How I Became A Famous Novelist by Steve Hely

Hely's wannabe novelist doesn't write his first novel so much as he triangulates the literary zeitgeist and enlists it for his own famewhoring purposes.

How I Became a Famous Novelist

Publisher: Black Cat
Length: 366 pages
Author: Steve Hely
Price: $14,00
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2009-07

Pete Tarslaw, the desperately hopeless protagonist of Steve Hely's bracingly funny debut novel, takes his own sweet time figuring out how to actually do what the title of the book announces. We're about 50 pages into How I Became a Famous Novelist before Tarslaw gets around to cracking the task at hand. In short, he Googles some stuff and wanders around a chain bookstore before creating a list of rules ("Rule 1. Abandon truth." "Rule 2. Write a popular book. Do not waste energy making it a good book." "Rule 6. Evoke confusing sadness at the end") that will help carry him through.

It's a tough road, of course, as Tarslaw doesn't have all that much to start with. He's an antisocial vessel of college-educated snark and why-bother who barely holds down a job cranking out essays (school applications, mostly) for people who would rather hire someone to write about their lives than do it themselves. Sure, it's the kind of job that keeps him writing, but it's not much of a living. There's a lot of sitting around the apartment with his strange roommate and ruminating about how everyone has a better life than he does.

So when Tarslaw (who's single, if you can imagine) gets invited to his ex-girlfriend's wedding, it sets something off. But instead of self-actualization, he feeds that energy into a quest to become a brilliant novelist. Actually, Tarslaw's quest has more to do with being able to show up at the wedding and saying he's a critically acclaimed, bestselling author. Just for spite.

Which means he can't afford to leave any possibility for popular acclaim untouched. Memoirs are good, he reckons.

Sadly a memoir wasn't an option for me, because my youth had been tragically happy. Mom never had the foresight to hit me or set me to petty thieving or to enlist us in a survivalist cult. I wasn't even from the South, which would've bought a few dozen pages. Lying wouldn't work; these days memoir police seem to emerge and make sure you've had it truly bad. And the bar for bad is high -- reviewers have no patience for standard-issue alcoholics and battered wives anymore.

Tarslaw seems at first not so much a character as he is a tool that will enable Hely to put a high-velocity slug right through the heart of every sacred cow in the publishing industry. Given Hely's resume (writer for Letterman and American Dad, co-author of the moderately funny and prank-filled travelogue The Ridiculous Race), it's little surprise that he's able to make Tarslaw's blundering doofus odyssey as compelling as it is.

What's surprising here is how note-perfect so much of Hely's satire is, even filtered through Tarslaw's embittered gaze. With his rapid-fire and reference-laden style, Hely skates the thin edge of overkill, another few ticks more fury and the whole thing would have curdled. But though Tarslaw's self-hating rage burns with white-hot potency ("Book reviewers are the most despicable, loathsome order of swine"), it never tips over the edge into pure fantasy.

Beyond establishing the tried-and-tried rules of writerly success ("Rule 12. Give readers versions of themselves, infused with extra awesomeness"), Tarslaw also has to get down to the work of mimicking all the greats he hates/emulates -- which just provides Hely with more opportunities for dead-solid mimickry. There's Preston Brooks, an earthy and grit-filled author of tear-jerking (but manly) tomes that come off like some unholy combination of Pat Conroy, Nicholas Sparks, and Cormac McCarthy. You have Nick Boyle, the gruff Tom Clancy stand-in, and Pamela McLaughlin, an amalgamation of just about every hybrid forensic expert/crime novelist on the market, only hotter.

All make cameos as Tarslaw ventures further into this imaginary literary landscape whose lodestars are one part bestselling buzz and two parts Oprah, and whose pettiness, vacuity, and trendmongering are (just about) as potent as in real life. By the time Tarslaw punches out his masterpiece, The Tornado Ashes Club ("Rule 5. Must include a club"), he has so thoroughly compromised what little moral fiber he had left that there's little he won't stoop to in his quest for superstardom

It could have all been very rote and overly inside, probably, if Hely didn't possess the instincts of a good television-trained smartass. He keeps Tarslaw bouncing from one monumental screw-up to the next novel-plotting ploy with a rollicking cynical energy before sending him into the true lion's den: a collegiate writing program.

Before long a different kind of note rises from the book's comedic ferment, a clear and insistent reminder that amidst all the (seemingly) good-natured conning and just plain getting-by that so many authors must partake in, there is something in literature pure enough to still be corrupted. Perhaps even something that cannot and should not be mocked. That a satirist with as unerring aim as Hely should risk making such a suggestion is impressive.

Perhaps the only thing better would have been if Hely had actually gone out and written The Tornado Ashes Club, just to see if he could. And to see if it would sell, as it no doubt would.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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