagement, involvement, readerly participation, and we're off in terms of "What am I in for?" Away we go.
You know what you're in for with the Brinkley "story": some cliched, Brooklyn MFA writer go-nowhere nonsense. Who the fuck wants that besides some other Brooklyn writer of MFA bullshit? And they don't even want it. They just want to look at it and have that serve as some justification for the meaningless degree they got and the cliched wankery they produce every now and again. Which is all they can do.
What Ray would like about this--though, again, it's not actually liking it--is how fake it is, because someone like that needs things to be as fake as possible. He'll think this is "street" and "real," being a pretentious fop without a clue how anything in real life is. Again, you're dealing with people so repressed and neurotic and sheltered and weak and visionless and unaware that there's no scale or perspective. They're not in reality. They're in the land of broken freaks, encouraged and enabled by other broken freaks doing broken freak things, having their broken freak power trips when they can get them (or, in Ray's case, making a grievous error that they can get away with one), with their awful broken freak writing within their subculture of affectation and pettiness and bigotry and arm-locking against anyone not like them and doing what they do, as badly as they do it, that, as we've seen, has helped to not only kill off reading, but the chances of there being anyone else out there who is any good at writing or will ever be.
And our hangs in the park?
Whoa, you've mastered this demotic voice, it's so authentic.
And I don't mean grow up as a person, though that's relevant. But grow up as a writer. Stop doing this piddling, fake ass shit.
There is no one who honestly believes that doesn't suck, but I get it: What's Jamel Brinkley going to do? Start with something gripping, exciting, that makes someone want more and to keep going? Obviously that's not an option when you have no talent and nothing to say and no stories to tell and you're just bullshitting idiots who want to be conned, and, frankly, don't even care what a guy like this writes, because he's the right kind of person and that's what really matters to them.
But it's like there's no attempt by anyone to start with something anyone might care about. No one is going to read something "just because" or because some douchebag wrote it. Yeah, sure, other douchebags from that writer's MFA program or circle or whatever will pretend that they're reading it and they'll look at just enough of it so that douchebag the first will provide this douchebag the second with a blurb for their book because they praised the first douchebag's story with just enough believable specificity.
Get it moving. Go.