Adrienne Miller and the Big Brain Boys Club

DISAPPEARING FICTION AND WHY

esquire 2
THE LATEST BOOK WORLD NEWS is a memoir by former Esquire magazine Literary Editor Adrienne Miller entitled In the Land of Men. In it Miller details her problems handling giant male egos during her years in the Manhattan magazine realm– most notably that of David Foster Wallace. The book is discussed in various publications, including in an essay, “Infinite Jerk” by Laura Marsh at the New Republic.

MOST INTERESTING to this commentator are the assumptions made by Ms. Marsh about the decline of interest in fiction, at Esquire and throughout the clubby New York City world:

Miller declares her faith in “vibrant, necessary fiction. . .”

. . .the decline of the publishing industry and the shrinking demand for literary fiction.

• . . .her industry is dying and that her publication is less and less interested in acquiring fiction also puts limits on her career. When she starts at Esquire, the magazine is publishing 10 short stories a year; by the time she leaves, she can barely get anything into print, and her bosses kill a Wallace short story that she has labored on for months. All this comes after she wins an ASME award for fiction.

Never once does Laura Marsh question why fiction was disappearing at Esquire. That maybe the award-winning stories Miller was accepting were failing to engage the public. That perhaps, “literary” fiction of the prestigious self-involved style written by David Foster Wallace and other Big Ego Members of the Club was obsolete by the time Adrienne Miller came along. (And more obsolete now.) That to Miller and her friends, impressive fiction was more important than an exciting story a typical Esquire buyer might actually read.

(During the 2000’s, while Adrienne Miller plied her trade, a change-oriented writers group named the Underground Literary Alliance, whose mission was to promote more authentic and relatable writing– as well as to expose corruption in the established literary realm– referred to hyped authors such as Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers, George Saunders, and others of that type as “The Big Brain Boys Club.” No one listened to the group. Even for an Adrienne Miller it was more important to “go along to get along.” Question nothing.)

ARTISTIC CHANGE

In any field– including literature– change is inevitable. The more it’s delayed, the more drastic that change is going to be. One day the Manhattan literary crowd will glance over the high walls of their crumbling castle to see change approaching– and still won’t understand what’s happening.

<<<<>>>><<<<>>>>

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Diversity Dilemmas?

PROBLEMS IN PUBLISHING DEPARTMENT

b and n covers

THE BIG NEWS in the publishing world this week is the cancellation (in both meanings of the term) of Barnes & Noble’s “Diverse Editions” series– someone’s ill-advised marketing strategy for Black History Month, which consisted of putting black faces on the covers of classic novels like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Critics argue that instead of such superficial gestures, big-time publishers should be signing more authors of color– to celebrate actual literary diversity. (A recent Lee and Low survey indicates that 79% of those who work in the publishing and book review industries are white. The same survey states that 78% of those in the field are women, but no one seems too concerned about that!)

Yes, by all means the Big Five publishing world based in New York City needs more diversity. There’s one super-huge problem in obtaining it– the over-reliance by these publishers on staffers with an Ivy League pedigree. (With a smattering of Stanford grads and upper-class Brits thrown in.)

The universities publishers recruit from sit at the top level of the most hierarchical and regressive industry in America: higher education.

What, you say? How could this be possible?

Universities are designed to be exclusionary. That’s, er, their whole point– to create artificial monopolies in field after field, industry after industry. Most pronounced the higher the prestige– and endowment– of the particular institution. A guild mentality, where if you’re a Member of the Club you get all the benefits. If not, tough luck. Gotta have that certificate, folks. Credentialism. “Meritocracy”– where as we’ve seen with recent scandals, the wealthy and powerful have better access to obtain the benefits for their ostensible merits. 

THIS IS MOST PRONOUNCED with Ivy League schools. Especially with Harvard and Yale. We recently went through a stretch where every U.S. President from 1988 up to 2016 was a graduate of either Harvard or Yale. Or both.

Is that what democracy looks like?

It might be that not until the “Big Five” lose their monopolistic position in the publishing world will true diversity arrive regarding the books that are published and promoted in America right now.

(Which is one reason we exist as a literary project.)

>>>><<<<>>>>

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

 

The Social Justice Merry-Go-Round

OR, VIRTUE-SIGNALING MUSICAL CHAIRS

am dirt cummins

Pity the poor book conglomerates! New York City’s “Big Five.” They want to do the right thing, to be on the side of progress, social justice and all that, but they keep making missteps. Could it be the giant institutions and their Ivy-educated staffs are too removed from these issues? Too out of touch?

The latest mistake being the seven-figure-advanced publication of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Intended as a takedown of the horrors of the border crisis, instead the book has caused a furor among LatinX writers, who see the novel as exploitation of the issue by a person who shouldn’t be commenting. (Ms. Cummins looks Latina, but apparently isn’t.)

cummins 

Another Rachel Dolezal? Elizabeth Warren? Or not?

I’m not going to comment on the book, its author and the controversy further, other than to say that perhaps the problem is with the huge conglomerates themselves. That the solution is to encourage more independent publishers, smaller and closer to the ground, instead of a one-size-fits-all bureaucracy that will always get things wrong– in the flurry of virtue signaling-run-amok, with so many ambitious writers out there, a bureaucracy that will continually behave incorrectly or be scammed, despite or because of their good intentions.

(And no, the answer is not to nationalize the book business. Sorry, Marxists. Replacing five too-large cronyistic-and-insular monoliths with one even larger monolith solves nothing.)

The best answer, as with so much else in this contentious country, is DIY. More access. More options.

(Note: American Dirt was published by Flat Iron Books, an imprint of Macmillan Corp. Flat Iron’s publisher Amy Einhorn, who gave the seven-figure advance, is a graduate of Stanford, not an Ivy League college.)

<<<<<<<>>>>>>><<<<<<<

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Romance Writers Catfight!

TURMOIL IN A RENOWNED WRITERS ORGANIZATION

catfight 3

What’s the biggest story in the book world right now?

Without question, it’s controversy within the 10,000-member Romance Writers of America organization.

The controversy was kicked off when Chinese-American author Courtney Milan was sanctioned by the RWA Board of Directors– apparently for expressing an opinion about depictions, in another author’s work, which Milan perceived as racist.

THERE SEEM, to this commentator, to have been overreactions all over the place. First, the egregious actions by the board. Then, the firestorm blowback from Milan and her supporters. More contentious than the dispute between the U.S. and Iran, Trump and Khamanei?

catfight 2

In many ways, yes, because there was no attempt to pullback, much less compromise. Instead, accusations from both sides. From Courtney and Company, cries of racism and calls for “radical inclusion.” From their foes, those they derogatorily call NWL’s (Nice White Ladies), charges of censorship and cancel culture.

The result: Yesterday, the resignation of RWA president Damon Suede. (Could that possibly be his real name?) With the existing level of dissension and hurt feelings, there appears no way this matter will be resolved smoothly.

(The latest question: Whether Damon Suede even properly qualified to be RWA president in the first place. He appears to have fudged the eligibility requirements.)

The biggest irony? That the dispute takes place among a group of authors devoted to, of all things, romance. Have they forgotten the adage, “Make love, not war”?

Just asking!

(Comments about this matter from any and all parties are welcomed.)

catfight 1

>>>>>>><<<<<<<

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Trump versus Khamenei Steel Cage Match!

FIGHT OF THE DECADE!

New Pop Lit Presents Trump vs Khameni

AS A WAY to avoid war between the United States and Iran, we at NEW POP LIT hereby offer to stage and promote a Steel Cage Match between the leaders of the respective nations, Donald J. Trump and Ayatollah Khamenei, at a place and date to be announced.

It will, of course, be Pay Per View. We expect the event to break all previous PPV records. Or: It will be YUGE!!

