What's a celeb to do between red-carpet events? Why, write a book, of course! According to Publishers Weekly, the jack-of-all-trades James Franco has just sold his debut poetry collection to Graywolf Press, and it's set to be released in 2014. Franco is already a published prose author whose 2010 book of short stories, Palo Alto, is, according to The New York Times, filled with "nihilistic violence and gratuitous gore." But Franco is hardly the first A-lister (or C-lister, for that matter) to take up his pen. Here, a look at six other celebrities who wrote fiction, with varying degrees of success:
1. The English Roses, by Madonna
What it's about: The Material Girl's 2003 debut, a children's picture book, concerns an outsider girl named Binah who inspires jealousy in four other girls because they believe she leads the perfect life. But the "moral" of the story is that Binah, who was based on Madonna's daughter Lourdes, is neither rich nor spoiled, and is actually quite lonely.
What the critics said: The Guardian's Kate Kellaway criticizes the book for its mediocrity and superfluity, arguing that The English Roses is little more than "an accessory for those curious about Madonna." Why, wonders Kellaway, would the pop diva want to impersonate a "fragile primary-school teacher in a flowery frock?" Madge should "stick to what she knows best."
2. Junior, or Oscar De La Mancha, The Wembling Warrior, and the People I Like the Least. Not a Novel. A written project from the normal, well adjusted and 'No I don't have issues with my father!' mind of … junior (meaning me), by Macaulay Culkin
What it's about: Less a novel than a post-modern series of vignettes that include detours into comics, poetry, quizzes, and an open letter to Britney Spears, 2006's Junior is very, very loosely held together by a series of anecdotes documenting the life of "Money Monkey Boy," a former child star.
What the critics said: Publisher's Weekly calls Junior a "self-indulgently infantile book" that "looks and reads more like a book-length zine." Though Culkin insists that Junior the character is different than Culkin the author, they have quite a lot in common, and Junior's only real value is as a "calculated piece of celebrity implosion" that offers a "weirdly compelling" look into Culkin's mind.
3. L.A. Candy, by Lauren Conrad
What it's about: This novel, which follows "Jane Roberts" as she moves to Hollywood and eventually gets her own reality show — is a juicy, thinly-veiled account of Conrad's stint as one of the stars of the MTV reality show The Hills. Released in 2009, the book is the first of the quick-to-cash-in L.A. Candy series. Its sequel, Sweet Little Lies, and the series' final installment, Sugar and Spice, were both released in 2010.
What the critics said: Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum calls the novel a "dismal portent of the future of pop culture, disguised as escapist fiction," adding that Conrad's young fans "might like a book-shaped object as a keepsake." L.C. may think she can do anything, says Schwarzbaum, but the one thing she can't do is write a "novel."
4. The Hottest State, by Ethan Hawke
What it's about: In this 1996 novel, a young actor falls desperately in love with a mercurial aspiring singer named Sarah, who warns him at the outset of their relationship that it's doomed to failure. It fails.
What the critics said: Ethan Hawke unwisely "opens himself up to rough literary scrutiny in The Hottest State," says Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly. "If Hawke is serious about the lit biz, he'd do well to work awhile in less exposed venues, perhaps focusing on shorter stories and submitting them to little magazines" instead of big, splashy releases of underwhelming novels. She gives The Hottest State a D+.
5. Propeller One-Way Night Coach, by John Travolta
What it's about: Travolta's "self-described fable for all ages" is a genial, largely episodic children's book. Over the course of 8-year-old protagonist Jeff's first-ever flight, which takes him from Newark to Los Angeles, he encounters everyone from a concentration camp survivor to a 10-foot-tall man. Travolta originally wrote the book in 1992, printing just 75 copies to give away as Christmas gifts, but Warner Books acquired the title and made mass-produced copies available for sale in 1997.
What the critics said: Critics didn't hate Propeller One-Way Night Coach, if only because it's so slight and inoffensive as to render descriptors like "love" or "hate" irrelevant. This is a "strange, flaky bedtime story," but "there are worse examples of celebrity kiddie lit," says a charitable Alexandra Jacobs at Entertainment Weekly, who awards the book a "C" grade.
6. Elixir, by Hilary Duff
What it's about: This 2010 young-adult novel follows globetrotting teenager Clea Raymond who discovers the same mysterious man lurking in the background of all of her photographs. When the man begins to appear in her dreams — all set in a different era, and in which she invariably dies a brutal death — she decides to get to the bottom of the mystery. A sequel, Devoted, was released in Oct. 2011. A third and final installment, True, is slated to hit shelves in April 2013.
What the critics said: Readers may be taken in by Duff's surprisingly solid premise, says Courtney Jones at Booklist, but they'll be disappointed by her execution. The love story "never quite reaches believability, and overall, the story reads like a friend's hasty rehashing of a movie plot."