The #3 Bracket Seeds

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Do we again go too far back into the past for our choices? Remember, these are seedings. Any one of these writers– or all of them– could easily be knocked out in the Tournament itself.
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Tennessee Williams

A.)  Tennessee Williams.  “Stella!” Among American playwrights, one stands above the rest– creating timeless characters such as Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski, Big Daddy and Maggie the Cat. Combining pathos and passion with measured pace and memorable dialogue. The words, the lines, wait only for capable actors to speak them.

Jack_London_young for card

B.)  Jack London.  Uniquely American yet also read and loved around the globe. His colorful tales, whether set in South Sea islands or the Yukon, are simple, basic, brutal and real. They translate to any culture. No one wrote better short stories. His novels aren’t quite as good– except when they’re about dogs! Jack London was the greatest literary populist. His work, from Call of the Wild on, defined pop writing.

We have one of London’t stories– one of his best: “Lost Face.”

Note how the main character may have been modeled on fellow adventurer and adventure writer Joseph Conrad.
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Poe

C.)  Edgar Allan Poe.  We originally considered two other names for this slot. Henry James or William Faulkner? William Faulkner or Henry James? Gigantic literary reputations. But another classic American author deserves to make the brackets ahead of both of them. Poe– who invented the detective genre and perfected the horror genre, for good or ill. He was also a terrific poet. AND, as a student of the literary art, he understood the importance of momentum in narrative, building in intensity toward an explosive end. (See “William Wilson,” “Ligeia,” others.)

In many ways, Edgar Allan Poe invented pop literature.
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emily-dickinson painting

D.)  Emily Dickinson.  “Emily D” is one of the characters in the fictional aspect of this tournament. Though publicly unknown while alive, today Dickinson is one of the biggest names in the history of American poetry. Maybe the biggest. After 130 years her poems more than hold up. Real, direct, witty, sharp– a surprising amount of it. Her reputation: solid.
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Part of our task with the Tournament is to determine which writers will continue to be read– those whose work remains alive– and those whose reputations, however impressive now, will fall by the wayside. These means considering how changes in the ways literature is read or heard– whether smartphones, e-books, or audio books– will impact the literary art itself.

The work of these four wonderful talents has universal qualities. If Jack London’s stories remain widely read in China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia– everywhere– if they translate across borders, one can guess they’ll translate across eras. Note the clarity and immediacy of London’s writing in “Lost Face.” Part of our calculation is that the short story will gain in popularity and prominence– this has begun happening, as if it were designed for new devices and different mediums. The best, most “pop” poetry will easily translate as well, which puts Dickinson and Poe in great shape for new worlds of reading and literature to come.

On the other hand, overwrought “literary” work which presents a barrage of verbiage may not fare well. We’ll be covering that topic. . . .

Appreciation #6

“Ernest Hemingway” by Samuel Stevens

Hemingway Time Cover, October 18, 1937, Waldo Peirce

(Time cover by Waldo Peirce.)

There is probably no writer more controversial than Ernest Hemingway, attacked by academia as a misogynist, while others see him as a talentless hack with an inflated reputation. Yet his work endures despite all of it.

Hemingway was able to show deep emotion with his stripped-down style, changing American literature in the process. His novel The Sun Also Rises captures the relationship between men and women in such a way that few other writers have been able to do. He was also a master of the short story, demonstrated in “Soldiers Home,” “The Killers,” and “A Clean, Well Lighted Place” among many others.

He was not a perfect man, nor even a perfect writer– but who is? His myth has lived on more than who he truly was, laid bare in his novels and short stories. He is also an archetype of American success, spending years in obscurity among the Paris avantgarde before working his way up to literary fame.

Many have tried to imitate him, but there will only ever be one Ernest Hemingway.
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Samuel Stevens’s last story for New Pop Lit was “The Vast Conspiracy.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald as Pop Writer

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Scott pensive

According to Ernest Hemingway‘s testimony in A Moveable Feast, Scott Fitzgerald claimed to intentionally alter the ending of his short stories to make them more saleable. More palatable to Saturday Evening Post readers.

Yet when one reads Fitzgerald’s “pop” tales, their endings are as perfect, as apt, as artful, as those of his more highly-regarded works.

This is especially true of the “Basil and Josephine” stories, most of which are compact gems full of insight, beauty, and meaning.

