Hiding in Plain Sight   10 comments

Do you write under a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, would you ever consider it?


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Keeping Real Life Separate

Don’t ask me what my real name is because I’m not telling. Even if you guess, I won’t verify.

When I decided to publish my first novel, my husband asked me what that might mean for our lives…was it possible I might become famous? Well, there was a remote possibility. There still is as the books become more popular with every new one I publish.

Brad’s related to someone else who is famous, the National Air Traffic Operations Manager who ordered all the planes on the ground on 911. Ben tells us the byproduct of being famous is people wander up your driveway while you’re having a family barbecue either wanting your autograph or accusing you of being part of a worldwide conspiracy to start wars in foreign lands. He doesn’t recommend becoming famous.

But I wanted to share my books with the world. As time went along, I realized that a pen name means I can write on subjects that my employer might not want to be associated with. In today’s hyperpartisan climate, I can be honest about what I think and not worry that my house might become the subject of a riot. It’s not that I am ashamed of anything I write or say, but I don’t want to be poor Ben, trying to explain that I am not who my uninvited visitors believe me to be and they need to get off my lawn now. Some slight cloaking of my identity means that at least if someone does make it that far, they will probably be at least somewhat reasonably intelligent since they would have to do actual research to find out my real name.

Thus, a pen name

It’s a time-honored tradition among writers to use a pseudonym. There was a time when being a writer was scandalous if you were in certain social classes and many women wrote under men’s names back in the days before we were liberated from notions of what women couldn’t write about. These days, I suspect writers use nom de plumes to hide in plain sight, so they don’t have to worry about fans showing up at their teaching job. There’s also a marketing aspect to it. There are authors who use several, changing their names depending on the genre they write in.

My real name is hard to spell and though it’s actually easy to pronounce, the spelling doesn’t hint at that. So going with a pen name cleared up that problem. I chose something that is easy to pronounce “Lela Markham” (Lay-luh Mark-um). The first name comes from a foreign-born student at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks who could not for the life of her say my real name correctly. What came out was something like Lela, which became a joke with a few of my friends. So when I contemplated my pen name, something based on my name but not really seemed like a good choice.

My grandmother’s cousin was Edwin Markham, the poet whose poem is inscribed around the base of Lincoln’s statue at the Lincoln Memorial. It seemed a good way to honor the literary tradition in my grandmother’s family.

Of course, I’m not anonymous

You could probably figure how who I am by what I’ve told people of my home town and even just the facts I’ve divulged in this article, but giving myself that layer of protection hopefully will mean fans reach out to me by email, not tour buses driving by my house. And the cranks, well, at least they will likely be somewhat intelligent.

Posted June 29, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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10 responses to “Hiding in Plain Sight

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  1. Your reasons for writing under a pen name are very interesting, Lela. I am thinking about this topic. I don’t write under a pen name but I do have two versions of my name out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I find the whole business of using a nom de plume to be a great discussion. Those classic series books we enjoyed as children were so written. I probably should have done so with PONTIFUS but it is pretty ‘lower shelf’ and incriminates no one. Also, I have literally only signed a few copies, most notably for a young reader in Kernersville, North Carolina. Writing is not my main thing — I am a visual artist, but should I publish in the future I might very likely use a nom de plume, simply to keep out of the limelight. I am a bit of a recluse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t done a lot of book signings, but I sign my pen name several times before they start. It’s still my signature, just using Lela Markham. I did sign a couple of gift copies to family with my real name. I figure if Lela ever becomes famous, those books will be worth some bank.


  3. Even my neighbours don’t know that I write. Largely because I don’t want to be faced with requests for freebies, or even offers to buy. Not because I don’t want to give books away (or sell them), but there is always the danger that they might be embarrassed if they find that they don’t like them. My neighbours are great and I’d hate to spoil a friendship.


    • My friends know I write. Alaskans are generally not that close to our neighbors. It’s a cultural thing because we’re not what the demographers call “sticky”. We change about 50% of the neighborhood every three to five years, so becoming good friends is just not a thing.

      But we’ve got close friends from church and, of course work, Some of them know I write and occasionally, I’ll get someone say “Tried to find you on Amazon and I couldn’t.” I’ll then tell them my pen name. I don’t offer freebies because except in exchange for honest reviews and, being personal friends, that’s a heavy lift.


  4. I did artist relations and product management on a national level. Most of those names are changed to be friendlier or stagier. Bobby Darin is way cooler, rolls off the tongue better than Walden Robert Cassotto. Reginald Dwight, Roberta Joan Anderson, Stevland Hardaway Judkins, Anna Mae Bullock, Robert Zimmerman. All quite usable as authors. Hardly the stuff of Hollywood. But if those were the names on all the public records and real property without being outed they’d be hard to find. But, thanks to the internet no one is more than five clicks away.

    I have a minor character, she’s Russian. She explains how to pronounce her name. “What happens, your parents take all the vowels out of a Scrabble box, throw a handful of what’s leftover out on the table, that’s your name?” “No, and now I’m liking you not so much, clumsy ice cream cone boy. You should see in Cyrillic. It becomes more clear for you.”


    • Yeah. My husband’s last name — were they still in Ireland — would be about twice as long as it is in the United States. Please they had an A changed to an I. But if I’d gone wit the Irish spelling, it would heave been even hard to pronounce and spell. I like what I came up with It works for me. I can almost respond to it when someone says it in the book store.


  5. I always wanted to be the hermit writer…living so deep in the woods no one could find me, but knowing they loved and bought my books. These days, it would just create an attractive challenge to some.


    • You could still find deep in the woods in Alaska — but Internet connectivity becomes a problem then. I prefer having neighbors. My husband would totally live in the woods and where our pile-of-lumber cabin-to-be is in a valley that doesn’t get even satellite connection. I love to visit it. Don’t want to live there.


  6. I think it’s great that you used one. It makes sense for you, and it really is a fun tradition.

    Liked by 1 person

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