Wednesday, March 1, 2017

By Any Other Name...

A friend of mine and I were talking recently about pseudonyms.  This buddy recently finished writing a small book on freedom and responsibility in society entitled Common Sense For The Modern Age.  I know I don't normally discuss politics on this blog, and I'm not saying the book in question is pro or anti what I believe, but since my friend wrote it and it's now available in the Kindle Store, with his print version coming out around March 20th, please do me a favor and at least check it out.

Anyway, he wrote it under the pseudonym "Publius II."  For those who don't know, Publius was the pseudonym that Alexander Hamilton and James Madison wrote under when they published The Federalist Papers.  He envisioned this tome as an update to their version, and while a bit pretentious(even he admits that), he thinks his pseudonym captures the spirit he's striving for.

I asked him why he decided to write under a pseudonym(other than the obviously conceited reason of trying to emulate the guys who wrote the friggin' Constitution), and he said he did it for two reasons.  The first was to generate buzz for sales.  The second was to protect himself.

Like me, he knows the hazards of getting too political in today's world.  If he got on the wrong side of someone influential within his company, it could spell disaster, so he wrote it anonymously in the hopes that it couldn't be traced back to him.  He felt he went out of his way to avoid getting too controversial in the book, but everything in today's polarized world seems controversial to someone, so he hid it.

That got me thinking of the use of pseudonyms and their usefulness.  Stephen King wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman during a time when publishing houses were convinced that writers couldn't publish more than one book a year without oversaturating the public(a line of reasoning I've always found stupid).  His son wrote under the pseudonym Joe Hill(and still does, I think) out of a desire to succeed on his own rather than on the coattails of his father.  JK Rowling has written under Robert Galbraith out of a desire to see if she could capture lightning in a bottle again based solely on her work rather than on her original brand.

It made me remember that even RD Meyer is sort of a pseudonym.  Yes, my name is Russell Dean Meyer, but my namesake is known for work I'd rather not be associated with(go on...Google Russ Meyer and see what comes up - just don't do it at work).  It makes me personally very hard to Google, so I needed some way to stand apart.

What's the point of all of this?  I'm not sure there is one, other than to say that even authors want to create something special aside from their work.  It's a new way to make it in the world and pretend to be someone else(like writing fantastical stories isn't enough).  At first, I scorned my friend for what I perceived as his cowardice, but once I really thought about it, it made sense.  He wanted anonymity in a polarized world, so he made up a new persona.  In a way, I've done something similar, and so have many other authors.  I guess only time will tell if we made the right decision.

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