Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Genius Writers

One reason why I got heavily into reading was the experience of encountering minds much more intelligent than my own. Like the Brain Booster in the movie "Forbidden Planet," reading one of the great novels, "War and Peace" or "Brothers" or "Vicomte De Braggelone," increases your I.Q. by a level of points.

I was thinking about that while reading one of Asimov's great "Foundation" books. As I consider doing a few more ebooks, the prospect of writing a sci-fi novel is in front of me, given the genre's popularity. I decided to read more from one of the very best creators of that genre. Asimov is that.

The layers of mental tricks and battles being displayed by his characters is impressive.

Who are other genius American writers from now or the past? David Foster Wallace has been portrayed as one. Was he really? What is there to learn from him? Wasn't his obsession with consciousness and self a waste of brain power?

On any list of brainiest American novelists I'd put Scott Fitzgerald, Ayn Rand, Cozzens, Melville, Asimov, a very few others. Those whose understanding of the complexities of society, people, and the world is something to learn from.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ten Pop Stories Have Arrived!

While the American Writer Tournament has been on lazy summer break, I've put together an ebook of short pop fiction named Ten Pop Stories. While a few of the stories have previously appeared here, the collection also contains exciting new ones like "The Red Door," which I intended to be the fastest-paced story ever. Did I achieve that goal? Possibly not, but it's well worth a look. Few other writers are experimenting with a new short story form designed to rescue the art.

The stories are available exclsuively as a Nook Book at


Watch for its appearance soon at other outlets!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Radical Idea

An All-American tournament? It's occurred to me that in this day, an all-American anything is a throwback, politically incorrect and unhip, not very cool. Especially in a refined, internationally-focused but at the same time homogenized literary world. Yet I believe we need to recapture the idea of a unique American literature, unique to America's land, people, culture. To present this thought is one of the objectives behind the "All-Time American Writer Tournament." In what way do the bracketed writers represent the authentic American voice? In their entirety, how well do they represent America's size and scope, its large appealing sound so much unlike any before heard? The tournament starts with the premise that, despite its flaws, this is a truly great country-- great in every aspect of the word.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Won't Make the Cut


As final decisons are being made for the remaining slots, I can at least reveal the names of several writers who definitely won't make it.

I tried to read and accept Stephen King's writing, I really did, but cannot bring myself to include him. My first and overarching thought is, "This is typical commercial fiction junk." As manipulative, empty, and derivative as a Stephen Spielberg shock movie.

Dorothy Parker? A few good jokes but a minor writer.

I'm sorry to say that Truman Capote won't be in the tournament. Most of his fiction is overly precious and literary. He wrote one great nonfiction book. But there's only so much room in one tournament for Mailer-style publicity hounds. Truman was squeezed out. Blame Norman Mailer for it.

Let him take as consolation the fact that at least two Nobel Prize winners, Sinclair Lewis and Pearl Buck, won't make the cut. Today their writing looks moldy and stiff.

Harper Lee won't be in the tournament. She's known for one nice but slight novel. High school teachers love her, but. . . . Not enough.

A giant of the 1930's, Thoman Wolfe, whose status once nearly overshadowed Hemingway and Fitzgerald, is unable to squeeze in to the brackets.

Philip Roth proves that continued mediocrity, despite plaudits, is still mediocrity.

Longfellow was a great poet in his day, but he long ago lost much of his relevance.

John Updike? As with Stephen King, I can't bring myself to include John Updike. He might be considered the other pole of everything wrong with American writing now.

No Joseph Wambaugh. Blame him for the endless parade of TV police dramas. No John or Washington Irving. No Mario Puzo, alas. He came close.

Finally, I can reveal that Gertrude Stein won't be in the tournament. Blame her absence on the Kathy Bates-playing-Kathy Bates non-impersonation of her in "Midnight in Paris."

Friday, June 10, 2011

The #13 and #14 Seeds

We're nearing the end of the seeding, where the choices become excruciatingly hard to make. I still want to throw in a few surprises, which narrows the available spots more. Yet I believe the surprises are fully justified.

