The Tunnel Vision of Contemporary Literature

THE ROAD TO THE 3-D STORY

PostcardDetroitRiverRailroadTunnel(c/o Wikimedia Commons/T.C. Photochrom.)

THE RISK for any arts critic is to embrace the consensus of the presumed greatness of their art.

They’re almost forced to believe in it, surrounded as they are by the promotional noise of giant media conglomerates– including “Big Five” publishing– and other arms of an enormous status quo literary scene. That for all its enormity, whose many appendages carry the same premises and think the same way.

On some level the careers of the inhabitants of the established literary hive are dependent upon that belief in their art’s greatness. Their very number and the very size of the hive reinforces the belief. Which prevents them from looking outside the art, away from the current system.

The latest well-hyped release appears on their desk, and everyone is praising it. Can they fail to do likewise?

This limits their imaginations. They don’t search for those who don’t-play-the-game-the right-way. They don’t look for ways their art could be changed– or seek out those who are changing it. They fail to glance outside the tunnel– for instance, at other possible ways of writing the short story. At alternate modes of literary creation.

Many of them dismiss the idea.

Which reinforces cultural stagnation.

The mundane, the predictable, the dreary.

The authentic artist destroys the predictable. The cautious. The same.

It’s the only way to operate.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

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Busting the Supply-Demand Equation

THE NEED FOR FICTION REINVENTION

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People fail to realize the extent to which most things in life are influenced by the supply-demand situation.

For instance in politics, the enormous oversupply of liberal arts graduates is one of the drivers of left-wing activity. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who after college worked as a bartender) is a classic example.

But what about art? Writing?

WHEN GOOD ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH

Many competent short story writers are published every year in literary journals across the country. Several of them are crafting short stories better than vaunted New Yorker magazine fiction– which for decades has been the model for writing programs across the nation. We’ve published a few of those better writers at our main New Pop Lit site.

Having fiction placed in The New Yorker has been thought of as the Holy Grail for the standard MFA writing student. Thousands of MFA grads are attempting to follow that model. To squeeze through that narrow doorway. Lining up. Jamming up. A department store before the doors open on Black Friday.

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THE PROBLEM

The problem is that there are too many creative writers, and too few paying-or-prestigious outlets for their work. A vast oversupply of product. To meet it, tiny demand: very few people who read the overwritten New Yorker model. Today the creative writer’s audience consists of other creative writers, who’ve been trained to read and appreciate that obsolete style of story writing. (New Yorker stories themselves, with rare exceptions, are unread by most New Yorker subscribers.) Well-crafted literary stories are made to be admired, not read.

Today it doesn’t matter how well you the writer can write. The margin of difference between the best and the merely competent is small enough that decisions on who deserves publication and attention are made for reasons other than quality and talent. Instead, they’re made for reasons of politics, correctness, or connections.

THE SOLUTION

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The solution is to bust the supply-demand equation which currently exists in writing. This can be done on both ends.

1.) Create a faster, vastly more readable and exciting short story model– one so new and thrilling it demands to be read. Done right, this could grow the audience for short fiction several times over.

At this point the art is so marginalized there’s ample room for growth.

2.) Create a short story prototype so different from the standard– and difficult to do well– that few writers will be able to write it.

Doing this will create the “perfect storm” of jump-started demand, with few writers able to fill that demand. Those writers a step ahead of cultural history will be in a valuable spot. The vocation of fiction writer will become a worthwhile pursuit, for the first time in years.

Creating that new product won’t be easy. I’ve been working intensively on the matter for many months– really, longer (did my first rough version five years ago)– and am finding the going anything but easy.

Then again, life isn’t easy.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

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

Alan Swyer at New Pop Lit!

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Ace storyteller Alan Swyer is back with another entertaining tale– this one titled “The Sage.”

It’s about a filmmaker who’s hired to make a documentary film about a meditation guru, who’s a bit of a control freak, and has a high opinion of himself, and. . . . Complications ensue.

EXCLUSIVELY at New Pop Lit.

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 “Best of the Net 2017” Nominations

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We’ve nominated two stories and four poems for the Best of the Net 2017 anthology put together by Sundress Publications.

The stories are:

“Picture This” by Anne Leigh Parrish
https://newpoplit.com/portfolio/picture-this/
2/10/2017

 “Travelogue” by Robin Wyatt Dunn
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The poems are:”(Terre Noir)” by Jess Mize
https://newpoplit.com/portfolio/inspired-by-death-in-the-afternoon/
7/8/2016

“Shocking” by Dan Nielsen

 08/29/2016

“Frat Boy” by Timmy Chong

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AS WE never know how editors judge these things, our policy is three-fold:

1.) Submit strong writing.

2.) Choose fairly brief submissions– making it easier for overburdened editors/judges to both read and include in a voluminous anthology.

3.) Choose a variety of writing styles, in hopes one of the works will catch the judges’ taste.

All six of these works are striking, albeit in different ways. Have fun rereading them!

Death of the Alt-Right

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While it will likely stumble on in the political sphere a while longer, the so-called alt -right is finished in the literary realm. Didn’t take much to end it. An alt-right site, Excavation– digging up the underground, was forced to shut down by an aggressive antifa campaign. Its editor, Michael Marrotti, has vanished from view. From what evidence I’ve seen, the criminalized words he used ranged from “Jewish Sharia” to “white pride.” As epithets,  fairly mild– but still thought crimes in this well-regulated time. The poets who’d published their work at the site didn’t realize he was a white supremacist until told about it.

Marrotti himself is a working class poet from the rust belt city of Pittsburgh– not a person of any power. “Supremacist” is a misnomer. “Defensivist” might be more accurate.

“It’s all about pain
steak knives used
to warm the soul
from a frigid planet”
-from Marrotti’s poem, “Optimistic Poetry”

Another alt-right site, Casper Magazine, changed its name several months ago when the ideological weather vane began changing– at the same time its original editor, “Pozwald Spengler,” either radically changed his identity and belief system, or sped away without a whimper of protest, not to be heard from again.

At least two stories were expunged from the site, “Cathy” by Ben Arzate, and “Scumbag,” by Alice Florida Xu. They’ve been safely flushed down the Orwellian memory hole. No complaints heard yet from either of the two writers. Given today’s hysterical McCarthyist climate, one can understand their silence.

Other alt-right figures who were once buoyant about creating an intellectual alternative to today’s p.c. monolith have backed off from, or recanted, their ideas.

OUR CONCLUSION is that it was never much of a movement– more straw man than army. Its few writers and editors were easily intimidated. If any remain they’ll be rounded up by the antifa posses, publicly chastized and silenced.
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How much of a danger did alt-right-leaning writers pose? Could they have posed?

It’s noteworthy that these advocates of “supremacy” had not a sole representative at any of this nation’s major cultural and literary institutions. Not at publishing’s Big Five, nor at the Washington Post or New York Times, nor at The New Yorker magazine, Vanity Fair, Esquire, New York Review of Books, Bookforum, LARB, etc. etc. etc. Instead, individuals of marked privilege themselves at these bastions of influence have used the opportunity to themselves denounce any trace of alt-right thinking in literature today, to adopt a posture against privilege, and approve and endorse the angry antifa posses.

In the literary sphere, there are dangers and then there are dangers.

 

New Hemingway-Fitzgerald Discovery?

basil and josephine cover

Is New Pop Lit about to make some literary history?

We had assumed someone else had written about this– maybe someone has– but it seems that in the answer to our Hemingway-Fitzgerald Trivia Question lies a different take on the relationship between those two giants of American letters. It’s important because the two talents stand today as THE largest personalities dominating the field of American letters– in particular, the novel and short story. Iconic figures.

The new take is this: Ernest Hemingway took some obvious shots at F. Scott Fitzgerald over the years. But what if Fitzgerald had been creating some snarky portrayals of Hemingway, in his fiction, first? This appears to be the case.

We’re readying an explanation of all this. . . .

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.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Soon!

COMING SOON  or already out are a number of new books from our favorite pop lit writers. (Scroll down on this blog to read about one from Alex Bernstein.)

This includes a new book of stories, By the Wayside, from Anne Leigh Parrish. New Pop Lit editor Karl Wenclas is privileged to have written a blurb for the book, displayed on the back cover.

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Coming soon– in a day or two– is Part Two of our Overview of new writers, which we call “Hyper-Talents of the New Literary Age.” Included in the discussion will be a few words about Anne Leigh Parrish herself, who’s among those leading the charge for a reinvented literary art. That continued discussion will appear right here, so don’t miss it!