Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sex! Now That I Have Your Attention...

One kind of book that will never, ever wind up on my shelf is a romance novel. You already know what's going to happen; the only question is how many times. (Answer: so many times.) Their only literary purpose is to be swiftly burned through so you can get to the next one. It's like trying to pretend you read Playboy for the articles.

And that's assuming their main purpose is even literary.

In 1966, a group of 24 journalists from Newsday, headed by Mike McGrady, banded together to test a theory as to just how much bad writing you could get away with as long as you threw in enough sex. Each writer took one chapter, written as deliberately badly as possible and including as much sex as possible, with an enforced minimum of two sex scenes per chapter. According to the outline McGrady provided the group, "True excellence in writing will be blue-penciled into oblivion. There will be an unremitting emphasis on sex." (And quite a bit of good writing did in fact get blue-penciled into oblivion.) The result, published in 1969, was the book 'Naked Came The Stranger', credited to "Penelope Ashe", the part of Penelope played by McGrady's sister-in-law. And of course people bought it, enough so that the Newsday crew eventually outed themselves out of guilt over how much money they were making.

So of course people stopped buying it. In fact, so many people stopped buying it that it hit the New York Times Best-Seller List and McGrady wrote a sequel the next year called 'Stranger Than Naked or How To Write Dirty Books For Fun'.

Fast-forward to 2012, the year of Fifty Shades of Grey, which you have undoubtedly heard of, and which a lot of you bought. You also bought a lot of other books just like it, so many that the best-seller list on iTunes is filled with random 'erotic fiction novels', which is the more pleasant way of saying 'books where all anyone does is just have sex all the time'. A couple guys, Brian Brushwood and Justin Young, hosts of the NSFW Podcast, saw this best-seller list and decided to reprise the Naked Came The Stranger concept. They didn't have professional journalists at their disposal, but they didn't need them.

They had the Internet. Which is full of bad writing, badder than the baddest banana in the bad tree bunch and then all the tree bunches had sex.

Brushwood and Young opted to crowdsource their project, which they called 'The Diamond Club'. They gave an outline of what they were looking for to anyone that wanted to try their hand at contributing a chapter. (They wanted sex and a lot of it. Also it would help if there were a main character or something. Other than that, they weren't picky.) They took their favorites, slapped them together without having contributed a single word of their own aside from the words on the carefully-designed cover, and called it a book. Needless to say, because none of the writers were working with one another, the chapters are disjointed, and because they just grabbed writing from random denizens of the Internet, they took in a lot of bad writing. Brushwood and Young described the end product as "a rambling incoherent mess", but published it under the name "Patricia Harkins-Bradley".

It hit the iTunes best-seller list, of course, partially due to the fact that they asked their helpers to buy a copy themselves to help get some momentum started. The reviews were terrible, but of course by that point the reviewers had already handed over their money. And of course, once they outed themselves,  the hey-look-at-the-trainwreck factor kicked in for them too, meaning more money.

They do not feel anywhere near as guilty as the Newsday staff.

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