Thursday, December 17, 2015
Writer in Trouble
I know Michael from my days in Philly when I was spearheading THE most radical writers group ever. (Underground Literary Alliance.) I met Mike in a large calling room in which we were both (ironically) fundraising for an ostensibly activist organization. I had something of a reputation at that time, as well as the loudest voice in the room. What struck me about Grover was his consistency—he could read the same script again and again and each time nail it perfectly. I recall that when I heard he was a poet I gave him a little bit of a hard time—mocking the art and its big names. He assured me there were talents outside the closed world of academe who were keeping the art form vital.
When I saw him read at a place on South Street one evening I realized he was right. He had several dynamic spoken word poets there, including his colleague Natalie Felix. Soon they moved their show to the Five Spot.
We became buds on the job—double-dating after work regularly with two ladies from the place. Since we usually went to the same bar on Walnut Street where they had great pitchers of margaritas, we started a little club named after the place, “The Moriarty’s Society.” Membership cards even.
At some other point we formed another club—also with membership cards—called “Left Wing Wackos.” This because a rather buttoned-down bourgie caller would tell people on the phone, “We’re not a bunch of Left-Wing Wackos.” Grover would laugh and say, “But we are!”
To give another anecdote out of many: One afternoon the two of us were drinking at the famous Philly bar McGlinchey’s. Rather heavily. At one point I realized I was blitzed and said, “I won’t be able to make it,” about the job and called in sick. Michael determined to go in. He’s a guy who doesn’t show when he’s been drinking, but I knew he was blasted. He walked out of there in a straight line, staring ahead, his eyes fixed on his mission. I later heard he had one of his best evenings calling ever.
I read at a few of Grover’s events, and recruited him for a few ULA readings. Notably, at a benefit for a writer in Chicago in 2003, and at our Medusa show in Philadelphia in 2005—of which there’s video. We eventually had a falling out—at the time I was a hard charger and maybe even a little crazy.
I’ve always believed Michael Grover to be one of the absolute best spoken word poets in the country. Here’s hoping he gets well soon so he can continue his poetry making.
Wednesday, December 09, 2015
The Best New Writers?
Who is finding and showcasing the best new writers?
The NEW POP LIT project is betting that we have the ability to discover great new writers which the New York conglomerates and literati overlook. In our first print issue we showcase many of them—Jessie Lynn McMains, Thomas Mundt, Alex Bernstein, James Alexander, Wred Fright, Kathleen Crane, Dan Nielsen, Terry Sanville and Robin Dunn among them.
Can you the reader and/or literary person afford to not investigate what new pop writing is about?
Stay up on coming changes! We’re just getting started. Get ahead of the curve by purchasing NEW POP LIT #1 now!
Friday, December 04, 2015
Buy NEW POP LIT!
The best cover for a lit journal ever?
The stories and poems inside are as striking and dynamic.
How can you NOT own this literary artwork? It’s not perfect—but it is a harbinger of where the lit product is headed in both look and content. Fun and fast, finding a new path for readers and writers.
Get it! Available through our Detroit blog, here.
Friday, November 06, 2015
Formatting a Book
I’m happy to announce that NEW POP LIT #1 (which might be called Issue One Revamped) is back from the printer. It looks good. More than good. It looks great.
I have found throughout the course of the text a few infuriating trivial mistakes which somehow I missed. Trivial for sure in the larger context of what we’re doing, because the book is a very good product, containing terrific writing. BUT, the failure of achieving 100%—which a book needs to be—plunges me back into the maddening experience of formatting the thing.
Putting together a book online, especially a collection of diverse contributions, is not like designing zines, of which I’ve done many. The way I produced zines, offline, every step was analog. Meaning, when I finished a page, it was finished. Unchanging.
A digital file by contrast is always changing. Make a change in one part of the file, and suddenly a score of changes have taken place throughout. Like the butterfly effect—a butterfly flapping its wings can have effects on the other end of the universe. In this case, the other end of the file. An added word or spaced line can mean two extra pages.
I worked on the book at night, after getting home from a grinding evening “day job.” I soon found I was doing a mind meld with the file. The file became part of my brain. The gaps in the file became echoed by gaps in my tired brain.
I was putting a dozen or more files together, each one formatted differently, along with inserted artwork. Each time I made a change in the file as a whole, it caused a proliferation of changes within each separate file. Even when I thought I’d brought them tediously up to speed. For instance, when I was 90% done, I decided the margins needed to be justified. A good move, but it threw off everything. Was the file also “register true”? Oops! Another change to be made, causing other changes. Don’t ask me about titles, headers, and footers. I’m still absorbing my learning in those areas.