Examine these two endings, each of which is a culmination of theme and plot:

from “Basil and Cleopatra”

“Jubal the impossible came up with an air of possession, and Basil’s heart went bobbing off around the ballroom in a pink silk dress. Lost again in a fog of indecision, he walked out on the veranda. There was a flurry of premature snow in the air and the stars looked cold. Staring up at them he saw that they were his stars as always– symbols of ambition, struggle and glory. The wind blew through them, trumpeting that high white note for which he always listened, and the thin-blown clouds, stripped for battle, passed in review. The scene was of an unparalleled brightness and magnificence, and only the practiced eye of the commander saw that one star was no longer there.”

from “A Snobbish Story”

“Then she caught her breath as the lights changed, the music quickened and at the head of the steps, Travis de Coppet in white-satin football suit swung into the spotlight a shimmering blonde in a dress of autumn leaves. It was Madelaine Danby, and it was the role Josephine would have played. With the warm rain of intimate applause, Josephine decided something: That any value she might have was in the immediate, shimmering present– and thus thinking, she threw in her lot with the rich and powerful of this world forever.”

(Hardly throwaway endings! Note: Both reflect disillusion and disappointment, and so are not exactly “happy.”)

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “pop” stories are as sophisticated as his more famous works. In a few cases, more so.

What makes them important to the editors at New Pop Lit?

Fitzgerald’s pop stories point the way, more than his “serious” work, toward where literature needs to go NOW in 2017. Readability, humor, sparkle, punch– presented in unpretentious fashion available to all. The short story as lively as a pop song.

(As I’ve pointed out often, the short story was once THE popular American art form.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s pop stories are soaked in verve and style. A writer falling back on his past, consumed in memory and insight, not trying to overawe literary critics but simply writing. Letting his magical talent flow. They’re also very well written.

While today a Fitzgerald classic like “Babylon Revisited” seems a tad maudlin and contrived– the saloon Irishman crying in his beer at closing time– the pop tales are fun and very real.
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FYI: With even the Hemingway-Fitzgerald experts unable to come up with the solution to our Trivia Question (we contacted a few of them), we’ll be giving and explaining the answer soon. Did we overreach? You’ll have to judge for yourself.

 

Upping the Prize!

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

saturday eve post cover

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!

 

Hemingway-Fitzgerald Trivia Question

Fitzgerald Pat Hobby book cover

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

To mark the placement of both Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald into the big Tournament, as #1 and #2 bracket seeds respectively, we offer a quick trivia question to mark the occasion.

WE KNOW that Hemingway famously referred to Scott Fitzgerald in the widely anthologized short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”

OUR QUESTION:

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

OUR PRIZE:

A free beer on the editors of New Pop Lit, either in Detroit or the Detroit area, or during one of our visits to our second home city of Philadelphia. No time limit on payment.
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We’ll find out who knows the work of these two American literary giants thoroughly!

The Answers!

ANSWERS TO OUR LIT QUESTION OF THE MONTH

lady gaga

(Why a Lady Gaga photo?)

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We have answers! The answers come from across today’s literary spectrum– at all levels. Please google the individual names for bios, works, and websites. Lavish thanks to all who participated.

We’ve acted in arbitrary fashion in lining up the order of responses. We invite readers and writers alike to post comments about these answers. Which are your favorites? One purpose of literature is to stimulate thought and debate.

But, as Gertrude Stein said, “What is the question?”

QUESTION:

“Does the contemporary short story need to be radically revamped in order to reach a broader audience?”

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Emerson Dameron, writer/performer

ANSWER: Absolutely. I fear that writing for publication has become a hobby for the rich and isolated, and that no one is writing stories about the horrors that the rest of America is experiencing day to day. I mostly read nonfiction now because at least it has some relevance, and that’s a bummer.

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Colum McCann, writer/teacher

ANSWER: No, writers just have to continue splitting open the atom — that’s all, simple as that. Split open the atom, time and time again. And then hope that somebody is there to hear the roar. This is what writers have been doing for hundreds of years and will try to do for hundreds more … if there’s still a world to write about, that is.

