Says who?

As a teenager, I saw it as a rule that any story told may be exaggerated by no more than 400%, i.e. 4 times as impressive as the thing actually was. This meant that if I, as a teenager, wanted to show off the impressive amount of alcohol I had consumed the night before, I would have said I had 12 beers, and no one was allowed to refute that. If, however, I would have said that I had made a move on 5 girls that evening, my friends would have been perfectly within their rights to call me a liar (especially since no matter what you do, 0 X 4 still comes out 0).

Now those stories I told my friends were not that important to their daily lives nor to their existence in society, but imagine living solely through what others telling you of the world, which should be easy, since that is what you do every time you open a book. You take someone’s word for what has, will, or is happening in the world you read about.

There are various ways to talk about narrators, but usually you can narrow it down to their place on two separate spectra, a sort of matrix of narrators, if you will. One spectrum refers to the narrator’s reliability.

Most people are already familiar with the terms “reliable” or “unreliable” narrator, but there is a lot more to narrators than this simple, binary distinction. Most people understand unreliable narrators as narrators with a tendency to lie, a perceptual problem (blind, deaf, mental disorder), or a clear and explicit bias. More recent narratives (basically, since the start of modernist writing) have tried to draw our attention to the fact that no narrator is actually reliable, and that truth is always subjective. Just as any first-semester learns and has his/her mind blown by the fact that our perception of the world is conveyed to us through our senses, and our minds need to interpret those signals and thus create our reality (or our perception of it) and senses can be tricked, readers need to rely on a mediator to perceive the reality of the narrative, and even if the narrator is a so-called “reliable” narrator their use of language and choice of what to describe undermine their objective reliability.

The second spectrum refers to the narrator’s closeness to events. A narrator can be either in or out of the story, which might be a dichotomy rather than a spectrum, but even when they are in the story, they might be more of an observer rather than the main character, which makes them a bit more distant, hence I will still say that there is a spectrum, but one that concerns their actual relation to the main storyline.

To give an example: Nick Carraway, is an intradiegetic narrator (a narrator who is present in the story), he participates in events, but those events do not revolve around him. He is a simple observer there to report bout events that are happening to Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. He is relatively objective, reporting what happens to Jay and Daisy, but he does not spare judgment. He has a lot of reservation about the excessive lifestyle of his new friends. This puts him somewhere in the middle of the “closeness” spectrum.

On the other hand, A Catcher in the Rye‘s Holden Caulfield is intradiegetic narrator, so he should know what is going on, but he is so full of (annoying) teenage angst that his judgment is keeping the reader from seeing anything beyond Holden’s anger at the world.

So what narrator should you choose? Intra- or extradiegetic, reliable or unreliable? Invested in the story or objective? Omniscient or of limited knowledge of events?

There is no answer to that. Of course, you can choose according to some meaningful design, but the easiest thing to do is to go with your guts and write the narrator you are comfortable with. He or she is the most important part of the story; it is only through them that the reader will get to experience anything in your world, so make sure not to force anything you think might please the scholars in fifty years, leave that for later, when you are an old, experienced writer who can afford to indulge his or her desire for intellectualism.

Fantastic stories and how to ensure they are found

Be honest, the title was at least a bit enticing and intriguing, wasn’t it? I also thought about going with “Oh, what’s in a name?” as the title, but quoting Shakespeare always feels a bit pompous. Both of these titles serve a single purpose, of course: catching the eye.

So to answer Juliet’s question, there is a lot to a name, or title. A title is the first piece of writing with which an author (and editor) make contact with the reader. And as we all want to sell a few books to make those coveted 10%, it needs to arrest the reader’s attention and spark some curiosity. Of course a nice cover helps a lot, but that is often out of the author’s sphere of influence, so I’m going to stick to what I know, and those are words.

