Saturday, August 23, 2014

In Very Good Company

By Victoria Chatham

Picture if you will a cold, wet afternoon in December. A strong south-westerly, not quite gale force wind drives gray, low lying clouds racing inland. Winter-bare tree branches twist and writhe and rain sluices over rooftops and slaps against windowpanes. In one house, its three hundred year old walls easily withstanding the onslaught, a family sits in front of a blazing log fire.
The mother has just finished reading a book she has written for her daughter’s fifteenth birthday. Sitting side by side on the sofa are the daughter and her two brothers.
For a moment there is silence.
“Wow, Mum,” says the daughter. “That’s great. Thanks.”
“So that’s what you’ve been doing with your Sundays,” says the eldest son.
“If you get it published, you won’t use your own name, will you?” asks the youngest son.
“Why ever not?” asks the mother.
“Well, hell,” says the youngest son. “We wouldn’t want our friends to laugh at us because you’re a writer.”
This thought had not entered the mother’s mind.
“A nom de plume, that’s what you need,” says the eldest son.
With that, the youngest son fetches an honest-to-goodness opera hat, the collapsible type out of which magicians produce white rabbits, and Fred Astaire made use of in the movie ‘Top Hat’. The eldest son gets paper and pencils and the daughter smiles and says, ‘we’ll invent a name for you.”
For the next half hour the children giggle and guffaw as they write names on paper slips, fold them, and place them in the hat. The mother, slightly puzzled by the concept of her children being embarrassed by the fact that she is a writer, skewers thick slices of bread onto the prongs of a long handled fork then holds it over the glowing logs to toast the bread. The stack of golden slices on the hearth grows as steadily as the pile of slips in the hat. Finally the hat is full. The children butter their toast and, when they are full, tell their mother to withdraw only two slips of paper.
The mother shakes the hat and fearfully reaches in. She has heard words that sounded suspiciously like ‘wafflemonger’ and ‘poohbaba’ but she breathes a sigh of relief when she opens the first slip of paper and reads the name ‘Laurel’. She reaches in again, and again breathes a sigh of relief when she reads ‘Freemont’.
And so Laurel Freemont was born and became not only the butt of many a family joke, but also the nom de plume, or pseudonym, behind which my children could hide their supposed embarrassment - although that has yet to be tested. Laurel Freemont is now a registered pseudonym with the Canadian organization, Access Copyright and whether she is ever employed has yet to be determined.
The reasons for the use of pseudonyms are many and varied. A floating pseudonym is available to anyone who wants to use it. A publishing house may create a house name to publish separate contributions from the same author. Two people writing together can create a collaborative pseudonym, as did Judith Barnard and Michael Fain writing as Judith Michael (Acts of Love, Pot of Gold, A Ruling Passion), Serge and Moira Stelmack writing as S.M. Stelmack (RONE award winners for Undertow) and Books We Love authors Tia Dani (see post from 07/08/2014). From the earliest times pseudonyms have been used to hide a family name and disguise gender, to conceal the identity of the originator of strong political opinions and to further the aspirations of authors, actors and singers.
Sir Reg Dwight does not have quite the same ring as does Sir Elton John.  Archie Leach, born in Bristol, England, might not have become as renowned as an actor if Paramount, in 1932, had not changed his name to Cary Grant. Charles Dickens wrote as Boz, a childhood name for his brother Augustus and we all know the tale of Samuel Langhorne Clemens who spent ten years as a Mississippi river steamboat pilot. ‘Mark twain’ was the technical phrase that the leadsman called when sounding a depth of two fathoms.
In an age when women were supposed to be seen and not heard, let alone write books, both Amandine-Aurore-Lucile, Baronne Dudevant and Mary Ann Evans achieved fame (and notoriety) by writing as George Sand (Indiana, Valentine, Lelia) and George Eliot (The Mill on the Floss, Adam Bede, Silas Marner) respectively.  Answering her critics, Sand wrote: ‘The world will know and understand me someday. But if that day does not arrive, it does not matter greatly. I shall have opened the way for other women’.
And open the way she did. Today women write freely under whichever name they choose, their own or a pseudonym.  Smart marketing may have an author use their own name in one genre and a pseudonym in another, thereby building a readership in both genres and keeping the readers and the publisher happy.
Eleonor Alice Burford Hibbert wrote romantic suspense with gothic elements as Victoria Holt, romantic fiction as Philippa Carr and historical novels as Jean Plaidy. The Nora Roberts we know and love was born Eleanor Marie Robertson but also writes as J.D. Robb. Linda Lael Miller appears at times as Belle Lin or Georgianna Bell. Jude Gilliam-White writes as Jude Deveraux and Jayne Ann Krentz may be better known as Amanda Quick or Amanda Glass.
Whatever the reason for it, a pseudonym becomes as much of a tool as the pen, paper or electronic device the author uses with which to write. Should you choose to use this particular tool, then know you are in very good company.

Victoria Chatham's latest release is On Borrowed Time, Book Two in the Buxton Chronicles Series. Find this title here:

and find Victoria here: