Sunday, September 30, 2012

An Interesting Take


Here’s a biased but interesting take on the ULA from one year ago, by Jim Hanas, who at the time was (still?) an editor at New York Observer:

This shows an intrigued if detached attitude toward us. It also shows the effectiveness of the original campaign in getting the ULA’s name and message into peoples’ heads.

Hanas is wrong about our stance toward Rick Moody. We never hated him. Our grievance against him was solely that he was abusing the arts grant process. Our stated mission was to fight corruption in the literary world. Too bad Jim Hanas doesn’t mention that.

The editor of New York Observer by the way, Elizabeth Spiers, isn’t a fan of ours, at least not at the present time. Like many, she carries the philosophy of the Rod Steiger character in the movie “Doctor Zhivago,” which is: Be on the side that’s winning. This seems to be key to survival in the Manhattan media world.

(Note also the snarky, unnecessary comment from Choire Sicha. If these people detest us when we’re not even around—what happens when we come back??)


I'VE ENGAGED in a few email conversations with a former ULA member who is distinctly negative toward the idea of bringing back the ULA. His argument consists of meaningless platitudes. "It's over. The past is the past. You can't bring the ULA back."

Statements which mean nothing in and of themselves. One can, or can't, bring anything back, depending on how hard you work toward it. My attitude is: Why not? If the project was worth doing once, it's worth doing again.

We actually have more of a foundation now, more of a starting point. With ULA 1.0 we started from nowhere and with nothing.

Study of history shows that wars or movements never ended with one battle. There was always someplace an Imperial City beseiged by hungry barbarians. If knocked-down once, they'd try again.

What should matter to us is the risk-reward ratio. I'm of the mind that there's no risk to another ULA campaign. We're already shut out. Present methods if employed for another hundred years aren't going to work. Today, with a million-plus writer-wannabe competitors, a Twitter account and Facebook page mean nothing. We need to find shortcuts.

The potential reward, on the other hand, is tremendous. Rewriting literary history. Renewing the art. Doing this by being the most exciting and important literary group.

What's stopping us? Not a whole helluva lot. A paper-thin facade. The established literary world is weak and they know they're weak. With the rise of indy ebooks, conditions are more promising for drastic change than they were in 2001. The status quo is moribund. Its advocates are chained to an unwanted style of art, the "literary" story or poem which only well-indoctrinated writing-school grads can appreciate; whose audience is becoming increasingly narrow. The entire system is sustained by artificial props. It's up to us to knock out those props.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Pop Style

What style—what brand of writing—do we wish to present to the world? Here are some options: 1.) Pop. 2.) Populist. 3.) Outlaw. 4.) Revolutionary. 5.) Other.

Pop would be the broader category. Pop writing is gobbling up literature right now, especially thru ebooks, via writers like Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath. That can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.

Fully embracing pop would help us appeal to everybody, except the indoctrinated “literary” crowd.

The main question: How to stand out? We’d have to out-pop all other pop writers. We’d have to do this without appearing goofy cornball nerds. No easy trick.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Task

The task of the ULA will not to be one of thousands of literary ghettos scattered across the land, but to cut through the barriers and dividing lines, to get our message up from the muck.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Necessary Steps Part I

Beginning with initial objectives the ULA would need to have as an organization:

I.) Destroy the False Narrative About Us.

Meaning, destroy Tom Bissell’s narrative that we’re bad writers, This, I’m in the process of doing. I won’t cease until that biased essay is shattered in tiny pieces across the landscape.

II.) Create a New Narrative.

We’ll need to discuss what that narrative is going to be. There’s ample space in the literary world for us to occupy, despite the mass of other writers. In a separate post I’ll discuss the possibilities.

III.) Ideas.

The battle for American literature is a battle of ideas. Having new ideas presents us as the New, and distinguishes us from all other writers groups and writers.

In this regard, we need to fully embrace the concept of literary democracy, which means leveling the literary playing field and giving DIY/outsider writers access to mainstream publicity.

IV.) Create Flagships.

We never had this in our glory days, other than near the end with ULA Press. There are a number of possibilities, which is something else I’ll discuss later. The revived ULA site and temporary focal points like this blog can serve in the interim.

V.) Create a Compelling Image.

This will go side by side with a new narrative and set talking points, so that what we present to the outside world, whatever our differences and variety, will appear as a unified piece. We were perceived as one thing before, of course, but it was made into a caricature of us, to become to clueless literary writers eager to dismiss anything opposed to their schooling as a stereotype. We’ll need an image and narrative which will draw young readers and writers to our cause. The ULA’s DIY/outlaw substance and history is the foundation of this. We only need to focus it more effectively.

We need to be a cultural movement, and a collection of writers, with which people want to identify. Our opponents would think this a great leap! But they can’t see America and America’s literature clearly.

