How I Became a Famous Novelist

How I Became a Famous Novelist

by Steve Hely

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Overview

What Pete Tarslaw wants is simple enough: a realistic amount of fame that will open new avenues of sexual opportunity; the kind of financial comfort that will allow him to spend his life pursuing hobbies such as boating or skeet shooting at his stately home by the ocean or a scenic lake; and—perhaps mostly importantly—the chance to humiliate his ex-girlfriend at her wedding. This is the story of how he succeeds in getting it all, and what it costs him in the end.

Narrated by an unlikely literary legend, How I Became A Famous Novelist pinballs from the post-college slums of Boston, to the fear-drenched halls of Manhattan's publishing houses, from the gloomy purity of Montana’s foremost writing workshop to the hedonistic hotel bars of the Sunset Strip. The horrifying, hilarious tale of how Pete’s “pile of garbage” called  The Tornado Ashes Club became the most talked about, blogged about, read, admired, and reviled novel in America will change everything you think you know about literature, appearance, truth, beauty, and those people out there, somewhere in America, who still care about books.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802170606
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 07/08/2009
Edition description: Original
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 1,139,606
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

In strewn banners that lay like streamers from a longago parade the sun's fading seraphim rays gleamed onto the hood of the old Ford and ribboned the steel with the meek orange of a June tomato straining at the vine. From the back seat, door open, her nimble fingers moved along the guitar like a weaver's on a loom. Stitching a song. The cloth she made was a cry of aching American chords, dreamlike warbles built to travel miles of lonesome road. They faded into the twilight, and Silas leaned back on the asphalt, as if to watch them drift into the Arkansas mist.

Away from them, across the field of low-cut durum wheat, they saw Evangeline's frame, outlined pale in shadow against the highway sky, as it trembled.

That's the way it is with a song, isn't it? she said. The way it quivers in your heart. Quivers like the wing of a little bird.

In a story too. He spoke it softly in a voice that let her hear how close they were. That's the way it is with a story. Turns your heart into a bird.

— from The Tornado Ashes Club, by Pete Tarslaw (me)

You have to understand how bad things were for me back then.

I'd leave my radio alarm set to full volume at the far end of the AM dial, so every morning at seven-thirty I'd wake up to static mixed with a rabid minister screeching in Haitian Creole, because for sheer bracing power that sound cannot be bested. When the alarm went off I'd have no choice but to eject myself from my bed, panting, infuriated, flailing everywhere. I'd have to pee really bad.

There'd be either one or two beer bottles filled with urine next to my bed. I used to drink five or six beers before going to sleep, but I'm much too lazy to get up in the night to go to the bathroom. My roommate Hobart, who was a med student, only once brought up the public health implications of this arrangement. My feeling was, if he wanted to do something about it, terrific.

Sometimes I'd wake up wearing my jeans. I wore jeans daily because jeans can double as a napkin, and sometimes I fell asleep without bothering to take them off. So, often when I woke up I'd be covered in a film of sick feverish sweat. This was a blessing in a way, because it forced me to take a daily shower, which otherwise I might've done without.

Walking into the kitchen, I'd shove my hand into a crumpled bag of kettle-cooked sour cream and chives potato chips. Two fistfuls made breakfast. This seemed only a few steps removed from a healthy plate of hash browns like a farmer eats. Next I'd open a 20 oz. Mountain Dew. Coffee-making is a process for which I'd had no patience ever since one time when we ran out of filters and I thought I could use an old shirt. You can't use an old shirt. Bad results for floor, coffee, shirt, and the jeans I was wearing at the time.

This was a good system anyway because it involved no dishes. In the novel Cockroaches Convene, there's that great scene where Proudfoot puts his dirty dishes in the back of a pickup truck and drives through a car wash. Sometimes I wished I had a pickup truck so I could do that.

The Mountain Dew acquired an extra kick because I'd multitask by drinking it in the shower. Traces of soap and Herbal Essences would get into the bottle. This is called "bonus spice."

After dressing I'd get in my Camry, with which I had an abusive and codependent relationship. I'd pull out of the driveway, bashing up the fender a little on the wooden beams that held up the garage. It deserved that. But the car knew I really loved it.