My examples use known quotations, or references to known cultural phenomena. Other books, especially those that serve up a nice piece of sassy satire, may go for an entertaining pun; books that are intended to a more adult audience might go some for innuendo, and others might just choose something mysterious or, quite contrary, descriptive, but just as cryptic. A different example from a completely different field, look at so-called “click bait”; these short tag lines are constructed for the sole purpose of having people click on a link, they are usually joined by some kind of statement about how “you wouldn’t believe #3 is true!” in their list of the 6 most amazing things you can make pancakes with. A book title, along with sub titles, serve the very same purpose.

Now, even assuming that you found the perfect book title, we all know that people today want the best possible bang for their buck, so just a short glimpse at the half-naked man with the chiseled abs on the cover and that catchy, bawdy title you came up with might not be enough; there’s a reason that “don’t judge a book by its cover” became a saying.

To truly engross someone, you need to take into account that a lot of people read the first page or so in the bookstore, or online thanks to the preview option online retailers offer. That is why the first paragraph is a vital thing to get right, the first sentence even. It needs to set the tone, be interested, introduce some part of the underlying conflict, or the idea that something sinister will be coming, introduce at least one likable character, and still be flowing, witty, engrossing, and easy to read. In other words, it needs to sell your book.

Allow me the vanity of using the first sentence from my novel as an example: “I can’t see through the smoke, but that’s okay, there’s nothing to see.” The first reaction I got in a creative writing workshop where I presented the draft for the novel was that the later events seemed rather divorced from this beginning. The participant said that this made him think of a bomb that exploded and a desolate ruin somewhere, possibly in a not-too-friendly-to-Americans part of the Middle East, which later turns out to be someone’s basement in a small town in Ohio. This, however, is the point of this sentence. The character is a former soldier, he is a drug addict, he is confused and disoriented, and the next sentence (“Besides, even if I could see, I’d probably see wrong, or fuzzy,or blurry, and freak out.”) makes it clear that he is afraid of any kind of sobriety or clarity. This, then, sets the tone for the whole book, and is intriguing enough for the reader to want to find out what is happening, since they are given so little by the narrator, which means that they are required to puzzle the various components themselves and not rely on the narrator to explain a lot, or to explain it in a coherent manner.

And that is the crux of it. You need to inspire your readers to want to find out more, give them a bit, but hold so much back that they feel a hunger to keep reading. An interesting title, a powerful first sentence, and a first paragraph that basically does everything but wash your car, those are your weapons, now go conquer the world!

Boredom as an occupational illness

Just in case my boss is reading this: I am talking about being bored AT work. No. I am talking about being bored because of our fascination with literature and story-telling. By nature, and according to every guide to writing, writers read a lot.  By a lot I mean that every inch of our house is covered with books, e-readers are full more often than not, and we feel a lot closer to an assortment of fictional people than we ever felt to our peers and neighbors. Add to that our consumption of films and TV and you end up with a head full of every conceivable variation of every conceivable story.

My fiance keeps saying that she can’t watch films or shows with me as I seem to know exactly what will happen to whom (he sleeps with her, he dies, she ends up an old spinster) and I myself find myself getting bored with television or movies incredibly fast, as I have the feeling I know the ending about four minutes into the exposition. But this cannot be only because I read a lot; my fiance reads as much as I do (and faster), so why am I stuck with knowing the that kid sees dead people (just a hyperbole, I was not that good when the Sixth Sense came out), or that Jack and his mom are actually prisoners in that little Room?

I’m not a doctor (but I would like to play one on TV), nor a psychologist, but since it’s my own mind I am looking into, I am allowing myself the formation of a little theory:

Writing has changed the way I consume stories.

By this I mean that I am more prone to look critically at the plot, what drives it, where is it going, since I have become accustomed to try and plan my own plots. This, in my case, is helped with a little bit of academic knowledge on literature, but not much (a bachelor’s degree isn’t exactly a PhD in narratology…) so I do attribute this to writing rather than the abundance of reading alone.

Luckily for me, this mainly affects my viewing of films and shows and books to a far lesser degree (probably because the frustration of already knowing what will happen is offset by a weird sense of pride in having predicted the more prestigious literary form’s progress).

