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Wed, 11/05/2008 - 01:02
It was mentioned in another thread how Charles Ardai (real name) writes under the name Richard Aleas, and I think another pen name of his was mentioned in the CrimeWAV podcast, though I'm not sure. I was wondering, from an author's perspective, what goes into a pen name, and why choose to use one? I remember hearing in a Dragon*Con panel from this year (one I missed but listened to the mp3 later) that Seth had considered a pen name because he had previous experience under his real name, but decided he did want to keep using his pen name. What are some of the potential reasons for using a pen name, and what are some pros and cons?
Thu, 11/06/2008 - 13:44#1
First, good quesion.
There's a bit of a tradition among noir/crime writers of using pen names: Benjamin Black, Donald Westlake, Richard Bachman... I dunno, maybe Mystery Dawg can help me out here with more examples. Anyway, Charles wanted to be a part of that so he re-arranged the letters of his name and thought it was really cool to use a last name that doubled as "alias" which you know means also known as, more or less.
Basically I think the pen name serves two functions: one is it gives you a bad-ass name that you can trot around with and impress bitches to make them know you're a hard ass crime writing dude. Something like Tony Stark or shit like that. The current Irish writer John Banville, a Booker Prize winner and a guy who by all accounts writes some major snoozers, goes by the name Benjamin Black when he writes his new noir books. Part is to let you know he's badder as Black and (this is the really significant part) part is to make sure his Banville fans don't confuse a new crime book by him as what they're used to and don't get upset or disappointed. Once you have a devoted audience, they expect a certain kind of thing from your books, and they want to get that when they plop down their bucks. So if you use a different name, you can write something completely different and not risk pissing off your fans. It kind of gives you a new start.
Along this vein, I'm sure Charles took the Aleas moniker to differentiate himself from being the editor of the series to being one of its authors. Similarly, I thought about using a pen name for the JP Crime stuff because it's so different from the short stories I've written. I thought if I'd want to keep my irons in the direction of a literary writing career as Seth Harwood, it'd help to have a pen name for the crime fiction. Then I realized fuck that. I'm Seth Harwood and whatever I write is me. I can own the JPC stuff and we see how it goes. I knew Faulkner pumped out movie scripts, bestsellers, literary classics, and pulp novels all under his given name and so I figured I could stick with Seth Harwood. As for the badass part, yeah, I'm just going to have to establish that myself by pistol-whipping readers with whatever I put out and gatting suckers down at any and all conferences. Being 6'6" helps with that.
Lastly, because of the fact that I've been giving you guys all my stuff for free, I wasn't worried about giving you the stories and having you get pissed off. Fact is, some of you like the stories and some of you don't. But you're not out anything for giving them a try and you know you're still going to get the same bone-crushing action when I give you a Jack Palms tale. Now, with Young Junius, some folks want more JPC and some dig the YJ. But it's all me. And I hope you'll all choose to support me all the way!
At the same time, I'm not going to be asking you to drop $20 for a collection of my short stories anytime soon. For the why on that, it's a whole other diatribe.