Reverse Jekyll and Hyde

THE LANA DEL REY STORY

lizzy lana collage

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–“

nutty professor

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

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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

Diana Athill on Virginia Woolf

AN INSIDER’S HONEST LOOK AT THE INSIDER LITERARY SCENE

VIRGINIA WOOLF(Virginia Woolf.)

VIRGINIA WOOLF is considered one of the literary gods of the Twentieth Century, not just by British literary critics, but those in America as well.

I found it interesting, then, to discover this quotation in a book, Stet: a memoir, by long-time British editor-publisher Diana Athill. In this excerpt from her memoir’s final chapter, Athill is discussing “a particular caste” in control of British publishing:

Of that caste I am a member: one of the mostly London-dwelling, university-educated, upper-middle-class English people who took over publishing towards the end of the nineteenth century from the booksellers who used to run it. Most of us loved books and genuinely tried to understand the differences between good and bad writing; but I suspect that if we were examined from a gods’-eye viewpoint it would be seen that quite often our ‘good’ was good only according to the notions of the caste. Straining for that gods’-eye view, I sometimes think that not a few of the books I once took pleasure in publishing were pretty futile, and that the same was true of other houses. Two quintessentially ‘caste’ writers, one from the less pretentious end of the scale, the other from its highest reaches, were Angela Thirkell and Virginia Woolf. Thirkell is embarrassing– I always knew that, but would have published her, given the chance, because she was so obviously a seller. And Woolf, whom I revered in my youth, now seems almost more embarrassing because the claims made for her were so high. Not only did she belong to the caste, but she was unable to see beyond its boundaries– and that self-consciously ‘beautiful’ writing, all those adjectives– oh dear! Caste standards– it ought not to need saying– have no right to be considered sacrosanct. 

This applies not just to British publishing of the Twentieth Century– but to American publishing centered in New York City, and to those in the academy, now. A marked inability to look beyond their narrow world to see the possibilities that exist for the literary art today, and those which could exist, given imagination, ambition, and boldness.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Summer Reading 2019

YOU WANT summer fiction? WE have summer fiction.

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Three terrifically good stories, each very different, from three excellent new writers.

FIRST was “The Uncertainty” by Alexander Blum. A story about a displaced friend, a university, a Greek play, and many others things. The complications of life today.

NEXT was “Jerusalem” by Zachary H. Loewenstein— a quick but atmospheric look at that most historic and contentious of cities. Traveling this summer? This story exudes the feeling of travel.

MOST RECENT was “Spoiler Alert” by Angelo Lorenzo, an empathetic and romantic tale of the stirrings of love– or possible love– found at a movie about superheroes.

Something for everybody? We think so. All three short stories are highly readable and we think you’ll enjoy them.

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Jack London or Henry James?

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

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AN ARGUMENT FOR VIGOROUS LITERATURE

Populism or elitism? This was the choice American literature faced at the beginning of the 20th century.  Whether to remain on a path of robust fiction and poetry, immersed in the land and nature as embodied in the person and work of Jack London– OR switch paths toward the inward-dwelling, Eurocentric, strictly domesticated digressions of Henry James, for whom the natural world was a frightening and deadly place, full of ghosts (“Turn of the Screw”) and disease (“Daisy Miller”).

The lives of the two authors could not have been more different.

JACK LONDON never met his supposed father. He went to work at age thirteen, educated himself at libraries, studied in saloons, spent time in a penitentiary for vagrancy, hired on as a sailor, and joined the Klondike gold rush in 1897. He didn’t find much gold there but instead, many terrific stories, including his most famous, “The Call of the Wild” about a dog named Buck. To this day probably the best animal story ever written.

HENRY JAMES was the son of an independently wealthy philosopher and the grandson  of a banker. He traveled as much as Jack London did– but to Europe, and on a more comfortable scale. He attended Harvard, became friends with famous authors and future Supreme Court Justices, and in time, himself became a famous writer.

DESPITE the international popularity of populist novelist London, and the success of others of his kind like Rex Beach and Frank Norris, it was an unequal contest, as the critical establishment was based in New York City then, as now, their gaze toward the east, toward England and Europe, seeking approval there and not in the American people themselves.

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Clear-minded-and-active prose of the kind Jack London wrote was devalued– in part because of its universality, its popularity with every kind of reader. Teddy Roosevelt-inspired editors like Owen Wister, advocates of the physically-strenuous life, were few and vanishing. What became valued instead was literary difficulty. Convoluted sentences reflecting solipsistic obsession with febrile thoughts inside a character’s or narrator’s head.

Pushbacks against this by Hemingway, Kerouac, and others– by authors who deliberately pushed themselves into the actual world– have been rearguard actions.

A POSSIBLE CAUSE

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In his groundbreaking 1977 book about electronic media, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Jerry Mander discussed the sensory deprivation of civilization and the modern world, arguing that mankind’s retreat from nature was pushing individuals further into the recesses of their own minds.