When you don’t take these steps in the proper order—I was operating by trial and error—then after each step you should proofread every single part of the file. Stories, poems, art, contents page, title page: everything. This becomes mentally exhausting. You begin skipping and scanning. The contents are of high quality. At times, the submissions are amazing. But that doesn’t mean you can reread them word by word night after night with ease! (The re-readings made me realize how amazing the pieces are. I have total appreciation for the talents of the writers and artists we were able to find.)
I took the obstacles and challenges as a kind of punishment given me from the mind of the universe for the extreme hubris of my past life. Maybe as a warning not to be arrogant and self-satisfied this time around. I’m thankful that I have another “this time” in which to push my ideas, and maybe, this time, to get them right.
The upside in the experience is that eventually you reach a point when you’re able to be a little creative. It’s why I’ve decided to keep going. I truly believe I can create books, in look, style, and writing, that will be a step beyond anything produced by the mainstream. If I can visualize it, I can create it—the creation dependent of course on the ability to find talents like those we’re showcasing in this our first title—from cover artist Alyssa Klash (our cover a fully realized achievement) to “Pop Picasso” insert artist Dan Nielsen, to unbelievable writers like Jessie Lynn McMains, Thomas Mundt, Brittany Terwilliger, Alex Bernstein, Robin Dunn et.al., with exclamation marks; to interview subject author/publisher Delphine Pontvieux; and to the very special Kathleen Crane, without whose support and encouragement this project would be floundering.
Now comes the task of promoting and selling the produced thing, which should be easy!
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
At Detroit’s Dally in the Alley
I’m posting at a number of spots about NEW POP LIT’s appearance at the famed Detroit urban street fair, the “Dally in The Alley.”
Our main report is right here.
Wednesday, September 02, 2015
Questions About Book Reviewing
ANOTHER STRIKING NEW POP LIT INTERVIEW
Our task at NEW POP LIT is to cover literary issues in a way no one else will cover them. We try to look behind the facade of the acceptable narratives to present you what’s really happening, and what individuals within the book community really think.
See, for instance, our interview with Daily Beast book reviewer Tom LeClair: http://newpoplit.com/2015/08/31/leclair-on-franzen/
LeClair is as outspoken as any book critic can be—calling out “middlebrow cheerleader(s)” who engage in “critical irresponsibility.”
Surely “Big 5” publishing has something of a symbiotic relationship with lit-establishment organizations, publications, and writers. To what extent does this influence the nature of book reviews? Especially when the novel being reviewed is as heavily promoted as is Purity by Jonathan Franzen?
These are questions which need to be asked and answered.
Thursday, August 27, 2015
Against the Establishment
Why has the American public embraced political candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders? It shows a rejection of the “business-as-usual” status quo political establishment.
The same phenomenon should be taking place in the world of literature, which badly needs a shakeup and shakeout.
Ever look at yahoo news or other online information sources? Entire staffs of editors are assigned to cover movies, music, and sports. Almost NO ONE covers the book world, which as a topic of interest has disappeared. Big-selling authors are out there, the likes of George R.R. Martin. (Or even lit-establishment novelist Jonathan Franzen.) They have ZERO personality—and in truth aren’t very good writers. There’s little reason to cover them.
This tells me that the publishing establishment anchored in New York City and their well-trained p.r. mavens have been failures. They’re doing everything wrong.
We at NEW POP LIT are confident or naive enough to believe we can do better.
In contrast to the “go-along-to-get-along” weasels of establishment politics, actual human beings like Sanders and Trump are a welcome difference.
It’s also time to move on from the conformists of establishment literature.
(See NEW POP LIT’s report on the new Jonathan Franzen novel, here.)
Monday, August 17, 2015
Looking for Writing Talent
As editor at NEW POP LIT (www.newpoplit.com) I’m not getting enough submissions of short fiction which try to hit what I’m truly after. Any story is a mix of elements. Plot; character; description; literary style. I’m looking for a completely different mix of elements—stories which are as stripped-down as a Raymond Carver story but with a whole hell of a lot more color and plot.
We want to hit the unwary reader right from the get-go: boom, boom, boom. Get the reader immediately into the story. Short paragraphs. Immediate action. Then, as the fast pace progresses, reveal character and meaning, much of which by necessity will be implied or between the lines.
I want to present stories which can be handed to ANYONE and be appreciated and liked. The days of an isolated literary clique writing for themselves should be OVER. Kill that period. Reinvent the art form. Create unparalleled excitement. Experiment and experiment with the elements until you produce something that rocks.
