IN THIS ISSUE:
I. Welcome to the world of Heresy Press
II. Preview of forthcoming Heresy Press titles
III. Short Story: “Bad Girlfriend” by Raymond Welch
IV. Guest mini-essay on creative freedom by Tom Casey
V. Reflections on the State of Publishing by Bernard Schweizer
VI. The Great Heresy Press REJECTION Contest
Welcome to the world of Heresy Press, where creative freedom holds sway and unbridled imagination rules! The press serves as a platform for all literary voices, including those currently sidelined or silenced (paradoxically often in the name of diversity). Heresy Press is here to offer adventurous readers a bounty of alluring, uncensored, relevant, and achingly beautiful stories.
Heresy Press’s first objective is to uphold the highest standards of literary excellence, insisting that, above all else, the writing be vibrant, the vision free from moralizing ideological agendas, and the material an uninhibited artistic exploration of human quandaries.
Instead of assuming that readers are frail creatures who need to be shielded from any and all potentially offensive, unfiltered, or “triggering” contents, Heresy Press assumes that its readers are resilient, curious, open-minded, and discerning people of any background who want to be swept off their feet by a narrative so powerful, they forget to check their phones for hours at a time. We are confident that our authors can deliver on this promise. Witness the first story published by Heresy Press, Raymond Welch’s flash fiction piece “Bad Girlfriend,” published in this issue of Speakeasy.
Heresy Press is a disruptor, not only in terms of its emphasis on radical creative freedom and its faith in a resilient reading public. We do almost everything differently from conventional publishers, both big and small:
- Heresy Press treats authors with respect, which means answering queries and submissions personally, and in a timely manner.
- Heresy Press does not prescreen submissions according to identity criteria, and it does not hire Sensitivity Readers.
- Heresy Press doesn’t charge for submissions and it will never ask authors to contribute financially to their publication.
- Heresy Press pays a generous across-the-board royalty on the net profit of all income streams generated by publications of the press, thereby greatly simplifying and disentangling the often complex and opaque process of calculating payments to authors.
- Heresy Press runs a very lean operation with lots of professional volunteerism and little overhead cost, thus generating better returns for authors and progressing at a fast pace.
- Heresy Press nimbly negotiates between print-on-demand and print-run approaches while also issuing e-books and audio-books.
Preview of Forthcoming Heresy Press Titles:
Exploring uncharted literary territory, Nothing Sacred: Outspoken Voices in Contemporary Fiction offers readers a compilation of diverse, boundary-pushing short stories that fearlessly explore topics like vigilantism, AI deception, porn, citizen surveillance, and cancel culture.
Heresy Press is proud to announce its first two novels:
Deadpan by Richard Walter.
Deadpan is a satirical masterpiece about hate speech, anti-semitism, and intolerance that takes a no-holds-barred comedic approach to its subject matter, deconstructing stereotypes and blasting prejudice with a triumphant performance of unlimited imagination. This phantasmagorical tale skewers bigotry while delivering gobs of entertainment and jokes galore.
The Hermit by Katerina Grishakova.
The Hermit is a brilliantly executed realist-fiction debut that centers on the corrupt underbelly of New York’s investment banking sector, laying bare the yearnings of an aging finance bro who arrives at a crossroads in life. Both funny and poignant, this story gives us an anti-hero we can root for, who struggles to leave the rat race without causing havoc to the world he has helped to build.
Flash-fiction by Raymond Welch
Sonny had this trick, and he was standing in a slot casino lobby in Bangor, Maine, using it on Nina. It was for her own good. Girls who looked like Nina could talk their way into anyplace.
Seriously, he said, worst picture of me ever.
She reached into her shoulder bag and opened a big, red wallet.
Wait, he said. On three.
They flipped their licenses, picture side up. She leaned in to see his, and he hers. He inhaled the scent of her shampoo.
That is pretty bad, he said. He was lying. He didn’t care what her picture looked like. He cared about her birthdate. Real, live Nina had classic cheekbones and wide-set eyes that danced when she looked at him. And now he knew it was okay to dance with them.
