The Reason For Blowing Smoke

I’m in the mood to spill some dirt today. I’m going to blow my own whistle – a statement which, in hindsight, carries way more innuendo than is appropriate for a book blog, but whatever. Let’s fire up this drum circle and share some secrets. This is a big one, so get ready:

BookReasons is not my real name.

That’s right-pseudonym isn’t just a word that let me kill it back in that 5th-grade spelling bee. It’s the literary equivalent of a secret identity. It’s authorial intrigue. It’s a title page bob and weave, a misdirection, an invisibility cloak. Writing and publishing under a name not your own is a practice as old as the written word.
Socrates: I had to publish all my fanfic under a pseudonym
Me: You wrote fanfic?
Socrates: A graphic novel AU where Zeus is a building code inspector
Me: Ruler of Olympus? That Zeus?
Socrates: Zeus is a little volatile
Me: I’ve heard
Socrates: So I figured, pseudonym was the best way to go
Me: Better than being turned into a bull
Socrates: HAHAHA Zeus is so unstable

Literary history is littered with works published under fake names. There are a lot of great reasons authors go deep undercover. Spreading salacious, mostly-true gossip (Benjamin Franklin as Alice Addertongue), safely discussing controversial topics (Benjamin Franklin as Polly Baker), or to create an author persona that gives a work legitimacy (Benjamin Franklin as Richard Saunders). For female authors, using an overtly male name provided an avenue to publication otherwise denied to women. Stephen King published under a pseudonym in the 1980s as a workaround to an industry restriction to publishing more than one book a year. My personal queen of all things pseudonym? J.K. Rowling.

J.K. Rowling actually doubled down in the pseudonym game. When she first published the Harry Potter books, the prevailing wisdom dictated that her target audience of tween boys would be more apt to purchase a book by a male author, so instead of her full oh-so-girly name, her ambiguous initials went on the book. (Can I please have a medal for suppressing my rant on the “EW GIRLS HAVE COOTIES” assumption that motivated this whole thing? Preferably a shiny medal made out of chocolate? Or just some onion dip. Ship it to me.) After concluding the Harry Potter series (TAKE THAT, VOLDEMORT) she decided to publish her next books under yet another pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, to avoid saddling the new books with the weight and expectations of the Harry Potter baggage.

One of the delightful things about reading J.K. Rowling is the strength her joy in the elements of language give her books. Her pure etymological nerdiness gives her work a nuanced, crafted essence that is both specific and grounded. It’s an incredibly deliberate approach to word choice that is completely transparent. It makes her narrative style arresting. Her work is sticky— the words make the sentences interlock so solidly that it’s almost impossible to stop reading once you’ve started. There is lift and momentum that goes beyond the charm of the story, and that is a style that screams “J.K. was here”.

Sometimes, I am completely immersed in the writing and publishing history of a book. I know what prompted the author to write it, the writing life cycle, the publication date, what color the cover will be, who designed the cover, and the name of the FedEx driver who is delivering the books to the bookstore. Other times, I see a book, decide it looks interesting and pick it up. Honestly, there is no middle ground. I either do a full belly-flop into fangirl or I’m a magpie reacting to something shiny. Whatever my mood, it’s a win for me, because I’m going home with a book. I bought Robert Galbraith’s (WINK WINK) first book, Cuckoo’s Calling, specifically because I like the word “cuckoo”. Seriously. That’s it. I am a cheap date.
Socrates: In my fanfic AU sometimes Zeus is impulsive
Me: That’s not really AU though
Socrates: No he’s all “Let’s have tuna for lunch” or whatever LOL
Me: Not afraid of controversy I see

Cuckoo’s Calling is the first book in a series about struggling London private detective Cormoran Strike, an Afghanistan war veteran and amputee. Living paycheck to paycheck on menial jobs, Strike is swamped with debt and is reduced to living in the back room of his small office. As the book begins, Strike accidentally hires a Girl Friday, a temp assistant sent to Strike’s office by mistake by her employment agency. Already charmed by the bird imagery in the title and the main character’s name, I laughed out loud when I saw the assistant’s name was Robin. I liked the clever little aviary triangle and I stopped reading to flip to the author page to introduce myself to Robert Galbraith and found…not much. I thought that was interesting because the book didn’t read like a first-time novel, but whatever. It was marvelous to have a word nerd author to read.