A.) Mary McCarthy.
B.) Norman Mailer.
C.) Katherine Anne Porter.
D.) Edith Wharton.

A.) Edgar Rice Burroughs.
B.) Herman Wouk.
C.) Ralph Ellison.
D.) Isaac Asimov.

I've tried to construct each seed with its own small theme. With #13 I continue to tweak Norman Mailer's ego. In many ways his ego was the best part of him, from a larger American Lit perspective, overshadowing the actual writing. He was the last American author who sought to be as big and ambitious as the land and the culture, as big as the American Dream. (The title of one of his ambitious if failed novels.)

I've surrounded Norman Mailer with three American ladies, who represent an evolution of the American woman in this society. Wharton the epitome of refinement and society still represents too much the box within which our literature has allowed itself to become confined. (The next seed, #14, is a full reaction against such domestication.) Porter shows an increased cynicism and knowingness about this country and about life, if not fully into grotesque Flannery O'Connor territory. Katherine Anne Porter wrote small short story and novella jewels, masterpieces the equal of anyone's. Her novel, Ship of Fools, is underrated.

As for Mary McCarthy, she takes Porter's cynicism almost over the edge in her barracuda essays and novels, which remain highly readable and relevant. For awhile she cranked them out like a John O'Hara, but with her interest in politics kept them intelligent. (One I read about a German terrorist group-- I'll add the name at a later date!-- of course remains topical in this day.)

In the next seed I highlight four diverse popular novelists.

Ralph Ellison a popular novelist? Yes. One of the best of them, though he published only one book in his lifetime, Invisible Man, which is an over-the-top kaleidoscope of impressions, characters, and plot, capturing as well as any author has the noise of America. Was this book the last great melding of "literary" and "pop"? Cynical, knowing, yet throughout, highly entertaining. A full reading experience.

Herman Wouk wrote a ton of novels. War and Remembrance includes the best attempt to understand the mystery of Franklin Roosevelt as a leader-- with two opposite viewpoints on him, either of which might be right. Wouk didn't have the persona of Norman Mailer, nor his joy of using language, but he was a more intelligent writer.

Wouk will be remembered for The Caine Mutiny. If you work jobs you'll encounter a "Queeg" and his situation at some point in your life. The knowledge of personalities caught within a structure of command and hierarchy, as well as the drama of both the mutiny itself, and the later trial, remain compelling. The trial part of the novel became a classic stage play.

Isaac Asimov brought surpassing intelligence to his superb "Foundation" series, the forerunner of Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Whatever, and so much else, much of it admittedly crap.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, for all his obvious flaws, is the greatest pop writer of all time in his sheer imagination and excitement. He took what existed in American legend and culture, with a large dash of Rider Haggard, and created the myth of the Anglo-Saxon Superman which still exists in American culture. See Batman, Iron Man, Green Lantern, et.al. A cultural subtext of history, politics, exploration and Imperialism, and, yes, racism. Tarzan has become an uncomfortable stereotype, with much baggage. The John Carter series on the other hand continues to be pure pop reading.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Scott in Paris

The new Woody Allen movie, "Midnight in Paris," is creating tremendous buzz, particularly for its characterizations of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Scott Fitzgerald. Has anyone seen it?

The film is an example of how Fitzgerald and Hemingway have become mythic figures in American culture. In their day, they were akin to rock stars. They're remembered for their striking depictions of their time, but also for having lived in their time. They moved through history and created history.

The irony is that they weren't the most interesting figures during that time in Paris. (The 1920's.) Even if we set aside other literary giants like James Joyce and Ezra Pound. The distinction instead best belongs to Kay Boyle and Robert McAlmon, the main characters in John Glassco's immortal recollection of the period, Memoirs of Montparnasse. Glassco depicts Boyle with a pseudonym. She stands out nevertheless.

Kay Boyle wrote her own memories into her compilation of McAlmon's Being Geniuses Together. She was also strikingly portrayed in a Humphrey Carpenter history of the period.

One may also wish to rent a Keith Carradine movie from the 1980's, "The Moderns."

I don't know how good the Woody Allen film is. The ultimate movie of the period has yet to be made.

Would that writers were as interesting and glamorous now!