You win, Nina said. You look like Tom Petty’s retarded brother.
In truth his picture was very unflattering. His bass player, Knobby Dowd, had called his name when the DMV clerk snapped the shutter, and his eyes skewed right as if he were tracking a bluebottle. He’d been hung over, unshaven, and forgot to tuck his hair behind his ears. Well, that was then. He hadn’t had a drop in eight years.
Told ya, he said.
Nina said, Your first name’s really Harmon.
This one’s sharp, he thought. They usually just focused on his bony mug. Maybe she picked up on his birthdate. That could stop the show before it started. On the other hand, she was cool with Tom Petty. And it wasn’t like the Sonny Wyland Quintet was a new boy-band. Her mother probably caught his act back in the day. Or Sonny himself. Wouldn’t that be a kick.
Nobody calls me that, he said, except my ma when she’s pissed at me. Then she throws in Junior for good measure.
Sonny’s mother, Claudine, was on him twenty years ago. Drop this music foolishness and help with the family business. Blueberries.
Music’s my dream, Ma, he’d said. I’m no farmer.
Nina’s slinky friend teetered out from the ladies room. Her skirt was even shorter and tighter than Nina’s. Jet bangs, red lips, mascara like King Tut, pale as a snow peach. She looked great.
Sonny escorted them past the slots and into the hall. Guys’ heads swiveled. He made a show of sitting them near the front, by the parquet dance floor. Pulled out the chairs while they shifted their hams onto them.
Back on his throne behind his traps, Sonny cracked the sticks above his head and the band kicked in. Mitch’s guitar bit off big chunks of the room and spit them into the corners. Nobody in northern New England covered the Stones like Sonny’s band. Or Springsteen. Or Tom Petty, for that matter. That thing that Nina said, that was a new one. Retarded. Not that Sonny gave a rat’s ass about political correctness. It just surprised him to hear it from a babe only five years older than his son, Ian. Five years was a big difference, though, the difference between high school senior and college graduate. Between off-limits and fair game.
Sonny drove the train with a slow, chugging beat. Honky Tonk Women. Best cowbell song ever. Classic, like Nina’s cheekbones. He looked toward her table for admiring eyes. She was facing away, twirling her skinny red cocktail straw and shouting over the music to her leggy friend.
Sonny dug for a little more soul, scraped the mic with his teeth.
Gimme, gimme, gimme, the honky-tonk blues.
Ian’s mother, Angie, had stood on tiptoes the entire time she first saw Sonny’s band. She came to every show in Downeast Maine for two years, danced like a maniac, spent time with Sonny. Got possessive after a while, complained when other girls came to the after-party, started talking to him about getting a real job. One night, after missing a few gigs, she pulled in by the van as Sonny and his mates loaded out. She stepped from the car, hand on her belly, and took him aside. So what’s it gonna be? she said.
Nobody gave Sonny Wyland an ultimatum. Not his mother, and not Angie.
These days, she said it was okay to visit Ian, since Sonny had been sober so long. But Ian, now a high school basketball star, preferred his stepdad Rick, even though Angie had split with him eight years ago. And hip-hop. Anything but classic rock. Old people music.
The crowd milled around. On the slot side of the room, middle-aged New Brunswickers in crew cuts and permanents, south of the border and sober as deacons; on the other, a lek of frat boys from the university fifteen miles up the Penobscot, eyeing Sonny’s girls, drunk as lords.
Mitch twanged the outro. Sonny crashed his cymbals, flammed his bass drum. Someone applauded.
Nina and her friend still not looking.
Then that thought rose up from his brain stem as it did more often now, when he wasn’t beating it back with his sticks: music was leaving him. It was bored with him. It had moved on, fallen in love with others. Music was indifferent to his faithfulness. Music was a bad girlfriend.
But Nina could make music jealous.
Here’s one for the ladies at Table Four!
