Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a small obsession with so-called literary reality shows. (Amazed that such things could even exist? See this recent post for a recap.) To date, seven of these suckers have surfaced. Five never got past the planning and announcement stages. The jury’s still out on the sixth (I’m not holding my breath), and the seventh is still embryonic (not holding my breath there either).
Now, however, there’s a literary reality show that might actually happen.
Fourth Night, a blog maintained by writer Constantine Markides, will launch FourthFiction, “the first blog-based literary reality show,” on July 4. Twelve writers will write original novels, which they’ll post in tri-monthly installments, according to literary guidelines provided by Mr. Markides. Readers will vote to eliminate one contestant per round. On December 4, the single survivor of all twelve rounds will be announced.
What does he or she win? Well, maybe nothing, apart from the sense of achievement in having completed a novel in five months. But maybe a small-press publishing contract. Mr. Markides says that he approached several small presses at BEA to discuss the possibility of funding limited publication of the winner’s novel. (Writer Beware-ly caveat: some small publishers are no prize, and a number of really bad ones were at BEA. I hope Mr. Markides has thoroughly checked them out.)
The writers are anonymous–and some, apparently, have never written fiction before. They’ll be tweeting at will during the month of July, as a way of warming up and letting readers get to know their styles. The contest proper will begin on August 4.
In my opinion, this is really the only way a literary reality show is possible. The writing process simply is not interesting to observe (nor are writers–or if they are, it’s generally not because of their writing), nor is it easy to come up with telegenic challenges involving authoring (“Writers, give us 5,000 words on love and death while sitting at a sticky table in a noisy Starbucks with a latte that isn’t hot enough, using only one hand! You’ve got two hours–now go!”). Attempting a televised literary reality show is a recipe for failure (as Tony Cowell, Simon Cowell’s brother seems to have discovered) or ridiculousness (as demonstrated by announced plans for The Ultimate Author, in which contestants were to vie hotly for supremacy in such vital authorial areas as spelling and arranging a room attractively for a book club gathering).
By putting all the emphasis on the writing, and cutting image and identity out of the picture entirely, Fourth Night has come up with a literary reality show concept that actually seems workable.
UPDATE 2/20/10: Unlike every other author reality show I’ve covered, FourthFiction went all the way, with a winner declared last December (congratulated by Stephen Fry, no less). You can see the complete “season”, with links to all the novellas, here.