(We ask the two parties to contact us asap to quickly arrange this great match! Thanks. NewPopLitATgmailDOTcom.)

steel cage

********

Pushcart Nominations 2019

0830191341

OUR GOAL at New Pop Lit is to do things correctly in the microcosm before we start on the macrocosm. This means, finding exciting work from new writers which approximates the kind of literature we’d like to someday distribute throughout the world on a massive scale.

These thoughts were present in choosing our 2019 nominations for the Pushcart Prize. Conciseness and intelligence combined with condensed energy.

Along with other considerations. (Such as low ink levels in our printer!) Having to send in hard copies of nominated work, our tendency was toward brevity. Fewer pages.

AS every year, there was more good work to choose from than could be chosen. Selections to some extent are arbitrary. One criteria this year was that each of the three stories chosen, and each of the three poems, fit our model– be excellent– yet at the same time be different from the others. Unique. The three poetry selections are very different from one another. As are the three stories also very different from one another. 

POETRY

“That’ll Do, Pig” by James D. Casey IV
published March 8, 2019

“Head Honcho” by Kai Warmoth
published March 15, 2019

“Sailor Song” by Jess Mize
published April 12, 2019

FICTION

“The Uncertainty” by Alexander Blum
published June 27, 2019

“Spoiler Alert” by Angelo Lorenzo
published July 24, 2019

“The Prop Comic” by Bud E. Ice
published September 30, 2019

MUCH THANKS to all the writers who allowed us to publish their work in 2019!

gisèle-freund-james-joyce-with-adrienne-monnier-and-sylvia-beach-in-shakespeare-and-co.-book-shop
*******

The Joyce Carol Oates Ad

MASTER CLASSES AND EXPERTS

joyce_oates

ANYONE watching Youtube videos the past several days has been hit with utterly pretentious ads for something called “Master Class.” Among them is one by Joyce Carol Oates which might be the apex of the type, for a variety of reasons.

“Joyce Carol Oates Teaches the Art of the Short Story.”

Yes, budding writers. You’re original, you’re unique. You’re YOU. Now follow these rules so you can craft the acceptable literary story which looks and sounds like what everyone else is doing. . . .

****

RULE OF THE EXPERT

RECENTLY I read a fascinating old book on tutoring by Samuel L. Blumenfeld. (A contrarian kind of expert, who in his day bucked the educational establishment.) In the book, Blumenfeld explains that the alphabet and 0 to 9 numbering system were primitive coding tools: “–the great intellectual leap forward” providing narrow roads for humans out of their fog of ignorance. Primitive ways for understanding the complexities of the universe– a universe which today’s physicists are discovering is 1,000 times more complicated and unknowable than Newton dreamed of. They’re usable tools– simple versions of other tools which might someday be available.

Or: In the greater scheme of things none of us knows as much as we like to tell ourselves about how this world operates. Or of what could be known.

From the first day of school we’re brainwashed to believe in experts– made to adopt the illusion that we humans fully understand this world. That all answers are possible and available. Yet by using our own limited animal brains– along with simplistic coding tools like language or computers– we’re incapable of fully comprehending the cosmos.  (Ancients flipped the script– believing the only fully true knowledge was revealed knowledge: the mind of the universe intentionally communicating to us.)

This society remains sold on the idea of experts. Not on those grasping with humility for knowledge, no, but instead, those assumed to already have it. Nowhere is this more evident than in the writing game.

THERE ARE hundreds more possibilities of how to write a short story than, say, of how to play the high-level chess game. Yet students in writing programs are taught there’s only one way: the accepted, well-crafted literary story.

ONE of the Assumed Experts in this matter is Joyce Carol Oates. And so we’re presented by an outfit named Master Class with the Joyce Carol Oates Master Class Video. For a fee, of course.
****

“ONE OF THE TOWERING CAREERS IN AMERICAN LETTERS”

In her ad for the class, Oates fully adopts the role of Expert. Font of all literary wisdom. The appeal to the fledgling writer is not the presumed outcome– the creation of art– but instead, the self. Feeding the writer’s ego.

