how i became a famous novelist

Actually, I didn’t.  But here’s a book review of How I Became A Famous Novelist, by Steve Hely (review by Janet Maslin, NYT).  Judging by this, I will probably never be a famous novelist, but I’ve almost made my peace with that.

Here are some sample titles from Mr. Hely’s version of the New York Times best-seller list, which is mimicked with particular glee: “Cumin: The Spice That Changed the World,” “Indict to Unnerve,” “The Jane Austen Women’s Investigators Club” and “Sageknights of Darkhorn.” The list also includes a sci-fi novel with the following synopsis: “In a post-nuclear future inhabited by intelligent cockroaches, Lieutenant Cccyxx discovers there was once a race of sentient humans.”

At the risk of shamelessly cannibalizing Mr. Hely’s humor, here are a few more. Sample military adventure title: ‘Talon of the Warshrike.” Sample writerly process: the author of “Warshrike” explains that he got a plot idea while in Venice with his ex-wife; while on a night cruise he looked back at the city and thought, ‘What if somebody blew this place up?’” Finally and most lovably, there is this suspenseful moment from a brisk novel in which a president of the United States is warned about a national security crisis: “Sir, how much do you know about outer space?”

That novel of Pete’s is “The Tornado Ashes Club.” It involves a grandson who fulfills his grandmother’s wish to find a tornado into which she can throw the ashes of her long-lost lover, Luke, who appears in a young, handsome incarnation during the book’s picturesquely European World War II flashbacks. “Use words to describe old ladies that make them sound beautiful (graceful, regal, etc.),” Pete tells himself about pitching his story to a book-buying audience. He also concocts many other rules, like a dictum to dream up highway scenes “making driving seem poetic and magical” in order to tap into the audiobooks market. (Most audiobooks are listened to in cars.)

He crosses paths with a businessman who has been inspired by a self-help book called “Caesar, CEO: Business Secrets of the Ancient Romans” and thus refers to a rival company as Carthage; a drab, well-known literary figure who teaches a writing class (“For ease and accuracy I’ll call her SpaghettiHair HamsterFace,” Pete says) and an editor who makes sadly apt notes about Pete’s manuscript. “Does a dying deer really smell faintly of cinnamon?” she inquires. “You use the word sallow four times, and I’m not sure you ever use it right.”

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