Face Behind a Name

I hide. Regularly. Mostly behind pen names. My real name isn’t Ella Hazelwood. Nor is it Selene A Merchant. Though, I must admit, I quite like the latter and sometimes wish it was. And although, I’m sure many children out there aren’t really going to be bothered, either way, I have been asked the immortal question – why? Why hide under an assumed name? Are you in witness protection? Because, if you are, you might want to remove the author picture there, Ella.

My very first reason was security. When I started I didn’t want certain people to know that I was writing, and I certainly didn’t want to deal with negative people’s negative attitudes to my work. I wanted to write what I wanted to write. Not what other people told me I should write.

The other reason was simply organisation. My main occupation and/or interest isn’t writing. Writing is one of many things that I do, and while I enjoy it, immensely, I don’t let it define all of me. In a bid to separate the different kinds of work I do, I found it simpler and easier to organise it into neatly arranged sections, the titles of which are the assumed identities I have taken up. I guess these pen names, these authors I pretend to be, are a sort of portal into different worlds.

Ella Hazelwood, in my mind is a children’s author. She writes books for kids and entertains them and judging by the name, she is a kindly, voluptuous woman who lives in a cottage on a green mountain, in the warm sunshine and drinks herbal teas, whilst her pet mountain goats mosey around her garden. She signs books, smiles at people and lives a charmed life. She’s just lovely.

Selene, on the other hand – oh the stories I’d tell you about Selene! Selene writes gothic horror fiction. She enjoys occult philosophy and dark, dark tales and prefers to live her life at night, when the world of magic comes alive and she finds herself battling all sorts of supernatural creatures in all sorts of unbelievable situations. Selene can kick some fierce butt. Although, she has never held a cross-bow in her life, she could probably wield one. She can throw daggers like darts and hit her targets with expert precision. She is aware and alive with dark power and intrigue. And she gets me, every time. She deals in dark stories and writes to feed this enigmatic hunger inside of her. The hunger for the story. I rather like her.

Two very different authors, two very different genres and two very different styles of writing. Whilst I believe anyone can enjoy a dark story, I like to refrain from a lot of bloodshed and gore in a child’s book.  Oh a healthy dose of action is brilliant, but I really don’t think children need to read about people who have been buried alive or victims who are part of some bizarre occult ritual. I like to keep these worlds apart. It makes it easier for me to write and to slip between these worlds, like some sort of sleuth, following threads for my stories.

I remember when I was younger, I was surprised to discover that some of my favourite authors were writing under assumed names. And I asked the same question. I couldn’t imagine why these author’s wouldn’t want the world to know that they – THEY. SUPER AUTHOR – had written this brilliant book.  Now, that I write these stories, I wonder if they had similar designs. Did they want a way of entering this world and then leaving safely, in such a manner that nothing in their real life could detract from these worlds? Why did Christopher Pike feel the need to write under a pen name? Or Emily Rodda?

A friend once asked me why I wouldn’t want to see my name on the cover of a book I’ve written. Yes, it’s true, that it’s something that might be really nice and would serve to seal my accomplishment with a healthy dose of victory. But for me, it’s about worlds. It’s not just my characters who live in these worlds, it’s my alter egos. I don’t write completely objectively. I slip inside these worlds and note down what happens. Sometimes, I am lucky enough to get to see it through the eyes of my protagonists. But sometimes, when they get caught up in the story, it’s good to have these authors, these alter egos to help me discover something I might have missed. And perhaps it’s because my alter ego authors get a nice slice of the action while they’re at it.

~Ella Hazelwood

Published in: on January 18, 2011 at 9:11 am  Comments (2)  

A Few Moving Words

I was on the plane coming back from Darwin, after a Christmas break, and I was reading the book ‘The Dirt,’ by Motley Crue, when I got to a particularly sad chapter. As I read it, I became more and more upset and touched by what Vince Neil had written that I started to weep like a small child. His daughter had gone to hospital and the doctors had found her riddled with cancer. Sitting on the plane with my cardboard coffee and recycled air, I read on as tears streamed down my face. Lucky for me it was night and mostly everyone was asleep or had earphones in.

Fast forward a few years. I was able to purchase an original, 1st print run of The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson. It was mouldy and mostly in bad condition. I started reading it and was so engrossed by the hauntingly horrific story, that I couldn’t put it down. He had such a unique writing style, to this day I still haven’t read anything like it. One afternoon I was reading it, lost in my own little world, when I noticed the sun had gone down and I found myself in my room, reading a horror novel, and nobody else was home. I tried to read more, but got to a scene where one of the children see a pig outside their window, on the second floor. It had red eyes and spoke. I closed the book quickly and swore never to read it at night again. The fear from reading it was so intense that it made me frightened to read it at night, alone.

This brings me to my topic at hand – eliciting emotions with words. I remember reading one of the Harry Potter books and screaming, ‘Don’t die Harry!’ as he was plunged into some relentless battle/death scene with something. I wanted Harry to live and defeat whatever was after him. Even though I knew he would, as it was an earlier book. But that feeling I received from reading it, and the Amityville Horror and The Dirt, has stuck with me for a very long time. What had those authors done to bring those emotions to the surface? Was it a sign of a great writer? I endeavoured to find out.

Last year for NaNoWriMo, I wrote a book called ‘Near Humanz.’ About a group of humans with powers that must join together to fight evil. Sounds lame and done to death, but I wanted each person to be unique and have their own story to tell. A friend was interested in the idea and wanted to read it, so I let her. I got an email back about a week later saying ‘the scene where the woman is lying on the husbands chest, listening to his heartbeat, made be cry…because that’s what I do.’ I was blown away. I couldn’t believe I had made someone cry with my words. That affected me more than any feedback I’d received so far. If I could make someone cry, could I make someone laugh? Become scared? Shut the book and throw it out the window?

I wrote a short story called ‘Bare Bones’ about a father who takes his son geese shooting and gets caught in a bear trap. His son is left to get help, but doesn’t want to leave his dad lying in the dirt, hurt. I intentionally made it graphic and bloody. It had a sad ending, with the sole purpose of eliciting some emotional response. I didn’t know what I would get from it until I read it to my girlfriend one night. At the end she cried and told me it was horribly sad and didn’t want it to end like that. It made me think of the power that words can have. Be it inspiration, sadness or laughter. I was sure I was onto something.

A while later my sister came to visit and I wanted her to read some of my stuff, so I printed out some short stories for her to read on the plane. As it happened, one of them was ‘Bare Bones.’ I told her about what happens, adding a little gore to sweeten the deal, and she refused to read it. I told her it wasn’t that bad and it was only a few pages long, but she handed it back to me and told me what she had heard was enough. She didn’t want to be grossed out and scared. I figured I was definitely onto something.

Many years ago I bought ‘American Psycho’ by Bret Easton Ellis, and it came wrapped in plastic, with an R-Rated sticker on it. It rattled my mind to think that words could be restricted and wrapped in plastic, deemed too ‘graphic’ or ‘sexual’ for someone. But when I read it, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was reading it at work and felt like someone was going to come in and fire me. The contents were that brutal and sickening. I could not fathom how someone could imagine those sorts of things, it made me sick to my stomach. Not only should it have been double wrapped in plastic, but it should have had a chain around it with a dead bolt.

The art of placing words in a specific order can bring tears to your eyes, fear to your veins and laughter to your lips. It can make you slam books shut and never read them again, and can also make someone wrap them in plastic. I’ve found a good author can take you somewhere, put you down and make you feel as if you are there, right beside the main character. They can put you in the shoes of somebody, a killer or a saviour, and let you walk around for a while. They can put the smell of flowers into your nostrils and wind in your hair.

For me, a great writer can make you see what they see, like you’re watching a movie. Sometimes I forget I am reading. I’m staring at words but I see pictures, I see the cobbled streets of a rundown village or a car that has been recently burnt. I can smell the baking metal and scorched leather seats. I can feel the fear they fear and be repulsed by their actions.

Since ‘American Psycho,’ I haven’t read another Bret Easton Ellis book. I’ve talked about it at parties and exchan

ged horrified notes with someone else that has read it and even recommended it to someone. I’ve stood in a book store and picked up one of his other books and remembered the scars left from the one I’ve read. Words can leave a mark on you, you remember the books that made you laugh, or the books you read over and over again because maybe they do elicit some reaction that you liked.

If someone asks us about Robert Rankin, we might say that his books are funny, or Richard Matheson books are scary. Rarely do we say anything else, because all we really look for in a book is to be entertained.

Mitchell Tierney

Published in: on January 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm  Comments (2)  

The Nature of the Beast

I typically consider myself to be a ‘Jack of all trades, Master of none’. In my case, this means that I know lots of little bits and pieces on many different subjects, but the only thing I consider myself to be really good at – and I still acknowledge I have a lot to learn – is creative writing. It does  mean that, to date, I have had a less than exemplary working life – I’ve probably logged more hours in part-time than full-time work, and that was while I was still studying as a means of earning pocket money. Writing, which I’d much rather do, doesn’t tend to provide an income, unless you’re a journalist and I prefer my fiction to be fiction, not dressed as fact. All in all, I am presently most grateful to be able to stay home and be mum to my two wonderful boys rather than trying to earn an income.

On the other hand, being a Jack of all trades brings a wide variety of possible topics or influences to my stories. The Riders trilogy is mostly action/adventure, but with elements of the supernatural; the next project I’m working on, the Wings of Freedom trilogy is almost pure fantasy, but with a bit of a murder mystery; and among my other projects awaiting my attention I have an urban paranormal fantasy, a story that draws heavily on myth and folk tales and another one involving a shape-shifting android. Essentially, as long as I’m allowed to play around with the rules of reality, I’m happy to try all sorts of subjects for my stories.
Yet despite the multiplicity of my nature and my stories’ subject matter, I find I am much more limited thematically. With very little exception, my stories discuss what it is to be human and our need to fit in. At university, we discussed in literature classes what an author’s intention was in choosing the theme of their work. I would like to set the record straight regarding my own work – I didn’t choose the themes. They chose me.
Having spent large parts of my life as an outsider, it is natural that it crops up in my work. The fact that many of main characters are not quite human could have a lot to do with it too. And because they aren’t quite human, it naturally highlights the differences between them and us. If I have any particular angle there, it is a hope that I might show what is worth aspiring to and what we should strive to overcome.
I never start out with a message I wish to get across. If I do decide there is a message, it is as an afterthought. I just create something that appeals to my varied nature and let the chips fall where they may. If that means I will never write great literature, well that’s just fine with me.



-M A Clarke
Published in: on January 1, 2011 at 9:37 am  Leave a Comment