That thing I said about pseudonyms earlier

Well, I’ve done a 180. I decided a little while ago to go with a pen name for fiction and keep my real name for nonfiction, just to separate the two. Maybe I’ll change my mind again before hitting “Publish” on the novel. Stay tuned, I guess. If you want to be kept abreast of such things, you can join my mailing list.

To be honest, though, I am starting to feel like I should reverse them. I am finishing a draft of my memoir about graduate school, and some of the things I have included are very personal, sometimes embarrassing, sometimes incriminating. I am tempted to use a pen name for that, just to preserve the innocence of the guilty, or however the saying goes (the guilty being me), but that seems like a cop-out, and putting my real name on it, I think, will lend it credibility. I mean, it’s all true, so I might as well own it. But still.

I’m going to looking for a few beta readers soon, people to give it a read and give some feedback. If you’re interested drop me an email (erik@erikmarshall.net).

 

Failing at Goals, Learning to Forgive

I set a goal at the beginning of April to complete 50,000 words of a rewrite of the novel I started last year. I had been stuck in revision, and decided that the best way forward was to start over completely. Whether or not this was a good idea is another story, but it’s coming along well, plot-wise.
2014-05-01 11_16_34-Project Targets

 

That goal of 50,000? Didn’t make it, and I’m okay with that. And that last part, the being okay with it? That’s new. Now don’t get me wrong.  It’s not like I’m all blasé about it. I am a little disappointed,  but I am letting myself be okay with 30,000 words. I am forgiving myself.

In the past, I would have beaten myself up by not being done and told myself I’m a loser and not a real writer, and that I would fail at everything in life.  In fact, I would have noticed after a week that I was not on pace and I would’ve tried harder to go faster, and when I inevitably failed after a few days, I would have gone into a depressive funk and stopped writing altogether. But I didn’t do that this time. I knew I was behind early in the month (see chart below), but I just kept writing. And I will just keep writing. So I make 50,000 in mid-May (or late May) instead of later April. Oh well.

You will see from this chart that I spent a little bit of time writing  most days in April. To complete 50,000 words I would have needed to write 1666 words per day, and, indeed, my initial daily goal was 2000 words, which I hit 3 times in the first 8 days of April. Unfortunately, there were three days during that same stretch when I didn’t write at all.  For the rest of the month, I did okay, missing a day here or there, and taking an entire weekend off. I have no excuses but the usual: busy time of semester, grading, travel, etc. Not great excuses, but there they are. I am hoping (nay, planning) to be more productive in May, and to finish the novel, get into revision, get it out to readers and move on to the next thing.

2014-05-01 11_20_49-Word Count - Google Sheets

 

I’m not saying that one shouldn’t take one’s goals seriously. I do think it’s important to make goals and to try hard to keep them. Self-imposed deadlines like this work best when taken seriously, but they can also serve as opportunities for self-flagellation and counterproductive behavior.  I used to do that all the time, especially when writing my dissertation, but I am slowly learning that if you just keep moving forward, you’ll get wherever you’re going. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to be kind to yourself.

Aliases, Pseudonyms, Alter Egos

flickr photo credit ChaTo (Carlos Castillo)

We all have multiple identities. We act differently around parents than we do around our lovers, in school, at work, in private. Somehow, though, we manage to see ourselves as one coherent identity.

Online, this tendency is exaggerated. We use different usernames to preserve anonymity, to separate different parts of our lives, or simply out of convenience. I have many nicknames and online aliases. Many of my friends call me “emarsh,” which is also my twitter handle (I stole this, of course, from J.Lo).

I have an older online alias that used to be secret, my hacker handle, which became my gamer handle and then my gmail address. Although I was an earlyish adopter of gmail, erikmarshall was already taken, as was emarsh, emarshall, ewmarshall and any other reasonable representation of my real name. I fell back on my old handle, res611, which has now become a major hub of my online identity.

