July 19, 2013

Hard-boiled private investigators Shephard and Kurtz crack the case of overanalyze J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym


Alex Shephard: Hello, Dustin, you old muggle.

Dustin Kurtz: You’re going to open with the worst insult in literature, Alex? That’s cold.

A: Wingardium leviosa!


D: Looks like somebody’s been studying the wiki pages!

A: No, I am a fan.

But enough mugglechat. On Monday, you insinuated that the revelation that J.K. Rowling was the author of Crazy Cuckoo Time might have been a ploy to sell more books (or at least that it was less than innocent). Today, we found out who the person that leaked the nom de plume was: a suburban, British, mother of two, who was friends with the wife of one of Rowling’s lawyers. First question: Do you buy it? Second question: Have you no shame???

D: Hey, it’s dangerous out here in in the publishing blog trenches, Alex. If the friend of the wife of some barrister [NB: In the U.K. barristers are called “lorries”] wants to play games with the reputation of someone as sweet and innocent and well-meaning as J.K. Rowling, then she should have been ready for some heat. If she was cold-blooded enough to perpetrate a crime like this, she deserves a little shame, right?

A: I just wish it didn’t turn out that lawyers were (partly) responsible for this. Lawyers! Everybody loved them, but now their once noble profession has been degraded. Now that is shameful.

But back to the leaker herself. Here is a sample tweet from her now deleted Twitter account: “Rain rain go away come back on a day when I haven’t got 25 children coming for a party.”

Come on! Are we really supposed to believe that this is our generation’s Deep Throat? Where’s the intrigue? The parking garages? The gross pseudonym?

D: It’s not impossible! Rowling herself was just a struggling mother up in Liverhackney or wherever, and look what happened: seven novels about pre-teens ejaculating magic out of little handheld wooden rods and then she’s rich.

I’m not saying that this woman is the only one responsible—obviously I think everyone except Rowling herself probably started an anonymous twitter account and 7-billion-minus-1 people tweeted the secret to the Sunday Times simultaneously. I just think that it’s not beyond belief for this otherwise unassuming friend of a cousin of a lawyer’s brother to have liked the idea of having, and betraying, a fun secret.

A: That’s plausible! Compelling, even. (The argument that this is not some publicity stunt, not the bit about ejaculating, which is gross.) But we are overlooking part of the fun of this story: that everyone has decided that it is about publishing! Mostly: THIS IS WHY PUBLISHING IS BROKEN. Is publishing broken? Has the PTA disbanded???? Or does this story actually say maybe not so much about the state of publishing?

(Also, what do you think of the name “Cormoran Strike” which is the totally real name of the protagonist of the Galbraith novel? I think that it is very rugged and also that it also sounds like a Dickens character who was left out in the sun too long.)

D: Alex, these people don’t know you well enough to understand that you’re being cruel when you call me “compelling.”

Yeah, that name! The whole book sounds very much like someone who is in love with the trappings of crime fiction and really wanted to have fun. Which is forgivable. Alternately, what if the names in the Potter books are just meant to be everyday names? What if Rowling just doesn’t know how names work?

I’m pretty unsympathetic to the commentary that this is somehow indicative of problems in publishing. The argument goes: as an unknown author, Galbraith sold very few books of his expensive hardcover debut novel. I believe 1,500 is the rough number. Once it was revealed to be a book by Rowling they had to print 130,000 copies. Thing is, I don’t see any part of that story that indicates anything being broken. People buy books they think they will like. The name Rowling gives them some assurance of that. Where’s the problem?

A: I think if she published the book under the name “Cormoran Strike” she would have sold one million copies.

D: I just imagine a man punching a diving bird square in the throat.

A: The only creatures Cormoran Strike punches in the throat are criminals who deserve it for breaking the law.

OK, so I had a little fun earlier when I was basically like “I am a J.K. Rowling truther” or whatever but while I was pretty skeptical about this story when it dropped, I think I’ve come around a bit since then. And with today’s revelations about leaks and whatnot, I think I feel bad for J.K. Rowling, who is surely crying into a giant pile of lorries (NB: what the British call “money”) at this very moment.

Clearly her experience with The Casual Vacancy was not a good one and it seemed like her experience as Galbraith was genuinely, as she has said, liberating. (She got her mojo back, Dustin! I am all for getting one’s mojo back. You go, girl.)

I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to deal with the expectations of people who loved Harry Potter (like me!) and no amount of riches (though holy moly, that’s a ton of riches) would make that less daunting. George Lucas has never recovered from that shit. And I’ll take Cormoran Strike over Jar Jar Binks any day of the week.

Rowling sounded genuinely hurt when she addressed the leak and the leaker in a statement released earlier today:

“I have today discovered how the leak about Robert’s true identity occurred. A tiny number of people knew my pseudonym and it has not been pleasant to wonder for days how a woman whom I had never heard of prior to Sunday night could have found out something that many of my oldest friends did not know.

I’m often skeptical when leakers are revealed—I usually first assume that they’re “fall guys,” but then again I read The Drudge Report every day so wtf do I know—but this feels on the level to me. Though that is one weird first sentence.

D: Yes, it’s unusual for me to have sympathy for the fabulously wealthy. I remain skeptical of this story, and think there are a few more levitating shoes waiting to drop. (I don’t know, let’s just pretend that’s a Harry Potter thing.)

I honestly feel bad for Rowling. She just wanted to publish a book without encountering the spleen of people like me waiting to tear her down. But here’s the thing: I know the folks who work at Mulholland, the publisher of Cuckoo’s Conspiracy here in the U.S. They are dedicated people. They deserve to be able to publish many good books. I joked about the payday this brought her agent, but the publishers themselves aren’t going to be buying new cars with “F-U-RWLNG” vanity plates. They’re just going to put this money into publishing the best crime fiction they can find. I’m pretty comfortable with hurting Rowling’s feelings a little bit if it enables that.

A: I think that we are overlooking the most important questions in all of this. Is writing under a pseudonym something a Gryffindor would do??? What house would Cormoran Strike belong to, were he a wizard???? “Avadra Kedavra” – Cormoranus Strike, wizard.

D: I think we’re done here.


Alex Shephard and Dustin Kurtz work at Melville House and are friends.