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James Franco and 7 other actors turned novelists
Franco's first collection of short stories has received mixed reviews. But critics have only rarely been kind to literary thespians
Critic Michael Lindgren calls Franco's first novel "amateurish" but adds the collection of stories has a "well-balanced symmetry."
Critic Michael Lindgren calls Franco's first novel "amateurish" but adds the collection of stories has a "well-balanced symmetry."
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here is a new writer in Hollywood — actor James Franco, star of Spiderman and Pineapple Express, published his first book of short stories last week. His collection, Palo Alto, has received decidedly mixed reviews — The Washington Post's Michael Lindgren calls it "a thin, hackneyed affair" — but Franco might find comfort in knowing that critics have sharpened their knives for a long list of actors who have tried their hands at writing literary fiction. Here are seven thespian authors who got the critics talking, in ways both bad and good:

Marlon Brando
A novel penned by the legendary Hollywood star with director Donald Cammell was released after his death in 2005. Fan Tan is "the best worst novel ever," said Paul Constant at The Stranger, "groaning under the weight of its pretensions." It is useful only as a " kind of macabre window into the mind of a megacelebrity."

Gene Hackman
The Poseidon Adventure actor was sunk by bad reviews for his first novel, Wake of the Perdido Star, a pirate adventure written with his neighbor Daniel Lenihan. It's "as predictable as a bad movie," said Linnea Lannon at Entertainment Weekly, and weighed down by "leaden dialogue." The experience didn't make him put down his pen, though: Hackman the novelist will return next year with a Western adventure, Jubal's Bounty.

Macauley Culkin
The former child star published Junior in 2006. Many wished he hadn't. It reads "more like the kind of free-associating writing exercise a therapist would prescribe to a patient than an actual story," said Sarah Goldstein at Salon. It's "200 pages of mostly incoherent rant."

Chuck Norris
The actor-turned-Republican activist published his first novel, The Justice Riders, last year — with the help of three co-authors. Unsurprisingly, the Civil War–era tale didn't make it into the pages of most literary reviews, but some book bloggers weighed in. This "poorly written claptrap" can be summed up by a single scene, said Corey Redekop at Shelf Monkey. "In the middle of a Civil War battle, the hero roundhouse kicks an opponent." 

But it's not all bad...

Ethan Hawke
The Reality Bites star turned to fiction first in 1997 with his novel The Hottest State, then again in 2002 with Ash Wednesday. Although it's "tempting to take a potshot" at this good-looking young actor, said Helen Falconer in The Guardian, "it is my duty to tell you that Hawke is a cracking writer," and Ash Wednesday is "sharply and poignantly written."

Lauren Conrad
Whether the star of "The Hills" began as an actress or a reality TV show star is a matter of some conjecture, but what is clear is that her L.A. Candy novels have made her first and foremost a young adult novelist, said Torie Bosch at Slate. The three books are "entertaining looks at the pitfalls of Hollywood and the distortions of reality TV," written with a "sharp and critical" fictional voice. They ought to be "required reading" for fame-hungry teens with "hopes of making it to the D-list."

Steve Martin
The comedian's novels have arguably fared better with critics than his recent movie roles. Shopgirl (2000) was called Martin's "most achieved work to date" by The New York Times, while the Yale Review of Books called The Pleasure of My Company (2004) "funny and tender," adding it was written with a "masterful" grasp of language.

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