Monday, November 09, 2009

How I Became a Famous Novelist -- Steve Hely

I have Vince Keenan to thank for my reading of this book. It's as funny as he said it was in his review, maybe even funnier. For me, it was worth reading for Hely's parody of the NYT bestseller list alone. I laughed so much that Judy thought something was wrong with me. (There probably is.) You can read the list at the link, and if you don't think it's funny, then you probably won't like the book, either. Mad Magazine has nothing on Hely.

Pete Tarslaw, the book's narrator, decides that he can write a bestseller. It seems easy enough, once you figure out the formula. So he writes a book called The Tornado Ashes Club. It has everything. Trust me. Tarslaw admits from the beginning that he does some terrible things along the way to fame. He hopes the backstory he's including will make the reader think better of him at the end. It probably doesn't, though maybe Pete isn't quite a soulless as he appeared at the beginning. You can take the climactic showdown in Marfa, Texas, two ways, I think. I tend to be cynical about it, myself, but that's just me.

I'm recommending this book to every writer I know. If there's a publishing target that Hely misses, I can't think what it is. His eye for the telling detail is dead-on, and reading his description of the Oprah show is like watching it. Throughout the book he scatters excerpts from the bestsellers on that list I linked to above. If you didn't know better, you'd think you were reading real thing.

Bonus reason why I liked the book: Hely mentions in passing a mostly forgotten writer named Vance Bourjaily. In my youth when I read really long books, I read Bourjaily's The Violated and was pretty impressed. I have a paperback copy of it on my shelves even now. Not many people even know who Bourjaily is these days, and it was a pleasant surprise to run across his name.

9 comments:

  1. I've ordered HOW I BECAME A FAMOUS NOVELIST. Now, I can't wait to read it!

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  2. I hope you get as many laughs as I did!

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  3. Anonymous9:42 AM

    I'm ordering it too. And yes, I not only have heard of Bourjaily but I've read his A GAME MEN PLAY.

    Jeff

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  4. Boy, there are some books on that NYTBSL I'd like to read! I won't say which ones, but if you'd write it, Bill, I'd plunk down the lettuce to buy it. That goes for the fiction and non-fiction alike.

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  5. Happy to be of service, Bill. I had a feeling that you in particular would enjoy this book. I'm pushing it on everyone I know.

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  6. Sounds great. I always trust Vince's recs.

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  7. I read a couple of Bourjaily PBs years ago, but can't remember anything about them. Do know that they are still in a box in my garage. Maybe I'll look for them tomorrow as for once we are not expecting snow on Remembrance Day.

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  8. Stephen B12:26 AM

    Vance Bourjaily as well as David Madden were at LSU back in my college days. I think Bourjaily did a course on HARD BOILED FICTION - I wished I'd signed up...

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  9. Madden edited one of the best books on hardboiled writing, Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties.

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