Monday, September 22, 2014

More Mantel


Predictable voices of offense and protest, as if on cue (the publicists scripted this very well) have been raised about Hilary Mantel’s story, “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.” See my review of the story:

as well as this in-depth NEW POP LIT examination of the controversy:

The question arises: Are Mantel’s critics practicing censorship? Is this a free speech issue?

IF the amount of free speech one has is judged by the size of the microphone, then Hilary Mantel has an enormous amount of free speech, given that her book is published by not one, but two of the largest book conglomerates on the planet. Her “assassination” story was published by two of the most important newspapers on earth. If free speech is judged by with what power a writer is supported, and how widely her words are circulated, then Hilary Mantel has many times the amount of free speech as the average writer. Is it 1,000 times more? 10,000 times? That’s the way the matter should be honestly judged.

After all, both the HarperCollins and MacMillan book empires by nature “censor” writers, every day. Seeing that Hilary Mantel’s provocative story is shallow and not very interesting, in and of itself, one can conclude that the decisions made by the book giants as to which writers are published and promoted are based as much on politics as on quality.


What’s most visible in this affair is the sad state of literature today. This great writer, Hilary Mantel, selected for massive publicity; the acme of the legacy publishing industry; lacks an artistic conscience. Not only is her story a cheap hit piece—metaphorically and in actuality—it makes no effort to examine the causes and effects of violence in society. The meaningful questions which a work of literature would be expected to address are nowhere to be found. Unlike the literary giants of past days, the Dickenses and Dostoevskys, Dumases, Hugos, and Tolstoys, Hilary Mantel lacks a moral voice. In judging the story, aside from all other considerations, that lack is everything.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Dueling Assassins


The literary establishment in both the United Kingdom (united a while longer) and New York is making noise about a story by one of their “best,” Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel. The story is “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.”

This interested me, because a couple months ago I produced my latest ebook, a short novella titled Assassination of X. Unlike Mantel, I don’t name my victim, a U.S. senator. My story is also written in a completely different style from Mantel’s, who can write only in the standard status quo literary fashion. You can read her tale here:

The story is not really about Margaret Thatcher, but Hilary Mantel. Which is why she has to name Thatcher—it’s a way to draw attention to herself and her politically-correct attitude. It’s a species of exhibitionism. “Look at me!” Mantel is demonstrating how much she’s always hated Thatcher—used as a symbol—and so, this demonstrates to the intellectual elite her credentials as one of them. The story is merely the excuse used to make the demonstration. It might as well be a painting; Margaret Thatcher with a sour expression on her face; examples of her social crimes depicted behind her. Waiting assassin off to the side.

The story Mantel tells is ridiculous. It’s a farce. Hilary Mantel doesn’t have a clue how such a crime would be done; or what an actual assassin would be like.

Mantel introduces the story with endless description—paragraphs full of it—as if to ensure that all but the proper “literary” audience will lose interest. This completed, the rest is conversation between a Hilary Mantel stand-in and the assassin. All very British and ludicrous. The assassin, about to commit the crime of the century, has scant focus. It’s all very casual. Make the tea, someone. “I’ll mind the gun.” (Note to Mantel: rifle.)

The narrator—these stories are almost always first person; they can only be so because the solipsistic viewpoint is all—has, like Hilary Mantel, not a clue about the weapon used, preparation needed, and such. The assassin is no professional, nor a credible facsimile of a good amateur. Instead, he’s popped whole out of her imagination, a man of stupidity and carelessness, which allows the narrator to engage with him in what might be the most insipid conversation ever—again, given the gravity of the event.

Hilary Mantel takes a pop premise and turns it into literary idiocy. Into cutesiness. This at a time when real terrorists are loose in the world; actors of serious business. With, instead of British casualness, deadly purpose. Unclownish focus. An actual assassin would dispose of the talkative Hilary Mantel stand-in within five seconds—and save himself from her self-centered conversation and precious arrogance.

The story can’t be taken seriously and isn’t meant to be taken seriously. It has no connection to reality. It serves as a way for Mantel to make a connection to the like-minded. As such, though it’s “well-written” by literary standards, it’s not literature. It asks no questions. It challenges no one to re-examine the world or themself. There are no shadings or depths to the story. It’s affirmation, not art.

Of course, I’m biased. Through a new website, at which I’m co-editor (, I’m promoting a style of writing opposed to that of a Hilary Mantel. It’s a different way of looking at the short story art, and at the world.

In my own tale I seek to plunge the reader into the reality of a shocking event. The world itself is the focus—and not the vapid spaces of a privileged author’s head. You can read my modernist pop tale via Kindle or Nook Books. Here’s an Amazon link to it:

I invite you to read both stories and judge the difference.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Diversity of Ideas

As you may have heard, I’m now Editor-in-Chief at an ambitious project called NEW POP LIT ( The main engine behind the endeavor is a Wisconsin dynamo named Andrea Nolen. We receive ideas and support from a variety of “friends and enemies.” While we’re starting as a web site, our plans go far beyond it.


What’s our editorial policy?

Any project I’m involved in will slant toward the DIY end of the spectrum. HOWEVER, presenting one viewpoint isn’t good enough, if we’re to be all things to all readers and writers. While we aim to be at the forefront of change in the literary world, we also seek to present a diversity of ideas.

Diversity of opinion and ideas, even on questions of art, is seldom seen anywhere today.

Left-wing media present left-wing ideas, while right-wing media present right-wing ideas.