Unfortunately, things don’t end in just knowing what will happen. Yesterday, a new occupational illness was brought to my attention, and that I am suffering from it. Sitting among my fellow proof-readers and professional translators, we all shared stories about our moments of grammar-nazi behavior and I realized that I am guilty as well. I can hardly go one day without correcting people’s grammar, spelling, style, or whatever, even when I am not being paid to do it, but rather to shut up and go away.

I feel those two afflictions are a part of being a writer, the drawback inherent in loving the written word. Oh, but what a price to pay!

Short Story, continuation

Hi there, sorry for not writing for a while I was experiencing computer problems of a clear and dysfunctional nature. Now it’s back and so am I!

I thought I’d restart with a continuation of my kleptomaniac story. To make things easier, I’ll put it down with the beginning and the continuation in one post (there will be a part three, too). Enjoy:

 

Since he saw no actual logic to his compulsion to steal, he decided never to take anything useful, sensible, or desirable.

The hardest thing about it was avoiding those small, colorful cigarette lighters that always seem to offer themselves to the casual act of thievery. Instead, he had an assortment of old magazines “liberate” from various waiting rooms, one small empty vinegar dispenser, several dozen dessert forks, and a few light bulbs that did not fit any lamp in his house.

His friends, sister, former boss, and therapist called it kleptomania; he preferred thinking of himself as a modern day swashbuckler and scallywag. His booty could have been considered an impressive collection in the hands of an eccentric eighteenth century gentleman, but it seemed out of place in the possession of a twenty first century insurance salesman, and unemployed one as he was fired for stealing two boxes of light bulbs from the maintenance closet.

He saw nothing particularly wrong with taking those things he took. Those waiting rooms spread throughout the city could very much use an update in their selection of magazines; restaurants got those oil and vinegar dispenser at a dime a dozen at the cheapest wholesaler, and his former employer made ridiculous amounts of money for writing down people’s names in this list or that list, they could spare a ten Dollar box of 40 Watt light bulbs, even two.

So Robin made his weekly visits to the unemployment office, stealing toilet paper and paper clips more as souvenirs than even an appeasement of his almost officially diagnosed kleptomania. The weekly visits to his mother were much harder than the unemployment office. His mother was far stricter in pointing out the pitfalls of unemployment and his misadventures and failures or mistakes. He spent a lot more mental energy in defending his life choices and current status from his mother than from the might and indifference of the US government, or the Chicago municipal authorities, or Mrs. Lamb, his advisor at the unemployment office.

He did not take anything from his mother, though. No tokens or mementos were needed or wanted. He did take a shoe horn from his sister’s house the last time he was there, and a burst baseball from his friend John’s house. But there was something inherently frightening and unthinkable in stealing from his old, widowed mother. She was not the frail sort of old, nor the truly hard and frightening sort of woman, she was simply Mother. Mother, the disciplinarian, Mother, the giver of rewards, Mother, protector, Mother, avenger, Mother, the withholder of affection, Mother, the attentive ear, Mother, the spanking hand.

Weeks went on and mutated into months, which in turn aggregated themselves into a semblance of a year. Robin gave signs that he wanted to go into business on his own, but Mrs. Lamb advised against it, and so did his mother, sister, John, Steve, Allan, Beth, and his therapist. John, Steve, Allan, and Beth, his friends from Grimmley Insurance Inc., made attempts to cheer him up by telling his of the goings on in his former office, of the subtle, pointless intrigues, frustrations about Mr. Lye, the new floor manager, and the rapid loss of clients due to some bad publicity. They told him how much of a hero he still is in the office for his act of quiet, though useless, defiance in taking those light bulbs.

Robin listened half-heartedly, and manage to keep Beth from remembering to take her scarf on the way out, which he thought of as a successful scarf-robbery. He tucked the scarf away in a drawer, along with a pair of batman socks he took from his nephew’s room, and sat back down on his couch.

After a year or so of having only taken, but earning nothing, he felt less of an adventurous modern day scallywag and more of a free-loader. He started to feel guilty even for those magazines he took from his doctor’s office the week before. And as he sat and mulled over his acts of thievery and beginning to wonder if they were the acts of an eccentric gentleman of fortune or a degenerate loser with mental health issues, his doorbell rang.

