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.)
SOME wordsmiths escape into fantasy– into lands of werewolves, warlocks, and dragons– which we’re fine with, up to a point. Other, more serious writers depict today’s world as it exists.
“Start and Stop” by Gregory Yelnish is an unglamorized glimpse at reality, written in a style almost three-dimensional in its ability to show the reader its restricted stage of a room and the two troubled individuals within it. A young man. A young woman. Life today? Words as reality. Writing as art. Only from New Pop Lit.
Bright green paint on her toenails showed the stresses of wear. The discolored patches of skin leered at him as if they were alive. They had hollow faces, taunting him, shouting obscenities in a perverse version of her golden voice.
(Paintings: “Bedroom” by Vassily Kandinsky; “Girl with Blonde Hair” by Helene Schjerfbeck.)
OUR LAST featured story was about chess. With our new feature we’re staying on the theme of strategy and challenge, with Alan Swyer’s “Shut Up and Deal,” an examination of the machinations behind high-level poker playing. It’s a story about protege and mentor. About novice and knowledge. About learning a skill in the face of mind games and chaos. In other words, it’s a metaphor for life!
Written in a fast “pop” style, the story matches the speed of the game– and the hyperbolic process a student must undergo to be a success. We hope you enjoy it!
Radiating old money, the card room was a world which few civilians ever got to experience. Yet in the midst of captains of industry and scions of prominent families sat Eddie, who was seemed to be regarded as somehow less than human.
(Art: “The Card Players” by Theo van Doesburg.)
We’ve announced our nominations for the 2017 Pushcart Prize. Read about our choices and reasons here at our News blog.
ALSO read our latest book review at our book review feature– this of a collection of short fiction by award-winning author Kelly Cherry.
A new feature story is upcoming.
WE’VE BEEN THINKING a lot of late about games and strategy. About what we’re doing right and the literary mainstream is doing wrong– or more often, the size of the obstacle they represent and what we’re doing imperfectly in hoping to compete with them. In such discussions, the strategy of chess comes to mind.
AT PRESENT we’re behaving like a tentative chess player pushing pawns forward, hoping to find or create an opening– which, if one ever appears, we’ll need to jump through with all forces, talents, words, and arguments at our disposal.
WHICH BRINGS US TO our new featured story, “I May Have Been a Chess World Champion” by talented international writer Eva Ferry. It’s ostensibly about chess and chess players, but it’s about more than that. A metaphor for– ? The story carries the atmosphere of a spy novel. It evokes the feeling of hopelessness, dread, expectation and fear which engulfs the culture now, perhaps the entire world. But it’s only about chess. Or is it?
The men in the Centre were saggy, they were not handsome by anyone’s standards. But the beauty of their effort, their perfect commitment was real.
I wanted to be real too. That’s why I told the man from upstairs that I would be going to the tournament, even if that was the last thing I did in my life.
Speaking of terrific writers and writing, at the All-Time American Writers Tournament there’s a new Appreciation, this one by Robin Wyatt Dunn about Gene Wolfe. What strong writing looks like. Only 437 words but it’s dynamite.
Painting: “The Chess Player” by Frederich August Moritz Retzsch.
MONSTERS AND GOBLINS are products of the imagination. Reflections of our irrational minds.
What happens in an electronic world which overstimulates the brain to ever-higher levels of panic and hysteria? When media infiltrates our every waking and sleeping thought?
THESE QUESTIONS and others are raised in D.C. Miller’s intense, pop-tinged speculative novel, Dracula Rules the World and Mark Zuckerberg Is His Son. With his permission we’re able to present, in time for the mad pagan holiday of Halloween, five excerpts from the book.
Are the monsters inside us– or outside in the world?
Caught in the same chain of spaces, back and forth, between my apartment and the office, always facing a screen, as if I was trying to outstare it, it had gradually become unclear when I was inside the headset and when I was outside it.
(Painting: “Vampire” by Edvard Munch.)
OUR TASK at New Pop Lit is to find and present the best new writers. We don’t know what fiction in the future will look like– only that it shouldn’t resemble the acceptable fiction of now. Ideally, it should be more unorthodox, more creative, more real.
If our newest feature story is a guide, young writers are accomplishing those goals. A.K. Riddle‘s “The Professor” is an example of writing not yet constrained, handcuffed and put into a box. It shows as well the rare ability to put oneself into the head of another person.
The story, about a middle-aged and somewhat burned-out teacher at a prep school, is also entertaining– the first objective of any work. We hope you like it!
The Professor looks like a resurrected and plastic surgeried John Lennon. The Professor has a dog named after his ex-girlfriend, Layla. But his wife thought their pooch was named after the Eric Clapton song. The Professor is married but doesn’t wear anything on his left hand except for a black friendship bracelet, if that counts.
ALSO: Stay up on the All-Time American Writers Tournament. An announcement of more entrants is coming soon.
(Artwork: “The Miller” by Juan Gris.)
THERE’S NO DOUBT this is the decade of the woman writer. The majority of students in writing programs today are women. The majority of writers self-publishing via zines and ebooks are women. Of the National Book Foundation’s recent “5 Under 35” award selections, all five are women.
Far be it for New Pop Lit to neglect a trend. We’ll be presenting several talented writers in coming weeks who just happen to be women. We’re not being politically correct. We just go for the best.
First up is internationally-published writer Julie Parks with “Bigger Lies”— a stark urban tale about a boy with scams and dreams in Latvia.
In keeping with this week’s theme, at the All-Time American Writers Tournament we have a short essay about a renowned woman writer: “The Mary Gaitskill Problem.”
If you’re not keeping up with New Pop Lit, you’re not keeping up.
(Paintings: “Woman with Black Cravat” by Modigliani; Self Portrait by Marie-Denise Villers.)
We like stories!
We like stories which are unpredictable in plot, point-of-view, and theme– such as our new feature, “Churchgoing in New England” by Richard Greenhorn. We’re on a quest for new kinds of stories– those outside the customary in ideas and viewpoint.
What should any short story accomplish?
The tale should convey knowledge and experience; emotion and meaning. It should carry the reader along then finish with surprise, insight, or impact. Something. See if this story fulfills those requirements.
One-time department stores and groceries had been replaced by specialty winter supply shops, novelty bookstores, a few adult boutiques, and an over-priced Leftist drinking establishment called The People’s Pub. On the town commons across the street were the placards and banners left over from this morning’s protest. . .
ALSO: Stay up-to-date with the All-Time American Writers Tournament.
(Painting: “A New England Town” by Middleton Manigault.)