Friday, April 20, 2012

Pen Names, Slayers, Harry Potter and The Vortex of Doom

I didn't think she'd have the guts to do it. Not this soon anyway. I wouldn't have thought JK Rowling could climb much higher in my estimation, but she managed--with sheer nerve and chutzpah.

What I thought would happen--at least at first, was that she would be smart enough to realize she could never write a series to match Harry Potter. It took a lot of time, and seven whole books to turn the world of Harry Potter into the richly detailed world we all know and love today. But the media isn't going to allow her seven books this time. If she can't do it in one book, there are people out there waiting to lambast her for it. In my opinion, she hardly has a chance (of critical success, anyway.)

I thought she'd try again eventually, when she couldn't take it anymore. But here she is, already poised on the brink of publishing her first adult book. It's called The Casual Vacancy, and the release date is September 27, 2012. Right in time for my birthday! Here is the summary, straight from the Little, Brown Book Group's web site:  
"When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?"

I'm sure it will be the best-selling book of the year. I've got my fingers crossed that I'll like it too. JK Rowling is not the only author crossing genres these days.

Crossing Genres

I just finished reading Slayers by C.J. Hill. C.J. Hill is the pen name for one of my favorite authors, Janette Rallison, whom I've mentioned before on this blog. She's just about the only writer of contemporary YA romance that I would readily admit to reading, and it's mostly because she is so completely hilarious. She also writes Paranormal Romance. Whenever my daughter or I pull out our battered copy of My Fair Godmother my whole family starts clamoring for one of us to read the bikini scene:
The problem was that I'd never worn a bikini before. My dad doesn't allow them. He thinks even one-pieces show too much skin and constantly suggests that Jane and I wear wet suits...

Actually there would be some advantages to wearing a wet suit. Primarily, it wouldn't fall off your body after you dove into the pool. As soon as I hit the water, I felt the straps of my top give way. I tried to grab hold of it, but the momentum of my dive pushed me farther away into the pool. I needed air, but I needed the top of my bikini more. I also needed to shriek, but I couldn't do that underwater...

The lifeguard blew the whistle again, sending a shrill reprimand in our direction. "You need to exit the pool now!"

Really, lifeguards are way too uptight.

"She'll just be a second," Tristan called back. "Her bikini top came off!"

Let me say right now that if you're planning to ask a girl to prom there are several things you don't want to do. Yelling "Her bikini top came off!" in front of an entire pool full of her peers is on the top of that list.
The whole scene gets funnier every time we read it.

Slayers, on the other hand, is not a comedy. It's about a world where dragons are real.

"They're ferocious. And they're smart: Before they were killed off by slayer-knights, they rendered a select group of eggs dormant, so their offspring would survive...The Slayers are descended from the original knights and are now a diverse group of teens."

When the Slayers are near a dragon, they gain supernatural skills. Some of them fly, some can throw shield charms, some can see what the dragon sees. This book by C.J. Hill couldn't be more different than the books by Janette Rallison, which is, I suppose, the point of the pen name.

I'm glad there was a pen name in this case, more because I would have been disappointed that it wasn't hilarious than because of the crossing of genres. Don't get me wrong--it has funny moments, and of course it has some romance. I really enjoyed Slayers, and hope everyone reading this runs out to buy everything by both C.J. Hill AND Janette Rallison.

Some more examples...

David Wolverton writes science fiction under his own name, but when he writes fantasy, he calls himself David Farland.

On the other hand, his good friend, and one of my heroes, Orson Scott Card, writes science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction all under the same name.

Robin Hobb is the pen name of Margaret Ogden when she is writing fantasy, but when she publishes contemporary fantasy, she uses the name Megan Lindholm.

If, like Orson Scott Card, you have always dabbled in multiple genres, your followers will expect it of you, and you don't need to change your name. However, that seems like the much riskier way to go on a path that is already treacherous enough. Most people agree that unless it sucks your soul into the vortex of doom, it's a much wiser thing to establish yourself in one genre, possibly forever, but at least until you have a solid fan base.

Then, if you are like J.K. Rowling, and your name is such a household word that it is an absolute guarantee of success, you probably don't want to change it. Of course, J.K. Rowling is sort of a pen name too. Her real name is Joanne Rowling, but her editor thought more boys would be interested in the book if it wasn't obviously written by a woman. The K comes from Kathleen, which was her grandmother's name, and isn't part of Joanne's legal name at all.

How about you? Do you plan to write in more than one genre? Would you write under a pen name? 


  1. Yes, and yes. I don't expect to write under my real name at all, and no two of my drafted or planned novels target the same audience. Sadly, that might mean I'm unmarketable.

    1. I don't think so, Ann. Not in this new book marketing world. It might be harder to develop a fan base, but you're definitely not unmarketable.

  2. No, and doubtful. I've too much love for fantasy to write outside of it (at least for now) and my given name is enough for me to handle. Of course, using a last name that people could actually pronounce might not be so bad...

    1. Eh, everyone pronounces 'Rowling' wrong, and they still buy her books, so I wouldn't sweat it.

  3. I <3 Janette Rallison. Hilarious! So funny, that I closed my eyes while reading, and the words blurred because of giggle tears. Brilliantly funny.

    If you like Rallison, you might like Louise Rennison. Start with Withering Tights. So amazingly funny.

    I've thought about pen names a lot, I just have a difficult time giving up ownership of my babies. I put a lot of work into my books, and I want the credit.

    1. My daughter loved Withering Tights, but I couldn't get into it. Maybe I should give it another shot.

  4. I'm a definite maybe. I can see a lot of benefits to an interesting pen name. Or two.

    1. I have a hard enough time with the one identity I've got. That's my big issue. I love the idea of keeping some semblance of privacy when I'm super-famous, but maybe that's just a pipe dream, pen name or not. :D

  5. So far all my novel ideas are in the same genre. If I did decide to branch out, a pen name might be useful.

    I'm glad JK Rowlings has a new book coming out. I think she is so talented, and it would be a shame if she never gave us another book. It is tough though to peak so high with your first series. How can any book ever live up to Harry Potter? I think it is wise for her to go in another direction, so it's not comparable to Harry Potter, although some people still will compare the two. Anyway, I wish her the best of luck.

    1. I am super excited for her new book. Unfortunately, so are my younger children. There's some potential for some interesting mayhem where that is concerned.

  6. nice idea.. thanks for sharing.


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