Not very long ago, Elizabeth Spann Craig posed a really interesting question on her excellent blog. Her question had to do with using a pen name when one writes. It’s an interesting question, too, for an author to consider. When I first began to write fiction, several people asked me whether I would use a pen name, since I’d already had some non-fiction books published. I took the decision at the time to use my real name for my fiction. I honestly can’t say that I had a well-thought-out reason for doing so; probably the best way to describe my thinking is that I didn’t have a good reason not to use my real name for both my fiction and my non-fiction. And I’m not alone in that choice.
Rob Kitchin, for instance, is the author of two fine crime fiction novels, The Rule Book and The White Gallows. Both feature his sleuth Colm McEvoy. Kitchin also uses his own name as the author or co-author of several texts on human geography including Key Texts in Human Geography, The Cognition of Geographic Space and Disability, Space and Society (Changing Geography).
Adrian Hyland has also chosen to use his own name for different kinds of writing. Crime fiction fans know and admire him for his novels Diamond Dove (AKA Moonlight Downs) and Gunshot Road, which feature Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest. Hyland has also written Kinglake-350, a non-fiction account of Australia’s worst bush fire, the Kinglake fires of 8 February 2009. This book gives an account of the outbreak of the fires and their paths, tells the story of how various people coped with them and how the whole process was managed. The book also takes up the larger global issues of how the conditions that led to the fires were created.
Another author who’s chosen to use her own name for all of her work is Paddy Richardson. Richardson’s written two collections of short stories and a novel, The Company of a Daughter, that aren’t crime fiction. She’s also written two crime fiction novels, Hunting Blind and Traces of Red, as well as A Year to Learn a Woman, which is a novel of psychological suspense.
There are many other authors, too, who’ve used their own names for all of their writing no matter the genre or sub-genre. I’m sure you could think of more than I could. But there are also authors who’ve chosen to use different names for different kinds of writing.
For instance, Agatha Christie is one of the best-known names in crime fiction. Under her own name she wrote several crime fiction series, standalones and short story collections. What not everyone knows is that she also wrote six other novels under the name of Mary Westmacott. The Westmacott novels aren’t crime fiction. They feature a variety of characters and plots and in them Christie explores identity, relationships, love in its various forms and even obsession. What’s interesting, too, is that the Mary Westmacott novels were published during the years that the Agatha Christie novels were being published. That is, Christie didn’t begin by using one name and then choose another. She used a pen name, or so I understand, to “try something different.”
Another author who’s chosen to write different kinds of novels under different names is Alan Orloff. Under his own name, Orloff has written a crime fiction standalone, Diamonds for the Dead (Is Josh Handleman going to make a return, Alan?) and the Last Laff series, a crime fiction series featuring standup comedian Channing Hayes. Under the name Zak Allen, Orloff has also written two standalone horror/thriller novels, The Taste and First Time Killer.
Nora Roberts has also chosen to use different names for different kinds of novels. Under her own name, Roberts has written many romance novels, some of which are standalones and some of which are small series. In fact, she was the first author to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. But Roberts has another identity: J.D. Robb. Under that pen name, she writes the In Death series featuring police officer Eve Dallas. She’s also used other pen names for a few of her works.
Some authors choose to use pen names even when they don’t venture far outside their genre, so to speak. For instance, Ruth Rendell has been writing under her own name since 1964’s release of the first novel in her popular Inspector Wexford series, From Doon With Death. Since that time, Rendell has also written several standalones and short stories using her own name. Since 1986’s A Dark-Adapted Eye, Rendell has also written novels of dark psychological suspense under the name of Barbara Vine. Under both names, she’s won millions of fans and it’s common knowledge that Ruth Rendell and Barbara Vine are one and the same.
John Dickson Carr wrote the Gideon Fell crime fiction series (and many other novels, too) under his own name. There are far too many to list here, but the name of John Dickson Carr is one of the most famous names in Golden Age crime fiction. Carr also wrote several novels under the name of Carter Dickson. Many of the Carter Dickson novels feature locked-room expert Sir Henry Merrivale. Carr also wrote several short stories under both names.
Elizabeth Spann Craig has used her own name for her series featuring the small town of Bradley, North Carolina and retired teacher Myrtle Clover. She’s chosen to use a pen name, Riley Adams, for her Memphis Barbecue series that features restaurant owner Lulu Taylor and takes place mostly in Memphis. Craig’s chosen to use her own name for her upcoming Southern Quilting series which features retired museum curator Beatrice Coleman. All three series are cosy series that take place in the American South, but they feature different kinds of sleuths and other characters, and different settings.
As you can see, there really isn’t a “right answer” as to whether an author should use a pen name or not. Some very successful authors do; others don’t. What’s your view? Is it off-putting when an author you know from one kind of writing also does another? Do you prefer that authors use pen names for different kinds of writing? If you’re a writer, how do you feel? Do you (will you) use a pen name? Why?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil.