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.


King Wenclas said...

p.s. Writers who seek to write like Alice Munro doom themselves to obsolescence.
The participant in any endeavor needs the ability to look at that endeavor dispassionately, without preconceptions. The "New Yorker" story, of which Munro is a well-known purveyor, is a flawed model. It creeps along at five miles an hour. We live in an ultra-competitive age. The new story needs to go eighty.

The new writer will become what we at NEW POP LIT recommend: pop and literary BOTH. When they do, we want to read their work!
Those who can imagine the future will own it.

callingcrow said...

I think my writing meets your criteria. How does an author submit one of their books to you for a review?

Paul Clayton, author of In the Shape of a Man.


King Wenclas said...

We're not reviewing books. However, we welcome any short fiction you send our way to read. Send questions or submissions to Thanks!

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