Friday, April 22, 2011

What's in a Name?

Over on Book View Cafe's blog, Laura Anne Gilman posted some insights about to why writers use pseudonyms. One of the most common reasons to avoid the spiral of bookstores ordering fewer and fewer copies of each successive book when sales are disappointing. This can happen to any writer and does not necessarily reflect the quality of the book. She points out, "There is nothing shameful about this: It’s a useful tool, and shows that the publisher still has faith in your ability to tell a good story/win readers."

A writer who's prolific might use more than one name, particularly if she is writing in more than one genre or subgenre. You probably can name a handful without thinking. My favorite is Barbara Hambly, who writes historical mysteries featuring Abigail Adams under the name Barbara Hamilton.

There are also personal reasons for using another name, ranging from having a sensitive day job to having the same name as another writer.

Here's my story, which includes a bunch of reasons.
Deborah Jean Ross is my birth name. I married my first husband in the late '60s, and it never occurred to me not to change my last name. That's where Wheeler comes from. When I sold my first short story to Sword & Sorceress, I went through a mini-crisis of self-examination regarding what byline to use. Some part of me wanted to use Ross, or even my father's mother's family name, Cheskis, but in the end I decided I needed to be one person in both private and professional lives. In addition, I was corresponding with another new writer, who had a few sales under her belt, named Deborah D. Ross.

Things progressed, with the publication of piles of short stories and two novels. Jaydium did reasonably well for a debut novel, but sales for Northlight were "disappointing." Reviews were good, I thought the cover was awful and off-putting, and who knows why these things happen? At any rate, my publisher wasn't ready to give up on me, but when I submitted the next novel, I was told it would have to be under a different name. They didn't want those dratted sales figures to follow me. For various reasons, that option book didn't go through, the most important of which was a personal crisis that put a stop to novel writing and publishing for a number of years.

Toward the end of this time, as I was clambering back on my feet and figuring how to negotiate life as a single working mom, I began working with Marion in collaboration. I felt as if I were being reborn as a novelist, given a second life. I was also shifting emphasis from mostly-sf to mostly-fantasy. And, although I was still in the middle of a divorce that was to last 6 years, I very much wanted my own name back.

(There was a wonderful moment when my attorney called me at work. "Deborah Ross?" I hesitated... "Yes." "You really are!" she said. Marriage dissolved, name restored.)

I use my middle initial, J for Jean, since Jean was my mother's birth name and it's a special way of remembering her. It also makes a lovely descending curve in my signature.

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