Upping the Prize!

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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As there is yet to be a winner in our “Hemingway-Fitzgerald Trivia Question,” first presented here, we’re upping the prize a bit. We are now offering a $20 Starbucks gift card to the first correct answer posted here, or at the original blog post.

“But”– to quote Gertrude Stein’s famous final words– “what is the question?”

“In what two F. Scott Fitzgerald pop stories was a major character a thinly-disguised version of Ernest Hemingway?” 

Good luck!

 

More #1 Seeded Writers

THE ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

We fill in the other two #1 spots in our Tournament brackets with two other legendary names from the past.

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C.) Herman Melville. What does one do with Moby Dick? One of the other top competitors, Toni Morrison, explained once in a long essay the novel’s symbolism and significance. Talk about writing about America! The Pequod with its hierarchy, mad captain, and multi-cultural crew remains a striking metaphor about the country and concept “America.” What do they chase? That which Melville, writing ten years before the Civil War, saw as America’s founding flaw– the “white whale.” An allusion to slavery at minimum. I doubt if any novel ever written by anyone anywhere has been more ambitious– ambitious in terms of discussing the world, nature, society– and ambitious in looking inward toward man’s sins and soul. It’s also a great yarn. Lest we think this was all Melville wrote, he began as a popular novelist, wrote some classic short stories, including one, “Bartleby,” which in our cubicle work world is more relevant today than ever. Herman finished his career with a great novella, “Billy Budd,” just to show he still had it. But Moby Dick. A novel which can stand with any novel written by the world’s best, even the Russians.
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D.) Mark Twain. We happily bow to the voice of the crowd on this selection. As a persona he’s up there with anyone. He has his undeniable masterpiece, other classic works, fantastic essays and a few good stories. If we’re talking about which writers defined the culture and the American voice, then figures like Twain have an undeniable edge. We also can’t deny there was a time when American lit was much bigger in cultural importance than it is now. But be aware– there are many brackets to fill. A wide variety of voices will be announced.
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(We will be staging a press conference at which all four #1 seeded writers will be present. At least, we have commitments from them. Could be exciting.)

Who I Am

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A NOTE FROM KARL WENCLAS

As I find myself chief editor at NEW POP LIT, I’d like to provide readers and supporters information on who I am and what I’m about.

I’ve been involved with all things literary for at least twenty years, when I started writing a literary review newsletter named New Philistine, for which I had many subscribers, and which achieved a portion of notoriety. At the time, I also wrote several essays for established “legitimate” literary publications.

In 2000 I helped form, along with five zinesters, the Underground Literary Alliance, from which I attained more notoriety. I ceased active participation in that endeavor in 2008. During those eight years, I dealt with all kinds of writers and personalities.

Since last year I’ve been involved with this more modest outfit, using a humbler strategy, and milder tactics.

The goal, however, remains the same: to revive literature. To make original artistic reading and writing a mainstream cultural happening.

To achieve that goal I’ll go anyplace to spread pop-lit ideas; will enter any arena. (As I demonstrated last weekend.) I want every person everywhere to read our poems and stories. I’ll take risks, ever aware of the risk-reward ratio; knowing that the potential reward is unlimited: making literary history. An immodest goal, requiring the discovery of amazing talent– but if I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that the status quo isn’t very capable or good and that things can be pushed to the limit. In business or art there’s no halfway. And so I set my goals very high. Even if that means falling on my face on occasion.

FACES AND FIVES by Dan Nielsen!

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AT our table at the big Allied Media Conference in Detroit this weekend we’ll have a variety of publications on sale– including our first NEW POP LIT print issue. But we’ll also have on display and for purchase ample copies of the offbeat chapbook Faces and Fives by Dan Nielsen.

What are Faces and Fives, you ask?

They’re kind-of art and they’re kind-of prose and they’re kind-of poetry, all rolled into one. They’re readable and fun and they’re perfect for a project like ours dedicated to presenting pop lit of a sort which can nowhere else be found. To really discover what Faces and Fives are you’ll have to be at the conference!

(We were so impressed with Dan Nielsen’s Faces and Fives we’ve asked him to join our outfit!)

K.W.

Interview with Jessie Lynn McMains!

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(Our first print version, NEW POP LIT Issue one, due to sneak preview at our table at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit starting June 19, contains several terrific stories by exciting writers. The best of them might be “Danny Boy” by underground writer Jessie Lynn McMains. Quite a find for us! NPL’s Karl Wenclas caught up with Jessie for a few fast questions-and-answers about her story and her writing.)

QUESTION: “Danny Boy” is about an online affair between two young women– one who believes the other is a young man. This situation creates surprising suspense for the reader. The narrative is plotted and tight. Did you work at that, or did it just happen?

