The author wrote the novel online with a 36 hour deadline

By Peter Kobel
May 17, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Humorist Joe Queenan is comparing himself to pulp-fiction writer Georges Simenon, who in 1927 was contracted to dash off a novel in seven days in a glass cage in Paris. About midway through a marathon in which he’s composing a novel entirely online in three 12-hour shifts, Queenan seems strangely calm. With crumpled deli bags littering his desk and the TV blaring in his office in suburban Tarrytown, N.Y., he fields calls from the Internet website that’s ”publishing” his work and from the copy desk of PEOPLE, for which he writes TV reviews. Clearly, he’s used to juggling multiple assignments.

Billed as an ”Instant Internet Novel,” Serb Heat is neither instant nor a novel — at just over 18,000 words, it’s more like a long short story. In one way it does live up to its hype: Serialized by the entertainment site Mr. Showbiz in 19 unedited installments, from April 30 to May 2, it is both on and about the Net. Queenan, 45, author of The Unkindest Cut: A Hatchet Man Film Critic Makes a Movie for 7,000 Dollars and Puts It All on His Credit Card, was commissioned to write the novel based on his scenario in which Serb assassins travel to the United States to kill a journalist who insulted them on the Internet.

Serb Heat veers from the absurd to stream of consciousness: One character is described as ”buoyant,” a trait ”cultivated during the peace, love, and understanding days of the days of rage during the summer of love in the night of the iguana.” And perhaps to fill up space, Queenan uses the word very very much. David Chalfant, chief agent at IMG Literary agency in Manhattan, who read a downloaded version of the piece blind, declares it ”a humble satire that argues in favor of rewriting.” Is it publishable in print? ”It would never fly.” But at least Queenan got the job done — and on time. Obviously, writer’s block wasn’t an issue. ”To me, [it] means you stop making money,” says Queenan. ”And that’s just a totally unacceptable idea.”

He shrugs off speculation that he outlined his story in advance. ”Oh, I always knew that if it sucked, people would say I wrote it [in three days],” says Queenan. ”But if it came out great, they’d say I had it on disc.”