Tuesday, August 04, 2015
About New Publishing
WRITERS and other literary folk need to step back and adopt a historical perspective about where literature and publishing are headed. In the universe, though there are overarching truths, change is a constant. Publishing is in the midst of drastic change. The goal of NEW POP LIT is to gain a position from which to participate in that change. We have enough time to put together the right kind of vehicle to drive through the current and approaching noise and chaos of where the culture is now.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Interview with a New Yorker Writer
How are things in the world of New York City “Big Five” conglomerate publishing?
We at NEW POP LIT took a break from creating an alternative long enough to interview John Colapinto, staff writer at The New Yorker. What he has to say about his own difficulties is revealing. You’ll not read a stronger interview anywhere.
Read the story and interview—then let us know what you think.
Thursday, July 09, 2015
Yes, at the various NEW POP LIT entities we’re running an entire week of baseball celebration.
We begin with the new lead story at our main site, by Tom Tolnay, "Baseball Is Truth, Truth Is Baseball"
Next, we’re running a poll at our Detroit Literary blog, asking which was the best Detroit Tigers baseball team of all time? The choices given are the city’s four world championship campaigns. See
Finally, for hard-core baseball readers, here’s a link to info about an essay about the great American game which I wrote for North American Review way back in 1994, during the infamous baseball strike. The essay is titled, “The Last Day of Baseball.”
Not the last day of baseball after all, it turned out—which allows us to engage in this 2015 celebration.
Tuesday, June 09, 2015
Wred Fright Is IN New Pop Lit!
At least, he'll be in our first print issue. Or rather, a story of his will be. The famed zine novelist will be featured with a tale entitled, "30 Women in 30 Days: A Harold Grumblebunny Adventure." If that title doesn't grab you-- then maybe a few of our more "serious" entries will! NEW POP LIT means reading for everyone!
Saturday, June 06, 2015
New Pop Lit The Print Version IS Coming!
(Depicted: back cover of New Pop Lit Issue One.)
Here’s some info from NEW POP LIT’s house blog about the progress of the first issue of our print version:
A limited number of sneak-preview copies WILL be available at our table at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit, starting June 19!
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
The Octopus by Frank Norris
THE GREATEST AMERICAN NOVEL?
(Here’s the text of a short review I posted today at Goodreads of the 1901 Frank Norris classic, The Octopus. I could say much more about the novel—have elsewhere, and possibly will do so at this blog.)
Not just a great American novel-- this book is THE great American novel, in its scope, its understanding of the American character and of the forces which have shaped the American civilization. The leading figures of the narrative, on both sides of the dispute, are risk-takers. Most of them are quite ruthless-- Presley the poet and Vanamee the mystic the chief exceptions. It's Frank Norris's genius that he makes us care about a man like Annixter despite his hardness and ruthlessness. Annixter and the other members of the League become heroic because they stand up for their work, their land and their principles, against what turn out to be irresistible forces.
I see that some reviewers have a problem getting past Norris's style of writing. His "purple prose." Frank Norris was a naturalist and wrote in that mode-- which means the narrative is heavily detailed. It means that the author makes his points again and again-- he hammers them into you-- which is admittedly a different style from what most readers today are used to, but it also gives the book its unusual power. When conflict comes, it has reverberations beyond the incidents themselves, because Norris makes the conflicts part of his larger themes.
Norris overstates his descriptions because he wants the reader to SEE the setting and the characters; really see them. Few novels are so closely tied to the land and nature. (Tolstoy's Anna Karenina comes to mind.) No novel I've read has so well conveyed the special qualities of California; its landscape and sunlit beauty. Norris emphasizes the wheat as a force of nature because he wants us to see the railroad, and the people of the novel, as natural forces as well.
For all the care Norris put into the novel's construction, few novels carry as much excitement. The shooting at the barn dance; the chase of Dyke; and finally, the sudden showdown between ranchers and railroad men are as tense and exciting-- and ultimately as tragic-- as any scenes ever written.
Scope, power, love, tragedy, compassion, meaning-- no American novel puts every aspect of a great novel together as well as this one. Indeed, it remains topical, in that monopolies, corruption, and cronyism are with us today-- and there remain people who fight against these forces, whether their vehicle to do so be the Tea Party or Occupy. Since 1901, when The Octopus was first published, has all that much really changed?
Friday, April 24, 2015
Still Out There
(Photo: Dirty Franks in Philadelphia.)
