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Wikipedia knows more about me than I do

My legal name is: Michelle Sagara. (Technically, Michelle Michiko Sagara).

I would like to state that up front, because what follows might cause some confusion -- and if you're not up to a somewhat long post about why this is significant, this is the time to scroll quickly up the friends list.

Let me drift back, for a moment, to my university life. The one in which I had no full-time job, no husband, no mortgage, no children -- and nothing but poetry published. No matter how miserable we are in our youth, no matter how isolated we feel, we all find our tribe eventually, and I found mine at the University of Toronto. This tribe was a group of computer science/physics/math geeks, some of who were women. I was the ringer. The guys in the group had (mostly) attended private schools for the high school leg of their education, and for reasons that have something to do with private schools, all of the guys were known by their last names. All of the guys... and me. I was Sagara. No, I don't know why, but I didn't mind. I grew up with two younger brothers, and I have been called much worse.

When I got engaged to my husband, Thomas, we had a discussion about name, specifically, whether or not I would take his last name when we married. His last name is West. We decided -- partly because at that time most of our friends were still calling me "Sagara!", and partly because in 1989, the legality of the name change required that I get all new I.D., including Birth Certificate, under the married name -- that I would keep my name.

My husband's relatives call me "Michelle West" or even "Mrs. West". It doesn't bother me. When our sons -- who are both Wests -- went to school, I expected that all the teachers would also call me "Mrs. West" (nor was I wrong), and that doesn't bother me either. I understand all the reasons for correcting them, but I also understand all the reasons why they do it, and it doesn't seem worth it -- to me -- to make a fuss. (Also, see above, re: life with two younger brothers.)

I submitted my first novel to Del Rey in 1987. They bought it in 1990, after it had been extensively revised. It was published under my name, Michelle Sagara.

When my oldest son was born, I started writing Hunter's Oath, and that book eventually went to DAW. For a variety of reasons that made good sense at the time, it was published under the name Michelle West. I could have chosen an entirely different name, but... I am often so totally over-focused on whatever I'm thinking that I have (twice) walked into moving cars because I did not see them. If I wrote under a totally different name -- for example, Kate Elliott -- I was worried that if I went to a convention or a public gathering as Kate, I would not actually recognize the use of the pseudonym in time to respond to it -- at all. And people in general are not made happier when they think they're being ignored. Michelle West, I reasoned, would be easy because half of the known world already calls me that, and it's my married name.

So far, so good. There was a bit of confusion about the short stories that I published around that time, because some of them were Sagara and some of them were West; one cover proof listed the story as being by Sagara, but the interior pages were authored by West. David Hartwell caught me in the halls at one convention and told me that my name was important, and I should choose one and stick with it (because, among other things, it made bibliographer's lives hell).

But the truth is: I wasn't fussed. I honestly didn't care what name appeared on the books. I wanted to write those books. I got to write those books. The name, and whether or not it was obviously attached to me, didn't seem all that important. It was the words themselves that mattered to me, and they were all there, regardless.

David Hartwell is smarter than me. (Or: Sometimes I am a stupid idiot.)

We fast forward a bit. The DAW books are in print; the Del Rey books are out of print. I write the proposal for the Luna books, and I submit them to the editor -- but I tell my agent that I do not want the books published as Michelle West titles. He's fine with that and tells me to come up with a pseudonym. But ... I'm concerned. I don't want my Luna editor to think I'm ashamed of the books I've submitted to her. So, fretting about this, I eventually call the editor and tell her that I am not ashamed of these books, that I'm not trying to hide them, and that I'm perfectly happy to have these books published under my legal name, Michelle Sagara -- I just want the names to be different because I really think they're substantially different in tone from the West novels.

(This was fun, because she had never read the West novels, but she had read the Del Rey ones, and she hadn't realized that I'd written them).

She is happy to do this; I'm happy to do this. We're all happy. And I am now being published under my legal name and my married name.

But before Cast in Shadow is published, Glen Yeffeth at BenBella Books asks about reprint rights for my old, out of print, Del Rey series. He wants, however, to publish them as "Michelle West" titles, because the numbers for those are in Bookscan and he can show them to the sales reps; the Sagara books were pre-bookscan, like dinosaurs. I suggest that he might want to use the Sagara name anyway, because I think there's a better chance that the Luna readers will like them, and the first Luna title will be published a month or so before the first reprint. There is back and forth on this, and eventually, he chooses to publish them as: Michelle Sagara West titles.

And this, dear readers, is where it all starts to fall down.

