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On writers, pseudonyms and entertainment

rco-2
I realize that it’s been a little while since I’ve posted. Or longer than a little; I lost two months of working time and have been playing frenzied catch-up ever since because I am foolish and never build “oh crap” time into my work schedule.

But. Something a fellow writer said poked small needles into the back of my brain, and as I need my brain to focus on the very end of this book-that-will-not-end, I decided that I would make a small post. This author writes under two names, and having read some of either name, I think it’s a smart choice, because they are very different types of books.

Full disclosure, in case anyone who actually reads this is not aware: I write under two names. The biggest reason for doing so, for me, was reader expectation. I considered the two books to be different enough in tone and texture that I wasn’t certain people who liked one set would also enjoy the other.

I’m not embarrassed by either set of books. I am happy to own them both. I am happy to write them both. But I don’t expect they will necessarily have the same audience which is why I use different author names for either.

Authors sometimes want to write different things. To write, for instance, horror (no, that would not be me, it’s just an example), or SF, or Middle Grade fantasy, or, or, or. This is, in part, because they enjoy reading many of those things. They want to write epics, they want to write contemporaries, they want to sometimes have fun and let their hair down and be over-the-top silly.

I have been really happy with this arrangement. My readers have been great. I have had people tell me they don’t care for one or the other series, but they’ve been polite; they expressed their personal preference without general invective at my choice to write both; they don’t buy the books they don’t care for, but they don’t give up on my writing as a whole because they don’t know, from book to book, if it will engage them.

Did I digress? Sort of.

Let me go back to this Other Author. Other Author has written two relatively successful series of books. Under--yes!--different names. The author name, regardless of whether it’s hidden or not--it’s not in this case--is meant to be a bit of an indicator, IMHO. (It’s a humble opinion because I can’t divorce intent from effect. I know that as a reader, I would assume a difference in tone and text from two books with different author bylines; I don’t know for certain that I would expect that if I weren’t also a writer. So, humble. Humble opinion.)

Other Author is notified by angry reader(s) of one pseudonym that Reader is unhappy (angry, disgusted) at the garbage (trash, paranormal junk) that she is writing under a totally different name.

I have two objections to this.

The first is obvious: She wrote them under two different names. They are not connected textually in any way. The packaging for each name is totally different, and the despised book in question does not promise to be anything it is not; the look, the blurbing, the cover quotes--everything makes it entirely clear. If you are upset that what you are reading is exactly what it is packaged to be, this is a new twist on resentment of publisher packaging; most readers are angered when the book purports to be something it’s not.

The second objection is actually the longer one. Possibly a more subtle one. For a Michelle variant of the word subtle.

So here we go: What is the writer’s crime, here? The writer has used a totally different name, the book is published by a different publisher.

The writer’s crime is disappointing the reader by writing garbage. Fluff. Something fun (for a variant of fun that’s got a lot of punch, but still). Something that entertains a large number of people who want to read something that is - yes! - entertainment that doesn’t demand brain cells at the end of a long damn day.

Now, it’s possible that the readers who are castigating the author also castigate people for, oh, watching almost any television, because frankly, most of it is under-structured and aimed at the viscera. It’s possible that the readers are sneering at their friends for going to see blockbuster movies with no plot logic but incredible special effects. And of course those readers would probably never ever watch any of those things, because - hey, trashy, fluffy entertainment.

But, you know, I kinda doubt it.

Why is it that writers are expected to be consistently grim and serious? Why, if they offer a work that is textually multi-layered and complex, are they expected to always approach their novels in the same way?

Or, flip it, why are they expected to be consistently fluffy & fast brain-candy? Why are they expected to do only one thing, when as readers, as consumers, none of us adhere to only one type of entertainment?

Why is that that some of the writers who are taken so very seriously in this field can, in fact, go on and on about the other media that entertains them - (some) comics, blockbusters, etc., etc., - and have these other forms of pure, fluffy entertainment be lauded or at least quietly accepted, while writing or reading anything that is purely fun and fluff is somehow a personal betrayal and an act of selling out?

Yes, I understand that if Neal Stephenson decided to write a 2000 page paranormal romance, this would upset his readers. I get that. If I pick up a book with the name Neal Stephenson on it, then one, I will have a hernia if I have to carry it around and two, I have some idea of tone, voice and structure. But if Neal Stephenson decides to write a normal paranormal romance under an entirely different name? No.

I understand disappointment if the writer is doing both of these wildly divergent things under the same pen name. I get that. But writers are people too, and they have as wide a breadth of things that entertain them as any other reader/consumer. If they are taking pains to make clear which style of writing you can expect from the book in your hands (and honestly, I consider the author name on the cover to be a really good indicator), just read the books you like and skip the ones you don’t care for.

Comments

icedrake
Feb. 10th, 2012 05:23 pm (UTC)
Wasn't that one called Anathem?

...what, no one else read it that way?
desperance
Feb. 11th, 2012 08:32 am (UTC)
Hee.