A New Avant-Garde?

Pop Lit Fiction

CAN there be a new avant-garde in the writing game?

Can an avant-garde be anything but new?

We started the year looking for writing which strives to set a different tone and appearance from the accepted and the acceptable. From the same and the sane. One of the works we’ve accepted along that line we present to you today: “Turning Over the CD,” a novel excerpt by Anthony Kane Evans.

ONE OF the first stories we accepted for this project was also by Anthony, and showed his unique style. Anthony’s writing is marked by its clarity and conciseness– which allows him the ability to toy with new ideas in presentation. This piece follows the first rule of artistic change: disorient then reorient the reader. As you’ll see.

I slam the car door behind me. A fat lot of good that will do. I mean, it is not going to join the two halves of this book together. I consider, for one awful moment, to throw the CD away. There is a pond in a field nearby. I imagine skimming the CD across its placid surface. I stop. There are frogs over there, I can hear them singing. My God, is it that time of the year again? Have we been so long on the road? Has this blackness which I am now a part of been going on since Vienna and am I only now aware of it?

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But what of the avant-garde?

What is “avant-garde” anyway beyond a widely-used marketing phrase from the 1920’s? Is it intellectual writing existing in an airless John Cage glass box suspended over the heads of the potential audience: isolated; sterile; detached? Or should it not instead follow Richard Wright’s prescribed path (per literary historian Paula Rabinowitz): folk art to popular art, then to politics?

Or: Can an avant-garde be a vanguard (the literal translation) without a popular following to be the vanguard of? We’re not certain, are only asking. The difficult trick for all who pursue the literary game is to find or create that following.

Solving the Writer’s Dilemma

Pop Lit Fiction

The Writer’s Dilemma is that there are an estimated two million novelists in America, and maybe ten million self-styled poets– with many more of both writing in English in other countries. The performers are on the verge of outnumbering the audience. Or: writers have become the audience.

THE SOLUTION

The only possible solution is to recreate the art. To construct works wholly new, to set those who write them apart from the innumerable crowd.

TOWARD THAT END we recently ran a contest for stories with two viewpoints. We present the winner of that contest now: Tom Ray. His winning story is “What He Thought Was Right.” His tale is about two Vietnam veterans, and their encounter with a World War II veteran and that veteran’s grandson. Has the clash of generations always been with us? A clash, maybe, not of generations so much as viewpoints. It’s an excellent story. We hope you’ll like it.

Harold said he served in infantry, and Art believed him. Old guys who lie about Vietnam would shut up and kind of drift off when they found out Art had been there. And Harold didn’t tell war stories that sounded like a movie script. He’d just make a few vague statements, always ending with, “I saw some bad shit over there, man.”

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At the same time, we have new work at two of our supplementary blog. At our new Special Projects blog, home of quirkier writing, we have “The Little Squirrel and the Baby Eagle” by Wred Fright. At our News blog we have a look at what we’re up to behind the scenes, with a post titled “Prototypes.”

Something for everyone!

Fiction: Reality and Illusion

Pop Lit Fiction

WE DECIDED at the start of this year to avoid the predictable. Toward that end we have imaginative new fiction set near a beach, “The Longboarders” by talented writer Nikki Williams.

Physicists tell us time is an illusion. Is it? As Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

We hope you enjoy the story!

A man sat between two peaks in lotus pose, his back turned to them. Theo looked back at her, put a finger to his lips. The Maori raven tattooed on the man’s back seemed to wink at Sasha. Then he drew in a long breath, his exhale sounding like a sigh.

ALSO: We’ll be announcing soon the winner of our impromptu Contest. Stay tuned.

(Art: “Painterly Architectonic” by Lyubov Popova.)

Fiction 2022

Pop Lit Fiction

OUR FIRST FICTION FEATURE OF THE YEAR–

–and it’s a good one, capturing the insanity of the hypertechnological world we live in now, but also structurally a terrific tale, full of unpredictability and imagination, as well as subtle humor. The story of which we speak is “The Swipe” by Michael Maiello, who is one of the finest talents on today’s writing scene. It has to do with a dating app, an image, and the world, and– we can’t say more. Read it!

Literary Montage

Pop Lit Fiction

EXPERIMENTS IN FICTION

Call it montage, or the 3-D or multidimensional story, or literary polyphony, the point remains the same: To get away from the linear, one point-of-view, one-tense format in short story writing, which allows for little variety. The solution? To innovate.

Our new feature, “Waiting for the Superhero”— about a man trying to survive in a tough urban landscape– is an attempt to do so. The story plays with viewpoint– to increase angles– and with time. The trick is to do this without hindering the flow of the narrative. Indeed, if well utilized, the technique will increase drama and pace.

Putting fragments of writing together– like editing film– isn’t simple, but opens up endless creative possibilities. Expect to see us go way beyond what we’re showing to date. Just saying.

He moved into the basement of a nearby vacant building. The several-storied structure was in receivership; kept by the bank which owned it in a modicum of shape. There, Ernesto created a cave. An escape. A small window, easily pried, provided access.

The first night he noticed a visitor in the form of a pair of green eyes. A cat.

In daylight he realized the cat was more or less black. Ernesto adopted its guise. So garbed, in the evening he became invisible, blending into the night.

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(Art: “Night Over the City” by Otto Dix.)

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.)