Literature: Atlanta Nights

"The world is full of bad books written by amateurs. But why settle for the merely regrettable? Atlanta Nights is a bad book written by experts."
Teresa Nielsen Hayden, book critic, editor for Tor Books, and one of the authors

Once upon a time, authorities of PublishAmerica, a print-on-demand publishing company based in Frederick, Maryland, distributed a pair of articles on their AuthorsMarket website containing derogatory comments about the science fiction and fantasy genres. This was perhaps unwise, with the company already having to contend with accusations of Vanity Publishing despite protests to the contrary (such as claiming to filter out the majority of the 70 manuscripts they receive every day). Naturally, authors from both genres didn't take it well.

Thus, led by James D. Macdonald, a group of sci-fi and fantasy authors decided to retaliate (as well as test PublishAmerica's claims) by producing the most unreadable, incomprehensible trainwreck of a book they could conceive, all under the collective name of "Travis Tea". They would create it, submit it, and see how PublishAmerica would react. Atlanta Nights is that book, and guess what? Come December 7, 2004, PublishAmerica did take the bait. At least until the authors revealed the hoax on January 23, 2005, after which PA very quickly retracted their offer after "further review" the next day.

As for the book itself, well, it's a plotless, rambling pile of nonsense, riddled with inconsistencies and typos. It focuses on a group of wealthy, good-looking Atlanta socialites who sleep around with each other. Buried underneath it all is a vague storyline: software developer Bruce Lucent accidentally kills businessman Henry Archer in a car collision, and promptly tries to make up for it by courting Callie, Henry's widow, while Detective Andrew Venice attempts to determine whether there's a foul play. Beyond that, however, virtually nothing about the plot can be determined that is consistent from one chapter to the next, due to the staggering number of internal inconsistencies in the plot.

A Dramatic Reading can be accessed right here, or you can download the actual manuscript right here.

And on February 12, 2011, Brenda Clough, one of the authors, announced that some lucky person has optioned the film rights. All we can say of this film is that, if it is created, it will exist.

Compare Naked Came The Stranger, a novel written under similar circumstances—specifically, that Sex Sells, even if the remainder is a rambling pile of nonsense contributed by multiple authors—and The Eye of Argon and My Immortal, which are of similar quality but much less parodic intent.

This deliberate trainwreck provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Bruce's mother. Or maybe she's a long-lost fashion designer. See Plot Hole.
  • All Just a Dream: For exactly one chapter toward the end. And then it isn't anymore.
  • Anachronic Order: This, combined with the constant continuity errors, makes for a (deliberately) very confusing read.
  • Artistic License Geography: As with everything associated with this book, it's surely intentional.
    • The cover of the Lulu paperback edition alone drives the point home by depicting palm trees and a beach — so totally alien a scenery from a city hundreds of miles inland.
    • Also, when Irene recalls her vacation with Henry...
      "He took me to Rome where we stood in the light of the Eiffel Tower."
  • Back from the Dead: Rory Edwards, with no explanation. At first, the reader might think that this is just the Anachronic Order at work, but then, there is absolutely no way that this chapter is set before the one where he died. Just to make things even more ridiculous, he dies again in his final appearance. Whether he actually survived the first attack or is just another of the novel's deliberate goof-ups is unclear.
  • The Beautiful Elite
  • Bi the Way: Stephen Suffern, and apparently Rory Edwards. And toward the end, Irene and Yvonne reveal that they've experimented a bit, too.
  • Bishie Sparkle: Henry had one, according to Irene.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Callie Archer is mentioned as being Bruce Lucent's younger sister in chapter 22, but is his new wife in every other chapter.
  • Christmas Cake: Yvonne Perrin and Callie Archer. They both also have elements of Mrs. Robinson.
    • Likes Older Women: Bruce gets married to Callie. She's in her forties and he's eighteen.
  • Comforting the Widow: Bruce's romance with Callie.
  • Department of Redundancy Department
    • Chapters 4 and 17 are the same thing, word for word. There are also two chapter 12s, though they have different contents. The second chapter 12 and the only chapter fifteen also contain similar content, and were written from the same outline by two different writers.
    • Also, because none of the authors knew where in the story their chapter would go, the same sketchy character descriptions are repeated ad nauseam.
  • Dramatic Reading
  • Every Car Is a Pinto
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex
  • Everything's Better with Penguins/Misplaced Wildlife: Apparently, penguins are vicious, burrowing predators that live in the Sahara and howl at the moon.
  • Food Porn
  • Grammar: Subverted.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Penelope Urbain
  • Homoerotic Subtext
    • Callie and Yvonne. To the great dismay of the Dramatic Reader, however, they never consummate it.
    • Steven Suffern exits Bruce Lucent's hospital room thinking about Bruce's "nice, tight ass".
  • How Do I Used Tense?: At least one passage, in Chapter 10, switches from past tense to present tense and immediately back again. Several times.
  • Hypocritical Humor: One character notes that in bad novels set in Atlanta, everything is named after a peach tree. This book is as guilty of that as you can get. To be fair, this isn't that far from the truth.
  • IKEA Erotica: At times. Sometimes it's Purple Prose, Depending on the Writer.
  • Imaginary Friend: Either that, or it's Henry's ghost.
  • Improbable Age: Bruce is a millionaire software developer at eighteen.
  • Killer Rabbit: See the penguins, above.
  • Kudzu Plot: It's hard to tie threads when there's a different writer for each chapter, and the authors have no idea what's happening beyond a sketchy outline.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Penelope thinks to herself that she looks like the heroine of a tawdry romance novel.
  • Large Ham: The Dramatic Readings.
  • Metaphorgotten
    "The waitress jotted down Isadore's order, then looked at Isaac with the patience of a saint who has to work tables in order to support a family and possibly just a writing habits, not to mention, pay bills and federal taxes."
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Yvonne and Isaac get it on under the table at a wedding reception.
  • The Mistress: Irene Stevens to Henry Archer.
  • Most Writers Are Human: Averted by Chapter 34, which was written by a computer program.
  • Naughty Nurse Outfit: Margaret Eastman
  • Oireland: In the Dramatic Reading, Callie talks like this.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted with Richard Isaacs, Isaac Stevens and Steven Suffern. And as if to demonstrate why this trope exists, the novel gets these three characters mixed up several times.
  • Out with a Bang: Rory Edwards.
  • Plot Hole: Every few sentences.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Henry's death is what sets the whole plot in motion... assuming it ever has.
  • The Pornomancer: The entire cast.
  • Posthumous Character: Henry Archer
  • Police Are Useless: Venice gets dick-all done.
  • Punny Name: The book was published under the name "Travis Tea".
  • Purple Prose: Depending on the Writer
  • Quote Mine: One of the blurbs suggest this:
    "...this... book... makes... for... wondrous... reading..."
  • Race Lift: In one chapter, Bruce and Callie are black and speak in Jive Turkey, and Bruce is trying to find his long-lost mother. In every other chapter, they're white (Callie's pale skin is explicitly brought up on several occasions), and this subplot is never heard from again. Bruce is also Asian briefly.
    • Gender Flip: Isadore Trent is a woman in one chapter, but a man everywhere else. Presumably, his original character sketch didn't specify and one of the writers was unaware that 'Isadore' is normally a male name. This gets what may be a Lampshade Hanging later when he is described as "gender-confused".
  • Rail Enthusiast: Henry Archer, if only for one chapter.
  • Random Events Plot: The entire book was written with only a vague idea of the plot and a list of character names available to the authors (see "One Steve Limit" and "Significant Monogram" for the significance of the latter). Each author, in turn, wrote their chapters without ever discussing it with each other. Some authors missed the deadline, so those chapters were left out. Two chapters were written from the same piece of outline. Then, to make sure it would never make any sense, one chapter was created entirely by a computer making randomly-constructed sentences.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin
  • Round Robin
  • Said Bookism
  • Self-Made Orphan: Irene Stevens kills her father toward the end.
  • Serial Killer: Henry Archer, with Irene sharing in the Mad Love. But only in one chapter. And then it's never mentioned again.
  • Ships That Pass in the Night: In-Universe. Andrew Venice and Margaret Eastman, who up to that point had never appeared in the same chapter, elope in Chapter 36. In the final chapter, Richard Isaacs contemplates suicide over his unrequited love for Margaret, to whom he has never spoken in the entire novel.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Every couple.
  • Significant Monogram: If you take all the named characters' initials and arrange them properly, they spell out a Take That.
    • Penelope Urbain + Bruce Lucent + Irene Stevens + Henry Archer + Margaret Eastman + Richard Isaacs + Callie Archer + Isaac Stevens + Andrew Venice + Arthur Nance + Isadore Trent + Yvonne Perrin + Rory Edwards + Stephen Suffern = PublishAmerica is a vanity press.
  • Spit Take: Very common in the Dramatic Reading. Especially when the penguins are discussed.
  • Stealth Insult: This blurb:
    "[ATLANTA NIGHTS will] draw readers like a magnet draws hungry flies!"
  • Stylistic Suck: Deliberately designed to be as grammar-deficient, incoherent and inconsistent as possible...
  • Take That: a subtle potshot against PublishAmerica, accusing it of Vanity Publishing.
  • Trivially Obvious: Some of the blurbs.
    "Maybe once in a lifetime, there comes a book with such extraordinary characters, thrilling plot twists, and uncanny insight, that it comes to embody its time. ATLANTA NIGHTS is a book."
    "Only a sequel could follow this!"
  • Troll Fic
  • Uninstallment: Chapter 21
  • Unusual Chapter Numbers: There are two Chapter 12s, and no Chapter 21.
  • Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma
    "All dead guys are irregardless of how they lived their rotten, two-timing sadistic, pathetic, discombobulatedly senseless, irreligious, unthinking, flakes, debauched, foulmouthed, obnoxious, deviant, gross, adulterous, murderous, gluttonous, alcoholic, lazy, indolent, filthy, grotesquely indecent, lunatic, lives", "She preened. He turned away with me! Quickly! Inside!"
    "It's full of sick, people!"
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Chapter 34 was generated entirely by computer, namely the Bonsai Story Generator, which was used on the contents of the other (wetware-spawned) chapters.
    "I know I was hungry, and impelling him lying naked. She slowly made for a man could join you I know what I ought to take you probably should have. He wants it worriedly. About think what to wear?"