Hello! We kick off our new “Hype” feature with an interview with Alex Bernstein, who has a story featured in our first print issue, NEW POP LIT #1.
(You can purchase said publication now right here.)
Alex is one of the best short story writers in the country. More than this, he has the rare ability to bridge the styles of both “pop” and “literary.”
QUESTION: I’ve described your story, “Dick and Liza,” as “quirky/crazy.” Would you describe your work in general that way? Are you following any models?
I don’t set out to be “quirky,” but I realize it’s something that gets attached to my writing, and I’m certainly okay with that. I’ve written comedy for decades now, so I have a particular outlook when I write. But I usually try to separate the “straight” comedy – like stand-up bits or McSweeney’s-type lists – from short stories, where I usually try to be more literary. That is, I rarely try to write a “funny” short story – but I do like to keep things moving, compelling, and fairly breezy. About ten years ago, I read an interview with Pedro Almodovar where someone asked him to describe his filmmaking style, and he said he leans towards “Screwball Drama.” “Dick and Liza” and a few of my other pieces would probably hew towards that description.
QUESTION: Is the American short story becoming more fun and “pop”? Is this necessary to attract readers?
I think, with the internet’s need for constant content, and the popularity of TMZ and Huffpo-type sites, you see a lot of writers frequently trying to be pop or “edgy” or – ugh – snarky – as a way of separating themselves out from the pack. (Although most of the pack tends to sound that way now, too.) But I think it’s something that’s hard to do well. With prose especially, you have to be a good, well-practiced writer, have a strong, versatile sense of modern culture, and tremendous confidence in your writing abilities to pull it off, successfully. And I just don’t think that combination of skills comes easily. That being said, I do think there are some great modern writers that have a natural tendency towards this style – including David Sedaris, Dave Eggers, and others. With “Dick and Liza” I wasn’t specifically trying to be edgy. I’ve always been sympathetic to Richard Nixon, as one of the great Shakespearian-ly tragic figures of our modern era. And likewise, that early-70s timeframe is such a fun, fertile period. So, I just wanted to put the two characters in the same sandbox to see how they’d play together. But I don’t think you need to be “fun and pop” to attract readers. Good writing is good writing. More important, I think, is to be true to your work, aware of your readers, and, as a self-editor, critical of what is – and isn’t – compelling about your material.
QUESTION: Is this an exciting time to be a writer?
Absolutely. There’s never been a better time for writers to find their voices in front of an actual audience and that’s wonderful. I lived in the Village in NYC in the late 80’s and 90’s. And at any given moment, everyone everywhere was perpetually trying to express themselves – in clubs, coffeehouses, small and large theaters, galleries. Today, the opportunities available to those voices online is just insanely great. And the online literary magazines like New Pop Lit are phenomenal. Writers can now hone their craft and actively explore in front of actual readers. Sure, there’s a lot of junk – but there are also strong, new (and old) voices introducing themselves to new audiences every day. And that’s incredibly exciting.