There are 20 possible opening moves in chess. How many ways are there to write the short story? There should be hundreds. In practice, there are maybe ten– and some of those, like Poe’s, are no longer done.
How does one create a new short story form– or a new anything? One way is the concept of returning to First Principles, which is outlined here.
The first question: What’s essential? The sentence. Basic grammar. The alphabet. Words. All else is up for grabs. The idea to recreate from the ground up.
The idea should be to construct a narrative, and adopt a writing style, which can best present these attributes. Or, as many of them as possible.
Our first step has been to break away from the strictly linear, single-viewpoint mode of operating. My first attempts relied too heavily on precise structure conceived in advance. KMC’s, not as much. In the future we’ll move away from that. My belief is that with further attempts we’ll find the non-linear format gives the writer more creative freedom, not less.
The electric vehicle crowd has been big on tearing down automobiles of all kinds to find out what makes them work, then re-engineering them. The most prominent teardown engineer is Sandy Munro, a former Ford engineer who’s put out dozens of videos depicting his analysis of various vehicles.
For the New Pop Lit project, I’ve taken apart short stories of all kinds to discover what makes them work– from Edgar Allan Poe’s, which rely heavily on exposition and invariably lead to a strong or explosive conclusion conceived in advance– such as this one— to romantic adventure stories from Robert Louis Stevenson, to Jack London’s brutally surprising “Lost Face,” to tales by D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce, to Ernest Hemingway’s famous and subtly complex “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” As well as more recent work, such as stories by Mary Gaitskill. There’s much to learn in all of them.
The next step, after many teardowns, is constructing an all-new prototype utilizing what’s been learned. A topic I’ll cover in a later installment of this series on creative change and how to make it.
TRADITIONAL REVOLUTION. Thorough and swift destruction and replacement designed to demolish existing institutions and the System itself and replace them with all-new everything. See Robespierre and Lenin.
GRADUALREVOLUTION. Change within existing institutions and hierarchies, designed to capture them. Theodore Adorno and the Frankfurt School might exemplify this mode of thinking. Or were precursors of it, along with Antonio Gramsci.
COMPETITIVEREVOLUTION. Competing with existing institutions using smaller, faster, more mobile and vastly more creative new organizations. Elon Musk’s various projects, as well as many popular DIY podcasts, fit this category.
Currently we live in a world where Revolution Style #3 has pushed its way to the forefront. Upstarts everyplace. New ways of thinking pushed by what could be called change agents. The active molecules mentioned in Part I of this series.
Musk due to his penchant for publicity is at the forefront of such energized entities. Elon Musk has always been a huckster, combined with an arrogance unleavened by humility. (He’s yet to be knocked down hard by life.) His real strength lies in his ability to see weakness in established institutions, whether they be Boeing in aerospace, or General Motors and other legacy giants in the auto industry. The ability to observe “the best” and realize they can be taken down.
Elon Musk carries the ethos of the upstart– eager to topple complacent established kings and set himself up as new one.
In this quest, he relies on the doctrine of First Principles, which we’ll look at in the next installment of this series on change and how to make it.
MOST WRITERS are the product of the stale way literature is taught.
Much emphasis on themes and sentences. A great example of this is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, a favorite of high school teachers and freshman-level college American lit profs. Along with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the most over-taught American novel ever.
Yet none of the instructors approaches what Fitzgerald was doing with it that gives the story and the main character their sense of mystery. What’s taught instead are its themes: “The American Dream”– striving after “the green light” blah blah– along with the book’s lyricism. Fitzgerald’s beautiful passages, particularly the opening and closing. “The well-written sentence.” What’s missing?
For starters, Fitzgerald combines pop elements with the literary. Gatsby, after all, is a gangster. The lyricism is used carefully– much of the story is propelled by simple declarative sentences. Like a baseball fastball following a series of off-speed pitches, the occasional lyrical sentence stands out.
Most important though and seldom examined is the book’s structure. The serious writer, when confronting the novel, needs to approach it like an engineer. How does it really work?
Take the book apart and you find it has a complex structure– the story of Jay Gatsby put together using the narrator Nick Carraway’s own impressions combined with rumor, speculation, and hearsay. Beyond this, the narrative doesn’t stick strictly to the present, but gives the reader, in segments, a great deal of backstory. Jumps into glimpses of the past.
