Showing posts with label pseudonyms. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pseudonyms. Show all posts

20 October 2018

Names and Pseudo-Names



by John M. Floyd



A few weeks ago I got into a familiar discussion, among writers: Should you use a pseudonym?

Here are some authors who have:


Eric Blair -- George Orwell
Ed McBain -- Evan Hunter
A. M. Barnard -- Louisa May Alcott
James D. Grant -- Lee Child
Agatha Christie -- Mary Westmacott
Samuel Clemens -- Mark Twain
Isaac Asimov -- Paul French
Stephen King -- Richard Bachman
Joseph King -- Joe Hill
Joanne (J. K.) Rowling -- Robert Galbraith
Barbara Vine -- Ruth Rendell
Davis John Moore Cornwell -- John Le Carre
Charles Dodgson -- Lewis Carroll
Nora Roberts -- J. D. Robb
Joyce Carol Oates -- Rosamond Smith
John Hughes -- Edmond Dantes
Gore Vidal -- Edgar Box
Erle Stanley Gardner -- A. A. Fair
Ruth Crowley, Eppie Lederer -- Ann Landers
Pauline Phillips, Jeanne Phillips -- Abigail Van Buren
Juliet Hulme -- Anne Perry
William Anthony Parker White -- Anthony Boucher
John Dickson Carr -- Carr Dickson
Washington Irving -- Diedrich Knickerbocker
Ray Bradbury -- Douglas Spalding
Mary Ann Evans -- George Eliot 
Jozef Korzeniowski -- Joseph Conrad
C. S. Lewis -- Clive Hamilton
Daniel Handler -- Lemony Snicket
Benjamin Franklin -- Mrs. Silence Dogood
William Sydney Porter -- O. Henry


And there's usually a story behind every pseudonym. In an old interview I saw recently, Donald Westlake said he chose the name Richard Stark for his series of Parker novels because (1) Richard Widmark was one of his favorite actors and (2) "stark" was the writing style he wanted to use for the series. (NOTE: Westlake also said he later regretted choosing the name Parker for his main character--because it kept him from ever writing "Parker parked his car.")

Other examples of that process: Western author Tom McCurley invented his Mack Curlee pseudonym by rearranging his last name, and prolific romantic-suspense writer Melanie Noto dropped the W from her maiden name (Melanie Watkins) to come up with her pseudonym Melanie Atkins.

Another writer friend of mine, Charles Wilson, said he wishes he'd chosen the pen name Wilson Charles, because all the novels written using his real name are located on the hard-to-see bottom shelves in libraries and bookstores. If he'd used Wilson Charles, his work would be shelved up there alongside the Crichtons and Cornwells and Childs and Connellys.

Those who do use pseudonyms have said the names should be carefully chosen. Once their works attain any level of success, pen names become as permanent as a tattoo.


But I still haven't talked about why a writer would--or wouldn't--need a pseudonym. Here are some pluses and minuses.


You might choose to use a pseudonym if:

1. You want to write in a genre different from your previous work. Nora Roberts, who's known for her romances, writes mysteries under the name J. D. Robb.

2. You want to hide your true identity from your family, friends, boss, etc. This might be the only way you'd consider writing erotica, or about controversial subjects.

3. You want to disguise your gender. A woman might use a man's name to write for Field & Stream, and a man might use a woman's to write for Brides & Weddings.

4. You don't want to appear too prolific. When Stephen King started out, the idea of publishing more than one novel in the same year by the same author wasn't widely accepted. Pseudonyms were, and still are, a way around that.

5. You want to collaborate with another author using the same name. Ellery Queen was of course really the writing team of Dannay and Lee; and both the Hardy Boys author Frankin W. Dixon and the Nancy Drew author Carolyn Keene were actually teams of different writers.

6. You have a real name that just wouldn't work. It'd be hard to publish if your name is John Grisham, James Bond, Eliza Doolittle, etc. Or, for that matter, Jekyl Juberkanesta.


You might choose not to use a pseudonym if:

1. You don't have any of the requirements listed in items 1-5 above.

2. You already have a reasonable-sounding name.

3. You don't want to have to double your marketing efforts.

4. You want to keep things simple.


It's worth mentioning that Larry McMurtry, who is probably best known for his western novels like Lonesome Dove, also wrote Terms of Endearment and other "literary" works, and did both under the same (his real) name. And--on a far smaller scale--I've written a boatload of stories for a women's magazine without bothering with a pseudonym. Just saying.


