While I prefer to write fiction, particularly science fiction and fantasy, I do write other genres. This includes personal essays. I took a little break from writing personal essays over the summer, mostly because writing them can be emotionally draining.
I know it’s no longer news, but a couple months back, the author of a well-reviewed book was unmasked as J. K. Rowling, the bestselling author of the Harry Potter series. Rowling was delighted with the experience. When critics praised her outing as Robert Galbraith, she knew the compliments were genuine, that her novel really deserved them all. She wasn’t just riding on the waves created by her earlier fame.
The article about Rowling’s literary adventure stuck out for me, because at the time her identity was revealed, I had recently published for the first time under a pseudonym. I chose to do so for different reasons than Ms. Rowling: I needed to protect the identity not of myself, but of various people within my community who were part of a real-life cautionary tale.
Unlike Rowling, when my short story came out, I had very mixed feelings. On one hand, I felt that I had done a service, telling an untold story and drawing attention to an under-reported phenomenon. I hope that readers learned something from reading the story, perhaps something that will help them make different, better choices than those made by myself and several members of my community.
On the other hand, I felt it was one of my best pieces of writing ever, and no more than five people will ever know that I wrote it.
I’m writing something again that will — if accepted — be published under a pseudonym. Again, I want to champion a cause without causing embarrassment to others, and without infringing on their privacy. But it will come again at the cost of my ego.
Have any of you writers out there had the experience of publishing under a pseudonym? How would you describe the experience? Please share in the comments below.
Tablet published a new piece of mine today, about the untidy family life of a person who is an Orthodox Jew with relatives who are devout Christians. The comments are busy, and no trolls have appeared so far (meaning that anyone who disagrees with me does so with politeness and reflection).
I’ve published the piece because the problem I described in the article is a surprisingly common one (among the “baalei teshuvos” who come to religiosity as adults) that most people ignore.
It’s sorta mortifying. This is a problem that is very private for me, and–like many who share it–it is a source of pain that I usually sweep under the rug. I’ve had to explain the absence of half of my family to many people over the years, and it’s never comfortable. Now the entire world can read about it (and share! and comment!).
In general, I don’t write about my family unless it is 100% positive. I felt that this needed to be an exception, in order to support people who share this type of situation. I intentionally omitted the name of my father’s family, and I tried to protect their identities. I wanted not to expose them, but the problem. Nonetheless, one of the commenters pointed out that I was still airing my family’s laundry in public.
I’d love it if readers weighed in here (in a comment below) or in the comments section on Tablet.