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Meakin Armstrong, magazine editor

ANSWER: The market for short fiction is already broad; it’s just that the market is fragmented, thanks to technology. Incredible short fiction is being published right now, and probably more of it is being published than ever before. One unintended consequence of technology, however, is that this avalanche of short fiction has tended to fragment the market. Nearly every day, I hear of a new small press or a new journal—and that’s great. But nonetheless, it’s still one more new journal; one more new press—with presumably only a static number of readers out there. Arguably, the lack of money is freeing, though. At Guernica, I don’t give a rat’s ass about our market, because there’s no money in it, anyway. But writers still need money. Publishers still need money. So if you’ve got money, SEND MONEY. That means actually subscribing to those journals you pretend to read and supporting those presses you say you love. With money, short fiction will figure out its own shit. Just don’t expect to be your friend: all good fiction prefers to bite the hand that feeds it.

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Jessie Lynn McMains, writer/zinester

ANSWER: I’m not sure what “contemporary short story” even means, so I can’t say if it has to be revamped. I think what has to be done is to offer a wide variety of different kinds of short stories to the public.

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Samuel Stevens, writer/blogger

ANSWER: The short story needs to be radically revamped, but not in an overly avant-garde direction. Workshop style fiction dominates school textbooks, informing people’s idea of the format. It may be cliched, but the first objective of any writer is to tell a good story; in this regard, workshop fiction fails because it is dull. The other factor as well is the shift in our culture away from the conceptual to the visual. People who might have picked up a pulp magazine fifty years ago turn on Netflix. While I don’t think the short story (or long form novel) will go away entirely. If the story is to be viable again, writers need to focus on substance and less worrying about MFA program conventions.

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Scott Turow, best-selling author

ANSWER: There should be a broader canon. “The moment of impression” stories pioneered in Dubliners are still effective for me, but stories in the mode of O’Henry should also be valued.

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O Henry Whirligigs

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Benjamin Hale, author

ANSWER: I don’t think so. The short story as a form has been getting radically revamped again and again for at least a hundred years. Any “radical revamping” of any art form always seems like barking up the wrong tree to me, anyway. Ezra Pound said, “Make it new!” He was wrong about that, as he was about many other things. I say, don’t worry about making it “new.” Worry about making it good — that’s hard enough to do.

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Gabriel Roth, editor/writer

ANSWER: I don’t really understand the premise. Who cares if a particular form reaches “a broader audience”? Who has that kind of investment in an abstraction like “the contemporary short story”? And if you did have that kind of investment, why would you want to “radically revamp” the thing you’re so invested in?

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edsel

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Justin Taylor, author

ANSWER: This question is built on a set of assumptions I don’t accept, namely that a standardized form known as “the contemporary short story” exists; that its “radical revamping” is a project for some executive body to carry out (presumably after sparkling for consensus on the new squad goals); and that “a broader audience” is something of inherent value. The first thing is demonstrably false; the second thing is a paranoid fantasy. The third thing is at least debatable, though before we could I’d have to know what constituted broadness, and what “revamping” meant to my work personally. Anyway it strikes me that most contemporary-canonical writers insist on some kind of radical narrowness, choosing depth and intensity over breadth and accessibility: Donald Barthelme, Flannery O’Connor, Joy Williams, Denis Johnson, Lorrie Moore, Lydia Davis… Love or hate ‘em, they’ve won their readerships through originality, audacity, and vessel-breaking—not party programs.

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Carmela Ciuraru, critic/editor

ANSWER: The contemporary short story can’t be defined in the singular. Short fiction is Jhumpa Lahiri, but it’s also Diane Williams. It’s Junot Diaz, but it’s also Robert Stone. It’s Lorrie Moore and Laura van den Berg, Alice Munro and Aimee Bender, Sherman Alexie and George Saunders. I could go on. There is no need to radically revamp what is already a wonderfully diverse and vibrant genre, brimming with talented writers. (And how would one go about revamping it, anyway?) If there’s a problem, it’s that people should read more radically–and read more, period. Anything you could possibly want from a short story is out there, waiting to be discovered.

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T.C. Boyle, renowned story writer

ANSWER: Absolutely. All short stories, no matter where they are set or who the protagonists are, must be filmed with Lady Gaga playing all the principal roles, and distributed intercranially worldwide. Otherwise, if the short story persists in its present form–i.e., in being a glittering object on a page–it is doomed.

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Daniel Menaker, writer/executive editor

ANSWER: Maybe it’s that the broader audience needs to be radically revamped in order to read the contemporary short story.

