Letters

Letters 05-23-2016

Examine The Priorities Are you disgusted about closing schools, crumbling roads and bridges, and cuts everywhere? Investigate funding priorities of legislators. In 1985 at the request of President Reagan, Grover Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). For 30 years Norquist asked every federal and state candidate and incumbent to sign the pledge to vote against any increase in taxes. The cost of living has risen significantly since 1985; think houses, cars, health care, college, etc...

Make TC A Community For Children Let’s be that town that invests in children actively getting themselves to school in all of our neighborhoods. Let’s be that town that supports active, healthy, ready-to-learn children in all of our neighborhoods...

Where Are Real Christian Politicians? As a practicing Christian, I was very disappointed with the Rev. Dr. William C. Myers statements concerning the current presidential primaries (May 8). Instead of using the opportunity to share the message of Christ, he focused on Old Testament prophecies. Christ gave us a new commandment: to love one another...

Not A Great Plant Pick As outreach specialist for the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network and a citizen concerned about the health of our region’s natural areas, I was disappointed by the recent “Listen to the Local Experts” feature. When asked for their “best native plant pick,” three of the four garden centers referenced non-native plants including myrtle, which is incredibly invasive...

Truth About Plants Your feature, “listen to the local experts” contains an error that is not helpful for the birds and butterflies that try to live in northwest Michigan. Myrtle is not a native plant. The plant is also known as vinca and periwinkle...

Ask the Real Plant Experts This letter is written to express my serious concern about a recent “Listen To Your Local Experts” article where local nurseries suggested their favorite native plant. Three of the four suggested non-native plants and one suggested is an invasive and cause of serious damage to Michigan native plants in the woods. The article is both sad and alarming...

My Plant Picks In last week’s featured article “Listen to the Local Experts,” I was shocked at the responses from the local “experts” to the question about best native plant pick. Of the four “experts” two were completely wrong and one acknowledged that their pick, gingko tree, was from East Asia, only one responded with an excellent native plant, the serviceberry tree...

NOTE: Thank you to TC-based Eagle Eye Drone Service for the cover photo, taken high over Sixth Street in Traverse City.

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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