Wednesday, October 27, 2004

What's Wrong with Publishing Today II

The first question is whether there IS something wrong with publishing-- or if the present System is working.

The ULA says it's not. For fifty years the System hasn't produced a great writer, despite massive investment in the literary art. Our argument is that the Establishment Machine is flawed from top to bottom; from MFA feeder programs to which authors receive large publicity backing.

The results speak for themselves. Literature has become less important and necessary to the average American's life. The ULA is offering not just a comprehensive criticism of the present System-- but a solution. We're putting the pieces into place for an alternative, more credible and representative machine.

In so doing we've reached out to writers who've been overlooked by mainstream literature, to American literature's loss.

During the ULA's debate with George Plimpton and his PARIS REVIEW staff at CBGB's in 2001, I pointed to a large poster of Wild Bill Blackolive. While Plimpton had been promoting marginally interesting trendoids like Jay McInerney and Tama Janowitz, Bill had been ignored. Yet with the right encouragement and push he could've been another Hemingway. His persona, even today, is unique. His prose is dynamic and multi-faceted. His uneven "Tales from the Texas Gang" novel contains passages of action unsurpassed even by Hemingway. Yet he can also write in the stripped-down style of "Madame Z and Billy," a short novel about an intense relationship between an artist and her model, an excerpt of which is up on the ULA's fan site.

Wild Bill, like Lisa B. Falour, with whom he's now collaborating (and whose photo graces the cover of LIT FAN MAG #2) could've been a literary superhero-- the kind of figure American lit has badly needed to compete with the Michael Jordans and Madonnas of its cultural competitors.

Compete in this culture? Most literati don't even try. They look for financial umbillical cords which allow them to settle into cozily comfortable and quiet niches where they're unlikely to upset anyone.

Because those who run the Machine, the conglomerate book publishers and glossy magazines, come from the upper and upper-middle class, they look for writers who appeal to their Ivy League selves, within their walled island of Manhattan. Who do they fund and hype? Smirky but basically clueless ladder climbers like Ana Marie Cox, a conformist System player (U of Chicago American Prospect Chronicle of Higher Education who has just received a six-figure advance-- and is unlikely to advance American lit's reach beyond its present hip smug trendy unrepresentative audience.


Anonymous said...

Are you serious? No, really, are you serious? That "Madame Z and Billy" story was HORRIBLE. Is there anything you can say in its defense, besides simply stating "it's better than Hemingway" (which it's not).

Now I thought The Corrections was fairly flat and unfunny, and I tend to despise Rick Moody, but at a pinch I'd opt for either over that dreck you linked to. I suppose this just means I'm an "unrepresentative" reader, or not part of "real America". Well, so be it! At least I'm reading good fiction...

Anonymous said...

I just read "i'm dead, who am i" by Ron Androla after following the link to your ULA 'fan' site. It was juvenile gibberish of the most moronic kind. Why should anyone publish it? It's dismal. The work of a cretin.
You'll really have to offer the masses much, much better than that if you wish to provoke your revolution. Androla work couldn't even raise a fart at the literary barricades.
And yes, I came here by way of the New Criterion, which contains work of far superior quality.
Good blog, tho', you have here. You should drop the ULA because it won't get you anywhere.

Jeff Potter said...

Hey Anony Mouse, What's so bad about Wild Bill's excerpt? (at

Is it like lots of other "bad" fiction you've read? It seems to me that the characters come to life----even Percy and Henry. How common is it to have a character like Henry, who only is someone who gets hit, actually come to life in a writing? Percy says one thing. He has presence in the story, too.

Is it not smooth? Not clever?

Overly common characters in a trite situation?

What I find is that a different sort of writer like Wild Bill takes a while to adjust to. This reflects his difference, his newness. An early reaction to such a demand can be easily interpreted as 'this is bad.' We're so unused to the new that we don't know how to handle it. It happens to me. I sometimes end up having a different view after what I've read gestates awhile. Have you recently read in such a way as to allow such a process? Or do you know what is good or new already?

