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

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

Jack London or Henry James?

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

jack london henry james collage

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.

The_Spoilers_first_edition

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

 

Destroying the Generic

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

Greta_Van_Fleet
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.

sex pistols

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.

monte cristo

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

Anti-Consensus Theory Applied to the Literary Game

FOUNDATIONS OF 3-D WRITING

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THE PREMISE of the 3D Short Story and the New Pop Lit project is that literature can become not only better, but way better.

We humans are at a primitive understanding of most worldly things. Including the nature of art and the waves and flows of cultural history. Yet expected consensus on this issue or that one is the rule of the day. We’re expected to agree– even if agreement is impossible. Because total knowledge for us is impossible. It’s usually one side attempting to impose its unique perspective on another side.

The classic work addressing the pack mentality is The Crowd by Gustave Le Bon. (Much studied by creators of the Madison Avenue ad industry.) Itself a primitive work, for all its insights.

We can reach a consensus on some things, sure– that the earth is round. That planets revolve around the sun. As often as not a consensus is wrong. Especially if accompanied by arrogance or complacency.

Robert-McNamaras-by Cecil Stoughton

The classic example of that is brainiac Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and his team of the “Best and Brightest” who blundered into, then misfought the Vietnam War. (Replayed forty years later in Iraq.)

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They had their charts and computer models and “experts” generating reams of data– kinda like the FiveThirtyEight crowd in the last big election– and broke the fighting of war down to a matter of graphs, statistics, and body counts. Then were outfought or at least outlasted by impoverished bands of guerrillas. The lessons of arrogance.

The lesson is that one needs to continually search for counter narratives. Other sides.

Sometimes statistics are the counter narrative. Sabermetrics was a leap ahead in understanding the well-regulated game of baseball. But other leaps await, even there.

nixon chou

We need modesty about our understanding of anything. The kind shown by Chinese Premier Chou En Lai in 1972, who, when asked by Richard Nixon his opinion of the French Revolution, said “It’s too soon to tell.”

IN THE ARTS we can assume the current consensus is wrong. Art has always been about cultural change. Change, and more of it. Mimicking the nature of the universe. An art reaching moments of perceived perfection– then throwing the moment over in the interest of discovering an entirely new way of viewing things.
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We should strive for the imagination of a Nikola Tesla, who circa 1880 imagined fantastic happenings– who conceived then the world we live in now. The trick is to look beyond the moment, the “now”– what’s directly in front of us– to envision new ways of thinking and creating.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Reinventing the Short Story

CAN THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY BE REINVENTED?

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MOST in the established literary scene would say, NO. They scoff at the idea. To them, work from currently approved writers– most if not all of them the product of prestigious writing programs– is the best of all possible worlds.

officer training(Photo public domain.)

The graduates are like soldiers in elite units of the U.S. Armed Forces. Navy Seals, Green Berets, Airborne and the like. Best of the best. HAVE been through rigorous screening and training. ARE the vanguard and face of a gigantic billion-dollar investment in the literary art, via hundreds of university writing programs headed and taught by hundreds of extremely talented writers.

photo by Virin(Photo by Virin.)

HOW COULD THEIR STORIES NOT BE THE BEST?

THE PROBLEM is the consensus itself. Because everyone within the system believes writing produced by the system is the best possible– raved about in articles, reviews, and blurbs– no one questions it. No one looks outside the parameters of the consensus searching for ways to change and rearrange the product.

NO ONE EXCEPT US!

COMING on 3D-Day June 6th, a different model for the short story.

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EXCLUSIVELY at NEW POP LIT.
http://www.newpoplit.com 
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Critics and New Art

THOUGHTS ON THE 3D SHORT STORY

impression sunrise claude monet(“Impression Sunrise” by Claude Monet.)

THE TEST of an artistic critic is how swiftly the person adapts to artistic change. The ability to embrace the NEW and not be left behind.

EXAMPLES from the past include the rise of modernist art, beginning with the 19th century Impressionists. As Robert Hughes and others noted, the inability of art critics to keep up with change became a cliche, until anything new was automatically accepted in fear of being wrong again.

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ANOTHER example is the transition in the late 1920’s from silent cinema to sound. Or, in the 50’s and 60’s, from “silver screen” movies to Technicolor and Cinemascope, which even as astute a film critic as Pauline Kael found difficulty dealing with, so enamored was she with smaller films of the 1930’s. Kael’s antipathy to wide screen movies was such that director David Lean once exclaimed to her, “You won’t be happy with any movie I make unless it’s shot on 16 mm in black and white!”

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HOW will literary critics react to the emergence of a new style of short story? One faster, more designed, more exciting than any short story offered now? A story, moreover, which fuses literary and pop elements to create a visibly different work?

Questions, questions. . . .
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Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Pop Lit as Art

BASICS OF 3D STORY THEORY

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WHAT Ernest Hemingway was working toward in his early short stories– before he adopted the persona of Papa Hemingway– was writing as art object. Whole and complete. As finished project.

MANY books and articles, too many to list, document the influence of modernist painters such as Joan Miro and Paul Cezanne on Hemingway’s writing. Though his quoted remarks are vague on the specifics of that influence, we can look at his works themselves to see. Not simply the marvelous descriptions (the opening to A Farewell to Arms for instance), but the sense of form and conciseness in his best stories. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” to name one.

HEMINGWAY was working toward something which could metaphorically be put on a wall and looked at– meaning, seeing the entirety of the work. Moving away from linearity.

This is a starting place for Pop Lit. Emphasis on clarity and transparency. The essence of “Pop.” Pop as in an Andy Warhol painting, or in a classic two-minute pop-rock song. Or a two-minute punk rock song which gives the listener two minutes of concentrated energy, then abruptly ends.

This is what I was striving for in my experimental work Ten Pop Stories. (An ebook written under the pen name King Wenclas.) Ten pop songs– or ten pop paintings.

THE MAIN IDEA is giving the reader a sense of the American experience– as Andy Warhol in his depictions of Coca-Cola bottles and of Marilyn Monroe so brilliantly conveyed the fast-paced madness of American experience. The American civilization, which for a hundred years has been the world’s dominant civilization.

THE 3D STORY

Speed and immediacy– what this aspect of Pop-Lit theory is about. What the upcoming 3D Story form will be about, in multiples. If our experiments work, things in the literary realm are about to become very exciting.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News