When Inprint revealed that it was bringing Pseudonymous Bosch, best selling author of the Secret Series to Houston on Sunday, it at first merely seemed like a cool choice for their Cool Brains! Reading Series for young people. But as I began reading the recent and final book of the Secret Series, You Have to Stop This, I became suspicious there was more to this simple story of a mysterious storyteller coming to town.
Pseudonymous Bosch uses a pseudonym to remain anonymous (get it?), travels incognito and is said to live in a remote jungle cave or Greenland to avoid the enemies he made by revealing too many secrets in his Secret Series. The books for middle-graders follow the adventures of friends Cass, Max-Ernest and Yo Yoji, members of the ancient Terces (don’t bother with a dictionary, look it up in a mirror) Society as they attempt to keep a great Secret from the evil Midnight Sun group.
In You Have to Stop This, Cass comes closer than ever to discovering just what exactly is the great Secret that Midnight Sun and especially its leader, Lord Pharaoh, covet. Along the way, she and her friends attempt to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphic messages, find a stolen, or perhaps reanimated, mummy, and discover the connection between the sacred ibis, the Egyptian god Thoth and this ancient secret that might hold the key to immortality.
Is H-Town in danger of being invaded by ghost pharaohs and an evil alchemy organizations? I was determined to find Pseudonymous and get him to spill the secrets of this supposed coincidence.
It was only after reading the book and its stories of Egyptian burial practices, tomb curses and King Tut’s missing member that I suddenly realized the danger we were all in. For a quick look at the calendar showed the date of Pseudonymous Bosch’s visit coincided exactly with the opening of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's blockbuster exhibition, Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs.
In the Secret Series, coincidences are hardly ever just a coincidences. So what could this mean? Does Bosch know something we don’t? Is H-Town in danger of being invaded by ghost pharaohs and an evil alchemy organizations? I was determined to find Pseudonymous and get him to spill the secrets of this supposed coincidence.
Contacting Bosch involved a clandestine trip to Greenland, a code expressed in mummy jokes, several disguises and a suitcase full of dark chocolate, (or perhaps the folks at Inprint just put me in touch with his representative). For safety’s sake, I can’t disclose my methods.
Mysterious as ever
When I did finally speak with Bosch, he was cagey as I confronted him with the so-called coincidence of his appearance in Houston on the exact day of Tutankhamun’s opening, finally only responding with the very ambiguous statement: “All I’ll say is this: people often ask me questions about how it is I travel so secretly and in what I travel.” When I pressed, he insisted, “I’ll say no more.”
Houston might be attacked by time-traveling ghost pharaohs, and he would say no more? I decided to ask him some seemingly innocent questions about the books, hoping he’d accidently reveal the real purpose for his visit.
Discussing his comfort in writing for middle graders, he said, “I don’t have to make any kind of effort whatsoever to write for kids. I wouldn’t say that I’m a child, but I would say my inner reader is a child.” He finds a “freedom” writing for kids.
“I don’t have to make any kind of effort whatsoever to write for kids," Bosch said. "I wouldn’t say that I’m a child, but I would say my inner reader is a child.”
One element of Bosch’s books that might be a favorite of kids is his ability to layer genres. Within his narrative he mixes jokes, questionnaires, texting, speeches and even graphic chapters. He explained, “I deliberately mix genres in the broader sense, probably because I’m very bad at choosing. I like mystery. I like fantasy. I like jokes. I like everything. I don’t like to have to limit myself . . .
"At the end I’m always sprinkling in unexpected nonsense that might not have a particular story justification or any kind of justification whatsoever, but it’s just what I like to do.”
While this discussion certainly gave an illuminating glimpse into the creation of Bosch’s novels, it was getting me no closer to the secret of his Houston visit. Changing tactics, I pointed to the many characters in his series who disguise themselves or try on different identities, even as they search for their own true identity. I asked if he thought these themes resonated particularly with middle graders.
He responded, “I think it’s particular true of the age group I’m writing for that we’re looking to see ourselves reflected by what we read, looking to understand who we are through the act of reading.”
Stipulating that he was speaking in a wild generality, he explained his theory that there are two reasons we read, the first is “to escape who we are and where we are, and the other is to find out who we are and where we are. I think especially for young people they’re looking to discover themselves through reading.”
Getting back to my question about the themes of changing identities in his books, he added, “On an another level there is an analogy between creativity and fiction writing and storytelling on one side and the creation of an identity, be it a true identity or a cover identify or a costume, that are sort of analogous with acts of creation.”
So yes, Bosch is a writer for kids who obviously has thought deeply on the nature of storytelling and the creation of identity. All very well and good, but should the MFAH be on alert for a coming horde of reanimated mummies or not?
I gave it one more try, asking about the act of appearing as Pseudonymous Bosch at schools, in videos and even The Today Show vs. the act of writing the books. He said, “Writers are reclusive people in general. I’m no exception. Pseudonymous Bosch as a character is reclusive and spends his time in hiding. I was not expecting to go out there on stage being Pseudonymous Bosch.
"Of course officially I’m not saying I ever am Pseudonymous Bosch.”
He continued, “It’s beginning to seem less and less as two different things. I kind of see the writing of the books now as part of this larger thing that is the Secret Series and is Pseudonymous Bosch. There is not just the writing of the books on the one hand and the talking about them and meeting kids on the other.”
When I asked if he might think of it as performance writing, he said “Yeah, exactly. There’s a kind of continuity between it, which I wasn’t expecting but it’s been an interesting development out of it. I think on some level that’s true for a lot of authors now.”
Discussing the trends in authors touring, tweeting and blogging as eBooks become more popular and perhaps change the book’s form for kids and adults, he concluded, “It’s going to get harder to separate the act of writing and the book, on one hand, from the readership and the author being out in public on the other hand,” which is a change he feels is neither good nor bad but “inevitable.”
And still he wouldn’t reveal the secret of the curious timing of the dual Bosch/Tutankhamun visit, only giving the warning, “Just don’t investigate the crates too closely as the exhibition is on its way. . .”
So be careful out there Houston. Watch out for wandering mummies, evil alchemist and most of all, Pseudonymous Bosch.
He appears at Johnston Middle School at 3 p.m. Sunday and Blue Willow Bookshop at 5 p.m. Monday. Both events are free.