Who is Max Merriwell? And who is Mary Maxwell?

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Max Merriwell... and Pat Murphy

This is Max Merriwell.... And this is Pat Murphy.

Who is Max Merriwell?

I have a pen name, a pseudonym: Max Merriwell. But Max is a little more than a pen name. In some other universe, he's a very prolific science fiction writer. His first novel was published when he was eighteen, and he never looked back. Each year, he writes three novels--but more on that in a moment.

In this universe, Max hasn't published anything yet. But a novel from Max's universe has just leaked through into ours. The novel is titled There and Back Again. Basically, it's the story of The Hobbit retold as a space opera. Bailey Beldon, the Bilbo Baggins character, lives in a hollowed-out asteroid; the Gandalf character is a lady space pirate named Gitana; the dwarves are sibs of the Farr clone, the galaxy's richest clone family. Bailey joins the others on a quest to the center of the galaxy in search of an alien artifact.

That's the novel that Max has written.

Who is Mary Maxwell?

Now I have another pseudonym--or to be more accurate, Max Merriwell has a pseudonym: Mary Maxwell. As I mentioned, Max writes three books each year: a science fiction novel under his own name; a fantasy novel under the pen name Mary Maxwell.

A novel by Mary Maxwell (or rather Max Merriwell, writing as Mary Maxwell) is in the process of leaking through into our universe. This novel is titled Wild Angel. This novel borrows its premise from Tarzan of the Apes. In Wild Angel, a young girl is adopted by wolves in Gold Rush California. This is an action/adventure novel of the old school: there are daring rescues and dramatic escapes; there's a stage coach robbery and a traveling circus; there's a Temperance lecturer who falls in love with a contortionist.

So that's the novel that Mary (or Max, masquerading as Mary) is writing.

What does Pat Murphy have to do with all this?

Now we come at last to the novel that I want to write. This novel is titled Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell. It takes place on a cruise ship. You see, each year, when Max is finishing his three novels, he takes a long cruise. On this particular cruise, the events of the novels that Max is writing begin to bleed through into the reality of the cruise ship. There are UFO sightings and alien artifacts, wolves on the recreation deck and shootouts in the passenger lounge. And Max's pseudonyms begin to show up, mingling with the passengers and the crew.

Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell is about the nature of reality and the nature of identity-and some of the confusions of being a writer.

That's the novel that I want to write.

You think this is a joke?

This is the point in the story when people usually back away, looking at me as if I were mad. But I'm not mad, you see. Or if I am, I'm not alone. Here's the punchline of the story-Tor Books has contracted to publish all three novels: There and Back Again, Wild Angel, and Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell.

Now Beth Meacham, my editor at Tor Books, tells me that publishing these novels under different names will just confuse everyone. Much as I hate to admit it, I've come to agree with her. So the books are all coming out with my name on the cover--but the title page of each book will list the proper pseudonym. Which means that There and Back Again is by Max Merriwell by Pat Murphy. And Wild Angel is by Mary Maxwell by Max Merriwell by Pat Murphy. And Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell is by Pat Murphy.

So there it is.

When I was teaching at Stanford University, I told this story to a group of students. When I reached the end, I asked if there were any questions. A very bright and articulate young woman raised her hand and said plaintively, "Pat, I haven't understood a word you've said for the last five minutes."

I guess it's a little complex. If you're confused, I recommend you start over again at the beginning. And wish me (and my imaginary friends) luck. You just have to read about it. We're trying to do it!

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Update: Wednesday August 28 2013