by Jim Winter
Today is my final Sleuthsayers post. It's been a blast, but I've decided to hang up my crime writing shoes and go do something else. It's been 15 years, long enough to see if the lab experiment will succeed.
About 15 years ago, I started writing crime fiction under the name Jim Winter. That is not the name that graces my driver's license. So why did I do it?
Privacy was a big concern. Mind you, most of us are privacy conscious. And in an age where employers will look at your social media and Internet footprint to see what you're up to, it's a huge concern. But back in 2000, we didn't have Facebook and MySpace. We had AOL and Yahoo. Essentially the same thing, 'cept different.
But I also had an ego. I was going to be the next Dennis Lehane. And of course, making friends with some heavy hitters only stoked that delusion. If I were to create the next Mystic River, I opined, did I want to get hassled at Kroger?
I don't think I've ever been hassled at Kroger, except for maybe an annoying cashier once.
But by the time I realized this wasn't really an issue, even if I somehow became hugely successful, I was already established as Jim Winter. If I were to change, I'd have to start over again.
And when I did decide to start over again, I switched genres. I do science fiction now, and under my legal name, TS Hottle. But are there good reasons to do pen names besides privacy?
Branding is a good one. Joe Smith may write cop novels, but Joseph E. Smith may write dystopian YA fiction. Might get a bit confusing. And then maybe JE Smith may decide to cash in on his success and do writing books.
In some cases, privacy is an issue. Write erotica, and your employer may have issues with that. There may be nothing illegal about you doing that, but it can go horribly south if it makes someone in marketing or HR squick to find out you write that sort of thing. "Smut queen Lisa Jones works in our IT Department? What if our clients find out?" A pen name covers both you and them.
And then there are the hard-to-pronounce names. For instance, I know two writers whose names are hard to pronounce if you haven't heard them before. One writes under her maiden name, another writes under a rather science fictiony name that is easy to pronounce and remember.
Ultimately, I do wish I had not called myself "Jim Winter" in the beginning. It just became more and more unwieldy to explain it or cover it up as time went on.
Now it's no longer a problem.