Discover more from IPAs and Cupcakes: Alisa's Pop Culture Lair
But like WHY AM I WRITING
Other than my early wild west internet blogging days, the only time I’ve used a pseudonym was when a local bookstore was putting out a compilation of “bookstore erotica” and I wanted my work next to the big local names they were including.
I blame this decision – the decision to use my real name, across the internet and in print, where people can easily find me – on my ninth grade English teacher. She wouldn’t let us use pseudonyms (in a veeeery small class, I might add, I’m not sure what I was hoping for, like, would anyone have mistaken my work for someone else’s, not very likely) and made the point that we have to take responsibility for our words.
The decision to use my real name has definitely affected my writing. I’ve sugarcoated offensive opinions, left out key information. I’ve been less profane, less sexual in work that needed to be more. It’s kept me extremely cautious of what I put out into public spheres, which I suppose is good for future employment prospects, but pretty bad for artistic expression.
But use of pseudonyms is not always shame- or fear-based – children’s authors who also write romance will use different names, so that little Timothy doesn’t see his favorite writer’s name and instead of a swashbuckling pirate with a heart of gold picks up a book about a swashbuckling pirate with a penis of gold.
For me, it all comes back around to why we write in the first place.
Was the point of my (single use) erotica pseudonym just an excuse to give the muzh an illicit nickname to call me in public? If so, mission accomplished! But when I look at that bookstore compilation, I have mixed feelings. That 90% of the writing in it is better than mine – obviously I think that – but also a sense that I’ll never get recognition for it. The story itself is very clearly mine. Yet at the same time I released it without branding it, like a domesticated creature set free into the wild.
Am I writing for the recognition? Am I writing to continue beefing up my CV, hoping that some day the novel I’ll be writing will sell, and I’ll need to impress the powers that be? To show that I’m in it for the long haul? That I have stamina?
I don’t understand authors who put their literary magazine creds in their debut novel bios. Don’t they know they’ve made it? That they don’t have to grovel anymore for zero-compensation exposure? Believe in the legend of royalties!
I write nonfiction because I get tired of my CV not showing work for years at a time while I attempt #novelwriting.
I write fiction because when I was eight years old my sister started writing very angsty stories on our family’s Mac desktop, so I started writing the same very angsty stories. Then I wrote Patrcia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons. Then I wrote a Jewish story I can’t remember the name of about a girl named Daliah who has a learning disability and then takes a test orally and aces it. (Actually, I just figured it out – it’s Tehila Peterseil’s The Safe Place. Very popular among English readers in Israel in the nineties.)
The first original stories I wrote were either based in the fantasy books I read, featuring outlandish names paired with very ordinary nicknames, or on a set of small dolls called Melanie’s Mall that I received for Chanukah one year. (It was the kind of toy where every set came with a Melanie, so you had to downgrade some Melanies to be other people because not everyone gets to own the mall.)
Then what happened?
I had two extraordinary friends in elementary school who tolerated both dramatic readings of Goosebumps books and Ella Enchanted and also some original stories. We made silly plays together and forced the teacher to let us perform them for the entire class. I took a mime class, because my best friend’s mother’s best friend was a performer and she was willing to teach us.
Did I keep writing when we moved back to America? Probably. Living in Israel, I had been very focused on being special as an American – in math I wrote the divided sign like Americans, instead of the Israeli colon. I read as many English books as I could. Obsessed over American Girl dolls. And then we moved back to America and none of those things were special anymore.
In college I declared a creative writing major, thinking I’d get interested in one of the fascinating core curriculum courses I would take. But it didn’t work out that way – political science was a dud, Talmud was a series of photo copied pages, statistics was rigid, sociology was interesting but very … shallow. Like the discipline is waiting for the philosophers to come in and make it feel more serious. Am I insulting any sociologists here? The only one I know is the muzh’s best friend, aka his second wife, so that might be intentional.
After college I went to work at a film production company. I was in close proximity to famous people. (Does it count as “meeting” them if I handed them the bathroom key?) I learned that most of the people in the industry are not happy where they are, except for the DPs (aka cinematographers). Literally everyone wanted to be a DP. I had to decide what I was doing next, so I got my MFA in creative writing.
I wrote my first novel at Northwestern, and it became my exit thesis, and I continued to work on it for a few years after. I started querying it in 2018. I got a number of full manuscript requests, but ultimately was rejected.
I started my second novel last year.
On a small scale, it’s fun piecing the story together. There are puzzles – the plot, and the characters themselves, their motivations, what makes them tick. I try to evoke emotions in the reader – surprise, excitement, arousal, anticipation. I’m very intentionally making key characters women, but at the same time I don’t want it to be political. But it has to be.
On a larger scale, I want to believe that I’m contributing to the body of work created not only by Jewish American writers, but also by writers of the 21st century. I’d like to believe that what I’m writing will be part of a larger legacy of people with the skill to put humanity into words.
If I do accomplish any of that, you can be damn sure I’m not hiding behind a pseudonym.