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The Forgotten Fake

Several years ago, as I watched the burgeoning self-publishing market grow in both popularity and quality, I came up with a brilliant idea: what if I created a small press so convincing, nobody realized it was 100% fake? What if I made a charming, professional-looking website, created book covers for nonexistent novels, and then buried my own, actual writing within it? Operating under the theory that as long as a con looks convincing, the mark won’t look too deeply at it, I invested in a domain name, whipped up a nice-looking web design, and then got to work on the artifice of the actual company.

The Backstory

I decided the company, Idle Valley Press (named for the elite town Raymond Chandler modeled on the San Fernando Valley in The Long Goodbye), would be based in Lafayette, Indiana, founded by bitter Purdue grads looking to make their mark. Their first decision was to purchase the entire back catalog of an obscure, long out-of-print author named Greenfield McKenna. Who is Greenfield McKenna? Somebody I made up, inspired by the words I hear when Lafayette native Axl Rose squeals “Down in the gutter” in “Back Off Bitch.”

The focus of Idle Valley Press was satirical novels—social satire, political satire, literary satire—to coincide with my own satirical agenda and the fact that I found very few small presses that would publish humor novels. In that spirit, McKenna was a Beat poet who had a sense of humor and was ostracized by his San Francisco community because of it. I’m pretty sure the founders of Idle Valley Press only liked him ironically, but their strategy of reprinting his old books paid off and gave them enough seed money to take on new projects.

Over the course of five years, they developed a reliable stable of writers. In my ideal life, I would continue to perpetuate this company’s existence and write all the books I made up and ascribed to these fictitious writers. I didn’t spend much time or energy on spewing out these ideas, but I kinda started to fall in love with them, especially when I started writing the excerpts.

The Excerpts

I didn’t write as many as I should have. I announced to myself, years ago, that I’d write one excerpt per week and have them all done in about four months. I only wrote eight, and I’m pretty sure those took eight months. But that’s kind of why I’m posting this entry. I don’t experiment often enough with voice, but by necessity, I had to stretch myself to create the illusion that these excerpts were written either by other writers or by writers imitating someone else’s style. Here they all are:

  1. Rain Upon My Skin by Greenfield McKenna

    In the mid-1950s, a Midwestern farmboy hitches to San Francisco and discovers the early Beat movement. Entranced by the rawness and fluidity of the poetry—and the beauty of one poetess—he begins to write his own poems and finds himself a laughing stock. Angered by the hypocrisy of supposed “free spirits” mocking expressions of natural emotion, the young man hatches a plot to make each poet rue the day they laughed at him.

    This one has an actual punchline at the end that is pretty funny, if I do say so myself.

    Click here to read.

    Click the image for a larger view.

  2. Valiant Interest by Greenfield McKenna

    In a strange world that seems like ours but clearly isn’t, a second civil war has broken out as a result of the African-American civil rights movement. Soldiers occupy a tiny town in a neutral state, using it as an outpost. When they’re attacked by a team of rebels, all hell breaks loose—and reveals the racism locked in the hearts of even the most even-tempered, pro-equality citizens.

    I actually think this is sort of interesting conceptually. Too bad Greenfield McKenna wrote it!

    Click here to read.

    Click the image for a larger view.

  3. Fat Her by Greenfield McKenna

    A wounded, discharged Vietnam vet travels across the United States to find the lover he left behind. Along the way, he reunites with the alcoholic father who abandoned him in childhood. Together, father and son travel and discover the sacrifices families must make to endure as the veteran seeks his bride.

    I can’t figure out if the mandate here was “pretentious” or “get as close to 10 pages as you can, and slip into verse if it’s easier.” And boy was it easier! The title is a reference to a joke from the amazing Adult Swim cartoon Home Movies.

    Click here to read.

    Click the image for a larger view.

  4. West to Heatherborough by Greenfield McKenna

    Often called “the awkward, ghost-story version of On the Road” (© The Guardian, 1974), West to Heatherborough tells the story of two lovers traveling through the countryside of war-torn England, seeking safety in an ancient family home abandoned in the 1920s. When they arrive, the lovers discover they were safer among the landmines and soldiers.

