Thursday, February 16, 2012

On Pseudonyms

My dear departed father, an excellent writer in his own right, loved to use his pen name, RJ Nalla. His name was Allan Maxwell, Junior. RJ Nalla? Allan Jr backwards.

Once, in the early 1980s, he even made it onto NPR. All Things Considered had solicited "First signs of Spring" from listeners. Living in our house in a suburb of Los Angeles as he did, Daddy sent in his postcard with a comment about the camellias blooming in February (those are camellias behind him in this picture from his 1980 second wedding day). He was notified ahead of time that they were going to read his contribution, so I, in Boston, made sure to have the radio on at the correct time. What did I hear? "Listener RJ Nalla from Southern California reports..." His moment of fame, and he couldn't even use his real name? Well, that quirk was part of my father's loveability.

(Fun side story. My home town of Temple City sponsors the Camellia Parade every year, with floats made completely of camellias and their leaves by Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and royalty drawn from the first grade classes.Think mini-Rose Parade. I was a Princess when I was six! And look here, the parade continues, complete with the floor-length dresses for the girls. Maybe this weekend I'll venture into the attic and find you the picture of ME in that princess dress.)

I myself am now presented with the need for a pseudonym. I always planned to publish all my books under my good solid name, Edith Maxwell. It even sort of sounds like an authorial name, right?

But in reviewing the contract for my three-book Local Foods Mystery series with Kensington Publishing, I noticed a clause. It said I have to deliver all three outlines and manuscripts to the publisher prior to the delivery to any other publisher of a book-length work unless that book is already under contract. They don't want me to come out with two mysteries by two different presses at the same time under the same name. That makes sense.

Well. My first mystery, Speaking of Murder, is currently being considered at several small presses after the contract with Trestle Press fell through, but it is not currently under contract. I want it to be published, though, and have plans to self publish if none of the reputable small presses want it.

I asked my agent, John Talbot, what to do about that clause. The resolution from the press was that I had to agree to publish
Speaking of Murder and its sequel only under a pseudonym. While I'd rather use my real name on all my books, I agreed. I figure I can always link to the other name under my Amazon author page or whatever.

So now I get to make up an entirely new name for myself and am having fun playing with family names and combinations. Nicky Henderson? Ruthie Adams? Cat Flaherty?

Speaking of Murder, featuring Quaker Linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau in northeastern Massachusetts, is a traditional murder but a little darker than a cozy. I want to get the right feel and sound to the name. It has to be easy to spell, easy to say, easy to remember.
Somehow, Htide Llewxam doesn't roll off the tongue anywhere nearly as well as RJ Nalla did. Any advice out there from those of you who have done it on how to design a new personality? Any feedback on the three possible choices I listed in the previous paragraph?


  1. Susan Banner InouyeFebruary 16, 2012 at 8:23 PM

    What does the M. in Edith M. Maxwell stand for? Anything interesting? I've always thought Maxwell would be a cool first name. Or Max. Max Wellington. On the other hand, I always wanted an "X" in my name, which is why I spelled it Sioux for a while in 7th grade. How about an anagram? Axel Meldwith?

  2. Marilyn, my mother's first name (

    Wow, you anagrammed my name! Hmm. Lots of people call me Max. I have a cousin middle-named Max, and his son and a great-nephew named Max, both to reflect the Maxwell connection.

    And I love Sioux, and the vision of a seventh-grade Sue!

    1. As you might be able to believe, I imagined myself to be quite a character in seventh grade. I found an autobiography that I wrote in junior's hilarious! I wanted to be a housewife and an art major. Whoa!

      I like Max for a pseudo-first-nym. But what for the last name? Is there an interesting name somewhere up your family tree?

  3. I (like usual) vote for Max.
    Max [Something]. And keep your authorial character androgynous, like Pat on SNL.
    Well, perhaps not the second part, but definitely Max.

  4. Max Eliot
    A sort of tribute to George Eliot, who had to choose a man's name since it was just such an unseemly thought that a woman would be writing novels. "Max" is perfect. It's gotta be Max.