 

aid5390196-728px-Set-a-Cuckoo-Clock-Step-2

Cuckoo in its natural habitat

 

One of my favorite proverbs is “Blood will out”. A person’s nature, good or bad, can’t be disguised. You can morph it, package it, and give it a misleading name, but the proof is in the pudding (bonus proverb for you!) It took all of three months for the world to figure out that J.K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith were one and the same. I was a little disappointed I did not figure it out, but hey, that’s how J.K. wanted it to go down. Lucky for me, I don’t have any already-famous novels out there, so I can stay deep undercover.
Socrates: You can’t put lipstick on a pig
Me: Huh?
Socrates: That’s my favorite proverb
Me: You had lipstick and pigs in ancient Greece?
Socrates: Yeah and it was a bitch to get the pigs to sit still for makeovers
Me: Ancient Greece is weird

#cheapdate

Action Items
I did not come close to winning my 5th-grade spelling bee. I bit it in the fourth round on “thoroughbred”.

 

image courtesy wikihow

The Reason I Told The Truth

In a rare moment of remarkable restraint, I recently answered a question in a single sentence. A short sentence. Nobody was more shocked than I was. Okay maybe EVERYONE who has ever asked me a question was as shocked as I was and to all of you I say, bite me. Miracles are real. Send your thank-you note to J.K. Rowling.

If you have never heard of J.K. Rowling I really don’t know what to say except, when you bought your house under that rock, did the listing say “1BR 1B 0windows”? Harry Potter rules pop culture, and J.K. Rowling made him up. 10 points for Gryffindor! This brilliant woman took the basic arc of puberty and reimagined it as terrifying marches through spider-infested woods, trolls hiding in school bathrooms, and battling evil wizards for world domination. Real adolescence is actually worse than that but nonetheless it’s a thrilling and incredibly relatable story. Harry has besties, stresses over homework, endures a gross cousin, and basically just feels all our feels for seven amazing books.

I was a recovering adolescent when Harry made his debut. It took me a while to discover the books—I think there were three of them by the time they came across my grownup radar. I spent a pleasant solo weekend catching up with what everyone else already knew bingereading all three. It got CRAZY up in there. I had a straight up reading buzz.
Car keys: What are our hot Saturday night plans
Me: READING
Car keys: FFS
Me: Turnt down for books

Harry Potter went rapidly from book series to world domination. Today, you can cosplay in awesome wizard robes, go to a Hogwarts theme park, or eat ear wax-flavored candy. It’s an immersive, escapist experience, the way the best entertainment truly is. It’s a lovely thing to know that your favorite book is something that you can bury yourself in, surround yourself with, and exult in with a huge community of like-minded fans. Harry Potter is so ubiquitous now that for a while I forgot that there was a day, a Saturday on a bingereading weekend, when I finished the first book  and thought, “Well, hell. THAT got all kinds of things right.” I was so engrossed I hadn’t moved in several hours.
Book: Don’t you have to pee?
Me: So bad but first let me compliment you
Book: Not worth a UTI
Me: Book two next! I’m ordering pizza!
Book: Party. Animal.

