Oh no. Not again. Here in the parking lot at Stop & Shop? I live in a medium-size town where many locals are aware I have something to do with writing books. This guy—who I knew way back when he was a Little League umpire who made good calls—is looking at me funny and thinking, “How come it’s taking him so long to answer?”
Because the answer is complicated! Because it’s nice of him to ask and my job is to be nice back, hiding my frustration in the process—which adds to my frustration. So, okay, ump, here goes. “Well, since the last Peter Abrahams novel came out—in 2009—I’ve actually written nine more, and that’s if we’re just counting those for adults. There are four middle grade mysteries as well. But the thing is, they’re written under another name.”
“Stephen King?” he asks.
Sometimes the people you least expect turn out to be witty. Witty has been on my mind for longer than I can remember. My mother taught me most of what I know about writing, and wittiness—being funny with a deeper purpose in mind—was the most important tool in her bag. She died before I even became a writer, meaning she died young.
Recently my dad told me about the day my mom realized she had a potential writer on her hands. I was four and in preschool. Every day, we went for a walk, the rainy-day walks taking place indoors with imaginary outdoor scenery. On this particular day, the teacher said, “Class, here’s a puddle.” The whole class walked around this “puddle,” except for me. I walked straight through. “Petey,” the teacher said, “what about the puddle?”
“I’ve got boots on,” I replied. The teacher told that story to my mom. The point is, being a writer is a deeply rooted part of my identity.
Back to the parking lot. “No, actually,” I tell the ump. “I’ve been writing under my pen name—Spencer Quinn.”
“The ones where the dog tells the story? My wife loves those!”
“Gets them from the library.”
“Oh. That’s... nice. Does she ever borrow any of the Peter Abrahams titles?”
“Name me a couple.”
“Oblivion. End of Story.”
“Maybe that second one. A little too dark for her, if I recall. She prefers...”
“More upbeat, I’d say. So how come the name change?”
“You’re sort of onto it. The Chet and Bernie stories are upbeat, but not cutesy! Does your wife say they’re cutesy?”
“Nope. In fact, I’ve never heard her use that word.”
Good enough. I plunge ahead. “There’s darkness in them,” I say. “But Chet—he’s the dog—has a way of snapping back to his reset position real quick, and his reset position is pretty cheery. I think that’s why readers...”
I notice that the ump’s eyes are glazing over and get to the point. “You’re right—definitely more upbeat. So when it was time to market Dog on It, the first one, the decision was made to give me another name, to maybe draw in readers who’d be put off by darker material.”
“So you’d sell more copies?”
“Well, that, too.”
“Did it work?”
The ump laughs and gives me a soft shoulder punch. “Pete! Isn’t life all about limits? Don’t we know that by now?”
“Yes, yes, of course! But...” And suddenly I’m getting emotional. Yikes. But what about Peter Abrahams? He’s still alive! Spencer Quinn was unknown to his mom. Peter Abrahams has won some prizes. Hollywood made a movie of one of his books. He still has Peter Abrahams–type ideas he’d like to write. But how can he? By killing off Spencer Quinn? That would be impossible and also insane. Spencer Quinn has a following. I just never knew he’d have a separate life and go on and on like this. A separate and more popular life—there, I’ve said it, at least to myself.
There’s a long silence. “You kind of feel trapped in this other guy who’s not you?” the ump asks.
“Exactly. Sometimes I’d like to kill him off.”
“Lots of people would love to have your kind of problem.”
“That doesn’t help, does it?”
“Not much. ”
The ump brightens. “But the killing off Spencer Quinn thing is a pretty cool idea.”
“Imagine what Stephen King could do with it.”
Peter Abrahams is the Edgar Award–winning author of 37 novels and the Echo Falls series for younger readers. Under his pen name, Spencer Quinn, he writes the bestselling Chet and Bernie series.