In the car I'd listen to Donnie Vebber. He's this borderline fascist talk radio host who advocates, among other things, rounding up illegal immigrants and then deporting them to Iran and we'll see how the Islamopigs like it when they're selling their burritos and pushing their twelve kids in shopping carts around the streets of Tehran. Another plan of his is a nuclear first strike against China. I don't agree with this, I should point out. I listened to Donnie Vebber in the hopes that he'd rouse some scintilla of emotion or outrage in me. But I numbed to it fast. Then and now I thought about politics with the indifference a grizzled city coroner has toward the body of a murdered prostitute.

I'd drive south out of Boston down I-93, past those oil tanks by the harbor, until I got to the place where all the clams and mussels were dying of unknown bacterial wasting disease. The tidal marshes gave off a carpermeating stink. Then I'd follow Old Town Road past St. Agnes High, where I'd wait in front of the rectory and watch the half-Asian girl with the monstrous rack and her friend Sad-Eyes as they pulled cigarettes out of improbable folds in their uniforms. They'd smoke and I'd switch the radio to classic rock, except in November through January when the classic rock station turned to all-Christmas songs.

On Tuesdays the girls had chapel or something so I'd just go straight to work.

The Alexander Hamilton Building had little in common with its namesake, unless he was a brick man who squatted next to a bog. Hamilton was at one end of Founders Office Park, where in buildings named after Washington and Jefferson people managed mail-order sporting goods businesses, investigated insurance fraud, planned trips to Maui and so forth.

In the lobby of the Hamilton Building there was a koi pond. I loved the koi pond. I was jealous of those fish. Fat, lumpy, blissful. Their time was theirs, to do as they wished: open and close their mouths, float, suck the algae off rocks. Perhaps I would have used my freedom differently. But the koi were living much the way I wished to.

Exiting the elevator on the third floor, I would pass Lisa at her desk. She was a mountainous black woman who served as receptionist for a team of small-claims lawyers. At first I thought she was a cheery, lovely presence. On account of my undernourished physique, she frequently offered to take me home and "put some meat on those bones." This seemed cute and charming, and I'd grin and say "any time!"

But then she started adding that when she got me home she was also going to give me a bath. "I'll scrub you good. Scrub that dirt out of your hair." There were more and more details about the bath each time — which parts of me she was going to wash, and how, and with what kind of soap. I took to scurrying past while pretending to read the newspaper.

Thinking back on it now, this is about the only affectionate human contact I had around this time, and I guess I really appreciated it. On this particular day, Lisa was on the phone, but she stared at me and made a vigorous scrubbing motion. I hurried along, eyes on the rug.

This was a Friday. It wasn't going to be too bad. I was carrying Hobart's copy of last Sunday's New York Times, and there'd be ample time for going on the Internet, looking at pictures of pandas, YouTubes of Danish girls singing karaoke, cats on record players, kids in Indiana launching themselves from homemade catapults. (Remember, this was a few years ago — the Internet was much less sophisticated.)

My only assignment was Mr. Hoshi Tanaka. I had to write him a business school essay.

The company I worked for was called EssayAides. On its sleek brochures, EssayAides stated their goal of "connecting minds and expanding educational opportunities around the globe. Our 200+ associates, trained at the finest American colleges and universities, provide the highest level of admissions consulting."

What that meant "on the ground," as Jon Sturges was fond of saying, was that a wealthy kid would send us some gibberish words. We'd turn those into a polished application essay for college or grad school.

This raises ethical issues, if you care to bother yourself with them. I'd worked at the company for three years. It's not my fault the world is a nexus of corrupt arrangements through which the privileged channel power and resources in complex, self-serving loops. I needed to pay for Mountain Dew.

Many of the clients were rich American kids. They'd be applying to Middlebury or Pomona or wherever, and they'd send you something about how Anchorman or the golf team had changed their lives. I'd polish it up, change Will Ferrell to Toni Morrison, and golf to learning woodworking from a Darfur refugee.

I didn't not feel bad about this. But I took pride in my work. Sometimes we'd get some work from a current college student. I got one unspeakably dumb sophomore at Trinity an A– in "Post-Modern Novel" with a series of essays of which he should be quite proud, if he ever reads them.

Soon Jon Sturges, the entrepreneur behind all this, knew I had a gift. He promoted me to Senior Associate. Here I learned that the real money was coming in from Asia, where aspiring applicants would pay more and never raise the tiresome questions about "accuracy." I wrote the toughest essays myself and farmed out the rest of the work to part-timers among the starving and overeducated.

EssayAides had only one other full-time employee. As I sat down at my computer, she stood in my doorway.

"Hey."

Alice couldn't have weighed more than ninety pounds. Her voice should have sounded squeaky like a cartoon mouse. Instead it was disturbingly deep. She stood there for a really long time.

"What're you doing?"

"A Japanese guy applying to Wharton. You?"

"Just going over some things I farmed out. A lot of my team's been making them too smart. I had an essay for Colorado College that I sent to one of those Palo Alto guys, and he put in two quotes from Walter Benjamin."

"Yikes. Gotta cut that out." Jon was always warning us not to make the essays too smart or colleges would catch on.

Alice unfolded her arms and held out a hardcover book. On the cover was a pen-and-ink drawing of a flock of birds in flight. Kindness to Birds by Preston Brooks.

"I've been reading this."

"Oh. How is it?"

"Breath taking."

I knew this Preston Brooks. He was sort of the Mannheim Steamroller or the Velveeta cheese of novelists. But I just nodded, because I liked Alice. There was a lot weird about her. Her grandmother had died two years ago and left Alice all her clothes, mothbally '70s sweaters with big poofy necks. That was all Alice wore, as some kind of tribute. But back then I wore napkin pants and ratty running sneakers and my hair had mysterious crusts, so as far as that goes Alice was friggin' Donna Karan. Alice graduated from some woman's college in Nova Scotia or something, and how Jon Sturges found her I don't know.

That the two of us came into the office at all was, macroeconomically, pointless, because no one called or came in. Jon Sturges just liked having some humans in an office so his company felt like a legitimate enterprise. He paid us more to sit there for an approximation of regular business hours.

My office was barren except for a framed poster of a Roman aqueduct. Jon Sturges based his business philosophy on this book called Caesar, CEO: Business Secrets of the Ancient Romans. He constantly made analogies to ancient Rome, in the flawed belief that knowing about one smart-guy thing made him not an idiot. He referred to our rival company, Academic Edge, as "Carthage." They did seem to threaten our empire; we'd been getting fewer and fewer Hoshi Tanakas this season. The application-essay "consulting" business was getting more and more competitive. But Jon Sturges had other businesses in similar moral gray areas. He couldn't really focus on one thing for more than like an hour at a time. "An empire has to expand," he said. He said lots of inappropriately grand things.

On my computer I opened up Hoshi Tanaka's essay. The topic was "How do you expect an MBA from Wharton to help you achieve your career goals, and why now?"

Hoshi had replied:

Wharton School of Business is held in the first category. At this time in my career, it is passing to the next step to attend business school for study. As to what I can provide, experience.

Warren Buffet has this word: "partnership." This is realistic. The many cases of blemishing companies were cases when this did not partnership. For one year I have worked at sales managing. Here, I dampened with the Japanese method of business: loyalty, namely selfsacrifice, namely adherence to the group, namely entrusted effort. This maintains the strong corporation, the flood of all sections is very skillful. Yet also I learned "partnership." This is seen in the part of a car. They experience partnership or the car failures.

But "globalization" means changings in turbulence. The company and the leader where the entire market is part of success always maintain the necessity of adjust to the environment. As for the business school, "actual state," and the serious problems which face the entrepreneur are engaged in the setting of science.

This is as in a car's machinery. A new leader is prepared. This is my sincere hope.

Now began the part of the day where I would stare out the window and think about how I got here.

It began with my mom: she was vicious about limits on the TV. This was back when moms could still pull that off. There probably would've been nothing she could do if I was born ten years later. But we didn't even have cable.

Books, on the other hand, were allowed. Books are not as good as TV, but they were the best I could do, so I read a lot. By the time I was twelve I'd read the entire Nick Boyle oeuvre, from Talon of the Warshrike to Fateful Lightning Loosed. I'd go to the library and pick up any book that had a sword, a gun, or a powerboat on the cover. This led to an interesting informal education, like the time I read The Centurion's Concubine. I knew what a centurion was, and I assumed a concubine was a type of sword.

With no TV to fill it, my spongy brain absorbed everything. Once Mom took a bite of pecan pie and said it was really good. So I asked her if it made "her tiny muscle of passion quiver with inflamed anticipation." This was a line from The Centurion's Concubine that didn't apply.

