Author: Benjamin DeLuca
Visiting professor and current teacher of ECLS 380 “Fiction for young readers” Raphael Simon does not wear a magician’s hat, nor does he write children’s fiction. Pseudonymous Bosch, however, has a different story. This is the enigmatic pen name Simon adopted as the author of the “Secret Series,” five works of fiction aimed at elementary and middle school readers. Even older readers infatuated with the fantastical may enjoy the series, in which each book is centered around one of the five senses.
Morrison Lounge was packed to the gills with Oxy students and Bosch fans for a reading last Tuesday night. Fully absorbed in his character, Simon read excerpts from his “Secret Series” books and from his next creation “Write this book!” which is slated to hit bookshelves next April.
Simon, as Bosch, gesticulated with his hands as he uncloaked the plot for his audience, changing his voice to mimic those of his novel’s pint-sized characters. Listening to and watching Simon read his work is a wonderfully entertaining show.
In the noir chapter, the protagonists A and Z (obviously not their real names) are in the study of the missing author I.B. Anonymous, casing the joint like hard-boiled detectives out of a Raymond Chandler story. They chance upon critical evidence, a rabbit doll that speaks, and they attempt to journey to “the other side” and find the missing author. This chapter is written in two more genres–fantasy and gothic–with the same plot. Simon’s talents as a writer and storyteller are clear after the reading.
Simon has an impressive background as an author, screenwriter and freelance journalist to lend support to his talents. ECLS Professor Martha Ronk saw Simon give a reading of one of his Secret Series novels at the Pasadena bookstore Vroman’s, and recognized his potential as a creative writing teacher at Occidental.
“Simon’s wit and facility with language impressed both the children in the audience and me,” Ronk said following the reading. Ronk said that an adjunct professor teaching creative writing is a regular presence on campus. Student interest pushed the department to add a course in young adult fiction, which led to the hiring of Professor Simon.
“He brings youth, a successful publishing career, a depth of education, and knowledge of a genre that is very appealing to young readers and to our students,” Ronk said. “He will bring other young adult authors to his class to enrich the student experience. The ECLS department believes that reading and writing are intimately connected and that our majors and all students profit from a study of both.”
Simon entered unexplored territory this semester. He previously taught detective fiction at CalArts and composition at UC Irvine, but he has never taught or taken a creative writing class. Nevertheless his wealth of experience as a writer is proving useful to his students.
“Far from the stereotypical self-involved author, Professor Simon infuses his classes with the belief that every one of us is capable of meaningful writing,” student Katie Moriarty (senior) said. “His humility and patience with us is truly astounding for someone so successful.”
Another student of Simon’s, aspiring young adult writer Imran Chandoo (sophomore), said that he took a risk taking the class and it is paying off in developing his writing style.
“Simon teaches us to channel our voice,” Chandoo said. “We have lots of writing exercises in class, and sharing work with the class teaches us about our voice. I needed a spark to write short stories, I took a risk trying to get inspired.”
Besides the direct impact teaching a class has on students, Simon’s novels and his experience as a writer can teach lessons as well.
“My advice for young writers is to read,” Simon said. Simon said he read almost one book a day from ages 8-14. “Use what you read to help you write. Lie, cheat and steal. I never wanted to be a writer, but I never doubted I would be one.”
“Write this book!” will be a do-it-yourself novel, where the The unexpected twists in both plot and form of his novels force his readers to suspend their disbelief and follow Simon’s path or create their own. One of the book’s chapters looks like something out of a top-secret F.B.aI. file, with the letter “x” substituted for other letters or letters being omitted entirely.
“It’s a censored chapter, a secret chapter,” ECLS 380 student Landon Koenig-Muenster (senior) said. “What could it say? To a kid or someone with a still-functioning imagination this is fascinating. Your mind whirls with the possibilities. You get to be a part of creating, and I think that’s great for readers.”
Simon hopes to leave his readers with a fragment of the experiences he had as a young adult reader.
“I want my readers to experience what I had when I was a kid,” Simon said. “Being transported, getting lost in another world. To see people feeling that is wonderful and weird.” Simon’s writing process is largely unstructured. He said that “Write this book!” is the first novel where he used an outline to write it.
Part of what makes Simon’s writing process and his novels so fascinating is that there is no clear trajectory to them. Subjective interpretation from readers plays a major role in the tone of his novels. Simon bears witness to the development of his stories just as much as he writes the stories. Simon’s readers simultaneously read the story and create it.
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