Examining the thematic instead of the technical is fine if you’re an English professor, but writers looking to reinvent the art need to seek all possible examples of structural innovation, which can be utilized, refreshed, or merged, toward the goal of creating a more exciting product.
Which will be discussed in future parts of this impromptu series intended to explain a little of what we’re up to in the New Pop Lit development studio.
Few people see the world as it really is, because we’re not taught to see it that way: As conflict between the dynamic and the static. The active agent, and the acted upon.
Count Leo Tolstoy discussed this in his massive masterpiece novel War and Peace. Is history the product of great men– or of the movement of massive unseen forces? Or a combination of both?
In his discussion of Napoleon and the invasion of Russia, Tolstoy saw the great man as merely along for the ride, accompanying a wave of economic and social forces. Yet change as often as not, even in the instance cited, is a matter of the willful individual pushing and driving the merely passive: the static. The inertia of movement pushing the inertia of the unmoving. Force upon molecules. One dynamic individual disturbing all around itself, like a cue ball upsetting a rack of balls in a pool hall.
CHANGE should be especially true in the arts, which are intended to be dynamic. In constant flux.
The question for writers is: Which side of the equation are you on?
If you’re not published by one of the Big Four Manhattan publishers, or a professor at a university, it makes little sense to be on the side of the static. Of the aesthetic status quo. (Unless you write and publish as a hobby, to impress relatives and friends. But if you want more– ?)
THE BIG NEWS for the New Pop Lit project is our receiving a “Creators of Culture” grant from a wonderful Detroit-based arts organization named Culture Source. As near as we can determine, we qualified based on several criterion:
-Our EIC’s long history of promoting overlooked writers, notably in the 2000s with the Underground Literary Alliance.
-New Pop Lit’s focus on artistic innovation and design, including with our one-of-a-kind publications. “Craft publishing”: the idea to make our publications as creative and non-generic as possible.
-Our continued experimentation with literary form. This includes our behind-the-scenes effort to completely reinvent the short story, ongoing.
The starting point for everything we do is that the literary status quo isn’t good enough.
We’ll use the graciously-awarded funds not solely to keep this project operating (it’s been touch-and-go at times), but chiefly to discover and spotlight new writing and artistic talent, with more focus on talent in metro Detroit and environs.
Toward those ends, we’ll hold a contest or three, with monetary prizes.
The grant will also enable us to create more print publications. A portion of the award will be spent on necessary equipment and supplies. (Notably, paper and ink!)
The intelligent universe has conspired to keep us ongoing a while longer. As long as New Pop Lit lasts, we’ll aspire to achieve amazing arts breakthroughs– or at least one!
THE PAST TWO YEARS have been tough ones for us, as for a lot of people. We plan to turn things around in 2022 (have already begun to)– and turn New Pop Lit into a more viable and exciting project.
Within days we’ll post at this blog a “State of the Site” announcement discussing what’s been happening.
IN THE MEANTIME, a few goals:
1.) A lot of talented new writers are out there. We haven’t failed to notice. (Good poker players that we both are, we don’t miss a thing.) We intend to connect with more of those writers.
2.) We have to do a lot more to sell our unique aesthetic ideas to literary people, and beyond. We’ll do so.
Those ideas center around:
New designs of writing and presentations of writing. For both aspects, we favor a modified 20th century modernist aesthetic. Meaning, clear, colorful, and stylish. Cultural chaos is everywhere. To be truly different, an arts project should offer an alternative to the chaos. Escape from the madness.
CLARITY (of thought and presentation) is important to us, as a foundation to build upon in endeavors to connect literature to a larger swath of the general public.
3.) At some point soon enough we’ll need to add more contributors to our staff– those in general synch with what we’re about, who can bring with them new ideas to supplement ours. As a project we’re foremost an expression of ideas.
Currently KMC and I work drudge day jobs. But give us enough time and help and we’ll unleash the full potential of this ambitious project. That’s the goal.
