Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Mass Insanity of Writers


Virtually every writer I know has a book coming out. I meet writers on the street who I haven't seen all year. They tell me they have books coming out.

Everyone's writing novels. Housewives and businessmen who've never before considered themselves writers are writing novels and have books coming out.

Some have more than one. Some are approaching a dozen. They're not selling them, they're doing no marketing to speak of, but they're cranking out more of them. Right now the book is the LAST thing to produce but barbers, gardeners, tailors, sailors, Aunt Helen Uncle Bill the guy at the desk next to yours at your job are writing novels and have books coming out.

If writers, or people in general, had a sense of basic economics-- or basic odds-- this madness wouldn't be occurring.

Ever been to a racetrack?

Those who have, for any extended period, learn odds. They see the glue factory horses. Those are the ones who have NO shot. The line on them starts at 80 to 1. The extreme longshot. The experts-- called handicappers-- know they have no shot, but there's always a sucker or two who'll bet them regardless. "Hey, 'Destiny DeBong.' I'll bet it!"

They're off! The horses thunder down the track. "Where's Destiny DeBong?" you wonder. You don't see it among the leaders. That's it! Way behind the others. Half-a-racetrack behind. In danger of being lapped.

At the present time, Destiny DeBong is a better bet than the novel.

What are the odds right now of getting attention for your book? 8,000 to 1? 80,000? 800,000?

If everyone in the underground has a book coming out, you can believe the 400,000+ MFA folks out there also have books coming out.

In the last ten years, due to the ease of publishing, Print-On-Demand and the micropress, there's been an explosion of product, with no apparent corresponding rise in demand. Writers today aren't exactly rock stars.

So where's the logic?

The conglomerates alone crank out too many novels. Go to a supersize chain bookstore. Where's Joe Schmoe's book? There are ten thousand books on the first floor. How will anyone find it?

Maybe five serious novels in the past year received serious marketing attention. Jonathan Lethem's was among them. I can't remember the title.

I know. I know. You're different. You're going to be different. The literary agent will choose yours from hundreds or thousands. It'll be published, and published with backing. Full-page ads in the N.Y. Times, at least before the Gray Lady goes bankrupt.

The funny thing is, there are roads to literary success. Roads no one is traveling. The key is finding or creating a new road and outflanking the pack.

Oh oh! Here comes the herd. Thundering along. Books! Everyplace and everywhere you look-- books! Novelists like Goodloe Byron are giving their novels away free.Talk about devaluing the product. More books! Books which nobody wants.

I believe I'll hide on an island or in a cave for a couple years until the hysteria passes.


(This was originally posted elsewhere by me earlier in the year.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gnostic Nonsense

The answers to most questions lie in history. Winston Churchill once said he could look farther into the future because he looked farther into the past.

An example of the sad condition of today's literary world can be found in this post by Blake Butler at

The essay speaks for itself. I posted a pair of quick responses to bring a contrary viewpoint to the gushathon over Blake's post. I shouldn't have had to say anything. The essay speaks for itself. It's not even an essay-- it's a dissertation. A miscarriage. Dead-on-arrival. Butler writes as if he's pursuing a Phd. A hurricane of words, a mass of poorly written sentences, and at the center of them: nothing.

We've come along way from classic American essayists like Vidal, Baldwin, Mailer, and company, haven't we?

I love it. If the entire intellectual literary community is stopped at an orange-sign roadblock with emergency lights flashing, without the sense to turn around, it leaves open roads which will take the writer to actual destinations.

Who has winning ideas? Which ideas, which writings, will prevail?

There was a flurry of interest last century when a jar was found in the desert in Egypt containing the so-called gnostic gospels-- counter narratives to the four accepted versions of the story of Jesus. Had they been suppressed? If so, why? Politics, surely! I believed this myself. That is, until I started reading the counternarratives. What I found were insular, nonsensical, clearly inferior writings.

The four accepted gospels became popular. They lasted because they contained compelling writing about a real, unique personality moving and speaking in a recognizable landscape. When all is said and done, they're great, moving stories, written simply and with clarity, with simple but effective dialogue. Two thousand years later, the narratives still live and breathe.

The gnostic gospels, on the other hand, are dead artifacts, and were always dead to the world in that they were written for small and narrowly focused communities withdrawing from the world, while their more orthodox brethren were confronting it. Elaine Pagels' book on the gnostic gospels explains this well. Some early Christians were populists who believed their message was for the world; for everybody. Others constructed barriers of nonsense, the Eleusinan Mysteries, making it difficult if not impossible for readers to comprehend what they were saying-- which was the whole idea. Strip away the verbiage and you see they weren't saying anything. They were less-- not more--rooted in humanity and reality.

The followers of David Foster Wallace are contemporary gnostics who write for a tiny minority of readers able to "get it"; those watching the nakedly parading Emperor who convince themselves they see something. DFW is their dead god. His kind of work represents, as I said, a dead end. The task of the new writer is to tear down the System's plaster gods, to offer living alternatives that can reach the general population, and revive the corpse of American literature in so doing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Where Are the Great New Writers?

Where are new talents bursting on the scene to revolutionize the art? This is the most stagnant period in American literary history, in part because writers have lost any sense of real creativity, are content instead to copy the accepted models, trying to perfect what’s already been done. There’s a stagnant mental attitude which oversees and pervades the entire system of literature. This may be due to where America is right now as a civilization, a nation of bureaucracies and institutions, where competent mediocrity is celebrated, has been institutionalized and turned into high value.

The system’s best, like Jonathan Franzen, are skilled mechanics. Even if one accepts the dubious proposition that David Foster Wallace was a “genius” writer—when was that? When did he first gain strong notice? Twenty years ago? He was a follower, maybe a culmination, of academic trends. He led to more paint-by-the-numbers imitators. The art wasn’t turned on its head. There was no Michael Vick breathtaking shock-the-world breakthrough. DFW signalled the end of a trend, not the nascent beginning of one.

Today’s writers are content to write and exist within comfortable boxes. That’s the problem.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Stacks of Books

I stopped in a Barnes and Noble for a cup of hot green tea. On the ground floor stood a huge stack of copies of Jonathan Franzen's latest novel, Freedom. Hundreds of copies. The stack hadn't changed in size and shape from when I saw it a couple weeks ago.

Tina Brown takes the helm of the ever-thinner magazine Newsweek. Ever hear of it? I'm told it used to be a flagship of print media. She won't be able to save it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Movie! Movie! Movie!

A new post at one of the more unpredictable blogs I’m currently associated with asks readers to choose between three movies done on the same topic—or at least between the three promotional trailers for the three movies. See


Movie! Movie! Movie!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that, in the area of short fiction, writers aren’t giving the general public what it wants. None of us is—myself included. The New Yorker is merely the most visible part of the problem.


There are many things writers need to do. One of them is to lose the infatuation with postmodernism a la David Foster Wallace. This is a dead end. It’s solipsism, a retreat into the mind. What the journal n+1 calls Neuron Lit or such is in fact Moron Lit. It goes nowhere. It’s a retreat away from the audience. Or, to claim as other writers do, that Art is Nonsense is itself nonsense.

The postmodern escape from sense and reality came as a result of the traumas of World War II, when the world collapsed into madness. It was a philosophy and aesthetic of a particular time. That period has ended. It’s time to move on. Some teach that “There is no reality.” Why, then, Professor, are you teaching the class, and charging an exorbitant amount to do so?

Reality is a given. The world makes sense. In the morning you don’t put your shoes on your head instead of your feet, or walk UP the stairs when you want to go DOWN to the street.


At www.americanpoplit.blogspot.com I’m posting experiments at new short fiction. I’m presenting worked-out aesthetic ideas. As with any experimenting, most attempts are bound to be failures. That doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying. The ULA itself was ultimately a failure, in that it didn’t achieve the impossible goals it set for itself. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile. It was completely worthwhile. It was an attempt to inject new ideas and writing into the literary body. It was an honest try to revive the literary patient. We know that doing the same-old same-old doesn’t work. The many “Best” or New Yorker story collections are proof. All they signify is the extent of the illness.

Do YOU want to attempt new pop literary art? You need the will to make the attempt.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Giving the Teacher What She Wants

The literary story today is a model of conformity. After decades of writing workshops, system writers have synthesized all the many instructions and subliminal cues to give the academic system of writing perfect examples of consistency, as seen in poem after poem, story after story—by the thousands. They’re all adeptly crafted, as from a factory.

This is the nature of bureaucracy—and the question is whether art can and should be the product of bureaucracy. In place is an unstated “book” of how to write, so that writers who want to get ahead create by the book, and only by the book. Which also means that those writers approved and promoted are those best able to conform to the system way of writing. They’re the students raising their hands at the front of the class, giving, quickly and efficiently, the teacher exactly what she wants.

It’s a machine way of writing art and results in machine art, with no room for difference, much less the creativity of new ideas. Is this process good for American literature? Writers are giving the system and its priests and acolytes—the nomenklatura-- what it wants but they’re not producing what the public wants. The public lives outside the literary machine, and doesn’t know the values and codes of the particular bureaucracy that’s been put in place.

More thoughts on this upcoming: “Dropping Chandeliers.”

Monday, November 08, 2010

Pop Fiction Isn't Genre Fiction

Not necessarily, anyway.

I was reminded of this while reading a Patricia D. Cornwall detective novel from 1990, "Postmortem," via a paperback picked up in a fifty-cent bin.

Ms. Cornwall from the start is striving to be literary; "serious"; through too much detail from the start, as well as a couple excrutiatingly bad sub-plots, involving a niece and a boyfriend, both of whom as characters are, at best, unlikable.

The novel can be better. There's a way to do it. It's what a handful of writers in this country are working toward.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

“The Big Boy Saga” Continues

NOW UP! at


Part Two of The Big Boy Saga-- “The Green Club.”

Plot threads are being laid down.

Can anyone challenge the Fake Face gang—and live?

Find out!