The affair between them is not actually online – it is an affair through handwritten notes left in a secret place, and later, text messages. But yes, they have an affair that is not IRL, in the sense that they havent met in person and one believes the other is a boy. The seed of the story came from something that happened to me in middle school – a (female) friend of mine told me about a boy who lived in her neighborhood, had seen my writing (and my picture) in our towns newspaper and developed a crush on me. Shed bring his letters to me at school, and Id send my responses home with her. When I said I wanted to meet in person, she broke the news to me: He didnt actually exist. Shed been writing the letters all along. I was devastated, and couldnt understand why shed trick me like that. It wasnt until years later that I wondered if maybe shed had a crush on me but didnt know how to tell me. The idea for Danny Boycame to me from thinking about that experience, but of course the rest of it is entirely made up. If anything, as a teenager I was more like Danny than I was like Lorelei – getting crushes on girls I assumed were straight and wondering if theyd like me if I was a boy.

I worked at the narrative. I am always open to having a piece of writing surprising me – I jot down notes and a basic outline, but once I start writing, I let the momentum of the story carry me along, and sometimes it takes me places I hadnt initially known it was going to. After I finished the first draft, I had a friend of mine (thanks, Jonas!) read it over and give me feedback. His help was invaluable, as he suggested that one scene seemingly came out of nowhere, and that I might want to include a little more lead-up to it. I set the story aside for a few days, then went back, added more description as per his suggestion, and took out a few details that didnt add much to the story or move the plot along.

QUESTION: What’s the difference between zine and literary writing?

For me, there is none, at least not as far as how I approach the writing itself. I spend as much time planning, writing, and editing poetry, essays, and stories for my zines and other peoples zines as I do for pieces that I am writing for more legitimatepublications. For instance, my story Insect Summer,which was published on the New Pop Lit site was originally written for my zine.

The only real difference is that, when Im writing something for my zine, I have ultimate control. That has both benefits and downsides. The benefit is that I can be freer in how I write and what I write about, and include things that a more traditional publication might tell me to take out. The downside is that if the story or zine ends up being sub-par, I have no one to blame but myself.

QUESTION: “Danny Boy” reminds me a little of the writing of Mary Gaitskill at her very best. Was she an influence on your work? If not, who was?

Mary Gaitskill was definitely not an influence on Danny Boy,as I have never read any of Mary Gaitskills writing! Certainly, Ive heard her name before, but really know nothing about her and, as I said, have not read any of her work. Though now Im curious about it and have added her books to my never-ending list of Things To Read.

Its always difficult for me to say which other writers are an influence on my own writing. Partly because I never try to write like anyone else, so I often dont notice that someone has had an influence on me until years later, looking back. Partly because I feel that I am in some way influenced by everything I read. But, I will say that there are definitely certain writers and/or certain books that have made me stop and say: Yes, this is what I want to do.Meaning, not write like the particular author, but write as well, and write something that makes people feel the way their writing makes me feel. Since were talking about a short story, here, Ill give you a few books and writers whose short stories have had a profound effect on me – and then a couple more who arent specifically short story writers but who have influenced me.

Carson McCullers and Raymond Carver were two of the best short story writers of all time, in my opinion, and pretty much everything Ive read by either one of them has stopped me in my tracks. Especially Carvers short stories, my god. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love kills me every goddamn time. Next to What We Talk About, my other all-time favorite book of short stories is The Dubliners by James Joyce. Kelly Link is one of the best short story writers currently writing. I adore Black Coffee Night by Emily Schultz, All the Pretty Girls by Chandra Mayor, and Deliver Me From Nowhere by Tennessee Jones. Ive also read a number of short story collections in the past year, two of which had a pretty big impact on me: The View from the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier (particularly the story Andrea Is Changing Her Name), and The Palace of Illusions by Kim Addonizio. The two other writers who Id say have most heavily influenced my writing are Michelle Tea and Aaron Cometbus. For Michelle Tea, it has more to do with her subject matter than her writing style – when I first read Valencia, I got really excited by the fact that shed written this novel about fucked-up queer girls who did drugs and made art and got into tumultuous relationships, and it was all heavily autobiographical. It showed me that I could one day take the stuff of my own messy life and turn it into a publishable story. And Aaron Cometbus – well, reading Cometbus back in the 90s was one of the things that made me shift my zine from a typical fanzine to a perzine.In later years, the fact that he published novellas in zine form and also clearly spent a lot of time honing his craft made me realize that there didnt have to be such a hard and fast distinction between zines and real literature.

Reinventing the Literary Journal?

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Let’s face it. Even the more hip and renowned literary journals, like n+1 and The Believer, are fairly stodgy affairs. Their writing is designed for a select group– a precociously snobby crowd– those positioned at the inside of today’s insular literary game.

What if a lit journal were created which aimed at an audience of everybody?

A journal, moreover, which contained stories as good or better than anything produced by the mainstream? A better literary product?

This is what we’ll present to the world in Detroit on June 19th. We’ll have a table at the big Allied Media Conference at Wayne State University. Our new literary creation will be on display.

We treat this as an important moment in literary history, because it IS an important moment in literary history. A first step on a new path for an overlooked art.

When you read the stories in NEW POP LIT Issue One you’ll agree.