Questions: Do you use a pseudonym? Do you think you might, in the future? If so, why, and how was it chosen? Have you found it helpful? Do you use your real name instead?


I'll close this topic with a poem and a joke. First, the poem (which, since I'm not much of a poet, might be considered a joke as well). It's called "Altering the Ego," and appeared in the April 1999 issue of Writer's Digest.


I'll admit I've had problems
With my pseudonym;
When my book was a failure
They knew I was him--
But when I sold the sequel, 
Which did splendidly,
I couldn't make people 
Believe he was me.


Who says writing isn't a thankless profession?

Now, the joke:


John walks into a writer's meeting.
Jane asks him, "What's your pen name?"
"Paper Mate," John says.


And maybe that's the only one he needs.






15 August 2015

A Rainy Day at the Beach



by John M. Floyd



Several weeks ago I attended a one-day writers' conference in Long Beach, Mississippi, called The Magic of Books. I conducted an afternoon workshop on writing and selling short stories--which are of course not books, but they asked me to do it anyway--and it was a fun session, at least for me. But the highlight of my day there (besides lunch) was the chance to hear a presentation by my friend and longtime mentor Carolyn Haines.

For those of you who don't know her, Carolyn is the author of more than seventy novels, including the "Bones" mysteries featuring Sarah Booth Delaney and set in the fictional Mississippi Delta town of Zinnia. (The latest in the series is Bone to be Wild--one of my favorite titles.) Carolyn is also a crazy and delightful lady who has been a tremendous help to my so-called writing career and who always makes me laugh. She has written under at least three pseudonyms and in a number of genres.

Vive la difference

Among the many words of wisdom she gave us that day, on the topic of "Writing in Multiple Genres," were the following:

- In mystery fiction, justice prevails

- In romance fiction, love prevails

- In historical fiction, the details must be accurate right down to the clothing and the dialect.

- In horror, fantasy, and historical fiction, setting is of primary importance.

- The key to POV is consistency.

- Thrillers must include some kind of ticking clock.

- In traditional mystery fiction, the protagonist knows more than the reader; in suspense/thriller fiction, the reader knows more than the protagonist.

- In thrillers, the antagonist must be the equal of the protagonist.

- Literary fiction requires deep character development and usually addresses social issues.

- SF is mainly plot-oriented and appeals mostly to male readers.

- In fantasy fiction, world-building is all-important.

- High fantasy involves elves, fairies, etc.

- Low fantasy involves vampires, werewolves, etc.

Not that it matters, but during much of Carolyn's presentation about mystery/noir fiction it was gloomy and raining outside, and it even thundered once or twice when she mentioned horror stories. The woman is so talented she can control the weather.

Elements, my dear Watson

Another of the things she talked about in her session was the "elements" of fiction. All of us think of different things when we hear that term. Personally, I think of plot, character, dialogue, POV, and possibly setting. Carolyn's take on it wasn't too far from mine: she said the elements consist of (1) plot, (2) character, (3) setting, and (4) theme. I think her point was that these are the ingredients of a story or novel--and she's right. But I think of the elements of fiction in a different way. I see them as the things you have to be good at in order to write it well.

Example: One of the elements Carolyn names is theme, and while I agree that theme is certainly a part of a story, I don't think theme is something I have to worry much about, as a writer. I once heard someone say that you should never try to come up with a theme beforehand, because there's no need to; you should just write your story, and if the story's a good one, it'll have a theme. Another way of phrasing that, I suppose, is if it doesn't have a theme, then it's not much of a story and it won't sell anyway.

I believe Carolyn's mention of theme, here, is tied to a couple of her pieces of advice that I listed earlier: in mysteries the theme (the overall point) is "justice prevails," and in romances it's "love prevails." I think she was saying the author must know these things and keep them in mind during the writing process--otherwise, the story or novel will fail. Or at least it will fail as a mystery or a romance.

Another place where our "elements" list varies is that I think things like dialogue and viewpoint are so vitally important they should probably be included. And yes, I know, dialogue isn't something that has to be a part of every story--I sold one to the Strand a couple years ago that had no dialogue at all--but when it IS a part of the story, it has to be nearly perfect in order to work. Bad dialogue is like a torpedo hit to the engine room; your project can't survive it. And POV, while it's not something to obsess over, is still one of those things that can badly hurt your story if it's misused.


