NVDT #45 – Bachman, Box, Westmacott and Broklifarts

The Prompt – Do you write under a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, would you ever consider it?

No. But there are plenty of reasons why “you” (literal usage) would choose to

  • You write crap. But you’re pretty sure that one day you’ll get better and write something significant.
  • You’re on the lam.
  • You don’t want to embarrass or offend your mom.
  • You obtain your material from the lives of people you know.
  • You obtain your material via access to protected information like medical, legal, financial or other “privacy protected” files through work or “friends.”
  • You want to write something out of your usual content type or style.
  • You ghostwrite.
  • You have more books as yourself than the publisher or public wants in a year.
  • You write for publishing house serials or monthly release shelf fillers akin to Romance or Adventure Hero.
  • You have a reputation, good or bad, to uphold.
  • You are beautiful, rich, desirable, normal, ugly as a mud fence, too old, too young, too fat, too thin, bald, hospitalized, toothless, incarcerated or institutionalized, are vulnerable or have vulnerable family and don’t want/need weirdos knocking on your door.
  • You have an unfortunate birth name. Seymour Butts, Ima Broklifart, Colin Ostemi, Hugh Jorgasm (well, that one might work for certain genres). I could boil this down to the old Oklahoma Indian joke, “Why do you ask, Two Dogs Fucking in the Mud?”

In my part of Texas alone, the original HEB Grocery chain started life as H E Butt Grocers. Urban myth claims his first name was Harry. In truth, Howard. For years, smack in the middle of North Dallas off 635, Dedman Memorial Hospital. Hell yeah, I’m sick. Take me there.

Consider it?

Further to the above, consider the what and why of a few of those who have.

Kilgore Trout haunted Kurt Vonnegut his entire life. Trout was pigeonholed by critics as science fiction and Vonnegut swore that prevented any of them from seeing his work in its true light.

In brighter light, Agatha Christie wrote romance novels as Mary Westmacott and got away with it for 20 years.

Richard Bachman got six or seven on the shelves, allowing Stephen King to beat the “one book a year” publishing mafia restriction before he was outed. Side note, what’s with that one a year? McDonald published three a year in the 50s, plus short stories. There was no public or corporate outcry.

Going deep literary, George Eliot covered many tracks, some subsets of the list above and not all circumspect, for Mary Ann(e) Evans. Separating her from sexist pigeonholing and her existing success as a translator, journalist, editor and critic.

Mark Twain had a “ring” to it that Samuel Clemens did not.

Edgar Box wrote several formulaic, clever, highly satirical, funny, early Fifties pulps. They are a revelation in how much social satire you can pack in a first-person whodunnit. Turns out Box was Gore Vidal.

Box is also a lesson in extremes if you pair him with, say, Spillane’s One Lonely Night or McDonald’s All These Condemned. All from the same time period, all completely different takes on society and politics. I digress.

For me – There is no point in being someone else, other than hiring a person 30 years younger with all their hair and 3% max body fat to do my publicity tours once I hit the million mark. I’m not holding my breath or auditions.

Seriously, I don’t see the point. I have written owner’s manuals, how-to manuals, monthly columns on tech for songwriters, even presentations and columns for (this will kill some of you) Maranatha and the top mag for church music ministers, among others. Under my given name. I thought one time that, golly, what if somebody read something I wrote and protested “No way the dumb hippie sonofabitch I knew could’ve written this!” Or refused to read it because my name was on it. In the general scheme of things it is, 1) highly unlikely anybody would read it, and 2) what’s half a dozen lost sales? Besides, there’s plenty of “me” out there, name wise. Let the weirdos show up in their driveways.

A few thoughts –

Evans used Eliot to avoid sexist stereotyping, among other things. Regardless of the name she used, she was successful.

Bachman sold a lot of books, even got a movie deal, before anyone knew he was King.

Westmacott’s romance novels sold, even without Christie’s name on them.

Box got excellent reviews and sold some books for Signet before the global success of Gore Vidal.