Sonny called out Petty’s Running Down a Dream. Nina and her friend rose to dance. Man, they were hot. Best PR possible. The frat lek gathered around. Sonny and the guys rocked it.
At the break, Nina’s table was empty. Sonny prowled the lobby. Shook some hands. Laughed. Bantered.
When he kicked off the last set, nothing but plaid shirts and pitchers at Table Four.
Sonny threw Springsteen in front of his urge to order a shot of Jack. He was the only rocker in the state of Maine who dared to do Born to Run straight. We gotta get out while we’re young, Sonny sang, and Ian popped into his mind, hitting a jumper. Nothing but net.
Guest mini-essay on creative freedom, by Tom Casey*:
Let me speak to the idea Heresy Press has of itself. “Our ultimate commitment is to enduring quality standards, i.e. literary merit, originality, relevance, courage, humor, and aesthetic appeal.” What this statement says is that writing is art that matters. Justice Potter Stewart said he couldn’t define obscenity but he knew it when he saw it. Yogi Berra said that if you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there. Both statements are valid to the novelist’s challenge. Regarding Potter Stewart’s comment, consider how you felt encountering Kafka for the first time. Yogi’s comment speaks for writing itself.
But let’s talk about how metaphor — through artful manipulation — expands the living experience. Art can express contradiction and synthesize paradox. Art seeks essence while asserting infinite possibility. Do chimes of freedom flash? Bob Dylan says they do, and tells me how and why and convinces me. Art holds truth as an ideal involved with mysteries, pleasures, fears, desires and dread. A writer’s mind is his world, what Thomas Wolfe called ‘The insoluble prison of being.’ And the writer has to be comfortable being there for long hours without distraction.
Writing fiction is nothing more than a prolonged examination of integrity — artistic, personal, intellectual and moral integrity. If you can’t stand the heat and light of it, do yourself a favor and open a liquor store in Secaucus. This sentiment stands behind the aspirations of an enterprise called Heresy Press. Seeking writing and writers that embody implicit understanding of why this seems necessary in this cultural moment is a protest. Bully for that.
“Heresy Press promotes the ‘radical middle’ that lies between the narrow ideological, non-aesthetic interests presently flourishing on both the left and the right.” In other words, where the thoughtful novelist works — in the space between the real and the ideal. The thoughtful novelist investigates and then articulates the shifting position of truth and consequences in a permanent unfolding of insight. It is not my idea, but it is the best explanation: that the job of fiction is to convince you of its truth. Language turned to art holds many secrets. Uncovering the nature of those secrets is the pleasure of reading (and writing) fiction.
*Tom Casey is a future Heresy Press author, whose novel Unsettled States is slated to be published next year.
SUBMISSIONS to Heresy Press are temporarily halted.
- Novels: After receiving upward of 60 novel submissions, we are still working through a backlog of proposals and manuscripts. But we will make a public announcement when submissions for book-length works of fiction will once again be accepted.
- Short stories: We anticipate issuing one short-story anthology per year. Therefore, another submission window for short-stories is likely to open up in January 2024. Stand by for relevant announcements in this newsletter and on the website.
Essay about the State of Publishing (Part I)
The publishing industry has largely adopted an approach and an outlook that New York Times columnist Pamela Paul has called “a defensive crouch.” Instead of approaching submissions with an eager mindset that goes: “Is it innovative, brilliantly written, daring, fresh, and beautiful?” now many gatekeepers in the world of publishing first raise a set of anxious questions: “Does this author have the right kind of identity, and does it match the identity of her protagonist?” “What will our Sensitivity Readers say to this?” “Is there a clearly identifiable moral center that we approve of?” “Does this story contain any slurs or words that are degrading, regardless of context?”
All of these questions (and probably several more) are intended to ward off potential Twitter-storms and to preempt outrage from thin-skinned readers; significantly, all of these concerns also reflect an obsession with thematic content at the expense of aesthetic considerations:
- Authors must write in own-voice. If they portray characters other than members of their own identity group, they are guilty of cultural appropriation. Sensitivity readers stand by to flag any transgressions that agents, editors, and publishers may have missed (or merely suspected).
- Authors must take an approved stance on minorities, diversity, transgenderism, racism, guns, immigration, etc., and Sensitivity Readers will make sure that authors stay within the prescribed safe lanes.
- Authors must not make anybody uncomfortable by depictions of discrimination, racism, oppression, harassment, or violence, except in explicit condemnation of them, and treatments of Islam are inherently suspect. The Sensitivity Reader’s job is not done until no “problematic” scenes are left standing.
- There must be no ideological ambivalence in the text. The reader should not have to wonder whether the author sanctions the views and actions of her characters. Instead, there must be congruence between the opinions of the writer and the conduct and mindset of her literary creations.
With this checklist in hand, agents, editors, publishers, and Sensitivity Readers are placing the focus on what the story is about not how well it is told. Matters of style, of poetics, narrative structure, and aesthetic form are underrated or completely neglected.
The question is how have we ended up here? What has led to this strange, anti-aesthetic climate? I want to sketch an answer to these questions based on my personal experience of the “business” of academic literary criticism.
The current state of affairs in publishing has been long in the making. In essence, it is the result of a paradigm shift in academic/scholarly approaches to literature that started in the 1980s with the rise of critical theory, spearheaded by thinkers associated with the Frankfurt School and French Poststructuralism. Theorists like Foucault, Bourdieu, Derrida, Deleuze and the legions of their followers across the French and Anglo-American academies, shifted the principal attitude from a model that foregrounded the aesthetic and formal properties of texts—as evidenced in the structuralist and New Critical paradigms—to a critical focus that prioritized content over form, focusing predominantly on the expression and rendering of power relations through the medium of language and discourse.
The Marxist thinking of philosophers associated with the Frankfurt School (e.g. Adorno and Horkheimer)—i.e. that all human relations as well as their cultural expressions are manifestations of differential power relations—filtered down into the way literature was treated as a playing field of unequal and essentially inequitable social relations. Hence the birth of the race-class-gender trinity, the literary critical approach that was based on what the philosopher Paul Ricoeur called the “hermeneutics of suspicion.”
Before the wide adoption of that paradigm, literary critics were generally paying homage to what structuralist critic Jonathan Culler defined as the “hyperprotected cooperative principle.” This denotes a sort of contract between reader and author, a bond of trust where the reader approached a work of literature with the conviction that things are arranged the way they were for a reason. Hence, even seemingly incongruous, illogical, or paradoxical parts of the work are there because they were part of the author’s artistic vision, and the critical reader’s job was to figure out how to make sense of the seeming contradictions, tensions, and mysteries within a larger context. Structuralists believed that there were deep mental, societal, and cultural patterns embedded in texts, narratives, myths, traditions, and beliefs, i.e. figurative traces of mental universals and shared human essences or archetypes. Accordingly, their task consisted in unearthing the—often hidden—patterns that inform the myriad different versions, stories, tales, and narratives that are circulating in cultural and literary traditions throughout the world.
This now quaint view of literary interpretation was ditched for the hermeneutics of suspicion sometimes in the late 1980s and 1990s, as critics began to look for signs of the authors’ benighted, socially regressive—and occasionally also adequately progressive—views on matters of racial supremacy, gender inequity, and class warfare. A whole industry, comprising conferences, journals, associations, books, and more sprung up in response to the desire to treat literary texts as compendia of their authors ideological views and opinions, especially in regards to issues of race, class, and gender. Students and future professional literary critics were taught to analyze literary texts for the ways in which they socially constructed, and thus “made” these categories. From being considered a locus of aesthetic pleasure, the text thus morphed into something more closely resembling a crime scene. One may argue that this transition is a symptom of a larger erosion of trust happening on a society-wide scale.
