Reading Challenge!

OFF-THE-CUFF REVIEWERS NEEDED

We have a simple proposition to make. We invite readers far and wide to peruse two recently published short stories.

ONE is by much-lauded short story writer George Saunders, published in the November 9th issue (11-2 online) of the prestigious magazine The New Yorker, long considered the leading venue for short fiction in the United States.

The story: “Ghoul.”

THE OTHER, published by us November 6th, is by another short story writer, Nick Gallup. Of less renown but– in our modest opinion– of no less ability than the widely-honored Mr. Saunders.

The story: “Just Another Silly Love Song.”

OUR PROPOSITION:

WE INVITE any reader–any writer– to craft an honest comparison between the two stories– an evaluation, a criticism, a two-pronged review– answering the questions: Which story is better? Which presents the better reading experience? Which is better crafted and constructed? How well are the portrayals of the characters? How impactful is each story’s overall effect?

WE WILL publish any such review, submitted by anyone– twenty-five words to 500– as long as said essay reaches a minimum level of sense and coherence. We’ll edit/correct only for obvious spelling or grammatical mistakes. We won’t publish submissions we regard as obscene, or not in the spirit of the offer– but will give the writer of such submission notice, along with the opportunity to change what has been submitted.

THIS OFFER is open through the rest of the month of November, 2020.

The essays will be posted at this blog.

Are you up to it?

Please send your critiques to: newpoplit@gmail.com.

Thanks!

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Movie Melodramas

IS MELODRAMA A LEGITIMATE GENRE?

(from the Warner Bros film “The Roaring Twenties”)

Melodrama in literature, theater, and cinema has gotten a bad name merely because there’ve been so many bad melodramas over the years. (Just as too many contrived happy endings have given happy endings a bad name.) Melodrama is a style open to abuse by hack writers.

But we forget that Charles Dickens wrote melodrama. Wilkie Collins wrote melodrama. Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas both wrote melodrama.

MELODRAMA IN FILM

One of the peaks of melodrama in art came more than thirty years after the end of the Victorian era– in Hollywood, care of Warner Brothers gangster movies. Fast-paced plot, with acting and dialogue completely over-the-top, accompanied by a blaring Warner Brothers soundtrack. The intent was to play on audience emotion– to give moviegoers cathartic release; escape from Great Depression life.

As with any genre created at a particular point in time, the output was uneven. At its best, when all the trademark studio elements properly meshed, the result was terrific art.

THE BEST FILM MELODRAMAS

There were quite a few good ones, but three of the Warners movies stand out.

“Angels with Dirty Faces” (1938)

James Cagney overacts relentlessly, with the Dead End Kids along as foils, Ann Sheridan as the girl, Pat O’Brien as a priest, and Humphrey Bogart as bad guy– a role he played in many of these stories, until World War II came along and– Rick Blaine-style– his characters switched sides.

Not a perfect film, but the story builds swiftly amid societal chaos toward a famous (or once-famous) conclusion.

“Each Dawn I Die” (1939)

Even the title screams with emotion. The ultimate prison film, as framed anti-corruption reporter Cagney is sent to prison, where he meets up with mobster George Raft. A ton of drama and violence follows. As good as it gets, except for–

“Kid Galahad” (1937, aka “Battling Bellhop”)

(an excerpt from early in the film)

— the story and original title later used for a bad Elvis Presley movie.

The original version is terrific, starring Bette Davis and Edward G. Robinson, with Wayne Morris as the nicknamed prizefighter, and a sneering Humphrey Bogart along for the ride.

“Kid Galahad” takes the genre to another level, with a theme of love, unrequited and not, underlying the violence, emphasized with a dollop of soft focus cinematography. The ending– the Bette Davis character staring at a poster– conveys waves of emotion. The culmination of an unceasingly melodramatic plot.

CAN MELODRAMA RETURN?

There’s no reason why it shouldn’t. As we at New Pop Lit look for ways of reviving a stagnant literary art, we’ll add any weapon we can find to our arsenal of artistic styles. Fresh angles to throw at the world.

Which has resulted in our newest zeen:

Crime City U.S.A.

Available NOW! at our POP SHOP.

The Non-Graphic Novel

A mini-controversy was ignited on Twitter over this tweet from S. E. Hinton about her novel The Outsiders. (She has since reconsidered her opinion.)

THE QUESTION raised though is: How to account for the popularity of graphic novels? Is there more to their appeal than the visual?

When we say graphic novels, we’re talking about a longer or more ambitious version of a comic book, which had its direct origins in pulp detective fiction.

Go further back, and you can trace influences to popular authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Edgar Wallace, and to great proto-noir French novels of the early 20th century. Such as–

FANTOMAS!

–as well as Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera— which trace their origins to Grand Guignol theatre and, ultimately, to the mid-19th century mystery novel serializations of Eugene Sue, AND to the most important influence of them all, due to its enormous popularity, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

The Count of Monte Cristo is compulsively readable and endlessly fascinating– one of the great novels– not solely because of its revenge theme, but because of its:

A.) Atmospherics.

B.) Characterizations (especially the Count himself).

C.) Mysteries– which include a series of double identities.

The novel is melodramatic, particularly in its revelations of identity. Melodrama can get out of hand (in the hands of a Eugene Sue or the authors of Fantomas), but what it really means is the portrayal of extreme emotion.

CHARACTERISTICS OF COMICS

The epitome of both the comic book and the graphic novel, in this commentator’s opinion, is Batman, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939. Reaching its apex in the Dark Knight series by Frank Miller in 1986, which, while not inventing the form, firmly established it as legitimate art.

WHAT has made Batman, in print or film, so meaningful and wildly popular?

Its sense of mystery– starting with a secret identity centered around a “bat” costume, which itself adds to the nighttime atmospherics. The Batman is a creature of the shadows and the night, of shadows in alleys, and silhouettes on rooftops. Combine with a good versus evil dichotomy, fast-paced plotting, and striking, usually insane villains, and you have a formula for stimulating the imagination and entering into the deepest recesses of the subconscious. A formula for even, on occasion, shaking the underpinnings of the soul.

FOR THOSE to whom art is an intellectual exercise, such formula can be easily dismissed. Some of us though seek art which strikes deeper chords.

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REJUVENATING THE NOVEL

TO REGAIN its preeminent place in the culture, should the novel come full circle and readopt motifs from the nineteenth century? Should it place renewed emphasis on exaggeration and melodrama, on extremes of characterization and plot– albeit in a realistic or hyper-realistic setting?

Could graphic novels be written without the graphics– words substituting for images?

WHY NOT?

This is what we’re attempting anyway with our next “zeen” print publication, available for purchase by Wednesday, October 28, if not sooner, at our Pop Shop.

Don’t miss it!

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Is the Best Good Enough?

REFLECTIONS ON A NEW NOVEL

book cover darin

A NEW NOVEL has appeared from one of mainstream publishing’s best authors– The Queen of Tuesday by Darin Strauss. Strauss is a traditional novelist who specializes in imaginative historical fiction about celebrities or curiosities from past eras. His newest book covers the rise and life of classic television personality Lucille Ball– with an intermittent relationship between Ms. Ball and Strauss’s grandfather(!)– part real and part imagined– mixed in.

How capable a writer is Darin Strauss? His last book, a memoir, won a National Book Critics Circle award. The Queen of Tuesday has received rave reviews from the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Publishers Weekly, and many other outlets.

The Queen of Tuesday is about the creation of celebrity. Darin Strauss well captures the personality of the type. More, in the novel he’s tuned-in to celebrity culture, its glitz and hype– and by extension, to America itself. Celebrity is America.

An early scene–

THE BIRDS ABOVE Ocean Beach see the drum-shaped premiere lights slide glamour beams along the clouds. The birds see—with a clapped paper bag sound of wings passing—a giant steel-and-glass pavilion, all a-sparkle. The birds see Ziegfeld girls, restaurateurs, a late-arriving Broadway impresario exiting his pleasure sedan. That wind picks up, goosebumping eight hundred arms. The birds see pinups, radio luminaries, heartthrob clarinetists. They see the covetous attractive charmers who take root in the soil around celebrities. (These are the career fawners—the money-takers.) They see Bing Crosby in the flesh. And Ted Mack. And Mary Martin holding Vic Damone’s thick arm. They see clothes as a standard and elegant repression. They see the boardwalk as a splinter that pokes the beach in the eye.

1950’s glamour jumps from the page.

Lucille Ball’s career from failed Hollywood starlet to television phenom and production company owner is the quintessential American success story, more remarkable because Lucy did it in an era when women weren’t supposed to be in charge of a major company. When women were seldom seen at all in upper levels of the aggressively sexist three-martini corporate world of that era.

Strauss portrays the relentless hype of those times (with a Trump thrown in) and he captures the period’s Technicolor vibe. 

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It’s a fine novel. Darin Strauss is one of a cohort of hyper-competent authors deployed by publishing’s Big Five. Those who represent not mere temporary Sally Rooney trendiness, but the ability to produce well-crafted fiction seemingly at whim. Beautifully-crafted novels with gorgeous covers. Fit for display at the front of bookstores, so that publishers, editors, agents, the entire panoply of New York publishing can look at them and be well pleased with what they’re producing. Like a General Motors viewing an array of models at a dealership lot. No one could possibly produce a better literary product. No one could write a better book. On their own terms, these statements are completely true.

AND YET– ?

And yet– what’s wrong with this picture? If Darin Strauss isn’t the best contemporary American novelist, he’s near the top. His new novel is colorful and lively compared to those of his peers (from a Sally Rooney to a Jonathan Franzen). It displays every talent– yet, that Darin Strauss himself isn’t a celebrity, on a level which a Herman Wouk or Irwin Shaw reached in their day, says a lot not about Darin Strauss so much as the current literary system itself, and its place in society.

IN the 1950’s, the decade when Lucille Ball was achieving her fame, hyper-competent novelists like a Wouk or Shaw, a Gore Vidal or Norman Mailer or Ayn Rand or John Steinbeck (not to mention Hemingway) were themselves celebrities. Well-known public figures with large cultural footprints.

Today, for the greater American public, not even a Jonathan Franzen or Sally Rooney is a recognizable name– much less a face that would be recognized on the street.

WHAT HAPPENED?

One could write a book on what happened and be wrong in the analysis. But at some point it’s a failure of PR and marketing– has to be. Strauss’s publisher, Random House– the best out there– does everything by the book. It might be the same book from the 1950’s, and even if it’s not it’s time to change it. 

(Though like General Motors with their internal combustion vehicles, the products all look wonderful on display, and run/read well, so why change anything?)

THE NEED FOR CHANGE

Another factor, in this commentator’s opinion, is the need in any business, art, or cultural activity for change. To offer something new. There hasn’t been anything new in the literary realm since the Beats– who came to prominence at the same time Lucille Ball dominated the TV airwaves.

The template for the novel currently in use might be the best possible. No one using it would dream of smashing it for something way more unpredictable, crude, and unwieldy. Yet like 19th century artists destroying the status quo template of the painting, such destruction might be the only way to offer a fresh artistic experience– a different way of viewing the world– than currently available.

We’ll see.

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

The Zeenith Effect?

HOW DO WE DESCRIBE THE NEW?

giphy

We’ve been mulling over possible terms for the effect given the reader by opening the pages to either of our two new print zeens, Extreme Zeen and ZEENITH

The way the images and words seem to pop off the page.

The ZEENITH Effect? POPvision? POPcolor? Gigacolor? Dream Design?

new POP promo (2)-page-001 - Edited

We’re looking for something striking and original– matching the originality of the publications themselves. Which you can look at here.

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Zeenith Is Coming!

–an experiment in new publishing–

giphy

BE READY! July 21st we introduce a new form of literary publication unlike anything seen. (Except our own Extreme Zeen.) Faster, sharper, sleeker– with lines, looks, and colors throughout intended to dazzle the eye. Meant to kick off a new era in art, presentation, and writing. Includes eight terrific writers who create in a variety of styles. Inspired by classic print zines but of higher aspirations and palpable quality. A fusion of the best of zine and literary journal, throwing out everything stale and unnecessary. We call this historic new creation– 

ZEENITH!

-Be prepared to purchase your copy of ZEENITH at our POP SHOP beginning 9 a.m. TUESDAY.-

In so doing you will enter a new world of art and amazement.

ZEENITHZEENITHZEENITHZEENITHZEENITHZEENITHZEENITH. . . .

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Return to Print?

0713200946

THE INTERNET is in turmoil. Social media is turning hostile. Voices are being bounced be they on the left or the right. Warning signals sound like clanging bells saying, “Get off. Get out!”

In other words, it may be time to return to analog, to reality, tangibility; to something to touch with the hand like a real object and own. To PRINT.

–I note anyway that former zine publisher of Red Roach Press and other outsider projects “Joe Smith” has gone underground is producing samizdat once again in the form of a well-written zine called Alternative Incite. A zine title if ever there was one. A copy mysteriously appeared in our mailbox– yes we still have one– one afternoon– first real mail we’d received in an age amid the usual novel-sized paper blasts full of A & W and Burger King coupons. We were happy to receive it. Real mail! My favorite read in it was the Thoughts Provoked section giving opinions about articles in The New Yorker, The Economist, and Philosophy Now, while KMC (NPL Contributing Editor) most liked the essay about walking. There are also articles about “The Matrix,” about Henry Miller, about “The New Normal,” and other topics. Hearty reading.–

(Reading the fine print I discovered this note in the zine: “The price per issue is $3 and PayPal is accepted (send to manualpubs@yahoo.com).” There’s also a website: https://butter-lamb.com/

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But what of us? We at NPL HQ? In our frantic work at the underground (literally) New Pop Lit Literary Research Lab, have we produced anything resembling a print journal?

YES!

Though we call it not a zine, but a ZEEN. So named because we take an approach different from that of most zine writers– or lit mag editors, for that matter. For us, presentation is as important as the writing. We seek to make it easy to get to the words– to make it impossible not to.

Go to our online Pop Shop to see what we’re up to.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Styles of Failed Literature

MOVING BEYOND THE PRESENT: A DISTEMPERED ANALYSIS

fahren 451

FEW individuals involved in the creation and packaging of literature would argue there are any failed styles. After all, the Big Five book conglomerates remain in place, authors still receive six-or-seven-figure advances, and several of their books sell millions of copies. The industry chugs along.

HOWEVER, if the goal is to push the art and industry to new levels– to no longer consider “literature” as a separate phenomenon, but to compare it with other cultural happenings such as sports, movies, music– then as a whole literature is failing, because it’s no longer at the center of culture (as it once was), and is not connecting to large segments of the public in any fashion.

CURRENT OPTIONS

What are several of the current alternatives for writers and readers?

MEDICINE LITERATURE

harper lee

This comprises novels and books you’re supposed to read because they’re good for you. They address a cause or societal ill. At times they’re “of the moment” and sell well. Usually though they’re hitting you over the head with a problem you already know about, are poorly written, and deadly dull. They win plaudits and awards, but 999 out 1,000 aren’t going to generate excitement within the culture-at-large, sorry. Life isn’t fair.

“LITERATURE” LITERATURE

oates 2

This category includes standard big novels written by the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, as well as short stories by Oates, John Updike, Jonathan Franzen, Alice Munro, ad infinitum. The works are distinguished by Detail Disease, aka word clot. Meaning, they’re a slog to get through. Only the most intrepid young person (or adult) will make the effort. For those who do, it’s all the same tepid insights and weak-tea conclusions. Going to save literature, when it’s been the cause of literature’s downfall? Nope.

ADOLESCENT FANTASY LITERATURE

martin 2

An enormous category with a host of big-selling authors cranking out massive volumes of unending sagas. Behind them await tens of thousands of other wannabe-novelists creating their own interminable tomes. Why are these novels not the answer? After all, they do sell.

They’re not the answer because they’re crap. It’s impossible for any serious person beyond the age of seventeen– or twelve– to take any of it seriously. Yes, many do. You see them dressed in bizarre costumes at fantasy or sci-fi conventions. The books are popular. That’s good. There are lessons to be taken from it. It remains silliness, not great art.

On top of that, none of the famed authors has the requisite charismatic persona to upend the culture. George R.R. Martin is not going to.

