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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Reinventing the Short Story

CAN THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY BE REINVENTED?

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MOST in the established literary scene would say, NO. They scoff at the idea. To them, work from currently approved writers– most if not all of them the product of prestigious writing programs– is the best of all possible worlds.

officer training(Photo public domain.)

The graduates are like soldiers in elite units of the U.S. Armed Forces. Navy Seals, Green Berets, Airborne and the like. Best of the best. HAVE been through rigorous screening and training. ARE the vanguard and face of a gigantic billion-dollar investment in the literary art, via hundreds of university writing programs headed and taught by hundreds of extremely talented writers.

photo by Virin(Photo by Virin.)

HOW COULD THEIR STORIES NOT BE THE BEST?

THE PROBLEM is the consensus itself. Because everyone within the system believes writing produced by the system is the best possible– raved about in articles, reviews, and blurbs– no one questions it. No one looks outside the parameters of the consensus searching for ways to change and rearrange the product.

NO ONE EXCEPT US!

COMING on 3D-Day June 6th, a different model for the short story.

3D postcard 5-page-001 - Edited

EXCLUSIVELY at NEW POP LIT.
http://www.newpoplit.com 
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Busting the Supply-Demand Equation

THE NEED FOR FICTION REINVENTION

Tesla_colorado_adjusted

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.

black-friday_target_long-lineup

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

breaking glass

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

 

Schizophrenic Literary World

THE CURIOUS REHABILITATION OF TAO LIN

Tao_Lin_in_2010_(cropped)

THE WAR within establishment literature continues– as evidenced by this article by Jakob Maier of Buzzfeed News commenting on the sudden comeback of alt-lit opportunist Tao Lin.

(NOTE: Buzzfeed News was at the forefront of promoting accusations against Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz— we have yet to receive a yes-or-no answer from reporters Amber Jamieson and Dara Levy about how much they knew in advance about the Zinzi Clemmons confrontation with Diaz at the Sydney Writers Festival this past May.)

ACCORDING to the Jakob Maier article, Tao Lin is currently being promoted by several icons of the established literary world– Vintage Books, The New Yorker and New York magazine. Anna Silman of The Cut (a New York mag project), has been leading the charge against Junot Diaz, so it’s a bit surprising to see this article in New York about what Tao Lin– accused of statutory rape four years ago– adds to his shopping cart.

shopping cart

AS Tao Lin infamously published a book titled Shoplifting at American Apparel, can we surmise that he doesn’t have a shopping cart? Confusion, confusion, all is confusion.

(To add to the confusion, the publisher of that book, Melville House, has also been on the anti-Junot Diaz bandwagon.)

For the record, Tao Lin as a writer is no Junot Diaz. In this critic’s opinion he has yet to demonstrate any writing talent at all.

More worrisome is possibility that the entire alt-lit movement of literary scam artists will make a comeback. Let’s hope not.

Monica Byrne: Who’dda Thunk It?

FIFTH IN A SERIES ON THE JUNOT DIAZ BOSTON REVIEW CONTROVERSY

AS ANYONE following the Junot Diaz/Boston Review controversy knows, sci-fi author Monica Byrne has been one of his main accusers– describing on her Facebook page his alleged bullying of her at a literary event, while also citing McCarthy-style a list of 38 unnamed names with similar accusations. (“I hold in my hand. . . .”)

Anyone reading her description of what happened had to be immediately sympathetic. It’s only that Diaz defenders have aggressively looked into the matter that another side of Ms. Byrne is emerging.

Namely, that making unsupported allegations seems to be her stock-in-trade.
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HERE’s a photo of Monica Byrne taken from her blog, Branding While Female, dated November 4, 2015:

Monica Byrne photo-on-8-25-15-at-10-05-pm

The caption accompanying the photo reads, “That time I trolled Donald Trump with a bloody middle finger.”
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NOT TOTALLY SURPRISING then that in June 2017 she was the source of unverified rumors that Melania Trump was having an affair with the head of security at the Trump Tower lobby. You might remember the story– it ran in quite a number of media outlets, including these:

http://perezhilton.com/2017-06-02-melania-trump-donald-affair-head-security-tiffanys-tower-years-monica-byrne-report

https://www.someecards.com/news/politics/melania-trump-cheating-rumors/

https://www.lovebscott.com/oh-really-melania-trump-reportedly-affair-head-security-tiffany-co-trump-tower-lobby-years

https://www.inquisitr.com/4271083/melania-trump-affair-rumor-first-lady-mocked-on-twitter-over-alleged-cheating/

https://us.blastingnews.com/news/2017/06/man-melania-trump-is-allegedly-cheating-with-has-photo-shared-on-social-media-001749225.html

BUT AFTER ALL, it was only Donald Trump, right? Everybody hates the guy. No blowback to speak of against Monica.

Apparently emboldened, Monica Byrne this year joined the chorus of accusers against Junot Diaz. Did she, as some claim, smell the opportunity for easy publicity?

