East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai



I am about to put the finishing touches on a fantasy novel that I will deliver to the editor before midnight. It is work for hire, so it will go out with another guy’s name on the cover, and I will never be at liberty of revealing that I am the author. Of the book, and of the whole trilogy. With a modicum of luck, the royalties will pay for my dinners throughout the autumn.

It’s something rather different from what I usually write, but I am convinced I put in it some of the best characters I ever wrote (there’s a lot of them, it’s a trilogy), and some of the best dialogues. I am, in other words, reasonably proud of what I am doing.

I was discussing this with my patrons, earlier today – the idea of publishing books that have somebody else’s name on the cover. It’s a topic worth discussing, and analyzing.
How does it feel?

It feels weird, but not bad, not bad at all.
I remain a guy that writes to be read, not to be published or, really, to be recognized . I am not interested in putting “Writer” after my name on Facebook. Indeed, much as I like talking about myself and what I do, I also like this mild invisibility, the possibility of becoming transparent.

There’s a song, by a Japanese band I love, Tokyo Jihen, called Toumei Ningen, Invisible Human

I’m an invisible human, you can see right through me
Similar people must understand
I hold my breath to cross the roads where rumours abound

The song is about the fact that being invisible is not bad, if it’s your choice.
It lets you get closer to people, and shrug off rumors and spite.
It’s when it is not your choice that it hurts. I hate ostracism, and the cliques and groups and rings that determine who’s in and who’s out, who’s visible and who’s not. So I’d rather chose invisibility than be cursed with it – because I can then handle the consequences as I see fit.

So no, it’s not that hard.
I can’t brag about sales, and I can’t go to those that routinely diss my work but praise what I do when I am invisible and say “You hypocrite!”
But I’ll live even without these little satisfactions.

My work is valued by those that read it, despite the fact that they do not know who really wrote it. And the fact that some people ask me to write for them is an attestation of respect, and appreciation.
What I did and I do with my name on the cover is good, is being appreciated, shows my mastery.

(I realize I should do, sooner or later, a post about the concept of mastery in writing, and why that’s what we must strive to achieve.
Mastery, cross training… this is beginning to sound more like a martial art with each passing day)

I was talking about these things I wrote for hire with the publisher of Hope & Glory – I started doing work for hire in the gaming industry, a few years ago, a field in which it’s a much more common practice – and he was one that asked me if I felt all right with it.
Writers have this problem with ego, you see – we like the spotlight, and a publisher knows that.
He also commented that I can now claim the title of Kagemusha, the Shadow Warrior.
That is not that bad. It’s a step up from my usual status as Ronin.
Or maybe a step sideways.

In the end, being a sword for hire or a masterless samurai, or even a shadow warrior, does not mean one does not have a code of honor or a reverence for mastery in our field.
(but I’d rather not go mad like the character in the Akira Kurosawa movie, thank you)

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Kagemusha

  1. I wrote two series for someone else. It was when I was doing freelance writing, and took on a few ghostwriting jobs. I had no problem doing it and getting the cash in my bank account…. but NOW I have a problem with it. They didn’t take off and become best sellers, not by a long shot. It’s the fact that they are languishing, unpromoted and unloved that I’m furious. I wrote some damn good stuff, filled with three of my best characters, and because the ‘author’ was too lazy to promote them, they’re wallowing in the dreck that clutters Amazon. I know, in my hands, I could’ve promoted the shit out of those series and had them working to my advantage… instead, the cash they bought is long gone and I’m left checking amazon to see if theyve been discovered yet. Highly frustrating, and the reason I’ll never ghostwrite again.


    • I can see how that’s frustrating.
      On the other hand, believe me, it’s even worse when there’s your name on the cover, and it’s the publisher that does not bother to promote your work. And it happens.

      Liked by 1 person

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