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About Being in This Writer’s Book

Her Own Devices opens not with Chapter One, but with this rant by its protagonist. In it, she learns to her dismay that she was a character in a book, and jousts with a suspicious inner voice who will dog her throughout her adventures, attempting (and frequently failing) to even her keel. Turning the page, another voice hails us, that of her late lover, father of her child. Listen to what he has to say in his prologue, if you like, after reading on.

This is Anna Burmeister, but some of you might know me by another name. We’ll get to that. And as much as I didn’t want to, here I am introducing a novel someone I don’t know wrote about me. In fact, it’s the second one he put me in, as I recently found out. Let me tell you, being fictionalized is strange. Just hope it never happens to you, because you’ll have a lot of explaining to do if anyone ever finds out.

I’ve never told anyone about the time when I could have prevented a foolish act that led to a tragedy, and I’m not about to spill those beans now. But after living with the consequences for five years I moved on so I thought until my vatti emailed me from Basel telling me about a novel he read, a political thriller, set right here in Piraeus back in 2015. He billed it as a bunch of young radicals carry out a harebrained plot to dispatch a head of state. It was pretty far-fetched, he said, but there was this Swiss expat anarchist character calling herself Katrina who really reminded him of me. Not that his public-spirited daughter would ever get involved in an international political conspiracy.

Not that he knew, but Katrina was my alias back then! I had to see what Daddy meant. So I bought the eBook and opened it after putting my son to bed. Good night! Right there in the first chapter, that woman in the middle of that big protest demo had to be me. The next one told how I met Mahmoud in the café. It prickled my flesh. Most everything I read was true, down to my neighborhood, flat, appearance, politics, and how I talked my way into those guys’ secret team.

I thumbed to the end to see if it told what happened in Turkey—and freaked. Put it down and never read the rest. Couldn’t bear to relive all that tension and grief. But I’d seen enough to kickstart Gizzard-Brain. That’s what I call the nagging voice in my head that pops up to tell me what a fool I am. Get a grip, I heard. It’s only a novel.

Only a novel? It’s my life, dammit! Give me a break! Were you on holiday when all that went down?

The ending drove home what I already knew—that most of my misery is due to a man, but not in the way you’re probably thinking. It isn’t what he did to me; it’s what I did to him that eats at me. That brave, kind, handsome father of our child who loved and protected me, the man who would be raising him with me if not for my stupidity. He would graciously call what befell him kismet. I call it criminal negligence, and the bitter finality of watching him die keeps me under his spell. How would you handle that, Mizz Gizzard-Brain?

But it boils my blood to think I was under surveillance the whole time. All my intimate secrets—even my freaking diary—are in there. Who could have come up with all that? I had to know, so I tracked down the book’s website. It’s full of intimate details about our ill-fated operation but doesn’t say how the author knew about them.

The site had a contact form. I had to know what was going on, so I wrote: This is your Katrina. Who are you and why did you invade my privacy?

Next day someone named Max responded. Said he worked for the publisher and had edited the book. He wrote: And who might you be? What’s your real name? Where did you grow up? How old are you?

So I told him I’m Anna Burmeister from Basel. I’ve lived in Piraeus for six or seven years and, if you must know, I’m more or less 29, so now you come clean.

And he did. We must have exchanged a dozen messages that got stranger and stranger. Max said the writer swore he’d made everything up, any resemblance is coincidental, etc. But this is too much coincidence, I insisted, and he had to agree. Thought the writer must have been channeling me somehow—remote viewing and all that. Said he never believed in clairvoyance but since the writer didn’t know me and had never visited Greece, what else could it have been?

Maybe a literary hit job that might blow up in my face. Given what we were up to at the time, that guy’s exposé could be a death warrant.

Not only that, Max said the writer now wants me to “participate” in another book. Forget it, I almost auto-replied before that voice in my head said: Think about it. Wouldn’t you like him to shadow you for a while and write it up? Wouldn’t cost anything and might enhance your brand.

Brand? No soap. Notoriety from some freaking tell-all is the last thing I want, even if I got paid for it.

Gizzard-Brain didn’t buy it. Suit yourself, but who wouldn’t like an unobtrusive, non-judgmental biographer to chronicle their life and times in a book of life lessons to pass on?

Sounds a lot like a memoir. Why would I want to outsource anything so intimate?

Like I said, you’ll get to know yourself from a fresh perspective. Free therapeutic insights.

Seemed like one of those offers you can’t refuse. Look, this writer shadowed me behind my back once and could channel me again whether I want it or not. So I told Max I’d do it as long as I had editorial control. He wrote back telling me it doesn’t work that way. As a character, I don’t get to edit text, but I can use what it says to edit my life.

He made it sound like self-help. Do I really want a life coach I’ll never meet? Even for free?

Max thought so: In my opinion, you’re good at hatching big plans but don’t always think through consequences and end up jumping to conclusions without a parachute.

Before I could ask what that’s supposed to mean, he wrote: Look. This project is the parachute. The writer said he feels bad about what he put you through. He guarantees you’ll come out better than when you started this time, and I won’t let him kick dirt in your face. Me and my red pencil.

I don’t know, I wrote. Swear to Dickens or whomever you believe in?

Swear, he said. Not only that, if you tell me at any point that it’s too much pressure, I’ll reject the manuscript. But that would be a shame, because you are an inspiring woman with greatness in you, and now’s your chance to shine your light.

Imagine my surprise that anyone could think that of me. Like he said, all my adult life I’ve been throwing myself into situations without thinking twice and coming out bitter and bruised from kicking myself. It’s time I ejected myself from all that and collect some back pay.

But it’s not as if I have a choice. Let’s see what happens. I gotta go.

Now listen to Mahmoud tell you what a pickle he’s gotten himself (well, with a little help from his girlfriend) into.