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Richard McCann, author and creative-writing professor at American University, recently worked on a novel about a car. It’s called In the Belly of the Beast, and you can read it at the Web site for Lexus Magazine. Lexus, like the car.
Earlier this week Galleycat and a handful of other literary blogs took notice of Belly, in which nine well-known writers were commissioned to write an Exquisite Corpse-style novel about an East-to-West road trip in a spanking new IS F. The prose leans toward the puffy, shading close to outright shilling. Consider this line from Arthur Phillips‘ first chapter: “You cannot be more officially grown-up than accepting a wedding proposal and a job offer in the same week and then buying yourself a sweet Lexus sedan with your own money.”
McCann was invited to write about that sweet Lexus last fall. “[The editor was] looking for writers who could give him geographic coverage across the country,” he says. So McCann, a D.C. guy, got to write Chapter 2 of the trip, in which the road-tripping couple heads down to the District. (Jane Smiley, author of the L.A.-set novel Ten Days in the Hills, gets the final chapter, as yet unpublished.)
McCann didn’t discuss specific dollar figures, but he said that writing the 983-word chapter constituted “a great payday.” But he’s not hearing the argument that doing so might constitute some kind of a sellout—-a criticism that Fay Weldon absorbed in 2001 when she was paid by high-end jeweler Bulgari to mention the brand name a dozen times in her novel The Bulgari Connection. “It’s a very lavish, extremely beautifully made lifestyle magazine,” he says. “And I was moved by the assumption that it’s readership would want to read stories. A lot of magazines have stopped publishing short stories.”
Also, while the novel inevitably is meant to boost the profile of the IS F, Lexus didn’t give him any strict guidelines about how to write about the car.
“The only rule was that the car could not break down,” McCann says.