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In My Own Name

Magic Mirror
Is that you, Shya? It's me, Shya.

So I’ve written this linked story collection that I’m calling “semi-autobiographical” and in which one of the protagonists is named Shya Scanlon, and is, despite doing things I haven’t done, an honest representation of myself. Responds, in other words, to fictional situations in a manner authentic to my sense of myself. Anyway, I happen to be reading a book called Out Of My Skin by John Haskell, and in this book, the narrator is, I believe, also named John Haskell.

Perhaps it’s because I noticed the ease with which Molly Gaudry found a home for her great anthology idea, but I’ve suddenly been overcome by the urge to create an anthology of fiction in which authors create characters named after themselves. There is quite a bit of such fiction, it seems–enough, at any rate, to indicate I’d be able to pull together work that uses this device for a variety of reasons and to a variety of effects.

But I hereby put the idea before you good people, to see if it passes scrutiny. Is there already such an anthology? Is this something that seems like a good/strong theme for a collection? Can you think of stories and/or novels to recommend for it (I’d think I might include excerpts)?

48 thoughts on “In My Own Name

  1. Dunno of any existing antholgies. Sounds like a good idea though. Deb Olin Unferth had a story called Deb Olin Unferth that sounded right up this alley.

  2. obviously: michael martone by michael martone.
    people of paper has a narrator by the same name.
    javier marias: dark back of time
    gil sorrentino: mulligan stew (i think?)
    ray federman: double or nothing (i think again)
    i may be wrong about those last two.

    1. …and these are just from the books you read last week, right Lily? Ha. Thanks for the tips. I’ll look into these. Yes: obviously the Martone. I wonder if he’d be interested in writing new material for the anthology.

      1. ah shucks shya. i read none of those last week. mm is really cool. he seems like he’s game for anything.

        make it happen, shya, and i’ll have authors lining up to give you work!

  3. I really love this idea. I would buy that book in a heartbeat. Know what you should do?

    Put up a PayPal button. Take your sales for a non-existent book to a small press and say, Back my project. Then go ask people for stories.

    1. Yes, Sparling is a character in his Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall. You can add Borges to the list. (Self-referentiality is something he explores a lot in his fiction and poetry. Check out “Borges and I”.) Also, Ben Marcus (Notable American women: a novel). Kim Chinquee appears in one of her own stories in Oh Baby. A character named Gordon who gives a talk on “letting one thing lead to another in accordance with a narrative model whose only principle of governance is consecution and torsion…” appears in Gordon Lish’s novel Zimzum. And doesn’t Diane Williams appear in her stories from time to time?

  4. Michel Houellebecq’s novel Platform uses the name Michel for the protagonist.

    I feel like Paul Auster must have used self-insertion. But I can’t recall specifically.

    1. Yeah, Auster did it in THE NY TRIOLOGY, CITY OF GLASS.

      Not quite the same, but Nate Tyree and Caleb Ross organized an anthology called OPRAH READ THIS> OPRAH, READ THIS. They’re stories based on authors/characters (STEPHEN KING ATE MY BRAIN, TAO LIN RAPED ME, I FUCKED JANE AUSTEN.) Sort of in the same vein. I like the self-insertion, though. Sounds like it could be a lot of fun.

  5. i don’t know. just character names doesn’t sound strong enough, only because its easy to do. easy to just replace character names without strings attached. its like having an anthology with every story starting with the letter Q. i use my name for charracters with ease and often, though i don’t deeply consider my selfhood in those characters, its more like my name was just convenient, or atleast i dont consciously consider myself as characters. an anthology might work if there is a deeper consideration as to the varying relationships between authors and their counterparts, how different authors consider themselves as fictional. but then all this implies relation between self and name exists at all, which im not always sold on or am interested in since there is always that innate thing about all characters are in some manner manifestations of an author’s personality regardless of name, so what’s in a name in and of itself? sound

    1. Hmm, I’m not sure what you mean by “easy.” Are you assuming that authors may just find ways to avoid the more complex issues involved with placing their names in the center of a story? I certainly didn’t when writing my collection. I guess my expectation would be that authors included would take the idea seriously–something like what you state in your “deeper consideration” line above.

      And yes, you’re certainly right about the implication that a relationship exists between a name and a self. You’re also right that, in some way, all characters are manifestations of the author. But we don’t name all characters after ourselves. So what happens when we do? What happens to the interpretative experience for the reader? What happens to how the author decides to treat the character?

      Many authors have made the decision to name characters after themselves here and there, but it’s not common practice. And sure, maybe some of them, like yourself, do so without too much thought about why or what it means, but I’d be willing to bet that most of the time there’s a compelling reason, and I know for a fact that it affects the way this reader interacts with the text.

      You’re obviously not an ideal reader for anthology, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s a strong enough concept to hold a collection together–assuming, as one always must at the concept level, that the work itself is strong, and that the authors are taking the book seriously.

        1. example since i recently read it, and may actually already function as the anthology you are talking about is Gordon Lish’s Self-Imitation of Myself

        2. No, no! It’s good you challenged the idea like that. I still think it’s “got legs,” and now I’ve begun to sketch out some of how I’d frame the book with a forward.

  6. Stephen Dixon’s I. (and everything else he’s every written) certainly deals with self-insertion.

    Also, John Barth is your man for this.

    I also have that same suspicion about Auster, but I can’t nail it down.

    Scott McClanahan’s stories are all written this way too.

    Technically, A Moveable Feast is a work of fiction.

    I like this idea very much, Shya. I’ve playing around with this in some comic ideas I’ve been working up.

    There’s tons of comics that flirt with this, but I suspect most are offered as ‘auto-bio.’

    I’m going to keep thinking about this….

      1. I’d say Pekar is squarely auto-bio. His intentions are as nonfictional as possible, for whatever it’s worth.

        The Auster thing with self-insertion that I was thinking of is the comic adaptation of City_of_Glass. Auster is credited on that, along with Mazzuchelli and Karasik, not out of politeness, but because he was very involved in the book’s creation. The main character (although named Daniel Quinn) is drawn to look like Paul Auster.

  7. For a while I’ve wanted to write scandalously fake biographical stories about living people. I’m sure someone has done this already (and not just reporters). But I haven’t gotten around to it.

    My intent would be to write really libelous stuff—stuff that wouldn’t obviously be satire. Maybe I just want to see if anyone would ever actually read any of it.

    I suppose the Wikipedia used to be more like this, back when you could write anything.

    1. Yeah – I love this idea for an anthology.

      Also, I used to write fake obituaries for famous people before they died, imagining what would happen in the mean time.

      Also, Dave Reidy has an awesome story written from the point of view of Abe Vigoda in his collection ‘Captive Audience.’

      This is a tangent.

      I like this idea very much.

  8. I recently got a letter from Ken Follett and he tells me that he would like to meet me this year when he does his US book tour. This situation of name conflict and authorial identity has plagued me for quite some time.

    Orgrease Crankbait: The Butcher in the Details http://bit.ly/5pU0fh

  9. A glaring oversight: Marcel Proust

    From The Prisoner, volume 5 of In Search of Lost Time:
    “Now she began to speak; her first words were ‘darling’ or ‘my darling,’ followed by my Christian name, which, if we give the narrator the same name as the author of this book, would produce ‘darling Marcel’ or ‘my darling Marcel.'”

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