The Short Story As Pop Song

ANALYZING THE SHORT STORY FORM

OUR CURRENT feature story, “True Survivor” by Greg Jenkins, is a good example of how a short story can be artistically successful by following– unintentionally or not– techniques used to find success in the music business.

Foremost among them is the story’s opening, which does two things done by the famed British pop group the Beatles and others in order to stand out from the musical crowd.

1.) THE ATTENTION-GETTER

First, the attention-getting first note. First done by Ludwig van Beethoven to open his Third Symphony. A more recent example is the opening chord to “A Hard Day’s Night,” the title song to the Beatles’ first film. Think of how it must’ve sounded coming from large speakers in a movie theater, accompanied on a giant screen by an image of the four young musicians being chased down a Liverpool street. Attention: caught.

Greg Jenkins does the same thing with his story’s opening sentence, consisting of a single word, each letter capitalized: “SULLIVAN!”

2.) START WITH THE CHORUS

The second technique used by the Beatles was to in effect start the story with the chorus. Or, if it were fiction, in the middle of the narrative. Like opening in the middle of a song.

A famous example of this is one of the rock group’s first hits, “She Loves You.”

Which ensures opening with a bang. The Beatles did this again at least one other time, with similar success, with “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

What’s the goal? To grab the listener– or reader– by the collar, lift the person out of his or her chair and not let go until the artistic experience is over. Part of the creation of Beatlemania involved hitting the record buyer with immediate energy.

With a different art form, Greg Jenkins starts his story in the middle of the action, then goes back to explain what led to the conflict. (Jack London does the same thing with his classic short story, “Lost Face.”)

MORE POP

The most extreme musical example of this technique came a bit later in the frenzied history of the so-called British Invasion of America, in 1965, when Herman’s Hermits had a Number One hit by eliminating a song’s verses altogether– to a 1911 music hall ditty, “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am”– and singing only the chorus, repeated three times. The result was not exactly artistic, but it was effective with the intended audience.

Could this be done with the short story– taking technique one step beyond? Stripping down a tale to its barest essentials and depending upon pure pop energy and enthusiasm to carry it?

We don’t know, but in our New Pop Lit LABS we’re not above trying every trick possible in our quest to reinvent literary forms, and in so doing enliven literature itself.

We also look for writers, like Greg Jenkins, who use innovative techniques. Know any others? Send them our way!

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Mid-Century Modern Movies

DESIGN VIBES

I’ve identified four movies which epitomize the apex of mid-century modern thought and design. They are:

1.) Forbidden Planet (1956).

2.) North by Northwest (1959).

3.) Bye Bye Birdie (1963).

4.) Point Blank (1967).

The important point is that all of these films are visually designed to be ultra-modern, so the design itself enhances– or really, expresses– the story or the theme of the story, which are themselves ultra-modern.

1.) THEME: The future is us. ALTERNATE THEME: The future as nightmare.

2.) THEME: Ad man as quintessential American hero. SUB-THEME: Discovery and rescue of the soul mate.

3.) THEME: Pop culture as American Dream.

4.) THEME: The modern world as duplicitous hellscape.

Design is the quintessential American art. All four of these movies can be watched for their styles, clothing, colors, and designs.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Teardowns and Literature

MAKING CREATIVE CHANGE PART IV

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?

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.

I’ve asked the question: Why do people read?

FOR: Mystery, character, adventure, ideas, knowledge, sensation, emotion, passion, entertainment, escape, understanding, wisdom, experience. What else?

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.

TEARDOWNS

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.

c/o munrolive.com

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.

PROTOTYPES

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.

K.W.

Three Kinds of Revolution

MAKING CREATIVE CHANGE PART III

1.

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.

2.

GRADUAL REVOLUTION. 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.

3.

COMPETITIVE REVOLUTION. 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.

CHANGE AGENTS

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.

-K.W.

Teaching Gatsby

MAKING CREATIVE CHANGE PART II

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.

