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Literature / Atlanta Nights

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"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 scifi and fantasy authors decided to retaliate (as well as test PublishAmerica's claims) by producing the most unreadable, incomprehensible trainwreck of a non-scifi non-fantasy book they could conceive, all under the collective name of "Travis Tea".note  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 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 absolutely staggering number of internal inconsistencies in the plot - as mentioned above, it was mostly written by committee as a Round Robin, and the many authors who worked on it deliberately communicated as little as possible during the writing process.

You can download the actual manuscript right here.

On February 12, 2011, Brenda Clough, one of the authors, announced that some lucky person had optioned the film rights, though the film was ultimately passed on.

Compare Naked Came the Stranger, a novel written with similar intent, to show that Sex Sells even if the remainder is a rambling pile of nonsense contributed by multiple authors.

This deliberate trainwreck provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Bruce's mother. Or maybe she's a long-lost founder of a woman's beauty products company. 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 – Biology: Apparently, penguins are vicious, burrowing predators that live in the Sahara and howl at the moon between hunting sand sharks.
  • 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 — a totally alien scene for a city hundreds of miles inland. The fact that it is clearly an ocean sunset means it can't even be the distant Georgia coast, as that faces east.
    • Also, when Irene recalls her vacation with Henry...
      "He took me to Rome where we stood in the light of the Eiffel Tower."note .
    • In the same chapter, Irene refers to Rome as "the city of brotherly love", a nickname that is traditionally applied to Philadelphia.
    • Later on, Irene imagines taking a trip to the Sahara, and being able to see Mt. Fujiyama in the distance. Fujiyama is another name for Mt. Fuji, which is, of course, in Japan, not Northern Africa. Of course, this is not the most ridiculous part of the sequence: see Artistic License – Biology, below.
  • Artistic License – University Admissions: Somehow, Arthur Nance went straight into medical school after graduating from high school. Valedictorian or no, that's extremely implausible.
  • As You Know: On the first page. Dr. Nance casually reminds Nurse Eastman that he is chafing under the oversight of the hospital management, and that they won't let him give Bruce the treatment he thinks the patient needs.
    • In Chapter 20, Bruce asks Rory "Have you seen my hard drive? I'm a software developer, you know!"
  • 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 that would create plot holes of its own. Just to make things even more ridiculous, he dies again in his final appearance. Whether he actually survived the first attack or this is just another of the novel's deliberate goof-ups is unclear.
    • Steven Stuffern dies from blood loss after being shot by Isadore Trent in chapter 33, but then comes back from the dead in chapter 35 to try to blackmail Richard Isaacs.
    • When Penelope leaves Bruce, he has flashbacks to his abusive mother, now deceased. A few chapters later, his mother, now alive, attends his wedding to Callie.
  • Beige Prose: As the punchline after a chapter full of Purple Prose:
    "They had wild sex."
  • Big Eater: Everyone in the cast. Most of the chapters involve the characters eating vast amounts of food at expensive restaurants. In Chapter 6, for instance, Bruce and Isaac Stevens share an appetizer of foie gras, crackers, mushrooms, truffles, artichoke hearts, and pickled eggs. Then Isaac orders half a pound of steak covered in mushrooms and onions, corn on the cob, a loaded baked potato, and steamed carrots while Bruce orders stuffed chicken with truffle and cranberry dressing, baby back ribs, and a loaded baked potato. And yet, the two of them still have room for dessert.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Every male character apparently has a larger-than-average penis.
  • Bishie Sparkle: Henry had one, according to Irene.
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: During a business lunch Bruce and Isaac discuss ways to improve/ruin a single malt; Isaac likes Pepsi whilst Bruce favors Mountain Dew or prune juice when he wishes to be healthy. Irene has hers with root beer but she's "weird".
  • Bloody Hilarious:
    "[He] splattered it with his blood and ichor, all kinds of body fluids, all more or less foul and sticky."
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Due to a plot hole. Callie Archer is mentioned as being Bruce Lucent's younger sister in chapter 22, but is his new (significantly older) wife in every other chapter.
  • Butter Face: According to Irene, Bruce has a "studly body" but "the face of a turnip."
  • Character Tics: Isaac Stevens rubbed his pepper and salt beard, then brushed backs his close trimmed hair.
  • Chocolate Baby: In one chapter, it's stated that Bruce's parents were White, but he's Black. The real reason why he's Black and they're White, in addition to what Bruce believed before, is done as absolutely ridiculously as one could possibly give while still obeying the laws of physics and genetics. his parents are white because he is adopted, and to prevent him from figuring out, they wore kent clothe suits and perms. They also told him that they were light-skinned. His real father was white, and a segregationist senator while his mother was a black maid, who now owns a very large Black hair products company, and because of the weird wording it may be that his father was himself the product of another segregationist senator and his Black maid. Whether that Black maid also opened a haircare company remains to be seen.
  • Comforting the Widow: Bruce's romance with Callie, after her husband was killed in a car crash. In some versions, that was a crash with Bruce himself, but in other chapters, we're told they were two separate crashes, weeks apart.
  • "Dear John" Letter: Shortly before his death, Henry wrote one to Irene informing her that he was leaving her for Margaret Eastman. But only in one chapter: in the others, he was planning to divorce Callie so he could marry Irene.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Particularly abundant in Chapter 13, which opens thus:
    The Atlanta rain came down hard and glitzy-blue and transparent in a gorgeous murky haze over the bustling city, as the popular and highly exclusive café reposed in its cozy yet diffidently a corner nest along the posh avenue lined with trees and littered with pedestrians and people walking and their various and sun-dried pets.
  • Department of Redundancy Department
    • Chapters 4 and 17 are the same thing, almost word for word. There are also two chapter 12s, though they have different contents. The second chapter 12 and the only chapter 15 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.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Constantly.
    • Yvonne gets extra vodka she didn't ask for at a restaurant, so she pours it all over a plant.
    • Bruce, while still dealing with mobility issues from his car wreck, accidentally steps on an old woman's foot at another restaurant and she yells at him, so he threatens to have her arrested and the waiters give her a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • Driven to Suicide: The final chapter has Richard Isaacs contemplating suicide over his unrequited love for Margaret Eastman, though he ultimately decides to go on living. Especially strange because Richard and Margaret have never interacted up to this point in the book.
  • Driving Question: Who killed Henry Archer? In one chapter, it was Irene Stevens. In another, it was Isaac Stevens, Rory Edwards, and Isadore Trent.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Irene's nicknames for Henry Archer were "Daddy Hank", "Bluebeard", and "Bluebird."
  • Erotic Eating: Yvonne Perrin with a Hardee's hamburger and Callie with a cherry.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: The car accident(s) in the backstory seem to have been unusually explosive.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Seldom does a chapter go by without someone either having sex or talking about having had sex.
  • Food Porn: A lot of chapters involve people eating at high-class, expensive restaurants, with each item their meals described in detail.
  • Gender Bender: 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 Isadore is described as "gender-confused".
  • Gratuitous Japanese: Irene in one chapter where she calls someone's shirt "kawaii" and thinks that her father is a "baka."
  • Happily Married: Callie and Henry, except in the chapters where they were about to get divorced.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather:
    • Henry Archer; he bought Irene leather carpets, chairs, manacles, mattresses, sofas, underwear, and whips.
    • Irene, too, though she prefers penguin leather.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Callie and Yvonne enjoy some very sexy Food Porn in Chapter 26.
  • 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.note 
    • In Chapter 16, Yvonne's inner monologue contains a lot of Slut-Shaming of other women, although she's one to talk.
  • IKEA Erotica: At times. Sometimes it's Purple Prose, Depending on the Writer.
  • Imaginary Friend: In Chapter 13, Henry Archer's ghost has become this to Isadore.
  • Improbable Age: Bruce is a millionaire software developer at eighteen.
  • Kaleidoscope Hair:
    • Bruce's hair constantly changes from brown to blond.
    • Callie is usually a brunette, with repeated emphasis on her Raven Hair, Ivory Skin complexion, but inexplicably becomes a blonde in chapter 27.
  • 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.
  • Last-Minute Hookup: Andrew and Margaret run away to Memphis together in one of the later chapters.
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail: Completely averted. The narrative stops dead at several points to inform the reader of irrelevant details like which president founded EMS, the kind of stone used in Bruce Lucent's shower, the color of Yvonne's pupils, and the inner thoughts of a cat and an apartment doorman. Meanwhile, the conversations that the characters themselves insist are very important usually happen off-page, if at all.
  • Likes Older Women: Bruce gets married to Callie. She's in her forties and he's eighteen. He also had sex with Margaret Eastman at his high school prom when she was in her twenties.
  • Meaningful Name: One of the few named characters not featured in the Significant Monogram below is a waiter called Frederick... the city where PublishAmerica is located.
  • 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 attempt to get it on under the table at a wedding reception, although a waiter interrupts them before they can really get into it. In another chapter (written from the same outline), they sneak away from the reception to hook up in an empty boathouse, and that goes a lot better for them.
  • Malaproper: Everyone, though Callie's use of phrases like "dingo-eat-dingo world" and "I heard through the cherry vine" stand out.
  • Mister Muffykins: Rory Edwards still mourns the death of such a dog he once owned, Barky.
  • The Mistress: Irene Stevens was Henry Archer's mistress, and seems both emotionally and financially uncertain what to do following his death.
  • Most Writers Are Human: Averted by Chapter 34, which was written by a computer program.
  • My Greatest Failure: Rory's greatest regret is not getting an antique door appraised.
  • Naughty Nurse Outfit: Implied with Margaret Eastman. It's clear that her nurse's uniform is very flattering on her, from the reactions of the other characters.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • In Chapter 20, Yvonne briefly is reminded of "the day she boiled the eggs". No further details are given.
    • In Chapter 33, Isadore fondly reminisces about going to an unspecified place and being "penetrated by those huge mosquitoes".
  • No Sympathy: After accidentally shooting Steven Suffern, Isadore Trent tells him to go out on the porch because he's getting blood all over the kitchen floor.
  • Offing the Offspring: In the chapter where Bruce finds himself in prison, one of his cellmates hints at having murdered his own infant daughter, though he insists it was his wife's idea.
  • 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 has a heart attack after getting jerked off and then hearing about Irene having sex with Bruce before he can recover.
  • Plot Hole: Since the authors had a very rough outline and didn't read each other's chapters, this occurs every few sentences.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Henry's death is what sets the whole plot in motion... assuming it ever has.
  • Posthumous Character: Henry Archer died in a car crash. This is one of the few things that is consistent across the entire book. Whether it was the same car crash in which Bruce was injured is extremely inconsistent.
  • Police Are Useless: Detective Andrew Venice gets dick-all done.
  • Punny Name: The book was published under the name "Travis Tea".
  • Purple Prose: Depending on the Writer. Here's a particularly florid excerpt from Chapter 10:
    The floors were polished white marble, with veins of luminous color running through them, and you can see your countenance in them because they polished every morning. A commodious, confident cloak room was standing discretely behind the double door, for coats, but was empty on this lovely, gorgeous, beautiful morning. There was an elegant, gracious, wide stairway to the second floor that had gilt on the black iron railing.
  • 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, Callie, at least, is white (her pale skin is explicitly brought up on several occasions), and this subplot is never heard from again. Bruce is also Asian briefly.
  • Rail Enthusiast: Henry Archer collected model trains, 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.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Callie is repeatedly said to look like this, in all but two chapters: one in which she has blonde hair, and another in which she is black.
  • Really Gets Around: Every character. See Everybody Has Lots of Sex, above.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: Pretty frequently. For a particularly blatant example, one of Henry's remote control airplanes is called a "Commie Causie plane".
  • Round Robin: There was absolutely no attempt made to tie any of it together between the authors, but that was the point.
  • Said Bookism: Absolutely rampant, though the amount varies by chapter.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out: To Dallas, Doctor Strangelove, Looney Tunes, Moby-Dick...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Southern Belle: Arguably all the female characters count, given that they are all Georgia natives.
  • Stealth Insult: This blurb:
    "[ATLANTA NIGHTS will] draw readers like a magnet draws hungry flies!"
  • Straw Vegetarian: Penelope, Callie, and Arthur Nance, though Penelope eats a rare steak, Callie Swedish meatballs and slices of ham, and Arthur a ham sandwich before their vegetarianism is mentioned. At one point, Callie turns down an offer of dessert on the grounds that she is a vegetarian... after eating some ham.
  • Stylistic Suck: Deliberately designed to be as grammar-deficient, incoherent and inconsistent as possible...
  • Textual Celebrity Resemblance: Andrew Venice looks like George Clooney on good days and Rowan Atkinson on bad days.
  • That Cloud Looks Like...: Yvonne briefly recollects once seeing a cloud that looked like a ball of dust. What a sight that must have been.
  • Torture Cellar: Henry Archer had one in the chapter where he's stated to have been a Serial Killer.
  • 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: Could be the Trope Codifier for how it was executed. In this case, it wasn't meant to troll the reader; it was to troll the publisher.
  • Uninstallment: The writer tasked with putting together Chapter 21 didn't have it done on time, and therefore, there is no Chapter 21 at all.
  • Unusual Chapter Numbers: There are two Chapter 12s, and, as mentioned above, no Chapter 21.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Cowfish udders" for breasts.
  • 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 a few 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?"
  • Yandere: Irene in one chapter, where she killed Henry before he could leave her and then put his ashes in a jar of alcohol so they can always be together.