“If one can face the darkest elements in oneself, and things that are secret, you have such a feeling of power.”

(Among other things, this is pure gnosticism.)

“You’re going to explore your own imagination deep within you.”

Er, what about experience and observation?

“Language is the point.”

This is the philosophy of the literary writer. The words are more important than the tale.

Oates stands against the idea of a story moving too fast– she knocks the notion of reading a story in five minutes or less. (Note her smirk on the video at the very idea of it.) Never mind that pop music exploded in popularity when it offered songs with an average length of two minutes. They were dynamic, sharp, fun, and left the listener wanting more.

The Joyce Carol Oates technique is to offer the reader too much, drowning the narrative in insignificant details to slow down its pace. Anything to keep it from moving too fast. That would be wrong– at least by her moldy standards, which haven’t changed in sixty years. A time during which the short story has plummeted in size of audience, public interest, and cultural importance.

In the actual class Oates apparently talks about how interruptions are “the #1 thing that ruins creativity.” Well of course they are– if the technique is to draw the story solely from the imagination. This is the stale literary idea which posits The Writer as pristine individual existing in a bubble apart from the rowdy mass. Interruptions? People? LIFE?! NO! the precious Oates-style writer screams. Not when I’m in the middle of my imaginings!!

A DIFFERENT kind of writer welcomes interruptions, noise, life– Shakespeare at a tavern downing pints– because that writer knows experience is a writer’s material. Plot ideas and thematic points will still be in the brain in the morning. Along with much more– the insight and depth which come with being part of the social world.

oates class

The Master Class is aimed at upper-middle class aspirants who wish to become writers but unsure how to go about it. This is obvious in the two bougie students depicted eagerly accepting advice from the all-knowing oracle. The art of literature itself has dwindled in importance during the life of the Joyce Carol Oates career, but she herself has done fine, which is all that matters for the ambitious scribes. Find new literary territory? Write in a new way? Cannot be contemplated. Too risky. Pay your money and learn from the Voice of Authority. Of the status quo. Princeton professor. The same-old same-old.
****

On the other  hand, I and my partner in this project and in life, Kathleen Marie Crane, are seeking new territory. Our tactics include speeding up the art. Speed and immediacy are our object. Instant connection with the reader– as fast as punchy as a punk rock song. We know people will dismiss our experiments. The early products won’t look like anything that would be taught in a “master class.” We proceed regardless– because change is what art is and has always been about.
*******

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

 

 

 

 

Will the Revolution Be Co-opted?

WILL CAPITALISTS BUY OUT COMMUNISTS, SOCIALISTS, DSA ET.AL.?

aoc toy figure

THEY ALREADY HAVE!

Witness the new Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Action Figure from a Brooklyn-based outfit named FCTRY, run by CEO Jason Feinberg and Chief Design Officer Alyssa Zeller Feinberg.

“We turn ideas into products!” FCTRY claims. “We marry pop design to mass production, turning original concepts into global brands.”

Other action figures include that legendary foe of Corn Pop, Joe Biden.

ID_Biden_WithBox_1080_1024x1024

Am I criticizing FCTRY? Not at all! Tremendous kudos and respect to them for their initiative. They get what it’s all about. 

(For more information on their products, go on their website.)
*******

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

 

A Jerry Lewis Essay

buddy-love_opt

WE’VE received good positive feedback for an essay we recently ran at our main site, “Jerry and Me” by esteemed Hollywood producer and director Alan Swyer– a mini-coup for New Pop Lit to be given this inside look at one of show business’s biggest all-time personalities. Worth a look if you haven’t already read it.
****

Summer Reading 2019

YOU WANT summer fiction? WE have summer fiction.

beach reading

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

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

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

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

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

sunset
*******