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(L-R) Carrie Fisher, Tyra Banks, James Franco and Steve Martin.
TODAY books
updated 6/6/2011 1:23:52 PM ET 2011-06-06T17:23:52

Some of them might be renaissance men, others would like to think they are, but when celebrities pick up the pen the results are mixed. For every literary luminary there’s a dabbler who should have kept their manuscript in a drawer. And then, of course, there are the works of fiction so awful that they become cult favorites.

The latest famous face on a book jacket: Gene Hackman. On June 7, the two-time Oscar winner hits the trail with "Payback at Morning Peak," a Western about Jubal Young, a guy with a dark past, a yearning for revenge and a loaded .22.

Promising? Maybe. Hackman lives in New Mexico, and he's done enough time in the Old West onscreen — remember "The Quick and the Dead"? — to earn his spurs. Plus, while "Payback" is the first book he's written solo, he has authored three adventures with Daniel Lenihan, a fellow Santa Fe resident. In the library of celebs-turned-novelists, he stands to earn high marks. And we can’t say that for everyone.

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James Franco
No star-turned-writer of recent years has received more attention than James Franco. His short story collection, "Palo Alto," came out last fall — at a time when he was busy appearing on "General Hospital," putting on art shows and pursuing multiple master's degrees. It seemed like the actor was spoofing himself, but yet his fiction was supposed to be taken seriously. Those who managed to read with a straight face awarded some encouraging reviews, even if the consensus seemed to be that some of his first-person narrators blended together.

Lauren Conrad
To call Conrad's "L.A. Candy" a novel is a stretch. It's more of a semi-disguised autobiography, about a young woman who moves to Los Angeles and becomes a reality show sensation. Then again, it was popular enough to inspire a sequel, "Sweet Little Lies," and a third, "Sugar and Spice." Thanks to a new deal with HarperCollins, also for three books, Conrad’s ruthlessly ambitious starlet-in-the-wings, "Madison Parker," is about to get her own spin-off series. “She has fun with the press,” Conrad has said of the character. “She enjoys the attention, she welcomes scandal!" Sound like Heidi Montag?

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Hilary Duff
"I wrote a book, so it goes to show you that anyone can write a book if they have an idea," Hilary Duff told the New York Post when she published her young adult novel "Elixir" last year. That's an attitude that would make a serious author roll his or her eyes, but Duff's tale of a plucky heroine investigating a supernatural mystery quickly climbed the best-seller list.

Ethan Hawke
Hawke was already known as a brooding and adorable screen hero, so there was no need for him to play to type. But yet he gave us William Harding, the Hawke-esque character at the center of 1997’s "The Hottest State." Harding lives in grungy New York City, has sex with his girlfriend in the bathroom, and ponders his parents’ breakup. If that sounds a little hard to get through, it may explain why the film version, directed by Hawke, only grossed some $30,000. Still, he wrote another book, "Ash Wednesday," six years later.

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Carrie Fisher
By now, Carrie Fisher has cemented her status as a skilled, incisive writer with her book-turned-one-woman-show "Wishful Drinking." But her first novel, in 1987, was "Postcards From the Edge," which took a scathingly funny, fictionalized look at Fisher's relationship with her own mother, Debbie Reynolds, and struggles with addiction. In the 1990 film version, Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine played the mother-daughter pair.

Premiere Of "God Bless Ozzy Osbourne" At The 2011 Tribeca Film Festival
Jason Kempin  /  Getty Images file
Sharon Osbourne
Sharon Osbourne
Mama Osbourne's 2010 literary debut, "Revenge," may not have been Pulitzer material, but readers took it for what it was: a juicy read. "It's a rare page that doesn't have a sex scene, birth, suicide, rape, platinum-selling album or at least a line of top-quality cocaine in it," wrote a reviewer in the Guardian. Of course, there's no saying how much of it Osbourne wrote. When asked that question by the London Times, a spokeswoman from publisher Little, Brown said, "We have no comment."

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Steve Martin
By the time he penned his first novella, Martin had written plays and pieces for The New Yorker, so it's no surprise that 2000's "Shopgirl" got some praise. In fact, even critics leery of Martin's sincere, decidedly un-comedic tone gave it positive reviews. The New York Times called the tale of a lonely Neiman Marcus salesgirl "elegant, bleak, [and] desolatingly sad." The 2005 film with Claire Danes in the title role was branded slight but sophisticated.

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Tyra Banks
Next on bookshelves? Tyra Banks will pen "Modelland," a series about a teenage girl and her friends transported to the titular place, where a breed of beauty called "Intoxibellas" is trained. Early buzz says to think of it as "America's Top Model" meets "Harry Potter," and while there hasn't been much news of late, Random House expects to release the first book Sept. 13. There's only one question left: Is it possible to read and "smize" at the same time?

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