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Literature / How I Became a Famous Novelist

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When Pete Tarslaw's ex-girlfriend, Polly, announces her upcoming wedding to an Australian in a move that seems precisely calculated to infuriate him, he knows he needs to take his revenge. In an attempt to humiliate Polly at her wedding, he decides to become a famous novelist. After studying the bestsellers list, he manages to churn out a book that's both terrible and destined to be a big seller. Soon, he is rich, famous, and successful. But when his secret gets out, he finds himself pitted against the entire literary community—including Preston Brooks, whose sappy books inspired Pete Tarslaw's— in a battle over the authenticity of modern writing.


How I Became A Famous Novelist is a 2009 debut novel of television writer Steve Hely. In 2010 the book won the Thurber Prize for American Humor. The rights to the film have been bought and we can expect a movie in the near future.

Tropes featured include:

  • Airport Novel: Pete tries this briefly and there are excerpts from more than one. However, he gives up on it and returns to a more "literary" style of work because he finds it easier than an Airport Novel. What he didn't expect is that keeping track of all the plot twists and revelations and dramatic reveals required in Airport Novels is hard compared to just throwing flashbacks and Imagine Spots into a straightforward plot and using his thesaurus freely.
  • Author Tract / Take That!: Part I of the book does this to the book publishing industry and its insistence of passing over quality literature in favor of moving inventory for short-term profit.
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  • Bitter Wedding Speech: The protagonist gives a speech at his ex's wedding that's not bitter, per se, but reveals embarrassing details of her past and is barely coherent (since he's extremely drunk at the time).
  • Book Within A Book: Pete's novel is The Tornado Ashes Club. The story is about a guy and his grandmother on a road trip across America with frequent flashbacks to her long-lost love Luke in World War II. They want to scatter Luke's ashes in a tornado, and Pete called them a "club" because he figured it sounded more friendly. Its plot is a Cliché Storm, its prose is purple, and the bulk of it was written on a binge of an experimental drug.
  • Extruded Book Product:
    • Pete writes his book by going to the Downtown Crossing branch of Borders Books and perusing the bestsellers to determine what its plot should be. He even has a list of rules for doing so.
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    • Steve Hely stated in interviews that his inspiration for writing the book was looking at the New York Times Bestseller List and wondering what a book that had all of their plots combined would be like.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Several real celebrities are mentioned, such as Hollywood figures who are considered for roles in adaptations of novels or just are mentioned as signs of these fallen times. However, almost all the authors mentioned are fictional. One of them, Nick Boyle, is clearly supposed to be a fictional Tom Clancy.
  • Oscar Bait: The Tornado Ashes Club is the literary version.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Pete goes to the now defunct Borders Books in Downtown Crossing to figure out what kind of book will make him a bestseller
    • He visits the now defunct Chacarero stand at the Prudential Center food court
    • The book is used as a prop in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, catapulting it to the top of the bestseller list
  • Stylistic Suck: Every Book Within A Book, and there are dozens. The one that Pete's aunt is writing, a historical novel about a female cooper, is pretty much the perfect example of this trope, though all the other ones are good too.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Pete is, at best, a weak person. He's doing all this because the marriage of his ex-girlfriend makes him feel inadequate, and fame goes to his head in roughly 30 seconds.