When we reduce an aspect of environment from varied and multidimensional to fixed, we also change the human being who lives within it. . . . Researchers have found that when sensory stimuli are suppressed this way, the subject first lives a mental life because mental images are the only stimulation.

In his book, Mander talks about a person’s aura. What techno-nerd writers– those who spend the bulk of their time interacting with electronic media instead of the actual world (via TV, video games, smartphones)– don’t get is the analysis of individuals and the world which takes place when you’re tuned in to the small cues and signals the human animal gives, necessary for assessing and understanding that person, which you’ll never receive off an electronic screen. On the street you quickly learn to size people up in an instant– their eyes revealing aggression or fear, duplicity or defeat, strength or weakness. But you read as well the overall vibe– the “aura”– of a person.
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Henry James was the first solipsistic writer (at least since the ancient Gnostics)– pre-TV, obviously– removing himself from the stimuli of the reality of nature to that of the drawing room; of polite society– and into an obsessive focus on his own thoughts.

I should add that ART is about sensory experience. As writers we need to plunge the reader into that world of sensation. Doing so can only increase literature’s connection to the mass of people, and strengthen its cultural relevance.
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Today, as for the past fifty or sixty years, writing programs as well as literary editors and critics value most refinement, of sensibility and prose.

It’s time to change this.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

How to Save Literature

THE PROBLEM with so-called serious literature is that it’s pitched at a narrow audience, and not at the vast bulk of the American public. (Pitched really, at upscale editors at desks in London and New York.)

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Occasionally establishment writers give the game away, as did renowned young novelist Sally Rooney in Issue #30 of The Moth Magazine:

A lot of what (literature) does, to me, is reassure bourgeois readers by saying, you read fiction, you are a member of a particular class. . . the question for writers who have a social conscience is, how do you challenge that in some way while still working within the same industry that produces it, and I don’t really know what the answer is.

Then there’s the recent rant in Paris Review by esteemed short story writer Peter Orner, explaining why he will not defend the short story– his remarks making clear he doesn’t believe the story art is for the general public– and no apologies for this from establishment writers are needed, thank you.
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boxNeither Rooney nor Orner consider a way out of the box in which the literary art is trapped, currently accessible only to “a particular class.” They have no incentive to seek an alternative.

We at New Pop Lit do, as we and our modest literary project exist on the margins of what has become a marginal art. We’re thinking of ways to change this.

ONE WAY is the multidimensional (“3-D”) short story, designed to be faster and more thrilling than the standard literary model, answering those attention-span questions Peter Orner scoffs at.

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One prototype example of this kind of story has been released by us, “Vodka Friday Night.” More are coming.

CAN THE ART BE SAVED?

elvis-60-years-of-rock-and-roll-1(Early Elvis and friends.)

Business history of other arts shows that it can. I’ve given often the example of the music business and the rise of rock n roll– which multiplied the size of that industry many times over. This is well explained in this article by Johannes Ripken. Can writers duplicate that outsized success? Maybe– if they create more exciting short fiction that’s even faster and more direct than our prototype. Moreover, what’s needed are young writers who can connect with a new generation of readers via personality, talent, and attitude. In other words, stars.

Screaming_Jay_Hawkins(Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.)

Is this do-able? We’ll see.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Destroying the Generic

THE DECLINE of an art form becomes apparent when the art on display has become generic.

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In today’s literary scene we have the generic literary story, produced by the hundreds every year by university MFA programs, all competent, some better than others but all of a type. Most of them interchangeable.

In the underground literary world also the writing is becoming generic. Long masses of unbroken text in the style of Pynchon postmodernism, full of intellectual insights but little structure and negligible plot.
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WHEN has an art form not been generic?

Examples can be found in the music business, such as in the 1950’s when rock n’ roll burst on the scene. Maybe a dozen acts fully “got” it and could plausibly create the explosively fast style– Little Richard, Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino and Carl Perkins among them.

Material to fill out their albums was limited. Few songwriters were creating the new style. Elvis filled out his albums with old country-western tunes, pop standards, and archaic ballads.

Covers were the norm. Here’s an example from a young country duo who turned into rockers, the Everly Brothers, covering a song penned by a penitentiary resident named Albert Collins that was first recorded by Little Richard–

When three rock stars– Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper– died in a 1959 plane crash while on a low-rent tour the talent pool was diminished. Many believed the fledgling genre was over.

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Only when a UK band The Beatles fused the sound of Holly, the Everlys, Little Richard and a handful of others did the genre genuinely take off. Eventually the rock market became saturated with performers and product until rock bands were in every corner of every city and town and no one stood out.
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Is anyone in the literary business creating the non-generic?

YES! We are.

Right now there exists one released “3-D” multidimensional short story. We have several more on the drawing board. NO ONE else is creating the new form.

