Letters

Letters 07-27-2015

Next For Brownfields In regard to your recent piece on brownfield redevelopment in TC, the Randolph Street project appears to be proceeding without receiving its requested $600k in brownfield funding from the county. In response to this, the mayor is quoted as saying that the developer bought the property prior to performing an environmental assessment and had little choice but to now build it...

Defending Our Freedom This is in response to Sally MacFarlane Neal’s recent letter, “War Machines for Family Entertainment.” Wake Up! Make no mistake about it, we are at war! Even though the idiot we have for a president won’t accept the fact because he believes we can negotiate with Iran, etc., ISIS and their like make it very clear they intend to destroy the free world as we know it. If you take notice of the way are constantly destroying their own people, is that living...

What Is Far Left? Columnist Steve Tuttle, who so many lambaste as a liberal, considers Sen. Sanders a far out liberal “nearly invisible from the middle.” Has the middle really shifted that far right? Sanders has opposed endless war and the Patriot Act. Does Mr. Tuttle believe most of our citizens praise our wars and the positive results we have achieved from them? Is supporting endless war or giving up our civil liberties middle of the road...

Parking Corrected Stephen Tuttle commented on parking in the July 13 Northern Express. As Director of the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority, I feel compelled to address a couple key issues. But first, I acknowledge that  there is some consternation about parking downtown. As more people come downtown served by less parking, the pressure on what parking we have increases. Downtown serves a county with a population of 90,000 and plays host to over three million visitors annually...

Home · Articles · News · Books · Ripping the Lid Off the Writing...
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Ripping the Lid Off the Writing Racket

Robert Downes - July 27th, 2009
Ripping the Lid Off the Writing Racket

By Robert Downes 7/27/09

How I Became a Famous Novelist
By Steve Hely
Black Cat Books
322 pages - $14

“When my career as a novelist began, my ambitions were simple: to learn
the con, make money, impress women, and get out.”
So says Pete Tarslow, a cynical young author who tells the rags-to-riches
tale of writing his first novel, The Tornado Ashes Club in what is surely
the funniest book written so far this century.
‘Hilarious’ is too slight a word to describe this comic novel by Steve
Hely, especially if you happen to be a book club fan or a writer yourself.
Hely’s satire of bestselling books, authors and publishing had me
laughing out loud for page after page. It’s the kind of book you have to
be careful of while drinking liquids so they don’t go spurting out your
nose... And in between the laughs, How I Became a Famous Novelist is
punctuated by dead-ringer insights on literature and the book business.
Fresh out of college, Tarslow works for a company called EssayAides that
specializes in rewriting the “gibberish words” of wealthy kids into
polished application essays for college or grad school.
When he learns that his former girlfriend Polly is getting married,
Tarslow decides that the best revenge would be to become a bestselling
author in order to wreck her wedding by dazzling her guests and one-upping
the groom. In his imagination, Tarslow plans to snag the cutest bridesmaid
at the wedding, say “writerly” things to adoring women, drop tidbits about
his six-figure movie deal and mention the Entertainment Weekly profile of
Elijah Wood who will be starring in the film version of his book. “And
Polly would slap her flowers in rage, upstaged at her own wedding.
Defeated.”

THE PERKS
Tarslow also imagines that becoming a famous novelist will land him
riches, a stately waterfront home, and a university teaching job with an
endless supply of bright young co-eds eager to have sex with a great
writer.
His quest to become a bestselling novelist is merciless in harpooning the
sacred cows of literature, poking fun at thinly-disguised famous authors,
writers workshops, book expos, Oprah, and the New York Times Bestsellers
List.
Half the fun of reading the book is trying to figure out who the authors
are that are being satirized: Dan Brown, John Grisham, James Patterson,
Tom Clancy, Nora Roberts, Patricia Cornwell, Cormac McCarthy and Charles
Frazier are among the possible suspects.
For his role model as a novelist, Tarslow is inspired by the work of a
windbag author named Preston Brooks, whose book, Kindness to Birds is
packed with billowy, sentimental prose in the mode of Nicholas Sparks (The
Notebook, Message in a Bottle) or James Waller (The Bridges of Madison
County).
Tarslow considers Brooks to be a con man and a phony who has “strung
together some mushy novels and pawned them off on thousands of book-buying
saps.” He resolves to write his own book, The Tornado Ashes Club, using
all of the cliches of popular fiction and book club bait: “Write a
popular book. Do not waste energy making it a good book,” is one of his
rules for success.

RULES FOR SUCCESS
His research turns up 16 rules for writing a bestselling novel: First, it
must include a murder (60 percent of all bestselling novels involve
killings). Then the book should include clubs; secrets; descriptions of
delicious meals; something about World War II; highway scenes; obscure,
exotic locations; plant names; a hero liberated from a dull job: and the
injection of as many scenes from reader-filled towns as possible, ie.
bars, restaurants and hangouts.

From this mish-mash of book club staples, Tarslow concocts a wildly
unlikely tale of a man accused of shooting his boss in Las Vegas, who goes
on the lam with his Grandmother on a mission to toss the ashes of her dead
lover (a World War II commando who traveled the exotic countries of the
world) into the funnel of a tornado. Naturally, it’s a hit.
To qualify his book as ‘literary’ fiction, Tarslow realizes that the only
thing he needs is to “evoke confusing sadness” at the end of the book and
make sure his prose is defined as being “lyrical” on the back cover (or
“resembling bad poetry,” as he puts it).

SCORCHED EARTH
In short, you’ll never read the likes of Jim Harrison again without a
laugh and a twinge of recognition after reading Hely’s scorched-earth
satire. Even Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville and F. Scott
Fitzgerald are pictured in a new light as authors who pandered to the
popular tastes of their times.
But it’s also true that the know-it-all Tarslow proves to be too smart for
his own good. His presumptions about books and “phony’ authors lead to
apocalyptic results at Polly’s wedding as well as a fiery confrontation
before a live audience with the crusty old “con man” Preston Brooks.
Author Steve Hely was a writer for The Late Show with David Letterman and
with the animated comedy American Dad. His book is in the same league as
Christopher Buckley’s Thank You for Smoking and the best satires of the
’00s. Ultimately, How I Became a Famous Novelist lands on a dime as
Hely’s young writer-antihero comes to a revelation about not only what’s
‘wrong’ with bestselling fiction, but also what’s right about the written
word and why novels matter.


 
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