The Short Story Process

REINVENTING AN ART?

F_Scott_Fitzgerald_1921

In 2019 we plan to change things up a bit. Our commitment to excellence and artistic change will increase. The poem and short story both have become generic. Needed are drastic new ideas to improve them. Possibly, to blow up both forms and start over.

And so, “The Process.” We’ll start with the short story. I’ll be posting at one of my personal blogs several short stories I wrote in the 1990’s. Apprentice work, but a foundation for where I plan, personally, with my writing, to go. The first of these to go up is titled “The Revolutionaries.” A story with a connection to recently-deceased George H.W. Bush, so it’s appearance will be timely.

Before this I may post one of the new stories I’m working on, tentatively named “Safe Zones.” Again: timely.

Co-editor Kathleen M. Crane is also back writing, working on a rough draft of a new story– one which will carry forward her own ideas on clarity and conciseness in the short story art.

I’ll be discussing the process more in future posts. We have an end point– through radical artistic change, badly-needed renewal of the entire literary art.

hem

Stay tuned.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

 

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The High School Nightmare

MarjoryStonemanDouglasHS_22Jun2008

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

pushcart

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

toteboard

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.

Awards Update

allabouteve

NEWS ITEM:  All five of the National Book Foundation’s “Five Under 35” awards this year are given to women writers. See this.
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QUESTION:  This unusual occurrence signifies the:

A.) Equalization of literature.

B.) Politicization of literature.

C.) Demasculization of literature.

D.) Feminization of literature.

Choose one!
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(NOTE: Our News staff is merely having fun. No antifa posses, please! We love women writers– we have the work of three terrific women writers upcoming.)

Anne_Baxter_in_All_About_Eve_trailer

(p.s. Anne Baxter should’ve received an award for this performance. Just saying.)

The Wise Men

American Masters: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

Who steered the direction of American literature after World War II?

Editors like George Plimpton, Robie Macauley, Reed Whittemore, Robert Silvers, and William Phillips. Men on a mission who, as much as they professed no artistic ideology, very much pushed an artistic ideology. They’d been formed by various factors, whether by privilege, or the war, or by disillusion with Communism. By 1950 all were Wilsonians out to save the world by making it “Safe for Democracy”– their own special internationalist version of democracy.

Literature was their tool– they fully believed in the importance of the art. Paris Review (like Encounter magazine in the UK) was founded as a cultural ambassador for Anglo-American liberal ideals– presenting an intellectual alternative to the twin totalitarianisms of fascism and Communism. Liberal Cold Warriors, these editors disdained– or had rejected– the populism of the American past. John Steinbeck and his kind were out. Henry James as the ideal cosmopolitan author was in.

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For our cultural aristocrats, literature, to be safe, must never engage too strongly in ideas. As an editor at New York Review of Books told me in a note in the late 1990’s, characters must never serve as mouthpieces for ideas. George Plimpton told me essentially the same thing on the one occasion I met him, at a literary debate held at CBGB’s in 2001. To these people, burdened– as they saw it– with the task of preserving literature, a broad view of the world was considered dangerous. An Ayn Rand or Frank Norris wrote beyond their well-regulated lines.

Focus moved instead to the delicate sensibilities of the bourgeois self. American literature became gnostic: insular and solipsistic. Cleansed, nuanced, refined; denuded of its loud voice but also much of its energy. For prose: John Updike. For poetry: John Ashbery.  Aesthetics was not the only weapon. No longer could a writer appear off the street like Thomas Wolfe or Jack London and be taken seriously. Writing programs and markers of breeding ensured all who entered the Halls of Approval were thoroughly screened.

Did these men and their journals have influence? Tremendous influence. They understood the concept of leverage; that a publication with a readership of 10,000 could determine who did or did not receive a large book contract– chiefly because that small readership was powerful and elite.

