Tuesday, March 29, 2011

All-Time American Writer Tournament

To celebrate the “Final Four” in college basketball, I’ve decided to put together my own tournament—this one to decide the all-time top American writer. It’s a big project. I’ll need help.

How it will work: There will be sixteen seeds, sixty-four writers altogether. A writer will have to be good simply to make the tournament. Brackets will be set up, starting with four #1 seeds, then the #2 seeds, and so on. Then, the writers begin squaring off mano a mano. I’ll hope to enlist volunteers to choose between, say, Henry James or Allen Ginsberg. The winner moves on. This continues until we have an overall winner.


I haven’t decided if the brackets will be arbitrary, or split up between, say, regions, or using other classifications, such as a Poetry bracket, Playwright bracket, and so on. Probably not the latter, simply because the history of American literature has been dominated by the novel. It would be unfair to leave out novelists who’ve had a huge impact on the civilization and culture in favor of poets or playwrights who’ve had no great impact at all.


Which brings us to the question of what places a writer above another.  I’ve sketched out what I believe are the main points, but welcome more.

A.) Influence/Importance/Relevance. Meaning, impact on America and the world. Not simply on the literary art, but on culture itself. Has the writer’s work become part of the culture?

B.) Popularity. Not the main point, but a major point.

C.) Persona. The writer’s persona is part and parcel of the writer’s impact. I refuse to take the narrow view of writers that, say, New York editors take, where the work is assessed in a vacuum. Literature has thrived in this crazy country when the main writers have been larger than life. Their very presence has promoted the vibrancy of the literary art.

D.) Critical Standing. This means, the quality of the work itself. Has the body of work stood the test of time? Is it considered world class? Are significant ideas expressed in the work? Great themes relevant to people anywhere?

E.) American. Is the writer and the work authentically, recognizably, quintessentially American? Is he or she representative of the land, this nation, and the nation’s voice? To some extent, writers should be of their place and time.

The writer’s mastery of form, and of various forms, can be considered as well. The forms include Novels, Poetry, Plays, Short Stories, Essays, and Criticism.

In this discussion, what am I leaving out?

Next: Will be a discussion of what makes a “1” seed, and whether there are any automatic #1’s, as, say, Tolstoy would presumably be an automatic #1 in an all-time Russian writer tournament.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Contest Results

Okay, here we go. After much deliberation, these are the Prize Winners of the First Pop Lit Story Opening Contest:

FIRST PRIZE: Anthony Jones for “The Diadem.”

First Prize is the Elvis 3-dvd set.


Second Prize is the cd reading of J.D. Salinger’s “Teddy” from http://frankmarcopolos.com

THIRD PRIZE: Tom Hendricks for “3.”

Third Prize is a copy of the very rare "Pop Literary Gazette,” which came out in 1998.


All three winning entries fit the contest requirement of being a good opening to a story—the hook, the lead-in, is all.

The typo in “3” was enough to bump it to third, in my estimation.

That left the tiebreaker between the other two. For me, “The Diadem” was just a tad tighter in execution. But I could’ve flipped a coin and not done wrong.

(I have a rough idea who “XXXXXXXX” is. If he’s not tracked down, then awards will be adjusted accordingly—Len Kuntz will move up to Third.)

I’d like the thank the three judges for doing a fine job—and all the entrants as well. There was much very good from which to choose.



Lynn Alexander:

Hello, Everyone. Glad to participate with you guys in this fun contest. I am glad to see some familiar faces in the entries!
I am not sure if I am supposed to send my top three to all, but here we go:
1. Tom Hendricks (my favorite)
2. David Biddle
3. Wred Fright

Now I asked if we should include comments or explanations, and I am willing to discuss/debate my reasons if anyone is interested.
In summary:
-I think that these three entries had a minimal amount of spelling/grammar mistakes, they were pretty clean.
-I could actually see these three entries as "openers", as a launching point, a foundation on which to build a longer work.
-In general, the openers were diverse, and interesting. Some just did not suck me in at all. But for the most part, good effort.

-Tom Hendricks' entry was simple, but had an element of poetry, it was broad and gave me the sense of a panoramic about to close in soon on characters and settings about to unfold. I think he got it, and delivered.
He did not feel the need to rush into details, the way some others did. His opening was easing, coaxing, prodding.
Some of the others felt like a rush to throw shit, like an eviction... not welcoming, not establishing a zone at all.