It hardly surprises, therefore, that legions of literary agents and editors are now ensconced in all echelons of the publishing industry who are willing to ditch works of literature, no matter how brilliantly written, on the basis of perceived sins of omission and commission detected on the thematic level of content, character, subject matter, ideological tendency. No wonder, too, that some readers are loudly condemning certain works of literature for their authors’ views, failing to recognize the discontinuity between an author’s own moral (or immoral) views and the characters and events inside the fictional world. If the moralizing approach to literature were to become utterly dominant, then the canon of available literature would shrink to the works of a few unconditionally virtuous, progressive, magnanimous, unprejudiced, and saintly individuals. But what level of riveting, dark, disturbing, funny, and boundary-pushing literature could we expect from such unblemished hands?
The hermeneutics of suspicion has poisoned the appreciation of art, with artists and readers everywhere now paying the price for the prosecutorial approach to literature that has been inculcated into generations of budding literary critics. For the past 50 years, we have failed to teach students to analyze and appreciate the craft of literature as an artistic endeavor and a human striving for profound aesthetic experiences. Attempts in that direction would have likely met with withering scorn by the scholarly community as a new form of “aestheticism.”
There is obviously nothing wrong with having a distinct critical perspective, and it is also true that language is one of the vehicles for encoding and disseminating pernicious stereotypes. However, literature is not the place where we should insert the lever in order to dislodge injustice and rid the world of prejudice. The emphasis should rather be placed on education, on tolerance training, on integration of neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and so on. Instead of purging library shelves of unwelcome books, let’s drive initiatives that strengthen social cohesion through trust-building, dialogue, and compassion. Much more damage than good is done by putting art in fetters over forbidden words and disfavored ideas. This censorious approach is directly counter-productive, since literature is instrumental in broadening minds, enlarging empathy, fostering dialogue, and practicing virtue, albeit vicariously.
Having said, this, I much prefer Oscar Wilde’s aphorism “The telling of beautiful untrue things is the proper aim of Art” to Shelley’s activist dictum about poets being “the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” They are not, at least not in the sense of “legislator” as a person with actual political and legal power or direct socio-economic impact. Poets wield a very different kind of influence–they gift us with soaring diction, they broaden our horizons with new perspectives, and they provide us with deep understanding of ourselves and others via the most effective teaching tool in existence: storytelling. Let’s never lose sight of that.
This is not a plea for uncritical reading. Far from it. But there’s a difference between being an uncritical reader and being a humble, fair, and undogmatic critic. We need more of the latter.
(To be continued)
– Bernard Schweizer (Director Heresy Press)
The Great Heresy Press REJECTION Contest:
We have been showered with samples of the fainthearted and ideologically conformist spirit that currently holds sway in conventional publishing. Here are a few nuggets:
- Press: “We are not interested in submissions from retired baby boomers.”
- Agent: “Can you please send along the author’s bio with this excerpt? Any book that I consider with Indigenous themes would have to be written by an Indigenous author. If Mr. [author’s name] isn’t from the Navajo community, unfortunately, I’m going to have to pass on this one!”
- Agent: “Great story, but at the moment we cannot do this. The optics of a white male author telling this story would obliterate the publisher on Twitter.”
- Author: “I have met writers who published a first novel with a press, yet their second novel was rejected because they were told that the novel had a character whose race was other than the author’s.”
→ Please consider adding to this treasury of rejections from agents and presses. The winner of the contest (to be picked by the press’s Director) will receive a free t-shirt with the logo of Heresy Press.
Send your submissions with the subject heading “Rejection Contest” to firstname.lastname@example.org
The winning statement (and some runners-up) will be published in the next installment of the newsletter
Heresy Press now sells merch! We have a lovely t-shirt with the logo of Heresy Press emblazoned on the front, available in 3 sizes (S, M, L). We also offer nifty 11-ounce coffee mugs for the lovers of heresy and coffee.
Please visit our shop.
God bless, Buddha bless, Mother Nature bless, and Hephaestus bless you Bernard for standing up for art in a world that is censuring it, especially creative writing, at every turn. The big commercial publishers are drafting their own demise.
Excellent – thank you.
It is precisely the people with no sense of irony who lead the most ironic lives.