Sunday, February 24, 2013

Creating the Hyperreal

Beginning in the 1930’s with gangster movies, Warner Brothers became known for producing fast-paced melodramas with colorful over-the-top characters and loud soundtracks. Everything about the films was emotional and exaggerated. Among the best of them were “Each Dawn I Die”; the original “Kid Galahad” (aka “Battling Bellhop”); and “Angels with Dirty Faces.” Their hallmarks were a sense of gritty reality. It’s as if, by exaggerating the various elements, the movies broke down the barrier between viewer and art object. By being hyperreal, they became more real.

The apex of this type of movie, in my opinion, was Nicholas Ray’s 1955 flick “Rebel without a Cause,” which featured saturated color, hyper-emotional acting, particularly from James Dean, and a nonstop blaring score by Leonard Rosenman.

Can this technique be applied to fiction? It’s what I’ve attempted to accomplish in various projects, especially in the ebook novella Crime City USA, and in a different way with my novel about protest in a major American city, The Tower.

Literature of course is a different medium from film. How do you capture the same kind of emotion? One way I’ve tried is through passionate speeches, added to a fast pace and striking plot situations. Art at its best is always somewhat stylized. It’s how the elements are mixed that determines the work’s effectiveness.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Literary Story or the Pop Story?


There’s an interesting essay by Laura Miller of Salon, about the plight of the short story, here:

Laura Miller misses one point though. The general public doesn’t want “finer” short stories. Give them stories that are fun and exciting and they’ll come back to them. Slow-paced, overwritten literary stories have killed the art, and the market for the art. In its heyday, the short story was a popular art form—THE popular American art form, from O. Henry through Scott Fitzgerald. It’s a gateway to the novel for readers—a gateway to reading in general. The short story needs to be as readable and entertaining as possible.

Which is what this blog is about and what my ebook Ten Pop Stories is about. Buy it and find out!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Against Creative Writing

Creative writing profs teach students to value above all else the sentence. This is like valuing most of all the bricks when building a house. High quality bricks are a good thing, but if you put them together the wrong way, the house becomes a disaster.

Creative writers craft nice-sounding ornate sentences, then pile them together one upon the other, creating a misshapen wall. The bricks are too large and unwieldy. They don’t fit together. When looking at the house you notice the bricks. “Yes, those are outstanding bricks,” you say. “But the house is ugly.”

You’re not supposed to notice the bricks!

Look at an approved essay by noted literary writer Lorrie Moore, “Double Agents in Love.” The essay appeared in New York Review of Books, an esteemed review periodical. The essay’s not about a book, but a TV show.

Note the first paragraph:

“One of the intriguing aspects of the gripping and widely praised Showtime drama Homeland, a story about the machinations of CIA counterterrorism analysts and their prey, is that it is fearlessly interested in every kind of madness: the many Shakespearean manifestations—cold revenge, war-induced derangement, outsized professional ambition—as well as the more naturally occurring expressions, such as bipolar disease and simple grief. Homeland ruthlessly pits these psychic states against one another in different permutations and settings, like contestants in The Hunger Games, to see which will win, which will die, which will kill or be killed, which will bond or marry or breed or starve.”

This entire paragraph consists of two sentences! The first paragraph—when Lorrie Moore should be getting the reader into her essay as quickly as possible. The paragraph is a brick wall.

Moore asks too much of her two sentences. Six or seven subjects are revealed in the first sentence, depending on how you add them up. In the second sentence, Lorrie Moore leaps to a questionable idea—that psychic states can win, die, breed, and so on.

Look at the unwieldy, ornate sentences. This is word clot.

The sentences don’t move. They have no pace. Worst of all, they lack clarity. What exactly is Lorrie Moore talking about?

You have to stop and read the sentences over twice. Reading becomes a duty. The last time you were this bored was in a college course on semiotics!

You plunge on. (You’re committed to writing a blog post on this shit.) The second paragraph is as bad. Maybe worse.

Eventually the essay begins to make sense. Only because I’d determined to write a blog post about the essay would I have continued. 98% of the general public wouldn’t have bothered.

New York Review of Books doesn’t care about the 98%. Their task is to be as exclusively unapproachable as possible, so they retain intellectual snob appeal. So they employ writers who could write more clearly if they wanted to, but instead prefer stringing together unwieldy and ornate sentences. Showing off.

The reader? The reader will take what he’s given and like it.

The dilemma of New York Review of Books is this: Because the books and authors they like don’t connect with the public, to be at all relevant—to retain even two percent of the public—they’re stuck publishing essays about TV shows.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Madness Quotient

Writing a novel involves a mix of right brain-left brain, logic and feeling, which is why few persons are truly good at it.

What makes The Great Gatsby, say, a masterpiece is that F. Scott Fitzgerald imposed structure and discipline onto his unrivaled sensitivity to the world.

With my ebooks I’ve attempted to create order—to build a framework within which the passions of my characters can move. In which their over-the-top voices can express themselves. I’ve seen if I can bring some of my own madness into the narrative. In my last three ebooks I’ve struggled to achieve this—in Crime City USA, The Tower, The McSweeneys Gang—with varying degrees of success.

With my next novel my objective will be to go farther. To present the craziest novel ever, yet also one of the best structured. Is this possible?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Newest Parts of The McSweeneys Gang Novel

Roughly a third of the new ebook novel The McSweeneys Gang by King Wenclas is brand new material. Here’s a look at most of it:

-“Seat at the Table” A conversation between Boss Eggers and Thomas Beller.

--“Court of the Demi-Puppets” The trial of a rebellious writer.

-“McSweeneys Headquarters” An inside look at a ruthless literary mob’s operations.

-“Mr. Empathy” A mysterious and smarmy operative tells Boss Eggers his propaganda techniques.

-“The Photograph” A discussion between Boss Eggers and a photo of David Foster Wallace.

-“Benefit for Writers” A televised McSweeneys Reading featuring big name authors George Saunders and Jennifer Egan.

-“Finale” The puzzle of literature.

PLUS—New Underground Profiles.

Only in THE MCSWEENEYS GANG by King Wenclas, the ultimate in thought-provoking pop literature.