Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Dilemma Of Having a Long Tail

Now, ducks, before you think that I mean that my surgeon had some, er, interesting ideas about anatomy, by a long tail I just mean: I have a past. It was not particularly unaccomplished, although--duh--it wasn't exactly fulfilled. But I did some cool things, was on (syndicated) TV a few times, got married, got divorced, wrote a couple dozen books, learned to speak French, even learned a little aikido.

Oh, the books? Yeah, you might have guessed that's what I wanted to talk about.

Now, before you search the ISBN catalog (and begin speculation that I am actually John Irving, finally over his castration issues), let me hasten to say: as writing goes, this was pretty assembly-line stuff. I wrote, mostly as work-for-hire, not-quite-textbooks. For 8th graders.

I say not-quite textbooks because they weren't text books: that is, you wouldn't teach a class using them. Instead, these were the books you'd read to do a book report on, say, Gold. (I didn't write one on gold, but I kinda wish I had--it was more interesting than some of the stuff I did write about.)

Now, I'm telling you all this because a few months ago I got something from my publisher. I was rather astonished--it couldn't be a royalty check, those dried up years ago. But I was even more surprised when I read what was inside:

Fan mail.

It seems that a young boy had read my book about a famous sports figure of the previous century, and written me a letter.

Well, not me exactly.

Me, just before. The other me. The...aw, you get the picture.

So, I've been trying to figure out what to do with this: it was a nice letter, though it asks some interesting questions (did I play football as a boy, for example), and rather charmingly lets me know how cool it would be for an author to write back to him.

But--and this is the dilemma of me and my tail--how on earth do I go about this? Write back using my old name? No offense, but I hate having to do that; I still have a few accounts under my old name and I never call their customer service anymore, because I'd have to....it's too gruesome to contemplate.

Or do I write back and say that Old Name was a pseudonym (not exactly a lie) and I'd be happy to correspond but I am, you know, a girl. Not super honest, but maybe more palatable.

Or do I do evangelism? Say, hey kid, here's an update about me: and maybe open his mind up to queer and other possibilities? Is that too heavy to dump on a kid? Sheesh, I don't even know how old he is!

(Hmm, maybe I could write to his parents. Hadn't thought of that.)

Anyway, I've been going back and forth about this; I've kept the letter pegged to my apartment door, so I see it every time I leave. And it was a nice letter, and maybe deserves a response.

Then I realized: hey, I have a smart readership. Small, but smart: you guys are like the elite core of my future dominance of a tiny little corner of the trans internet! So, I thought I'd ask you all to weigh in, ducks: I put it up as a poll at the upper right. Or answer in the comments. Or ignore the question--trust me, I sympathize.


  1. I would probably go with the "Oh, I just used that name to write books." angle, but well, I'm not particularly brave.

    If you were to teach the Good Word, you could reply back with a link to your blog, and maybe some 101 stuff. And see what happens there, or..well, I don't know. I wish I could offer some good advice, but if I was in your shoes I'd probably put it off long enough that by the time I replied back he would just go "Huh? Who are you?"

  2. I think saying you wrote under that name is honest enough. I think it's wonderful that you touched and interested this kid with that work. While you could evangelise, that's not entirely fair to him. He's looking to know that you cared that he cared and loved the book. Also, I think that the whole world isn't entitled to your personal transition process.

  3. I would use the pseudonym route - it's true enough.

    If he writes back asking for more, then I would definitely explain more because his persistence shows genuine interest.

  4. He probably wrote you that letter for a school assignment. just FYI.

  5. I agree with dulcinbradbury and K . . . Any more information would be unfair to the kid, unless he asks for more in subsequent correspondance. He'll be so excited to hear back from you!

  6. I agree with K. I also suspect Anonymous was right.

    Of course, there's still the question of what name you use to write back to him. The one with the same (I presume) last name as the one you used to write the book?

  7. thank you for the mental picture and new euphemism for my menta-graphic self portrait; i, too, "have a long tail".

  8. Using a psuedonym with your real last name is understandable. I think that is fine. especially if it is a gendered thing, writing as a boy since the subject was considered a boy subject.

  9. I'd also suggest the pseudonym route. Lots of women do write under male names and not only is it a good way to be able to answer such a nice letter, but it's also a way to explain how many women do have to write under pseudonyms, even nowadays, especially when writing what the world views as typically 'male' material for a male audience.

  10. I'm in agreement with the general consensous.

    Frankly, if you sent back a letter stating that you have personal history with a long tail, I can just see this making local news, and then becoming a religious right talking point.

    So, I'd go the pseudonym route to begin with. But, if the young man insists on knowing more, after a second or third letter, then I'd get the parents involved.

    But seriously, wouldn't it have been cool if in Jr. High, an author you wrote to wrote you back? If nothing but thanking him for his letter and his praise, I'd send off a return letter. It will make his day...maybe even make his whole middle school experience.

  11. *Maybe* it was an assignment, but that doesn't make it any less cool that he picked *you* to write to! And I wrote several authors in middle and high school, (not for assignments, but because I loved their work) and I really loved when they wrote me back--I particularly loved my return letters from Paula Danziger and Larry McMurtry.