Scary Castle Ruin

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"Daniel Rhodes"

I originally wrote these books using the pen name Daniel Rhodes (Daniel from my father and brother; Rhodes from M.R.—Montagu Rhodes—James, to my mind the all-time greatest ghost story writer).

And the single question that people asked me most about them didn't have anything to do with their content. It was: Why the pseudonym? That caused me to do a lot of thinking about it.

The general fascination with pseudonyms is, in itself, fascinating. I suspect that what underlies it doesn't have so much to do with authorship per se, but rather reflects a much deeper human urge for freedom. Probably most of us feel trapped in our lives to some extent, and we've fantasized about being somebody completely different—to escape our problems, add romance / glamour / excitement to our often dull existences, do the things we long to but will never have the chance.

In writing, it's been a common practice for centuries. Some well-known examples include Voltaire, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, George Orwell, Ed McBain, and Dr. Seuss; if you check online, you'll find a much longer (and maybe surprising) list. This was sometimes for political or social reasons—the writers feared persecution, or women wrote as men to gain better acceptance. Sometimes literary figures ventured into less dignified genres—explicit erotica, for example—and used pseudonyms to protect their reputations.

Business practicalities play a part in this, too. The high-brow literary world has tended to look askance at genre fiction in general, including detective / mystery novels and other mainstream thrillers (although that's becoming less true these days, with more and more good writers working in those fields). Publishers also like their authors to stay within particular areas, for excellent reasons—i.e., the bottom line. If they've been successfully marketing someone as a mystery or romance or western writer, they don't necessarily want to risk a jump to something new, with unpredictable consequences. (When exceptions occur, it's often because the authors are well-established enough that their readership will follow no matter what.) Thus, someone who's determined to strike out in a new direction might try a pseudonym; then if readers turn thumbs down, their name isn't linked to the failure.

One more possibility, which brings this back around to my own situation: when an author's first books don't do well and his career crashes, a new name and perhaps a new area or genre just might offer a fresh start.

When I first started into all this, I knew next to nothing about publishing. But I'd heard stories about writers who'd hit that wall, and now it was difficult for them to get anyone even to consider their work—enough so to have an inkling that it could sure happen to me. I knew I was bound to make mistakes and encounter situations I couldn't even imagine (both of which certainly came true). And even if the books did well, I still didn't want to be stuck with a label as any particular kind or genre of writer. A pen name, I figured, would give me latitude on all those counts. It turned out to be one of the few savvy business-related decisions I've ever made.

But I also had another reason—one that goes back to that cage I was in, and that gets deeper into the mysterious business of the writing process. The realization had started to seep in that I was too self-involved in the material I was trying to write (with the attendant problem that it was boring to begin with). Further—and this was a problem deeply rooted in voice, narrator perceptions, and such, the subliminal elements that make up a very important part of the overall effect—I was trying to present a false vision of myself, as how I wanted to be perceived rather than as how I really was.

Still, I wasn't capable of simply making such a fundamental change in my head. There was too much baggage deeply ingrained in my psyche (and ego) for me to control. But at some point, a pathway started edging onto the radar. Forget about Neil McMahon and all his tedious bullshit. Become somebody completely different and tell a story about completely fictional people, in a fictional setting and situation that have nothing to do with his.

When the idea for the horror book came, it was another crystallizing moment that I remember with stark clarity—but this time, charged with excitement. The initial hit happened very fast, in a matter of seconds. It was like a row of mental dominoes toppling over, or a deck of cards being fanned—the entire plotline streamed through my mind, with each event triggering the next.

The more I thought about the idea, the more I liked it and the more possible it seemed. I had a pretty fair background for it. The Templar ruin I'd seen in France was the keystone for the setting, and I'd spent enough time in France to be comfortable with the language and the overall venue. I was well-versed in religion—four years in a traditional Catholic high school helped there—and I'd read extensively in history, philosophy, and various fields of arcana. I figured I could have some fun, learn some lessons about writing novels, and maybe even make some money (I was right about the first two).

Of course, the actual process turned out to be far more complicated than just typing out that initial flash—it took a few more years, with much revising and rethinking, floundering around, and plenty more failure. But the story that finally emerged as Next, After Lucifer is substantively the same as when I caught the initial flash that day.

Ironically, once I'd distanced myself both from the material and from my identity / personal involvement—the concerns that swam to the surface Bone Pileturned out to be much more honest, much closer to me on a deep level, and much more interesting than the stuff I'd been bogged down in with my earlier efforts.