Not that the story requires it (or maybe it does) but Wild Bill *did* do art-class modelling, bouncing and bodyguarding for much of his life. How common is that for someone who is also such a longtime writer? It's more likely that a valuable voice would come from such a life than from that of a typical MFA grad. It's both street and proud, or elevated.


Anonymous said...

This post of "New Criterion" add much anger to Evil Journalista. Make face red, like borsht, with Russo-Italian features.

Evil Journalista is not yes-man for ULA. Evil Journalista is free-lance, unemployed, as writer. He read much of this ULA. Learn many things, of Wenclas, of Saunders. Is good petrol, for brain.

ULA is many writers, in one. Together, make change, do new things. Not perfect, but Active, like horny fox humping dead zebra.

Mainstream is no good, is wrong in head. Concerned of image, of self, of fitting in and getting Fame. What is this "Fame, i wanna live forever?" As young man, Evil Journalista see Fame movie, of young performers, in tight pants. Decide this Fame is no good, waste of time. Instead, Evil Journalista take long boat journey to America, with nothing but sack of grapenut, for to eat.

Newspaper, zine, magazine, e-zine, blog, pamphlet, broadside, chapbook, paperback, softcover, trade edition, etc etc, None of this is perfect. None of these is "Way." Literature is way, literature is all of these, none of these. Literature is writing, writing is all that matters.

Writing is lifelong process, of Blackolive, of Saunders. One novel does not make you "writer." One review does not make you "good" or "bad." This is what mainstream does not understand.

Ehhhh, never mind that now. Evil Journalista is tired, of typing. Where is this bitch, Svetlana? Evil Journalista call Russian Bride Agency 10 days ago. Still, no wife. Instead, only lonely room, bottle, and copy of Lit Fan Magazine, with porno, on cover.

Anonymous said...

I laughed out loud, Mr. Wenclas, when I read the review of the visitor from The New Criterion of Wild Bill Black Olive. He is right.

Bill is no Hemingway, not on this earth. You may think it was me who wrote that but I assure you it was not. He came to the same conclusion that I have about the ULA.

You are right on many things, but you can not have a revolution unless you have a stronger alternative than the status quo. Your writers are worse.

Bill Walton

Anonymous said...

"Anony Mouse." Ha!

Okay, I'll try to explain why I don't like about the Wild Bill Blackolive piece. It's a *lot* like other bad fiction I've read. And I'm not talking about the crap that all too often makes it onto store shelves. I'm talking about the overeager and dull submissions that fill up the slush pile. I assume you have experience with submissions, so maybe you know what I'm talking about, but after awhile they all blend together. They're not new. They're not different. They're just so -- repetitive. The writing is always flat. You get stale sentences like "Abruptly, she went incensed." I can't tell if that sentence is supposed to have some great effect, or set some wonderful mood, or if it's just lazy. And if it seems lazy, odds are it is lazy. The characters are dull. The dialogue is dull. Example:

"If Percy comes over tonight she has a body guard who will send him packing. That's her prediction. She screamed, hell no, he is no cop, asshole! I don't need cops! Bring your fucking creeps, fool! She hung up.

Jesus Christ. Is he coming?

Men are such shit."
The thing is, I've been in a situation similar to this, and it was terrifying. (Okay, so it was with a landlord rather than a love, but whatever). The story recaptures none of that. It's listless. Dull. Are these things supposed to be listless and dull? Is that the point? Then who cares? I don't want dialogue I can hear anywhere else. It takes more effort to read than to hang out in a slimey part of town where people drone on about how "Men are such shit." So if I want something boring, why would I go through the effort to read about it?

I consider myself patient. I consider myself open-minded. But I've worked at a few magazines that publish fiction (it doesn't matter which ones, though they weren't the New Criterion), and after awhile you learn to spot the same marks of bad writing. And you can spot it because you see them over and over and over and over and over again. It doesn't numb your mind, you actually feel it quite acutely. But it's there, and I got that feeling reading this story.

