Jennifer's Reviews > How I Became a Famous Novelist

How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely
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Apr 08, 10

bookshelves: humor, favorites
Read in February, 2010

The Set-Up

To 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 Thoughts

I 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 breakfast on the morning after the funeral, anytime one of their husbands dies.

If any of these excerpts or the rules of a successful book excerpt made you smile, I'm here to tell you that there is TONS MORE of this in the book. This is a comedy goldmine (as it should be as Hely is ones of the writers for the very funny sitcom 30 Rock). If you don't read it, you're just missing out on the best satire I've read in ages. Seriously, you need to read this book.

My Recommendation

There is just no way to go wrong with this book! It is laugh-out-loud funny satire of popular fiction and publishing. C'mon, what more could you, as a lover of books, want? Unless you are so reverent about books that you cannot bear to have them made fun of, I think this book would make you laugh. I loved it and recommend it wholeheartedly. Just remember: Take nothing seriously. It is all fake, but there were times when I got totally sucked in because the parodies are just so spot-on. I'm giving it 4.5 stars. I guarantee you'll never look at the best-seller list quite the same way again. And you have to love an author who goes to the trouble of creating a fake web site and fake blog for his fake author's fake book.
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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Since the novel I just read meets most if not all of these rules, I've added this to my acquire-and-read list. Thanks for the review!


Jennifer I think you'll love it ... it is downright hysterical!


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