Several years ago I was
sitting in the apartment of a writer friend along with a number of
mutual literary acquaintances.
We were talking about the latest in the never-ending stream of Canadian
story anthologies, which, predictably, was unremarkable -- neither
terrible nor great -- and which had gotten a so-so review in The Globe.
And, equally predictably it was destined to sell about 400 copies and
then get remaindered.
"How do you get people to read a story anthology in this country?"
moaned one of my compatriots in a drunken state.
Another friend (even drunker) replied, "Get the best writers! Demand
their best work! Pay them big bucks! Put out a huge, lavish f—ing book!
Take out full-page ads in the papers! Then nobody will be able to ignore
it!" He put down his beer bottle with an emphatic clunk and promptly
fell off his chair.
"I beg to differ," I replied calmly over my Dr. Pepper and rye. "I
believe one should do the exact opposite. Dig up the most dreadful
stories by the most untalented writers you can find -- if necessary,
trick them into thinking you're doing a 'normal' anthology -- and
publish the anthology as a book of humor. If it's truly dreadful, it'll
sell, even without advertising, and I predict it would outsell most
story anthologies published in this country."
This suggestion was greeted with appreciative laughter. My friends
agreed the idea was brilliant, but perhaps too brilliant for Canada.
They said I'd end up doing it myself and peddling it on the street. I
said if it came to that, fine.
The next day, when I was sober, I still liked the idea. In fact, I liked
it even more. It was either the most horribly tasteless idea or the most
innovative brainstorm in the history of CanLit. I promptly called up D.,
an editor acquaintance of mine. I explained the idea to him. He said it
sounded interesting and told me to go ahead and assemble such a
collection. If it proved to be as funny as I made it out to be, he'd
publish it under his imprint.
Now, don't ask me how I obtained these stories. By hook or by crook, as
they say, and with the help of a few accomplices who don't want to be
named. It took longer than I expected.
Any writer who showed a bit of talent had to be ruled out. To qualify, a
writer had to be completely rotten or at least deranged. Many months
later, I was back to D. with a thick file, which I left with him.
Three days later, he called me back. "I can't publish this. It's awful!"
"It's supposed to be awful," I said.
"But it's awful in ways that are just too offensive. I'm sorry, I've got
to say no."
I wasn't discouraged. Humor, after all, is a matter of taste, and D. is
a rather serious chap. So I showed the file to several other literary
people. Here are their reactions:
"Hilarious, but any publisher who did such a book would be blacklisted
by all the arts councils."
"Funny but too offensive."
"I'd love to do it, but I'd get killed. You can't get away with this in
"I hate the whole idea. You're making a mockery of Canadian literature."
"Unspeakably tasteless, not to mention cruel to hold up untalented
writers to ridicule."
"Is this for a joke or what? I don't get it." (Managing Editor of a
major publishing house.)
"It's too good, Kilodney. I laughed so hard I wet my pants. But to take
such a collection to my publisher? Forget it. Why don't you publish it
And so it's come to that. Here it is: a collection of some of the worst
stories ever written in the English language, and all of them by
Canadians! You've never heard of any of these writers, and I dare say
you never will again.
Unless, of course, some of them decide to sue me, which is highly
unlikely because unknown writers only want to see themselves in print,
and they don f t cave where!
One last comment: I haven't corrected any of the mistakes in the
original manuscripts, because I didn't want to tamper with anyone's
artistic integrity (cough). I only wish all the other editors in this
country would take an equally noble attitude toward the writers they're
supposed to serve.
Then CanLit would start to get really interesting.
Volume 1 |