Thursday, December 29, 2011

Simplicity in Art

The early Beatles showed how to convey emotion and pop excitement through very simple music. The new movie "The Artist" does this. Everything has been stripped down and simplified. Simple plot, simple shots, simple emotions. Yet it works. The movie is fun and has great heart.

Fiction can easily do something similar. It's what I've been striving toward with my ebooks Ten Pop Stories and Crime City USA. I'm not talking about 1980's minimalism, which minimalized not just the style, but every other part of the work, so that it withdrew into itself. Instead, simplify the style, have a simplified structure, then you can be over-the-top, corny, and melodramatic-- like "The Artist"-- and still create powerful emotion and great art.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The New Foundation

The idea with pop fiction is to set a better foundation for great literature than is possible based on the current "literary" style so esteemed by writing teachers and establishment reviewers. Start with a simple infrastructure-- clear writing; good pace-- then you can always add to the superstructure. A dash of paint here, or there. A few added lines of dialogue adding meaning to the story. Unless you begin with a solid foundation, the house to be built will be a messy disaster.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Artistic Ugliness

Look carefully at the photo. It's allegedly a work of art. The collection of junk is placed in front of Philadelphia's prestigious University of the Arts. No, it's not "shocking." Thousands pass by it every day, and think nothing. They're certainly not elevated or enlightened by it. The student who produced it is likely from a middle-class background, and knows only the stupidity he or she has been taught. "Art" has become a con game, justification for overpaid positions in academic bureaucracies.

In a similar way, too many of today's literary works are ugly. I've reviewed a couple of them at my review blog, They're not simply ugly on the surface. The writer's task, after all, is to encompass within his view that ugliness. But too many of today's stories and novels are also ugly from within. They're spiritually dead. Dead matter, so when you read them you feel that deadness.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to Be an American Writer

Being an authentic American writer is an attitude, a state-of-mind tied up with ambition, scope, the land, the genuine, the world and nature. What are the chief requirements?

1.) Write Simply.
Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver are classic examples of the natural American voice. They aren't by any means the only examples. Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Jack London, Frank Norris, Willa Cather, Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Ralph Ellison, and Jack Kerouac are among many representations of the American personality.

2.) Get Into the World.
The classic American writer, such as Herman Melville or Ernest Hemingway, doesn't escape into the mind, but instead plunges outward into the world. Huck Finn  escaping from conformity by traveling on a raft down the Mississippi. Often this means projecting the mind onto the world; interior conflicts worked out among the environments of cities or nature.

3.) Write Big.
Think big. Dream big. BE big. Larger-than-life. Like America itself. "The Great American Novel." In poetry, "Howl." Break the mold. Push the art, crudely, madly, exuberantly.

Monday, December 12, 2011

About the Blitz Rating

For me, the Blitz Book Review at will have credibility only if it's honest. There's no grade inflation in the Blitz world. Not every writer gets lauded. Not every one receives five stars.

My scale is 1 to 10, and as you can see at the blog, I use all of it. If a book receives a "5," then it's average, which in today's world of literature means, not very good. But likely readable, so whether you read the book or not is up to you.

For me there are no 10's. The perfect novel has yet to be written. There are a handful of novels I'd put in the high 9's-- a few of the best classics-- which gives today's scribblers something to shoot for. There's room at the top. At the bottom also.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Destroy the Rules!


John Updike once wrote six rules for book reviewing, which have been followed faithfully by Loyalist members of the literary status quo:

1.) Understand what the author tried to do.
2.) Use enough direct quotations.
3.) Confirm your description of the book with quotations.
4.) Go easy on plot summary.
5.) Cite a successful example of a book (author's or other). "Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?"
6.) "Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition; an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an ideological battle . . . Review the book, not the reputation."
John Updike was of course himself a caretaker of a tradition, what might be called acceptable "literary" writing, best represented by the refined tastes of The New Yorker magazine. Literary fiction is a narrow form which has been stagnant for decades and best should have been buried with Updike.