-K.W.

Making Creative Change

PART I: WHAT WE’RE NOT TAUGHT

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.

XXXX

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– ?)

NEXT: “Teaching Gatsby.”

Zines or Zeens?

RETURNING TO PRINT

THE WAY to think about the difference between zines and zeens is to think lo-fi versus hi-fi. Or cassettes versus vinyl.

Traditionally, print zines– real zines, of the photocopied-at-a-coffeeshop variety– were inexpensively made, black-and-white images and text on basic 20-lb copy paper. The DIY punk rawness of the presentation was the point. Illustrations were cut-ups and collages, for a sense of chaos. Type was the smallest possible, words scarcely readable, and there was a lot of it. A few classic zinesters are still using something akin to this style, among them Joe Smith of Alternative Incite:

At the same time (90s; early 2000s) there were a lot of art zines around, which were raw in a different way. Unique shapes and sizes. More colors; usually better paper. Hand-colored pages with unique drawings and designs. Even material glued on them– feathers, sequins, felt: anything. Words themselves often hand-lettered. The drawback to more intense artistry was that the number of copies which could be made was strictly limited. Sometimes as few as 20 or 25.

THE ZEEN DIFFERENCE

With our new print zeens we’ve taken every advantage of print zines and bumped them up a level. There’s rawness and authenticity– combined with quality. Quality materials, designs, and writing. We’ve emphasized the analog experience, so that words and images pop off the page. The writing we’ve accepted or solicited for each zeen has fit the particular aesthetic of that zeen, so that each one– Extreme Zeen 1 and 2, ZEENITH, Crime City U.S.A. and Literary Fan Magazine— has its own individual personality.

Purchase a couple or three at our POP SHOP and see.

XXXX

The Art of Pop Poetry

POETRY NEEDS HOOKS!

MUCH DISCUSSION has taken place in recent days– based on the firing of Danielle Rose by Barren Magazine— about the place of poetry in contemporary society.

Is anyone asking the question of HOW to best connect the poetic art with the general public?

At New Pop Lit we’ve tried to do it in a variety of ways. At our online site, by publishing what we consider the highest quality poetry we can find.

For our new print-zeens, we’ve sought high-quality poems that, for the most part, are also visual and concise. Poems which can be illustrated or used with designs in some way to make the reading experience more striking.

Then, also, there have been our experiments a few years ago with Fun Pop Poetry.

FUN POP POETRY

Fun Pop Poetry was a feature we ran for a number of months at one of our blogs. (Which was then later used for the uncompleted “All-Time American Writers Tournament”– yet another example that we’ve been experimenting with a number of things.)

The idea behind Fun Pop Poetry was understanding the roots of poetry lie in oral culture. Pre-literary. Poetic devices such as meter and rhyme were used to make recitations of the spoken word musical and memorable. Rhyme and other euphonic tricks are hooks that embed themselves in the poet’s– and the audience’s– brain.

EVEN Shakespeare’s work– the soliloquys in particular– though usually written in blank verse, has hooks all over the place: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day. . . .”

Which make them easy to remember and a joy to recite.

The idea of hooks in poetry is akin to hooks in pop songs. Which brings us to pop poetry.

New Pop Lit‘s Kathleen Marie Crane writes poetry with hooks which stay in your head– is in fact the master at it. For instance, “You Don’t Stand a Chance,” which she recorded for our Open Mic feature.

Or, this previously unpublished poem:

Grand Mackerel Spa and Resort 2

Pre-fab flab floating flotsam hotel pool

Blank faced guests spoon their morning gruel

Evening drunks form a fluorescent queue

Craft designer drinks served by a skeleton crew

Mirthless grins light dim empty faces

Labyrinth of vacant rooms with no human traces

Pint glasses clink with a hollow sound

Here’s to burning this fucking hotel to the ground!

XXX

How could anyone not remember that first line? (Or not have fun reciting it?)

Kath has written many other pop poems, some of which are at the aforementioned blog under the Fun Pop Poetry heading, under a pseudonym. We hope to someday collect those and many more from other poets who participated in that feature, into a zeen. If so, it will be colorful.

XXX

Lessons from Vinyl Records?

VINYL IS BACK!

c/o Erika Records

The sale of vinyl records has increased greatly over the past fifteen years– 27.5 million vinyl LPs sold in the U.S. last year according to Forbes magazine– which makes them more than mere collectors items.

A plethora of online music sites explain the resurgence. Ted Goslin with Yamaha Music gives four reasons for it: -that vinyl is tangible -the cool factor -the listening experience, and -the sound quality. Another online site says it’s because vinyl is “warmer, fuller, more authentic,” and credits also the artwork of vinyl records.

One of the more thorough analyses of the phenomenon is this essay by an outfit called Way Back When at Medium:

Additionally, the cover art on albums is displayed in a much better fashion on vinyl records. Don’t believe us, just go to a vinyl record shop and compare the art on your phone compared to having it in the physical. There are so many little details missed within the artwork when it’s on your phone than when you hold the album in a physical version.

Vinyl records are also a sign of someone having an exquisite taste in music.

THE QUESTION

The question for us at New Pop Lit is whether these same reasons can apply to literary products– such as the zeens we’re selling at our POP SHOP.

Zeens are about the analog reading experience. They’re designed to be viscerally unique, with emphasis on quality of paper, art, and a lot of color, to create a warmer, more tangible presence than any other print publication. More real than digital.

(Can people truly be satisfied spending most of their waking hours in the fake two-dimensional world of electronic screens, when a 3-D alternative is everywhere around us?)

Will the analog revolt extend to the literary field? We hope to find out.

VVVVVVVVV

Types of Cultural Change

THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF CULTURAL CHANGE

1.) GRADUAL CHANGE

The kind of change which improves a skill or art within-the-field, but doesn’t expand the field or the field’s footprint within the greater culture. Most often the change is incremental, such as modest improvements in technique.

For example, the sport of tennis. In men’s tennis where every top player has a high level of skill and talent, Novak Djokavic has been able to stand out through changes in his training and diet.

The problem with gradual change is that it’s not enough to keep interest in a sport like tennis from dropping in relation to the greater culture, as other sports and other cultural happenings move forward at a faster rate.

This situation applies to literature and especially with the more esteemed “literary” end of the spectrum. MFA programs train students in refining their craft, polishing their short stories, and the sentences within, without changing the basic template. Without rethinking anything about the art. The nature of the writing workshop in fact discourages experimentation, or any writing which might look “bad” or disturbing because it’s trying something new.

The result: an unexciting literary game which presents always the same-old same-old. The predictable and been done.

2.) RADICAL CHANGE

A leap forward. The kind of change which drastically remakes an art and in so doing creates an explosion of interest in it. For instance, the way rock n roll beginning in 1955 exploded onto national then international consciousness and completely remade the music business, expanding interest and multiplying the size of the market many times over.

In sports, an example would be the emergence of Babe Ruth as a star circa 1920. He’d started out as a pitcher. With nothing to lose in his perfunctory at bats– expected to make an out– he began swinging for the fences, taking huge swings at pitches, thereby striking out at an increased rate but when connecting, hitting the ball for a home run. This went 180 degrees against the practice of the time of playing it safe, the goal to just make contact with the ball and get on base.

Ruth’s monster home runs caused massive fan interest. New York Yankee attendance doubled, while many other baseball teams smashed their previous attendance records due to the Ruth effect. Babe Ruth became for ten years the most popular figure in America.

THE QUESTION is whether or not this kind of change could happen to the sleepy literary game?

What it would take is allowing writers to embarrass themselves as they try new ideas– to “make outs”– as they work toward making the art fresh and exciting.

If it can be imagined it can happen.