I.

News

• Book launch: Heresy Press’s first novel, Deadpan, by Richard Walter is now officially published! The book is available on our website and on amazon.com.

Deadpan
Advance Praise:
“In this smart satire about bigotry and intolerance, Walter uses magical realism and comedy to reinforce his satirical look at societal problems…. This is an intriguing novel that will have readers in stitches.”
— U.S. Review of Books

scott schilling

• First-ever buyer of a Heresy Press novel: Scott Schilling (Heresy Press Superfan). “Can’t wait to dig into Richard Walter’s Deadpan to witness his skill in disarming intolerance with laughter!”

Heresy Press’s fifth book is now in production: Unsettled States by Tom Casey will be available in June, 2024.

Unsettled States

Description:
“Tom Casey’s unconventional exploration of voyeurism, infidelity, murder, and spiritual corruption is shot through with flashes of social commentary and humor. When a small Connecticut coastal town is rocked by a set of seemingly random tragedies, a gripping investigation of facts and fabrications ensues. The cast of characters includes a troubled Peeping Tom, an unconventional psychotherapist, an atheistic detective, and a dapper priest—all of them drawn into the vortex of suspicion, guilt, subterfuge, and expiation. In this story, the human longing for beauty and pleasure overshoots its goal, with startling consequences. Vivid descriptions of American life and keen intellectual debates add texture to elevate this story to a literary feast for the heart and mind.”

• Heresy Press to offer book bundles: Bundles of three or four new Heresy Press novels will go on sale on April 10 and May 1, respectively. Readers who want to enjoy a wide array of topics by diverse writers will be rewarded with great stories and steep discounts. The 4-book bundle will be priced at 30% off the cover price, and the 3-book bundle will come with a savings of 25% off the retail price.

3 books

• Submissions Window closes: As much as we regret it, we had to temporarily close the submission window. The number of pending manuscripts has reached a level that necessitates an input stop, so that we can live up to our commitment to give each and every submissions its due attention. In the meantime, Heresy Press will continue to work through the accumulated submissions, separating them into two categories—reject and short listed. Our publishing pipeline is now stocked until spring of 2025, so the earliest a new acquisition could come out would be in the fall of 2025. Thank you, authors, for your understanding and your patience. We will make an announcement in this newsletter when the submissions window opens again.

Lit Mag News• Provocative Article in LitMagNews: Bernard Schweizer published a widely noted essay in LitMagNews titled “Why Heresy Press? Why Now?” In the article, Schweizer looks back over the first year of Heresy Press and the lessons learned during that time span. Schweizer’s reflections on the current state of literary publishing clearly hit a nerve, as evidenced in the long list of comments, the overwhelming majority of which were favorable.

II.

Heresy Press welcomes two new members to its Advisory Board

Sherman Alexie is a National Book Award winner and author of the classic The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, as well as numerous other novels, short stories, poetry books, and a memoir.

Read the mini-interview with Sherman Alexie to learn more about his background and ideas, as well as why he supports Heresy Press.

Richard North PattersonRichard North Patterson is the author of 23 bestselling and critically acclaimed novels, including Exile, Fall From Grace, and Trial. He also contributed a spirited column to the Wall Street Journal titled “Why My New Novel About Racial Conflict Ran Into Trouble.”

Read the mini-interview with Richard North Patterson where he sheds light on his literary influences and gives reasons why he supports Heresy Press.

III.

Flash Fiction

The Pancake Clan

by Sherman Alexie

At three in the morning, I was in that IHOP again—the only International House of Pancakes left in Seattle. Ever since I was a kid, insomnia had been my fraternal twin. Same as my sleepless father and grandfather. Sometimes, when I was still living on the rez, Dad would drive me around and around the Sherwood Loop at three in the morning. We’d pass by the houses of sleeping cousins, tribal elders, and sworn enemies. Dad would slide a cassette of powwow music into the car stereo and sing along. He’d pound the steering wheel like it was a drum. To tell the truth, he was a terrible singer who never sang powwow songs in public. But just like every other terrible singer in the world, he still needed to echo the music—to feel it in his lungs, throat, and tongue.

My Grandpa liked to say that the three of us were insomniacs because we were all conceived at 3 a.m. He’d say, “Our clan has always done the bang-bang in the moonlight.” But he’s one of those Indians who was always improvising new bullshit that he claimed was ancient lore. “Indian way,” he’d said. “It’s Indian way.”

I miss that liar and I miss my father. They both died of cancer on blue sky afternoons.

My IHOP table was sticky with generations of maple syrup when a brown- skinned guy with long black hair walked in. He looked Indian. But it’s sometimes hard to tell in the city. There’s a lot of long-haired Asians, Mexicans, and Guatemalans in Seattle.

