Pushcart Nominations 2019

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OUR GOAL at New Pop Lit is to do things correctly in the microcosm before we start on the macrocosm. This means, finding exciting work from new writers which approximates the kind of literature we’d like to someday distribute throughout the world on a massive scale.

These thoughts were present in choosing our 2019 nominations for the Pushcart Prize. Conciseness and intelligence combined with condensed energy.

Along with other considerations. (Such as low ink levels in our printer!) Having to send in hard copies of nominated work, our tendency was toward brevity. Fewer pages.

AS every year, there was more good work to choose from than could be chosen. Selections to some extent are arbitrary. One criteria this year was that each of the three stories chosen, and each of the three poems, fit our model– be excellent– yet at the same time be different from the others. Unique. The three poetry selections are very different from one another. As are the three stories also very different from one another. 

POETRY

“That’ll Do, Pig” by James D. Casey IV
published March 8, 2019

“Head Honcho” by Kai Warmoth
published March 15, 2019

“Sailor Song” by Jess Mize
published April 12, 2019

FICTION

“The Uncertainty” by Alexander Blum
published June 27, 2019

“Spoiler Alert” by Angelo Lorenzo
published July 24, 2019

“The Prop Comic” by Bud E. Ice
published September 30, 2019

MUCH THANKS to all the writers who allowed us to publish their work in 2019!

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The Joyce Carol Oates Ad

MASTER CLASSES AND EXPERTS

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ANYONE watching Youtube videos the past several days has been hit with utterly pretentious ads for something called “Master Class.” Among them is one by Joyce Carol Oates which might be the apex of the type, for a variety of reasons.

“Joyce Carol Oates Teaches the Art of the Short Story.”

Yes, budding writers. You’re original, you’re unique. You’re YOU. Now follow these rules so you can craft the acceptable literary story which looks and sounds like what everyone else is doing. . . .

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RULE OF THE EXPERT

RECENTLY I read a fascinating old book on tutoring by Samuel L. Blumenfeld. (A contrarian kind of expert, who in his day bucked the educational establishment.) In the book, Blumenfeld explains that the alphabet and 0 to 9 numbering system were primitive coding tools: “–the great intellectual leap forward” providing narrow roads for humans out of their fog of ignorance. Primitive ways for understanding the complexities of the universe– a universe which today’s physicists are discovering is 1,000 times more complicated and unknowable than Newton dreamed of. They’re usable tools– simple versions of other tools which might someday be available.

Or: In the greater scheme of things none of us knows as much as we like to tell ourselves about how this world operates. Or of what could be known.

From the first day of school we’re brainwashed to believe in experts– made to adopt the illusion that we humans fully understand this world. That all answers are possible and available. Yet by using our own limited animal brains– along with simplistic coding tools like language or computers– we’re incapable of fully comprehending the cosmos.  (Ancients flipped the script– believing the only fully true knowledge was revealed knowledge: the mind of the universe intentionally communicating to us.)

This society remains sold on the idea of experts. Not on those grasping with humility for knowledge, no, but instead, those assumed to already have it. Nowhere is this more evident than in the writing game.

THERE ARE hundreds more possibilities of how to write a short story than, say, of how to play the high-level chess game. Yet students in writing programs are taught there’s only one way: the accepted, well-crafted literary story.

ONE of the Assumed Experts in this matter is Joyce Carol Oates. And so we’re presented by an outfit named Master Class with the Joyce Carol Oates Master Class Video. For a fee, of course.
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“ONE OF THE TOWERING CAREERS IN AMERICAN LETTERS”

In her ad for the class, Oates fully adopts the role of Expert. Font of all literary wisdom. The appeal to the fledgling writer is not the presumed outcome– the creation of art– but instead, the self. Feeding the writer’s ego.

“If one can face the darkest elements in oneself, and things that are secret, you have such a feeling of power.”

(Among other things, this is pure gnosticism.)

“You’re going to explore your own imagination deep within you.”

Er, what about experience and observation?

“Language is the point.”

This is the philosophy of the literary writer. The words are more important than the tale.

Oates stands against the idea of a story moving too fast– she knocks the notion of reading a story in five minutes or less. (Note her smirk on the video at the very idea of it.) Never mind that pop music exploded in popularity when it offered songs with an average length of two minutes. They were dynamic, sharp, fun, and left the listener wanting more.

The Joyce Carol Oates technique is to offer the reader too much, drowning the narrative in insignificant details to slow down its pace. Anything to keep it from moving too fast. That would be wrong– at least by her moldy standards, which haven’t changed in sixty years. A time during which the short story has plummeted in size of audience, public interest, and cultural importance.

