This Week’s Column:


... a MobyLives guest column

by Steve Almond

13 JUNE 2005 — Earlier this month, a writer friend of mine (I'll call him John Updike) called to do what us writers do best: complain about his latest royalty statement.
     "I can't understand a thing," he told me. "It's just this blizzard of numbers."
     "Did it include a check?" I asked.
     "I'm not sure I'm getting you."
     "You know — a check. If your book has earned enough to pay back your advance, they send you money. Royalties."
     "Very funny," he said, after a longish, literary pause. "You really are a joker, Almondini. Royalty checks! You almost had me there! I'll have to remember that one!"
     You can sort of see where the conversation was headed.
     And it occurred to me, as I was yakking away with old Johnny U., trading bon mots and joie de vivres and so forth, that we were — in terms of financial and cultural relevance — pretty much entirely in the wrong racket.
     I realized right then that I was tired of the constant rejection, tired of bad reviews, tired of living from All You Can Eat lunch buffet to lunch buffet, tired of having to explain to people that I wear the same clothes for weeks on end because, as an artist, the material world just wasn't that important to me.
     So I did what any self–respecting artist would do: I bought a ticket to Los Angeles and began pitching television shows.
     To the superficial observer, this change in career direction will look a lot like I am "selling out." In fact — until one of these shows gets the green light from the money people — nothing could be further from the truth . . . .

CSI: When Writers Perish

A group of intensely attractive forensic investigators uncovers a different dead writer each week. They then use the latest technology to piece together whether the writer died of starvation, drug overdose, or shame, while also having hot sex in their state–of–the–art lab.

Literary Tricks

Meet Layla and Jacqui, a couple of gorgeous MFA students who write by day Š and hook by night! Eager to "pay the bills" and "develop some decent material" they answer a local want ad for live models and decide to give the world's oldest profession a whirl. But uh–oh! Turns out the director of their program just happens to be a regular john. Will Layla risk blowing her cover by blowing him? The only way to know is to tune in to the series that brings new meaning to the term "banging a draft into shape."

Desperate Housewriters

A devastating portrait of suburban literary malaise, this hour–long drama follows the travails of a quartet of young, attractive writers (don't worry, we'll cast them) as they attempt to find meaning in their lives as house–bound, economically dependent artists living in a world of plumbers and ad copy writers, while also having hot sex in their state–of–the–art cabanas.

Stith Undercover

FBI Agent Lilly Stith has a terrible secret: in her spare time, she's a writer of gay erotica. Can her high–power law enforcement career survive the shame of this horrible double life? Follow Lilly as she tracks down mysterious serial killers and evil terrorists, while also attempting to find a respectable publisher for her new novella "The Vulva Conundrum."

The Protégé

The inaugural entry into the burgeoning world of literary reality TV programming, The Protégé gathers a dozen of today's hottest young writers into a small, enclosed space and offers them the ultimate prize: a big–fat book contract. But there's a catch: they have to be hand–picked by literary lion Norman Mailer! Watch as the young writers attempt to kiss Mailer's ass without actually leaving lip prints on his anus, and listen in as each week as The Boss tells a different contestant, "You're rejected!"

Written . . . in Blood!

Someone is murdering all the obscure, unpublished writers of the greater Santa Barbara area and special Agent Biff Hemingway — great grandson of you–know–who — is determined to squelch the killing spree. How? By channeling the renowned crime–fighting instincts of his forebear! Call this thrill–a–minute drama For Whom the Siren Tolls!

Agent of Mercy

Literary agent Mercy Urban is considered the top gun in the biz. Follow her exploits as each week she finds and seduces a new literary phenom, signs them to a financially exploitative contract, pledges to remain true to their art, then drops them like a hot potato when their Bookscan numbers prove disappointing.

Fear Factor: When Writers Vomit

What you see is pretty much what you get.

House of Sand and Schmaltz

Tom and Shane are a couple of writers barely making ends meet writing symbolist poetry. So imagine the hilarity that ensues when Shane's brother and sister–in–law die in a horrific car crash and our inky duo takes custody of their adorable one–year–old triplets, Shannon, Shania, and Shemp. Laugh as you watch Shane struggle to change a diaper and make formula, and weep (just a little) as Tom attempts to bond with his new charges while also keeping baby poop off of his manuscript.

Queer Eye for the Writer Guy

Carson and the gang are back to face their biggest challenge yet! Each week they'll find a new, allegedly heterosexual writer guy and attempt to overhaul their lives by buying them new teak furniture and empowering hair products. The big test will come at the end of each episode, when the writer guy throws a fancy dinner party for his non–writer friends during which he is not allowed to discuss his unfinished novel, or any of his recent rejection letters.

Blog & Order

Follow the travails of Marcus Templeton as he records, in punishing detail, the natterings of successful writers he wishes were dead, and shares his own insights on the publishing industry and why it has failed to recognize his manifest genius. But wait, Marcus has a secret identity! He isn't just a blogger extraordinaire. He's a world–class mercenary who settles literary fueds the old–fashioned way — with his trigger finger. Dale Peck, watch your back!

24 Hours (in the Life of a Writer)

This innovative drama follows one aspiring writer, Stan Kaplansky, through a single day, minute by minute, in 24 tension–filled episodes. Stan is hard at work on his great American novel, a post–modern roman a clef called "The Cheese Syllogism." Watch as Stan labors over his masterpiece for minutes at a time before drifting into a haze of enraged self–pity. Watch as he prepares ramen noodles for breakfast and waits for the mail to arrive. But the heart–stopping drama doesn't stop there. An on–line interactive supplement will allow fans to copy edit Stan's work!

Steve Almond is the author of The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories. Excerpts are available at

©2005 Steve Almond

Previous columns:

READING TO CHAIRS . . . When Quinn Dalton showed up at a bookstore to read from her new book, she was greeted by . . . empty chairs. In a guest column, she asks herself, "Why bother?"

THE KILLER POET . . . When a big haired poet asks the literary gumshoe to whack a librarian, he feels the weight of the whole world of poetry on his shoulder. Will he do the right thing?

WHERE THE NOVEL'S HEADED . . . Jonathan Safran Foer's new book has a lot of people talking about post–modernism and the novel. But David Barringer thinks the novel is going in another direction — inside.

BOOKS IN GROCERY STORES: A TESTIMONIAL . . . After his mainstream publisher didn't want his second novel, Larry Baker got an idea about how to sell his second book himself when a flash of inspiration came to him in the local grocery store.

ANATOMY OF A HOAX . . . When Paul Maliszewski heard Michael Chabon tell a false story about a real writer, he wrote about it. So what led the New York Times to cover Chabon's hoax with an attack on Maliszewski featuring testimony from Dave Eggers?


All material not otherwise attributed ©2000 – 2005 Dennis Loy Johnson.