Pushcart Nominations 2020

THIS YEAR’S NEW POP LIT PUSHCART NOMINATIONS

AS we’ve stated in past years, New Pop Lit‘s nomination process for the Pushcart Prize is to a certain extent arbitrary. We had a lot of excellent work to choose from, would’ve loved to select all of it. Unfortunately that wasn’t possible.

The rationale for the choices we made is this:

Our knowledge that nominations have to be made by snail mail, and the Pushcart editors are flooded with submissions. Hundreds of envelopes. Thousands of nominations. The first objective, in trying to have one of our nominations selected to be an actual prize winner, is getting the editors to read what we enclose. The bias then isn’t toward stuffing the envelope we mail with reams of paper, but toward shorter work.

Our other objectives were these:

1.) To enclose a variety of writing styles. We’ve done that.

2.) To make sure the nominations are well-written, and different enough from the norm to (possibly) gain attention.

3.) Lastly, to make sure the nominations are attractively presented.

ALSO, we decided to split our six choices equally between on-line work, and writing which appeared in our first two print zeens.

The chief criterion of course is excellence, well-displayed in these selections.

OUR NOMINATIONS

Poetry: 

An excerpt from “The Spectre of the Rose”: by Frank D. Walsh.
(Published in New Pop Lit’s
Extreme Zeen in May, 2020.)

Prose: 

”The Sacred Whore.” Fiction by Rachel Haywire.
(Published in New Pop Lit’s Extreme Zeen in May, 2020.)

-”Vyvanse.” A novel excerpt by Brian Eckert.
(Published in New Pop Lit’s ZEENITH in July, 2020.)

”Ben Lerner’s Topeka School Failure.” A book review by G. D. Dess.

”The Look.” Fiction by Aaron H. Aceves.

”On the Origin of an Event.” Fiction by Oliver Bennett.

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Thanks much to these exceptional writers and to all the writers we’ve published and will publish this crazy year!

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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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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

Love Story Examined: A Writing Template

A VALENTINE’S DAY ANALYSIS

DSC06852 (1)

A WRITER who was far ahead of the curve with his writing style was Erich Segal, best known for his mega- best-selling 1970 novel, Love Story.

By accident or design (the book was based on his yet-unproduced screenplay) Segal keyed into a type of structure, with attached motifs, which made the novel a popular success but also left it as a template for experiments in future literary art.

Several literary projects including ours have decided “literature” in its current accepted form needs to drastically change. We’re analogous to fledgling auto companies fifteen years ago, knowing internal combustion engine technology was obsolete and scrambling to create its replacement.

The question is what the future will look like.

Creating a work with extreme clarity, as Erich Segal did– making it look simple– is more difficult than it appears, because everything is exposed: all flaws in the tale and the telling of it.

There’s nowhere to hide.

love story cover

Segal’s style could be called Hemingway Squared. No excess verbiage to impress and distance the reader. Instead, reliance on aesthetic basics– plot and character, but also form. (The novel opens with the ending, then shows what led up to it.)

Segal sets up a superstructure– a square blank canvas– and fills it in, like a painter adding paint daubs. Tangible details. The clarity of the style helps the “aesthetics” of the novel to stand out:

-The contrast between rich and poor.

-The tense dynamic between authoritarian father and independent son.

The tagline– “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”– is used twice, once right near the end for maximum impact. Dialogue throughout is super-tight. The spare lines used by the characters stand out because they’re not overwhelmed by unnecessary literary verbiage placed around them. They “pop out” of the story. 

That Erich Segal was a screenwriter was an asset. The narrative itself is very tight, and contains another kind of aesthetics– tangible details.

(A James Bond movie, for example, is filled with tangible details– clothes, drinks, accents, cars– which you don’t consciously notice but which impress themselves on your mind.)

One of Segal’s details is the Harvard Club. He doesn’t need to describe it– the reader imagines it. Fills in the blanks.

Everything in and about the novel sets up the ending. 

Manipulative? Sure. But so was Oedipus Rex. Audiences– including audiences of readers– want to be manipulated.

oedipus

The novel Love Story is a template– a starting point from which more can be accomplished.

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS