A number of readers have asked me how I was able to write Eye of the Moon. It is one of those questions that can be answered easily with the Stephen King quip, one word at a time. That is true enough, but there is a deeper answer that I was not able to come up with until now. I thought I would share it.
My father called me the other day. It was the fourth, or perhaps the fifth call I have ever received from him. He told me flat out and at once that he objected to my use of his name, Ivan Obolensky, as the author of Eye of the Moon. He said I had violated his copyright. He had written a book in the 1950s using that name and wanted me to change it. I fielded the call as best I could, which is to say not well. I said I would fix it, or some such, and that was that.
It was a sad moment for me on so many levels.
My immediate reaction to his call was how do I fix this? But another perhaps more important question followed somewhat later: should I fix this?
My father and I have the same name, you see, and that is the problem.
When I originally wrote Eye of the Moon, the author’s name was I. Obolensky. Several advanced readers as well as my publisher objected to that. I have been writing nonfiction under my name, Ivan Obolensky, for several years. There should be a tie-in. I agreed, and so it was. Little decisions once made lead to other decisions, and some cannot be unmade. No choice is independent of another.
I looked to history. History has handled such name confusions by adding either the elder or the younger to the surname. The Plinys of Rome come immediately to mind, followed by the two Pitts. I could be Ivan Obolensky, the Younger.
On the other hand, I thought, why should this be an issue in the first place?
It is a simple question, but like many simple questions the answer is more complex.
The truth is my father’s reputation shines brightly when various search engines are put to work, mine not so much, in fact, quite the opposite.
So, firstly, for the public record and for all digital posterity, there are two Ivan Obolenskys. Actually there are more than that, but for the purpose of this posting, there are two, and we, my father and I, are very different.
Ivan Obolensky, the elder, was born in 1925. He has a Wikipedia biography. His philanthropy is well known, his financial success and his career is/was exemplary.
Ivan Obolensky, the younger, was born in 1952. Note the reversed digits, a case of historical and perhaps genetic dyslexia. That we are polar opposites was obvious from the beginning. I don’t have a Wikipedia biography, and that is not surprising. I knew that we were different from an early age. His name, my name, the same, but not the same, was etched on many of the silver trophies kept in a display case at the Buckley school in New York. I was a notably poor student. I managed to survive prep school and completed a year of college only to involve myself with a cult for some twenty years. I gravitated to the financial industry after my exit and worked as a stockbroker for the next twenty. It was another disaster.
I was not a complete failure, although that could be debated. It was more that I wasn’t a spectacular success. I think I tried too hard to be one, and that was my undoing.
Everything changed for me in my late fifties. What changed exactly, and how I managed to hit rock bottom and bounce is a matter I will not elaborate on, but I can at least mark the moment when I became aware that I had finally arrived as a person. It was during a conversation with a friend one night over a barbecue.
The friend was blunt. “Your entire family is notable and has accomplished so much. They’re wealthy and successful. Even I’m a millionaire, and you certainly aren’t. You’ve done nothing in comparison.”
And he was right of course. I was about to agree with him, when I realized that wasn’t true. Rather than making material headway, I said, I had made significant spiritual progress. I told him that I had finally learned to live with myself, and I had accepted who I was. It seemed a small thing in comparison to the accomplishments of those around me, but when I looked back at the distance I had traveled from where I had begun, it was no small matter, not at all.
I had never liked myself. Of course, we are biased in our own favor, or else life would be unbearable, and we humans would face extinction, but to like oneself in one’s own estimation is not so easy when viewed at arm’s length. I had always forwarded my own agenda. I was constantly afraid and bottled my anger, my sadness, and countless other emotions, but a strange thing had happened. By accepting all of them as part of me, allowing them to exist, and surrendering to who I was, I was able to see into my own soul. At the same time, I was able to see into the souls of others and understand them. They struggled too but in different ways. By accepting myself, I had accepted everyone else into my world, and I could see them clearly.
I learned to write and discovered I could write about what I saw. It was a big breakthrough.
Denis Johnson, the novelist, wrote, “I really enjoy writing novels. It’s like the ocean. You can just build a boat and take off.”
Eye of the Moon was like that. I built a boat and sailed away. That is how the novel was written. I created another world, and because I knew myself, I knew the people in it and their stories.
As to what I should do about my name, we never got to choose, did we? The choice for each of us was made long ago. Should it define who we are? I don’t think so. I am not my name. No one is. Ivan Obolensky is the name I write under. It is mine through no fault of my own and so it is. I will continue to use it.
Some news: I’m writing another novel. I will give you a taste, just a paragraph, but I think it strangely appropriate.
“I will start, if you will listen, how it was for me, but know full well, all stories begin in the middle, and all stories end in the same place. All things have already begun long before they begin. Whether we make a ripple or a wave, the future will reveal, but which it will be, who can say? Instead, we ask the question this way: who will remember me and will it be for good or evil?”
From “Songs of Rebellion” by Ivan Obolensky