I wear my hair shaved close to my skull, a habit left over from my military days. But that maybe-Indian wore his long hair unbraided. I wondered if he was one of them wild warriors who never braids their hair. To them, knots challenge their hair’s sovereignty.

The waitress sat the maybe-Indian at the table next to mine. I wanted to joke and tell him that he and I were now in the Indian boy section. I wanted to use a reservation accent. I sound like a city Indian now, but I can drop into a rez accent easy.

But, instead, I just asked him, “Hey, cuz, are you Inj?”

He looked confused, even angry. Maybe he thought “Inj” was some kind of insult. He didn’t know that “Inj” is short for Indian. He didn’t know that “Inj” is one of those vaguely racist but friendly terms that only Indians can say to one another. If a white man called me Inj then there’d be a full-contact reenactment of Little Big Horn. “Inj” was a password. It meant you belonged. This guy wasn’t Indian so he was unaware of Indian cultural means and mores. He was something other than Inj.

And I was intruding on his peace. He stood and sat himself at a table twenty feet away from me.

Hey, brown-skinned stranger, I’m sorry I offended you. I’m just an insomniac Indian guy who’s always looking for other Indians. Sometimes, it seems like loneliness is the last natural resource remaining for us Inj. I just wanted to eat pancakes, drink coffee, and tell each other Indian stories that would make us laugh so loudly that they’d kick us out of IHOP. Then we’d be laughing in the parking lot until the sun rose like a fiery Indian grandma and told us to get home, get home, get home.

IV.

Guest Essay

Fear and Publishing

By Jonah Winter

Franklin Roosevelt once famously said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” –which begs the question, what about Siberian Tigers? Or nuclear weapons? Or drunk drivers?But after one gets such sarcastic rejoinders out of one’s system, one has to acknowledge the point he was making. Fear is itself a dangerous thing. And when fear takes over a person, a community, a country, or a publishing world, bad things can happen.

And fear has indeed taken over the American publishing world – fear of social media firestorms, fear of career loss, fear of corporate financial loss, fear of being branded “racist” or some other negative label, fear of being hated, fear of being shunned. This fear has fostered major changes, none of them positive, in how books get made and received.

While the people who’ve foisted these changes defend them as “progress,” changes rooted in fear cannot possibly be progressive. Fear, especially of social media blowback, has prompted publishers to enforce the draconian “Own Voices” rule, a racist and pseudo-Marxist mandate which says that the author’s “identity” must match the subject matter – and that, specifically, authors from the “empowered” group must not be allowed to “appropriate” material from the “marginalized” group. Neither tribalism nor segregation are good for society, nor are they good for literature. A publishing rule codifying tribalism and segregation spells death to literary freedom, imagination, empathy, and any literary form other than memoir. It does not, in any way, represent “progress.” Artistic subject matter is not property, and attempts to establish it as such are beyond reactionary – they’re counter to the human spirit and to the very motivation for making art, a motivation which is by its boundless nature personal and fearless

Fear has also prompted publishers to avoid authors who express dissenting opinions, authors who dare to speak out against the oppressive straightjacket of Own Voices, for instance, or against what John McWhorter rightly calls the “woke racism” inherent in how the privileged leftwing white people running the publishing companies now signal their virtue – a kind of racism on full display in the movie “American Fiction,” which satirizes this culture mercilessly.

Fear has prompted publishers to avoid taking chances on any potentially controversial books. This is a major departure. Since books were first published, publishers took chances on books that might offend certain people, and often these books have helped move literature forward and at the very least expanded the notion of what is possible in a book.

Perhaps most alarmingly and insidiously, though, fear has prompted publishers into adhering to the oppressive notion that books must first and foremost promote societal progress – or what counts as societal progress to a powerful minority. Fear of the social media mob has sent most publishers on a juggernaut to publish books which abide by the ideological principles set forth by that small but vocal faction of the Left now called “woke” by pretty much everyone except for members of that faction. The idea that books primarily exist to promote a moral agenda, as determined by those in power, is the same suffocating anti-literary dogma adhered to by totalitarian states, most famously the Soviet Union under Stalin

None of this bodes well for the future of literature in America. But wait – there’s more: At this very moment, somewhere someone is going through some work of adult or children’s literature and removing all the naughty bits – or, as the censors call their noble line of work, “updating” these books, removing words that might possibly offend the delicate sensibilities of today’s fragile readers, removing passages that could cause what the censors call “harm.” It’s already happened to Roald Dahl and others. Who’s next?