The other difference in our definitions is setting. Carolyn includes it in her list; sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. I agree with her that it's a necessary ingredient in a piece of fiction--it obviously has to be there, or the characters would have no place to live and talk and make the story happen. But I find myself worrying less and less about setting, the more I write. I sort of feel that if the setting is truly important to your story--if, let's say, your characters are on a desert island, or in a hut on Mt. Everest, or at the bottom of a mine shaft, or in a nuclear testing facility, or in a lifeboat--then you'd certainly be wise to spend some time and a lot of words describing that setting and making it crystal clear to the reader. But if your story is such that it could possibly be told just as well using a different setting, if for example most of your story involves a conversation between two people sitting in a city park, or a restaurant, or an apartment or an office building or a suburban backyard, etc., maybe it's not that necessary to spell out a lot of detail about their surroundings. Especially if it's short fiction. That's my opinion only, by the way, and I welcome any thoughts you might have on this.

NOTE: I assure you that Carolyn knows more about all this than I do--after all, she's the mentor and I'm the mentee, she's Obi-Wan and I'm Luke. (Well, maybe I'm C3PO.) Let me ask you: If you had to make a list, what would you consider to be the "elements" of a novel or a story? I've heard that some writers include such things as symbolism and conflict--and, to me, conflict is a part of plot. Different folks, different strokes.

Noms de plume

Yet another good point she made during her session was Use a pseudonym if you feel your fans/audience might not like a new or different genre. This was, I assume, one of the reasons that Nora Roberts is also J. D. Robb, John Camp is John Sandford, J.K. Rowling is Robert Galbraith, and Evan Hunter was Ed McBain (actually, neither Hunter nor McBain was his real name). As for Carolyn, she has written as Carolyn Haines, R. B. Chesterton, Lizzie Hart, and Caroline Burnes, and believe me, all those incarnations do a darn good job of writing.

Have any of you taken this approach, and decided to use one or more pen names? If so, did you do it because of a genre switch? Or did you choose to keep your own name (as Larry McMurtry and James Patterson have done) regardless of genre? Have any of you chosen a pseudonym for other reasons? This is a subject I find fascinating, probably because--even though I consider myself fairly imaginative--I doubt I would ever be able to come up with a suitable alias no matter how hard I tried. As the intoxicated writer once answered when asked for his pen name, I just say, "Bic."

And that's my pitch, for today. May all your trips to the seashore be sunny, not rainy; may all of us make progress toward mastering the elements of fiction no matter how they're defined; and if you've not read Carolyn Haines, under her own name or any other, I hope you will. There is much to be learned from her novels and short stories. Here's her web site. Prepare to be entertained!




BY THE WAY: Two weeks ago at this blog, when I wrote about my story that appears in the current print issue (July/August) of The Saturday Evening Post, I said I would include a link to it when it appeared online. That story, "Saving Grace," was finally posted on August 7. Also, I was asked awhile back to write a piece for EQMM's blog, Something Is Going to Happen, and that post, called "From Page to Screen," went live last week as well. If you have time to read either (or both), I hope you enjoy it (or them). See you on the 29th! 





10 March 2015

Double Identity


by Jim Winter

It's a brave new world, publishing is. Self-publishing doesn't quite have the stench it once had. If a writer does not go traditional, he or she can write anything they want. But the gatekeepers aren't gone. If anything, there are more of them. They're called readers, and they still have rules no matter what the JA Konraths and John Lockes of the world try to tell you.

Most of the rules are common sense. Write a good story. (I like to think I do.) Don't look like an amateur. (Probably need to work harder on this one.) Stick with your genre. On that one, readers are far less forgiving than Barnes & Noble, indie bookstores, and even the Big Five publishers. So what to do?

What any writer would do, traditional or independent. Write under two names. I started doing this in the last couple of years. While I was in a groove with an ambitious police novel I describe as "The Wire meets 87th Precinct," I felt that this thing had time to fail. It might not find an agent. It might not get a deal even if it did. I'm talking with an agent now, but it still has time to fail. I had to start looking beyond.

So I started a science fiction novel under a different name. I referred to this name as "Dick Bachman," though that's not what I really use. It is, of course, a Stephen King reference to the novel The Dark Half, wherein an author's pen name comes to life to stalk him for doing away with him. Early on, I made the decision not to make any public connection between the two names. Why?

In 2005, Northcoast Shakedown sold reasonably well for a release by an unknown from a micropress that had trouble paying its Lightning Source bill. Had I made some different decisions, I'd have probably wrapped up the Kepler series a few years ago and moved onto thrillers or even finished the police novel sooner. So it could be done. I wanted to see if I could do it again.

