Alec Cizak and Pulp Modern

Recently I was able to sit down with Pulp Modern editor Alec Cizak. Alec has the dubious honor of introducing me to the dark and bloody world of crime/noir fiction about a year ago when I attended a couple of creative writing classes with him at the University Of Indianapolis. At the time Alec was the editor of the grimiest online crime fiction sites on the web, All Due Respect. Since then he has begun a new print publication called Pulp Modern.

There are currently two issues of the pulpy rag available for sale so far and what a punch in the gut! Each story crawls off the page, grabs you, and refuses to let go. Anyone familiar with the online noir scene will recognize many of Pulp Modern’s contributors, but there are some new names as well. Alec doesn’t care about your writing street cred. If you’ve got a great story he wants it.

One of the best things about this new publication is how it differs from anything else out there. Pulp Modern incorporates several genres into each volume. Crime, fantasy/sci-fi/horror, and westerns all live and thrive in its pages. There is something for everyone, and even if you aren’t a fan of westerns or sci-fi the stories are so well written and compelling you will fall in love with these filthy little tales anyway.

So what does Alec have to say about his foray into modern pulp fiction? Let’s find out.

____

Alec, Tell me about how you came up with the idea for Pulp Modern.

The true origin of Pulp Modern can be traced to a lecture I attended given by Harlan Ellison in 2002 in L.A.  He said writers who give their writing away for free are whores.  Then he amended what he said, adding that writers who gave their writing away for free were dumber than whores because whores at least got paid.  He explained that janitors get paid.  McDonald’s burger-flippers get paid.  Why is it ok for writers not to get paid?  Ellison is a stubborn son-of-a-bitch and when he says something, whether you agree with it or not, it sticks with you.  As I continued being a dumb whore and giving my writing away, I constantly pondered how it would be possible to start a journal with no money that could get writers something for their efforts.  When I stumbled across the createspace page on Amazon, lights started going off.  I had already ‘published’ All Due Respect for about a year and had developed a slight reputation among the on-line community of pulp writers.  There seemed to me to be a lot of talent going unnoticed by the mainstream and I wanted to change that.

Eventually I got to thinking about the way I used to draw up contracts when I made short films in L.A.  Because I got so thoroughly screwed over in the contract on my first feature film, Mr. Id, I wanted to make sure that everyone who worked on one of my films understood that I valued their contributions equally.  So I wrote in the contract that any and all profits would be split equally among everyone involved.  My short films never made any profits, so nobody ever got paid.  However, it provided the clue as to how to start a print journal in which people got paid despite the fact that I, the editor, am/was (and probably always will be!) broke as a joke.

I had recently taken a course in postmodern literature with Dr. Jennifer Drake, who managed to crack my stubborn brain open and instill the notion that there are many, many ways to tell a story.  I wanted to somehow elevate the status of pulp fiction by suggesting it too could qualify as postmodern (or post-postmodern, to be accurate).  In order to attract the widest possible audience, I decided to include all the classic genres of the pulp era (though I somehow forgot war stories).

The format for Pulp Modern is unique for this type of publication. Has it been difficult to put together such a wide variety of quality genre fiction?

It has been extremely difficult.  I’m very picky as an editor.  I get a lot of submissions that look to me like the writer doesn’t have respect for me or his/her own writing.  The original plan was to have five sections—crime, horror, science fiction, fantasy, and westerns.  My bar for science fiction, horror and fantasy is so high that I found I just wasn’t getting enough quality submissions in any of those categories.  The result is that I had to cut it down to three sections (crime, fantasy, westerns).  I will say this—Crime fiction is thriving right now.  I’d like to think it has something to do with the economy, but great crime fiction has always been produced in the U.S., making me believe that there is something in the nature of the country itself.  Anyway, finding good crime stories is never a problem.

We have discussed before some of the differences between genre fiction and literary fiction. Why is it do you think that genre fiction is looked down on by so many literary types?

Let me tell you about a conversation I recently had with my mother—She had looked over issue two of Pulp Modern and said the stories were really interesting.  This shocked me because my mother is (normally) a very strict Jane Austen-type of reader.  She abhors violence and mayhem.  So I asked her why she liked the stories.  She said two things:  1. They had interesting things going on within them.  2. The writing was vibrant.  She went on to explain that today’s “literary” fiction is boring.  Both the writing and the subject matter.  I was stunned.  She’s absolutely correct.  I recently read The Best American Short Stories of 2010 (edited by Richard Russo).  The overwhelming majority of the stories involved ‘tragedies’ of being white and middle class.  There was little deviation from this.  Ron Rush’s story “The Ascent” was fantastic and the story about the clown (I forget the name) was amusing.  The rest of it really seemed like middle class angst.  Now, there’s something to be said about middle class angst.  Especially in this crappy economy.  But relevant economic concerns were not addressed in these stories.  It was the same old tripe we’ve seen in “literary” fiction for several decades now—Oh woe is us, we who are middle classed and have never starved a day in our lives…

In addition, “literary” fiction, in its current state, is almost all summary and hardly any scene.  The recipe for boredom.  Most modern “literary” fiction puts me to sleep.  It’s the kind of boring writing that makes you constantly look at the page number to see how much more torture you have to put up with.  And, as my mom pointed out, the language isn’t even interesting.  What the hell?  “Literary” fiction, above all else, should possess language that crackles and sparks and jumps off the page.  Today’s “literary” writers would do themselves a hell of a favor by reading Tropic of Cancer and tutoring themselves on how to craft literature that, broken down into a different form, could easily be confused for poetry.  That’s what I always thought constituted “literary” fiction.  Apparently I’m wrong.  Apparently, “literary” fiction is only about whining over your father having molested you or your suspicions that your wife is really a lesbian, etc.

