Guest Post by the Author
Not Quite Acting
By Holly Bargo
Actors and fiction authors have something in common: they adopt fictitious personas. Even when an actor plays an historic figure, the persona adopted isn’t real. Authors immerse themselves into the personas of their main characters. An effective author shares the character’s thoughts and feelings. When writing stories with multiple protagonists, that immersion into multiple characters can make an author feel like she has a split personality. Actors usually don’t have to play more than one character at a time.
Authors add to that crowded headspace even further when they adopt pseudonyms. Assuming a pen name adds one more persona to the author’s onboard repertoire, because the pseudonym is never just the author with a different name. The pseudonym, like a story’s protagonist, assumes a life and character of its own, rather like an actor’s stage name. Iconic actresses Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren weren’t born with those names: Marilyn Monroe’s real name was Norma Jean Mortenson and Sophia Loren was born Sofia Costanza Brigida Villani Scicolone.
The decision to adopt a pen name arises from varying concerns, both personal and professional. In days of yore, a woman author used a pen name because respectable ladies didn’t publish or, if they did, society dismissed their work as frivolous and unworthy of serious consideration. (That lingering bias affects the romance genre today.) Women often adopted masculine pseudonyms so their work would be accepted and regarded as serious literary contenders. Now-famous women who wrote under masculine pen names include Alice Mary Norton (Andre Norton), Alice Bradley Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr.), Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin (George Sand), Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot), Louisa May Alcott (A. M. Branard), Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), and many more. We still regard some by their masculine pseudonyms.
In some cases, publishers decide upon an author name and then hire ghostwriters to produce content under that name. Remember The Hardy Boys? Franklin W. Dixon didn’t really exist. Multiple authors wrote under that name for the famous series. It’s a successful ploy. Relay Publishing produces several series in romance, fantasy, and science fiction. Their top authors, including Leslie North, don’t exist. The publisher hires ghostwriters to write under those author names. Bestselling author James Patterson famously employs a stable of ghostwriters.
Other reasons for using a pen name abound. Some authors wish to embark upon a new genre without the baggage of expectations carried over by an established fan base for books in another genre. Nora Roberts did this when establishing her other alter ego as J. D. Robb writing futuristic suspense novels.
Sometimes, authors want or need to distance themselves from their work for various reasons. Such reasons might include wanting to keep the work from the notice of an employer who might seek to claim ownership–and, thus, the royalties–of the author’s work. Or perhaps the employer might frown upon the work as unsuitable to the company’s culture and values. My own pen name stems from my family’s embarrassment: what I write embarrasses them.
The choice of pen name may be significant to the author or it may be assigned by a publisher for much the same reason as an agent assigns a stage name to a client: it sounds better. When choosing their pen names, I suspect most authors give it considerable thought: they want a name that means something. When a fellow author sought to adopt a pen name, I suggested “Buffy Orpington.” She raises chickens. Anyone with a passing acquaintance of chicken breeds can figure out what kind of chickens “Buffy Orpington” raises. It makes me giggle and I think it amused her, too, but she declined to use it. A writer whose real name is John Doe might consider a pseudonym less generic and better matched to the genre in which he writes. Most male authors who write romance publish under feminine pen names. These include Bill Spence (Jessica Blair), Dean Koontz (Deanna Dwyer), Harold Lowry (Leigh Greenwood), and Hugh C. Rae (Jessica Stirling). Authors such as Tom Huff and Richard Wilkes-Hunter used multiple female pseudonyms.
Holly Bargo is a pseudonym. I openly admit that these days. The name comes from a certain temperamental Appaloosa mare I used to have and was used as an alias before I started publishing. Back in the days before the internet when my husband and I were looking for a house to buy, I boarded my horse–that aforementioned Appaloosa mare. Upon entering an open house, the real estate agent required visitors to sign in and leave a phone number. To avoid the inevitable sales calls, I used the horse’s name and the boarding stable’s telephone number. Real estate agents who called the stable to ask to speak with Holly Bargo received a “she’s not available” answer.
That mare is long since gone. Using her name keeps her memory alive. I have published over 20 titles and numerous short stories and articles under that name. My latest release is Focus, a suspenseful, enemies-to-lovers, billionaire romance: When a photographer doesn’t know she has a secret, she needs a bodyguard.