The Art of Storytelling

Pop Lit Fiction

TALL TALES AND OTHER FICTION WRITING TECHNIQUES

WATCH some of recently-deceased comedian Norm Macdonald’s more extended jokes like “The Moth” and you realize he’s carrying on a North American tradition dating back to Mark Twain– or maybe Washington Irving: the tall tale. Stories related around a campfire– or, in cities, under a street lamp. The idea being to hook the reader at the outset, then keep the reader on the hook until the final conclusion, which sometimes is surprising but all the time satisfying.

TODAY we present a tale by one of the more talented and imaginative writers around, Zach Smith, making his second appearance with the New Pop Lit project. His new story, “Cloud Dreams,” could be called magic realism, but it’s also something of a yarn, a tall tale, one which presents an unusual premise and takes that premise to its logical(?) conclusion.

What is that conclusion? Read the story and find out!

In the morning the enormous man was wide awake, and showing no sign of hostility. Had he been used to hospitals before? Probably not, a man of that size would most assuredly be in the medical books, and figuring out who he was would have been easy, but there was no record. He was a full foot taller than the tallest living man, four inches taller than the tallest man in medical history, and their bodies had been severely damaged.

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(Painting: “Summer Clouds” by Emil Nolde.)

What Does New Writing Look Like?

Pop Lit Fiction

THIS IS a question we hope to ask more often in coming months and perhaps provide answers– with the knowledge the short story is marginalized in the culture or at least fallen from its once-lofty station one hundred years ago when everyone in America was reading them and new story writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald were celebrities.

WILL the art become like string quartets or live theater– property of a set group of Insider cognoscenti based in select artistic capitals, with tiny groups of imitators scattered across the country, sharing their sacred texts like monks keeping an archaic cultural form scarcely alive? In what ways can it change? Is its regeneration doable– can a few Dr. Frankenstein mad scientists in artistic laboratories generate electricity through the monster’s body, and thereby rejuvenate it?

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We don’t know. Odds against the idea are steep. We only know that in future days we’ll be looking for stories which look different. Which try new things, no matter how offbeat or quirky.

TODAY we present a short story which looks and sounds different from the norm, “The Age of Insomnia” by Christopher Landrum. Not a linear story so much as a painting you look at and try to take in as one impression, with allusions to law, to literature, and to maybe the short story itself.

Father was a lawyer. The idea that all the cases and statutes of the law can be read together as some grand story sounds like a childish cliché—but what I wonder these nights is, can a story somehow be law? 

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WE HAVE other thoughts about art and the short story in a post at our NPL News blog, here.

ALSO be sure to see what we’re doing new with our print issues, here.

More Summer Reading 2021

Pop Lit Fiction

Hello! We continue New Pop Lit‘s Summer Reading Festival with another excellent feature story that could/should be in The New Yorker (which I keep mentioning because it’s the only venue which still pays big $$$ for fiction, but this will change). The new story in question is “Symmetry” by Emil Birchman— another reason I mention that magazine in Manhattan is because our new feature has similarities to “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian, the only short story published anyplace the last ten years which made a cultural impact. Birchman’s story is also about an awkward, budding relationship, but is better written and more subtle. In it’s own way, like a three-dimensional image in which one can see different things, based on viewpoint.

We ask the question: What do you think of this story? How do you take the ending? What really happened or is happening?

Among other themes, “Symmetry” is about online dating, and more, what phones, computers, and the internet do to relationships and the perception of reality. But let us know what you think.

Fifteen minutes later, they found themselves in the local park synonymous with M.’s dating profile. For some reason, the scenery didn’t have the vibrancy of the pictures. The leaves were green, and pollen clung to the air. But her images weren’t edited, that was for sure. No filters, photoshop or other picture editing shenanigans. And the scenery, the movements on the pond’s surface and the breeze pressing against the foliage were all real. The only difference was the absence of his own filter. . .

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ALSO, be sure to stop by our POP SHOP to peruse the joys of non-online reading. Is there anything more exciting than finding a wonderful new publication, full of colors and stimulating reading, in your mailbox?

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(Art: “A Girl Reading” by Pablo Picasso.)

New Pop Lit’s Summer Reading Festival!

Announcement, Pop Lit Fiction

The summer people choked the road, filled up the taverns, trashed the beachfront, and parked everywhere and anywhere, even in places they shouldn’t.

So begins the feature story kicking off our impromptu Summer Reading Festival 2021, “People Ruin Everything,” by Anne Leigh Parrish, one of the best short story writers going. I don’t know if a story could better capture how everyone feels right now after eighteen months of pandemic, of interruption in our lives we naively thought would be over after three weeks or at most three months, but goes on. The story captures the mood: frustration that may seem illogical, but it’s there, in all of us, as undercurrent to the resumption of our lives.

Anyway, it’s a short story which should be in The New Yorker, but we’re fortunate and grateful to have it at New Pop Lit, and trust you’ll agree with our opinion of it.

She thought about the note they left. She didn’t like being lied to. Some people lived on lies, made a career of them, in some cases. Just look at any politician. She hated people who thought they were smarter than everyone else, who made getting over a full-time job. They’d laughed as they walked up to the car, and they were probably still laughing wherever they were now and wherever they were going.

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What about the rest of our Festival? In coming weeks we’ll be featuring more great new fiction, as well as re-announcing selected readings– fiction and poetry– previously featured at this site. Is that all? NO!

OUR OPEN MIC RETURNS

We’re also restarting our Open Mic feature with a reading of a terrific poem by the UK’s Alisha J. Prince, “Heaven Bound.” Click the link and take a listen.

NEW YORK MEDIA NEWS

We ALSO have at our NPL News Blog a short article about curious doings at iconic Newsweek magazine. Is this the direction in which other New York publications will be headed? What do you think?

POP LIT PRINT READING

FINALLY, check out the print publications we now offer at our POP SHOP— where we’re free to be somewhat more experimental, in attitude, words, and design, than what we present here, as we attempt to cut new paths toward the literary future.

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Anyway, we hope everyone has a glorious summer– and does a lot of reading!

(Featured art: “Two Girls Reading” by Pablo Picasso.)

New Summer Fiction

Pop Lit Fiction

TODAY we present a slice-of-life story by Alex Law, “West Columbus,” about a young woman working as a stripper in a dive bar in a bleak neighborhood of that name. Life in America today? Is the story social commentary? Or merely a great short read?

Maybe it’s just literature— writing of rounded reality and depth which can encompass a number of meanings and viewpoints. Read it for yourself and see.

She ignores him. She isn’t afraid. His casual, daylight misogyny couldn’t be more boring. She lets the silence eat him alive. Bite by bite. Eventually his testosterone fades under the uncomfortable sideways glances from other passengers. He and his stink go away. Every bus Cadie has ever been on has men like this.

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(Featured art: “Nude Woman Reading” by Robert Delaunay.)

Fiction for the Fourth

Pop Lit Fiction

HELLO! Another long holiday weekend is upon us, so we’ve taken the opportunity to present a slice of July 4th fiction, coordinating with the currently-unpopular theme of patriotism. The story: “The Deserters” by New Pop Lit regular Nick Gallup, whose work never disappoints. Gallup’s story is a reminder that America, yes, has occasionally done a few things right– one of them taking on head-on that embodiment of villainy, the Nazi war machine. This tale gives us a glimpse of the all-crucial Battle of the Bulge– putting you right there. Worth a read.

His depleted company followed him as they merged with hundreds of others from their division as they headed towards St. Vith, Belgium. The dirt road was hard and icy, and guys kept slipping and falling. It was bitter cold, and they wrapped their green scarfs around their faces and pulled their wool overcoats tight against their bodies to ward off the furious winds whipping them with snow and sleet. Many of the men they met up with had either lost or abandoned their weapons, and they just slumped forward into the wind, walking as fast as they could to escape. Lappy couldn’t see their faces, but he could read the defeat and despair in their owl-sized eyes.

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Art: “Breakfast in the Snow (Belgium)” by Robert N. Blair.

The Birth of POP

Pop Lit Fiction

NEW FICTION ABOUT A PEAK PERIOD IN AMERICAN ART AND CULTURE

WITH glamorous historic names like Bob and Andy glimpsed on the streets of Manhattan in the early 1960s when culture was VIBRANT–

–everything changing artistically, everything visceral, real and exciting, how can any reader resist our new feature, “SOUP CAN” by Brian McVety?

The task for all of us today involved in some way with artistic and cultural creation is to grab that influence, that excitement, to imagine, construct, paint or write a peak period for our own day.

Jane turned to the second to last page, and showed me a picture of a man with who had what looked like ironed bleached-blond hair, severely parted towards the left, with dark, square-framed sunglasses hiding his eyes. The photograph stopped at the man’s midriff, only showing his tight short-sleeve shirt with hypnotic horizontal stripes making him appear like a mirage. Although his eyes were hidden, the expression on his face suggested he was revolted his picture was being taken, yet he almost appeared to be posing at the same time. I had never seen a man like him before in my life.

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Stars and Fans

Pop Lit Fiction

What makes a celebrity? A star? What gives the person a special allure? Distance, illusion, mystery?

This is a question explored in our new fiction feature, “Fanboy” by Alan Swyer, set in the alluring capitol of glamorous stars, Hollywood circa today.

Incidentally or ironically, Alan Swyer is one of the literary stars featured in New Pop Lit‘s own modest version of a Photoplay-like fanmag, namely, Literary Fan Magazine. Is it time to create a literary version of Hollywood? Maybe!

Meanwhile, read the story.

“Why today? If so much stuff’s been bugging you, why’ve you been holding it in?”

Allison frowned. “I reached a point where enough is enough. But know what bothers me most? Not your snoring, not that you put your feet on furniture, not even that half the time you seem oblivious. Want to know?”

“Fire away.”

“Your shrine.”

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(Both artworks by famed illustrator Rolf Armstrong.)

New Fiction: Pandemic Life

Pop Lit Fiction

MANY GOOD STORIES are of the kind you admire for their plotting or their writing, colorful characters or sense of adventure.

Others challenge you, asking first, “What would you do?” They take you through several emotions then drop you back down to earth, a changed person.

Our new fiction feature is the latter: “Sorry For Your Loss” by Greg Golley. The story is not just excellent as a story, but as a metaphor for the changes, in lifestyle and emotion, we’ve all been through the past year. I’d like to think we’ve been changed for the better– deepened, put more in touch with our humanity– as the narrator in the story is changed.

Anyway, we hope you like it!

I seemed to be alone in the house. Soothed by the sound of the furnace kicking in and by the feel of warm slippers on my stocking feet, I opened the fridge to see what was there. I finally selected an IPA and ambled over to the window to admire my newly cleaned-up yard, wondering distantly how the whole dinner-with-Nathan question had been settled. Looking back, I can now appreciate these few thoughtless actions as my final moments of true innocence. What I saw when I looked into the backyard was my future – handed down to me like a sentence.

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(Art: “The Good Samaritan” by Eugene Delacroix.)

Adventure and Style in Fiction

Pop Lit Fiction

STANDARD in classic fiction of the past, especially from short story writers, was a sense of style or adventure– or both. Jack London and O. Henry emphasized adventure— albeit very different types of adventure: wilderness and oceans on the one hand, stray unpredictable adventures which could assault a person in cities like New York on the other. Writers Edith Wharton, Henry James, and F. Scott Fitzgerald placed more emphasis on the kinds of styles exhibited by their characters, and from the sophisticated settings in which they moved. This was back when the short story was the popular American art form.

Today we present a story which captures that much-needed sense of mystery, adventure, and style, “The Names Divine” by C. A. Shoultz. Our first feature of 2021, with more to follow.

In due course they arrived atop the stairs. Simon walked beyond the masked man and beheld a table covered in black velvet. A sign above it, written in gold script, said: “Choose your mask. Choose your name.” Sure enough, upon the table were a small number of masks just like his escort was wearing. They were widely and irregularly spaced apart, a sign that many others had come here before him and done what he was about to do.

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(Art: Above: “At the Masked Ball” by Jean-Louis Forain. Below: A section of a poster for a movie by Gaumont Films.)