Meanwhile, the National Council of Teachers of English and School Library Journal joined forces in 2022 to “refresh the canon” – making a new recommended summer reading list and “deselecting” certain classics from this list by dead white authors, such as Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and The Complete Works of Williams Shakespeare.

This all sounds as if it could be taken straight from a mid-20th>-century dystopian novel such as Fahrenheit 451 or 1984. But it’s simply the reality of our current world. Where are the voices of outrage? Which is to say, where are the sincere voices of those who love and respect all good literature? Yes, there are those who complain loudly and bitterly about the dystopian reality of the publishing world – mostly the cynical rightwing Fox News pundits trying to score political points and rile up their base so as to win elections, while wholeheartedly supporting rightwing book bans. But where is the outrage from authors, editors, liberals, and others who, unlike the cynical rightwing critics of wokeness, truly value freedom of speech? Fear is what holds liberals and book-lovers back from speaking out against any of this tyrannical garbage. Next question: Is this fear truly warranted?

Would it actually take courage to overcome this paralyzing fear? Or is the situation more like the one in Bunuel’s “The Exterminating Angel,” in which the dinner party guests are trapped, unable to leave the party, solely due to a lack of will power? I tend to believe it’s mostly the latter. Yes, people are scared. But what they are scared of is miniscule compared with truly scary things that people deal with all the time – serious health problems, the fact guns outnumber people in America, bad drivers, you know, things that are life-threatening.

Editors believe they will be risking financial and reputational ruin if they publish a particular book or author that is “problematic.” In giving in to this unreasonable fear, they have handed over the reins of power to the social media bullies. There is nothing physically or otherwise stopping the editors from ignoring the bullies altogether, letting the social media firestorms play out, letting the lunatic fringe set their own heads on fire through sheer outrage, and then just quietly publishing whatever they themselves, thinking for themselves, believe is worthy of publication. This is how publishing used to work. There’s no reason why it can’t again – except for fear.

Courage is what Alexei Navalny displayed through his heroic tenure as the leading voice of resistance to the world’s most effective and resilient tyrant, Vladimir Putin. This courage cost him his life. For Christ’s sake, ignoring woke nonsense on social media does not take courage. It just takes a little integrity – and the willingness to think for oneself.

V.

Director’s Cut

Richard Walter’s Deadpan and the Subversive Power of Jewish Humor

By Bernard Schweizer

“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” — Mark Twain

One year ago, Heresy Press received a submission from across the country: Richard Walter, the longtime director of UCLA’s screenwriting program, sent me his novel Deadpan for consideration. Soon after I started reading, I came across these statements:

“Hitler Was Right.”
“Deport Jewish Scum.”

Other phrases along those lines followed. Did I express outrage and write a harsh rejection letter? On the contrary, I issued a contract.

I had several reasons for accepting Deadpan: First, the above statements come from bigoted fictional characters, thus exposing their message to well-deserved scorn. Second, I recognized Deadpan as a superior work of fiction, written in an impeccable style. Third, the novel is a (Menippean) satire, and so it exists in the space of irony and parody. And fourth, the author is Jewish, and thus the book is an elaborate exercise of Jewish humor.

Lennie Bruce, 1961

Lennie Bruce, 1961

Deadpan uses humor in exactly the way Jewish humor has always functioned, in a sardonic, ironic, caustic, self-deprecatory, dark, and sometimes barbed manner. Analyzing the roots of this type of humor, humor scholar Don Nilsen writes “Yiddish humor cuts. It is more a humor of harshness than of merriment.” (97). Nilsen continues: “Lenny Bruce’s humor is hostile. He divides the world into Jews and Gentiles and then attacks both groups. He uses humor and irony and satire to criticize the vindictiveness, the venality, the racism (especially anti-Semitism), the prudery, and the lechery of the gentile. But Bruce also felt a need to shock the Jews, to go public with their most private secrets” (98).

Deadpan continues this tradition of wielding humor as a critical weapon, though Walter’s humor is less harsh than Bruce’s; and it cuts not just two ways but many ways, poking fun at the follies and antics of Christians, Muslims, Jews, white supremacists, antisemites, reporters, judges, scientists, consumers, gamblers, car dealers, and so on.

Here is a sampling of the type of satirical swipes evidenced in Deadpan, centered on Dwight Bridges, the novel’s protagonist:

Example 1, absurdist social satire:
“A car purchased from Bridges Buick had become a national trophy. Everybody wanted one. To handle the crush, Dwight hired a dozen salesmen, who doled out vehicles like papal indulgences. Interested parties were required to fill out a lengthy application including a ‘statement of purpose’ to be evaluated by a committee of dealership personnel. Extra credit was awarded to potential buyers who would be the first in their family to own a Buick. Some customers actually preferred to pay more rather than less. For them, the purchase fulfilled their narcissism—the vehicle was worth more because they had paid more for it.”

Example 2, anti-evangelical satire:
“At church, Pastor Pete disdained evolution and preached instead a principle he called Intelligent Design. Bridges could believe the Design part all right. It did not strike him, however, as the least bit Intelligent. Why would an all-knowing, all-powerful ruler of the universe require the spurting and squirting, the sweaty, stinky, clammy, gooey accouterments attendant to so existential a phenomenon as procreation?”

Example 3, anti-racist satire:
“The Mexicans, the Indians… they stayed home and wallowed in their squalor. In the rare instance that they laundered anything, they did so by hand in the kitchen sink. Or in the toilet, more likely, Bridges groused in silence.”

Example 4, anti-antisemitic satire:
“I needed somebody to blame, somebody I could see. I needed a target, a punching bag, someone to clobber, someone to pummel. Isn’t that what Jews are for? Aren’t they good at that? Isn’t it their tradition, their heritage? They tell you so themselves. Heck, they all but boast of it. They’re the world’s leading blame-takers, everybody knows that…. Throughout the millennia, Jews have lived their lives peering over their shoulders for Cossacks, Nazis, the Klan, U-Name-It, ignorant bigots like me, looking to see if anybody’s chasing them. If nobody’s persecuting them, doing them dirt, haunting, stalking and taunting them, they’re disappointed.”

Example 5, typical Jewish joke:
“There is a saying: ‘Two Jews, three opinions.’”
“I’ve heard that,” Bridges said.
“It isn’t true,” the rabbi went on.
“No?”
“It’s two Jews, three hundred opinions.”

Example 1 is standard absurdist humor, based on incongruity and exaggeration. Example 2 takes a satirical swipe at Creationism and may be considered blasphemous. Example 3 takes aim at prejudice itself, mentioning the stereotype in order to ridicule it. Example 4 is a finely calibrated exercise of Jewish humor that thrives on ambiguity, being at the same time a rank over-generalization and yet an idea holding a kernel of truth. Example 5 represents a typical Jewish joke, illustrating the principle of self-deprecatory humor.

In today’s culture of heightened sensitivity around identity, micro-aggression, and taboo topics, it is harder than ever to gain acceptance for such ironic, cutting, and borderline hostile humor. Any of this can come across as “offensive” or be misunderstood as “hate speech.” Thus, most literary editors, agents, and publishers nowadays will keep their hands off such fare, fearing social media outrage and threats of cancellations from people who are unable to process irony, who don’t recognize parody, and are unwilling to apply the use/mention distinction.

But of course, Jewish humor lives precisely in that very gap, in the space between use and mention, between affirming the negative stereotype through mockery while playfully undermining it through self-deprecation and parody. As Lawrence Epstein wrote in his seminal work on Jewish humor (2001): “Some Jewish comedians adopted comic types with the very characteristics of anti-Semitic stereotypes and ended up challenging and overcoming the stereotypes with humor.”

The risk of misinterpretation is a risk that any satire must take, and Deadpan is no exception. In this regard, Walter’s comedy follows in the footsteps of Charlie Chaplin, Mel Brooks, Sasha Baron Cohen, Sarah Silverman, etc. all of whom employ stereotypes ironically in order to subvert them. Jewish humor is so irresistibly funny, influential, and fertile because it is flirting with that ambiguity, embracing cognitive dissonance, and playing with paradox. It is a complex, multi-layered, unstable, and dialectical kind of humor, but apparently we live in a time when this type of humor can no longer be assumed to go over well.

Publishers know this, and as a result they have embraced a sort of dull literalism, shying away from moral ambiguity, fearing double-entendre and irony, and avoiding ridicule. I’ve heard this again and again from comedic writers who turned to Heresy Press as their last resort: Irony, satire, parody, farce, mockery, teasing… all of these exaggerating, generalizing, ambiguous, incongruous, and caustic types of discourse are now suspected of being vehicles for harmful, bigoted, offensive, racist, and other bad attitudes. Admittedly, sometimes jokes really are meant to denigrate, mock, and otherwise demean members of certain groups (who may or may not be lower on the pecking order than the joker); but accusations of comedic “harm” may also result from a crass misreading of the joke’s intent, especially when jokes aim to achieve the very opposite of victimization, namely,to expose the bigot and to ridicule the racist or the misogynist (or any other -ist).

