I’m in the mood to spill some dirt today. I’m going to blow my own whistle – a statement which, in hindsight, carries way more innuendo than is appropriate for a book blog, but whatever. Let’s fire up this drum circle and share some secrets. This is a big one, so get ready:
BookReasons is not my real name.
That’s right-pseudonym isn’t just a word that let me kill it back in that 5th-grade spelling bee. It’s the literary equivalent of a secret identity. It’s authorial intrigue. It’s a title page bob and weave, a misdirection, an invisibility cloak. Writing and publishing under a name not your own is a practice as old as the written word.
Socrates: I had to publish all my fanfic under a pseudonym
Me: You wrote fanfic?
Socrates: A graphic novel AU where Zeus is a building code inspector
Me: Ruler of Olympus? That Zeus?
Socrates: Zeus is a little volatile
Me: I’ve heard
Socrates: So I figured, pseudonym was the best way to go
Me: Better than being turned into a bull
Socrates: HAHAHA Zeus is so unstable
Literary history is littered with works published under fake names. There are a lot of great reasons authors go deep undercover. Spreading salacious, mostly-true gossip (Benjamin Franklin as Alice Addertongue), safely discussing controversial topics (Benjamin Franklin as Polly Baker), or to create an author persona that gives a work legitimacy (Benjamin Franklin as Richard Saunders). For female authors, using an overtly male name provided an avenue to publication otherwise denied to women. Stephen King published under a pseudonym in the 1980s as a workaround to an industry restriction to publishing more than one book a year. My personal queen of all things pseudonym? J.K. Rowling.
J.K. Rowling actually doubled down in the pseudonym game. When she first published the Harry Potter books, the prevailing wisdom dictated that her target audience of tween boys would be more apt to purchase a book by a male author, so instead of her full oh-so-girly name, her ambiguous initials went on the book. (Can I please have a medal for suppressing my rant on the “EW GIRLS HAVE COOTIES” assumption that motivated this whole thing? Preferably a shiny medal made out of chocolate? Or just some onion dip. Ship it to me.) After concluding the Harry Potter series (TAKE THAT, VOLDEMORT) she decided to publish her next books under yet another pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, to avoid saddling the new books with the weight and expectations of the Harry Potter baggage.
One of the delightful things about reading J.K. Rowling is the strength her joy in the elements of language give her books. Her pure etymological nerdiness gives her work a nuanced, crafted essence that is both specific and grounded. It’s an incredibly deliberate approach to word choice that is completely transparent. It makes her narrative style arresting. Her work is sticky— the words make the sentences interlock so solidly that it’s almost impossible to stop reading once you’ve started. There is lift and momentum that goes beyond the charm of the story, and that is a style that screams “J.K. was here”.
Sometimes, I am completely immersed in the writing and publishing history of a book. I know what prompted the author to write it, the writing life cycle, the publication date, what color the cover will be, who designed the cover, and the name of the FedEx driver who is delivering the books to the bookstore. Other times, I see a book, decide it looks interesting and pick it up. Honestly, there is no middle ground. I either do a full belly-flop into fangirl or I’m a magpie reacting to something shiny. Whatever my mood, it’s a win for me, because I’m going home with a book. I bought Robert Galbraith’s (WINK WINK) first book, Cuckoo’s Calling, specifically because I like the word “cuckoo”. Seriously. That’s it. I am a cheap date.
Socrates: In my fanfic AU sometimes Zeus is impulsive
Me: That’s not really AU though
Socrates: No he’s all “Let’s have tuna for lunch” or whatever LOL
Me: Not afraid of controversy I see
Cuckoo’s Calling is the first book in a series about struggling London private detective Cormoran Strike, an Afghanistan war veteran and amputee. Living paycheck to paycheck on menial jobs, Strike is swamped with debt and is reduced to living in the back room of his small office. As the book begins, Strike accidentally hires a Girl Friday, a temp assistant sent to Strike’s office by mistake by her employment agency. Already charmed by the bird imagery in the title and the main character’s name, I laughed out loud when I saw the assistant’s name was Robin. I liked the clever little aviary triangle and I stopped reading to flip to the author page to introduce myself to Robert Galbraith and found…not much. I thought that was interesting because the book didn’t read like a first-time novel, but whatever. It was marvelous to have a word nerd author to read.
One of my favorite proverbs is “Blood will out”. A person’s nature, good or bad, can’t be disguised. You can morph it, package it, and give it a misleading name, but the proof is in the pudding (bonus proverb for you!) It took all of three months for the world to figure out that J.K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith were one and the same. I was a little disappointed I did not figure it out, but hey, that’s how J.K. wanted it to go down. Lucky for me, I don’t have any already-famous novels out there, so I can stay deep undercover.
Socrates: You can’t put lipstick on a pig
Socrates: That’s my favorite proverb
Me: You had lipstick and pigs in ancient Greece?
Socrates: Yeah and it was a bitch to get the pigs to sit still for makeovers
Me: Ancient Greece is weird
I did not come close to winning my 5th-grade spelling bee. I bit it in the fourth round on “thoroughbred”.
image courtesy wikihow