Through the peephole, Robin saw Beth standing outside, looking through her purse and looking very confused, even through the distorting lens of the peephole. The lens made her brown hair look as if it cover most of her face, even though he knew she cut it to stay well above her eyes, which, through the peephole, looked like tiny beads and not their usual blue, almonds he secretly liked to stare at. The peephole also made Beth’s lips look strangely mannish, as they were transformed by the rules of optics into a thin line painted with a rather dashing shade between pink and red.

Robin saw her lift her arms and thought she is about to check the time on her watch, which he wanted to steal for over a month, but did not dare. Instead, she knocked on his door.

“Rob? I think I left my scarf in you apartment, can I come in and look for it? I’m late for work, so I’ll make it quick.” She said in a tone that might have been exasperated, might have been annoyed, might just have been stressed about an upcoming team meeting in conference room B about the sudden surge in justified claims and the payouts that are losing the company hundreds of thousands every month, or at least that is how Mr. Lye had put it.

Robin opened the door and Beth hurried back inside. She looked in all the places any woman who has a passing interest in forgetting a scarf or other item at a man’s house in order to have a reason to come back might leave said object, but found nothing, which confirmed to Beth that her passing interest in Robin has passed, and that she did not unconsciously forget her scarf in order to get to see him again, alone.

Robin pretended to help Beth by not actively steering her away from the drawer in the living room closet, which held her scarf, but he said nothing about the scarf’s location. He was, in fact, rather confused by Beth’s break from the unspoken rule of never mentioning an item lost in the presence of Robin, neither directly nor indirectly accusing him of the disappearance of said item, or of coming around to his home unannounced. He thought of it as an excuse to get to talk to him alone.

“What color was it?” He asked, knowing full well it was a dark gray with spots of blue.

“Gray with some blue on it. Are you sure it isn’t behind the couch or anything.” That was how Beth had begun her relationship with her last boyfriend, by leaving her coat behind the sofa, making it look like it had fallen.

“I’m sure, but I’ll check again.” Robin said and made searching noises after breaking visual contact.

Of course he ‘found’ nothing, and reported so in as disappointed voice as he could. Beth expressed her displeasure at losing the scarf, again ignoring the unspoken rule of avoiding such topics around Robin, and left the apartment after convincing herself that she had simply forgotten her scarf in the office and just completely wasted her and Robin’s time.

Robin, on the other hand, was far more perplexed. He was not afraid of being caught of thievery, as this had happened many times in the past, and with his almost official diagnosis as a kleptomaniac, it meant that he needed help, not punishment. No, he was perplexed by having stolen something desirable and important for the first time, having stolen something someone missed. No one missed the toilet paper or the light bulbs, but Beth would like her scarf back, and her very mention of the topic to Robin was proof that she had no idea he had taken it.

He took the scarf out of the drawer and looked at it. It had seemed so small and unimportant before, now it was some harbinger of doom, or at least more embarrassment than he was used to. It had seemed like some generic, characterless thing women use to ornament their necks when it is too cold for cleavages. It had looked like something you get at a Dollar shop in a packet of five. He read the label for confirmation. “Made in Guatemala”. Cheap make, or exotic? Hard to tell. It did not look particularly exotic, but Robin knew nothing of the culture of Guatemala, so how would he know, maybe gray and blue are the colors of some Guatemalan saint, and Beth did go to Guatemala for vacation a few months before, so… maybe.

He tried to make up his mind about his next course of action. He could wait a few days and see maybe she forgot about the scarf, proving that she was simply missing a layer of something slightly warmer than the ambient Chicago air to cover her neck, not the scarf itself. Or, alternatively, he could return it, use the social opening left for him by her assumption it had fallen somewhere and eluded their sight. He could also sneak it back into her possession.

Unstealing things, as it were, was not a common practice of Robin’s, but one he was forced to exercise every so often. It required much less dexterity, both physical and social, to perform than stealing the object in the first place, but it, sometimes, needed to be done.

One particular day, Robin attempted, absentmindedly, to appropriate a little discarded looking pin from the floor of a fast-food restaurant he had frequented when he had money to spend. It was a tiny thing that barely registered into his mind before it pricked his finger, but before it could be safely secured in his jacket pocket, he noticed a small child looking for something. The child looked upset, at the brink of crying when Robin took a look at the thing in his hand and saw that the pin, which apparently was what he had just picked up, bore an uncanny, and probably intentional, similarity to the child’s cap. The little ladybug pin would look quite dashing pinned to that ladybug cap that little girl is wearing, some inner part of Robin said, in a sarcastic, ironic, irritating and insufferably correct voice.

So Robin stood up, approached the, by now, weeping child and gave her the pin, only to have the child’s tears replaced by boundless joy and a mother’s disconcertingly professional cross examination as to the circumstances that lead to the pin finding its way to Robin’s possession. He kept asserting that he had found it on the floor and immediately associated the child’s distress with this lost item, which was near enough to the truth to pass a polygraph test, which the mother seemed inclined to demand before letting the whole thing go and delivering the, now, demanded portion of chicken nuggets to the child.

Robin has learned much that day. People expect to lose things, and once they have resigned themselves to this loss, being reunited with those things is somehow worse and more discomforting than the original loss. He began imagining the scenarios of returning Beth’s scarf to her and could not help but having one scenario, which he decided was more a concession to his increasingly chastised masculinity, lead to the bedroom.

Most other scenarios led to Beth suspended all friendship privileges, one also had her confirm to everyone that Robin was nothing more than a common thief, and not at all a harmless, overall friendly, and fun kleptomaniac.

But he could not keep it. There was something utterly dissatisfying to him to have taken something that someone wanted, even if they did not really mind so much. No, it was not about their relationships to their things, whoever they were and whatever their things were. No. It was about his relationship with himself. He had made a promise. He was only to take things that were not only mundane, but clearly seen as the refuse of every other member of society.

Short Story!

After being challenged to do so by my fiance, I began writing a short story about a kleptomaniac, here is the first part, hope you enjoy it:

 

Since he saw no actual logic to his compulsion to steal, he decided never to take anything useful, sensible, or desirable.

The hardest thing about it was avoiding those small, colorful cigarette lighters that always seem to offer themselves to the casual act of thievery. Instead, he had an assortment of old magazines “liberate” from various waiting rooms, one small empty vinegar dispenser, several dozen dessert forks, and a few light bulbs that did not fit any lamp in his house.

His friends, sister, former boss, and therapist called it kleptomania; he preferred thinking of himself as a modern day swashbuckler and scallywag. His booty could have been considered an impressive collection in the hands of an eccentric eighteenth century gentleman, but it seemed out of place in the possession of a twenty first century insurance salesman, and unemployed one as he was fired for stealing two boxes of light bulbs from the maintenance closet.

He saw nothing particularly wrong with taking those things he took. Those waiting rooms spread throughout the city could very much use an update in their selection of magazines; restaurants got those oil and vinegar dispenser at a dime a dozen at the cheapest wholesaler, and his former employer made ridiculous amounts of money for writing down people’s names in this list or that list, they could spare a ten Dollar box of 40 Watt light bulbs, even two.

So Robin made his weekly visits to the unemployment office, stealing toilet paper and paper clips more as souvenirs than even an appeasement of his almost officially diagnosed kleptomania. The weekly visits to his mother were much harder than the unemployment office. His mother was far stricter in pointing out the pitfalls of unemployment and his misadventures and failures or mistakes. He spent a lot more mental energy in defending his life choices and current status from his mother than from the might and indifference of the US government, or the Chicago municipal authorities, or Mrs. Lamb, his advisor at the unemployment office.

He did not take anything from his mother, though. No tokens or mementos were needed or wanted. He did take a shoe horn from his sister’s house the last time he was there, and a burst baseball from his friend John’s house. But there was something inherently frightening and unthinkable in stealing from his old, widowed mother. She was not the frail sort of old, nor the truly hard and frightening sort of woman, she was simply Mother. Mother, the disciplinarian, Mother, the giver of rewards, Mother, protector, Mother, avenger, Mother, the withholder of affection, Mother, the attentive ear, Mother, the spanking hand.

Weeks went on and mutated into months, which in turn aggregated themselves into a semblance of a year. Robin gave signs that he wanted to go into business on his own, but Mrs. Lamb advised against it, and so did his mother, sister, John, Steve, Allan, Beth, and his therapist. John, Steve, Allan, and Beth, his friends from Grimmley Insurance Inc., made attempts to cheer him up by telling his of the goings on in his former office, of the subtle, pointless intrigues, frustrations about Mr. Lye, the new floor manager, and the rapid loss of clients due to some bad publicity. They told him how much of a hero he still is in the office for his act of quiet, though useless, defiance in taking those light bulbs.

Robin listened half-heartedly, and manage to keep Beth from remembering to take her scarf on the way out, which he thought of as a successful scarf-robbery. He tucked the scarf away in a drawer, along with a pair of batman socks he took from his nephew’s room, and sat back down on his couch.

After a year or so of having only taken, but earning nothing, he felt less of an adventurous modern day scallywag and more of a free-loader. He started to feel guilty even for those magazines he took from his doctor’s office the week before. And as he sat and mulled over his acts of thievery and beginning to wonder if they were the acts of an eccentric gentleman of fortune or a degenerate loser with mental health issues, his doorbell rang.

Through the peephole, Robin saw Beth standing outside, looking through her purse and looking very confused, even through the distorting lens of the peephole. The lens made her brown hair look as if it cover most of her face, even though he knew she cut it to stay well above her eyes, which, through the peephole, looked like tiny beads and not their usual blue, almonds he secretly liked to stare at. The peephole also made Beth’s lips look strangely mannish, as they were transformed by the rules of optics into a thin line painted with a rather dashing shade between pink and red.

Robin saw her lift her arms and thought she is about to check the time on her watch, which he wanted to steal for over a month, but did not dare. Instead, she knocked on his door.

“Rob? I think I left my scarf in you apartment, can I come in and look for it? I’m late for work, so I’ll make it quick.”

We’re all living in a material world, and I am a material…

Yes, Madonna, the pop-start, not the religious icon, is our point of departure today. No, we are not here to discuss has-beens, or people who were once great (and hot) and just simply lost it (and that, too…). We are here to use one of those rare times that pop music reflected a turn in academic thought.

It may have been delayed, but Madonna recognized in her song that we do, in fact, live in a material world. Now, while the song is about materialism and capitalism as a mode of thought and cultural driving force in on itself, I am focusing on the more general aspect of material things and nature.

Humanity lived in a world of things long before anyone thought of the word “capitalism”; it’s one of the things that separated humans from other, much cooler primates – our use of tools. Every human civilization, old, new, democratic, aristocratic, monarchic, theocratic, or whatever has had THINGS. These things tell anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians much about how the people of different eras lived. This, however is not restricted to the mere limits of their technology and how it effected everyday life. This include ideals of beauty (also of things and other people), ideas of success, ideas of peace, ideas of luxury, what values were important, what was considered “taboo”, and so on. This is what social sciences refer to as “material culture”, i.e. what do the objects circulating within a culture and the values attached to those object tell us about the culture.

To give a rather silly (but awesome) example, let me tell you about an example I gave in a presentation in a class on the works of the author J.R.R. Tolkien. In the book the Hobbit Bilbo and the gang stumble upon a group of goblins on their way to the Lonely Mountain and are captured by them. Upon a search of through the dwarves’ belongings, the goblins discover the sword Orcrist and are both enraged and terrified by it. Why? The sword was found in a troll cave far, far away. It has lain there for probably quiet some while, by which I mean a few millennia, and goblins aren’t really known to be scholars. Well, the answer is clear, the sword is legendary, even among them. Throughout the ages since the Goblin Wars (in the first age), stories of that sword were passed from goblin to goblin as they sat around the fire and ate some nasty dwarf, and so, the memory of the great losses they had suffered long ago remained in their cultural memory. It was thus, even by goblins who had never laid eye on it before, recognizable and terrifying. Values and stories and feelings were attached to a material object, which thus bears great significance for goblin culture in Tolkien’s universe.

This phenomenon is not limited to whole cultures, but can also be seen in small groups, or even individuals. We all know this instinctively, we associate certain clothes and accessories with a certain kind of person, we recognize Joe because he always wears a hat, or Sarah’s coffee mugs, even when entirely new, are always chipped in the same place and have just as many lipstick stains as they do coffee stains. We can learn a lot about a person or group by the object they keep or produce.

For a writer, this seems like a perfect tool to use for characterization. The reader will learn a lot about a character by reading about the objects they carry and use, especially since readers expect and anticipate the use of metaphors and parallelisms in their reading material.

Allow me to give an example:

The challenge was to describe a person by using their favorite coffee mug, either fictional or real (the mug, the person is definitely real):

“He had a cup, a permanent fixture on his desk in the teachers’ lounge. It was large, with a great capacity and was chipped in the rim and handle. It was host to an assortment of quotes by Einstein, Shakespeare and E.A. Poe, which were crossed out with a permanent marker, and he, with his chaotic, scribbled hand, attributed those pearls of wisdom to himself and his closest friends.”

Now, what do you think of this guy? Doesn’t this description tell you a lot about him even though it is, supposedly, only about his coffee cup?

Pseudo-mysterious

I have been toying with the idea of using a pseudonym since I wrote my first ever word meant to be an attempt at aesthetic pleasure. I was, at the time, not even aware of all the greats who wrote under a pseudonym, Lewis Carol, George Eliot, Mark Twain, Isaac Asimov, and the list goes on. I simply relished in the idea of being a mysterious, coveted secret, having thousands of readers all guessing about my identity.

A little research on my part would have revealed that “proper” writers have a reason for choosing a pseudonym, and it isn’t the literary equivalent of ordering a single malt scotch whiskey and sitting in a dark corner of a bar. Pseudonyms are a choice, like many choices in literature, bearing meaning. George Eliot (real name, Mary Anne Evans) was, either consciously or by trying to make her writing easier to market, making a point about women in writing and, by extension, in intellectual circles. C. S. Lewis wrote a book inspired by the death of his wife under a pseudonym to help him process the grief (A Grief Observed), and the rawness of the subject matter made him take refuge in a pseudonym to protect his privacy.

So yes, I think I have established that I was immature in my thinking. My thinking, though elaborate (I actually did come up with several possible pseudonyms), was not necessary. I was not escaping political persecution, I didn’t need to hide my identity, even if I felt embarrassed about my writing.

But let us not be overly dramatic, not all writers who use pseudonyms are facing firing squads or racial/gender discrimination. Some of them want to break into new genres (à la J. K. Rowling) or simply try to write with the thrill of pretending to be a new writer breaking the scene (I can only really come up with an example from Germany, Sebastian Fitzek who wrote, still in the same genre, under the name Max Rhode).

Why then did I come back to this idea now, after over ten years? My new project. My new book is an historical novel, about a Jewish immigrant from Germany, seeing the rise of Nazism from his “self-imposed” exile. This is, of course, heavily inspired by my own family’s history, who left Germany as things were getting very uncomfortable for Jews. The struggles of an immigrant the concerns about the crumbling “old country”, they are the same things my grandparents and great-grandparents experienced, which makes me feel I am speaking for them, telling their story (though a bit embellished and made more marketable). This brought me back to my first ever idea for a pseudonym, which as an Alias my grandfather used when he was wanted by the British police during the British mandate in Palestine. It seems like more than a gesture, or an homage, it seems like placing the voice where it belongs. It feels like making a connection between us for me to assume as my chosen my pseudonym his forced alias.