In the actual class Oates apparently talks about how interruptions are “the #1 thing that ruins creativity.” Well of course they are– if the technique is to draw the story solely from the imagination. This is the stale literary idea which posits The Writer as pristine individual existing in a bubble apart from the rowdy mass. Interruptions? People? LIFE?! NO! the precious Oates-style writer screams. Not when I’m in the middle of my imaginings!!

A DIFFERENT kind of writer welcomes interruptions, noise, life– Shakespeare at a tavern downing pints– because that writer knows experience is a writer’s material. Plot ideas and thematic points will still be in the brain in the morning. Along with much more– the insight and depth which comes with being part of the social world.

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The Master Class is aimed at upper-middle class aspirants who wish to become writers but unsure how to go about it. This is obvious in the two bougie students depicted eagerly accepting advice from the all-knowing oracle. The art of literature itself has dwindled in importance during the life of the Joyce Carol Oates career, but she herself has done fine, which is all that matters for the ambitious scribes. Find new literary territory? Write in a new way? Cannot be contemplated. Too risky. Pay your money and learn from the Voice of Authority. Of the status quo. Princeton professor. The same-old same-old.
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On the other  hand, I and my partner in this project and in life, Kathleen Marie Crane, are seeking new territory. Our tactics include speeding up the art. Speed and immediacy are our object. Instant connection with the reader– as fast as punchy as a punk rock song. We know people will dismiss our experiments. The early products won’t look like anything that would be taught in a “master class.” We proceed regardless– because change is what art is and has always been about.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

 

 

 

 

Bustle and the Books Editor Layoffs–

–AND HOW TO STOP THE LITERARY DOWNTREND

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CAN’T HELP NOTICING the layoffs today at online site Bustle, including of their Books Editor Cristina Arreola (pictured above). 

WHY are books editors invariably among the first ones cut when media layoffs take place?

WHY have book review sections vanished from newspapers (while sports coverage is greater than ever)?

WHO has an answer?

WE do! The thrust of our argument since this project began a few years ago has been that the established literary scene is generating no excitement. This is because there are no charismatic writers (sorry, George R.R. Martin and Margaret Atwood) and few if any exciting new literary products.

We’ve begun to resolve this situation on both fronts. First, by locating and publishing personable new talents who write with verve and style, such as Angelo Lorenzo, Brian EckertBud E. Ice and Rachel Haywire, and second, and in the long run more important, by developing better, faster moving and/or eye-catching stories and poems.

In truth, early this summer we sent promo materials– press releases, postcards, and emails– to a host of media persons who cover the literary industry, including Ms. Arreola, announcing our innovations (including the release of the world’s first “3D” multidimensional short story). We received zero interest. This, from a realm starved for the new and exciting, which should jump on any opportunity to announce radical advancements in the field they’re supposed to be covering.

Instead, they keep recycling the same-old announcements about the same-old style of paint-by-the-numbers products cranked out by “Big Five” Manhattan-based publishing.

Changes are afoot in the art. Those employed to cover such changes will be the last ones to see them.

Just saying.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

 

Canonical Follies

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It frankly doesn’t matter if “The Yellow Wallpaper” is taught in high schools instead of The Great Gatsby (which is too deep and well-structured a book for high schoolers anyway). Raising the question is asking which texts students will be bored by.

THIS is a quote of mine in a review about a new book by Dana Schwartz about white male writers and the Western Canon. My own view has long been that to be a living art, that art needs to survive and thrive outside institutional settings. Categorizations such as the so-called literary canon say more about the mindset of the supporters and curators of such places than they do about the art form being preserved and celebrated. (One need look only at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with its curious list of omissions and entrants.)

IF I cared more about the literary canon, I’d mention several writers who should be in it, or ranked higher within it– beginning with the American novelists Frank Norris and James Gould Cozzens, masters at that particular art.

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(p.s. For what it’s worth, F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby is a far superior, more complex work of fiction than “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a short story by Charlotte Perkins Stetson— one of those overwritten, obsessive inside-the-head tales of the kind often done by overrated canonical author Henry James, and later popularized by Mary Roberts Rinehart, who no one is rushing to put into any canon. Outside that of mystery writers.)

mary roberts rinehart(Mary Roberts Rinehart.)
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Creating Personas

THE RIGHT WAY TO USE PSEUDONYMS

ONE THING writers seem congenitally incapable of doing is creating interesting personas for themselves. Turning themselves into imagined characters. Yet in this hyper-noisy society it might be, among a mass of wannabe scribblers, one of the only ways to stand out.

