Sunday, July 28, 2013

By Any Other Name...

This post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch caught my eye and got me thinking about established writers who use pen names to come out with other books.  Stephen King is perhaps most famous for it when he penned several novels under the name of Richard Bachman.  Michael Crichton, Isaac Asimov, Dean Koontz, and many others have written books under a different name than their own(and, in turn, different than what they've published previously).

I have mixed feelings about this.  This used to be a way for writers to skirt the old publishing model that said that each writer could only publish one book a year or the reader would get tired of them.  Yes, this reasoning is complete horseshit - if I find an author I like, I tend to go out and find everything they've ever written - but it held sway for years, and if writers wanted to do crazy things like not freeze to death in the winter, they had to find other ways to bring out their books.  Nowadays, however, it seems like a bit of ego massaging.
(Just be yourself)
I bring this up because recently JK Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, was outed as having written under a different pseudonym - Robert Galbraith.  Rowling claims she did this as a way to find out if she was really good, or if her Harry Potter success was nothing more than a fluke.  Many (successful) writers have done this, and while I can understand the desire for validation, it strikes me as insecure.  It looks like a kid crying out "please please like me" after they were already the first pick during dodgeball.

First of all, this is something that I usually see only for those already successful.  I'm sure there are a few who use a different name to escape a clunker they put out, but if you have success, why would you try to distance yourself from it?  Shouldn't you embrace your success and be grateful that your notoriety brings in more sales?  Are these writers really saying that they don't know if success went to their heads and corrupted their ability to write well?

They're probably right that adding their name to a book will get more people to buy it than otherwise would, but so what?  Do you feel you didn't truly earn your first success so much that you now have to go back and do it again just to prove it was real?  This reminds me of a dream I had years ago, just after I finished US Army Ranger School.  For the first year or so, my dreams would consist of my having to go back through a part of or all of Ranger School, either because I had to re-certify or I'd fucked up in some way and they were going to take my tab away.  It didn't take me long to figure out what these dreams were about - all my life, I'd seen the guys with Ranger Tabs as the epitome of being a badass, and I always wondered if I could ever measure up.  Even after I graduated, I wasn't sure I deserved to wear something held by so many tremendous people, so my dreams reflected my desire to prove myself, even though I'd already done that by completing the course to begin with.  Pseudonyms from these very famous writers strike me in much the same way.

Many of us are always so sure that we got lucky and that our talent couldn't be what got us to the top that we wonder what we did to deserve our success.  First of all, luck probably did have something to do with it, but that shouldn't matter since luck is so often a part of life.  Second of all, when you get there, be secure enough in yourself that you deserve the accolades.  Many of us are still struggling to get there, and finding out that someone eschews that success just so the child inside them can be liked is irritating.

Rowling said that writing as someone else was liberating because she didn't have the pressure of being "JK Rowling."  I'm sorry, but that's pressure she put on herself.  As writers, we need to write the best story we can for ourselves and not worry about the expectations of others.  It's only our egos that worry about not being good enough, and as long as we're striving to put forth our best effort and always get better, why should we have any pressure from someone that isn't us?

I say enjoy your success and believe you've earned it, regardless of your name.

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