Prose by any other name

For a variety of reasons, mostly to do with a) numbers and b) a shift in the direction of my fiction and c) my fame phobia, I decided about a year ago that my novels will be published under a pseudonym from now on. All this time, I’ve been pondering where and how to wear that persona, who really needs to know my true identity, and most importantly, what that new name should be. With two books on their way into the pipeline, my agent has been gently nudging me toward a decision.

Everybody I’ve confided in has hated every name I’ve suggested. My son Spike razzed me about a MST3K ep in which the robots kept suggesting names for a macho character in the movie. Brick Slamchest! Trunk Hammer! Shirley Weinstein?

Yesterday, I had a long conversation about pseudonyms with a bookseller, and she made some really good points about what makes a good author name.

Mid-alphabet last name has max foot traffic in stacks.

Unusual but not unheard of last name makes computer searches more successful. (You don't want to be buried in a million Smiths but don't make people try to spell Kzatvejnevitziavich.)

Sharp, crackly consonants make for a strong, edgy, memorable last name.

Unusual/quirky first names strike as younger and more Southern.

Don't go far from who you are ethnically. (No matter how hot the Indian writers are right now, I as a white/Scandinavian/European person should not try to pass myself off as Govinda Harini.)

First name should be gender non-specific for mainstream and suspense fiction. Sexism is a sad fact of life in the publishing industry. It cuts both ways and can’t be avoided.

Initials instead of a first name in suspense are becoming overused. (PD James has been done. JR Slamchest smells like a poser.)

She helped me narrow down a veritable telephone book of suggestions to a great handle my agent and I both love. I’m so jazzed about it, I’m dying to tell somebody what it is, but I’ve also made the decision to keep it a secret. When this “debut” author’s first novel comes out next year (my lips to God’s ear) less than a dozen people will know that it’s me. I can't wait to make my first disappearance.

Something I learned in my early twenties when I worked as a late night DJ on an album rock station: The only thing more powerful than being beautiful is being invisible.


Did you ever see the episode of the Simpsons where Homer decides he'd have a better life under a more macho pseudonym. He chooses "Max Power," a name inspired by his hair dryer, and sure enough, all good things come his way. Max Power is sexier, more successful at work, etc. (at least until the inevitable plot twists take Homer back to his regular-schmuck name).

Anyway, I hope your new name leads a "Max Power" charmed life: adored by readers, held in awe by booksellers and reviewers, respected by peers, and courted by publishers with deep pockets! Glad your agent's onboard with this one, too!

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