Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why Isn’t Mr. Beller Happy?

Mr. Thomas Beller of Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood isn’t happy. In fact, he seems to be holding a ten year-old grudge against me and the Underground Literary Alliance. To my surprise I discover that in Tablet Magazine on December 13, 2012, Mr. Beller called me “a maniac.” Scroll down at this post and see: 

Mr. Beller, that’s not a nice thing to say! Please go to your closet, put on your blue sweater and return to being literature’s Mr. Nice Guy.

Why the unprovoked slur? Fact is, I’m not a maniac, though I’m often portrayed that way by establishment literary types. What lit people can’t handle is my unflinching honesty, logic, and integrity, which I’ve demonstrated time after time. If you’re logical and have character and integrity it causes panic and hysteria in today’s approved literary scene. If you don’t play the game, if you believe your stated ideals and mean what you say, then you’re plainly crazy.

Why is Mr. Beller resentful? It’s beyond me. The ULA has been inactive for years. In the past several years, remaining members have faced great hardship and tragedy, chiefly for economic reasons. Mr. Beller, do you know that Frank D. Walsh, the poet who in 2003 replaced your friend David Berman in a “Relevance Readoff” in Chicago, when Berman bailed, found himself a year ago homeless, thrown into the street, and on top of that lost most of his writings? Imagine what that’s like for a writer. One of the best spoken word street poets in the country (which means, way better than any of the academic variety), beat up by life and so admittedly just a little crazy, though, I’m certain, not quite a “maniac” like me.

One of our founders, Steve Kostecke, died about the same time. About the same time, another key member, the clown Jelly Boy, who in 2006 accompanied me into the lion’s den of a Miller Hall reading, was put into a coma for many weeks when critically burned in an apartment house fire. I myself have been knocked around a bit the last several years, more than I care to say. But who am I? Simply a “maniac.” It’s easy to label me and dismiss me.

Mr. Thomas Beller signed a petition in support of the Occupy movement, but he’s never yet gotten it into his head that there are two Americas—including in the literary community. We never had wealthy guys like Rob Bingham in the ULA. I’m sure Bingham was a nice, talented person. You know what? So were many of the men and women in the ULA. I helped create the ULA to be on the side of the underdog. Including underdog writers—talented people with no one behind them. We would’ve liked lit figures like Mr. Beller on our side.

I surely don’t know why Mr. Beller isn’t happy; why he felt the need to add his voice to the many taking shots at a defunct writers group. Kicking around, now that we’re down, myself and the ULA. Blackballing us isn’t enough, apparently. The mere existence of an independent voice anyplace is scary to some people.

Two additional points:

1.) To correct the record, I’ll be putting up a post showing that Mr. Beller’s remarks regarding the ULA are a misrepresentation of reality.

2.) I have a fictional characterization of Mr. Beller in my new ebook novel, The McSweeneys Gang. Worth a look. I, er, do not call him a maniac.

Have a wonderful day in the neighborhood, everybody!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Digging into the Narrative


While I’ve fairly well eviscerated Tom Bissell’s Believer Books essay about the Underground Literary Alliance, at the same time I’ve barely scratched the surface of it. I’ve yet to dig into what’s actually taking place. For instance, I haven’t looked into the essay’s relationship to power.

The entire literary establishment, which writers are approved or not approved, is determined by relationships to power. Nonsense, you say! Yet the point is easily demonstrated, as I may show in an upcoming post or two. I’ve yet to become bored by the topic. Understanding propaganda, and a propagandist like Bissell, can become fascinating and enlightening.

Know this: The purpose of Bissell’s essay was to defend certain powerful literary figures like Rick Moody and Jonathan Franzen, at the behest of another powerful literary figure, Dave Eggers. This is why the essay was written—stated or unstated; consciously or unconsciously. It’s not an accident that those Bissell was defending were known collectively at the time as “The New White Guys,” or that Bissell threw a defense of another of that group, Jeffrey Eugenides, into his essay. On Tom Bissell’s side he was making a clear statement—to them—showing his support of them and of the system he’d worked for and had wanted to be part of his entire life. The sell-out point.

Ask yourself: Is Tom Bissell an objective journalist, or a propagandist? What do we make of the Robert Kaplan essay? Is this not an intentional hit piece? In it, is Tom Bissell showing his support for a larger cultural area than literature, by going after a neo-con? In this instance, as in the ULA instance, it’s acceptable for Bissell to write a hit piece, a piece no doubt (in my mind) filled with slants and distortions. This is acceptable because Kaplan has been designated, like the ULA, as an enemy of the proper people. Of the politically correct herd.