The much touted objectivity of writers of the literary establishment is a pose. Look carefully and you find tons of bias. Worse, it's bias in favor of a stale type of literary art.

With new ways of bringing books to market, and expanded ways of announcing them, should come also a more exciting style of writing. That's what this blog was set up to announce.
Updike's rules, especially #5 and #6, put handcuffs on the reviewer, whose chief task is to get the casual onlooker reading the review. Book review sections have been dropped from newspapers across the country for one major reason. Because they were boring!

There is one rule for book reviewing: BE ENTERTAINING.
I've begun putting my ideas into practice at Blitz Book Review, which can be accessed at 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Uses of Shakespeare

There's been an interesting discussion, here
about whether it's worthwhile to read/hear/experience the plays of William Shakespeare. The answer: Of course it is!

The first thing to understand about the Bard and his plays is that he was a "pop" writer. His works are graphic novels with better language. They're melodramatic, over-the-top. They push the bounds of emotion in ways no "literary" writer today does.

There are two ways of writing fiction.

1.) Subjective. The "literary." Stream-of-consciousness, meaning, most of the work takes place in the writer's or a character's head. It's self-conscious and solipsistic to the max. A slog to read and not much fun when you do read it.

2.) Objective. This is what a playwright like Shakespeare does. You see characters from the outside. Character is revealed through action, words, and plot.

I've been trying to pull my fiction in the #2 direction. Graphic novels without the graphics. I visualize my tales as scenes, dramas, comic books. My goal is to thrust my characters into dramatic situations, and then make room for them to speak.

I do this a little in several stories in my ebook Ten Pop Stories. Do you know which ones? I do it some in "Bluebird" in Mood Detroit. I do it more in Crime City USA.

I'm doing it way more in the novel I'm currently writing, the subject of which is revolution. I give the plutocrat, on one hand, and the most radical radical, on the other hand, room to explain themselves. They're given what are in effect short speeches. I want the written picture combined with speech.

What's the goal? To create strong emotion. Like pop singers do. Like "Sadness Is a Blessing" by Lykke Li. Emotion is all.

I remember, about fifteen years ago, in Detroit, reading a text about classic comic strips of the past. The book showed a few panels from "Terry and the Pirates," in which the Dragon Lady has captured one of the square-jawed heroes, who's handcuffed. As the hero sleeps, the Dragon Lady leans over him-- clearly in love with him-- and recites verse that could only come from Shakespeare. From "Romeo and Juliet" I later found out. "Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest!" I could only think, "Wow!" It's romantic. It's melodramatic. It's ridiculous. It's art.

Ever since that time, I've wanted to create that same kind of aesthetic effect. Simple, very simple, yet very powerful.

At his best, Shakespeare creates such effects. In a masterpiece like "King Lear"-- a masterpiece not just of literature but of all art-- he creates those effects in spades.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Eight Reasons People Write

1.) Identity. To be somebody. A "writer." A badge. A certificate of existence. Now: what to write?

2.) Hobby. Using time. Filling up space in one's life. Doing something. Macrame.

3.) Money. Write a best-seller and retire from life.

4.) Therapy. Personal dilemmas laid out on a page. Journals for an unseen shrink.

5.) Message. An announcement. Having something to say and compelled to say it. A discovery.

6.) Change. Writing to change society, or the culture, or the neighborhood. Or the world.

7.) Immortality. Creating the masterpiece that will live forever, honored by all subsequent generations. A place in future generations.

8.) God. To understand or commune with the universe.

Obviously, there's overlap. Many individuals write for more than one reason.

What's your reason?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Pop Story or the Literary Story?

The pop story is fast-paced, fun, flesh-and-blood hit-you-over-the-head, in and of the real world.

The literary story is inward, subtle, slow, sensitive, domestic and domesticated, whose every preciously crafted sentence says, "It's been done."

600,000 workshop grads write finely-mannered literary stories. Few people write pop stories.

I don't like to follow the crowd.