Arts & Culture » Books

Fiery prose


If recent news is any sort of barometer, the best ways to get a best-seller banner stamped on your new novel are to write it as a fictitious memoir, land a spot on Oprah, be a plagiarist or glom on to some prefab controversy.

Never mind the content. If the exulted and tortured soul of the memoirist exists only as fantasy, who cares? If people are buying it, that's all that matters, right?

This culture of ignorance and avarice is enough to make you wonder who's writing the good fiction and where the hell these writers are. We know where the bad stuff is — the movie version of it made $77 million at the box office last weekend.

Elitist Publishing, a Detroit-based publishing house, is making its stand against the current state of fiction this Friday with a party at Mephisto's bar in Hamtramck. It's called The Bonfire of the Vanities, and yup, they're burning books.

Elitist Publication's chief operator Eric Novack — a guy who signs his name with the appositive "the bad boy of literature" — is the brains behind the outdoor event. For three years now, Novack's goal has been to bring what he believes is "good fiction" to the hands of readers. As a result, his publishing house has become an outlet for Detroit's homegrown talent.

The event, while an obvious publicity scheme itself, was not hatched around a conference table, it was the result of Novack's mounting disgust with the latest selections being published by the industry's largest houses.

To wit: After reading Nick McDonnell's Twelve, "a book so bad, if you're a writer, it makes you feel better," Novack says, he moved on to Rolling Stone writer Marc Spitz's newest work, How Soon is Never. Novack says he was so annoyed by Spitz's writing, he ripped the pages out.

"The defacing of art didn't bother me, the book is mass-produced, and there are tons of copies everywhere. I just thought, 'I'd love to burn this,'" Novack says.

And though his company's name might suggest otherwise, Novack is no pedantic malcontent with an axe to grind. Everything Novack knows about the book biz, he taught himself. His story, as he tells it, goes like this: Having skipped college, Novack spent his early 20s involved in the underground Detroit rave scene — mostly as a supplier of drugs. In 2000, at the age of 26, Novack was plucked from the party culture when he was arrested and arraigned on five felony counts of delivering marijuana. He was convicted on three counts and was sentenced to a 20-year suspended sentence with five years probation, nine months of which he spent under house arrest.

It was while relegated to his parent's house under house arrest that Novack began to develop an interest in reading.

During this transitional period, Novack said he was inspired to write his first novel, Killing Molly, a story about 14 twentysomethings who deal with apathy, addiction, love and disaffection with Detroit and its suburbs.

Not surprisingly, after finishing the book, Novack struggled to land a publishing contract. In 2003 he stopped searching and decided to publish it himself. Since then, he has put out three more titles.

Elitist's newest book, Wendy, the first novel by Detroit native Josh Malerman, is scheduled for release in July.

"The main reason we're having this bonfire is to get enough money to publish Wendy," Novack admits.

Novack knows the public may not see this as the social satire it's intended to be.

"Either you attend and you have some fun or you don't," Novack says.

The grand burn is scheduled for midnight. Any who may harbor animosity for contemporary fiction will get a chance to publicly harangue the offender of your choice up on stage.


Friday, June 2, at Mephisto's, 2674 Florian St., Hamtramck; 313-875-3627; $10 cover charge; $5 if you bring a book to burn.

Daniel Voros is a freelance writer. Send comments to


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