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.)
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.)
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?
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”?
(Comments about this matter from any and all parties are welcomed.)
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.
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 CarolOates 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.
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. *******
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. ****
WHAT BETTER day to introduce the 3–D Short Story than D-Day, June 6th?
“D-Day” in 1944 was the date American, British, and other Allied soldiers under the overall direction of General Dwight Eisenhower invaded the European continent to help rescue it from the Nazi menace. The assault changed the face of the war. Within a year the Nazi regime was over, Adolf Hitler dead from a self-inflicted bullet wound in the mouth.
WILL the 3–D Short Story change the literary scene that swiftly? To that extent?
I’ve been engaging in a lot of talk about the three-dimensional story, and will engage in more of it, BECAUSE whether or not we at New Pop Lit are able to perfect the idea– or someone else does– it’s a way out of the box into which the literary art has placed itself.
WHO needs the 3–D short story?
EVERYONE involved in the literary game in any way needs it– including at the highest levels, which are filled with caretakers and functionaries as much as literary artists. The scene is starved for a new kind of product– akin to the automobile business in the early 1950’s before the arrival of the Corvette, the Thunderbird, and the Mustang.
(Especially had the only models available back then been stodgy Studebakers and Ramblers. Which is the condition of today’s established literary world.)
TIME FOR A NEW MODEL
The 3-D Story is the key to unlocking the future of literature. At this time, at New Pop Lit headquarters, in our labs and workshops, we’re furiously designing story prototypes– discarding some, keeping others, with a single goal:
To create the most brilliant and exciting short story ever written.
Once the new model is perfected and street-ready– fully readable and unique– the task will become leveraging it. Properly announcing the better literary product to the world.
These posts, at this blog, are laying that groundwork. *******
THE PROBLEM is that the new-style three-dimensional short story (now on our drawing board) is ridiculously difficult to write. The original plan was to have five or six prototypes finished by summer. As of now: One completed, another being worked on. I’ll be lucky to have that story revised and polished by summer. I have another 3-D story outlined (sketchy notes for others), and still hope to have that one ready by Halloween, as it has a Halloween theme.
My partner is trying the idea with a novel she’s been writing. ****
My first half-assed attempt to place into reality ideas regarding “literary montage” was in 2014. That story attempt morphed into a novella–
ONCE the improved 3-D story is launched and successful, the price of “X” will be set dramatically higher, because– as imperfect as it is– the work contains enough clues on what the fully-realized version should look like to give the game away. IF the idea truly works, the trend-following literary herd will be certain to grab onto the concept. We plan to hold a monopoly on the style as long as we can.
The goal: To surpass-not-match ANY contemporary short story written by anybody.
With the 3-D story we fully intend to SHOCK the literary world.