Will they?

The potential for artistic growth is enormous.

Exciting times are ahead.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Revolutions in Literary Style

IN MANY ARTS there’s a push-pull between simplicity and complexity. It happened in the rock music scene, where what started out as direct and immediate– early rock n’ roll– transformed itself into increasing virtuosity and complexity with the pretentious “prog rock” of Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd, ELO and Company. The reaction to this barrage of bombast came with the in-your-face simplicity and immediacy of punk rock.

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A similar situation occurs in the literary world. Literary revolutionaries like Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kerouac strove to cut the excess detritus from what they saw as a corrupted and decadent art– corrupted by the convolutions of Henry James and similar stuffy esoteric literary icons for whom direct communication with the reader was a secondary consideration.

WHY CLARITY AND DIRECTNESS?

Over the past few decades literature has been beat up badly by rival arts like movies, comic books, even video games, whose advocates place their favorite art on the same level as novels– which those of us who understand all the novel can achieve artistically, emotionally and intellectually view as an absurdity.

What those arts are able to do, and do well, is communicate. They make a direct connection to the individual experiencing them, stressing what have been the strongest parts of literary creations– character and plot. Aspects which elite writers have downgraded as they’ve retreated further into the solipsistic mind and the contortions of their writing styles.

If literature begins once again to compete, it will sweep the field of every rival. After all, comic books have their roots in the Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo— which in itself remains a far greater artistic work than any comic book, any superhero movie, any video game.

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THE SOLUTION

The solution to the dilemma of literature in today’s world will be found in another stylistic revolution which simultaneously cleans up and strengthens the literary art, leaving it more readable and far more exciting.

The 3-D Short Story we’ve been advocating and constructing is only the first step.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

How to Write the New Story

WRITING THE BETTER SHORT STORY

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ONE THING which surprised me after we released to the world the first3-D” multiple viewpoint short story is how not-obvious the technique appears to people. A tribute to how well the tale is put together to maintain momentum and flow, despite there being 82 individual mini-chapters, with continual switching of point-of-view– what had been told to me by esteemed literary writers should never be done by the serious writer.

(When an expert tells you something is impossible, or shouldn’t be done, that’s exactly what you want to work on accomplishing.)

MOST story writers maintain a single viewpoint throughout, whether that of one character, one consciousness, or for the more ambitious, the omniscient narrator, who in a short story still tends to have a narrow focus. Many use first person, which strongly emphasizes the single viewpoint.

A similar narrowing effect is created when writers eliminate quote marks normally used to distinguish when characters are speaking. (See Sally Rooney.) This strengthens the solipsism of the work. Many writers today, focused more on themselves than the reader’s experience, are solipsistic.
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The new 3D fiction writing technique destroys all of this to bring in a multiplicity of viewpoints. Shifting angles, so that characters, events, and the world are viewed multidimensionally. The technique gives a more real depiction of the world, but also makes for a faster-paced story. “Vodka Friday Night” compresses enough plot and number of characters for a short novel into a 7,000-word short story. The overall effect of the piece becomes more concentrated. Intense. Dynamic.

HOW IT WORKS

A few simple tricks are utilized to do this. One is dividing the story into chapters, making sure each one is extremely brief. Separating them in some way, whether by asterisks, titles, or chapter numbers. F. Scott Fitzgerald did this in his long 1920 story “May Day.” Jay McInerney did something like this as well in his 1998 novella, Model Behavior. (I’m sure other authors have done so also.)

How brief of chapters?

I settled on a 240-word limit. Fitzgerald’s “May Day” chapters are way longer– except for the concise conclusion, which comes in at 238 words.

I came to the limit though by having the McInerney book open before me, on a particularly A.D.D.-tired eyes day, and choosing which chapters held my interest at a glance, and which didn’t. The ones at 240 words or less always came out right.

If you notice in the “Vodka” story, I also play with time in it, using a flashback or two, or not putting a few sections in strict chronological order. The idea being that we don’t experience the world in a straight line. Interspersed with the moment may be memories of past happenings, or images of future dreams.

There’s a lot more which can be done in that regard. The idea is to get the short story out of the narrow corridor it’s been trapped in, by playing with both time and space. (Ideally, expanding the number of views, characters, directions, broadens the work.)

THE RESULT

The result is a faster-paced yet more involved story. The reader enters a new world– of hyper-experience.
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I plan on using other tricks in future prototypes. My co-editor Kathleen Marie Crane plans to do so as well. (Her first foray into the idea was when she took the title story from her short story collection, “Aloha from Detroit,” and rewrote the same events from the perspective of another character– which we ran at New Pop Lit as “Aloha from Detroit Revisited.” Reading both stories one after another adds roundedness; depth.)

THERE REMAIN many, many aspects of the short story form which can be played with. It’s time writers began playing with them.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News