Young Adult is a tricky genre, mostly because it’s defined by Old Adults. Old Adults can’t stop themselves from telling current Young Adults how to be Young Adult. We got rules. We got advice. We got teachable moments. We got anecdotes and most of them start with “Well when I was your age” and don’t end for several hours. It’s a sincere desire to spare younguns pain and disappointment, I suppose, but it’s hard to remember that there’s a time when people really want to make their own mistakes and have new life experiences. Maybe as a result of this, the kid’s section has a lot of have-a-bad-experience-but-learn-a-great-lesson-and-we-all-get-ice-cream kind of books. They’re a little misleading, because there are a lot of life situations that take more than 100 pages to resolve. Sometimes, for example, it can take seven books.

J.K. Rowling refuses to talk down to her audience. Life in Harry’s world is black and white, sure—there are good wizards, and bad wizards, and they are easy to tell apart because bad wizards tend to announce themselves by saying stuff like “I’M HERE TO MESS UP YOUR HAIR AND THE HAIR OF EVERYONE YOU CARE ABOUT”. But life is also gray and purple and squiggly. And squiggly isn’t even a color. J.K. Rowling isn’t lying to anyone about any of it. So, yes, you win (you get to go to a great wizard academy with goblin-guaranteed trust fund) but wins aren’t tidy (because your parents are dead and the dude that killed them considers you unfinished business). It’s truth in all its messy and emotional iterations, and beautiful things happen and terrible things happen and embracing all these things unflinchingly is courage, even when you’re knock-kneed with fear.

I know what you are thinking: I am clearly a superenlightened Old Adult who is a renowned Young Adult Whisperer!
Everyone: Yes, we think that
Me: *blushes modestly*
Everyone: ON OPPOSITE DAY
Me: not cool, everyone
I am just as in love with the sound of my own voice and just as convinced that my life wisdom is superior as anyone. In other words, I am full of shit. It’s not that I set out to be a boring blowhard, it’s just that it comes so naturally and we should all use our gifts. (In my defense I’m overtalky and boring with other Old Adults too because consistency is important.)But against all odds, I managed to get out of my own way recently. Here’s how it went down.

My favorite form of exercise is anything dance fitness because it’s a legit way to be a jackass in public. I walked into one of my regular classes a few weeks ago and greeted the instructor, a personal friend. She in turn introduced me to her 11-year-old niece, who was visiting from out of town. My friend asked her niece if she wanted to take the class and I invited her to come stand by me. NOPE. I tried to encourage her with allll the words, but NOPE NOPE NOPE. Not that I blamed her. Booty shake with a room full of strange adults? In the words of Sigmund Freud, “Hell naw”.

Dance fitness is lively-there’s lots of whooping and silliness and Pitbull. It’s hard to resist and about four songs in, I looked up to see my friend’s niece signaling me over. Thinking she was ready to dance, I made some room, but she shook her head. She had a question. Glancing at the sweaty crowd on the floor behind me gleefully doing the pony and airspanking, she looked at me and said:
“Aren’t you SHY?”
It stopped me. Cold. My first thought was “Damn, how did she know?” She was clearly self-conscious and anxious about looking like a fool in front of a lot of people. She needed to hear it would be okay to take a chance. It’s hard to be shy. I opened my mouth and took the big breath in so I could give her the 2 minute answer about how it didn’t matter if I was shy, and it’s fun, and you get used to it, and overcome adversity, and then High School Musical happens when you just try! Then..in that pause, I reminded myself that I’d been asked a question. And I just needed to fucking answer it. So I did.
“Yes, I am-but I do this anyway.”

workout

A well-stocked workout bag includes water, extra socks, and emotional intelligence.

That was it. There were no follow-up questions. She came out on the floor with me and I had an awesome little partner for the rest of the class. I had truth and she had courage, and that made us wizards. It was fun on the shy side of the room. Sometimes, the angel on your shoulder looks just like J.K. Rowling, and then you do the Nae Nae.
Sofa: you read two books, what now
Me: gonna read another one
Sofa: yay! I got your ass groove ready
Me: be right with you
Car keys: y’all are LAME
#bingereading

Action Items:
Check out J.K. Rowling’s marvelous crime fiction, published under the name Robert Galbraith.