Today I am wishing for “How I became a famous novelist” by Steve Hely. Well, who wouldn’t like to be one? That’s why some tips might come in handy, especially if they are presented in a very witty way. I haven’t read it but I wish I could!!
Steve Hely’s satiric novel masquerades as the tell-all memoir of Pete Tarslaw, author of the runaway bestseller The Tornado Ashes Club who’s become a lit-world pariah. Two years out of college, Pete still moons after the brilliant Polly Pawson, who dropped him post-graduation for law school. His hygiene and motivation have degraded such that he’s accumulating beer bottles next to his bed as convenient substitutes for the toilet. His dubious job transforming the convoluted prose of wealthy foreign students into earnest college entrance essays depresses him, more for its lack of prestige than any ethical implications. When Polly announces her engagement in a gleeful mass email, Pete’s desire to upstage her at the wedding inflames his obsession with the fame, fortune, and female attention enjoyed by bestselling authors–clever charlatans, in his estimation. What follows is Pete’s exposé of the Machiavellian tactics he employed in creating and selling a maudlin mess of a book. It lands him a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list (hilariously parodied by Hely) and an unwisely candid prime-time TV interview, in which his theories on authors as con artists spark a book-world feud, spike his Amazon sales rank, and force him into a literary showdown at a Texan book festival. Along the way, no one connected to books–writers, writing teachers, lit agents, publishers, critics, book buyers–gets off unskewered by Hely’s rapier pen (and readers may wonder, on occasion, if Steve Hely has employed Tarslawian strategies in his own bid for a slot on the bestsellers lists). But out of the irony emerges something that feels like genuine reverence for great books, and for those who write out of honesty. For fellow book lovers weary of tracking book sales trends, Hely’s wrap-up might feel like a catharsis. —Mari Malcolm