A literary journal like Brooklyn-based n+1 presents their narrow range of ideas, while a similar lit journal like The Believer, albeit in San Francisco, presents a slightly quirkier version of same; no less pretentious, with an equally narrow range.

Sides have been taken on the Amazon-versus-Hachette fight. Establishment writers and editors plead with Jeff Bezos or the universe to stop economic change— “Save us!”—while other writers embrace that change. No middle ground is found between the two camps, but castigations ARE all over the place.

NEW POP LIT stands for a new literary path. We’re asking a smorgasboard of voices to help us determine a “Third Way” between competing sides. For literary art: a hybrid. Compromise. For ideas about process and publishing, we’ll explore all viewpoints.

In coming days we’ll solicit informed opinions on current literary issues. For and against. Status quo or DIY. We welcome input even from those few writers or critics who embrace neutrality.

We hope to regularly report on the literary future. In some small way, we plan to make it.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Better Fiction?

What does better fiction look like?

If NEW POP LIT is to distinguish itself from the literary pack, we'll need to present new fiction as good or better than what anyone else is publishing. Our task is to discover hidden talent-- exciting new writers.

We're doing that! (Just three weeks up and running.) See our latest gem, "The Unshakable Kayfabe of Tommy Rage," by Andrea Gregovich-- an inside look at the small town wrestling scene.

A pop topic is combined with the sensitivity of a Mary Gaitskill.

Read it! This is terrific writing.

Third Way Fiction

Catch the New Pop Wave

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Shooting the Messenger

AS I’VE LIVED much of my life in Detroit, and had it drummed into my head over and over that change is inevitable, I’m sensitive to economic change elsewhere in the world—particularly the inability to recognize or acknowledge drastic change.

It was with this mindset that I jumped briefly into a discussion at the widely-read literary blog The Millions. The topic of the thread, “Practical Art: On Teaching the Business of Creative Writing,” was the idea of introducing business questions into the structure of creative programs. What I found interesting in the initial post by Nick Ripatrazone, and subsequent comments, is that no one acknowledged the proverbial elephant in the room. (See the post here—you’ll have to scroll down to reach my remarks:

My comments were aggressive, but not extreme by any means. They were written with clarity and intelligence. What I found interesting in the responses was that no one addressed my point about the uncompetitiveness of the book publishing giants. One respondent finessed the issue, saying it would be a shame if the big publishers went under. Well, maybe, but that’s not the point. The point is that change in the publishing realm IS happening. It does a disservice to students in writing programs not to mention this. Students should be given all the options available to them.

Neither was I advocating excluding the big publishers from the marketplace, or from the world of literary ideas. That’s scarcely an option. I’m sure some of them will survive, in retrenched form. Like most bureaucracies—the Detroit automakers a notable example—they likely won’t change until reality comes crashing down upon them; when they can willfully ignore reality no longer.

Neither would I want to exclude literary writers from literature—though I’d suggest they learn to tweak their writing, to make it more competitive in a changing world. My co-editor at, Andrea Nolen, and myself want to walk a middle path between the two extremes of literary and popular writing. We’ve stated again and again that the short story should be able to be both. (However, to suggest that Nobel Prize-winning short story writer Alice Munro, with her lengthy paragraphs and endless descriptions of trifles, her turtle’s pace, is readable and pop is absurd.) NEW POP LIT is designed to offer an alternative to both camps. I went on The Millions site to get word out to MFA/status quo writers who otherwise wouldn’t consider amending their art, to write what we call The New New.

After the reasonable comments of “Hot Ossuary” came a predictable demi-puppet attack by someone named “Toad.” A classic case of cognitive dissonance. I have no doubt that Toad read my remarks as he described them. It’s a condition of the human animal that when encountering sudden contrary ideas, the average person will at first see only red—the mind distorts the message, reading the words emotionally, instead of seeing what’s actually there. Toad ends up making me look moderate!

I suspect that within five years even Toad, as well as the blog he appears on (and for?) will be open to DIY ebook writing. In the face of reality, all bandwagons and their followers eventually change course.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Cat and a Ballerina?

That’s the subject of our latest NEW POP LIT “Rate-This-Story!” feature, “Attitude En Pointe” by Christina Murphy.

Take a minute to read this short short and vote on it!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Is the Phanatic Leaving Philadelphia?


The notion of the Phillie Phanatic leaving Philadelphia has been the subject of conversation since the spring. See this article:

The idea interests me, since my new project, NEW POP LIT—which I’m producing with writer/blogger Andrea Nolen as well as the Friends and Enemies of Pop Literature—needs a mascot!

(See our fantastic site: )

If the Phillie Phanatic is truly available, searching for a better deal, we’d like to make him an offer. Maybe some classic Detroit–style Coney Dogs and the opportunity to watch, um, a better baseball team. (And by now he must be tired of cheesesteaks.)

Of course, since the Phanatic is a native of the Galapagos Islands, there’s the question of possible travel restrictions on his visa.

“Rate This Story!”


One of the features of the New Pop Lit website will be “Rate-This-Story” as part of our Interactive page, which is located in a side room of the New Pop Lit “Coffeehouse.” First up is short story writer Lance Manion with his “how a story fails.” What is this guy talking about? Click on the link and see.

(Scroll down for more Interactivity.)

Kudos to NPL co-editor Andrea Nolen for the striking look she’s achieved—and mucho thanks to Mr. Manion for courageously contributing his story!


(This week’s NPL Feature Story coincidentally is also about a writer: “Harry Pinker Does It Again” by Corey Mesler. It’s also something of a short detective story. We are, after all, a pop lit site.)

Thanks. Happy reading.