THE GOAL with Pushcart nominations isn’t the nominations themselves– though they’re important in giving plaudits to many of those generous enough to let us publish their work– but to have a nomination selected for publication in the collection. Toward that end, every year we’ve been sending the work of our nominees in an increasingly eye-catching, colorful presentation. (Consistent with our aesthetic.) This includes envelope, cover letter, and tear sheets of the works themselves. “Is it possible to stand out among hundreds, maybe thousands of mailings?” is the question.
IN the materials Pushcart Press sends publishers, they make it clear they prefer nominations from actual print publications. This is in keeping with their name. Though we ran an excellent array of stories, poems, and non-fiction at our site, from some of the best writers in the literary realm, we’ve decided this year to choose our nominations strictly from our two 2021 print publications. “Zeens”– which in their ethos and reality embody everything Bill Henderson sought to honor when he began his annual anthology. Zeens– in-house produced; hand made– define an upstart press.
The selections we’ve made from the two issues are outstanding. Attention-getting themselves?
HERE ARE OUR CHOICES:
From Literary Fan Magazine #1, published March 2021:
-“How I Survived 2020,” non-fiction by Chrissi Sepe.
-“On Translation,” non-fiction by Andrea Gregovich.
From Extreme Zeen #2, published June 2021:
-“Black Hole,” poetry by Rose Knapp.
-“Tom Preisler 4,” poetry by Tom Preisler.
-“Fuel Injection,” poetry by Tom Will.
-“You Are You,” fiction by Jo Bloomfield.
Many thanks to all the writers online and off who allowed us to feature their work!
A host of questions are raised by the decision of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas to shut down iconic literary journal The Believer.
The Believer magazine has long been the flagship for a particular kind of upper-middle class literary self-importance. From the beginning they presented themselves as a better-than-thou cultural aristocracy, as indicated in their “belief in the good book review” and “nod to the inherent good” (per Wikipedia).
The Chief Question: Will that presumed aristocracy– including the many names published at the magazine, and the magazine’s founders– rouse themselves to save one of the pillars of their kind of literature? To date there’s been hand-wringing, but no action.
-WHY did the journal fail so spectacularly to pay its way that UNLV’s Black Mountain Institute felt compelled to drop it from their line-up?
-IS the type of precious-if-not-pretentious literary writing featured in the journal itself to blame?
-WILL there be pushback from UNLV’s faculty and students for the university’s choice to drop the publication (while at the same time spending $43 million per year on its sports teams)? Is this an indication of higher education’s real priorities? In an era when sports are dominated by gambling, and the gambling industry remains centered in Las Vegas, should a university located in that city be more concerned about the message sent by its bread-and-circuses choices? (Or, is UNLV in fact a sports program with attached university, instead of the reverse?)
In the meantime, at least one staffer– Kristen Radtke, The Believer‘s listed press contact person– has already jumped ship, taking a position with The Verge as art director.
Does anyone believe in The Believer?
(FOR THE RECORD, the author of this editorial was once discussed in an issue of The Believer, in its first year, 2003. I retain some nostalgia for its existence, am surprised no one else appears to strongly feel the same.)
NO ONE online is underground. We’re on a system this instant– the Internet– that was initiated and in large part paid for by the United States Defense Department. An electronic arrangement where every word can be recorded and tracked with a few keyboard clicks.
With our new state-of-the-art print zeens, we at New Pop Lit are partially underground. They’re handmade in-house, and unregistered. No barcodes.
Why is this important? Because print underground literature is an actual alternative– samizdat!— a free space of ideas not subject to self-appointed hall monitors and censors. Breaking the hive mind. No bureaucrats, official or unofficial. In the tradition of Thomas Paine, Davy Crockett, Walt Whitman, Stephen Crane, Robert McAlmon, the Beats– and including Alexander Solzhenitsyn and a host of other international samizdat writers. The genuine article. The authentic American yawp.
THE ANALOG EXPERIENCE
We’ve begun exploring ideas behind new analog culture (vinyl, zines, film) in a newsletter, The Analog Experience. We’ll soon send copies to our “prestige” customers– those who’ve purchased three or more of our zeens. BUT you can subscribe to four issues now at our POP SHOP.
Doing so will keep you abreast of underground happenings, ideas, and debates. Plus in some small way it keeps this project alive.
Consider it a door to another world. A portal to underground culture.