AT THE MOMENT things don’t look good for the anti-Junot Diaz side. (Carmen Maria Machado already fairly well discredited.) We’ll have to see how this finally plays out.

(p.s. I’ve taken a lot of heat from Junot defenders for not immediately disbelieving the accusations against him. As I said in the second of the posts about this issue, I was not about to rush to judgement either way.)

STAY TUNED!

-Karl Wenclas on the New Pop Lit News beat.

Junot Diaz and Abuses of Power

 

Junot Diaz

YOU MAY today have heard about the literary journal Boston Review and its decision to keep award-winning author Junot Diaz in place as their fiction editor. You may also know that Boston Review’s three poetry editors (count ’em: three) have resigned in protest to their decision.

MOST INTERESTING to me is this part of the Boston Review statement, penned by editors Deborah Chasman and Joshua Cohen:

–we considered whether, as some have suggested, the complaints point to a larger pattern of abusing power—the kind of star power that has attached to Junot as a successful writer, editor, and public intellectual. On the basis of a careful review of the public complaints, we think not.

Interesting, because if you read the statements of Zinzi Clemmons, Carmen Maria Machado, Monica Byrne, and others, you see that the star mindset in arrogance and attitude is a major part of the writers’ complaints.

POWER and its abuses is what occurs in a system where the writer plays the role of continual supplicant; facing the arrogance of power through every step of the process, be it writing workshops, MFA programs, the many seminars and conferences– all with steep price tags– onto dealings with the layers of agents and “Big Five” conglomerate editors themselves, who regard themselves, and not the writers– the artists whose work should stand at the center of the literary machine– as chief value.

The current writer industry is a kind of Ponzi scheme, in which writers with little-to-no chance of real success pay and pay, conforming to the standards of the literary industry (flawed standards, we believe)– while the rewards go to a chosen connected few at the top of the heap. Which wouldn’t be all bad, if the work rewarded fully justified this. It doesn’t.

Junot Diaz

It’s a system largely built on networking and connections– on being from the right background or school or writing program, having the right pedigree, correct credentials and proper sponsors.

A system– a machine– built from top to bottom to create arrogance and abuse.

New Pop Lit was created to be an alternative, artistically and in every other way.

We remind ourselves every day it’s about the reader and the writer.

-K.W.

 

The Circle: Time’s Up?

OR, IS THIS SOMETHING HOLLYWOOD SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT?

The_Circle_(2017_film)

DID successful male author Dave Eggers crib the work of female writer Kate Losse for his novel The Circle, which became this past year a mainstream Hollywood movie? It’s a question that was asked by Jezebel writer Katie J.M. Baker in 2013, in this article.

Eggers reacted by stating that he’d done no research for his book, period. The entire thing, details and plot included, popped full-blown into his head one afternoon. Similarities to Kate Losse’s book pure coincidence.

While Losse’s case might’ve been a bit of a stretch– at least, there wasn’t enough for a lawsuit– the case is indicative of the power mentality of well-placed men which is now under widespread assault. Eggers stone-walled, denying everything. He in effect said, “Go ahead. Make my day.” Daring the relatively powerless Losse to take him on.

In full disclosure, I clashed with Mr. Eggers myself in the early part of last decade, on a number of points. I know his ability to shut down, to put out of business, any journalist or writer who opposes him. A couple individuals who butt heads with him soon became virtual nonpersons, never to be heard from again.

Image is important to Dave Eggers. Given his carefully-manufactured good-guy persona, it’s everything. Yet he’s never hesitated in the past to appropriate from any and every available avenue in the pursuit of that image. One example was his accepting a “Firecracker” Alternative Book Award in 2001 for Best Zine, for the well-staffed-and-funded slick publication McSweeney’s. (One of the matters I and DIY friends disagreed with him on. There was nothing alternative about McSweeney’s or Eggers, and never has been.) I could mention other instances.

What’s the bottom line? Is it the corruption of power? Is it that the ruthless kind of personality which enables men or women to achieve great things also makes them unable to pull back from that steamroller mindset? Is it a question of entitlement– which many writers admittedly have? That the entire world and all its peoples exist as material for them?

-K.W.

Revolutionary Wannabe #1

FIRST in a series examining the radical stance of several of the literary establishment’s most prominent editors and writers.
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OUR QUESTION: Are any of these people for real?

Groff headshot

R.W. #1:  Lauren Groff

One of the New York Monolith’s most hyped literary commodities, Groff recently sent out this tweet:

Among her other statements, Groff has also said “Thanksgiving is a lie,” and white people, including her sons, owe “a profound debt” for their “vast privileges,” “which they have to repay over the course of their lives–”

WHO is Lauren Groff?

Lauren Groff has been published by Disney’s Hyperion and by Penguin Random House, both part of gigantic “Big Five” New York-based media conglomerates. She has degrees from exclusive Amherst College and from the University of Wisconsin. Her father is Vice-President of a health care company which owns four hospitals and 23 health centers. She’s upper-class enough to have had her 2006 marriage featured in the society pages of the New York Times. Groff’s husband, Clayton Byron Kallman, is a real estate developer– a business he began in by managing an apartment building owned by his dad.

NOT exactly a person who’s bucked the system to date. But things change– NOW she’s ready to chuck it all and march in the streets. To the barricades!
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(We invite Lauren Groff to join the D.F.S., or Disinvest From Success, movement, known also as Disinvestment Of Or From Unearned Success, or D.O.O.F.U.S. Instead of placing all burden on her sons, Groff can rip up her book contracts, her husband can give away his real estate holdings, and they can have undocumented refugees move in with them in their large home in Gainesville, Florida. This will tell the world that Lauren Groff is for real. Will she?)
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COMING SOON:  Revolutionary Wannabe #2.

-K.W.

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.

Handicapping the Fiction Award

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ONE big question remains: Who will win the Fiction Prize at this year’s (2017) National Book Awards?

Don’t think for a moment that such choices aren’t made with political and image considerations. This year several competing dynamics are at play.

A.)  The omnipresence in the news media of the ongoing sex abuse scandals favors giving the award to a woman. This year, four-out-of-five finalists are women. Could the judges not award the prize to one of them?

B.)  On the other hand, there’s the (surmised) campaign to make Elliot Ackerman the next John F. Kennedy. See our previous post, and the one before that.

C.)  Jacqueline Woodson, chair of this year’s judging panel, was the target of Daniel Handler’s watermelon jokes at the 2014 event when she won the award for Young People’s Literature. Will this impact her decision this year? Would she be willing to go along with a push to hand Ackerman the prize?

D.)  The X factor is judge Dave Eggers, one of the more powerful figures in the literary business. Several factors are at play with “The Dave.”

One is his psychological need to appear as Munificent Good Guy. This includes a Great White Savior complex. (See his book, What Is the What.) Eggers grew up in one of the richest, most segregated cities in America, and sees People-Of-Color as “Victim.” A variation of Liberal Morality Play, except Dave Eggers lives it. This theory argues he’ll push to give the award to one of the women– Jesmyn Ward most likely, whose life story in spots is truly “heartbreaking.”

On the other hand, Eggers has a personality akin to Peter Ackerman’s (again, see our previous two posts)– a Jekyll-Hyde balance between benevolence and aggressiveness. Dave Eggers respects power and knows Elliot’s father has it. Nothing need be said– these things are sensed. The son, Elliot, is a child of privilege, as is Eggers, and takes a similar global view of the world– and of America’s central place in it. There’d be natural sympathy between the two men.

Of the five judges, Dave Eggers has the standing, reputation, personality, and will to dominate the group. In addition, one of the other judges, Karolina Waclawiak, was until recently an employee of his, as Assistant Editor at The Believer, an Eggers publication. The deck isn’t stacked– but Eggers holds a strong hand.

Jacqueline Woodson is panel Chair. As a black woman (a black woman, moreover, who was disrespected by Handler, a friend of the Dave’s) Woodson carries implicit moral authority, particularly in the world of the established intelligentsia, which by definition is an ultra-liberal world. See the ideological slant of this year’s nominations. If Woodson has determined on a winner, not even Dave Eggers, hyper-sensitive as he is to issues and images of race, would be willing to stand against her choice. But if she hasn’t decided– then the decision is his.

They might agree on the choice anyway.

Here then are the odds for this year’s contest:

Elliot Ackerman:  While he has less than a 50% chance of winning, the offstage presence of all-powerful Dad still makes Elliot the co-favorite to win.

Odds:  3 to 1.
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Lisa Ko:  Ko’s novel The Leavers, about undocumented immigrants, is the most topical and best-positioned politically to win the award. If the panel wishes to send a “So there!” message to President Trump, this book will be the choice. The other “Ko” favorite.

Odds:  3 to 1.
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Jesmyn Ward:  The biggest argument against Jesmyn Ward is that she won the award in 2011. Would she be given another one?

Odds:  5 to 1.
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Min Jin Lee:  Ms. Lee has terrific Insider credentials, as a graduate of Georgetown and Yale and a former corporate lawyer in New York. She also has a big-time publisher in Hachette. However, the plot of Pachinko involves discrimination against Koreans by Japan. Not a trendy cause.

Odds:  15 to 1.
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Carmen Maria Machado:  There are two strikes against Ms. Machado: A.) Has a small publisher, Graywolf Press.  B.) A book of stories by a little-known author is unlikely to win.

Odds:  15 to 1.
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ALTERNATE VERSION
A different “Alt Right” view says that, based on the Radhika Jones hiring at Vanity Fair and other happenings, white males are being purged throughout New York literary culture– they present the wrong image, and so Elliot Ackerman’s real odds of winning the prize are one in 500,000. Under this version, white male publishers Morgan Entrekin, David Steinberger, and the owners of the Big Five publishing companies will commit ritual suicide at the end of the event, a la Cho Cho San at the end of the opera “Madame Butterfly.”

The entire scripted 2017 National Book Awards ceremony is in fact a ritual suicide, only, like “Madame Butterly,” it’s all theater.

(See the other posts in the series, here.)

-K.W.