That “literary” writers look down their snouts and scoff at genre fiction is just laughable.  The Germans have a saying—“Where he has a joke, he has a problem.”  I’d amend that as, “Where he has a judgment, he has a problem.”  The reason “literary” writers frown on genre fiction is because they know the middle class clichés they’re writing about is, to quote Public Enemy, “minimal.”  And I don’t mean in the Ray Carver sense who, in my opinion, was one of the last great “literary” writers.  Here’s the cold, hard truth:  Genre writers who are successful can pay their bills without teaching.  “Literary” writers cannot.  Wouldn’t that make you jealous?

Let me now point out what genre writers to do aid the judgments “literary” writers lay on them—Just like “literary” fiction, too much genre fiction is riddled with clichés.  Both in the writing and structure.  And, just as I think “literary” writers need a refresher on what makes language pop, so too do most genre writers.

The understanding that needs to be reached between those who write about interesting things and those who write about the dust in their naval cavities is this: Literary fiction is a genre itself.  “Literary” fiction has its own formulas that are repeated again and again.  And as long as modern “literary” writers refuse to make their language crackle, there is absolutely nothing (aside from the disparity in their economic value) that separates a “literary” writer from a horror or crime writer.

What do you hope to achieve in the future with Pulp Modern?

My ultimate goal for Pulp Modern is to make it a national publication that can afford to pay writers professional rates.

Are there any fresh new writers out there that you have published or read recently who have really impressed you?

I don’t know about “fresh”—It takes a long, long time to even be a passable writer.  It’s like learning an instrument or becoming an athlete.  You need lots and lots and lots of practice.  I can tell you which writers I think everyone should be taking note of:

For consistency in their craft and imaginations, pay attention to Garnett Elliott, Matt Funk, and Jimmy Callaway.  For an example of someone who puts his work experience to proper use in his fiction, read Glenn Gray.  For some genuine postmodern genre fiction, please see David James Keaton’s stories in Pulp Modern.  For a lesson on voice, seek the stories of Copper Smith.  For pure imagination, you can’t go wrong with Jodi MacArthur.

If there is one thing writers submitting their work to Pulp Modern should focus on, what would it be?

Originality and voice.  People say there are no original ideas.  Those people are dinosaurs with tar on their brains.  Tell me a story I’m going to remember.  And by God, learn how to write so that your language explodes off the page!

As a writer, who has influenced your own work the most?

I’m a writer because of Stephen King.  When I was twelve I cut my teeth imitating him.  In high school I was a big fan of Philip K. Dick.  My aesthetic expectations were initiated when I discovered Kafka.  I think my interest in crime fiction began with, oddly enough, Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski (OK, maybe I should call it ‘noir.’)  I love the bold language in Raymond Chandler’s books.  I always come back to minimalism, and that has been reinforced in recent years by my interest in the work of Raymond Carver.  Probably the most important writer to me is Jim Thompson.  I don’t think you can write crime fiction without reading his books (skip the early ones, though).

With all the upheaval we have seen in the publishing world in the last few years, what is your opinion about where publishing is headed?

I have no idea.  Two years ago I thought the kindle was dead.  Look at it now.  Publishers are going to continue to push the idea that self-publishing is somehow ‘dirty,’ that self-published books are unworthy of your time.  The general public is going to have to come around, though.  Why should a writer share any royalties with a publisher that makes the writer do all the publicity work?  It doesn’t make any sense at all.  I like to compare the modern age of publishing with the film industry in the late 60s and early 70s.  The studios didn’t know what to do.  The directors took over.  The result was the most incredible decade in American motion picture history.  It was because the artists, not the business people, were in charge.  I hope to see a major revolution like that in the publishing industry.

____

I want to thank Alec for speaking with me on such short notice. Pulp Modern will continue to be at the top of my reading list as each issue comes out. If enough people pick it up and give it a try I am convinced Alec will achieve his goal of a national publication.

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8 Responses to “Alec Cizak and Pulp Modern”

  1. Garnett Elliott Says:

    Excellent interview, Alec. Your experiences with the movie industry are benefiting us all.

  2. Thank you for a top interview from one of the finest writers and editors working today.

  3. Plenty for me to think about since I just launced Lit Noir magazine on Kindle. Jack Lehman

  4. Thanks for checking out the interview.

  5. Smashing interview, Alec. I’m proud to be in Pulp Modern #1, thanks for continuing to solidify that fact.

  6. Glenn Gray Says:

    Great interview, thanks CJ. And kudos to Alec. PULP MODERN rocks and Alec is a pleasure to work with.

  7. Great interview, guys. Alec knows his stuff!!

  8. Thanks again to everyone for reading and commenting and helping make Pulp Modern and All Due Respect worth reading.

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