A handful of people know the details. A couple think it's silly to keep the identities separate. One suggested I just stop being Jim, use the new name, and find another name for the science fiction. But I've already gone pretty far down the rabbit hole not to see this through. The new name has a lot invested in branding as science fiction, and I don't want to lose the ability to resell and repackage Nick Kepler.

And besides, it's fun. I'm not doing stupid things like having Twitter wars with myself (though I often joke about that). Sooner or later, the charade is going to collapse in on itself. I'd rather that be part of a game I and the readers can play. It's a lot of work to have two independent identities as a writer, but it lets me experiment a little with each.

Who knows? Evan Hunter and Ed McBain collaborated on a book once. Why can't "Dick" and I do that at some point?

13 August 2013

Who Was That Masked Writer?


by Dale C. Andrews 
In 1968 or 1969 Paul McCartney said a wistful and startling thing in an interview. He said the Beatles had discussed the idea of going out on the road as a bar-band named Randy and the Rockets. They would wear hokey capes and masks à la Count Five, he said, so no one would recognize them, and they would just have a rave-up, like in the old days.
When the interviewer suggested they would be recognized by their voices, Paul seemed at first startled … and then a bit appalled. 
                                                                   Stephen King
                                                                   Why I Was Bachman 

      In The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck ended a famous soliloquy with the conclusion “we can’t start over.” This may be true, but that has not stopped some writers from trying. 

       Writing as someone else, that is, under a pseudonym, has always enjoyed a subversive and at times roguish popularity among writers. Over the years there have been many motivations for hiding one’s name -- Mary Ann Evans, author of Silas Marner, for example, wrote under the pseudonym of George Eliot because she believed that to be taken seriously in the mid-1800s an author really ought to be male. Thankfully, we are well past such “necessities,” but, for a host of reasons, authors still, at times, give in to a temptation to write as someone else. 

       Mysteries, which are all about secrets, have always been a particularly fertile ground for cultivating new identities. Ellery Queen, a pseudonym on his (or their) own, also wrote pseudonymously as Barnaby Ross. Earl Stanley Gardner wrote the Perry Mason mysteries under his own name, but wrote his D.A. Doug Selby mysteries under the name of A.A. Fair. Ruth Rendell writes not only as herself, but also as Barbara Vine. The reasons these writers,and many others, decided to write as someone else are varied, but among particularly popular novelists, such as those who have staked out claims to the top spots on The New York Times list, there is a particularly tantalizing temptation to coin a new name. They want to prove John Steinbeck wrong. 

J. K. Rowlings and friend
       Apropos of all of this, on April 30 Mullholand Books published a new mystery, The Cuckoo’s Calling, by “first time author” Robert Galbraith, described on the book jacket as an ex-military officer making his first foray into fiction writing. Although a debut novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling attracted the attention of a number of reviewers, including The New York Times, which had this to say about the book: 
Robert Galbraith has written a highly entertaining book... Even better, he has introduced an appealing protagonist in Strike, who's sure to be the star of many sequels to come.... its narrative moves forward with propulsive suspense. More important, Strike and his . . . assistant, Robin (playing Nora to his Nick, Salander to his Blomkvist), have become a team - a team whose further adventures the reader cannot help eagerly awaiting.
There was also a shared theme in the reviews of the book -- it seemed too good, too polished, for a first time work. The reviewers began to wonder, and to speculate. 

       In any event, buoyed by similarly favorable reviews The Cuckoo’s Calling was doing passably well for a first novel, selling 8,500 copies within a few weeks of publication and garnering two inquiries concerning possible film adaptations. It was then that the wife of a lawyer in the London law firm that had done legal work for the book, revealed on Twitter, contrary to the terms of a secrecy agreement, that the author was none other than J. K. Rowlings. Rowlings has now admitted authorship, settled with the law firm, which has committed to making a large donation to the same soldiers’ charity that is also receiving the royalties from the book. 

       When asked why she elected to begin a new series using a pseudonym, and writing as a man, Ms. Rowlings had this to say: 
I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre, to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback. It was a fantastic experience and I only wish it could have gone on a little longer.  
I [also] wanted to take my writing persona as far away as possible from me, so a male pseudonym seemed a good idea. I am proud to say, though, that when I “unmasked” myself to my editor David Shelley who had read and enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling without realizing I wrote it, one of the first things he said was “I never would have thought a woman wrote that.” Apparently I had successfully channeled my inner bloke! 
George Eliot could not have said or done it better! 