Sadly, though, literal readings increasingly become the standard by which stories are now judged, prompting Mel Brooks to quip in 2017 that a film like his Blazing Saddles could never be made today.” Brooks, the king of daring, madcap, satirical Jewish humor added that “Comedy has to walk a thin line, take risks. It’s the lecherous little elf whispering in the king’s ear, telling the truth about human behaviour.” But what sensitivity reader is going to go along with that premise, listening to that lecherous little elf, and take that risk?

Directly related to the literalist threat to humor is the practice of one-dimensional analysis, i.e. an interpretation that jumps to simplistic conclusions without taking into consideration counter-currents, paradoxes, and ambiguities that are also at play in any given comedic scene or situation. Jewish humor sometimes makes one laugh uncomfortably or causes the laughter to get “stuck in the throat.” Holocaust humor is perhaps the most obvious example of this type of painfully ambiguous humor, and yet, even that kind of humor is evidenced in Deadpan. Such mature and controversial material testifies to the complex, multi-layered, provocative, and dialectical nature of Jewish humor in general and of Deadpan in particular.

Judging from centuries of increasingly tolerant attitudes toward expressions of humor in the Western cultural sphere, legislating humor is ultimately a futile undertaking. Church Fathers from Tertullian to Jerome to have riled against the corrupting influences of laughter, but this didn’t stop Chaucer, Boccaccio, Rabelais and scores of other medieval and early-modern writers from joking, often in a borderline blasphemous register. And when Mark Twain kicked the doors of irreverent humor wide open, they were not subsequently closed again… Except maybe now since concerns about the potential harm that comes from joking are a new attempt at controlling the anarchic, unruly, raucous dynamics of comedy. While it is doubtlessly true that certain kinds of laughter can cut and hurt, it is also true that the very nature of humor, its trickster-like unpredictability and mercurial transformational quality simply blunts any attempts to corral it.

Prescriptive policies that selectively attempt to outlaw certain kinds of humor—whether they are called negative, or mocking, or “punching-down”—are bound to fail because to separate the benign from the more caustic forms of humor is well-night impossible, not to mention purely subjective, context-dependent, and arbitrary. If every joke needs to be evaluated for the way it deploys the power differential between joker and joke recipient, then by the time that assessment is concluded, the joke will have withered and died. Rather than futilely legislating humor expressions, we better rely on the humorist’s ability to do the right thing under the right circumstances, to exercise civic responsibility, but for the rest let’s give humor the leeway that it needs to unfold its powerfully liberating, pleasurable potentials.

To close the arc to Deadpan, this scintillating satire should have occasioned a bidding war among excited publishers. Instead, it was denied entry into the halls of mainstream publishing because the gatekeepers had taken fright at its “radical” nature. Fortunately, Heresy Press’s mission to support “unbounded creativity & fearless expression” mapped perfectly over the wild, heady, intoxicating, hilarious, and fiercely moral humor that is at the core of Walter’s story. Deadpan richly rewards readers who can tolerate ambiguity and are interested in provocative ideas, while appreciating the impish humor Mel Brooks talked about.

VI.

Call for Flash Fiction and Guest Essay

Please submit your flash-fiction (up to 800 words) for consideration, to be published in the Speakeasy newsletter. Submit your story to bernard@heresy-press.com. Submissions are considered on a rolling basis.

If you would like to contribute a short, 800-word critical essay on any aspect of the literary craft or the world of publishing, please submit the article to bernard@heresy-press.com. Submissions are considered on a rolling basis.

VII.

Rejection Contest Winner

“I wrote a Catholic novel that fits the descriptor ‘own voice,’ and a friend e-introduced me to an editor at a fancy press. The editor agreed to edit the first few chapters (for a fee). She made a lot of sensible suggestions — word choice, verb tense — and, as I expected, didn’t like some things (“Get rid of this character. I really, viscerally hate this guy.”). But her main points of criticism were about integral aspects of the story (“Why so many churches? Consolidate.”) and the subject matter, i.e. Catholics (“To me, this demographic is inherently uninteresting.”). Okay, I thought: we’ve identified the demographic whose ‘own voice’ the publishing establishment doesn’t want to hear. She invited me to pay to edit another draft after I made the suggested changes. I declined.”
— Jen Mediano

VIII.

A Friend of Heresy Press—NCAC

The National Coalition Against Censorship is doing very important work to promote open inquiry, fight book bans, and to protect the freedom of expression. The founders of Heresy Press, Liang and Bernard Schweizer, have donated funds toward two programs of NCAC that we particularly care about:

  1. Student Advocates for Speech, promoting academic freedom and campus free speech for students.
  2. Kids Right to Read Project, fighting censorship of books and ideas at the school level.

Please consider supporting the important work of the National Coalition Against Censorship by donating here.

NCAC