DYSTOPIAN AND POST-APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE

atwood

Margaret Atwood is the best-known contemporary practitioner of this kind of work. In the Age of Hysteria we’re living through, they add more hysteria. Truth is, there have been two or three, tops, of these kind of authors who’ve been any good, George Orwell among them. Even Brave New World is a terrible novel.

DEPRAVITY LITERATURE

martin-bukowski

Maybe horror novels can be grouped in this category (though many belong in fantasy with the vampires and werewolves). This category includes sub-Bukowski Lit, where the author becomes as gross and psychotic as possible in constructing the narrative– and likely, in real life, is. (Incel Lit is a new variation.)

NEOCON LITERATURE

brad thor

This category was popularized by Tom Clancy of Hunt for Red October fame, but might be more typified by spy novelists Robert Ludlum, Vince Flynn, and Brad Thor, who each presumably have teams of agents in Langley, Virginia writing their books for them. (They’d have to, because Ludlum and Flynn have moved on from this world.)

My attitude toward these novels might be typified by a review I wrote about one of their number back in 2012 at a now-defunct blog.

CONCLUSION

My informed conclusion is that nothing coming from one of these categories will rescue the literary game. They’re accepted and known.

What will take the literary art to another level?

THAT is what we’re working on. Stay tuned.

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

 

 

Extreme Zeen Debut

THE FUTURE IS HERE

EZ in plastic
(Pictured: Copy of Extreme Zeen in safety plastic.)

YES, it’s here. The world’s first (?) Technicolor literary journal. Includes colorful visuals. Made of high-quality paper. Merely an early sign of the many wonderful products on our drawing board.

HOW does one interest the world in books and literature?

By presenting a more exciting experience. Extreme Zeen is about having that experience.

Are you ready for it? Then head to our online Pop Shop and purchase a copy. Better yet, purchase TWO copies and give one to a friend or relative.

two copies EZ - Edited

The world is changing. So is literature.

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Start-Ups and Upstarts

BUSINESS HISTORY AND THE ARTS

Muddy Waters

To understand the role start-ups have played in the economy and in reinvigorating the culture, one need only look at the music business. If America had been strictly a rigid tops-down nation, there would never have been the populist explosion of rock n roll, which began in the 1950’s. (And was followed by punk, hip hop, and other variations.)

WHAT if the only people entitled to call themselves musicians were decided by musicologists, requiring academic degrees and proper certificates? The institutional mindset.

sun

Rock n roll was started by low-rent hustlers like Leonard Chess and Sam Phillips, with upstart little record companies like Chess and Sun Records. Start-ups? Of course! They were nothing but– as was Motown Records, founded by Berry Gordy Jr. with $600 in seed money, “venture capital,” from his sister. (Gordy at the time was working on a Detroit production line.)

Rock n roll music, scorned by intellectuals and critics, was strictly a product of America’s lower classes. The entrepreneurs were two-bit salesman. The artists were from the poorest sections of the country, whether they be Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley– or the Supremes, who were discovered in a Detroit housing project.

supremes

Hundreds of other start-up little record companies failed. Such is the way capitalism works. Enough succeeded to transform American (and world) culture– and in the process multiply the music business many times over, providing pleasure to millions– and opportunity to hundreds of musical artists, who in a rigidly controlled system, managed by apparatchiks and credentialed experts, would never have had opportunity at all.

The irony is the nature of free enterprise capitalism, when turned loose, levels the playing field more than a system which depends on decision-making from above– where selections are made according to a.) standardized testing b.) cronyism and connections c.) how well one conforms to the prevailing ideology imposed from above. It’s the difference between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. Between a dynamic system and a static one. (The dynamism of America, expressed through rock music, infiltrated the Soviet Bloc and contributed to its collapse.)

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graham bell

Upstarts/start-ups have been with us for at least 200 years– seen in the careers of imaginative individuals like Elias Howe, Cyrus McCormick, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford  — on up to Steven Jobs, Elon Musk and Travis Kalanick. They propelled the United States to quickly becoming the world’s largest economy, creating millions of jobs and many trillions of dollars of wealth in the process. Economic value is the product of the human mind. All of this should go without saying, but in this bizarro upside-down world we live in, it doesn’t.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS