Part III of our overview, “Hyper-Talents of the New Literary Age,” will be a bit longer than the previous, so we created a separate page for it, available here. We’ll be featuring new writing from four different millennial writers. We’ll be adding profiles to the thread as we go along. This, as we scout the landscape for other young talents. If you want to know what’s happening on today’s literary scene, this is the place.
“Stand-Up Comedy and Writing”
A REVIEW OF ALEX BERNSTEIN’S PLRKNIB
Is stand-up comedy a good training ground for becoming a writer?
The question comes up after reading Alex Bernstein’s new memoir, Plrknib. Plrknib is about Alex’s days as a 17 year-old stand-up comic at a comedy club in Cincinnati, Ohio. One gets the impression this is an experience Alex had to write about. It’s a necessary prelude to his becoming a writer.
The book is a primer on stand-up– or at least, a great introduction to it. Despite this, the narrative is insightful more than humorous. Bernstein cautions the reader about this at the outset. Jokes aplenty are scattered throughout the pages, but he makes clear that the effectiveness of a joke depends on the delivery. On how it’s told, the confidence behind it. Confidence communicated to the audience.
(Has Jay Leno ever– ever– told a truly funny joke? Leno is adept at selling a joke, with his big grin and big jaw, hand slapping into the other when the joke’s finished as his eyes scan the audience for confirmation.)
Like a comedian’s joke, Plrknib is the kind of narrative you fight against when you start reading it, but it pulls you along despite yourself. Like most of Bernstein’s writing, it’s irresistibly absorbing. Where is this book heading, you ask? What does “plrknib” mean? You’re skeptical, but you continue reading.
The connection is made: good stand-up operates on the same principle as good writing. The first task is to keep the listener listening. The reader, reading. Alex Bernstein does this in his writing with hooks, but most of all with clarity of style. His voice is infectiously engaging. The effectiveness of any narrative depends on its delivery.
Which doesn’t limit Bernstein to stand-up routines, but sets a foundation for studies of situations and character. In Plrknib Alex Bernstein’s lead character– himself– finds himself again and again in real situations. The kind with which we can all identify.
This is the real punchline.
(Buy Plrknib here.)
(Literary news is when we publish the best new short fiction featured anywhere. In conjunction with the story “Dry Bones” we interviewed the author.)
NEW POP LIT: Hi Sonia. Are you a morning writer or evening writer?
SONIA CHRISTENSEN: Definitely evening, or better yet, night. There’s something about writing in the dark—it’s easier to be honest in the dark, I think, and it’s easier to get lost in your story.
NPL: When did you first begin writing?
SC: I was pretty young when I first started writing. There was a story I wrote in te fourth grade about a girl hiding under a tree (in some kind of cavern? Underground treehouse? Not sure). My mom kept that one in her memories box for years. And then I didn’t have to take gym in the seventh grade because I took writing instead, which is one of the best things that has happened to me to date. I’d say I got serious about writing my sophomore year of college though.
NPL: What was the impetus for your story, “Dry Bones?”
SC: Well the cat was actually real. I had to take the bus to work one day and I ended up walking with a coworker from the bus stop to the warehouse and there was an actual cat there and she did actually say “oh god it’s still there,” and that got my attention to say the least.
NPL: How much of the story is imagined? How much is reality?
SC: So the cat itself was real, although I only saw it the one day and I don’t know what happened to it. Everything else is fictional.
NPL: Who’s your favorite novelist? Story writer?
SC: I’m not sure, my favorites change so often. I just read Bastard out of Carolina and fell in love with Dorothy Allison. But I also love Daniel Woodrell and Gillian Flynn and lately again my childhood favorite, Agatha Christie. Short story-wise I’d have to say Lydia Davis, George Saunders and Tobias Wolff.
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.
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.)
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.
We at New Pop Lit have joined the annual flood of mail sent off to the good people at Pushcart Press in Wainscott, New York, in the form of six nominations for consideration for Pushcart Prizes. Winners are included in the Pushcart Prize annual collection.
Every year the Pushcart people receive thousands of nominations from hundreds of literary outfits. The competition is stiff, to say the least.
If the editors have a bias, it’s understandably toward print journals, as they continue to operate in print. They may also be biased toward “name” writers– we’ve seen the likes of Joyce Carol Oates and Mary Gaitskill in their collection. This is understandable also. The Pushcart people seek credibility and recognition, just like the rest of us.
What should be our objectives when deciding which works published in the past year to nominate?
1.) To nominate some of our best/favorite writings. Including work that pleased our readers.
2.) To present an eclectic mix. We’ve included in our nominations this year a poem and a book review. “Eclectic” in our mind includes mixing younger and older writers.
3.) To give ourselves an outside chance that one of our nominations wins a Pushcart Prize. Which means, long stories or essays are out. As a print publication, Pushcart has strictly limited space. If an upstart like ourselves has ANY shot to be included, it’s with a short work that grabs their attention.
Perhaps the best story we published in the past year was “Lucid Dreamer,” by Scott Cannon. It starts slow, and is quite long. This excluded it, in our eyes, from being nominated. Fortunately, we ran a shorter work by Scott in 2016 which is also an excellent story.
The other side of the coin is that we nominated not one of the “flash fiction” stories we published. Which brings us to our fourth criterion:
4.) To indulge our capricious whims. We’re writers– artists– ourselves. Which means at some point we throw away logic and operate on emotion and instinct. if we don’t have fun doing this project– what’s the point?
–“Clarity,” a story by Alex Bernstein.
–“Ergo Propter Hoc,” a story by Scott Cannon.
–“Diminutives,” a story by Samuel Stevens.
–“The Old Neighborhood,” a story by Andy Tu.
–“Colapinto’s Undone,” a book review by Andrea Gregovich.
–“Death in the Medicine Cabinet,” a poem by Blixa BelGrande.
Many thanks also to Anne Leigh Parrish, Tom Ray, Jess Mize, Ian Lahey, Erin Chapman, “Fishspit,” Tarzana Joe, Dan Nielsen, Wred Fright, and the other talented writers we could’ve or should’ve nominated this year.
Thanks most of all to the people at Pushcart Press. The best way to support what they do is to purchase one of their collections– at a bookstore near you.
New Pop Lit editors Karl Wenclas and Kathleen M. Crane are scheduled to make a rare public appearance at the Troy Public Library on Thursday, November 17th in connection with National Novel Writing Month. Register for NaNoWriMo and read about Troy happenings here, then scroll down for information about our specific event. Or register for our event directly here.
For new writers, we intend ours to be THE NaNoWriMo event to attend. We’ve registered for NaNoWriMo ourselves. Kathleen has begun a new novel. Several of the stories in her collection, Aloha from Detroit, were taken from a novel she wrote. (Yes, writers are allowed to cannibalize their own work.) Karl meanwhile has resurrected an unfinished novel of his own, excerpts of which were recently posted here.
We also of course edit one of the hottest literary sites around, New Pop Lit, whose mission is to discover exciting new writers. We’ve also published a print issue which we expect to be the foundation for a small press devoted to dynamic writing.
What are various ways to write a novel? How does one overcome writer’s block? How does the new author publish and promote the book once it’s finished? These are questions we’ll address at the event. Are we “experts”? No! We’re in the same boat as you the struggling writer– finding our way in a new publishing environment in which, over the past ten years, all the set rules have been overturned. Never have there been more options for authors– more opportunities. These are exciting times for writing and reading– we’re in the early stages of more changes to come.
See you in Troy next Thursday!