Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Ideas?

Once you decide you need ideas, the question becomes: which ideas?

Which leads to other questions. Such as: what are the ideas of the literary establishment? Are those ideas defensible? Is there room for them to be supplanted?

As always, the strategic thinker needs to be looking for openings on the literary gameboard. Openings in the culture-- within time and space-- that can be jumped through before they close.

Stop in a Barnes and Noble and glance at all the titles on sale, not just the new releases on the main floor, but also the shelves and shelves of novels in the Fiction section. This is the competition. Or, one can go onto GoodReads and look at the many thousands of titles, and thousands of writers, hanging out there.


This blog seeks to answer that question. Don't think it's at all easy, or that it can be done by doing exactly what everyone else is doing. (Getting a Facebook page, say.)

Having new ideas is one piece of the necessary package.

The next question: what are the best vehicles for those ideas?

Friday, November 18, 2011

New Ideas

The battle of literature is a battle of ideas. Having ideas is the first step. The second step is getting those ideas out to the general public. A difficult task.

The underground was always on the right side of the argument. The strong reaction we received was because the lit world feared what we were saying. They feared the truth of our message. We got into their heads and their consciences, and they didn't like it.

Ideas are ultimately the strongest weapon there is.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Going Moderate?

Is there an alternative to going full-out radical? You tell me. If moderation would work, I'd be for it. Moderation presupposes moderates-- reformers-- on the other side willing to work with us to democratize the art. Are there any?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Whatever attention the ULA got was due to our initial rebel/outlaw image. An image which was somewhat undercut when we finally got a website that unintentionally presented the "literary revolution" as quirky and goofy. We were better off as a mystery, offstage, seldom seen.

Part of being an outlaw is not compromising with anybody. In the 60's the Hells Angels beat up San Fran hippie anti-war protestors-- which made the protestors even more want to hang around with them. Why? Street cred.

The only thing the ULA had going for it was its street cred. Any attempt to accommodate the system weakened that credibility. You don't adjust to the other guy. You stay secure in your position and let them adjust to you.

The toughest, wildest, craziest, most balls-to-the-wall writers group ever seen. That's what the ULA needed to be.

Monday, November 7, 2011


THERE ARE a million writers out there, and 10,000 writers groups. To stand out from the pack, you have to be unique. Half of my supposed hostility toward MFAers is that they're the Herd, and the task is to stand apart from the Herd. In every way possible. (The other half is that writing programs lead to a dead art. See the decline of the American short story.)

The ULA was unique in many respects. We willfully stood apart. We shouted, "We're different!" In a store aisle of plastic gray bottles, we put a red bottle on the shelf. We didn't politely place the red bottle on the shelf. We threw it.

We weren't unique enough. Lisa Carver shrewdly pointed this out to me at our 2004 Conclave. We needed a unique look, a la the Beats. Something our own.

Our writing was consistent, as Pat King has discussed, but it wasn't new and it wasn't packaged as new. Our ideas were somewhat different, but not sea-change philosophically metaphysically different.

Everything, every aspect-- ideas, writing, presentation-- would need to give the lit world "The Shock of the New."

In this hypercompetitive time, it'd be our only chance.

Friday, November 4, 2011


For goals, I'd have big ones. No 100 followers on Facebook. No running a membership group like a hobby. No small-time thinking. Otherwise there's no point.

We'd have to get the ULA back to where it was as an organization. A player. Not on the sidelines. Remember: We had regular write-ups in Page Six. Attention other writers groups can only dream about.

Our first targets would be n+1, and the McSweeney's gang whose flagship now is The Believer. The two leading lit outfits. The idea: Target them and compete with them. Be different from them and be eager to beat them.

A question is whether there's any desire among literary undergrounders for a bold and ambitious strategy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why Do It?

Why revive the ULA? What would be in it for anybody?

The answer is that there's equity in the ULA name. Power and magic. Yes, it's well-hidden. It's diminishing. But when you look at the record, the outfit had an amazing if contentious history.

There's also this: Contrary to wishful thinking, writers can't just write. They need to get word out, somehow, about their writing. They need a vehicle.
Keep in mind I'm musing about all this. I have enough to keep me busy. It'd be a huge task. But it's a task worth at least considering. Coming close once was a heady experience.

The Car on Blocks

Right now the ULA is like a battered car up on blocks in somebody's backyard. A white-trash backyard overgrown with tall grass and weeds at the end of a dead-end street. A street of run-down shacks across railroad tracks from the big house neighborhood in the small-minded small town of today's literary world.

The four have jumped into the car, Jackman and Hendricks in back, Potter and Walsh in the front seat. They don't want to get the vehicle back on the streets-- the motor was last started a coupla times in 2009! They're content with the way things have been recently. Sitting in the car is enough for them.

The very lack of ideas and imagination in their conversation is striking. This causes me to think that what Frank and Jeff really want-- what they wanted when the team fell apart-- is control. They don't care if the car doesn't go anywhere as long as they have it. On that dead-end block. In that low-rent neighborhood.

Maybe not even so much their control, but that no one else have control of the once prized-and-gleaming speedster.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The ULA Brand

A question which needs to be thought about is: What's the ULA's image? What are its strengths and weaknesses? What should be the image to the public? Should the image be modifed, and if so, how?

One would have to know the new version's short-term objectives and long-term goals, and how the group's projected image/brand keys into those.

I for one believe the ULA, if brought back, needs to be completely reinvented. This isn't at all ten years ago. The world of media is vastly different. The task is 100 times greater, simply from the greatly increased noise about lit. The new look outfit would have to be 100 times better, with a strategy much more sophisticated than before.

To do less would be to resurrect an outdated oldies act.

Reviving the Underground Literary Alliance?

There's an ongoing email discussion taking place among four past ULAers about bringing the outfit back. The four are Jeff Potter, Tom Hendricks, Michael Jackman, and Frank Walsh. Is their idea feasible? How would you go about it?

The first thing to state is that, up to a point, the ULA was amazingly successful. As late as 2007 we were part of the conversation. The Guardian, one of the planet's major news outlets, included us as one of only three American lit groups worth mentioning in their overview of new lit, "Surfing the New Literary Wave." The other two, n+1 and McSweeney's, are extremely well-funded. How in the world did we get into that conversation? What caused our cred and buzz?

Was it our web site? Our membership list?

Or was it not our commitment to our cause, evidenced by the exciting "Howl" protest in NYC in 2006, and other actions which generated talk behind the closed doors of the established literary world? Talk that spread even across the ocean.

To know where you're going you have to understand where you've been.