"Richard Bachman" from the
Thinner book cover  (Actually Stephen King's
agent's insurance broker)
       J. K. Rowling was not the first best selling author to succumb to the temptation to begin again. Stephen King attempted the same feat in the 1980s when, writing as Richard Bachman, he published five novels before being outed in 1985 just about the time that the fifth Bachman book, Thinner, was beginning to do well in the bookstores. Stephen King reportedly had several reasons for inventing Bachman. First, King is remarkably prolific and his publisher, early on, feared that publishing at the rate King wrote -- more than a book a year -- would flood the market. So a pseudonym created a new outlet. 

       But part of it was, in King’s words, the same hunger that tempted J. K. Rowling’s to invent Galbraith. Here is what King said in Why I Was Bachman, the essay that accompanies the 1985 omnibus volume The Bachman Books collecting the first four of Richard Bachman’s novels: 
You try to make sense of your life. Everybody tries to do that, I think, and part of making sense of things is trying to find reasons . . . or constants . . . things that don’t fluctuate. Eveyone does it, but perhaps people who have extraordinarily lucky or unlucky lives do it a little more. . . . Part of you wants to think that you must have been one hardworking S.O.B. or a real prince or maybe even one of the Sainted Multitude if you end up riding high in a world where people are starving, shooting each other, burning out, bumming out, getting loaded, getting ‘Luded.  
But there’s another part that suggests it’s all a lottery, a real-life game-show not much different from “Wheel of Fortune” or “The New Price is Right” . . . . It is for some reason depressing to think it was all -- or even mostly -- an accident. So maybe you try to find out if you could do it again.  
Or in my case, if Bachman could do it again. 
       King’s experiment was also cut short. The next Bachman book was to be Misery, and, in King’s words, “I think that one might have taken 'Dicky' onto the best-seller list.” Rowling’s experiment was cut way short, even though her next Cormoran Striker mystery will still be published under Galbraith’s name in 2014. 

Robert Galbraith and Richard Bachman sharing a stage
       It is interesting to compare Galbraith and Bachman with, respectively, Rowlings and King. Galbraith's mystery is much grittier than any of the Harry Potter books.  The Cuckoo's Calling is prone toward the use of idle profanity, darkly modern themes and urban settings.  And Bachman is also darker than King.  Bachman’s The Long Walk is sort of like The Hunger Games but without the love story -- just children dying in a televised contest. And Rage, centering on a young gunman taking over a school room, has been withdrawn from the market out of concern as to what it might prompt or might already have prompted. 

       But while the pseudonym authors differ markedly from their creators, behind the curtain, nonetheless similar narrative voices are discernible. Before being outed by a meticulous book store clerk who found an obscure reference to King in one of the Bachman copyright documents, there was rampant speculation that Bachman was King premised on the similarities of sentence structure, word usage, and plots. And today, 30 years after King’s Bachman experiment, apparently computerized digital comparisons between the Harry Potter books and The Cuckoo’s Calling were on the verge of outing Rowling when that tweet from the lawyer’s wife pulled the rug out from under her. 

     As noted, Galbraith and Bachman were doing respectably well before their identities were pierced. But sales in each case went ballistic when the pseudonym mystery was cracked. The Washington Post reported that “the news helped [The Cuckoo’s Calling to] climb straight to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list” the next week. And Richard Bachman’s Thinner was selling very well when King was outed. “But the fact,” King observes, “that Thinner did 28,000 copies when Bachman was the author and 280,000 copes when Steve King became the author, might tell you something, huh?” 

       Galbraith will continue to write mystery novels, but as a known pseudonym of Rowlings. Bachman, according to King, died of cancer of the pseudonym in 1985, although some “posthumous” Bachman works have been published since then. 

       In the end, what can we say of these experiments? Do they ultimately prove that hard work wins out or do they validate the lightning strike of luck? Both The Cuckoo’s Calling and the Bachman novel The Long Walk were rejected by publishers that would have jumped at the works if armed with a little foreknowledge. 

       Experiments cut short may ultimately yield no good answer. But on a side note, consider this. Amidst the confusion that attended the news that Rowlings was, in fact, Galbraith, and the ensuing rush to secure copies of her new book, Ron Charles of The Washington Post reported an item that can keep us pondering: 
The Cuckoo’s Calling isn’t the only Cuckoo title on The Post’s list this week. Cliff Stoll’s nonfiction story, The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy through the Maze of Computer Espionage is No. 4 on the nonfiction paperback list.  
Why would a book from 1989 pop up now? Are NSA employees buying copies in bulk? Are Rowling fans confused about her pseudonym? Or is it just wizardry?  
That lightning may have struck Cliff Stoll.  Assuming, of course, that he is Cliff Stoll.