But all this reading taught me how to churn out sentences. Before long, Mom was paying me to write thank-you notes for her, a dollar a pop. And they were good, too — "I was touched to my very core with gratitude," etc.

Thusly I cruised through high school.

In senior year, an English teacher who was called Weird Beard recommended his alma mater, Granby College, "sort of a small college Ivy." The brochure he gave me showed a flaxen-haired woman in a skirt, half sitting and half lying next to a field hockey stick while listening to a guy with glasses reading from a book. The moral was clear: guys with glasses who read books could do well here. So that's where I ended up.

Suddenly I found myself transported to a secular paradise. A lush green valley where no one expected anything of anyone. I could do whatever I wanted, which it turned out was not very much plus drinking. I played Flipcup and Beirut and Knock 'em Toads. Off trays I ate cheese fries and ageless pizza in the Commons while girls scurried through in their last night's clothes and fliers demanded I free Tibet and take guitar lessons. I slept on futons and went for pancakes and pounded the Plexiglas at hockey games and parsed The Simpsons and lost bets and threw Frisbees. I went to seafood dinners with people's uncomfortable dads.

The stoner who couldn't shut up about Radiohead, the guy who tried to pull off smoking a corncob pipe and loaned me his dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged, the premed who would fall asleep with a highlighter in his mouth, the dude already with a huge gut who quoted Rudy and ordered wings — I loved them all. I knew the taste of Busch Light as the sun came up after a drive to the beach.

But best of all was my girlfriend. The fetching Polly Pawson first slept with me because it was easier than walking back to her room. We'd have low-energy make out sessions that devolved into naps. She wore faded sweatshirts and track pants over her dainty figure, and her flops of hair smelled like raspberry shampoo.

The actual classes of course were pointless. I signed on as an English major, but the professors were dreary pale gnomes who intoned about "text and countertext" and "fiction as the continuance of a shared illusion." Instead of loving perfectly good books like Moby-Dick, where a fucking whale eats everybody, these fuckers insisted on pretending to like excruciating books like Boring Middlemarch and Jack-Off Ulysses. They were a bloodless and humorless race who spent their hours rooting around in eighteenth-century sonnets and old New Yorker stories looking for coded gay sex. But I got their lingo down. I could rattle off papers on "Moby-Dick: A Vivisection of Capitalism" or whatever in a couple hours and get an A–.

Polly had her own ingenious strategy to get herself out of papers.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "How I Became A Famous Novelist"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Steve Hely.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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How I Became a Famous Novelist 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Biscuithead22 More than 1 year ago
I first heard about this book while listening to an interview of Steve Hely on NPR's Fresh Air. Hely was funny in the interview and when they mentioned that he was a writer for 30 Rock, I knew the book was probably going to be just as good as it sounded. So, I marched into Barnes and Noble the next week and bought it. I really enjoyed it, and couldn't even put it down at times! Hely is a great storyteller, and his main character is so relatable that you immediately become engaged in the journey. The fundamentals of the story (e.g., that he decides to become a novelist out of spite so that he can show up at an ex-girlfriend's wedding as a celebrity, that he thinks dramatic novelists are essentially scam artists, etc.) are hilarious enough to make the book enjoyable. But, Hely doesn't stop there. The details and characters that he involves along the way are each a wonderful blend of creative, interesting and funny that keep you hooked and laughing out loud from beginning to end.
Robotica83 More than 1 year ago
I think any bookseller can appreciate some of the points that Hely raises in his novel--like how so much absolute drivel is written just for money, and how it differs from authors who actually mean what they say and care about writing. Even though it is a funny novel that had me laughing out loud through most of it, I think the author cares about writing enough for the irony and sarcasm in the book to ring true. Except for the part about booksellers hating their jobs. I'm proof that that's not true for all of us!
LireEnRoute on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Laughed out loud a lot. Though I would recommend it to anyone who loves literature, reads the popular bestsellers, or is in publishing, it's still just a one-time-through, quick read.
fig2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A slacker dude decides the best way to get money and women is to write a best-selling novel; which he does. This is a flawless, hilarious satire of the book industry, and anyone who works in it should read this book. Hely is a writer for David Letterman, and it sure shows. Perfect.
alyson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very funny at times. The fake New York Times Bestseller list is very good. I am pretty sure I just read A Whiff of Gingham and Pecorino!
triscuit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you've ever wondered why hackneyed, badly-written books become runaway bestsellers, you will love this fast and funny send-up of the publishing world. When the hero is laid off from his job writing college applications for iliterates, he decides to write a bestseller and turn up at his ex-girlfriend's wedding as a rich and famous author.
woodge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is very light reading about a guy who figures out that many of the authors on the current bestseller lists are just really good con-artists and he wants in. He comes up with some hilarious rules for writing a bestseller and sets off to write a schlocky romance-and-redemption story filled with heinous clichés and such. He also wants to be famous just so he can upstage his ex-girlfriend at her upcoming wedding. But the character's trashing of the bestselling ilk that passes for entertainment these days is the good stuff. It's often quite funny and possibly hits pretty close to home on occasion. This book can be read very quickly and should appeal to the cynic in you. Oh, also: all the blurbs are fake.
BobNolin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book suckers you in. You think it's just a funny book, and that the author has no integrity. By the end, you realize this wasn't just a comedy (though it is very funny, especially in the beginning). I really can't say more without spoiling things. You may learn something about yourself from this book, I will say that. Very well done. Surprisingly good, coming from a television writer.
KevinJoseph on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel is undeniably funny, and it's Steve Hely's comedic voice, channeled through his alter-ego (memoir-writer Pete Tarslaw) that draws you into the story. Employed as a ghost writer for hopeless student application essayists, Tarslaw seems destined for a life as an underemployed slacker. But when Tarslaw's college ex-girlfriend invites him to her wedding, he suddenly finds the motivation to write a novel so that he can attend as a rich-and-famous writer and upstage the event with his star presence.Tarslaw embarks on a manic quest to pen and market a preposterous story called "The Tornado Ashes Club" that cobbles together sentimental elements of popular literary fiction in a way that Tarslaw hopes will yank the heartstrings of the foolish book-buying masses. As his con begins to succeed, however, Tarslaw begins to feel embarassed by the fraudulent work he has perpetrated. This is where the story crosses over from comedy to something more meaningful.As Tarslaw gradually learns that many readers are able to judge an honest story from a con and that some writers are genuinely dedicated to their craft, the story evolves from a scathing parody of the publishing world to a genuine-feeling search for truths. Sure the mainstream publishing business is in trouble, as evidenced everyday by the financial woes of the publishers and the crazy marketing strategies used to push books on a public that would rather watch TV, surf the Net, or vegetate at the movies, but Steve Healy makes a strong case that what's popular in the fictional world is often a better barometer of literary merit than what the professional critics decree.This book is a must read for writers, publishers and readers who are interested in a funny-yet-frank look at the business of penning and selling books.
woodsathome on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you've every thought about what it takes to be a best selling novelist, this books for you. Every fiction stereotype is sent up and perfectly skewered. Favorite line "you'll have to apologize to Oprah" know one knows why, that's just what author's who mess up have to do - apologize to Oprah.
mazeway on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a hoot. Having just finished a book that felt like the product of a Writer's Workshop, I was primed to be amused by a skewering of the genre. The narrator sets out to write a best selling work of literary fiction, in the Nicholas Sparks vein. His rise and fall is a spot-on look at the crapshoot of publishing. Funny guy.
Jenners26 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Set-UpTo impress his former girlfriend at her upcoming wedding, Pete Tarslaw decides to become a famous novelist. Figuring it couldn't be all that hard, he spends an afternoon at a bookstore studying bestselling books. His studies reveal the keys to a successful book:Rule 1: Abandon truth. Rule 2: Write a popular book. Do not waste energy making it a good book.Rule 3: Include nothing from my own life. Rule 4: Must include a murder.Rule 5: Must include a club, secrets/mysterious missions, shy characters, characters whose lives are changed suddenly, surprising love affairs, women who've given up on love but turn out to be beautiful.Rule 6: Evoke confusing sadness at the end.Rule 7: Prose should be lyrical. (Definition of lyrical: "resembling bad poetry.") Rule 8: Novel must have scenes on highways, making driving seem poetic and magical.Rule 9: At dull points, include descriptions of delicious meals.Rule 10: Main character is miraculously liberated from a lousy job.Rule 11: Include scenes in as many reader-filled towns as possible.Rule 12: Give readers versions of themselves, infused with extra awesomeness.Rule 13: Target key demographics.Rule 14: Involve music.Rule 15: Must have obscure exotic locations.Rule 16: Include plant names.He then churns out The Tornado Ashes Club (click on link for an entire fake website set up to promote this entirely fake book), which eventually becomes a bestseller, leading to Pete's subsequent rise to fame and an eventual showdown with his nemesis, Preston Brooks (another fake author), at a book conference. In the end, Pete realizes the truth about good writing (it can't be manufactured) and the book publishing industry.My ThoughtsI can't see why anyone who likes to read wouldn't want to check out this hilariously funny, spot-on satire of popular fiction. I was cracking up throughout the book. Mr. Hely's jokes and parodies are spot-on¿from the fictional Entertainment Weekly review to excerpts from his "novel" to his skewering of pop author stereotypes. (If Pamela McLaughlin isn't based on Patrica Cornwell, I'll eat an entire pack of Thin Mints by myself.) There are so many good parts that I could do an entire review with just excerpts. But that would probably be illegal in some way so I'll settle with just a few.Being lazy about research: I had no intention of spending my nights on ride-alongs with homicide cops, or mapping magical empires and populating them with orcs.On literary fiction: But becoming a professor called for a particular kind of book, a "literary" book. These books can be identified in two ways. One: at the end of a work of literary fiction, you're supposed to feel weirdly sad, and perhaps cry, but not for any clear reason. Two: The word "lyrical" appears on the back cover of literary fiction.On reviewing his work: That night, after a dinner of leftover salmon, I reviewed the work I'd done. A lot was garbage. There were strange repetitions. The word taciturn was used four times in one sentence. Genevieve was thrice described as robin-throated. The Black Hills were said to "rise from the land like the calluses and corns and warts from God's own foot."On guessing the plot of Preston Brook's new novel: I played a game of trying to imagine what new heights of sentimentality and emotional prostitution he'd reached: little children going to look for long-lost brothers with hobo satchels over their shoulders. Two orphans falling in love and trying to raise a child the way they'd wished they'd been raised. A veterinarian who travels the country healing the hearts of old worn-out dogs. But my wildest flights of shamelessness could not outdo the Master. Preston Brooks's new book was called The Widows' Breakfast. Amazing, right there. He'd beaten me with the title alone. But the subject was five widows-yes, one of them was black. They meet in 1942, when their husbands are all training to be pilots in World War II. And starting in that year, they have a tradition of getting together for b
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If you are one of those people who loves nothing better than lolly-gagging around book stores or can't quite relax until the Times Book Review section has been devoured, and yet you still might enjoy a laugh about yourself and your world, this is the book for you. There's an out loud laugh on almost every page. This is a literate author with an extraordinary gift.
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Worth the money. Laugh out loud funny!
KevinJoseph More than 1 year ago
This novel is undeniably funny, and it's Steve Hely's comedic voice, channeled through his alter-ego (memoir-writer Pete Tarslaw) that draws you into the story. Employed as a ghost writer for hopeless student application essayists, Tarslaw seems destined for a life as an underemployed slacker. But when Tarslaw's college ex-girlfriend invites him to her wedding, he suddenly finds the motivation to write a novel so that he can attend as a rich-and-famous writer and upstage the event with his star presence. Tarslaw embarks on a manic quest to pen and market a preposterous story called "The Tornado Ashes Club" that cobbles together sentimental elements of popular literary fiction in a way that Tarslaw hopes will yank the heartstrings of the foolish book-buying masses. As his con begins to succeed, however, Tarslaw begins to feel embarassed by the fraudulent work he has perpetrated. This is where the story crosses over from comedy to something more meaningful. As Tarslaw gradually learns that many readers are able to judge an honest story from a con and that some writers are genuinely dedicated to their craft, the story evolves from a scathing parody of the publishing world to a genuine-feeling search for truths. Sure the mainstream publishing business is in trouble, as evidenced everyday by the financial woes of the publishers and the crazy marketing strategies used to push books on a public that would rather watch TV, surf the Net, or vegetate at the movies, but Steve Healy makes a strong case that what's popular in the fictional world is often a better barometer of literary merit than what the professional critics decree. This book is a must read for writers, publishers and readers who are interested in a funny-yet-frank look at the business of penning and selling books.