In the 2001 movie Monkeybone, cartoonist Stu Miley (Brendan Fraser) switches the hand with which he draws his pieces. The result is that his creations go from dark twisted nightmares to this goofy monkey and his human pal (think Garfield as a monkey). This concept got me thinking about pseudonyms and the persona that is developed by and within an author’s works. In today’s publishing world many authors, both well established and those just starting out, create pen names under which they publish. The reasons for this vary from author to author: just starting out and trying to establish a name with spunk, switching genres and therefore perspectives, or trying to get away from an already established name. There are many great authors to think about who do this and I have a couple favorites.
Lemony Snicket is a mysterious, enchanting and hypnotizing storyteller (and no, he is not standing here dictating this sentence to me). He has published the accounts of the Baudelaire children and their escape from the dastardly Count Olaf. They have suffered a very hapless timeline, quite tragic really; but man are they brave children. The siblings are put through the ringer whilst trying to get to the bottom of their parents murders (which were covered up by a fire). According to his website Snicket is “insatiably inquisitive” and can only be contacted via HarperCollins Children’s Books. Snicket very rarely appears at book events, although it has happened on select few occasions. More often than not, Snicket’s handler is in attendance to answer questions to the best of his abilities and remind people how aloof his charge is. This man is one Daniel Handler. Mr. Handler leads a “relatively uneventful life” and is also the author of three books that are not for children. This past fall Daniel Handler spoke at the gala fundraiser for the 20th annual Texas Book Festival and at the fest itself. He is very interesting to listen to…quite captivating. He loves his fans and, after one of his panels, went out the front with the crowd instead of out the back. Taking picture after picture, joking the whole time. These two individuals seem to be vastly different in both character and in social settings. Now, I’m going to divulge something to you: they are one in the same. <<pause to allow gasps>> While switching seamlessly from Snicker to Handler and back, Daniel composes symphonies, writes a column in which he discusses Nobel Laureate’s books, and writes books for non children folk.
In 1977, Richard Bachman published Rage, his first book. Over the course of the next few years, he published four more books all of which did moderately well on sales. It was after his title Thinner was published that it was revealed that Richard Bachman did not exist. All that time horror master Stephen King had been writing under the pseudonym. He reportedly was interested in seeing how his work would do if nobody knew it was his. Was he at his level of success because of his name or because of his words? (See his essay “The Importance of Being Bachman” here.) At the time of his reveal King was working on Misery which he had planned on releasing under Bachman’s moniker (I think Misery is my favorite of his works. It’s so creepy and plausible and they’re out there in the snow. Eep!) In this case, the writing style and genre were the same; that’s how he was found out. In addition to wanting to see how his work would fare on it’s own, King was feeling restricted by his publishing house who were only releasing one title of his a year so as not to over saturate the market with his “brand.” Seeing the loophole in this, he convinced them to put out titles under the name Richard Bachman.
Not unlink his father, Joe King publishes under the name Joe Hill so that his work stands away from his father’s shadow. Hill has produced some really amazing works like Horns and The Fireman even after it came out who he was. In 2007 he issued a statement confirming his parentage but not before having obtained respect in the literary community, being awarded a Ray Bradbury fellowship and also receiving for his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts the Bram Stoker Award.
Lastly, I would like to bring up Joanne Rowling. We all the know the story of Harry Potter being rejected by 12 houses (publishing not Hogwarts) but many aren’t as aware of the fact J.K. is just as much a pen name as Robert Galbraith. While they were smart enough to pick up her manuscript the publishers silly thought that young boys would be not as interested in reading a book by a woman (which doesn’t make any sense, as young boys throughout history have been told fantastic tales by their mothers and grandmothers and you would think that would inspire something or just all together not even matter, but whatever) and as such asked her to shorten it to initials and her surname. Thus, J(oanne) K( Kathleen) Rowling was penned. Joanna as her full first name and Kathleen from her grandmother’s name as she had no middle name). The success of the Harry Potter series has brought such fame to Rowling and her name that when she put out her first non Potter title after the series ended, Casual Vacancy, everyone waited on baited breathe. However, Casual Vacancy was not by any means a success. I actually stopped reading about 80 pages in because I didn’t understand any of the small town British government lingo and honestly, it was boring (although the HBO adaption is actually good for a watch). So, several years later when new crime writer Robert Galbraith burst onto the scene and awed critics and readers alike, the world was none the wiser to the fact that Jo had but out a new book. The Cuckoo’s Calling is a really solid read. I highly recommend these books, peeps. The news that Rowling and Galbraith were one in the same came shortly before the release of the second book in the Cormoran Strike series. Discovered by a reporter and confirmed by Little Brown, the news was followed by a reprint of the books which had quickly sold out. There are now three books out by Galbraith and here is to hoping that another is announce soon. The complete departure from fantasy and the hard right turn at gruesome mysteries is very well done and really exciting.
In addition to the authors mentioned here, there are many well known writers who publish under more than just their given name. From C.S. Lewis to Agatha Christie to Dr. Seuss, the list is probably much more expansive than you might initially think.