Why res611? Well, when I fancied myself a subversive hacker type in my teens, I thought it would be cool to be called “resident,” which I took from TSR, a “Terminate and Stay Resident” program, one that would lurk in the background even after it closed. Also, I could pretend that much of the mail that came to the house was for me.

Being a dictionary word, “resident” was not always available on different sites, so I appended my birthday, June 11, or “611,” and eventually shortened “resident” to “res.” So there you have it. Erik Marshall = emarsh = res611.

I have had other aliases, some to preserve anonymity, some just to be cute.

As I transition to an academic/fiction/memoir writer, I often wonder if I should use a pseudonym. At first I thought I might do so to protect myself. I wasn’t sure if being a fiction writer might negatively affect my chances on the academic job market. I have since rethought that rationale, pretty much adopting the attitude that if someone doesn’t like my writing, then they can fuck off and I don’t want to work with them anyway.

I have considered using a pseudonym for different genres or types of writing, not for secrecy but to separate different types of writing, such as fiction/non-fiction, but also, say, sf and more literary fiction. I have decided against that as well, figuring that readers will be able to figure it out. The furthest I will go, I think, is to maybe append “Ph.D.” to some of my nonfiction work, such as my upcoming memoir, but not to my fiction. “Erik Marshall, Ph.D.” will mean nonfiction, whereas “Erik Marshall” will be fiction. I trust readers to figure out the difference. If I end up writing a science fiction novel, and then a romance or something, I would think readers would figure out the genre shift. If I end up writing erotica, I might use a pseudonym to separate my writing personae. Maybe I’d just use my initials, E.W. Marshall.

I don’t mind being fragmented or managing multiple aliases online. I also don’t mind lumping my creative work together under my own name and letting people sift through it on their own. I don’t want or need to hide behind different names to express myself.

Do you use an alias? A pseudonym? Do you have an alter ego?

I still exist, and so do you

In the 7-year history of this blog, I have only gone a whole month without posting. Until now, where I’ve gone almost 4 whole months! And you know what? I’m okay with that. I haven’t had anything to say, and why force it? That said, I thought I’d give y’all a little update.

Well, as of this morning, I’m still alive, so that’s good.

I don’t really do resolutions, but I do have some goals for 2014. I am going to publish some fiction this year. I will also publish either a full memoir of my grad school days, or a bunch of shorter pieces of memoir essays. Depends on how this thing shapes up.

But enough about the future! Let’s talk about the past. Last year was quite productive for me, although I didn’t put much out. I have lots of pieces of things and almost-finished works and, wait, I guess I’m still talking about the future, as these things are not-yet-finished, but will be, so…

2013 recap. I started working at a new University as a part-time lecturer, and I really like it. It’s part time, sure, but it’s the best part-time job I’ve had, so that’s good. I also co-started a film podcast, That’s a Wrap!,  which has been tremendously fun. If you like film, you should listen to it. Now.

Can you expect more posts in 2014? Who knows? If so, you can expect them to be a little more substantive than this, I would hope. Thanks for reading. That is all.

Repackaging Content for Sales and Visibility

I went to the brick-and-mortars Barnes and Noble to look for Chuck Klosterman’s latest book, but was appalled to see that it was $25 in hardcover, so I went to the website to see if I could get it cheaper. Here I ran into something interesting.

Searching for Klosterman brought up a lot of e-books, many arranged by topic. Here are the first ten:

 klosterman   Barnes   Noble (2)

Notice “Chuck Klosterman on Rock” or “Chuck Klosterman on Film and Television,” each going for $7.99 and each containing essays already published in IV, Eating the Dinosaur and his other collections of essays.  If you look at the next ten,

klosterman   Barnes   Noble (3)

you will see, for example, “Monogamy,” and essay from IV on sale for $.99. Now, if you already own his other books of essays, you will not want these, but if you are new to Klosterman, or you’re only interested in a particular topic, these are pretty good deals. (A search at Amazon reveals similar results)

 Scribner is making a smart move here, offering readers more fine-tuned products at lower financial risk. Klosterman fans will by the whole collections, but others might want to dip a foot in with a single essay, or ignore, say, the essays on sports. For Scribner, it creates opportunities for more sales and increases visibility on the author page. I imagine there are some SEO advantages to doing this as well.