There is this wonderful thing called wikipedia. The day my wikipedia entry went up, my wonderful husband came home and showed it to me. It was an entry on "Michelle Sagara", with admittedly not a huge amount of information, but what was there was accurate. I thought "that's pretty cool", and left it at that.

Someone else didn't leave it at that, and at some point, the entry morphed into: Michelle Sagara West. I'm not sure when it happened. Or why. It happened, oddly enough, well before the BenBella reprints.

This was slightly troubling -- but, in the end, it's just a name, and I don't know enough about wikis to change it. (Yes, yes, you can laugh at me now. I should have changed it, or had someone change it, right away -- but it wasn't my sandbox, and it seemed harmless, and it was pointing people at the books themselves, and that's the important thing...)

But ... then people started using "Michelle Sagara West" as my actual name. I would see it on-line, and in biographical notes: Michelle Sagara West; writes as Michelle Sagara and Michelle West.

Three days ago, I received a cheque from the PLR (Public Lending Rights) Commission. And for the first time ever, it was made out to "Michelle Sagara West". I have no idea why. In theory, all of the information they have on file is filed by me, and I certainly didn't ask for a name change. In fact, I have no idea how one would get one's name changed, because there's only room for a change of address on the form they send yearly.

But someone had helpfully looked it up somewhere, and changed it, because last year's PLR cheque came to Michelle Sagara. So now I carry a marriage certificate when I go to the bank, and I'm wondering what other non-related piece of mail will arrive with this 'correction'. Because clearly, the internet is more of an authority than I thought.

And I tell you this cautionary tale so that you can learn from my idiocy and avoid making the same mistake. Or, alternately, you can make the exact same mistake because misery loves company, and come huddle in the corner with me.

ETA: Yes, I had to make a post on the 29th of February. It's in the rulebook.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 1st, 2008 04:20 am (UTC)
Right, not that I was going to anyway, but you've talked me out of ever publishing anything as "Janni Hammer." :-)
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 1st, 2008 09:10 pm (UTC)
Partly because it's possible that they will ask me for one and
I want to think about whether I think it's a good idea or not. I have
thought about the things you've mentioned, particularly with issues of
personal interaction, keeping websites and blogs, and all that sort of

I pride myself -- sometimes -- on having a better grasp of professional than I showed in this (long) instance, and I would definitely caution people not to be quite as laisse faire as I was.

That said, I do think there are good reasons -- some to do with sales numbers, some with markets -- to have a pseudonym, or to use one. But keeping up two full identities would probably be prohibitively time consuming in this instant-information age, which isn't something I'd considered way back.

The sell through numbers are good, btw -- but one thing about sell-through is that it tends to climb up if the book stays in print and is stocked as backlist because in theory the stores know how much backlist stock they'll sell, and will order that much, rather than ordering frontlist quantities; you don't, therefore, get socked with the returns on backlist titles.

Edited at 2008-03-02 01:22 am (UTC)
Mar. 1st, 2008 05:10 am (UTC)
Well, uh... at least you have a Wikipedia entry! And slightly scarily obsessive fans!
Mar. 1st, 2008 09:12 pm (UTC)
Well, uh... at least you have a Wikipedia entry! And slightly scarily obsessive fans!

I don't think of them as scary in this case -- just thorough. But I admit that I often think of on-line existence as something that exists entirely independent of real life, so the cheque was a shock.
Mar. 1st, 2008 05:15 am (UTC)
And here I thought you did the musical name game just so I could have verbal rows with bookstore clerks who insist that Michelle Sagara and Michelle West are clearly not the same person because the various series are in different "voices".

Mar. 1st, 2008 09:13 pm (UTC)
And here I thought you did the musical name game just so I could have verbal rows with bookstore clerks who insist that Michelle Sagara and Michelle West are clearly not the same person because the various series are in different "voices".

This made me laugh out loud, and then it made me wince and prepare to grovel. That's not one of the difficulties I ever considered. And, fwiw, I do genuinely feel bad about it.
Mar. 1st, 2008 07:25 am (UTC)
This might sound weird, but I think the popularity of Michelle Sagara West as a name that people use when referring to you, may be because it has a lovely rhythm.

*shrug* Uh, makes sense to me any way.
Mar. 1st, 2008 01:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you for clearing up the confusion. For me (and you know me) I don't care what name you publish under so long as you direct me to those works. All of them. I'm sorry for the difficulties this may be posing for you though.
Mar. 1st, 2008 03:47 pm (UTC)
One nice thing about Wikipedia is that it can be corrected. By the time I went there in order to correct the article, it had already been adjusted to read:

"Michelle Sagara is a Japanese-Canadian author of fantasy literature, active since the early 1990s. She has published as Michelle Sagara (her legal name), as Michelle West (her husband's surname), and as Michelle Sagara West (a combination of the two)."

