Famous Writers School

Overview

Steven Carter, who has been called "madly inventive" (Kirkus) and "darkly comic" (Village Voice), has a genius for letting his characters speak for themselves, and here they do so quite literally. Famous Writers School is composed of three aspiring authors' letters and stories sent to a correspondence course by that grandiose name, and the self-serving "lessons" that Wendell Newton, their endearingly obtuse instructor, doles out in response. Wendell's oddball collection of students includes Rio, an alluring blues...
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Overview

Steven Carter, who has been called "madly inventive" (Kirkus) and "darkly comic" (Village Voice), has a genius for letting his characters speak for themselves, and here they do so quite literally. Famous Writers School is composed of three aspiring authors' letters and stories sent to a correspondence course by that grandiose name, and the self-serving "lessons" that Wendell Newton, their endearingly obtuse instructor, doles out in response. Wendell's oddball collection of students includes Rio, an alluring blues singer on whom he quickly develops a crush; Linda Trane, an unhinged housewife who may be stalking him; and Dan, a truly talented author of hard-boiled detective fiction. As Dan's gritty mystery arrives piece by piece, Wendell gets hooked on the story-and decides to dress it up in his own style in order to pass it off as his creation.

Carter skillfully weaves these narratives into a genre-bending romp that is at once reminiscent of Raymond Carver and Carl Hiaasen.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wendell Newton, the protagonist in Carter's second novel (after I Was Howard Hughes), is a former editorial staffer at America's Farmer and author (or so he says) of more than 70 stories, essays and reviews, and a forthcoming novel. He's also the founder, director and writer-in-residence of the Famous Writers School, a correspondence course advertised in the back pages of literary quarterlies. His students include a John Deere sales rep who writes gritty crime fiction and two women a Pittsburgh "blues and torch" singer and a housewife given to sentence fragments whose ambitions are less well-defined. The tractor salesman's talent makes Wendell's attitude toward him initially adversarial and eventually predatory, while Wendell's relationships with the two women quickly devolve into psychological gamesmanship. Some of Wendell's writing advice is wryly humorous ("[E}very artist steals. However, when one steals, he must steal brilliantly"), but, as Wendell insists in Lesson Five, plot must always grow out of character, and it's here the novel stumbles. Though Wendell exerts a perverse charm on the reader as a lovable loser, his students, who exist entirely through their correspondence, are lightly sketched. The novel's rewards are nonetheless considerable. Carter has a terrific ear for the rumblings of the human ego and an intuitive sense of how fiction is often substituted for truth and vice versa. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Wendell Newton would take exception to the maxim, "Those who can't do, teach." He believes that the $295 he charges for admission to his Famous Writers School is worth every penny. In Carter's (I Was Howard Hughes) new novel, three aspiring authors actually enroll in Newton's clumsy correspondence course, where the students' submissions range from self-confessional to stalker to superb. Newton's pathetic and plagiarized responses reveal a writer who can't develop a character because he has none. When one of his students displays incredible talent, Newton becomes obsessive in his desire to mentor (i.e., steal from) his potential prot g (who had offended him by suggesting that Marcel Proust "would've been a better writer if every day for about a month someone had walked into his room, stood smiling over his bed for a minute, and then punched him in the stomach"). This is a laugh-out-loud celebration of good storytelling and a satire of scribblers who wear their New Yorker rejection letters on their sleeves. Recommended for public libraries. Karen Kleckner, Deerfield P.L., IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Correspondence classes might not make you a great author, but they can sure tell you a lot about your teacher's neuroses. Wendell Newton, the name of his school notwithstanding, is not a famous writer: He wrote press releases in the Air Force, worked at an agricultural trade magazine and has one self-published novel under his belt. But he's intelligent (and pompous) enough to take that r‚sum‚ and coronate himself a writing expert, and he gets a steady stream of business through writers' magazines. Carter (I Was Howard Hughes, 2003, etc.) concentrates on the relationships of three pupils: Rio, a torch singer and former grad student with whom Wendell tries to fire up a flirtation; Dan, who's written a rambling but engaging Jim Thompson-esque trouble-out-in-the-sticks novel; and Linda, who has no real talent to speak of but (as it slowly becomes clear) has it in for Wendell, her ex. Making intentionally mediocre-to-bad writing into an engaging novel is a tough trick, but Carter pulls off its early portions by rendering Wendell a sublimely entertaining fool: He condescends to Dan by telling him his story ought to be sleazed up and submitted to porn magazines, and he enthusiastically embraces Rio's early efforts by suggesting she publish in Upward Spiral-the literary magazine Wendell publishes. As for Linda, Wendell's increasingly terrified by her letters about snooping inside his house and reading his diaries (which detail his infatuation with Rio and his plans to hijack Dan's novel for his own purposes). Wendell eventually emerges as a layered, even sympathetic, character, but an epistolary novel requiring four characters is a complicated scheme for a story that has a fairly simple lessonabout literary pretentiousness. And ultimately, it's hobbled by Dan's novel-in-progress, which takes up nearly half the book. A smartly conceived send-up of writerly ambition, imperfectly executed. Agent: Betsy Amster/Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582433561
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2006
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Carter is an assistant professor of English at Georgetown College in Kentucky, and is the author of I Was Howard Hughes. He lives in Georgetown, Kentucky.
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2006

    Delightful and Different

    What a fun read! The plot within a plot makes this a 'can't-put-it-down' book, and the humor and intrigue add flavor to the mix.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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