    I gotta admit, I’m pretty sure the description above is the funniest thing about this excerpt. It was nice to vent some frustration about my job search under the guise of Greenfield McKenna and the absurdly English narrator of this novel.

    Click here to read.

    Click the image for a larger view.

  5. Regal Laugh by Greenfield McKenna

    Taking place in a strange hybrid of Victorian England, the modern American Midwest, and a dystopian future where machines rule mankind, an idiot-manchild has a timebomb strapped to his body and is subjected to the will of a sociopathic drug dealer. Will the manchild overcome the circumstances of his radiation-soaked birth in order to get rid of the bomb and free himself of the dealer’s tyranny?

    What? I swear, you guys, I don’t use drugs. Maybe I should.

    Click here to read.

    Click the image for a larger view.

  6. Flesh-Peddler by Greenfield McKenna

    The least successful prostitute of all time considers a career change but finds it more difficult than expected in a small town plagued with prejudice and stagflation. Will she resort to the offer made by her pimp, to become a ruthless assassin just to make ends meet?

    The opening memory was inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s “Used Cars,” and the entire chapter is peppered with allusions to Nebraska, which evidently I was listening to heavily at the time.

    Click here to read.

    Click the image for a larger view.

  7. Couldn’t Say No if I Tried by Greenfield McKenna

    In an odd—and by most critical accounts, unsuccessful—reversal on his previous novel, Assuage the Guilt, Greenfield McKenna takes the first-person perspective of a “sympathetic” serial rapist and attempts in vain to portray his death as a merciless tragedy. This is the novel for completists only.

    I thought it would be funny to have Greenfield McKenna turn into a terrible wannabe-genre writer, hitting on pulp subjects but still writing with that weird, poetic style. I still think it’s funny, even if it’s not strictly good.

    Click here to read.

    Click the image for a larger view.

  8. In Town Tonight… by Greenfield McKenna

    An elegiac, largely autobiographical look at a grizzled Beat poet, exiled for decades in the American heartland, who returns to San Francisco to reunite with old friends and enemies, and rekindle lost loves. Greenfield McKenna’s final novel.

    I thought it would be funny if Greenfield McKenna stopped writing for 10-15 years, then put out a novel that was basically straightforward and normal. I…don’t know where all the gay stuff came from. I’ll ask my therapist and report back.

    Click here to read.

    Click the image for a larger view.

  9. Twisting the Truth by Donovan Baker

    The first novel in the Sweet Girls series introduces us to the world of Vassey Heights, U.S.A., and two of its residents, seventh-grade twins Janie and Lindsey Bakersfield. Janie tries to kill her longtime arch-rival in order to secure a spot on the volleyball team; Lindsey may have to do worse than that in order to join the secretive Sun Rays.

    Saving the fucking craziest for last. One of these days, this piece of writing will be my Richard McBeef.

    Click here to read.

    Click the image for a larger view.

  10. The Youngest Boy by DiFranco Murray

    An alcoholic PI is unwittingly sent on a wild goose chase for information that could clear a friend of murder. His search for the truth leads him into the dregs of Seattle society: prostitutes, crack addicts, Vietnamese gangsters. When it seems like his leads have dried out, a dying man whispers four words: “Find The Youngest Boy.”

    “DiFranco Murray” was the first fake author name I came up with. I still think it’s hilarious, but I don’t know why. The basic premise and the first chapter of The Youngest Boy were inspired by my actual attempt to write a detective novel incorporating the various weird, real-life characters I met while working in Seattle’s Pioneer Square in the summer of 2004. If I were to take any of these weird fake chapters and turn them into something real, it would be this one. (Yes, I know I accidentally typed “QVC” instead of “QFC.” Sue me.)

    Click here to read.

    Click the image for a larger view.

Cover Gallery

These are the remaining covers. Most were early Photoshop experiments that turned out better than they should have.

The Aftermath

I abandoned the fake publishing idea but came up with a better, similar idea. Since it’s come to my attention that—gasp!—I’m not the only struggling writer out there, I’ve decided to create a new “publishing” entity that works more like a co-op—my writer friends and I work together to create the united front of a small press that publishes us all. We keep 100% of our own profits, and we rely on each other to verify the hypothetical existence of the company to outsiders.

So… Who’s in?

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