One of my favorite authors is Edward Gorey, who wrote under a slew of pen names, including the anagram Ogdred Weary.
I wanted to check out some of the things he felt he couldn’t publish under the name he was famous for and found THE CURIOUS SOFA: A PORNOGRAPHIC WORK BY OGDRED WEARY. Okay, I don’t know if I have the skill to describe it accurately but this post does a pretty good job. Overall, I love that Gorey said so much by saying so little, allowing my mind to slide firmly into the gutter and fill in the blanks.
This got me thinking about the motivation behind pen names. It’s an age-old practice and I always wondered why authors would purposely do that. I mean, if I could get someone to publish my work I’d want my given name splashed all over it, right? But what happens if you were writing in an age when women weren’t published? Or you’re known as the queen of romance and you want to write sci-fi? Or you’re afraid of retribution? Or no one wants to take a chance on your new stuff?
Patricia O’Brien had that very problem. Already successfully published, she was confronted with the news that her agent couldn’t sell her newest book. Her longtime editor declined it because the sales of her previous book were lower than expected. Ultimately, she was rejected over a dozen times. She and her agent decided to come up with a new name, Kate Alcott, and lo and behold it sold quickly.
I really can’t blame anyone for doing whatever it takes to give their novel a fair shake in the marketplace. One of the things I love most about writing is the opportunity to tell as many different kinds of stories as you can imagine. No one wants to be told that they can only write the same kind of story over and over again, or get the boot because your last work underperformed.
I don’t know about you, but I’m already thinking up a pen name. If you need help, you can generate one here.