VI.) Present Better Writing and Striking Personalities.

That our writing isn’t as bad as the system’s writing is no longer an option for us. We need, all of us, to pick up our game. Our writing has to be better. New recruitment has to be better—and we need new writers willing to adapt, in the short-term, to our guidelines and needs. We can’t be less professional than our rivals.

This isn’t to say we want bland hipster figures or bland “literary” hipster writing. No way. We do what we do, be who we are, but in an even more striking more dynamic way. The status quo has taken faulty artistic ideas as far as they can, with pronounced built-in limitations. Wherever we are now, because we have better fundamentals, we have greater upside.


I can say here only enough to whet the blog reader’s appetite.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Put Out the Call for Writers

Put out the call for rebellious and populist writers.


We need to increase our ranks.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Positive Case

Since I've posted a few critical remarks at other recent posts, let me state here that there's a case to be made for a revived Underground Literary Alliance. Accompanying this should be a recognition that the original version ultimately failed. We'll need to correct past mistakes. The path won't be easy.

But, IF we put together a united team, there's no limit to the noise we can make and the objectives we can achieve. From the outset, the ULA's goal was to make literary history, and revive American literature in so doing. This can be done because we have winning arguments and we've always had winning arguments. All we need do is apply them, and the cronyistas and the fakes will fall by the wayside.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The First Step

The very first step toward restarting the ULA campaign is putting together a cohesive, structured team, with responsibilities, accountability, and leadership.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Detroit-Style Edginess

IF the Underground Literary Alliance reinvents itself, it should do so, in my humble opinion, with pronounced attitude and edginess. There’s room for “pop” cartoony writing—I engage in this style myself. But the presentation of the outfit needs to be harder, befitting hard times—times of which we the many ex-ULAers bouncing along this unequal world can testify. We know them as well as anyone.

We’re cultural revolutionaries bringing difference to the tame bourgie-hipster world of the mainstream and its snobby pampered Insider bands like McSweeney’s. But to regenerate our movement we’d need to look like what we are. We’d need to be a stronger, newer band—and recruit strong new street writers—to take on our opponents straight up, challenge them at every point and in every place, and reveal them by contrast to be the weak tepid representatives of status quo American literature that they are.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Message to ULAers

To past/present members of the Underground Literary Alliance:

Don’t leave all the impetus to propel the organization to myself. To do this would affirm my own argument that I was the prime mover of the outfit. I had claimed that too much work was put onto one person. It’s up to you to show this wasn’t, or shouldn’t be, the case. You shouldn’t simply be riding along on my coattails, or otherwise not acting.

Remember that the organization was founded to be an advocacy group. A noisemaking outfit. When it’s failed to make noise it’s had no existence. It’s been well proven that moderation in relation to those who blackball us doesn’t work.

If the ULA is to reappear, it also shouldn’t be as merely a recycled version of what went before—an oldies act. Only opponents who sneer at us would want that. It’d need to look and be entirely new. Granted that getting the ball rolling on such a project takes enormous effort. As many people involved as possible, pushing alongside one another, would be best.

There are at least a few issues which need to be discussed first.

As for myself, I’ve been handed no choice by the literary blackballers, the Bissell/Eggers clique, other than to fight back against smears and slanders. This tar adheres to all of us associated with the ULA name. We all need to realize this. The position we had before in literary culture can be taken back. Those who control official literature are timid mice—not very bright mice at that. Timidity on our part doesn’t work—not for any of us. The past few years proves this, if it proves nothing else.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Was the ULA Good Enough?

We never claimed that our writers were the end point of American literature—but that they represented a new direction for writing, building on the authentic populist foundation of traditional American literature, from its glory days when it was truly powerful and relevant on a world scale.

We need a literature which expresses not just the narrow voice of a privileged few, but, with plain words, the authentic voice of the entire civilization in all its conflicts and variety. A new literature which embraces and portrays America’s hopes, pain, gross appetites, and mad strivings.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Reviving the ULA?

ONE WOULD THINK that Dave Eggers would make some attempt at alleviating my grievances over the republication of the Tom Bissell essay. For if it’s my grievance, it’s also the grievance of other former members of the Underground Literary Alliance. To maintain this unresolved sore is a sure way for the scattered members of the team to draw closer together. That I’m back in Detroit for the moment is fortuitous. It makes me able to sit down with ULA Press publisher Jeff Potter at any time (he lives a modest drive away) to resolve once and for all our remaining differences, then restructure and recreate the ULA.

I’d prefer to make headway on my own as a writer—but if I (and the others) remain blackballed, the only path will be to once again utilize an organization for advocacy. There’s power in organization and numbers—an ease in staging events, conducting campaigns, and generating noise.