Independent publishers (and maybe academic publishers as well) might learn from this.  Shorter pieces such as essays or short stories can go for a relatively inexpensive price, and bundles based on topic can go for a little more. For indy publishers, offering readers a la carte access gives readers a low-risk way to sample work, and beefs up the author page. If a publisher has a lot of short pieces, s/he can experiment with all sorts of bundles and packaging strategies, giving the reader choice. As these are all e-books there is no additional cost but the time it takes to repackage.

Academic publishers could also offer a la carte e-essays, selecting works from across different collections, for example.

To meld the two, independent academic publishers could easily create new avenues for dissemination and discourse using these commercial sites and strategies, but that might be a post for another time.

So long as it is clear that each package is recycled or repurposed from other works, I see this as a potentially valuable tool for any writer with a lot of content.

Memoiry

I have been struggling to write a memoir of my days in graduate school for almost a year now. The struggle is not in the writing so much as the remembering (and now, the editing). I pumped out 30,000 words on a fairly quick timeline, and have added some since, but now I’m chopping it up, chipping away at the stone to find the statue underneath. The structure keeps changing, but now it looks like it’s going to be a series of essays based loosely on the fact that I was in graduate school when they happened. Some will be about teaching, some about learning. Some will be about drugs, or meditation, or money. Some might be about love. Maybe one or two will be about sex.

The structure will find itself. As I continue to write and edit, though, I begin to doubt my own memory. I know my memory is not great, and this project has really brought that home. Luckily, I have been, at times, an avid journal-keeper. For much of my grad school life, I have kept a journal, detailing classes I’m taking, how I’m feeling about whatever is going on…well, that’s a diary, isn’t it? Going back through these diaries, I see a lot of repetition, and a lot of emo crap about how I’m not writing or how no one understands me, about doubts about my profession, but there’s also a lot of useful material.

The problem, though, is in what’s not there. I am writing about some things that happened a decade ago, and I begin to worry that I am not remembering things accurately, that I am forgetting huge chunks, that I have distorted things. In the end, maybe I shouldn’t care about that. This is, after all, a subjective account of my experiences during a particular period of my life. I am tempted, however, to call people and get their perspectives, to jog my memory. I am resisting that impulse for now.

That’s what’s tricky about the memoir. The mem part. I want everything to be true, of course, but one starts wondering what constitutes truth? For example, I have been trying not to talk too much about my marriage and all the drama that led to and from it, but without that context, how true can the rest of it be? How complete must I be? Is something true even if I remembered it incompletely?

Here’s an example. I went on a ten-day meditation retreat several years ago. I have no notes from that period, in part because we weren’t allowed to write. I am now reconstructing my experience there, but I have forgotten key elements, like the exact schedule, how large the meditation hall was, how many people were there. I also want to talk about specific people there, but I want to be careful not to be a jerk. I have changed some names and fudged some of the schedule stuff, but have done the best I could, because, after all, the reader doesn’t care about that minutiae, but about how the experience affected me, how it changed me, and all that. Who cares if the mealtime was 11am and not noon? I found myself doing much more research on that piece than I have on anything else. I’ve looked up the retreat, researched the tenets of Vipassana Buddhism, watched some videos. I even took a trip to the grounds of the retreat to walk around and reacquaint myself with the terrain. Why? I want this to be as accurate as possible, even as I acknowledge that some of it is uncheckable, even unknowable.

Ultimately, I guess I don’t care that much, but the fact that this memoir deals with other people makes me want to be careful, precise, and complete, as impossible as completeness can be. But there has to be a limit. After all, I’m not writing Tristram Shandy here.

I sometimes send small chunks of the memoir-in-progress to my email list. If you want in on that, sign up.