Tom Bissell isn’t fair and objective, and Johannes Lichtman, in writing about Bissell’s book, doesn’t have to be fair and objective, because that’s not what the game is about. What game, you ask? You should know the game. Many of you reading this blog are playing it. Or have played it.

Here are two contradictory statements to think about. Understand them and you understand what’s really happening with Bissell’s essay. You’ll understand the “game,” and something of the nature of sophisticated propaganda as practiced by contemporary media. It takes examining different levels of intention and meaning in the same essay.

The two statements are this: The theme of Tom Bissell’s essay on the Underground Literary Alliance is that there is no literary establishment. At the same time, the theme of this same essay is that there very much is a literary establishment.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Writer's Job

The writer's job is to see through the lies and layers of falsehood around him. To cut through the noise and cries to get to the heart of the matter. To the key to the situation; the truth of the world. From Brothers Karamazov to Heart of Darkness to Rebecca this has been the novelist's goal.

A writer, especially a novelist, should have one overriding concern: getting to the truth. It's what fiction at its best is about. What really happened? This is the task of the true writer-- maybe his only true task. All else is posing.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Why This Blog Is Necessary

This blog is the only spot in the entire vast Internet and analog realm of literature presenting a counter-story to literature’s Dominant Narrative. The only independent voice. Members of the totalitarian intelligentsia read it, because, instinctively, they know their world is totalitarian. McSweeney’s, fully part of the Dominant Narrative, is totalitarian. Close me off, shut me down, and they then fully close off their minds. There will not remain one spark, not one sentence, not one word of dissent and anti-conformity and Truth about their world entering their brains. Their smugness and complacency will further harden. Their minds will lose all flexibility—will turn, even more, if that’s possible!, into concrete.

They know that those who pass and pose as “critics” and commentators in the establishment literary-media world are glorified prostitutes. System hacks, domesticated pets, bought, paid, and trained.

I give here a different narrative. The truth as I see it, undiluted by bureaucratic career expediency. I’ve never compromised. Nor will I.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Structure


It’s obvious from the first couple chapters of the narrative that at the beginning I had no idea where I was going with the story. I started the serialized satirical novel as a gag. Then, before I knew it, the story got away from me.

In the middle third of the book images from my subconscious intruded against my will into the narrative. The tale got off track. Writing a novel is a battle between the reasoning part of the mind and the shadows beneath. The last several chapters, however, show me fully back in control of the thing.

How exaggerated is the story? Not at all. The literary establishment was fearfully obsessed with the rise of the ULA, and remains so to this day.

The Payroll


Should I show the missing post? I suppose so. Then again, why should I? I guess I'm worried that if I start outing the spies who follow this blog, I'll lose the most loyal part of my audience. It's like the apocryphal story of the last meeting of the Utah (or Idaho) Communist Party, disbanded when it was realized that everyone there was working for the FBI!

At some point, the war of McSweeneyites vs ULA (or me) becomes a waste of time. It's a battle I can't possibly win. But it is aggravating to see what was an honorable and necessary project, the ULA, libeled across the literary realm. Whatever missteps we made, they were nothing compared to the scoundrels we were up against. Scoundrels those people remain.

But, the post. One of the more bizarre I've put up. 1.) There might be more to its premise than I thought. Otherwise, why would someone be so interested in reading it? (Or even know about it.) 2.) At the end of it-- or rather, end of the three comments attached-- an actual bitter enemy of myself, with no credible reason for his animus, possible member of the McS's payroll, makes a strange appearance.

I don't want anyone to think the post ranks with "The Day the Clown Cried" for absent strangeness. What it does, is point to the strangeness of those thrown out of joint by a low-rent noisemaking campaign from a tiny band of broke zinesters, to the extent that some of the most powerful figures in literature pulled out all stops in their eagerness to run us permanently out of town. At that, they've been quite successful.

(I hope the moles and spies involved have bilked the insecure mandarins-- Eggers, Handler, & Company-- for a substantial amount. Somehow, I think not.)

(The McSweeneys Gang may be a trifle bizarre, but not as bizarre as real life.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Latest

I removed this blog from view for a day because someone was getting into the html code of it. They were trying to get into one particular blog post from a couple years ago-- a post, moreover, which I had taken down a while back. Why that particular blog post? That's an interesting question.


The premise of my satirical ebook novel, The McSweeneys Gang, is that the ULA was afflicted with a host of moles and spies tracking the ULA's every happening. How true could that possibly be?

The real story would be fascinating.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


I notice that someone who lives in Sunnyvale, California, IP#, is trying to get into the html code of this blog, either to mess things up or shut this blog down. Please stop it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Representative of Power

Tom Bissell doesn’t see himself as powerful. In himself, he’s not.

But he’s employed by some of the most powerful entities in literature. It’s not just Tom Bissell smearing the Underground Literary Alliance. It’s the highly influential and connected McSweeney’s organization. It’s ICM, one of the most powerful talent agencies in the business. Who’ll dare go up against them?

Someone at McSweeney’s had to have read and screened and approved Tom Bissell’s dishonest essay before it was included in the Believer Books collection Magic Hours. Presumably Heather Schroder, Bissell’s agent, an ICM partner, read that essay as well. They were perfectly fine with depicting a tiny band of DIY zinesters, currently inactive as a group, backed by no funds or connections whatsoever, as genocidal authoritarian Bolsheviks(!) whose quixotic campaign for a sliver of attention was liable to lead, in Bissell’s hysterically absurd words, to “lots and lots of tombstones.”(!!!)

The publication of this dishonest smear essay, backed by power, money, and influence, then allows other powerful entities, such as, oh, the New York Times(!) in reviews to pile on against that inactive band of nobodies.

An elephant panicked at the sight of a mouse.

Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor?

One doesn’t exclude the other.

Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor were the two legendary screen actresses/sex goddesses of the 1950’s. Which was the better actress?

Technically, Elizabeth Taylor was the more accomplished, more disciplined actress. She could play Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee without a hitch. Everything Marilyn Monroe played was with extreme difficulty. Yet Monroe could go places emotionally, subliminally, that Elizabeth Taylor couldn’t. Contrary to what some may suggest, art doesn’t exclude emotion. Art IS emotion.

The same principle holds true for literature and writing. System writers have this idea that because they’ve learned, technically, the current model, their style of creative writing is the only style there is. They’re eager to exclude all others. Which is what the war against the Underground Literary Alliance was about.

No art can advance if it allows nobody to take a different path to that art. No art can live if it permits no one to be different.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What Are the Facts?


As I'll further show, in his Believer essay on the Underground Literary Alliance, reprinted in Magic Hours, Tom Bissell ignored every point about the grants controversies embarrassing to Jonathan Franzen, and everything that would throw the ULA's protests in a positive light. Some of those points can be found in an objective article written at the time of our protests:

Instead, Tom Bissell turned one small mention of Josip Novakovich by the ULA into the centerpiece of his discussion on the grants matter. Bissell expressed mock outrage at our "treatment" of the man, while ignoring the main story.

Was Tom Bissell's Believer essay part of a vendetta by Dave Eggers against the Underground Literary Alliance?

A few months after the appearance of Bissell's essay, we have this story by Amy Harmon of the New York Times:

Note that Amy Harmon treads carefully. Notice also the hysteria back then from Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen regarding the ULA, seeing us under every bush and around every street corner. Fact is, though, that the ULA had a strict policy of never posting anonymously, or under false identities.

This policy had two motives. One was to show our honesty and transparency. To demonstrate our difference from the corruption of the mainstream literary scene. Second, and at least as important, the ULA was intended as a promotional campaign for good underground writers. Shut out by organs of publicity, we needed to utilize every opportunity to use our real names. At Amazon or elsewhere. That was the whole point! It would've been senseless to waste time posting anywhere anonymously. We'd already been exposing corruption under our real names. We had nothing to lose and nothing to hide. (I've never altered that philosophy, as anyone who reads this blog can testify.)

"--what kind of person has time to write them?" Jonathan Franzen asks rhetorically in the article about anonymous negative Amazon reviews. As ULAers were working regular jobs, it wasn't us. Fact is, no one was able to expose the ULA as author of such reviews. They couldn't now. Franzen, Eggers, Handler, Moody, and the rest of the Big Money lit boys have ample funds to investigate the question. What they haven't realized themselves (Daniel Handler caught posting scores of anonymous comments on this blog) is that there are no secrets on the Internet. All postings are a permanent record.

Note in the Amy Harmon article how Jonathan Franzen defends his new-found friend Tom Bissell against those dastardly ULA whistleblowers. Narcissist that he is, Franzen never thought that in accepting the taxpayer NEA funds he did anything wrong. He doesn't hesitate to falsely smear, in a national publication, the whistleblowers. For Tom Bissell, his defense of the Big Boys in his essay ensured their approval. Entrance into the Club.

Jonathan Franzen and Tom Bissell remain buds to this day. Witness this 2011 Willamette Week article in which Franzen compares Bissell to David Foster Wallace-- a dubious honor-- and calls Bissell "a true talent."

Do the proper thing by the Powers of the Literary World and all is good.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Corruption Buddies

IT’S NOT A SURPRISE that essayist Tom Bissell is a friend of author Jonathan Franzen. The Underground Literary Alliance exposed abuse of the grants system by Franzen back in 2002. The question is whether Tom Bissell became friends with Jonathan Franzen before or after Bissell misportrayed the Franzen grants controversy in his Believer essay on the ULA, since reprinted in Magic Hours.

Tom Bissell could’ve changed that misportrayal before Magic Hours came out. We’re left with lit-world cronyism at its worst.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Today's Contest


(A test to see if you're qualified to be a contemporary writer.)








Literary Cover Ups


Sports journalists have finally gotten around to investigating a couple sports stories, in the case of Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o. Reporters had to be dragged to the truth kicking and screaming. But they got there.

What about literary journalists? When it comes to literary cover ups, haven’t lit reporters been MIA?

In the short time the Underground Literary Alliance was most active, from 2001 to 2007, we covered a number of scandalous happenings in the literary scene. The reaction? Cover ups and enmity.

Today, writers acting in the role or position of journalists are more interested in crafting gushy puff pieces than breaking or covering an actual story. Document the truth for the likes of Garth Hallberg, Maria Bustillos, Johannes Lichtman, Katie Ryder,, and they refuse to look at it. “We don’t want to know!” they scream.

And so they’re able to applaud a dishonest essay by a dishonest writer. Despite available evidence.

These “journalists” apparently also believe in the Easter Bunny.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bookforum Mention

GIVEN my many literary opponents eager to shut me down, I don't get a fraction of the attention I once did, ten years ago when the ULA was kicking literary butt. However, I notice that the review journal Bookforum was generous enough to give my new ebook a mention last month:

I do get mentioned ahead of luminaries Salman Rushdie and Vladimir Nabakov. Quite the honor for a lowly rebel undergrounder.

I appreciate the open mindedness of the BF editors.

(The McSweeneys Gang is now out and available at Nook or Kindle.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Josip Novakovich Matter


The portion of the ULA’s activities which created for us the most animosity among the mandarins of American letters was our uncovering of apparent corruption in the awarding of grants monies to writers. It should be, and should’ve been, a major part of any in-depth examination of the Underground Literary Alliance.

The focus of the many articles done on the topic of grants corruption, and the ULA’s exposure of same, whether in Page Six, Moby Lives,, Soma, Boston Phoenix, or many other places, was on two successful and powerful writers: Rick Moody and Jonathan Franzen. With a dash of Dave Eggers thrown in. One writer not mentioned in any of the coverage was a writer named Josip Novakovich. Yet Tom Bissell made Josip Novakovich the centerpiece of his discussion, in his Believer essay, on the grants controversies.

Here’s a portion of what Tom Bissell said about the man:

“Novakovich (I do not think he would mind me saying this) also has a family; ‘university professors’ do not, by and large, roll around in piles of money, and they typically see their writing time vacuumed up by teaching. The money was probably crucial manna for him and his writing life. That the ULA can take a fine, unsung writer such as Novakovich—a writer, moreover, hitherto neglected by the larger publishing world—and single him out for opprobrium is nauseating. He is exactly the type of writer whom the ULA should be championing,—“

Was Josip Novakovich at the center of the ULA’s attacks on the literary grants system? Were we somehow unfair to the man?

With the ULA web site finally resurrected late in 2012 after a long period of being unavailable, I was able to track down the reference to Josip Novakovich. I found him discussed in ONE report out of many ULA reports during the years of our active existence. You can read that report here:

Note that we used Josip Novakovich as a representative example of the grants business, with our emphasis on the fact that Novakovich had both sat on a panel for, and been a recipient of, grants awards. The idea being that if you have the same small circle of individuals both giving out and receiving grants money, you have a flawed system.

Tom Bissell painted Novakovich as something of a hardship case. What’s the truth? What’s the real Josip Novakovich situation?

Josip Novakovich is listed at wikipedia and other places as a Canadian writer. He currently is a professor at Concordia University in Canada.

Quick investigation shows that the average professor salary at Penn State University, where Novakovich was employed at the time of our report, is $132,000. Given ten years of inflation, we can still give him $100,000 at the time. He likely makes at least that now, or he wouldn’t have moved.

Josip Novakovich has published ten books as well as hundreds of short stories. His book publishers include Graywolf Press, HarperPerennial, and HarperCollins. Presumably much of this came the past ten years.

Here’s a partial list of the awards and grants Josip Novakovich has received over the years, in addition to the two NEA grants and the Guggenheim Fellowship mentioned in our report:

-Whiting Writers Award

-Ingram Merrill Foundation award

-American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation

-Black Mountain Fellowship

-Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship

-New York Public Library Center for Scholars and Writers Fellowship

-Tennessee Williams Fellowship

-Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation Grant

-Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship

-W.K. Rose Fellowship

There may be a few in the pipeline.

I suspect that Novakovich’s valuable writing time is “vacuumed up” not by teaching so much as filling out grants applications, at which Josip Novakovich is assuredly a master. Is he a great writer? It’s a matter of opinion and viewpoint. I’ve read a couple of his short stories, and found him to be a typical literary writer. Indeed, he’d have to be, to encounter such widespread approval. His work couldn’t upset anybody—or at least, not refined society. Literary writers are not a rare commodity in this society. Throw a rock on any university campus and you’ll hit a dozen of them.

The point is that Josip Novakovich is mentioned in this sole ULA report as one of a number of “awards professionals.” Can anyone deny that an awards professional is exactly what he is?

Note how Tom Bissell, in his essay on the Underground Literary Alliance, takes out of context and distorts our treatment of Mr. Novakovich. At the same time, Bissell finessed his coverage of our actual targets, Moody and Franzen, as I’ll show.

(To be continued.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Victims of Dishonesty

If I had to name the single greatest failing of today’s status quo literary scene, I’d name its intrinsic, thoroughgoing dishonesty.

The first victims of this dishonesty are the purveyors of dishonesty. The first victim of a false presentation is the person who created it.

For example, Johannes Lichtman created a false presentation with his 11/27/12 review of Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours, in the way he presented the Underground Literary Alliance. Virtually every sentence or phrase pertaining to the ULA is false. I’ve shown them, at this blog, to be false. Does Lichtman admit this? No. He doubles down. He ignores all evidence countering his false narrative, willfully refusing to look at any evidence, while continuing to insist on the lies he’s presented. (The ULA is “generally untalented . . . conspiracy theorists” etc.) His mind is made up. Closed. From the start—and never can he be prodded to open it. Two plus two equals five, in his mind, simply because it does. It’s what he’s been told.

Who is he hurting by his false presentation? Mainly himself. He’s taking his intellectual integrity and blowing it up.

For what price? What reason? Lichtman admits the Oxford American web site (despite large sums of money pumped into it), has few readers. His payment for the piece, he’s said again and again, is $25. What’s the payoff? As far as I can see, merely in being allowed to be part of that creature known as “mainstream publishing,” a dying animal.


Johannes Lichtman is a victim of false presentations in the micro. His mistake is believing wholeheartedly in Tom Bissell’s false essay. That essay has been shown to be false. Does it matter? Bissell’s fans cling to the essay—but so, apparently, does Tom Bissell himself. Which makes him his own victim. He, like Johannes Lichtman, is content to take his intellectual integrity and dynamite it. The payoff: Being part of “mainstream publishing,” but on a somewhat higher level.

Above Tom Bissell is Dave Eggers, who has his own false presentations to perpetuate. In his case, a great many of them.

The ultimate victim of all the falseness is literature itself. Failure in the macro. Can a status quo literary scene maintain itself as a construction of lies? When you build your reputation on lies, you’re unable to defend yourself. You can blackball, censor, lie more, but the one thing you can’t do is engage in honest and open debate. You’ve created a legacy of dishonesty. A record of untruthfulness.

Some day someone will come along—whether a renewed ULA, or others—and knock down the tottering house of cards.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jonathan Franzen Isn't in The McSweeneys Gang


There's a character in The McSweeneys Gang, a new American Pop Lit e-novel by King Wenclas, who resembles acclaimed author Jonathan Franzen. But it's not Jonathan Franzen.

Not the Real Dave Eggers


The Dave Eggers character in The McSweeneys Gang, a new ebook novel by King Wenclas, is not the real Dave Eggers, and has no resemblance to the wonderful real person.

The Elite and Effete


Times Style Hipsters

Here’s a couple of writers found in the New York Times Style Magazine, courtesy of a piece by Stephen Heyman:

Don’t they look just unpacked from a box? (The people as well as the clothes.) Pricey duds for a mock-bohemian look. I bet these two know a great deal about the hardships, tensions, and divisions wrenching this country right now. Writers!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Literary World Wrestling

Literary World Wrestling is an apt way to describe Tom Bissell’s ULA essay. The essay’s narrative was created in advance. The outcome was assured. Rehearsed and ready. Bissell then jumped into the ring to toss around a stuffed dummy named Ranger Rick, while the herd audience cheered loudly. “Yaaaay!!” Gullible reviewers in the audience like Maria Bustillos, Garth Hallberg, and Johannes Lichtman were too brainwashed to see the presentation as staged hoax. They believe Literary World Wrestling is real.

At the end of the fake match, smirking Bissell raised his arms in the air, while Literary World Wrestling chief Dave Eggers, dressed in a referee’s costume, declared him the victor. The verdict, of course, though it was fake, can never be appealed.

Tom Bissell took the L.W.W. trophy home with him. There it sits on his mantle, glittering and fake. I’m sure he believes in its reality. Let’s hope he never has to meet a live opponent.


Support dynamic new literature. Buy The McSweeneys Gang by King Wenclas. Affordably available via Nook or Kindle.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Different Take on Warwick Sabin

Here's an interesting online piece by Marc Smirnoff, founder and former editor of the Oxford American. It's curious what you find when you do some superficial digging in the realm of the literary world:

Things get curiouser and curiouser. The piece does provide us with a glimpse of the Big Money boys who stand behind so much of the establishment literary world. It's a part of lit that Tom Bissell will never cover, and which writers like Maria Bustillos and Johannes Lichtman refuse to know about.

I like Smirnoff's point that journalists are supposed to get both sides of a story. This is what those who've applauded Bissell's faulty ULA essay have determinedly refused to do.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Response from Warwick Sabin


Monday, January 07, 2013

What's to Be Done?



I know I’m wasting my time with these posts—though venting keeps me from, say, punching somebody out. I’ll move on to other topics soon enough. I know the literary world is immovable. All my research and experience shows that it’s thoroughly corrupt. Upside down and sideways. Through and through.

One thing for sure. Every criticism the ULA made of today’s established literary world has been shown to be true, many times over.

Does anyone care if Eggers, Bissell and Company sell “The Big Lie” over and over? Of course not! It’s not their place to care. Not Hallberg-Bustillos-Lichtman’s place to care. Less to think about the way things are done. They’re merely “writers.” Which means, not the stand-up fearless figures of the past like Zola or Solzhenitsyn. Today, “writer” is a euphemism for “bureaucrat,” “apparatchik,” or “tool.” Truth? What’s that? If there were such thing as truth (they don’t believe there is), they wouldn’t want to know.

Character? Integrity? Backbone? Unknown concepts.

Literature—real literature—in the final analysis isn’t a product of smoothly crafted sentences or certificates from everyone-think-alike workshops. It is, instead, a function of heart, conscience, and soul. Of seeing the world as it is, and with unflinching honesty, speaking about it. “Get along to go along”? There’s no place for that for the real writer—but the real writer today is a rare creature, hard to find among the hordes of see-no-evil go with the flow conscienceless sociopaths who populate the established literary world.

Fortunately the world of publishing is changing. The insular corrupt tower of arrogant mandarins is crumbling. Their day will soon enough be over.


(Be sure to buy the new ebook, "The McSweeneys Gang," by King Wenclas. Available at Nook or Kindle. Fictional satire-- but maybe not so fictional after all.)

How Corrupt Is Corrupt?


If the 2012 republication by McSweeney’s of Tom Bissell’s attack essay against the Underground Literary Alliance was the continuation of a vendetta by McSweeney’s against the Underground Literary Alliance, the Oxford American review of Bissell’s book by Johannes Lichtman takes the feud one step farther. The review condenses several of Tom Bissell’s misrepresentations and falsehoods into one paragraph at the top of the review for stronger effect.

The intent behind the smear has to be questioned, in that Oxford American editor Roger D. Hodge is Tom Bissell’s long-time friend and patron. They worked together at Harper’s magazine in 1996-97. Bissell has singled out Hodge for thanks in book acknowledgments. Hodge, while a Harper’s editor in the 2000’s, was apparently key in establishing Bissell’s career as an essayist.

Roger Hodge was at the center of questionable behavior while a Harper’s editor—behavior which the ULA covered.

(For an objective look at one of the issues, see this article by Tom Scocca-- Scroll down the page to get to the Centralia fire matter. I covered this story as a follow-up to another possible Harper’s plagiarism issue early in 2005.)

Can we believe that Bissell and Hodge had no role whatsoever in Lichtman’s hatchet job review? Consider the history, then reread Lichtman’s review, which viciously goes after the ULA from the outset:

Tom Bissell won’t answer questions here about his ULA essay—he’s been caught laughing at these posts on Facebook—but he’s apparently not above encouraging more smears, coming from once-reputable sources.

It’s an example of how corrupt the established literary world is now. Once-prestigious literary journals like Oxford American are mere tools to use for the personal settling of scores. To use the Oxford American in this way smears the journal itself as much as it smears the Underground Literary Alliance. Truth, objectivity, and integrity have been trampled.

Is the established literary scene in such shaky shape that it needs to spend a year smearing a writers advocacy group which is no longer active? Esteemed outlets like New York Times, L.A. Review of Books, Kirkus Reviews, and many others have joined in kicking around a whistle-blowing outfit whose crime was exposing cronyism and corruption at the highest levels of the literary scene, involving some of the lit world’s most powerful figures. You don’t do that and easily get away with it—and so the vendetta by the literary establishment against the ULA continues.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Writers of Conscience?

Intellectually, Tom Bissell knows that his essay about the Underground Literary Alliance is filled with distortions and slurs (“lots and lots of tombstones”), and that it has spread malice against the ULA across the literary world. Yet he’s willing to have that Frankenstein’s monster of an essay represent him and his career. He’s willing to live with the fraud.

Tom Bissell’s friends and supporters should also know by now that the essay is false. Willfully, like stubborn children, they continue to support it.

The journalists and writers who applauded the essay, Garth Risk Hallberg, Maria Bustillos, and Johannes Lichtman among them, have been sent evidence that the essay’s narrative is false. Will they confront the slurs and misrepresentations, the distortion of truth? Or do they choose convenience over conscience?

If the writer has no conscience, who in society will?

The literary establishment has the power to close me off and shut me down. They’ve been doing it. It’s a victory for a clique but a crime against conscience. If not one writer has integrity or conscience, then the false narrative becomes accepted truth.

If it can happen in literature, it can happen anywhere.

Friday, January 04, 2013

The Fall Guy

Johannes Lichtman seems willing to take sole responsibility for the Oxford American smear of the Underground Literary Alliance, as if the review, and the malicious way it was written, was entirely his idea.

It’s possible Lichtman bought the Bissell/Believer false narrative wholly. There’s no accounting for gullibility. Lichtman may have thought ULAers were indeed semi-sentient backwoods “Ranger Rick” Neanderthals scarcely capable of writing their own names. Like the sneering villain in a bad World War II movie, jackbooted and monocled, Lichtman assumed he could casually stomp us without blowback or complaint.

It didn’t occur to Johannes Lichtman that Tom Bissell’s essay on the ULA is essentially one giant lie from start to finish—from the opening premise that all writers are outsiders inhabiting no literary world to speak of.

Such ideas are propaganda for suckers. Have Dave Eggers and the McSweeney’s Gang behaved as if there were no literary world and no Insiders? Not for one minute. Dave Eggers was assiduously networking with every well-connected literary Insider and big publishing conglomerate he could find from Day One of his operations. Any unknown writers thrown into the mix were window dressing. Eggers went after the Moody-Minot blueblood New Yorker crowd. Those were the kind of writers he most wanted to buddy-up with and highlight.

Any quick investigation shows that the networking, the accommodating to Money and Power, has never ceased. Outsiders indeed!

Yet, as part of the game, Eggers continues to pretend that aside from the connections to Google Microsoft Amazon, to assorted and various big investment types, he’s actually an “indie” kind of guy. With the clueless, including Johannes Lichtman apparently, Eggers gets away with it. A variation of the Big Lie. Nobody questions the scamming, nor desires to question it. Take your meds. Don’t worry. Be happy. The state of the American literary world today.

(Be sure to buy the fearless satirical novel, The McSweeneys Gang, available via Nook or Kindle.)

Thursday, January 03, 2013

One More Inaccuracy


Re the Johannes Lichtman review of Magic Hours.

Leaving out crucial information isn’t being accurate.

In his remarks about the Underground Literary Alliance, Lichtman says, “—they group Rick Moody together with Jonathan Franzen because both are members of the ‘elite.’”

This isn’t true. One has to distort language and meaning to make it true. The statement, as it’s presented, is a falsehood.

I’ll give the link again to the backstory of the ULA’s encounters with Moody and Franzen:

Much more, incidentally, remains to be said about the dishonesty of the pertinent section of Tom Bissell’s ULA essay.

Abuse of the grants system is why we wrote about Rick Moody and Jonathan Franzen. We didn’t cover their writing in our pieces on them, because that wasn’t the topic in question. Neither did we “hate” them. That’s projecting emotion where it doesn’t belong.

We—or at least most of us—criticized the grants system not because we wanted grants ourselves, but to point to the corruption of establishment literature in contrast to the zine world. We were also acting as advocates for writers of every stripe.

The word “elite” is not a synonym for “corrupt.” It’s not a synonym for “cronyism.” With even his choice of words, Professor Lichtman isn’t accurate.

I always thought “elite” meant the best individuals—not the worst.

Accuracy means hitting the bulls eye. In the portion of his review about the Underground Literary Alliance, Johannes Lichtman missed with every shot.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Another Inaccuracy


Here’s another inaccuracy in Johannes Lichtman’s review of Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours.

Lichtman writes, about Bissell, “—he probes the deeper motivations behind their inchoate anger.”

This isn’t simply an inaccuracy. It’s an outright falsehood. As I explain in my “Believer Essay” parts I and III, linked at the left of this page, Tom Bissell did shallow research on the Underground Literary Alliance. He never met a one of us. This might’ve been okay if we were just like all other writers. But we weren’t.

What Bissell gives us in his ULA essay are the motivations of system writers like himself. It’s an example of his narrow-mindedness that it never occurred to him there was a difference. Yet the ULA’s founders and most of its members came to literature on a different path from those who are “taught” how to write in university programs.

Tom Bissell’s misinterpretation of the meaning of zine nicknames, or his failure to comprehend (or even try to comprehend) the idea behind Urban Hermitt’s writing, strongly show that zine literature was an alien creature to him.

Zinesters were and are Do-It-Yourselfers. Most zinesters simply begin writing and publishing. They take literature entirely into their own hands. Most have their own angle to pursue. Their task is to sell the zine by connecting immediately to an audience, no matter how they must do it. The rule book is thrown into a dumpster.

There are no thick layers of bureaucracies like those which confront the system writer. No expensive writing programs at impressive campuses of imposing stone buildings. No banks of agents and editors in plush offices in New York skyscrapers; no phalanxes of mandarins in metaphorical robes granting or disallowing approval. Yet, through the system is the way Tom Bissell views literature. It’s how he chose to view us. He imagined us struggling to attain certificates of approval. That we didn’t have any could only mean we weren’t very smart, and not very good. He saw us like other writers attending high-priced bourgie seminars (we’d attend a seminar only to “crash” it), and circulating and recirculating manuscripts through the mailrooms of status quo journals and publishers. No doubt some of us had done so, briefly, at some point. But to become a serious zinester is to throw that over, because you’re going into alternate territory, where the means of survival are something other. Which is why the style of zine writing isn’t literary. The connection with readers has to be as fast as a punk rock song. You’re not out to impress with “craft,” but to shake the reader in the quickest or harshest or most fun way possible.

Tom Bissell didn’t know this. Manufactured creature that he is, I’m sure he still doesn’t know it. But it didn’t have to be that way. Not long before Bissell did his essay on us, I met a local Philly journalist at a famous local saloon named McGlinchey’s. I brought with me several of the most amazing specimens of zines I’d collected over the previous ten years, so she could see the extreme variety of design, styles, writing, graphics, ideas, and viewpoints there embodied. She took those priceless DIY objects away with her. I never saw them again, and her article was killed by her editor, but she became a zinester herself, and today is one of the leading figures in what remains of the scene.

The ULA was an extension of zinedom, a more ambitious project. Naive fools that we were, we sought to bring our discoveries about writing and about readers into the literary mainstream. We brought with us a different viewpoint toward literature. A different mindset. Differently wired eyes and brains, from a different, newer literary planet. Tom Bissell didn’t want to know. “Probes.” “Deeper.” The words are absurd. They’re laughable. Throughout his essay on the ULA Bissell shows a complete misunderstanding of, and unconcern with, zine literature and the zine scene.

Johannes Lichtman behaves the same way, of course. In his email to me, Lichtman pleads deliberate ignorance of the subject. “What your organization is about is not of great concern to me.” He doesn’t want to know! It’s not his place to judge the truth of Bissell’s essays. If Bissell says it, it must be so. Like an unintelligent housecat listening to its master, Johannes Lichtman enjoys the style of writing, the patter of words. For him, the typical trained literary person, that’s good enough. That’s all.

“—he probes the deeper motivations behind their inchoate anger—“ 

This single remark marks Bissell’s failure as an essayist, and Lichtman’s as a reviewer.