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The Aldine “O'er Land and Sea.” Library

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Fiona Maazel, writer/professor

ANSWER: No. At least not in some artificial way or in response to some angry call to action. Fiction is always reinventing itself, and great writers are always finding new ways to disrupt the status quo and channel what is most pressing and anguished about being alive in the world as it is today.

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Christopher Merkner, writer/teacher

ANSWER: With all due respect, I think this question needs to be revamped. I’m glad we’re talking about the short story, but I’m not sure I can negotiate the assumptions upon which this particular question rests. But I am grateful you’re asking questions about the short story — that part is good. And thank you for inviting me to think about this.

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Ann Sterzinger, writer/reviewer

ANSWER: Of course it does. I don’t even read short stories anymore. You’re all assholes.

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Jim Gibson, writer/zinester

ANSWER: I think the short story has always been of more interest to other writers than to the general public. It tends to be where writers hone their craft before writing novels. Think of short films. Unless you’re really into film you may never even have seen a short. These are more artistic pursuits that are aware that they will never be commercial, however, the people that read them are actually the people that really care and matter.

That being said, if I was to go about crafting something that as many people as possible would actually read, I would probably look at making it a more immersive experience: if online I’d add music that enhanced it and set the whole page out to complement the story, maybe even produce short trailers for them. I don’t think this would enhance all writing, like my own or the things we publish at Hand Job, but for more straight up genre fiction and standard narratives it would definitely entice people.

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Madison Smartt Bell, renowned story writer

ANSWER: Absolutely. Bring back the Saturday Evening Post but with illustrations by Sue Coe instead of Rockwell.

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sue coe 2

(Sue Coe’s artwork is used pending permission.)

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Anne Leigh Parrish, writer

ANSWER: The only thing the contemporary short story needs is a high level of accessible art. Stories should cover every possible aspect of human endeavor and experience in a way that invites readers in. Short stories, like all fiction, have but one goal: to lift us off from reality and startle us into recognition.

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Wred Fright, writer/zinester

ANSWER: Yes. The masses may never be interested in the contemporary short story that appears in literary journals, but they are always interested in good stories, so they can be reached. Many writers today only write for the MFA/university crowd though, so a broader audience is not reached. Writers might be better off skipping the workshop and experimenting with new media instead. Though I am fond of the idea of a poet on every corner (also, I would love a garage band in every garage, except when I am trying to sleep–make art not war), we don’t need every writer to go into debt with student loans to achieve that, and eventually we will realize that and the current multilevel marketing scheme of creative writing programs will collapse. Once writers give up hope of landing a teaching gig and stop playing it safe, then they might become even more interesting.

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Kelly Cherry, renowned story writer

ANSWER: I think the short story is already being revamped via the revival of and new interest in flash fiction and short shorts. But I’d also like to see stories that are longer and deeper than even the usual. It is hard to place such stories, of course, and perhaps readers are reluctant to commit to them, but I favor stories that explore character in a whole and undaunted way. Would they reach a broader audience? I fear not, but they would reach me.

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sat eve post

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John Gorman, writer/blogger

ANSWER: No. I don’t believe so. In fact, modern short stories have been evolving for quite some time. The proliferation of MFA programs and the flood of e-zines have made this possible, but so has the burgeoning popularity of Flash Fiction which has a dedicated and growing readership. Flash Fiction itself has undergone a paradigm shift, paring down to ever snappier pieces and opening up sub-categories. These pithier, and sometimes punchier works, fit nicely into our short attention spans. They also offer a great boon for both print and online journals who want to introduce more writers per issue. Though the actual category is rather nebulous, allowing for stories between 500 – 1000 words, there is a surge of even shorter pieces: micro or sudden fiction (less than 300 words), drabbles (100 words), dribbles (50 words) and 6-word stories. As counterpoint to these sinewy works, I’ve also noticed a rise in novellas.

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Deb Patrick, playwright

ANSWER: I don’t think you can impose a form on any writer. For me, story always suggests form. A writer has to be courageous enough to go where the story takes him or her. It’s the reception that’s the problem — editors and reviewers with narrow vision, wedded to forms they know, rejecting subjects too challenging for them. Ultimately, our audiences will decide — if they get to read what we write.