Oh, and frankly, I don't care if Wild Bill was an art-model and a bouncer and a bodyguard. From his story, it sounds like he was a boring art-model and a boring bouncer and a boring bodyguard. Sad but true. A variety of life experience doesn't make you a good writer, not by a long shot.


Adam Hardin said...

Do you know who is out-selling Contemporary American Literary Novelists? Historians.

Adam Hardin said...

I cut myself off from above.

The point is that serious readers today read non-fiction as opposed to fiction. That is because fiction writers do not have the intellectual weight and cultural relevancy to attract serious readers.

The writers like Rick Moody want to blame the reader, but it is the writers who are to blame. The writers have cut their own throats.

Read "The Hours," by Michael Cunningham. It is terrible writing next to Hemingway and Faulkner and Nabokov.

Jeff Potter said...

Brad, Wild Bill might have the "bad marks," might not be smooth or clever, but I still think the wrap-up of the scene that you quote is a good one. There's a dry spareness in the style that amazingly lets more come thru. Maybe it's an acquired taste. Many good things are.

Of course a street-life is no guarantee, of anything. (Do we seem that simple?) At the same time, polish and skill are over-rated. Are the best writers self-taught or workshopped? Are today's publishers taking advantage of the most likely dynamic to give quality?

I don't get many street-writers, good or 'bad,' coming in over the transom. My slush is mostly from those with a laundry list of (truly!) boring lit-quarterly credits in their query. As if that might offset their having no idea what my press is about. It's uniformly embarrassing, the way these MFA types behave---identically---in MY slushpile anyway. I do get occasional savvy submissions: never from academia. In general I suspect that when zeensters, or anyone familiar with the underground, cooperates they do all right. Not perfect but with some zing. And I do get great mail from those who've actually read what I publish---again, no MFA types, plenty of undergrounders and regular people.


[some more of that Wild Bill scene]

Look, if he were to come over here, what should I do?

I don't know, talk to him for me, I guess.

This went on, of which I could comprehend no more. I just drank my six pack of Guinness. Madam Z went to bed with her Moby Dick. She went to sleep, in fact.

Around one a.m. Percy knocked on her front door. I had to unlatch it about three ways one handed, holding the last Guinness. I don't lock doors, myself. He said, I'm Percy.

He had some very large guy with him. I was half drunk and tired of it.


I'm Percy.

So fucking what.

Henry, Percy said. Think this guy is up to trouble?

Well, said Henry.

My Guinness was half full, but I put it through Henry's teeth. Down his throat. I just did not have time for this shit.

Percy ran for the rented car but I caught him.

Hey, man, take this guy with you! I don't want 'im here! If you don't take him with you I'll hit you too!

Percy took Henry with him and I never saw either of those guys again.

I checked on the Madam asleep. I walked down to the Stop 'n Go for a sixer of Guinness, one block. Damn, I needed pot. The Madam won't smoke much pot, it makes her nervous. I drank the Guinness and smoked two Mores, smoked them like pot for the rush. Then I snuggled up to her. After two or three hours, two or three big pisses, which caused her to grumble, I fell asleep. In the daylight I woke in the heat of her mouth. Then I remembered the night and could not get my mind off it. She said, well, what's wrong with you today?

I told her. She merely laughed. She said she prays she never sees Percy again in her life, bless him.

I think you may never see him again, I said. I really fucked up his friend. I think he swallowed glass.

King Wenclas said...

The jaded aristocrats mistakenly assume that Bill is writing for them; those of "discriminating" taste. Frankly, we've had too much of taste and discrimination in the lit world. As I've said, you all HAVE FAILED-- failed literature and in so doing failed the American public. It's time to look elsewhere.

(I'll soon address these issues raised in more detail. First, though, on this thread today I'll address the kind of fiction YOU have been offering, in the form of a story by one of today's literary darlings.)

Anonymous said...

Lord knows, nobody with any interest in or feeling for good writing could read much of this crap. You say "taste" like it's a bad thing. But given the low level of what you support, I guess that makes perfect sense.