RECALL how easily performers in other fields created entertaining personas for themselves. One of the earliest of them was rock n roll pioneer Screamin Jay Hawkins.

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Similarly, local television hosts created memorable characters for themselves– one broadcast on stations in Cleveland and Detroit known as The Ghoul.

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Radio hosts did likewise– a classic example being Dr. Demento.

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WHY NOT writers? It would make perfect sense for a writer of horror stories to brand himself as “Count” something-or-other and play the part. Or, for the author of romance tales to name herself “Barbara Bodice” and sell sex appeal. Alls fair in love and marketing.

Oh, plenty of young writers use pseudonyms. Too many of them– but their stage names have no visual quality and no flair. Usually the names are obscure pseudo-intellectual references to this philosophical idea or that one– because said writers see themselves not as potential pop stars, but– ridiculously enough– as intellectuals. Steering (even those who have actual writing talent) their work in that direction. Which means strictly limiting its appeal. A fan base consisting of their own circle of overeducated in-debt college grads. The notion of writers as entertainers is anathema to them. They’re “serious.” Which is why the literary art as a relevant cultural form has been sinking faster than the Titanic.

THE OBVIOUS example of course, of the success of created personas, is the wrestling game, particularly the WWE under the stewardship of Vince McMahon, greatest promoter in American culture since P.T. Barnum.

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COULD a literary project produce valid literary works, poetry and fiction, and do it with fun and flair?

This is just one of the challenges we’ve set for ourselves. 

It will take a few hungry new writers eager to become personalities. To be stars.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Matthew Stoller Misses a Goliath

AND IT’S A BIG ONE

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Liberal journalist, advocate, Harvard grad and all-around guy-on-the-make Matthew Stoller has written a new book about the power of monopoly and its threat to democracy– GOLIATH.

Except he seems to have missed a very big Goliath, one standing directly in front of him. His publisher! Simon & Schuster is one of publishing’s notorious “Big Five” book conglomerates.

How big are they? Take a look at this chart and judge for yourself:

http://almossawi.com/big-five-publishers/

Be sure to scroll down to see all of it.

The chart gives only part of the story. The real clout of these New York City-based conglomerates with their many imprints is their influence over Manhattan media– the scores of publications both print and internet, from the New York Times and The New Yorker on down, which determine which books– which voices– are allowed to be heard in this extremely noisy society. 

Threat to democracy?

In some ways, the Big Five and their many appendages and fellow travelers are the biggest threat to democracy. The most pernicious, most influential concentration of power. All congregated on a single island.

matt stoller(Matt Stoller, looking smug.)

Matt Stoller well knows of course how dominant, how influential they are. Which is why he chose to publish his book with them– and not with one of the many alternative publishers out there. 

Such is the game and how it’s played.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Will the Revolution Be Co-opted?

WILL CAPITALISTS BUY OUT COMMUNISTS, SOCIALISTS, DSA ET.AL.?

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THEY ALREADY HAVE!

Witness the new Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Action Figure from a Brooklyn-based outfit named FCTRY, run by CEO Jason Feinberg and Chief Design Officer Alyssa Zeller Feinberg.

“We turn ideas into products!” FCTRY claims. “We marry pop design to mass production, turning original concepts into global brands.”

Other action figures include that legendary foe of Corn Pop, Joe Biden.

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Am I criticizing FCTRY? Not at all! Tremendous kudos and respect to them for their initiative. They get what it’s all about. 

(For more information on their products, go on their website.)
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Reverse Jekyll and Hyde

THE LANA DEL REY STORY

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I’VE BEEN THINKING about the career of pop singer Lana Del Rey after reading a 2012 article about her in The Guardian. About how she was going nowhere under the moniker Lizzy Grant– then changed her name and with it, her musical persona. As the article relates, “She married her music to a mysterious image, self-styled as a ‘gangster Nancy Sinatra,’ that paid homage to 1960s fashions and seedy showbiz glamour.”

A created character, with more confidence. That is, until word got out about her previous self, and the mask dropped when she appeared on Saturday Night Live. “She gave a hesitant, uncertain performance – suddenly more Lizzy Grant than Del Rey–“

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This is straight out of the 1963 Jerry Lewis movie “The Nutty Professor” (remade by Eddie Murphy)– when hyper-confident, hyper-aggressive “Buddy Love” begins to unintentionally transform back into the uncertain professor who created the character.

(For what the off-camera Jerry Lewis was like, read producer Alan Swyer‘s recent NPL  essay on the topic.)

Call it Reverse Jekyll-Hyde. Instead of the mad doctor creating a less attractive alter ego, he creates a more attractive one.

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This is essentially what Hollywood stars Marion Morrison (John Wayne), Archibald Leach (Cary Grant), and Norma Jean Baker (Marilyn Monroe) did.  While there was some connection between the previous individual and the created persona, much was a kind of fantasy projection of who the person wanted to be. Or who Hollywood agents, directors and producers wanted the person to be. Cary Grant/Archie Leach famously said that it took a lifetime of pretending to be Cary Grant until he actually was Cary Grant.

HAVE any writers created alter-egos?

Yes. Ernest Hemingway for one, who followed the philosophy of be your own hero. As several of his biographers make clear, “Ernest Hemingway” was in large part a self-created myth.

A topic to think about when considering ways that what’s known as “Literature” can break out of its tiny cultural box!
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

A Jerry Lewis Essay

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WE’VE received good positive feedback for an essay we recently ran at our main site, “Jerry and Me” by esteemed Hollywood producer and director Alan Swyer– a mini-coup for New Pop Lit to be given this inside look at one of show business’s biggest all-time personalities. Worth a look if you haven’t already read it.
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Why Reading Is Important–

–TO ME AND TO SOCIETY

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My father could scarcely read.

At the time I was born already well into middle age, my father was from a different era and a very tough background. Had dropped out of school in his teens. After he married, my mother forced him to attend night school while he worked days in Detroit shops and factories. By the time I came around he was semi-proficient. What he most enjoyed were the comic sections in newspapers, and boxing magazines.

My gateway to reading– like many young guys– was comic books. Spiderman and company. After awhile I became hungry for more challenging reading. Mysteries were stimulating. I devoured everything by Raymond Chandler, whose paperback books carried enticing titles on dangerous-looking covers.

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Eventually, while working nights as a clerk in a railroad yard– with time to kill between trains– I moved up to the heavyweights of reading: Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. War and Peace and The Idiot. Life-changing novels. The kind of artistic experience which expands the mind and the imagination, opening up new vistas, entire worlds.
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HOW important is reading to the development of the mind?

Many educational experts have believed it’s critically important. Here’s one named Samuel L. Blumenfeld on the topic, from an old book called How to Tutor:

Reading is the most important single skill a child will learn during his entire school career, for on the ability to read depends the development of everything else. In fact, reading is the beginning of real intellectual development, and if the child is not taught to read properly, his entire intellectual development will be handicapped. The reason for this is quite simple. Language is the vehicle of thought. We formulate all our concepts in terms of words. If we restricted our thinking and learning only to the words we heard and spoke, our intellectual development would not be very great. The written word, however, is the depository of all humanity’s complex thinking, and an individual must have easy access to the world of written language to be able to increase his own intellectual development. Thus, the facility with which a person reads can influence the degree of his intellectual growth. If a child is taught to read via methods which make reading disagreeable to him, he will turn away from the written word entirely and deprive himself of man’s principle means of intellectual development.

TODAY among the new generation, within schools and outside of them, are millions of functional illiterates. Wasted potential. I know. I’ve worked as a substitute teacher in inner city schools and I’ve seen how schools are failing kids.

NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT for the future of this society, this civilization, than finding ways to connect with these young people– to get them reading. Reading is the gateway to survival in this ultra-competitive world. Reading opens neuropathways in the brain, increasing real intelligence. Contrary to what genetics apologists at publications like Quillette believe, no one is assigned their fate at birth. The best way to adjust that fate is by reading. 

It’s no accident that billionaire industrialist Elon Musk– he of the gigantic imagination conceiving exciting electric cars and spaceships to Mars, then building them– as a child was an avid reader. According to his biographer, Ashlee Vance, “The most striking part of Elon’s character as a young boy was his compulsion to read.” Musk’s self-imposed reading regimen included two sets of encyclopedias.

IS literature today reaching the mass of people? No way! To compete in this fast-paced hyper-busy age, writing will need to grab new readers from the first sentence and not let go of them.

This is the objective we’re striving for with our development of the “3D” multidimensional short story. Narratives of speed and immediacy which demand to be read.

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To achieve our ends we’ll need writers willing to discard past ways of thinking. At the moment even most “alternative” literary sites and presses are run by intellectuals or pseudo-intellectuals more interested in impressing the reader than connecting with the person.

Yet to expand the market for books, zeens, reading, connection is everything.

Our mission is to create the new literary product– which we call Pop Lit– exciting reading packaged in a striking format. Then begin spreading those new creations into schools and neighborhoods. An ambitious task– but worth pursuing.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS