April Fools’ Day Literary Hoaxes

Happy April Fools’ Day.

April FoolWhen my brother was about 3 or 4, he loved April Fools’ Day. I think he regarded it as a chance to tell little lies, like “You have dirt on your face,” or “Your shoes are untied,” and then shouting “April Fool.”

Some people go to great lengths to fool the public, like the great spaghetti harvest or the Sydney iceberg.

But when did this tradition of pranks originate?

Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes.

There’s also speculation that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather, something we Coloradans know all too well.

Since this is a writing blog, I hit the Google Machine for some literary “pranks.”

Here are a few.

Naked Came the Stranger, by Penelope Ashe
The Hoax: America goes nuts for a salacious novel of sex and drugs.
The Truth: A group of journalists purposefully wrote a terrible book to prove American culture is vulgar, which everyone kind of assumed anyway.

A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey
The Hoax: Wrote a harrowing memoir about his struggle with addiction.
The Truth: It was more novel than memoir; he got caught; made an enemy of Oprah.

Coffee, Tea or Me?, by Donald Bain
The Hoax: Memoir reveals the wild and crazy lives of airline stewardesses (which is what we used to call female flight attendants).
The Truth: A ghostwriter is hired to pen memoir of wild and crazy stewardesses, discovers they’re actually kind of boring, makes up a bunch of stuff, and makes millions.

The Painted Bird, by Jerzy N. Kosinski
The Hoax: Polish American author writes a harrowing memoir of his experiences during World War II…
The Truth: …but it’s a cobbled-together skein of plagiarism and lies.

Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
The Hoax: The diary of a troubled, drug-addicted teen is published in order to scare kids straight.
The Truth: Well, yes, except the diary was a forgery, penned by a therapist.

Atlanta Nights, by Travis Tea
The Hoax: “Travis Tea” submits a salacious novel to a seedy publisher.
The Truth: “Travis Tea” is actually a group of sci-fi and fantasy authors seeking to expose an unscrupulous publisher.

Any April Fools’ Day memories to share? Best pranks? Given the “outside” world, a few laughs are welcome.

Image by Annalise Batista from Pixabay



Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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24 thoughts on “April Fools’ Day Literary Hoaxes

  1. There was also The Education of Little Tree (1976) by Forrest Carter, supposedly a heart-warming memoir of the author’s upbringing by his Cherokee grandparents. Turns out the author was actually Asa Earl Carter, a KKK member from Alabama who used to write speeches for George Wallace.

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  2. Yeah. On April 1, we used to put on masks and go out to the two farm equipment dealers in the small town and push the tractors out into the street. Then we’d pick what we called the worst person award. We’d go out and set his outhouse on fire. And we’d cut down a tree in someone’s yard–someone who had given us a tough time during the year. The we’d go trick or . . .

    Wait.

    That was Halloween. But it might have been April 1st by the Julian calendar.

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    • Halloween, April Fools’? Easy to get them confused. Thanks for the much-needed smiles.

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  3. The time the senior class of my small, rural high school skulked to the school in the dead of night, broke in, and left a large bovine in the principal’s office. Of course, after carefully removing all furniture, books, etc, down to the four walls, and spreading black tarp over the floor.

    That one made the local news, as I recall.

    My senior class? I’ll never tell…

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  4. Well, this one’s not literary, but… a good friend of mine got stung by her husband pouring way too much sugar in her coffee… so she got a bag of Oreo’s, opened it carefully, and replaced the cream with toothpaste, leaving the bag on top of other groceries on the counter and just waited… He came in from work, and, well… you can guess the rest…

    Her coffee’s been un-tampered with ever since…

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  5. The Calvin College Chimes has long had a tradition of an April Fool’s edition, various know as The Chives, The Bong, etc.

    The ne plus ultra edition was published a few years after my time at Calvin. The weekly magazine of the Christian Reformed Church, owner of Calvin College, was a mostly deplorable production called The Banner. That year, on April Fool’s the Chimes-crowd published The Bananer, that in font, layout, page size, etc. was identical to The Banner. It was filled with marvelous, satirical send-ups of normal Banner content.

    I happened to be at my parents’ home in Grand Rapids, a few miles from the college, when one of my brothers left a copy on the table. My mother noticed it and said, “Oh, The Banner came early this week.”

    “Look again,” several of us said.

    Of course the entire Chimes staff (and perhaps the entire college) was anathamized by the Banner’s editor. But The Bananer’s success was such that, at a Calvin homecoming fifty years later, an entire event was devoted to The Bananer, featuring its editor and other “worthies.”

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  6. When I was in the fire and rescue service, rookies were fair game for all kinds of non-harmful abuse. Hint: There are endless way to end up with water being poured down your pants.

    A favorite though was the Blue Flare Hunt. You always targeted the brand-newest noob (aka FNG, which should resonate with some of our readers), hopefully one who was so frigging anxious to be of help. Here’s how it worked: You’d tell the kid that the station was out of blue flares, and you’d send him out to get some from a station that was as far away as possible and still be in the county. If you really wanted to sell it, you’d give him the keys to a utility vehicle which had the FD logo, light bar and radio–the last two of which the rookie would be forbidden to use unless for a real emergency. Remember, these were the days before cell phones.

    Here’s the thing: There’s no such thing as a blue flare.

    When the FNG finally arrived at target firehouse, that station would, of course, have just used their last one, but they know that Station 19 has some–again, all the way on the other side of the county. Sometimes, it would take hours for the kid to figure out that he was being had.

    At the jokester’s discretion, a “smoke shifter” can be substituted for blue flares.

    The cool thing about the prank is that *everyone* knew what to do when someone came looking.

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    • Reminds me of my airline job in college, sending the newbie to the parts crib across the airfield for “prop wash” – and this in the jet age ( I ain’t THAT old~ yet 🥴)

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  7. Three inches of snow and 19 degrees is the April Fools joke that Mother Nature had played on us Montanans when I got up this a.m.

    Thanks for the fun spaghetti tree story, Terry. I put a stick of spaghetti in a jar of Ragu, like the man said, but it ain’t growing yet.

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  8. Jerzy N. Kosinski also wrote BEING THERE which became a weird movie starring Peter Sellers as a simple-minded gardener who became a guru for the powerful and famous. So, essentially, a prediction of today. Sigh.

    Clifford Irving’s fake biography of Howard Hughes as opposed to the fake will used by Melvin Dummar, a Utah nobody who tried to claim Hughes’ estate.

    When I was doing a search to find Clifford Irving’s name, I found a Wikipedia entry that is nothing but a link to various hoaxes. Beware this rabbit hole of time.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hoaxes

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    • > Jerzy N. Kosinski also wrote BEING THERE

      And even this is a remake of “The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma” by Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz, a 1932 Polish bestselling political novel

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  9. Thanks for the warning, Marilynn! I had enough fun finding some hoaxes for today’s post. I remember Being There. My parents were huge fans of Peter Sellers.

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    • Thanks, Sue –
      After “Naked Came the Stranger,” some of my husband’s then acquaintances/colleagues in Florida wrote “Naked Came the Manatee.”

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  10. A friend of mine just had this pulled on her today. Her husband is on dialysis and they are training to do it at home:
    So, we’re on day nine of dialysis training classes and today it’s my responsibility to go through the entire process and hook Kenneth Eidson up to the machine with four solution bags and tubing galore. I finish everything I’ve been taught and press the “Confirm” button on the machine to activate his dialysis. Ken immediately starts yelling that fluid is running down his back. The nurse and I freak out because it didn’t make sense. There should not be any leaking fluids!! I search his back …. he starts laughing and says “April Fool’s.

    I would have killed him!

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  11. The call came in. The murder suspect was seen entering a home in an older subdivision. My husband and several other Sheriff Deputies were dispatched to search the house. The interior made the inside of a house of horrors seem like daylight, and somewhere inside was a killer with a gun.

    The deputies moved from room to room, searching behind furniture and checking even the darkest shadows.

    My husband, the patrol sergeant, discovered before the other deputies, the suspect was not in the house. As he passed through a game room, he noticed the mounted fish on the wall. He pushed a button and the fish came to life wriggling on its mount – and singing. Judging from the curses coming from the other rooms, his fellow deputies were not amused. 😀

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