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Ah, but will these authors use pen names?

Times Staff Writer

Clutching a diamond-encrusted pen worth $150,000, author Jackie Collins smiles for the cameras and then scribbles the latest plot twist in a book that is destined -- if all goes well -- to never be published.

It’s a literary experiment called the “Great American Love Story,” a traveling romance novel that the public is invited to help write. Sponsored by Montblanc, maker of outrageously priced pens, the book got underway in New York in March.

“Sex and the City” scribe Candace Bushnell drafted the opening sentence: “There is practically no woman alive who can resist a handwritten note, and Pinky Weatherton was no exception. She stared in excitement at the missive, scrawled on cream-colored paper embossed with a small gold crest.”

From there, the book has bounced around to Atlanta, Dallas and now Beverly Hills as part of an eight-town tour. At each stop, a name-brand author jots the first sentence and then amateur writers add their own prose.

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Not everyone grasps the concept. Several Texas contributors mistook the 1,000-page leather-bound volume for a guest book and scrawled comments about how much they love shopping at Montblanc’s Dallas boutique.

Aside from that, the writings offer psychological snapshots of the various cities hosting the book. In New York, the Pinky Weatherton character evolved into a hip, young professional unlucky in love. In Atlanta, she turned into a chic Southern belle. In Dallas, her “hair got higher, her diamonds got bigger and she got closer to God,” according to a Montblanc publicist. Now the book is camped out on Rodeo Drive. At a swanky ceremony held recently in Montblanc’s Beverly Hills shop, author No. 367 (a.k.a. Collins) promised to inject Pinky’s saga with an L.A. spin. “I’m going to do sex in the other city,” she joked, referring to Bushnell.

Armed with the $150,000 pen, which was fetched from Montblanc’s vault by a woman wearing plastic gloves, Collins weaved a 44-word narrative in which Pinky meets Nick, a dashing lawyer who is “hot, sexy and loaded -- in more ways than one.”

After she finished writing, the bejeweled pen was returned to the safe, champagne bottles were uncorked and visitors began lining up to contribute to the book’s increasingly disjointed plot line.

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In no time flat, they had Pinky glued to a cellphone, chatting with her therapist. And they made Nick gay.

One contributor flipped through several pages of entries before putting pen to paper. “I need to have some back story,” he explained.

The 2-foot-tall book is scheduled to remain in Beverly Hills through Tuesday, then will head to San Francisco, where author Nora Roberts will be the lead writer. (Roberts, Collins and the other big-name contributing authors receive a $1,250 silver-and-amethyst pen.)

After California, the “Great American Love Story” is set to travel to Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas -- and maybe the record books.

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Montblanc officials plan to nominate it for a Guinness world record as the novel with the most authors.

Actually, that honor rightfully belongs to a previous Montblanc publicity stunt called the “Great American Novel,” which toured the nation from 1988 to 1994, racking up 12,003 authors, including wrestler Jesse Ventura, lawyer Alan Dershowitz, then-Gov. George Deukmejian and producer Aaron Spelling.

The first book featured characters who brushed their teeth with explosives, battled alligators and got arrested for appearing on too many game shows. Montblanc called the story a “cultural capsule of the mores and sensibilities of Americans in the late 1980s and early 1990s.” Journalists branded it “bad writing of epic proportions.”

That book was also supposed to be submitted to Guinness, but tragedy struck. The 16-pound volume was damaged by a flood in the office of Montblanc’s New York publicity firm. Today, the runny-inked masterpiece sits inside Montblanc headquarters in Germany.

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The company hopes its new project will enjoy a better fate. However, there are no plans to publish the final story, if only because author book signings would be a logistical nightmare.


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