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WRITING A novel isn’t usually a team activity. But when several writers share the work, the result can be fine satire. Add in the fun of a literary hoax, and it’s even better.
Two examples of this were offered yesterday. Today, there are two more, one a gumshoe mystery, the other high sci-fi.
Naked Came the Manatee was put together in 1996 by Tom Shroder, grandson of novelist MacKinley Kantor and destined to ghost-write, among other books, The Operator: Firing the Shots That Killed Bin Laden. Later a book, Naked Came the Manatee originated as a serial in the Miami Herald’s Tropics magazine.
In keeping with a manatee theme, Shroder assembled 13 Miami-based writers to compose this mystery tale in sequential fashion: Dave Barry did Chapter 1 and passed it along to Les Standiford (who wrote the John Deal Miami crime novels) for Chapter 2. Standiford added complexity, not to say other characters, and passed it on.
Among other Naked Came the Manatee authors were Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen. It was Hiaasen who had the non-trivial job in his Chapter 13, “The Law of the Jungle,” of tying up all the loose threads (and there are scads).
Other chapter titles include Standiford’s “The Big Wet Sleep” and James W. Hall’s “The Old Woman and the Sea.” Hall’s chapter begins, “Marion McAlister Williams was naked in the moonlight. Her body wasn’t what it used to be. But name something that was.”
Naked Came the Manatee involves elderly, and occasionally naked, environmentalist Marion and a lovable, pea-brained manatee named Booger. John Dufresne begins his “Where Are You Dying Tonight?” chapter Moby-Dick style: “Call me Booger.”
The book is replete with literary and gumshoe in-jokes, all well-executed in a zany non-linear fashion. Its proceeds are contributed to charity.
Atlanta Nights shows that it takes real experts to compose really bad work. James D. Macdonald assembled a group of sci-fi and fantasy authors to concoct a novel without coherent plot, but with plenty of grammatical errors and nonsensical passages. Originally, the title Naked Came the Badfic was considered, but perhaps this seemed too sensible.
The book’s characters change gender and race; they die and reappear sans rationale. There’s a missing chapter. Two other chapters are word-for-word identical. Another was composed by a computer program generating random text based on patterns from previous chapters.
The initials of characters named in the book spell out the declaration, “PublishAmerica is a vanity press.”
Indeed, Atlanta Nights was intended as a test case of unpublishable sci-fi directed specifically toward PublishAmerica, described by some as a vanity press, i.e., with most revenue coming from the authors themselves. The firm accepted the manuscript for publication in December 7, 2004.
Once the hoax was revealed a month later, PublishAmerica retracted its acceptance. Atlanta Nights has since been picked up by lulu.com, a print-on-demand firm, with all proceeds going to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Emergency Medical Fund.
According to Wikipedia, PublishAmerica has quite a history: The company once accepted another manuscript that featured the same 30 pages repeated ten times. In January 2014, PublishAmerica changed its name to America Star Books. Earlier this year, it became ASB and ceased accepting new authors.
Geez, just when I’m thinking of peddling a Best of SimanaitisSays. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017