By Ross Howell
Ross Howell is a non-fiction and fiction writer teaching at Elon University. He lives in Greensboro, NC, and tries not to get too caught up in the annual NFL Draft. Some years are better than others.
NEW YORK, May 1, 2012—Iowa Writers’ Workshop MFA student Ken Ballantine was the Number 1 pick in the Literary Draft, held this evening at Radio City Music Hall. Ballantine’s MFA thesis, Sometimes a Great Lotion, was snapped up by Amazon.com in an exclusive deal.
“This kid really deserved Number 1,” Amazon founder and chairman Jeff Bezos commented. “Lotion is a big, muscular book, the next Great American Novel.”
New Hampshire native Ballantine got the idea for his novel, a love story about gay lumberjacks in the backwoods of Maine, when he was summer camp counselor at Lake Cobbosseecontee.
“The idea came to me in a dream,” Ballantine said. “I saw oiled male bodies glistening in the firelight, and I just couldn’t get the image out of my mind.”
Picked second in the draft was another novel, a legal thriller by Virginia native Grisham Scott. Elected editor of the Harvard Law Review, Scott never practiced law. Instead he headed straight for Wall Street, where he managed two successful hedge funds. He now teaches writing at Hollins College in Virginia.
“A Time to Lie is about a Vatican cabal that has cornered the oil reserves in Indonesia,” Scott said. “One by one, rogue cardinals order the assassinations of Communist leaders in China. Their goal is to establish a religious state on the mainland. The oil is the incentive for Chinese regional leaders to cooperate.”
Random House Group chairman and CEO Gail Rebuck, whose firm traded six second-round slots for the second first-round pick in the draft, was ecstatic about the thriller’s prospects. “This book makes The DaVinci Code read like an instruction manual for Etch-A-Sketch,” she said.
Some reviewers complained about the predictability of the draft. “There’s no excitement,” said New Yorker editor David Remnick. “The big houses go for novels, because that’s where the money is, and that’s where the movie rights are.”
Many observers expressed their surprise that the first pick didn’t go to Timothy Milton, an 82-year-old classics professor at Yale University. Milton’s 500,000-word epic poem about the rise and fall of the Third Reich, “Eva,” has the literary world buzzing.
Unnamed sources claimed that “Eva” had been optioned by famed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, but a representative of Weinstein would not comment. Film insiders said that Lindsay Lohan has been chosen to play the title role of Eva Braun.
“Somebody called me about a screen adaptation,” added author Gordon Mennenga of Iowa City, Iowa.
Despite speculation, the poem did not go until the second round of the draft. It was acquired for a price in the low six figures, with an option for Milton’s next six Pindaric odes, by unknown publisher Black Orpheus.
“Poetry is always the stepsister at this event,” Milton observed. “I don’t mind being picked in the second round. The poem will prove itself. That’s what great poems do.”
“You can hardly call poetry the stepsister here,” said playwright Sherry Kramer, another graduate of the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop. “When was the last time a property for the theater went in the first round? It was something from Sam Shepherd, back in the ‘80s!”
Many attendees suggested that the draft is under financial pressure, since it represents the last bastion of traditional publishing.
“The recent internet successes of novels like The Lace Reader and Amanda Hocking’s Trylle Series are the death knell of the draft,” said businessman and winemaker Glenn Schaeffer, an erstwhile novelist himself. “The media are just here to drink free champagne and watch a bunch of writers trying to wear tuxedos.”
What genres and mythological players would be in your first round literary draft?