Yes, I’m still around, still writing. Still In Detroit—despite a recent visit to the City of Brotherly Love.
I’ve been busy setting up the appearance of NEW POP LIT at the big Allied Media Conference in Detroit June 19-21. We may even debut the print version of our publication there, if all goes well. The journal will include fantastic work from amazing writers and artists.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Back in Philly
I’ll be back in my second home town, Philadelphia, for several days, including this weekend. While I’m there I may look at some of the writings I have in storage. I once did a newsletter called New Philistine which contained uninhibited literary criticism. Much more striking than anything ever published in the New York Times! Best lit criticism of the 1990’s. Curious whether I still have a few copies. (Did 45 issues.) I’m getting to the point of life, former underground colleagues dropping away, where I worry about saving a smidgen of my writing. Not for posterity so much as for any future open minds.
Friday, February 27, 2015
Oates and Bureaucracy
HERE COME THE REGULATORS
I found it interesting but not surprising to see esteemed establishment novelist Joyce Carol Oates come out strongly in favor of so-called Net Neutrality. She well represents the mindset of the system writer.
What’s a system writer? One who’s operated inside established bureaucracies since university days. In a sense Oates—like so many established authors—has never left the university. (She teaches there now, at Princeton.) These are writers who operate within the present system. Trained in the proper modes at college. If they’re “good” enough they move on to publication at one of the publishing giants. They write within the system as beribboned pets. Given plenty of treats to be compensated for having no control over their art. At all times they are inferior, within the pyramid of publishing, to the publishers, agents, editors; corporate execs and marketing experts, who decide what the final product will look like and how it will be presented. The writer is merely along for the ride.
It’s a stress-free environment, full of security, BECAUSE the writer has abdicated final responsibility and say over the artwork.
The alternative to this is the Do It Yourself writer—who controls every aspect of the process. Including what the publication will look like and how it will be marketed. It’s a tough path—but it allows said writer to maintain integrity.
For the DIY writer, Amazon is merely a necessary vehicle for distribution of the art. Before ebooks came around I published and sold my own zines. I know that the success of much-scorned Amazon is likely temporary. There were vehicles available for the DIY writer before Amazon. There will be vehicles available after it. (We at NEW POP LIT are in the early stages of creating one.) The world is in constant flux and change.
How does this apply to “Net Neutrality”? The system writer is never herself directly subject to regulation. That’s out of her domain. Remain obedient; crank out proper product—properly politically correct—and such issues are handled by the big guys.
Anyone who’s faced government regulators up close is not so complacent. Those who know what it’s like to deal with a gigantic government bureaucracy.
I did so for a portion of the 1990’s, when I worked as a middleman at the Detroit-Canada border; conduit between shippers bringing goods into the country, and the Customs officials whose job it is to ensure that all rules are properly followed. I eventually obtained a Customshouse Brokers license after taking a five-hour exam ensuring I well knew those regulations.
The problem with government bureaucracy as I witnessed it is that it never stops growing. Expanding. Multiplying. More laws passed. More federal regulations designed to enforce those laws added. Every year, the book of regs (CFR) kept getting thicker. The amount of rules one was required to be familiar with always increasing. You try to keep up—to present all paperwork properly—but eventually your mind feels about to explode.
The NAFTA act was sold as “free trade”—yet an entire volume of regulations was added to regulate this “free” trade. I left the business in 1999. I can only imagine what things are like now.
Net Neutrality, by classifying the Internet as a public utility, allows federal regulators in the form of the FCC to put a giant foot into the door of the Internet, all in the name of “freedom.” (See Orwell: Slavery is Freedom.) The Internet of course is enormous. How many bureaucrats will now need to be hired to police it? How many volumes of regulations added to clarify this action or that action? It’s the path toward bureaucratic nightmare.
The saying goes, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Yes, the largest service providers might do this and might do that. I’d prefer a self-policing situation.
Not to worry. Our officially-designated intellectuals—Joyce Carol Oates only one of them—have decided within their carefully-controlled bubble world that all is okay. They’ve never operated outside an institution—are likely more comfortable within one. House cats for whom the system takes care of every need. Well fed and pampered—and naturally scornful of alley cats outside the well-built house, running free and wild on the streets.
The only good news is that the house of publishing at least is in a state of decay, and may at any time collapse.
Has any American novelist dared to credibly write about THE story of latter-day American civilization: the rise of gigantic bureaucracy? The only one I can think of is James Gould Cozzens, who handled the subject in his World War II novel Guard of Honor. Cozzens was a defender of American Empire. His novel is a picture of its very creation. As much as he defends the growing military complex, he shows at the same time its built-in corruptions, incompetence, and inefficiencies. Afflictions part of any bureaucracy—including the publishing/literary system of today.
Would that we had such novelists now willing to look with unflinching eyes at the hives within which so many of us live and work—the bureaucratic beasts.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
The Big Bluff
What does the Brian Williams fiasco tell us?
The public is gradually discovering that the authority of establishment media’s authority figures is largely bluff. The figures presented to us are no smarter, have no more character and integrity, than the rest of us. They may have less.
This realization applies not just to the world of network news, but also to the critical establishment. For instance, establishment film critics raved about David Fincher’s 2014 flick Gone Girl. Never mind that every character is an unlikable sociopath; that the movie is often incoherent; the cinematography and score are sullenly dark; the acting is robotic; there are plot holes one could drive a freight train through—the movie has not one redeeming quality that I could discover. Something about its technical accomplishment (?) caused the esteemed critics to laud it. One even found it a comedy—which itself is comedic.
The fault is in the critics themselves. When they praise garbage, then garbage is what we’ll continue to be handed as substitute for art.
The situation is no better in the literary field. Jonathan Franzen is the best novelist this great civilization can produce? Really?
Something smells. Something’s rotten—not in the walls of Denmark but more probably in the city of New York.
Monday, January 26, 2015
What Pop Writing Looks Like
At NEW POP LIT we’re on an ongoing search for models of Pop Lit—the story, poem, or novel which combines the attributes of pop with relevance and meaning.
At our web site we have three examples of these attempts.
First is an essay by my co-editor, Andrea Nolen, titled “How to Tell Stories to Children.” Andrea looks at the reading experience, and why understanding it is important if we’re to renew literature.
Then we have our current story, “Talkin Muhlenberg County Blues,” whose author, “Fishspit,” demonstrates how to create a narrative line.
Last we have my own very different pop story, “Press Conference,” an excerpt from my e-novel The Tower. In the book I aimed first for readability, while at the same time trying to capture the moment. It’s about an NFL press conference.
We want others to tell us what Pop Lit should look like. Or send us examples!
Friday, January 23, 2015
Death of an Underground Writer
I just received word yesterday about the death of underground writer and artist Lisa B. Falour. She was famed as “Bikini Girl” of the 1980’s. Later was a member of the Underground Literary Alliance in its heyday. Lisa had problems with a small press publisher taking advantage of her. Changing her work without her permission and not paying her. One of the ULA’s successes was obtaining a payment from said publisher for her, after some lobbying. I’d been invited several times to visit her and her husband in Paris, but never raised the money or time off for such a journey.
Lisa’s work defined edgy writing. By all accounts she was an edgy personality. RIP, Lisa.
Friday, January 16, 2015
A WORRY common among all writers is whether any of his/her writing will survive the step out of this world. Part of the writing impulse no doubt is a desire to leave the shred of a record behind. A marker that we were here, and tried to make a difference.
Some of my best writing is not available on line. Chief among the lot is a long essay I wrote way back in 1994 for the prestigious literary journal North American Review. The essay was titled, “Detroit: Among the Lower Classes.” Though I have yet to find an archived copy anywhere, I do know of an essay about Detroit which references my piece, and has some flattering things to say about it.
I discuss that essay on another blog, here:
I did manage to discover the text of a much shorter and lesser piece I wrote in 2011 for the iNewp website, which seems to no longer exist. That essay, “A Tale of Two Literary Worlds,” is linked to the left, under Fun Stuff, if you care to take a look.
The trials of being an underground writer!
Saturday, January 10, 2015
Cartoonist Still Hiding
Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Two Literary Worlds
WHY ARE PRIVILEGED WRITERS WHINING?
Our friend Keith Gessen at New York’s most chic literary journal, n+1, has been on a campaign of late identifying his journal with the downtrodden. See this post at NEW POP LIT’s Interactive blog:
Was this posture a result of an essay I wrote back in 2011 or so, at the now-defunct “Voice of Anyone” iNewp website, about the defunct Underground Literary Alliance? The essay was titled “A Tale of Two Literary Worlds,” contrasting the fate of two literary groups; one at the center of the literary establishment, with all that entails, and one not.
Keith Gessen misses not having the street cred of a bottom-up, populist literary organization. One not so highly placed; not backed by the rich and the powerful. He generously wishes to change places with a fledgling outfit—to go from top to bottom, and allow someone else to move to the forefront.
You know what? We at NEW POP LIT are going to do everything in our power to help Gessen accomplish this goal!