Unfortunately, the article name is still Michelle Sagara West (to which Michelle Sagara redirects). I'd move it, but I have to wait until my Wikipedia account is four days old before I can make that kind of edit.
Mar. 1st, 2008 09:15 pm (UTC)

I think everyone I know or have ever known is on LJ; I keep discovering people. Hello :). Long time, and etc., and wave at TJ for me?

Mar. 1st, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC)
A rose by any other name...
Not unlike my own saga of name change mazes. Come September I'll have 3 different pseudonyms, all at the same publisher.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 1st, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make my first, significant, wiki edit. Of course, I did it under a different pseudonym. It being Wikipedia, someone might change it back again soon.

Thank you.

I should probably do something about it -- I think I had the vague notion that writing stuff on your own wiki page was somehow cheating.

When I examine this sentiment, it makes no sense, but I felt self-conscious about doing it myself.
Mar. 2nd, 2008 04:53 am (UTC)
Well, they do discourage people from writing articles about themselves, so it may actually be that editing your own wiki page is not quite appropriate, too (though I'm not positive on that).
Mar. 2nd, 2008 06:32 pm (UTC)
Wikipedia is prone to flame wars over names, spelling of names, etc. And under their attribution policy "because I said so and I am this person" is insufficiently authorititative. However, being able to footnote the LJ entry would be authorititative. Go figure.
Mar. 3rd, 2008 07:49 pm (UTC)
And under their attribution policy "because I said so and I am this person" is insufficiently authorititative. However, being able to footnote the LJ entry would be authorititative. Go figure.

I suppose that footnoting the LJ entry would count because they could be reasonably certain it's me posting it? But I sort of understand why they don't really want people writing their own entry; it's hard to be objective about your own life, or works. Or, apparently, name ...
Mar. 12th, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
Oh, and Henry? My husband was out of town when I posted this, and so he hadn't read it until tonight, and he was laughing -- very loudly -- at your "insufficiently authoritative", so thank you for that :)
Mar. 8th, 2008 05:54 pm (UTC)
And now I finally understand all your variant names! I admit, I had been wondering. Thanks for the story, and the clarification that comes with it.

--Marie Brennan, who's determined to stick with ONE pen name, thank you, come hell or high water, and is using one in the first place because of an unmanageable legal name
Mar. 12th, 2008 03:35 am (UTC)
And now I finally understand all your variant names! I admit, I had been wondering. Thanks for the story, and the clarification that comes with it.

Yes. Sadly, it all boils down to "did not think things through", which is a kinder way of saying "was an idiot". But... it all made sense at the time...
(Deleted comment)
May. 27th, 2008 02:27 am (UTC)
Speaking as the person who started the original draft of your article on Wikipedia back in 2004, I can assure you of two things:

I just wanted to add -- also delayed -- that I was very happy to see the original article's post, and that I'm not as clear on how wikipedia articles and subsequent changes work; I always had the sense that they were far more communal. That said, I didn't mean any overt criticism of anyone who wrote or edited, because I know I wasn't entirely clear on my end (thus the post itself), so it would be somewhat hard for people who are not me to be clearer. And yes, a bunch of articles cropped up, and a couple of people assumed that my married name would the Sagara West, and used that; I didn't see the harm in it, and I didn't correct the usage.

It wasn't until I got the cheque that it became an issue, because the cheque, from a quasi-government organization, had to have been changed on their end =/.

But, ummm, this was mostly written in self-mockery, not mockery of anyone who's doing the unpaid work of making the listings available and if that wasn't clear, I apologize.
Nov. 28th, 2012 09:41 pm (UTC)
The problem with wikipedia is that anyone can change those entries, and the dumb public tends to believe anything you put on the internet.

This happened to a friend of mine who had her name besmirched by a malicious wiki writer who was fired by her once upon a time in her previous career. She tried to correct the wiki entries after calling the original wiki entry slander and as a result, the owners of wikipedia decided to ban her from her own wiki entry.

She tries to correct the entry under a different name and is accused of sock puppeting.

Kind of ironic isn't it, that you can't even correct information about yourself on wiki, yet some random stranger can write whatever he wants about you.

This is why I always take what I read from wikipedia with a grain of salt. Anything written on there can be true, but don't trust it, because the chances of it being wrong is just as great.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )