Why Hemingway Was Hemingway

ERNEST HEMINGWAY AS LITERARY ROCK STAR?

In any group, Ernest was the most impressive personality.
-Charles Thompson, quoted in The True Gen.

THE HEMINGWAY PERSONA

First place to start in any examination of Ernest Hemingway is the larger-than-life Hemingway persona, which he spent a lifetime creating and perfecting. In that sense he was not unlike self-created Hollywood stars Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, and John Wayne. Intentional myth, which included his trademark macho bluster and swagger, but also his deliberately pushing himself into dangerous situations which could fuel that persona, that myth.

THE LOST GENERATION

Much of the author’s myth and mystique came from being part of an artistic movement of expatriate writers and artists who congregated in Paris after the First World War. With the publication of The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway placed himself at the center of that movement.

HIS WRITING

Hemingway fictionalized his experiences, many of which were traumatic, such as being wounded during the First World War. This is most noteworthy in his first two novels, in which he gave his intense experiences just the right amount of distance, creating powerful effect and universal meaning.He was also a hard-core student of craft. His short story, “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” is the most structurally complex story ever written, with deft switches between time and viewpoint, yet making the complexity unnoticeable. Seamless.

REVOLUTIONIZING THE LITERARY ART

It’s impossible for us to fully realize today the full extent to which Hemingway’s writing style (building on what he learned from Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, and Ezra Pound) hit the world with the shock of the new. His concise, well-crafted, often abrupt fiction was like the introduction of a new technology. It didn’t just add to the art of writing and the world of literature, but transformed them. His writing changed the way people viewed the world.

CULTURAL INFLUENCE

The popularity of the Hemingway style and ethos influenced the way people thought and talked. The very concept of noir fiction, for instance, stemmed from early stories of his like “The Killers” and those included in his collection In Our Time. One could most notice the influence in early sound movies from 1930 on, via tough guy actors like James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Clark Gable (the early version), and Humphrey Bogart. Bogie in particular played a Hemingwayesque character– the scarred existentialist hero– in most of his starring roles, including in one of the best films of all time, Casablanca.

AT THE CENTER OF HISTORY

One of the reasons Ernest Hemingway stood out from other writers during his lifetime was that he put himself at the center of world events, from World War I as an ambulance driver; the war’s aftermath as a correspondent, his public socializing in France and Spain, including his writing about bullfights; participant and war correspondent again during the Spanish Civil War and World War II in Europe, and of course his adventures hunting in Africa and deep sea fishing in the Caribbean.

THE GLOBAL AUTHOR

It was because he placed himself visibly on the world stage– in addition to his compelling writings– that Ernest Hemingway became one of the best-known persons on the planet. Universally read (only Jack London among American authors is comparable). One of America’s chief cultural exports at a time, in the mid-Twentieth Century, when American popular culture was sweeping across the planet.

Ernest Hemingway was a popular writer and at the same time an artistically serious one, that too-rare combination, which raised the standing of the literary art and inspired countless individuals to take up that art as their cause.

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

The Story of Extreme Zeen

BIRTH OF A PUBLICATION

THE STORY begins during my zine-making days in the early 2000s, when I lived in Center City in the hectic town of Philadelphia, walking through a labyrinth of narrow streets to a tiny, out-of-the-way copy shop run by an aging hippie-type guy. Tall and thin, with a graying ponytail and a slow vibe to him. Occasionally I’d run off copies of my then-zine, New Philistine, on the self-serve copier near the front window. 

When I finished I’d give the man a roughly accurate count of how many sheets I’d copied, and he’d tell me a price off the top of his head, invariably lower than it should’ve been. Maybe because he had several zinesters as customers and appreciated what we were doing.

On this particular afternoon the proprietor motioned me toward the back room where he did larger print jobs. He showed me one of his art printers. He also revealed a few limited edition zines printed for a friend of his, and a special kind of paper made by a small specialty house in ______. (The name of a state.) I remembered the name of the little company.

“This is the best thickness and weight,” he explained. “Can print on both sides even with jobs that use a lot of ink, yet it’s light enough to use as pages in a zine. Very flexible, not stiff like standard photo paper. And look at those colors! They jump off the page. Synergy between ink, paper, and printer.”

With that comment he shook his head.

“Kids today have started making e-zines. E-zines! Zines on computer screens. Electronic dots. Turn off the screen and they vanish. Putting me out of business. They have their attributes, but they’ll never match this for quality. For artistic experience.”

We walked back to the front. I thanked him for the information and collected the sheets of my modest newsletter. Before I stepped outside I saw the man shuffling again to the back room, holding in his hand the specialty paper.

When I passed by the shop a couple months later, it’d closed.

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The pandemic lockdown hit in March 2020, and as a retail job I’d lined up for myself fell through, I decided to put the extra time I had to use. To create, as I’d long planned to do, an upscale, high-quality version of a zine. A “zeen.”

I already had the right art printer, and with some difficulty located the specialty paper house located in ______. They stocked the perfect-weight paper for my project. I ordered it, as well as yellow paper of a particular weight I’d found to be also effective. 

But what would the new “zeen” look like? What would it be called?

My graphic design skills were yet primitive, but I had two assets to compensate for that: a pair of spectacular images my wife Kathleen Marie Crane had rediscovered when rearranging boxes of memorabilia from her days as a punk model in downriver Detroit. One, an edgy photo of herself with platinum blonde hair. When developed, black dots had appeared around the edges of the large photograph, which gave it a decidedly otherworldly effect. That’d be the cover.

The other image was a watercolor she’d painted called “Lucy in the Sky,” inspired by the famous Beatles song. The painting was of a large blue psychedelic eye. We’d put a copy of that at the center of the zeen, so the pages fell open naturally to a view of the hypnotic image.

Copied on the specialty paper, the painting became truly spectacular.

We both wrote stories for the zeen (the plot for mine provided by KMC), and solicited work from several talented writers we’d worked with in the past– one of them Philadelphian Frank D. Walsh, best undiscovered poet on the planet.

What to name the issue?

We came up with Extreme Zeen, for extreme design.

The zeen, though a bit crude, contained stunning visual effects enabled by the analog artistic synthesis described to me years past. Extreme Zeen was the first of several New Pop Lit print zeens. With each one we learned more about design and art.

NOW we’ve released Extreme Zeen 2— culmination of that knowledge, containing a synthesis not just of image and medium, but of words and art. You need to order a copy to know what I’m talking about. Available at our POP SHOP.

-Karl Wenclas 

Why Piero Scaruffi Is Wrong

A NOTE ON POP MUSIC AND THE BEATLES

Beatles 1964.

The fact that so many books still name the Beatles “the greatest or most significant or most influential” rock band ever only tells you how far rock music still is from becoming a serious art.

This is the opening sentence to Piero Scaruffi’s famous rant about the Beatles– which can be read in its entirety here.

Scaruffi’s article has been endlessly cited, quoted, and referred to. The kicker is we can see from the very first sentence that he’s operating under a misconception of what rock music is, was, and was intended to be– likely because he looked at the phenomenon retrospectively, through layers of rock music criticism built up between the years of 1964 (the time of U.S. Beatlemania) and 1999, the year Scaruffi wrote his essay.

What he misses completely– like a baseball player striking out–

— is that rock n’ roll music from the start was a popular-not-“serious” art. Like its antecedents, rhythm and blues and country music, it was music of and from the lower classes. This includes the low-rent hustlers who recorded it, promoted it and popularized it, from the Chess brothers to Sam Phillips to Alan Freed to Colonel Parker to Dick Clark to Berry Gordy Jr. The only people who took it “seriously” were members of its audience.

One can use numerous examples to illustrate this. Among them are the movies made to capitalize on what nearly all critics and tastemakers believed to be a temporary fad. For instance, “The Girl Can’t Help It,” starring buxom Jayne Mansfield and featuring Little Richard and other rock n’ roll stars.

Or, notice this sequence from the Elvis movie “Jailhouse Rock,” when Presley encounters a group of academics.

The entire point of rock music in its formative stage was that it was not in any way intellectual. It stirred the emotions and senses, was beyond analysis.

This was the situation when Beatlemania broke upon England, the United States, and the world. The Beatles’ appeal was aural and visual, direct and immediate, including their unique look. “Well, but they’re not serious artists!” hopeless reactionaries upset at their enormous popularity cried at the time.

Was rock n’ roll widely heard on college campuses before the Beatles broke big?

NO! College kids listened to jazz, classical, Broadway show tunes, or, increasingly, folk music from the likes of Pete Seeger, the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and a fledgling songwriter named Bob Dylan.

As Scaruffi mentions, there was nascent activism at colleges in the early 1960s, but it centered musically around folk, not rock. The protest song became a cliche– “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Little Boxes,” “Blowin in the Wind,” “What Did You Learn at School Today?” and so on. They were serious alright– but in no sense were they, or did they, rock.

Pete Seeger in 1964.

A good way to judge the musical environment in the United States into which the Beatles arrived– to see what music was taken “seriously”– is to read the list of Grammy Award nominations for the year 1964. Interesting– or comical.

ROCK GOES MIDDLE CLASS

What changed?

First, the massive popularity of the Beatles, which converted entire social classes and age groups to the rock music cause.

Bob Dylan at Newport, 1965.

Second, on July 25th in 1965, Bob Dylan “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival, which outraged a significant portion of the audience as well as fellow performers, including Pete Seeger. Dylan in essence converted from folk to rock– and brought intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals along with him. (To be fair, the prod for this conversion was the April 1965 release of a rock cover version by the Byrds of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” which became a monster hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard top singles list.)

It was only after bourgeois acceptance of rock n’ roll that rock criticism came into being– and “rock” displaced “rock and roll” as accepted terminology for the genre.

In sum, rock music was wholly the creation of the lower classes, first in America, then in Britain. The Beatles themselves were working class, from the rough seaport city of Liverpool. “Serious” intellectuals– not unlike Mr. Scaruffi– appropriated the genre, some ten-plus years after its birth in the U.S., and made it their own. In so doing, they made it more pretentious and overblown– rock musicians taking what had been quick entertainment all too seriously. Which in turn led to the creation of punk music in the 1970s to burst that bubble of snobby pomposity.

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Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

The Red Shoes and the Hunger for Beauty and Art

REFLECTIONS ON THE START OF 2021

In 1948 when the film “The Red Shoes” was made, much of Great Britain was still in ruins, the country near bankruptcy, rationing in place. The population existed in what was by all accounts a gray, dreary world. This was the context for the movie’s opening scene when a crowd of college students eagerly rush up the stairs of Covent Garden to the cheap seats– there to imbibe the wonders and beauties of art. To receive an assault on the senses of color, costumes, scenery and music.

Filmed in glorious three-strip Technicolor, “The Red Shoes” is a tribute to beauty and magic in art. An ideal which has been eroded and lost over the ensuing decades, so the culture now is devoted to death, darkness, and zombies– to grovelling in the mud and saturating itself in the worst of mankind and society, instead of the best. The past year of gloom and lockdowns accentuated this trend, but didn’t create it. Darkness exhibits itself even in the literary world. Perhaps there most of all.

STYLES OF LITERARY ART

1.) Popular Genre. The dominant style according to sales and number of writers (given the number of ebook authors who adopt this style). Artistically it ranks at the bottom, because it’s unoriginal– generic– by definition. Imitations of imitations. To be artistically relevant, the style and its various genres need to change.

2.) Bureaucratic. The most admired style by both writers and the culture’s regulators of writers. This has three subcategories:

a.) Literary. The product of MFA writing professors and programs. It has itself become generic, manifested by emphasis on the well-written sentence and which includes an unselective mass of description and details.

b.) Postmodern. Taking literary writing one step further, with the added pretensions not so much of intelligence but intellectualism.

c.) Transgressive. This takes things one step further yet. Like postmodern writing, but darker, more negative and more solipsistic, with if anything even longer sentences and larger paragraphs. To break the hypnotic run of words is breaking the incantation of incoherent murmurs– the rhythm more important than sense or thought. The style fits with the bleakness of lockdowns and hospitals. With the depressing world of now. We don’t need to worry about a coming New Dark Age. Culturally, we’re in it.

What the three subcategories have in common is making words the prime value. Like a bureaucrat cranking out edicts and regulations, the bureaucratic writer produces mass amounts of words. The writer is prioritized over the reader, like a bureaucrat giving priority not to the consumer or citizen, but the regulation, and behind that, the system– the accepted, acceptable way of doing things.

2.) Polemical/Political/Religious. The “novel with a purpose.” Works for which the theme or mission or ideology is of prime importance. A style much frowned upon with the onset of the Cold War after World War II. Examples can be found on the left and the right. Two of the better novels in this vein are The Octopus (1901) by Frank Norris, and The Fountainhead (1943) by Ayn Rand. Many current novels are written in a polemical style, with themes either of social justice or the climate, or both. As it’s a difficult style to master– the author has to either be balanced in viewpoint or go completely over the top– few are worth reading from the current crop.

3.) Art for Art’s Sake. Aestheticism– or, a romantic pursuit of beauty. More seen in 19th century poetry from the likes of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, but aspects of this style permeated many of the period’s novels. The works of Alexandre Dumas, for instance, among the plotting, pay homage to beauty and art. The best later example is F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his beautifully-written and controlled stories and novels, which express the tragically romantic– the pursuit of an ideal, a “green light” at the end of a dock. As in “The Red Shoes,” to live and die for beauty and art.

Any such art movement, thrust into the gray world of today, would give the shock of the new. That would be truly transgressive.

THE QUESTION

The question is: Which style of literature is most needed now?

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Art of the Movie Trailer

WHAT ARE THE REAL BEST MOVIE TRAILERS?

Search online for “The Best Movie Trailers of All Time” and most of the ensuing lists are examples of willful cultural ignorance– containing chiefly films of the 2000’s, and few movies made before 1994. It’s as if the media sites don’t believe the film industry existed before that time (roughly corresponding to their own lifespans). The dumbed-down feeding the dumbed-down. Cultural stupidity encouraging more cultural stupidity. Of the movies listed, most are of a piece: glorified music videos, with, instead of music, the same metallic “ca-ching!” similar to the irritating theme of the “Law and Order” television series. Or, no imagination.

Movie trailers at their best are an art unto themselves. At times as good or better than the films they’re promoting. Their purpose is simple: to be shown in movie theaters to encourage audience members to return to see another film. Which trailers over the years have best achieved this? (It’s not an accident that the best movie trailers are for what turned out to be blockbuster successes.)

With this in mind, here are my selections for best movie trailers. They’re not THE best trailers of all-time, but they’re certainly, artistically, five OF the best. In chronological order:

BEN-HUR (1959)

Note the emphasis on sound, AND the overlapping dialogue showing the film’s literate script while delineating the conflicts at stake. Also of course a requisite glimpse at the greatest action sequence in movie history (with no CGI), the chariot race:

Ben-Hur 1959

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PSYCHO (1960)

The trademark droll Alfred Hitchcock humor on display, as if introducing an episode of his TV series. Lulls you into thinking this will be an amusing flick. But is it? Watch all of it. Be aware of what Hitchcock is doing with the trailer: setting up the viewer in the same way a baseball pitcher uses change-ups to set up a batter. Variations in pace. The use of extreme contrast. Note also the Freudian-Jungian psychological break represented by his opening the curtain. A curtain to the subconscious, the unseen, but also a radical break with cinematic past. After this moment the art for good or ill would never be the same.

Psycho 1960

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WEST SIDE STORY (1961)

How will this trailer for a revival of the classic film compare with the one for the upcoming Stephen Speilberg remake? Not the best movie of 1961, but a box office hit time and again, in part due to its trailers.

West Side Story 1961

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BATMAN (1989)

Another prelude to a blockbuster, this trailer built up tremendous anticipation for the film, capturing Tim Burton’s gothic atmosphere as well as the perfection of the movie’s unusual (at the time) casting of Michael Keaton in the lead role. “I’m Batman.”

Batman 1989

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ONCE UPON A TIME IN . . . HOLLYWOOD (2019)

If the objective of a trailer is to get you back into the movie theater, this one sure worked with me. A perfect trailer for a very good movie.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 2019

Which one of these five movies, based on their trailers, would you most like to see in a movie theater?

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Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Working for the Man 2020

JOBS BOTH GOOD AND BAD

Modern Times Hero

ONE of the realms least understood by the intellectual class is that of work. They see it via categories and stereotypes. Since the world and its hierarchies to them is static– they’ve been trained within hierarchies to view it as such– they don’t realize the chief goal of everyone who works a shitty job is to leave it. 

At the same time they don’t understand that most of us out here in the world enjoy work. It gives us meaning. Purpose. Especially when it involves successfully completing tasks. The human animal has advanced through completing tasks. 

Last week we had several experiences with individuals who enjoy being competent at their jobs. Including an intelligent young plumber who quickly isolated the problem in the old house we rent, then described it as if he were Sherlock Holmes solving a case. Another, a cook at a local Mediterranean restaurant we frequent, explaining to us how he cooks chicken for sandwiches and salads to perfection. 

ON THE OTHER HAND there’s the world of fast food, and other industrial-minded professions which have brought hyper-efficiency to business, breaking service down to a series of repetitive, mundane tasks. Impersonal roles which could– and someday will– be performed by robots.

Our latest feature short story, “Hamburger Hill” by John Higgins, is as frightening an inside look at the fast food business as you’ll find.
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cabinet

THE JOYS OF WRITING

But what about writing?

THE APPEAL of writing in part is the work. The joy of making something. Constructing an entire world from a blank page. Giving the construction form, color, finish: appeal. Little different than making a cabinet. All writers– most, anyway– aim to present a well-made product.

On rare occasions that process is synonymous with the creation of art.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

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.

the high window

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.

333DDD 2-page-001 - Edited

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

Literature Living in the Past

(Editor’s Note: With this post we’re living in the past, in that this short essay originally appeared under the same title on August 9, 2013, at the Attacking-the-Demi-Puppets blog. It’s being reprinted because its approach represents the impetus behind our quest to reinvent the short story form– and because in five-plus years things haven’t much changed.)
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SHIRLEY JACKSON AND THE NEW YORKER

220px-Original_New_Yorker_cover

The centerpiece of The New Yorker’s August 5 summer fiction issue is a story by Shirley Jackson named “Paranoia.” In style the short story reads like any other New Yorker short story published over the past year. Being from Shirley Jackson, it’s more entertaining than the run-of-the-mill NewYorker story. The biggest difference between “Paranoia” and other well-crafted New Yorker stories is that the story “Paranoia” by Shirley Jackson is sixty years old.

Did the run-of-the-mill New Yorker reader notice?

Likely not. In the first place, fiction appearing in The New Yorker is never read, A.) because the magazine’s purpose isn’t to be read, but to sit upon refined coffee tables in upscale residences from Manhattan to Newport Beach (but not very much in Newport Beach) as a marker of breeding and good taste—the unique cover announcing the week’s message; and B.) because the pieces that are actually read when an ambitious subscriber decides to read the magazine are the movie reviews and show listings, maybe the week’s big think piece, but never—never—the fiction. That the magazine still publishes “fiction,” even if no one reads the fiction, is all that’s required. “Oh, the fiction,” a person responds, looking at the Table of Contents. “Still there. Good.”

In on-line blurbs for the issue, The New Yorker hearkens back to a previous New Yorker story by Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery,” which received more mail response than any story they’ve ever published, before or since. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson was published in 1948!

With today’s establishment-produced “fictions” we’re not talking about a healthy art form. There’s not been a lot of change in it. After sixty-plus years of presenting the same thing, the few remaining publishers of literary short stories have lost their audience. Renowned-but-little-read short story writer Charles Baxter acknowledges as much in a Daily Beast interview this week, with hardly a shrug. No attempt to understand the reasons. No desire to create something strikingly new. Charles Baxter has been writing the same kind of short stories for thirty years (not a long period from The New Yorker’s perspective). One thing we can bet about the short stories Baxter has published then and now is that they haven’t changed one iota. Since no one reads them, beyond dutiful writing students eager to learn how to duplicate them, does it matter?

A healthy art form—think of rock music from 1964 to 1967—is engulfed in explosions of creative discoveries everyplace, new trails blazed, the standard centerpiece of the art (the pop song) presenting radical new experiments and experiences by the week.

In literature, we get the unchanging literary story. As unchanged in 60 years as the proverbial generic McDonald’s hamburger left on a plate that never changes, always looking the same.

But The New Yorker is happy, and if they’re happy, the unthinking unblinking literary herd is also happy. Yes. A good year for the short story. 1948!

Maybe next they’ll bring back Joe DiMaggio to play for the Yankees.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

Why Change?

WHY CHANGE THE SHORT STORY ART?

THE ATTITUDE throughout the literary world is that our stories are very good no one could do better so why change anything?

Yet art like everything in nature needs to adapt, mutate, change.

The Rolling Stones

THERE ARE scores of bands today who can do anything the Rolling Stones did– in presentation, posturing, music– likely better, but the Stones got there first. Or almost first. Early enough.

Bob-Dylan

Hundreds, maybe thousands of wannabe folk singers can sing and play the guitar as well or better than Bob Dylan ever did– some even write as well– yet Bob Zimmerman got there before them.

ABBA_-_TopPop_1974_1

Dozens of singers in groups and bands can blend their voices as well as did the 70’s Swedish pop act ABBA. But ABBA did that kind of thing before them.
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Here’s a photo of an ABBA sound-alike group from California, Music Go Music. They’re pretty good. Ever hear of them?

music go music****

MEANWHILE, there are at least a hundred rock bands out there influenced by– and sounding and looking very much like– the classic rock band Led Zeppelin. Most prominent among them is Greta Van Fleet, which won the 2019 Grammy for Best Rock Band. (You know rock lost its cred and impetus when they created a Grammy category for it. Tamed and neutered.) Here’s a photo of the band:

greta van fleet

What, are we back in the 1970’s? This is not called reinventing an art form, or even renewing it. It’s called recycling something which lost steam more than twenty years ago. It’s art going through the motions– staying alive in a culture, but barely. On life support. (The situation “Literature” has been in for decades.)
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THERE ARE EVEN today painters who can paint just like Paul Gaugin and Vincent van Gogh (if not with quite their amount of passion and soul), but when those two artists came onto the scene no one was painting like they were painting.

We remember the pioneers, the innovators, the creators-not-regurgitators, in any field.

WHAT are we asking of short story writers?

We’re asking them to be prepared to scrap their current beliefs on how to write, to be ready to radically alter their present modes of writing– to be willing to change the way they view the art, because one way or another, from this corner or another, artistic change IS coming.

postcard-big-pop-11-page-001

Not “Literature.” Instead: POP LIT.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Busting the Supply-Demand Equation

THE NEED FOR FICTION REINVENTION

Tesla_colorado_adjusted

People fail to realize the extent to which most things in life are influenced by the supply-demand situation.

For instance in politics, the enormous oversupply of liberal arts graduates is one of the drivers of left-wing activity. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who after college worked as a bartender) is a classic example.

But what about art? Writing?

WHEN GOOD ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH

Many competent short story writers are published every year in literary journals across the country. Several of them are crafting short stories better than vaunted New Yorker magazine fiction– which for decades has been the model for writing programs across the nation. We’ve published a few of those better writers at our main New Pop Lit site.

Having fiction placed in The New Yorker has been thought of as the Holy Grail for the standard MFA writing student. Thousands of MFA grads are attempting to follow that model. To squeeze through that narrow doorway. Lining up. Jamming up. A department store before the doors open on Black Friday.

black-friday_target_long-lineup

THE PROBLEM

The problem is that there are too many creative writers, and too few paying-or-prestigious outlets for their work. A vast oversupply of product. To meet it, tiny demand: very few people who read the overwritten New Yorker model. Today the creative writer’s audience consists of other creative writers, who’ve been trained to read and appreciate that obsolete style of story writing. (New Yorker stories themselves, with rare exceptions, are unread by most New Yorker subscribers.) Well-crafted literary stories are made to be admired, not read.

Today it doesn’t matter how well you the writer can write. The margin of difference between the best and the merely competent is small enough that decisions on who deserves publication and attention are made for reasons other than quality and talent. Instead, they’re made for reasons of politics, correctness, or connections.

THE SOLUTION

breaking glass

The solution is to bust the supply-demand equation which currently exists in writing. This can be done on both ends.

1.) Create a faster, vastly more readable and exciting short story model– one so new and thrilling it demands to be read. Done right, this could grow the audience for short fiction several times over.

At this point the art is so marginalized there’s ample room for growth.

2.) Create a short story prototype so different from the standard– and difficult to do well– that few writers will be able to write it.

Doing this will create the “perfect storm” of jump-started demand, with few writers able to fill that demand. Those writers a step ahead of cultural history will be in a valuable spot. The vocation of fiction writer will become a worthwhile pursuit, for the first time in years.

Creating that new product won’t be easy. I’ve been working intensively on the matter for many months– really, longer (did my first rough version five years ago)– and am finding the going anything but easy.

Then again, life isn’t easy.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS