Friday, April 08, 2011

Atlanta Nights, the Movie: From Hoax to Film

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Once upon a time, a motley crew of knights, hobbits, and assorted elves--all members of the Fellowship of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America--set out to prank a certain publisher of ill repute. This publisher, you see, was an author mill--it accepted pretty much any manuscript that came its way. Yet it held itself out as being selective, just like a "real" publisher, the better to lure unwary authors into its Mordor-like embrace. And the motley crew thought that wasn't proper.

A kindly wizard was the project's mastermind, and he decreed the parameters of the quest: create a manuscript so wretched, so mind-numbingly awful, that no sane publisher--not even a slightly selective author mill--could possibly accept it. Calling his unlikely band of adventurers into conclave, he conferred upon each a solemn task: create a chapter based on three characters, their one-sentence descriptions, and a single writing prompt. The adventurers weren't to worry about plot; they weren't to concern themselves with continuity. "Into the fray, brave champions!" the wizard cried. "You know the rules of writing. Break them. Break them all!"

Thus was born the immortal manuscript known as Atlanta Nights. Through tumbled wastes of fractured grammar, across stinking swamps of purple prose, through forests of confusing metaphor swept by hurricanes of dreadful dialog, where said bookisms swung like rotting fruit, our heroes fought to fulfill their quest. And each in the end did deliver to the wizard one horrifyingly bad chapter. And the kindly wizard dubbed the band of heroes Travis Tea (say it fast), and molded the chapters into a digital file (wearing a wizardly hazmat suit, lest the bad writing prove contagious), and with a wave of his staff, sent the file winging through the digisphere. And the publisher, which hadn't yet reached its acceptance quota for the day, and often never bothered to look at the manuscripts it accepted anyway, sent back this clarion call:

"I am happy to inform you that PublishAmerica has decided to give 'Atlanta Nights' the chance it deserves....Welcome to PublishAmerica, and congratulations on what promises to be an exciting time ahead."

PUNK'D!

The hoax was revealed on January 23, 2007, and PublishAmerica withdrew its offer the next day. But Atlanta Nights lives on at Lulu, in trade paperback and as a downloadable file. Its fabled awfulness has become an urban legend of sorts. It's been featured with live readings at writers' conventions, and there's also a dramatic reading on YouTube. Some have gone so far to use it as a teaching tool--because no one knows how to break the rules like professional writers. The hoax even made the Los Angeles Times.

And now...Atlanta Nights is going to be a movie.

Helmed by filmmaker Rachael Saltzman, the film is "[b]ased on the story surrounding the creation of the Worst Book Ever Written, combining interviews with the writers and some over the top dramatizations of the chapters to bring this story to life." Why would anyone undertake such a daunting task? Rachael explains on Kickstarter, where she's raising money for the project:
The story spread from the SFWA, through agents and editors, and has become a cult classic in its own small way.

It needs to be bigger. Literary scams are more profitable than ever, because new writers just don't know what to watch out for.
You can follow Rachael's progress by "liking" the Atlanta Nights movie Facebook page, and you can also join in the discussion at Absolute Write.

(Full disclosure: I wrote Chapter 12a.)

18 comments:

Loralie Hall said...

ROFL - love the prose of you post :-) Sounds like a great movie, though.

C.E. Hart said...

This is hilarious! I enjoyed reading. ;)

S.M. Carrière said...

Ah hah hah hah! That's just beautiful!

Sarah said...

Hee! I'd watch it!

Jake said...

Haha. Nice!

Scooter Carlyle said...

I actually hadn't heard about this. Makes me feel a lot better about the fact that I occasionally overwrite.

Lorraine Hopping Egan said...

Love this! Great write-up, superb punk. I once had a creative writer teacher who told us to write as badly as we could so that we could improve. I hope the movie gets properly funded.

Robin Bayne said...

April Fool's revisited!

Digitalis said...

Thank you, everyone! I hope to have more cool stuff to share soon.

-Rachael

Michael N. Marcus said...

It's nice that someone's making a real movie about a fake book from a fake publisher. But _I_ promoted a fake movie about a real book from a sort-of-real publisher. See http://www.ideamarketers.com/?articleid=2152147

G said...

I almost choked on my supper while reading this post because it reminded me of how truly bad my ultimately self-pubbed-by-ASI-novel really was.

Yes indeedie doodie, they do take anything.

Gonna check out that FB page right now.

And many thanks for the evening chuckle because it was truly worth choking on my supper. :D

Victoria Strauss said...

Hey, guys, there's a sockpuppet party in progress right now on Atlanta Nights' Facebook page.

Victoria Strauss said...

See the "Nick Caruso" comment.

David R. Matteri said...

I actually read the first couple of chapters from this book. It was hilarious and made me feel better about my own writing.

Dennis Latham said...

Richard didn't have as sweet a personality as Andrew but then few men did but he was very well-built. He had the shoulders of a water buffalo and the waist of a ferret. He was reddened by his many sporting activities which he managed to keep up within addition to his busy job as a stock broker, and that reminded Irene of safari hunters and virile construction workers which contracted quite sexily to his suit-and-tie demeanor. Irene was considering coming onto him but he was older than Henry was when he died even though he hadn't died of natural causes but he was dead and Richard would die too someday. . . ."
— from Chapter 25 of Atlanta Nights

This is a riot.

waltc said...

I read Atlanta Nights when I was considering using Lulu and wanted an example of the quality of their paperbacks--not the quality of the writing, of course, since they have no control over that. And I knew about the hoax...

Conclusions: 1. The book was very nicely produced. 2. As for the content...gotta say, I've read lots worse, sometimes from major publishers.

(Now, if SFWA would produce the fantasy trilogy Scalzi wrote an introduction to, possibly using a similar methodology, you could make big bucks for the association.)

Kimberly Steele said...

YAY!! I can't wait to see it!! I've followed this story: back in 2006 when I was still seeking publication for my book, http://foreverfifteen.com , I was encouraged by a fellow author to get a PublishAmerica deal. He did get a PA deal and was royally worked over (just like all of their unfortunate authors) and I feel terrible for him and anyone else who got taken in by their nonsense.

Atlanta Nights is a revenge story of the best kind: funny, epic, and the villain gets owned. I'm sure it will end up being one of my favorite movies!

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