Pop Writers

HYPER-TALENTS OF THE NEW LITERARY AGE PART IV

Rippl_The_Detective for essay

(Painting: “The Detective” by Jozsefs Rippl-Ronai.)

Why pop short story writers?

Because in the days of Jack London and O. Henry, the short story was THE popular American art form. Any renewal of literature starts there.

It’s begun!– particularly with various styles of “flash” or short short fiction, which puts an emphasis on brevity, clarity, and punch. But there’s no reason why entertaining and accessible stories can’t be longer, as they once were.

Recently we published a fairly long pop story by Norbert Kovacs, “The Fight,” which gives a hint at what’s possible.

***

We’ve published several writers who skirt the line between pop and pop lit, often through different twists on genre fiction. Among them is Ian Lahey, whose most recent story for us, from 2016, is “What I Don’t See.”

Ian Lahey

 

 

 

 

Ian uses a genre style and setting of agents conducting an interrogation to throw the reader off balance– making us see in the situation what we otherwise might not see.

***

However, the best pure pop story we’ve run to date is a new one by Alan Swyer, “Country Sweetheart.”

Alan Swyer photo one

What makes Swyer’s story work is its sense of humor, along with the affection Alan Swyer has for the characters and for the often-quirky world of country music. It’s an entertaining story about entertainers– and about other things like authenticity. Authentic art. The main character may in some ways be a fraud (to put it mildly!) but at the same time his feeling for the music, his colleagues, and his audience is thoroughly genuine. The suspense comes from the question of how long he’ll be able to get away with the imposture. Or, how will he be caught?

The tale is quintessentially American in a variety of ways. Not least of them is the theme of reinvention– that, contrary to what Scott Fitzgerald once said, there are second acts in American life. (Why people came here in the first place.) But also the story’s love for the land and people, combined with a sense of good old fashioned fun-loving ballyhoo. The American quality of finding yourself through being an entertainer. Entertaining through singing, or entertaining through storytelling.

Our interest here is in the latter. . . .

*******

Next up in this series: “Underground”

Hyper-Talents Part III

fitzgerald

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.

Hyper-Talents Part II

courbet-gustave-self-portrait

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.

gaugin-self-portrait

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.)

****

Who are the best of the literary portrait painters?

anne-leigh-parrish

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.

****

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.

****

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.

dsc06527

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.

****

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!

****

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.

blurb-for-anne-leigh-book

****

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!

Hyper-Talents of the New Literary Age

book-cover-rex-beach

Part I: STORYTELLERS

The foundation of American fiction from its beginning is the ability to tell a story. Ernest Hemingway referred to this ability when he announced that “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”

 American literature as a unique art form began as an expression of stories told not in refined drawing rooms, but on whaling ships, on riverboats or trains; around prairie campfires or cracker barrel stores. The story– many told orally in regions without books (at best, with cheap pulp journals and dime novels). Certainly, from a time and place without televisions or smartphones.

In his novel The Virginian, Owen Wister celebrated American storytelling via an extended tall tale told by one of his characters. A tale within a tale. Another example is Mark Twain’s celebrated story, “The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County.”

The main feature of this style of fiction is the narrative thread. The idea: To keep the listener listening. The reader reading.

This ability has extended through the history of American lit. From the Big Fish That Got Away stories of Herman Melville, to popular magazine stories like Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.” From rugged populists like Jack London, Frank Norris, and Rex Beach, through William Faulkner with his gothic legends of the South; even, perhaps, to present-day page turners.

Through operating this modest but ambitious project, we’ve encountered two men whose work embodies the traditional ability to tell a story, while making that story relevant to what’s happening in the present-day world.

****

scott-cannon-photo-2

Our introduction to Scott Cannon‘s art was his long, eerie tale, “Lucid Dreamer,” which combines imagination with the possible, so that it has the feel of an unsettling story told in the woods. Or under a streetlamp at night on an urban streetcorner.

We have, as part of this series, a new story from Scott, with quite a different setting. “Yacht Party” exhibits the writer’s ability to have you see, through sharp description and economy of words, what his characters are experiencing. The best fiction doesn’t distract the reader with unwieldy linguistic fireworks. It puts the reader in the moment. With the plot having something to do with Iran, the story is eerily timely. (Scott sure is a fast writer!)

Check it out!
****

Another storytelling talent we’ve published multiple times is Tom Ray.

tom-ray-photo

As with Scott, Tom’s stories are often quite long. They depend upon hooking the reader at the outset.

Tom Ray’s best setting is Washington D.C., that playground of creepy politicians, oily lobbyists, and the staffers who keep the entire complex bureaucratic machine operating. Could any subject be more topical?!

Our most recent story from Tom, “Benjamin Franklin and the Witch of Endor,” gives us an experienced Insider look. Like Scott, Tom Ray seems to have begun seriously writing after establishing himself in another career, as if he built-up a reservoir of knowledge and stories inside his head waiting to break out.
****

Why do we open this series with two storytellers whose style is traditional?

Because American literature’s opportunity to renew itself depends upon a foundation of authentic American writing. A foundation upon which to build. To express American culture, one has to know American reality and American roots– and know writers whose style is an expression, consciously or not, of those roots. A continuation of a storytelling heritage, combined with the American landscape, which made our writers and writing unique.
****

NEXT: We look at “Portraitists.” Stay tuned!

 

PLRKNIB: A Book Review

“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.)