Crossing curriculum boundaries, Paul McCartney has produced, written, and sold chart-topping hit records under half a dozen names.

If you can write, you can write. No matter what you call yourself for comfort, privacy, or any of the myriad other reasons. But a free word of advice – if your last name is Broklifarts? Change it.

 

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Published by

Phil Huston

https://philh52.wordpress.com/

21 thoughts on “NVDT #45 – Bachman, Box, Westmacott and Broklifarts”

  1. All of the above and then some. Plausible denial is everything. I knew a man called Kenneth Tuckey and another who went by Cecil Pitt but never felt tempted to borrow them for my alter-ego. It was bad enough being a ship’s pilot called Dockett. There, I’ve given it away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Perfect! Your business card could have read “You Float It, I’ll Dockett” I have a fictional recording studio called Air Biscuit. You float it, we’ll capture it.

      Like

  2. You missed Jill March/Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb and more. I’ve got to wonder if it gets confusing to keep track of who you are on any specific day?

    Like

    1. I wonder if it’s really one person or as is oft portrayed on TV a snotty old he or she and a slew of research assistants. Sometimes you can see the paste-ins. Character is doing their thing, riding a horse maybe, here comes a drop-in about the feel of tree bark and the smell of gun oil and some scenery and history that’s an obvious dub. Or bad dialog in a car with “go write up the inside of BMW” drops. You know franchise author X didn’t go to the dealership and take notes. I sometimes wonder if some of them simply draft, send it to the editor who circles the holes, sends out for inserts because some of the later “works” of the franchises are cardboard awful.

      As far as being confused on any given day…

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  3. I don’t want weirdos on my doorstep. That was Ben’s advice to us. If he had it to do all over again, he’d hit pause, change his name, and then do everything else he did that day. But he definitely would have done what he did under a pseudonym if he had a rewind machine. It’s been hard on his family, destroyed his son’s career, and other issues.

    I doubt that will ever be a problem for me, but then I think about some of the things I’ve said about philosophy and I don’t want the vitriol that engenders to affect my personal life. I can just not log into social media right now.

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    1. I can see that. It’s a shame the right of free speech only applies to speech that is fashionable in the moment and that the right to have an opinion makes you a target. Which is why I stay away from that stuff because I get angry enough watching the news!

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      1. Well, I started out trying to model civil dialogue. I still get those who oppose me insisting I don’t deal with them civilly because I don’t agree with them. And, then their ideas sometimes end up in the books. The more outrageous ideas, at least.

        You know what they say – “Be careful not to piss off a writer, you might be the next dead body in their latest novel.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Civil dialogue is an unknown concept amongst the buzz word and sound bite ranters. You can’t hardly ask an articulate, reasonable question because articulate and reason are already out the window.

        Like

      3. Unfortunately, this is true, but I keep trying. Sometimes my threads degrade into name-calling vitriol, but that’s not coming from me and then I get those who insist that I’m not “playing fair” because I won’t change my mind to their so-well-thought-out positions — as if reading their angry rants is somehow going to change my principles.

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      1. I give my mom my work to edit. I also send it to a professional editor and my publisher. Actually, I gave Through the Nethergate to my husband to edit. It was the only way I could get him to read the book [hahaha). After editing it he said with some surprise “this is quite good.”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. My wife is a college professor, Ph.D. in Rhetoric. An academic writer and grammar Nazi. No way. I can argue with Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid and Word about commas and style and maintain peace.

        Like

  4. Sometimes i think an alias might be fun. Seens kind of spy like. My own name is pretty boring, but i’ve grown attached to it over the years.

    Then again.. i don’t write romance, but if i did.. a sexier name might be fun ! Something along the lines of, Cheri Sundae, or two first names like, Alexa Hannah, or. Clarissa Madeleine, or Janine Leanna. Ya know?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Never trust someone with two first names. Our local weathermen are Dan Henry and Evan Andrew. However I have a character who, through no fault of his own, has one name. “Jackson. Either way. Story if you want it.”

      Like

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