May 15, 2013 by Nathaniel Tower
The other day, our campus security guard watched me enter a room wearing a shirt and tie only to emerge moments later in running clothes. He said something about Superman as I ran by him. I waved and laughed at the idea.
The truth is, I do live a secret life.
My coworkers don’t know. My students don’t know. My athletes don’t know. The grocery store clerk doesn’t know.
I’m a writer. I have written and published hundreds of stories, a novel, a serial novel, and a novella. None of the people I see on a daily basis have a clue.
Why all the secrets? Aren’t writers supposed to promote?
While promotion might be the most important thing after writing itself, I prefer to go the route of living a double life.
Sure, I could boost my meager sales numbers by spreading the word about books to my students and their parents, but what I would be giving up probably isn’t worth the handful of extra royalty payments.
A few years ago, an author I had published in a monthly issue of Bartleby Snopes requested I remove his story from the site. His nosy coworkers had gotten wind of his secret writing life, and the story in question was obviously inspired by one of his coworkers. As you can guess, it wasn’t a flattering depiction of the gentleman. Since the author didn’t want anyone’s feelings to get hurt–or to have any controversy in the work place–he figured the best thing to do was make it disappear. And I did.
Similarly, after I discovered my students had the habit of Googling my name, I sent a few emails requesting a name change in the byline of a few creative nonfiction pieces I’d written about students. Naturally, I had changed all of their names before publication, but some of them probably could have figured out who I was writing about. Of course, the students I actually wrote about wouldn’t likely ever read anything. Still, I wanted protection.
If I really wanted that much protection, why didn’t I go with a pen name from the beginning? By the time the idea of a pseudonym sprang into my mind, I already had a few dozens of stories published. Not wanting to balance multiple names, I decided to stick it out. Besides, I’m proud of my work and like having it associated with me–as long as it’s in the right setting.
One of the most awkward moments of my teaching career came two years ago when I caught one of my students reading my story “A Dick Move.” When I walked past his computer, he looked up and said, “This isn’t appropriate.” It really wasn’t. Not for one of my students to be reading during my class. When I was done choking on my embarrassment, I calmly said, “Hey, that author has the same name as me. Cool,” and walked away. The student didn’t believe my attempted misdirection, but it took only one discussion with him later to convince him not to spread it around the school. The student even became a fan of my writing. When my first novel was about to come out, he asked when and where he could get it. I shared the release info with him, but I’m pretty sure he never bought it. Hey, he’s a high school kid. Aren’t their attention spans only a few seconds?
I think it’s important as writers, especially since many of us are also educators, to use discretion in our promotion, if not in our writing. I won’t censor my stories. I need to be able to write about what I want to write about. If I want to write a serial novel about a porn addict and his struggle against his crazy wife, then that’s what I’m going to write about. But I’m not going to put the link on the board for all my students to see. And I’m not going to announce to my coworkers that the latest chapter of Misty Me and Me is available to read. Sure, the extra votes would be nice, but I’d be sacrificing too much.
I need my secret life.