David Biddle's entry had an element of quirkiness that gave me the sense that a longer work could expand on the setting he established, and the suggestion of sex to come was a good hook.
It was a bit of a yawn yuppie read, with some of the trademarks of the chick-lit so many are going for.. but that IS an important market right now. And this is "pop lit" so I let go of my distaste for the style and on the merit of an opener, I ranked it second.

Wred Fright is obviously a friend of the crowd, and I did not want to give him more sway- but his entry was funny. The reason that I ranked it third is because I don't think the tone and gimmick is sustainable.

I could see Wred Fright doing a collection of similar stories, in which this would be one. But I don't see a long work coming from it without some re-thinks. 



Allie Dresser:

Glas by XXXXXX -- this was so well done that I found myself writing multiple continuation storylines in my head to this opener.  I could see it as a TV show script, a movie, or a good book.
Storm Lake by Len Kuntz -- Smoothly and professionally written as though he plucked a book off his shelf and typed out the first paragraph.  Tons of depth, background, emotion, and struggle. This is the kind of book that would be in Oprah's Book Club.

Bob's Escape by msandidge -- A true starter: it sucks the reader right into the scene, it creates tension, sets up a plot, and makes the reader wonder what the escape is and what the hell the place is. Nicely done for under 200 words.
There were others that I enjoyed, but were more self-contained shorts than starters as required by contest rules.  A couple of the scifi oriented ones had promise, but were not as well written.

Thanks so much for the inclusion. I had fun reading these.  I always love Lynn's perspective and her comments made me go back and take a second look at several of them.  If for any reason the above picks don't qualify due to anonymity, let me know and I'll nominate another.


Frank Marcopolos:

1.) The Diadem by Anthony Jones

2.) Untitled by John Bobst

3.) Storm Lake by Len Kuntz

My only criterion was: does this opening make me care about the story and want to read more? My 3 picks did that the best, in my opinion, obviously.

I know that the criterion is somewhat vague, but I believe that in this deconstructionist culture, the creation of literature should still have some sense of the mysterious to it.


Winners, please contact me via this blog’s email! I need mailing addresses to mail out your prizes. (I have Tom Hendricks email—not the other two.)

Thanks! And thanks again to all who participated.

Friday, March 25, 2011

We Have a Tie!

This is what I was afraid of when putting the Story Opening Contest together. Each of the three judges has a different First choice. According to the Wenclas Scoring System used for this contest, each first place vote receives 5 points. This squeezes out Len Kuntz, the only writer named on more than one ballot. Who'd have figured that? Len receives 3 points for a second place vote from one judge, and 1 point for being chosen third by another judge.

Those tied, in alphabetical order, are

-Tom Hendricks
-Anthony Jones

(I may not have gotten the right number of x's! If Mr. x isn't tracked down after the tiebreaker, his prize will go to Mr. Kuntz.)

It's a sign of the variety and quality of the entries that the selections were diverse. We didn't get a huge number of entries. Those received were very very good.

I'll announce the tie on a couple blogs, in a few forums, then ask for input from the audience, and from the other contestants themselves.

The contest is thus held open until next Monday or Tuesday, at which time I'll weigh in and decide who gets what prize. Judges selections and remarks will also be posted at that time.

I make no promise as to final result between the three. If it were up to me, I would've chosen Emerson Dameron's entry! It was attention getting, and he has the best author name of any entrant-- no small consideration, in a world where gaining notice-- if you're a writer in a crowded field-- is so important. :) (Lady Gaga didn't enter the contest.)

Stay tuned.

(Post your suggestions et.al. on this thread.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Contest Is Closed!

A Big THANKS to all who participated. From Wred through Dennis, the entries, in my opinion, are of high quality. I'm glad I'm not judging this thing!

I expect to be in contact with our three esteemed judges. Will be collecting the ballots, have them calculated by the King Wenclas accounting firm (visualize me scribbling away with pencil and paper), and hope to announce the winners by the end of the week. I'll then collect mailing addresses from the three winners-- po boxes, bail bondsmen, penitentiary mail points, literary agents, mother-in-laws, etc.-- anything acceptable as long as I can mail off the things. You can't imagine the temptation of wanting to open up that shrink-wrapped collection of Elvis dvd's. Or listen to Marcopolos reading "Teddy."

Unfortunately, there remains no funding in the contest budget, after postage, to hold an actual awards ceremony like the Oscars or the Grammys. (Unless anyone wants to pick up their award at Dirty Frank's in Philly.) Besides, Lady Gaga is unavailable.