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Patrick Rapa, journalist

ANSWER: While I’m all for radical departures, I’m also wary of any artistic endeavor that puts audience-seeking at the top of its to-do list. Writers should answer a higher calling, right? But hell, I came of age in the alt-rock ’90s when we all leered at each other like government spies, ready to pounce on the first symptoms of vanity and selloutism. That kind of thinking turned some upright citizens into hypocrites and ghosts of their own potential. No way to live. For writers in search of untouched wildernesses, I say: Seek your readers, learn to distinguish thoughtful criticism from secret hate, and trust your vision above all.

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Andrea Gregovich, writer/translator

ANSWER: We must disregard the contemporary conventions and rules that have had us so constricted, and write stories exactly how we feel like writing. We need to get the writing teachers and critics out of our heads. We must set new rules, revive rules of yore, or reject rules completely, whatever is our thing. And when we free ourselves from the conventional shackles that have made stories so blah for so long, some of our new stories will suck, and some will be brilliant. We need not care which. Those of us writing for the new age of literature need to see our writing as experiment and evolution, and not worry about things being publishable—there’s room on the internet for all of it anyway. We just need to keep plugging away at it. With this approach we can find the ways to make the short story readable and relevant again.

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THANKS EVERYONE!!

Our first print issue containing a dozen new stories is NEW POP LIT #1. Get it!

Our main site is here.

One of our own irrepressible stories.

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How to Create the New Product

Back Cover page-001

We say the new product, not a, because we don’t want to put just one more literary journal out on the market. We want a product so different and exciting it’ll blow people away from the moment they see it– let alone read it.

This means starting with a dynamite cover. Our “packaging.” Nearly all lit journals today have professional-looking cover art. Our task was to best this.

We did this by in-depth research of the best artists, of all kinds, in the Detroit area. We preferred having a Detroit artist A.) for the hipness/edge factor B.) because Detroit is the center right now of an arts explosion; fantastically talented artists gravitating to the coming-back city for the opportunity it provides– and the city’s edgy-jagged atmosphere.

We didn’t limit our search to Michigan folks. We perused work online from as far away as Liverpool– which itself seems to be an arts hub right now.

From graffiti artists to designers of comic books or posters or album cover art, we cast a wide net. We desired not simply good art– but trailblazing art. Several very good options were out there. We settled on the best local young artist, in our humble opinion. Or at least, the artist whose work was the most colorful, most pop, most striking. Most attention getting. It grabbed our attention! That artist was Alyssa Klash.

The cover’s a winner. But what of the “product” itself? The literary journal’s contents?

Aha! For that we had no worries. We’d already published on our web site (www.newpoplit.com) several terrific writers– from Thomas Mundt and Jessie Lynn  McMains to Kathleen Crane and Brittany Terwilliger and Wred Fright. We pushed them to send us stories that were even better than those they’d previously given us. They came through big-time.

To those returnees we added newbies (for us) like Robin Dunn and Terry Sanville, and the quirky/crazy lit phenomenon Alex Bernstein. In addition, we had a very strong interview with purveyor of DIY everything Delphine Pontvieux, AND a series of art/prose pieces by Dan Nielsen, who has since joined the staff of this fledgling-but-ambitious project. (More about him in another blog post.) Who are we leaving out? Our token poet, Colin James. One poem– but it’s a good one, holding its own with the dynamite stories around it.

We don’t exaggerate about the stories. You’ll see when you read them. They’re as good as any stories being published anywhere. (We believe two of them are better than any stories being published anywhere.) Moreover, they fit our aesthetic. We designed this journal for the new reader. The stories are fast, fun, and have punch. They are NOT for people with endless time on their hands to dawdle for hundreds of pages over going-nowhere prose from the likes of a Jonathan Franzen or Hilary Mantel. Our stories are too good, too exciting, for the mandarins of a collapsing literary establishment. Our stories are for people on the move themselves, living in the NOW. For people who themselves are creating excitement, and will not settle for less than the best in beer, brunches, styles, or literary products. (Yes, our new literary journal has style.)

Not that we didn’t have difficulties putting our hybrid new animal together. Formatting it took longer than we expected. Not to worry! We WILL have a limited number of preview copies at the Allied Media Conference coming up. A chance to grab an advance look at what the literary future looks like. If you’re attending, get to our table early!

-K.W.