The change in aesthetic direction made the wise men– as well as their sources of money– very happy. Literature came under the control not of the unpredictable American people, but of themselves. The Elect.
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American Masters: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

The thing to know about these men and their journals is that the faces they showed the world were misleading. George Plimpton was a smiling bon-vivant but also much more than that. The notion that he didn’t know the source of Paris Review‘s original funding is an absurdity.

Likewise, New York Review of Books, founded by Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein, postured for a long while as a radical Leftist publication– yet it was started with Random House money during a New York newspaper strike as a way for the giant book companies to advertise their new releases. It’s always been an extension of New York-based Big Corporate Publishing. Sophisticated PR for them, one might say.

In the New York literary world, nothing is ever as it seems.

The Lit Scene Now

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All sides represent contradictions, as American literature is in a state of flux and objective(?) observers such as ourselves wait for things to sort themselves out. For the moment, intellectual thought about all matters literary is polarized.

THE RIGHT
We pass over long-time conservative journals like Commentary and National Review, which are adjuncts of an internationally focused intellectual establishment based in Washington D.C. and New York. We’re talking about the new Right.

What is it? Can it be defined? We wait for someone to define it. There is new thought, new energy coming from that end of the spectrum. To us it seems a badly put-together Frankenstein monster; a contradictory amalgam of Nietzschean paganism and tradition-leaning Catholicism. Its origins are found in intellectual journals like Taki Mag, with writers ranging from libertarian to libertine to anarchist to all things. Hardly conservative– many have opened Pandora’s Box. The aesthetic attitude is often snobbish and effete, and as such, out of synch with the mass of populists who voted for Trump. The impact to date on the literary world of these writers is small.

THE LEFT
The energy on the Left comes from a spate of journals like Jacobin Mag, The Baffler, and n+1— along with at least one interesting new one which we’ll discuss at a later time. All espouse some variety of Marxism. All editors, writers, and interns of these journals are from real privilege. Are they the Left? A curious form of it. Their common origin point is the Ivy League. What the publications present in their essays, editorials, poetry and prose is the skewed “View from Harvard Yard.” The tops-down acceptable narrative from cogs and creators of the established machine. Each individual has paid dues within the current literary system. They’re artistic conformists in every aspect.

Today’s nobility, representing a tiny sliver of America, peering at the Unknown from their Brooklyn/Manhattan fortress. Living a 2017 variation of Margaret Mitchell’s Plantation Madness.

overseer
(Former overseer Jonas Wilkerson and “white trash” Emmy Slattery getting thrown off the Tara estate.)
Well-bred aristocrats united with loyal retainers of color against the Enemy: white populists of sketchy background who carry the potential to upset their flimsy Potemkin facade. That high and narrow construction of paste and plywood labelled “LITERATURE,” which they present as the legitimate article– when it’s clearly NOT.

To understand these journals and editors and the role they play in literary culture, one first has to understand their predecessors. We’ll examine those in our next post.

 

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.

 

Disclaimer

CAUTION: We’re turning this blog into a free speech zone, where we’ll discuss actions of the New Censorship Movement; in some cases mentioning the incidents and names (gasp!) of those writers or literary sites which have been expunged from the Internet. Such actions reek too much of Orwell’s classic novel 1984 to suit our taste. Too many people have fought too hard for the freedom of expression all of us (up until now) have enjoyed, for us to casually sit by when such freedoms are restricted.

Example: Our upcoming new entrants in the All-Time American Writers Tournament include two controversial writers, one controversial in his political ideas and actions and the other controversial in his art. Should they be expunged from memory because they offended people?

We’re frankly amazed by the complacency of writers to what’s happening– but we shouldn’t be, given our own history within a well-regulated U.S. literary world. We may at some point discuss that history here, and the role it’s played in our thinking.
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THE WEEK IN POP LIT

The current week includes a very good new story by Brian Eckert which affirms the right of an individual to live life as he chooses. We also reported on the above-mentioned Tournament (more reportage this weekend). Keep up on pop lit doings at our home page.

Thanks for reading!