“So how does it really feel to be a published author?” Dana asked, as they lounged on the grassy lake shore. The mid-day sun was warm and a soft breeze occasionally rustled the water’s surface. The sky was a perfect mixture of the kind of searing blue tones that young children use in crayon drawings and randomly-scattered, soft, thin clouds.
“I’m not a published author yet,” she laughed in response.
“O.K. Fair enough. You’re a purchased author,” was Dana’s jolly retort. “I want to know all the details about how it feels to know that your novel is going to be on the shelves of all your favorite bookstores . . . all over the country, no less . . . in just a few . . . weeks?”
“I’m not sure exactly how long it will be,” she explained. “They said it should be a few weeks, but their lawyers are pouring over every word, checking all of my research. So it depends on how long that process takes to complete.”
“Blood-sucking lawyers,” Dana snorted. “Why do they have to be involved in publishing a novel, anyway?”
“Publishing would be the operative term there,” she laughed lightly. “It’s a business, after all, and they’re not going to take any chances. They want to make sure they will recoup their investment in me.”
“Their investment.” As she searched through her bag for the sunblock she had packed the night before, Dana repeated the word several times with differing inflections as she considered its meaning “Their investment . . . investment. It doesn’t sound like artistry or creativity have anything to do with it.”
“Well, from their legal and accounting departments’ perspective, they don’t,” she said. She uncurled her legs and rolled her sweatshirt into a ball. As she stretched out on her back, she placed it under her neck as a pillow, crossed her ankles, and breathed a deep sigh — a mixture of satisfaction and resignation. “They can take their time, as far as I’m concerned. While the bean counters fuss over the details, I’m spending the advance check.” With that, she placed her wide-brimmed straw hat over her face, crossed her hands on her abdomen, and sighed again.
“Does that answer your question about how it feels?” she asked Dana mischievously, her voice muffled.
“Pretty much,” Dana laughed. “But I have another question.”
“This is the one thing that bothers me about all of this, so I want you to give me a straight answer, o.k.?” Dana sat up and looked directly at the author. A look of concern replaced her previously playful demeanor.
“What’s with the pseudonym?”
The author lifted the straw hat just enough to squint up into her friends’ eyes. “Huh?”
“What’s with the pen name? Why aren’t you going to publish the book under your own name?” Dana probed.
Her face again shielded by the straw hat, fingers entwined on her stomach, she explained, “A lot of authors publish their work under a pseudonym. You know Mark Twain wasn’t his real name, right?” she chided in an effort to lighten the tone the conversation had taken.
Dana sat fully upright, reached over, and pulled the hat off her friend’s face. “I’m serious. Why are you publishing this book under an assumed name? Why aren’t you using your real name?”
“Think about it,” the author said without opening her eyes. “You’ve known me my whole life and you’ve read the book. Even though its supposed to be fiction, did you happen to notice any parallels?”
“Of course,” Dana replied matter-of-factly. “So?”
“Did you happen to see any resemblance of some of the characters in the story to a few real people that you know?”
“Again . . . so ?” Dana pushed.
“So . . . now you know,” the author said without emotion. “Think about what would happen if the book were published under my real name. You don’t think those people — at least the ones that are still alive — wouldn’t notice the similarities? People would accuse me of writing an autobiography rather than a work of fiction.”
“Would that be so bad?” Dana asked quietly. Her question was met with a look she knew all too well that implied she was asking a rhetorical, and superfluous, question.
Undaunted, she continued to probe her friends’ motivations. “Look at it this way. What’s the worst thing that could happen if you used your real name?”
“Oh, let’s see . . . the sorry details of my personal life would be revealed to the world, several people would have their feelings hurt because of the way their fictional counterparts are portrayed in the book, which means that those people — plus a lot more — would most likely never speak to me again.” The author continued talking with her eyes closed, refusing to meet her friends’ gaze. “Plus, there are a few security issues that could arise, if you stop and think about it.”
