REVAMPING THE SHORT STORY ART
WHY do we illustrate this post with the famous painting of Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso?
BECAUSE with her innovative writing style, Gertrude Stein kicked off one of those period attempts to reinvent writing. This effort had its greatest effect via Stein protege Ernest Hemingway, whose collection of short fiction, In Our Time, at the time revolutionized the short story art.
There is always a push-pull where the short story is concerned. Creators and innovators like Hemingway (or Gordon Lish and his minimalist friends Raymond Carver and Susan Minot in the 1980’s and 90’s) attempt to breathe new life into the form– only to see their efforts counteracted by the stodgy mindset represented by prestigious Iowa-style writing programs and The New Yorker magazine– which some would say are the same thing.
WE at New Pop Lit would like to kick off a round of short fiction innovation. Toward that end we are doing two things:
1.) Beginning what we call The Short Story Process— a creative procedure through which we hope to arrive at the promised land of a reinvented art.
2.) Spotlighting new writers whose work in subject or style colors outside the lines of the artistically acceptable, the bourgeois, the already done. Toward that end we present a new story, “Ain’t Worth a Dollar,” by Atticus Davis, who writes under the name Savage Ckhild, a handle that may say it all.
She’s sitting in the car with her hair tied up, I forget how beautiful she is, I always think I’m going to be immune to her, to them—so she smiles this unblemished smile, that lasts one second before it collapses into this miserable, needy, fearful smile. I feel guilty for being here.
THE STRUGGLES OF A WRITER can seem lonely indeed– often resulting in rejection and neglect. Yet they keep at it, pursuing their art because they believe it’s important to express truths about life and the world.
When those struggles find notice– and a sense that a reader gets it, understands what the work’s about, this keeps the writer (and in our case, editors) going. No, the effort expended was not for naught!
Christopher Landrum at the literary site Bookbread has examined here four recent short stories, three of which appeared at New Pop Lit. They are:
–“The Fetus” by Clint Margrave.
–“Eighty Pounds” by Jon Berger.
–“The Professor” by A.K. Riddle.
If you’ve read these three excellent tales, they’re worth rereading. If you haven’t, please do so! Then see what Mr. Landrum says about them.
(Art: “The Passion of Creation” by Leonid Pasternak; “Woman Writing” by Gerard ter Borch.)
A REMINDER that when we choose to we can push the edges of the usual, if not the acceptable, as far as anyone, due to our underground roots and DIY from-the-bottom viewpoint on all things cultural.
AS EXAMPLE we have our recently-posted feature story, “Cat Doctor” by mysterious on-the-arts-margins D.C. Miller, holding a mirror up to the clean and smug of today’s approved intellectual world.
THEN there’s our newly-placed book review of a new work by indie press figure Tony Nesca at our book chat blog.
FINALLY we have our ongoing Open Mic, with a reading of a striking poem by Brian Eckert along with other dynamic spoken word performances– with more to come.
(Art: “Accolade” by Edmund Blair Leighton.)
THE SECOND story in our look at today’s dating scene is a much darker animal: “Cat Doctor” by D.C. Miller. Ostensibly a response to The New Yorker‘s recent Kristen Roupenian story “Cat Person,” it’s more than that– it’s a look at the malaise of the West’s current intellectual class. People who believe in nothing– not even themselves. Whose ideological inanities, post-conceptual art and postmodern literature are an expression of nothing. Representations of the void at the center of their lives. A world in which the villains aren’t men or women, but everyone.
Appropriately, the story is set in Berlin, a city forever on the cutting edge of the end of Western civilization. Last stop before the nightmare of gotterdammerung and oblivion.
It was a catchy statement, and she liked it, but she wasn’t certain where to take it, whether it was true or not, and even if it was, what it would imply. She heard the sound of someone sighing audibly, like an echo from another room, and for a moment felt confused, before she realized it was her.
IN THE FACE of such a pessimistic, albeit truthful, examination of relations between men and women, of ideas and culture, we remain optimists. We believe the culture will turn over because it has to turn over– it’s at a dead end, with nowhere to go but to scrap the present and embrace another direction.
(Featured painting: “The Night” by Max Beckmann. Other: “Sjalusi i Badet” by Edvard Munch.)
READERS enjoy stories which deliver an emotional punch. This is not all that stories can do, but it’s one of the things stories can do.
It might take the writer 500 pages in a novel to deliver the impact. Or it might take a shorter time period– which is what the short story is about. Condensed emotion. Concentrated impact.
Our current story, “Racquetball” by Don Waitt, condenses many things into a small narrative space. Families, history, loss. Less can be more. Take a look.
“And I saw my Mom getting sucked into a black hole of despair. It was like looking into an old brick well filled with cold, dark swirling water being sucked into the bowels of the earth, and my Mom was in the middle of that water. And I knew that if I did not reach down and grab her hand and pull her up, she would be lost forever.”
Be sure to check out New Pop Lit‘s Open Mic feature. Dan Nielsen is our current performer– with more spoken word to come, including from Brian Eckert and Philadelphia poetry legend Frank D. Walsh!
(Painting: “Kosovo Maiden” by Uros Predic.)
A LITERARY CARNIVAL full of sights, sounds, and mental stimulation is what we offer for you the unwary reader. DO NOT simply dawdle on this page and scurry away. Remain for a time. Take off your shoes. Sit back and relax. Explore the many options we have available for your time-spending pleasure.
CHIEF among them at the moment is the Writers Combine happening NOW as part of our exclusive coverage of the All-Time American Writers Tournament. At the moment we’re featuring some truly big names, giant talents, enormous personalities– such as Count Leo Tolstoy and Ernest Hemingway. WHO ELSE but New Pop Lit has the futuristic technology to bring these legends alive??
You want storytelling? WE HAVE IT!— the best new fiction on the planet, including our most recent tale, “Unraveling” by young writer Tianna Grosch.
You want audio? Spoken word poetry-mixed-with-comedy? Yes! Enter through this doorway– where you may find a well-known but deceased celebrity, with whose voice we’ve taken a few liberties.
Book reviews? NO ONE presents more stunning reviews of more striking and provocative literary works– the kind of books literary critics will be discussing fifty years from now, if not this moment. Future literary Gauguins and Van Goghs. Read about those here.
Politics? Do you really have to read about politics? If you insist-– we even have politics! Or at least, reports on a politicized publishing scene and politicized intellectual journals. From us you receive, at our NPL News blog, the real story– what takes place behind the scenes.
Scout around at our links and drop-down on this page and you’ll discover other fascinating and bizarre sights and happenings. Spend the day!
We ARE the most exciting literary site.
(Featured painting: “Circus” by August Macke.)
RELATIONS between men and women have been under stress the last several months as never before. Fiction is proving to be the best forum for examining those tensions. Under the guise of the non-factual the writer is able to get to actual truths.
ONE OF THE BEST writers on the topic of men and women– one of the best American short story writers period– is Anne Leigh Parrish. We’re privileged to have another short work from her– short, but as always, with condensed impact. The tale is called “The First Time.” We hope you find it as striking a work of reality and art as we do– and that if this is the first, it not be the last time you come to our site!
I was stunned. Not that we might one day regret our liaison, but that you regretted it now.
(Featured art: “Ashes” by Edvard Munch.)
THE FICTIONAL NARRATIVE is strengthened immensely by the presence of conflict. It doesn’t have to be all-out war– well covered over the years in works like War and Peace. It can mean merely the hint of approaching conflict. The sense of tension between characters– a troubling undercurrent saying, “All is not right here,” and, “This could if not carefully managed get quickly out of hand.”
The art of the fiction writer comes in creating and managing that tension. We see it in our current feature story, “Park Rangers,” by Joshua Caleb Wilson. A short tale about parents and a playground in which, like a modernist painting, one can see different things, depending on how you view it. On what you bring to it. A reminder that in the world, potential conflicts are endless and can be encountered anyplace.
“Oh, are you child psychologist?” Matt asked.
“No, I just thought…”
“But you don’t really know do you?” Matt interrupted.
(Art: “Battle of Legano” by Amos Cassoli.)
Should the new short story be entertaining?
ONCE, not much over 100 years ago, the short story was the most popular art form. The American public consumed stories voraciously– work by Jack London, Frank Stockton, Richard Connell, O. Henry, Stephen Crane– even from more refined types like Edith Wharton and Henry James.
What was the hallmark of the short story?
They were entertaining.
Build a better story, we believe, and the public will beat a path toward your door. We’ve already seen steps– baby steps anyway– in that direction in the prestigious-and-usually-snobby pages of The New Yorker. which recently for the first time in decades published a story that some people actually wanted to read.
And so, we give you a tale of suspense and mystery– “The Rottweiler” by Alex Bernstein, one of the best new practitioners of the short story art going. You’ll find in the work a touch of humor, and perhaps a rottweiler or two. Jump into the adventure. . . .
“On the plus side – if we kill you – we don’t have to put up with all this fuss and noise all the time. On the negative side…mm…Woolsy, what was the negative side, again?”
(Painting by Claude T. Stanfield-Moore.)
WE TALK OFTEN here at New Pop Lit headquarters about Hemingway’s “True Gen”: How to define it and how to find it– the thread of thought provoked by the death of singer-songwriter Pat Dinizio , long-time front man of working-class New Jersey rock band The Smithereens.
The band never quite hit the big time– yet were the genuine article, creating simple strong passionate art. This took us to a low rent same-named work from another medium: Susan Seidelman’s classic (?) indie film about the 1980’s punk scene: “Smithereens.”
The genuine is a quest, not always a destination. The search for the authentic involves the artist getting as close as possible to real experience– to find the true moment, the genuine emotion.
How do we find new writing of piercing reality?
By being open to it. This week we present a short story of tough background and authentic emotion, “Eighty Pounds” by Michigan writer Jon Berger. It’s about high school, classes, cliques, class, drugs, jobs, work: life. Not Manhattan literary slickness. Instead: reality, truth, grit. Read it.
Those guys in there, it’s like they knew how to size me up. Guys in the world, like Will, they only saw that I was in dumb classes and that I didn’t play sports or they saw where I lived and they thought that was my size.
(Painting: “The Boulevard” by Gino Severini.)