Blackballing 2018

A FICTIONAL EXAMINATION OF DEPLATFORMING AKA CENSORSHIP

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WE BELIEVE that fiction is a valid way of addressing current issues. “Fiction” can illuminate truths escaping other forms of investigation and argument.

The trick, of course, with writings that are in any way political, is making them credible. Putting balance into them so they’re not simply polemics. Not merely an unbalanced screed. Toward that end I focused as much on the failings of the lead character as on the issue he deals with. That much-dissed concept of objectivity comes into play.

The short story is “Safe Zones,” posted at one of my several personal blogs. (When deplatforming of myself occurs, eliminating all my forums and writings will be no easy task!)

***One of the things I wanted to convey in the story is how we’ve completely lost control of our own lives. That everything we do today requires a technological platform of some kind– without them, it’s difficult to live; to survive.***

Feedback to the ideas expressed, and to the writing itself, is welcomed.

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

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The High School Nightmare

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OF ALL THOSE entities being blamed for recent school shooting tragedies, no one looks at the American high school itself. Those not-so-wonderful places of cliques, strivings, desires and divides. At New Pop Lit  we’ve run a few stories in recent months about the pressure cookers that are high schools.

The most recent was the intense “Eighty Pounds” by Jon Berger.

Before that, we had Clint Margrave‘s powerful story about high school bullying, “The Fetus.”

We also recently ran a short story written by a current high school student, under the pseudonym A.K. Riddle. The story is called “The Professor.”

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ALL THREE of these tales are must reads for those seriously wishing to understand high schools from the inside. Truth from fiction.

 

 

Our 2017 Pushcart Choices

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WE HAVE an image in our heads of a back room at Pushcart Press. In the room are envelopes– stacks of postmarked envelopes. Corridors of mountains of stacks of mailed envelopes sent by every literary press or project in America– nominations for the 2017 Pushcart Prize. Ours is there, in the room, somewhere, among them.

We’re optimists, so we designed our mailing and its Intro letter– and chose our nominees– with a goal in mind: winning the elusive prize. The odds? What are odds!? We sneer at the odds! We have no “name” writers, and we aren’t a name ourselves to the good people at Wainscott, New York. But we’re here and we believe in ourselves and our project.

This year we published a number of excellent stories, poems, and profiles. Many could have been nominated. We used reasoning and rationalizations to make our selections– all such decisions are ultimately arbitrary, based on whim and whisper as much as logic. So it was with us.

OUR SELECTIONS and the reasons for them:

Elusive Instinct” by Ana Prundaru.

Simple, clear writing. Perfectly easy to get into, but with marked style as well. No easy trick to accomplish. A story whose tone and mood fits the stylish aesthetic to which we aspire.

“Dry Bones” by Sonia Christensen, and “The Fetus” by Clint Margrave.

Two well-written, powerful stories which begin with intriguing openings. Read the first sentences of both of them. The titles themselves are provocative and visual. More than this, the stories are works of art with depth of meaning to them.

“Operative 73 Takes a Swim”  by Wred Fright.

This one is so different from the norm in execution, ideas, and plot we believe it would catch anyone’s eye. Even in Wainscott, should any eye happen to glance at it, within the mountains and stacks. Like the others, it’s also a terrific little tale. Wred has published work with New Pop Lit on several occasions, is overdue for recognition from us. The lesson: keep sending us work!

Finally, we nominated two short-but-striking Appreciations of American writers, which we published as part of the ongoing All-Time American Writers Tournament.

One, about Philip K. Dick, is by D.C. Miller. The other, about Gene Wolfe, is by Robin Wyatt Dunn. Two able wordsmiths who can do much with a limited amount of words.
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We love and respect all the writers we’ve published, and all who’ve submitted work. Without the writer we’re nowhere– just a blank screen awaiting the magic of art.

Ackerman-Kennedy Parallels

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WHEN STUDYING history one finds parallels between this period and that one. Between the past and today. They can sometimes be amusing parallels, and other times informative ones. Patterns of the past give us clues to the present. On rare occasions, they help us predict what might happen next.

The career of Elliot Ackerman, a Finalist for the National Book Award in the Fiction category, has similarities to the early life and career of John F. Kennedy.

The most important factor in both cases is the presence of a powerful father. A self-made, dominating figure who the son needs to please, impress, and match. Both fathers, Joseph Kennedy and Peter Ackerman, can be considered complex and contradictory personalities embodying the contradictions– the virtues and failings– of America itself. Both, determined realists and steadfast idealists, accused of corruption while achieving laudable success and spectacular wealth. Both combined business with politics.

The oldest Kennedy son, Joe, died in a foolhardy airplane mission during World War II, trying to prove his courage. The second son, John, proved his bravery in the PT 109 incident in the Pacific during the same war.

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Elliot Ackerman plunged into war in at least as dramatic a fashion– proven by his Silver Star and Purple Heart. WHY does a young man of comfort and privilege behave in this manner? What internal or external needs drive him?

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Patriotic? Indisputably. Ambitious? How ambitious? A son seeking to escape the very large shadow of a strong and successful father.
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Remember that the JFK myth was based not solely on a heroic resume, but also the credentials of an intellectual. John Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for his book, Profiles in Courage. A necessary step in his quick ascension to power.

Elliot Ackerman is building as impressive a resume. We can legitimately ask of this man of action if his writing career is one step toward a larger goal. Warrior. Journalist. Author. He’s been involved in politics through he and his father’s organization, Americans Elect.

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HOW BIG a role does Elliot’s father play in the construction of Elliot’s career? How far does Peter Ackerman resemble Joseph Kennedy. HOW MUCH does Peter Ackerman want his son to win the National Book Award? These are questions a literary critic and analyst must ask. Peter Ackerman’s life and career, his remarkable attainments and ambition, his ability to push the limits, demand that we ask them.

One recent war hero, Phil Klay (who has interviewed Elliot Ackerman), has won the National Book Award, for Fiction in 2014.

Can Elliot Ackerman do less?

-K.W.
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NEXT: We assess the odds in the Fiction category– and perhaps make a prediction.

(Read our previous posts! Ours is THE most thorough coverage of the 2017 National Book Awards.)

 

 

Fake Diversity

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NO DOUBT those involved with the National Book Awards are congratulating themselves on the diversity of their selections. Yes, the identity politics crowd is happy. Of the 20 finalists, 11 are persons of color. (Two others immigrated here.) 15 of the 20 are women. Four out of five finalists of the most prestigious category, Fiction, are women of color. For those at home counting, double bonus points. For Fiction alone, there’s a Chinese-American and Korean-American and Cuban-American and African-American.

AS LONG as we’re playing the hyphen game, where are the Polish-Americans and Serbian-Americans and Slovak-Americans? The Croatian/Greek/Hungarian/Ukrainian/Lithuanian/Italian-Americans? Those whose people were brought over here to work brutal jobs in steel mills and coal mines and auto plants– who were never given the privilege to which white skin color supposedly entitles one in the hallucinatory visions of the actual privileged at Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Princeton, and Stanford; in the imaginings of those who write the PC rules that organizations like the National Book Foundation now follow.

If one is meant to see representatives of identity at such affairs– where’s mine? They’re not in the white publishers pulling strings behind the scenes, with whom I have nothing in common beyond skin color.

If appearances matter, the Awards appear to have eliminated an entire large swath of America from consideration– especially if one adds in working-class whites in Appalachia, Kansas, the Rust Belt, and other parts of the nation overlooked by Manhattan mandarins eager to appear as correct as possible; those who dominate such “charitable” organizations. (The actual charity involved being minimal.)

Fiction Finalist Jesmyn Ward says of the notion of a color-blind America: “I don’t know that place. I’ve never been there.” (This despite achieving degrees at both University of Michigan and Stanford.) Except there’s no choice but to live in a post-racial America if there’s to be any kind of harmony in this chaotic nation.

More important for an arts organization than superficial diversity of the cosmetic or hyphenated kind is diversity of ideas. At the big Awards ceremony Wednesday night one can be assured there will be NONE.

Will there be a single individual holding an opinion on politics and culture different from the rest of the audience? (A Trump voter, for instance?) If there is, the person won’t announce it! (First reaction if did: “How did he get in here?” Second reaction: Naked hostility. Third reaction: Career over.)

Which brings us to the token straight white male among the Fiction Finalists: Elliot Ackerman. A white guy? How did he slip in there??

Working-class whites are readily thrown overboard when equality and diversity become an issue– though few were on board to start with. But there’s always room for the super-elite, or children of the super-elite, and Elliot Ackerman is proof.

Eliot_ackerman_8929(Elliot Ackerman.)
A genuine war hero in the war in Afghanistan, Ackerman, methinks, is on his way to becoming a U.S. Senator. JFK anyone?

(We’ll assume, for the sake of his own survival Wednesday, that he’s a proper liberal. Likely a neo-liberal. Afghanistan may be tough, but inflamed ideologues in a mob are another matter.)

A Marine for eight years, Elliot served as a CIA Special Operations Officer as well. More recently he was Chief Operating Officer of Americans Elect, a political organization founded and chaired by his father. Elliot was a White House Fellow in the Obama Administration. He’s written for every establishment publication in existence, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The New Republic, and others. Conspiracy theorists out there can note he’s also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

THE FATHER
Elliot’s father Peter Ackerman has been a liberal icon, an international scholar, a consultant to student protesters in China, and on the boards of several liberal political organizations. He’s also worked for the investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert where he made an estimated 300 million-plus dollars, was involved in the Michael Milken junk bond insider trading scandal, and paid a $73 million settlement with the FDIC. In 2005 the U.S. Tax Court ruled that Peter was involved in an illegal $1.7 billion tax shelter. He’s had either an exciting establishment career, or a typical one, depending on how you look at things.

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How did Elliot get his book in the Awards, indeed!

Why focus so much on the writers, anyway? Writers are merely the outward excuse for throwing a lavish party for Bigs of New York publishing, with accompanying tax write-offs. The party, not the writers or writing, is the point.

-MORE TO COME-

K.W.

Hyper-Talents Part II

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PORTRAITISTS: Part II of Hyper-Talents of the New Literary Age

We’re not into solipsistic convolutions of words, the postmodern linguistic games many status quo writers use to justify their funding and station. We prefer writing which is clear and direct, so that emotion and meaning hit the reader straight on, between the eyes.

We believe art is about meaning and emotion. We believe if done right, good writing can be appreciated by almost anyone. That’s where “pop” comes into the equation.

Many new writers are portrait painters. Their stories are usually short. Their words are brushstrokes, painting an image which enters the reader’s head.

These do not give you every last detail of the setting or experience. They’re impressionists, in which simplicity achieves a more intense version of reality. Less truly is more in their art. “Bang. Bang. Bang.” The tale is suddenly over. The reader is surprised. Moved. In some cases, devastated.

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Their work is the heritage of late-nineteenth century painters via literary interpreters like Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway– the past fifty years of postmodern game-playing passed over. To everyone’s relief, except French intellectuals and American professors needing tenure. But at least as great an influence as painting is American popular music, starting with rock and roll. The direct expression of emotion, culminating in the hyper-fast, hyper-simple expression of punk. Granted, most of the new writers don’t look like punks! We believe they’ve been subliminally influenced. (Sneering guitar-destroying DIY-focused Elvis Presley in the 1956 movie “Jailhouse Rock” has been said to have been the first punk.)

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Who are the best of the literary portrait painters?

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Near or at the top has to be Anne Leigh Parrish. While Anne Leigh lauds lit-establishment story writers like Alice Munro, she doesn’t quite go in for the long sentences, the lengthy descriptions and paragraphs which characterize the typical New Yorker magazine writer. The John Updike model where the sentence is all. What for a more literary-minded critic might be a handicap, we see as a plus. A new story by Ms. Parrish shows what we’re talking about: “Picture This.”

The story sneaks up on you. It begins simply. It’s a nice little tale about a couple in Maine. An artist trying to “make it,” and the woman who supports him. Then, suddenly, bang, bang, bang, emotion kicks in. Simplicity has become art.

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Another talented literary portrait painter is Sonia Christensen, whose second story for us, “Dry Bones,” was featured at our site a few weeks ago. As you can see from the story, Sonia similarly deals with relationships.

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Among other literary portrait painters is our own Kathleen M. Crane, a Detroit-area writer recruited into this project as a result of her first short story with us, “Donnie Darko,” a short tale about a shelter cat. Could anything be simpler? Her follow-up story presented at our main site, “Sam,” about a young musician fighting addiction, characterizes our pop-lit ideas. Indeed, Kathleen has helped define our ideas, pushing New Pop Lit in a Hemingwayesque direction– daubs of style and sophistication added to a pop core.

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I asked my consulting editor Kathleen how she writes her stories.

“I imagine I’m taking a visual snapshot of a moment or person in time. I use details, but not all details. Instead, the important details. One can get lost in too many details.” (This said with a deadpan expression but a wry glint in her eyes. Like her stories, her words carry a an underlying sense of humor which says the world can be cruel, but also absurd.) “I want my writing to be clear and concise.”

The Pop-Lit philosophy in a sentence.

We’ll present a new short fiction piece by K.M.C. in a few weeks to further illustrate our points and the kind of writing we look for– understanding that we want writers to outdo our own work. We’re mere literary travelers, seeking for stars and superstars.

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New story writing today is characterized by a large wave of flash fiction writers– who by the nature of the form are required to get to the point! No long digressions. No endless descriptions. No attempts to display for academy profs the well-written sentence. They have only so many words to use. (Flash fiction can be as brief as six words. We generally look for stories that are a bit longer.)

We’ve published some of the best of the flash fiction writers, such as Ana Prundaru and Andrew Sacks. Two new flash fiction pieces we’ve accepted from Mr. Sacks exhibit the way flash fiction gets quickly in and out. Tells the story and closes down. Like a quick, cutting pop song. We’ll be presenting Andrew’s latest in a month or so. Please watch for them!

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NEXT UP in our Overview of today’s new writers:

III. “The Lost?: A New Generation.”

IV. “Underground, Popsters, and Other Fronts.”

Or, much excitement to follow. Stay tuned.

-Karl Wenclas

(Self-portraits by Gustave Courbet and Paul Gaugin.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hyper-Talents of the New Literary Age

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Part I: STORYTELLERS

The foundation of American fiction from its beginning is the ability to tell a story. Ernest Hemingway referred to this ability when he announced that “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”

 American literature as a unique art form began as an expression of stories told not in refined drawing rooms, but on whaling ships, on riverboats or trains; around prairie campfires or cracker barrel stores. The story– many told orally in regions without books (at best, with cheap pulp journals and dime novels). Certainly, from a time and place without televisions or smartphones.

In his novel The Virginian, Owen Wister celebrated American storytelling via an extended tall tale told by one of his characters. A tale within a tale. Another example is Mark Twain’s celebrated story, “The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County.”

The main feature of this style of fiction is the narrative thread. The idea: To keep the listener listening. The reader reading.

This ability has extended through the history of American lit. From the Big Fish That Got Away stories of Herman Melville, to popular magazine stories like Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.” From rugged populists like Jack London, Frank Norris, and Rex Beach, through William Faulkner with his gothic legends of the South; even, perhaps, to present-day page turners.

Through operating this modest but ambitious project, we’ve encountered two men whose work embodies the traditional ability to tell a story, while making that story relevant to what’s happening in the present-day world.

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Our introduction to Scott Cannon‘s art was his long, eerie tale, “Lucid Dreamer,” which combines imagination with the possible, so that it has the feel of an unsettling story told in the woods. Or under a streetlamp at night on an urban streetcorner.

We have, as part of this series, a new story from Scott, with quite a different setting. “Yacht Party” exhibits the writer’s ability to have you see, through sharp description and economy of words, what his characters are experiencing. The best fiction doesn’t distract the reader with unwieldy linguistic fireworks. It puts the reader in the moment. With the plot having something to do with Iran, the story is eerily timely. (Scott sure is a fast writer!)

Check it out!
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Another storytelling talent we’ve published multiple times is Tom Ray.

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As with Scott, Tom’s stories are often quite long. They depend upon hooking the reader at the outset.

Tom Ray’s best setting is Washington D.C., that playground of creepy politicians, oily lobbyists, and the staffers who keep the entire complex bureaucratic machine operating. Could any subject be more topical?!

Our most recent story from Tom, “Benjamin Franklin and the Witch of Endor,” gives us an experienced Insider look. Like Scott, Tom Ray seems to have begun seriously writing after establishing himself in another career, as if he built-up a reservoir of knowledge and stories inside his head waiting to break out.
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Why do we open this series with two storytellers whose style is traditional?

Because American literature’s opportunity to renew itself depends upon a foundation of authentic American writing. A foundation upon which to build. To express American culture, one has to know American reality and American roots– and know writers whose style is an expression, consciously or not, of those roots. A continuation of a storytelling heritage, combined with the American landscape, which made our writers and writing unique.
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NEXT: We look at “Portraitists.” Stay tuned!

 

Report: New Pop Lit in 2016

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What were the year’s highlights for the literary project known as New Pop Lit?

Among them have to be the two big Lit Questions we asked writers and editors of all stripes, which received terrific feedback. The first Question was about the contemporary short story. Our second Lit Question was about Ernest Hemingway. You’ll find the answers we received in both cases to be stimulating reading.

The Hemingway question was part of our celebration of Hemingway Day 2016. Another part of that celebration was an excursion by New Pop Lit editors to classic Hemingway country in northern Michigan. If you’re a fan of Hem, or of American literature, or of writing period, our little search for the man and myth makes must reading.

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Another highlight for us was our appearance at the Troy Public Library, giving a presentation as part of NaNoWriMo (National Writing Month). (Much thanks to Erin Chapman for setting this up.)

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In-between we found time to feature an array of new fiction and poetry from Tom Ray (twice), Ron Singer, Ian Lahey, Scott Cannon (twice), Jess Mize (three times), Dave Petraglia, (our own) Kathleen M. Crane, Joshua Isard, John Grochalski, Anne Leigh Parrish, “Fishspit” (twice), James Guthrie, Ken O’Steen, Erin Knowles Chapman, Jeff Schroeck, Steve Slavin, Samuel Stevens, Andy Tu, A.N. Block, Alex Bernstein, Andrew Sacks, Bruce Dale Wise, Timmy Chong, David R. Gwyn, Yoav Fisher, Lori Cramer, and a featured book review by Andrea Gregovich, AND several interviews with writers, some of them linked at our “Hype” page at our main site. I’m sure I’ve missed a name or two. Thanks to all the talented people who made our literary project an artistic success.

Last but not least we started a new feature we call Fun Pop Poetry, which can be found at our Interactive blog, along with other cool things. We included there the very best pop poets in America, as well as some of our favorite writers. Please read all 23 pop poetry entries– you’ll find them entertaining.

We’re here to entertain you. (We sneak our artistic theories in the back door peripherally and subliminally.) We’ll be doing a lot more entertaining in 2017.

-K.W.

 

A National Book Awards Skeptic

IT’S ALWAYS HEARTENING to see contrarian viewpoints within the often-monolithic established literary world. One of the consistent contrarians is critic and book reviewer Thomas Leclair. Recently he wrote this provocative examination of the National Book Award fiction finalists. (Winners were announced last Wednesday, November 16.) We agree with Leclair’s calling for more nominees from the small press– though we may be thinking of a different small press than he is. Our favored small press is in the process of creation– presenting neither “Big Five” commercialized crap, nor excessively “literary” scribblings penned by an insular literary elite disconnected from the vital currents of the American people and land. We look for a new hybrid– literary art which will be both popular, relevant, and original. A new American literature.

We also note that Leclair avoided the question of political correctness– of whether or not politics and/or ideology played a role in the NBA selection process. The task of the writer– of any artist– is to avoid the trap of an approved status quo viewpoint.

We trust that Thomas Leclair will continue to question the literary status quo, whatever his viewpoint.

(Also see our own recent look at the National Book Award poetry finalists. The announced winner shows the topsy-turvy alternate-universe world of American literature now.)