“Hence the lawyers going over the details,” Dana sighed. “But wouldn’t it be better — safer — for you to just use your name and avoid all the speculation about the author’s identity? You know that’s going to be a big issue, right?”
“Yup. My publisher and I have talked all of that out,” she continued, opening her eyes to squint at the perfect sky. “In the first place, nobody is going to speculate about who wrote the book if the book doesn’t sell. In the second place, once the speculating begins — assuming it does — the curiosity could help sell the book. Remember ‘Primary Colors’? People were practically wetting themselves trying to figure out who ‘Anonymous’ was.”
“Point taken,” Dana conceded, lying back down on her side. “Remember that blog we used to read? ‘Anonymous Lawyer.’ That was some of the most clever, funniest writing I’ve ever read. But it wasn’t funny after we found out who the author really was.”
Propped on one elbow, she considered the soothing sound of the water’s surface lapping softly. After a few minutes, she said, “I think I could live here.”
“I plan to,” the author, hat back over her face, said softly.
“What did you say?” Dana asked slowly.
Removing the hat and sitting up on her elbows, the author repeated softly, “I plan to.” She grinned at her friend before continuing. “I have a deal with the owner of the house. If things work out, he’s going to sell it to me and I’m going to live here.”
Dana stared at her as she analyzed the meaning of the author’s words.
“I’m on a leave of absence from work right now,” the author explained. “I’m using accrued leave credits ‘to attend to a personal matter.’ So I used part of the advance money to lease the house. If the deal with the publisher works out the way I hope it will, I will quit my job, buy the house, and stay here . . . I’ll be a writer living on the shore of a lake.” She smiled at Dana. “My dream come true, give or take a couple of details.”
“What will you tell people?”
“That I retired, moved here, and they are welcome to come for a visit,” the author replied somewhat smugly.
“Just like that?” Dana asked in disbelief.
“Just like that!” The author grinned widely now as she gazed out at the lake and envisioned her future.
The two women sat in silence for a few more minutes. Further up the shore, a mother duck led a parade of six noisy ducklings down to the water as the sun inched further toward the west and the temperature rose slightly.
“O.K. Look, I just have to ask one more question,” Dana announced, somewhat exasperated.
“My friend, you know that you can ask me anything,” the author said genuinely, as she realized that, for the very first time in her life, nothing could spoil her contentment.
“If you use a pseudonym, . . . ” Dana began.
“Oh, my gosh! We’ve been over this!” the author laughed. “I’m not going to use my real name, Dana. There’s nothing more to talk about.”
“Just hear me out, o.k.?” The two women exchanged a look that both understood well after so many years of friendship.
“Think about this. What if your book is really successful? Or better yet, what if Oprah picks it as her book club selection? You know that every book she picks becomes an instant bestseller. If you publish it under another name, you won’t be able to be on her show! You won’t be able to do one of those online things where she interviews the author and the audience asks questions! Seriously . . . do you want to miss out on appearing on Oprah?”
Now it was the author’s turn to stare in disbelief, her mouth hanging open. “Oprah?” she exclaimed. “Oprah? Dana . . . get real . . . Oprah ? That’s your issue with my using a pseudonym? First of all, Oprah would never choose my book. In the old days, maybe. But lately she’s either got her audience reading Faulkner or new-age psycho-babble. More importantly, I don’t plan to measure my success by whether Oprah and her followers approve of my writing.”
She stood up, placed her straw hat on her head, and stretched, reaching her hands up to the sun-lit sky. As she bent down to gather up her sweatshirt, newspaper, and other belongings, she said, “Come on, you goofball. I’m hungry. Let’s make some lunch and I’ll show you the outline — so far, at least — of my new book.”
Without waiting for her friend to scoop up her belongings, the author turned toward the house. As she walked a few steps ahead of her, Dana saw the author shake her head and heard her laugh as she mumbled, “Oprah!”