One of the logic puzzles of the last decade was, how do you prove a vanity press is a vanity press? The outfit in question was Publish America (PA), which insisted that they rejected many ms and upheld high standards for fiction. The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), meanwhile, strongly suspected they were indeed a vanity press, and battening upon newbie writers.
Things might have stayed in this equilibrium, except that PA foolishly denigrated SFWA on a blog or newsgroup someplace. Now that was silly — you don’t tug on Superman’s cape. Galvanized, a group of us decided to acquire proof positive. How? Well, to submit an unreadable, unpublishable ms would do it. But this novel had to be stupendously, artificially horrible. Such ms do not get written by chance. We set out to do it.
Believe me — it is hard to write that bad! We had to resort to a number of tricks to get it horrible enough. The key one was to have one person sketch out a plot, divide it into one-sentence chapter synopses, and then hand them out to writers; if you have no communication between collaborators then the height, weight, race, appearance and traits of all the characters will vary.
To write my chapter 39 I had to resort to the dicta of BVC’s own Ursula LeGuin, and get in all the keywords of bad fantasy (“ichor” and “crepescular”). I also crammed in as much gratuitous and meaningless profanity as I possibly could, and researched the setting by watching Chicago on DVD. In spite of everything, action and character development happened while my back was turned. Thank heaven for chapter 40, which I know does not follow on with any logic from mine!
When this opus was assembled, editor Jim Macdonald resorted to yet more tricks. Pushing a chapter through Babelfish, out of English and then back again, always has an unclarifying effect; putting chapter 12 in twice also works. Finally the ms went to PA. We were on tenterhooks.
And yes! They accepted it for publication! Of course we could not actually sign a legal contract for the thing, and the ruse was revealed to much hooting and acclaim. The book itself has been issued by Lulu.com under the pen name Travis Tea. The revenue benefits SFWA’s Emergency Medical Fund. The book garnered many thrilling blurbs which you can enjoy at Travis Tea’s website, here.
And, because Atlanta Nights is a gift that keeps on giving, there is more! Someone is doing a dramatic reading of the entire work! Here is my own chapter 39 — scroll up and down in the YouTube menu to get all the other chapters.