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I want to use an experience I had which is pretty unbelievable but true. The majority of the story will be completely true. It's not over yet so I want to use an ending which is NOT true yet works well with the story.

I have had someone close to the situation read what I have so far, several pages. That person thinks the story is unusual and significant but agrees that it needs to be anonymous until it's resolved. Which may not be in my lifetime. I can't be too specific but it involves a group that doesn't take kindly to people who write about them. And I know that my loved ones would hate being associated with them. Thanks for any advice. It wants to be written so it will be, but I'd also like to try to get it published somewhere due to the subject.

I would use a pen name as the story could cause people I love problems simply because it's true, not because it's libelous. I know that legally I'd have to form a corporation with the pen name to process payments (if there ever are any, a long shot!) to maintain secrecy.

What would this kind of approach be called and how would I submit it? The story is rolling out of me, but I can't chance sending it somewhere if I can't keep my name out of it.

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KHill, interesting question - I've edited a bit for clarity, focusing the post around the actual question and cleaning up a bit. I don't think I've cut anything you wrote, though I did shift paragraphs from one place to another. –  Standback Oct 28 '12 at 22:47
    
KHill, couldn't you just write it as fiction (based on actual events)? –  Kristina Lopez Oct 29 '12 at 0:51
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I'm not sure if I understand this correctly. If you use a pen name, no-one buying the book will know that you are the real author. The only persons are the ones working for your publisher, because you sign contracts with your real name. Is that a problem for you? Do you also want to stay anonymous to the publisher? –  John Smithers Oct 29 '12 at 10:17
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3 Answers 3

This is a very interesting question that touches on the nature of fiction and non-fiction and the many ways in which they intersect. Two approaches come to mind, both encapsulated in books I've read.

  1. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (2003). The author describes the true and somewhat dangerous circumstance of secretly meeting with female English students to discuss works of western literature at her home in Tehran after she had resigned from her teaching job at the university. Nafisi wrote the book after leaving Iran, but many of her students were still in the country. Their participation in her book club could have gotten them into trouble, so Nafisi protected their identities by changing and switching aspects of their lives in a way intended to be so utterly opaque that they could never be identified in Iran. Hopefully she was successful. This is an approach you could try.

  2. Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls (2009). The author writes a "true life novel" based on stories of the life of her grandmother. It calls itself a novel but clearly there is a great deal of creative latitude as the story is told in the first person by the main character. It strings together family anecdotes from the grandmother's life (that would be the "true life" part) and fills in the gaps (there's the "novel" part). Although there is no attempt to disguise the truth in this novel (unlike with Nafisi's and your own work), there are probably still things you could learn from this approach in how to take true events and turn them into fiction -- in your case, a disguised and opaque fiction.

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The other option - additional option, as you should definately write under a pseudonym - is to write something that is clearly fictional, but tells the true story. Then you are not being libelous, as you are not making any claims to truth, but you are getting the story out there. You could write another piece for publication once resolved, indicating the true situation.

But making it a fictional account can work. You can then elaborate or amend the details so that it becomes slightly less clear that it relates to the true situation. Doing this is very hard work, but worth while - you can make the story work as a story (real life so often doesn't), and so make it readable. Ideally, this gets the truth out there, without actually putting yourself at risk.

The advantage of this is that you can say that you are storifying events that you know about, not trying to tell a real story, which is sort of true. Incidentally, people like Robert graves did this brilliantly with his Claudius books, and they make great reading, but are historically based. Your situation is different, but the same idea might work.

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Using in a pen name will work just fine in this situation. True, the publisher will know who you really are and you will be paid using your real name, but if they have any level of ethics they aren't going to go around saying who it really is. There have been a few popular Roman à clef style novels with anonymous authors, Primary Colors comes to mind.

That being said, are you sure that being anonymous will help? If you write this out and it's really close to reality, the people involved will be able to not only spot themselves (even after changing their names) but yourself. If you are trying to hide yourself because of legal issues you way have to fictionalize it further then just the ending.

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