JOVE GAVE US THE "No Frills" book ("Book Report," November 22, 1981) and, if you remember your old high school anthologies, Frank Stockton gave us the famous open-ended story, "The Lady or the Tiger?" Now two California writer, Tom Silberkleit and Jerry Biedermann, have joined together in a project that's a little bit of both of those and more -what amounts to a sort of Anti-Coloring Book for adult readers. Called simply the "Do-ItYourself" series, its first offering, The Do-It-Yourself bestseller, is due from Doubleday this summer, and the idea is this: 20 authors, including John Jakes, Stephen King and Belva Plain have contributed stories but only the beginning and only the end. No middles. What happens in-between is up to the reader, who's literally left holding the bag, I mean book.
Silberkleit and Biederman are West Coast Wunderkinder, best friends since junior high, and the ink on their college diplomas was still damp when they lit upon the idea of "participatory" fiction a little over a year ago. "Entrepreneurs" is how Hiugh O'Neill, their editor at Doubleday, describes them, and one of them, Biederman, comes by it naturally: he's a nephew of Irving Wallace, and thus has a builtin predilection for books that are made, not born. "As soon as we thought of it, we knew it was terrific. We never had nay doubts," claims Silberkleit. Rather surprisingly, hardly any of th very well-known authors they approached wrote back haughty letters turning them down. When futurologist Alvin Toffler heard about it, he couldn't contin himself. "I can't believe it," Silberkleit remembers him saying. "This is 'the third wave,'" and, though not a fiction writer, he contributed one of the plot starts. And, of curse, the ultimate praise: Uncle Irving, a contributor too, wished he'd thought of it himself.
The Wallace story centers on a plane crash with one passenger unaccounted for, William F. Buckley Jr. gave them a beginning about a gigolo, and John Jakes' has a civil War background. Belva Plain sent in one about a young child being mysteriously given away and Alfred Kazin's entry deals with the relationship between a man and his wife. Each is only paragraphs long, and some are more elaborately set up than other; always, however, the challenge is for your own imagination to transport you to the ending the authors have provided. There's a token four pages or so of blanck space ineach one for the reader to get started concocting his won idea of what happens next, etc., but obviously, taking this book seriously means laying in a large supply of extra paper.
Will readers want to bother? Doesn't the idea of relaxing with a book -particularly a best-seller type of book -mean settling down with one where the writer's already done all the work? Doubleday, Silberkleit and Biederman think not and the latter pair are already involved in preparing a seque, The Do-It-Yourself Romance; after that, if all goes well, there'll be a children's book, an sf novel, a mystery. And what does Silberkleit think is going to be the draw? "People love to write but getting started is the hard part. This way their favorite authors are allowing them to finish their next novel.