Tag Archives: David Sedaris

Pseudonyms for dummies: Forging a new identity

Hi! My name is Nora Roberts, and I write romance novels. I’m also Julia Roberts’ younger, hotter sister. And no, I did not have relations with that hamster.

What’s that? You thought my name was Laura Roberts? And that I wrote erotica? And that there’s no family connection to Julia? Clearly you’ve been deceived!

Actually, this post is all about pseudonyms, which for writers are a socially acceptable form of lying about yourself. Seeing as there are quite a number of ladies named Laura Roberts in the world (some of whom are also, oddly enough, writers), I’ve recently been thinking about changing my name to something a little more vivacious. Something that really screams “erotica writer.” You know, something like Cherry Poppins.


There are actually a lot of different reasons for using a pseudonym, whether you’re trying to get away from a boring or over-used name or need to disguise your true identity. Mostly I’ve encountered the question of the false name with respect to my past life as a sex columnist, and current life as a trashy novelist. Some people think I should be ashamed of writing about sex, while others just think my name should be a little more Anaïs Nin than *yawn* Laura Roberts.

Seriously, though, how cool would it be to have an umlaut in your name?

Other good reasons for getting yourself a pseudonym include:

  1. I write about personal subjects, and don’t want my family to get mad at me!” (see: David Sedaris)
  2. I work as a schoolteacher, and don’t want my students—or their parents—to find out about my double life writing erotica!” (see: Judy Mays)
  3. I wrote a ‘memoir’ that turned out to be fiction, and now no publisher will touch me with a ten-foot pole!” (see: James Frey)
  4. I started off writing mysteries, but now I write horror and suspense novels, and my agent doesn’t think fans from one genre will cross over to the other!” (see: JA Konrath, aka Jack Kilborn)
  5. There are already 90 different writers with my name!” (see: Laura Roberts—oh, hello!)


So, are there any drawbacks to using a pseudonym? Yes, if you want the people who know and love you to be able to Google your work. Or if you end up having to convince a would-be employer that you really wrote those awesome novels they are all excited about, despite the fake name (and bio) on the back of the book. Or if someone unmasks you as that whore, Cherry Poppins, in front of your co-workers, students or peers.

It can be a tricky subject, explaining your double life to people who don’t really understand the concept of fiction.

But if you like to write about taboo subjects and don’t want anyone to know that you’re really just a kindly old woman who loves dogs and knits afghans in the UK, then a pseudonym generally provides pretty good protection—so long as you’re not out tweeting and blogging and generally giving away the fact that your fake name is, well, fake. Be sure to keep a separate website, and social media accounts, for any names you’d like to keep separate from your real-life alter ego. Otherwise, you may end up like Penelope Trunk, who formerly used the name as a pseudonym, and later ended up changing her real name to fit the popular persona she’d created!


Okay, okay: I’ve convinced you. Now, how do you come up with an awesome pseudonym that fits your need for a convincingly different name? First you’ll want to consider the type of writing your pseudonym is for and tailor it appropriately. For instance, “Mysteria, Goddess of the Night” is great for a gothic novelist, but not so awesome for a political blogger. (Or, at least, not for any of the political bloggers I’ve ever read… your mileage may vary.)

Here are some tried and true methods for coming up with a genuine-sounding fake name:

  1. Riff on the old “porn star name” method of combining the street you grew up on with your middle name or the name of a favorite pet: Mine would be Nicole Melrose, which sounds like a pretty good name for a writer of erotic fiction.
  2. You could also try spoofing an existing celebrity name, like Perez Hilton. Lots of celebrities have also grabbed their first or last names from movie marquees, like Michael Caine (who jokes he could’ve ended up as “Michael 101 Dalmatians” if The Caine Mutiny hadn’t been playing that day), so give that a whirl.
  3. Maybe you’ve got a nickname that’s always suited you better? You could be Lucky Leroux or Johnny Aces. This seems to work well in the world of crime fiction, so embrace your inner gangster and give ‘em both barrels.
  4. Take a page from the lady novelists of the 18th century and abbreviate your first and middle names to mere letters! L.N. Roberts sounds a little clinical to me, but maybe it could work for a medical thriller.
  5. If you’re really stuck, let a computer pick out a new name for you. Try the Internet’s slew of name generators, and keep reloading until you find something you like. I recently stuck my full name into an anagram generator and came up with Liberator Larcenous. What a great name for a crime novelist—or a literary gang!

Coming up with your pseudonym should be fun, so get creative! Just remember to pick something you won’t mind being stuck with for a while. After all, who knows how far you’ll go with your new name?

Literary snobbery meme

I was tagged by two of the most fabulous Facebook users in the world, AV Flox and Atherton Bartelby, so obvs I have to complete their literary meme now! Feel free to join in the snobbery if you are a literary type, or wallow in your tragic illiteracy if not. (This has also been posted on my Facebook page, so apologies if you’ve already read it there.)

1) wintersonWhat author do you own the most books by?
Jeanette Winterson

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
I don’t really have any repeats, though I’ve bought Beautiful Losers at least three times now. Damn Cohen thieves.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
It’s post-gym. I’m tired. Eff prepositions in the arse. But yes.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
Holly Golightly, bless her whorish little soul.

4a) What fictional character would you most like to be?
Hmm. That’s a tough one, as I always seem to like the losers, the underdogs, and the not-entirely-together. Let’s go with Harriet the Spy. She still amuses, after all these years.

4b) What fictional character do you think most resembles you?
Lolita. Or maybe Humbert Humbert?

5) What book have you read the most times in your life?
Beautiful Losers

6) harrietthespyWhat was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
Harriet the Spy. Or maybe those god-awful Sweet Valley High books. I devoured books in series, back then.

7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
Undoubtedly something I had to review for publication, so I will keep mum.

8) What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, J.T. LeRoy

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
I think I may be forced to echo Ms. Flox on this one: “The one I publish one day, duh.”

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?
Salman Rushdie. I mean, c’mon already. Does the fatwa not speak for itself?

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
I fear most good books make terrible movies, but what about Post Office?

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
Any and all books that fall under the heading “chick lit.”

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
Nabokov’s son emailed me to tell me how bad I suck because of a sex column I wrote. Wait, that was real.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?
Happiness™ by Will Ferguson

15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
Anything by Kathy Acker. I have problems with “experimental” literature and plagiarism.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?
This is embarrassing, but I have only seen Othello with a high school class. And we were mostly mortified by the way the actors showered us with spittle, sitting in the front row. Umbrella? Thanks.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
I am currently reading Anna Karenina, so I will side with the Russians. For now.

18) Roth or Updike?
Having never read any Roth (the shame! the horror!) I will say Updike.

19) davidsedarisDavid Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
Sedaris, hands down. Eggers is a poseur.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
No thank you. I successfully avoided all of these classes as an English Lit major and I’m not about to cave now!

21) Austen or Eliot?
I don’t do “lady authors.”

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
It is a bit embarrassing that one can have an English Lit degree without having been forced to take the Shakespeare, Milton or Chaucer courses at one’s university, but I refuse to feel shame. I have seen enough to know it’s not for me.

23) What is your favorite novel?
Beautiful Losers

24) Play?
Is it plebian of me to say “The Shape of Things”?

25) Poem?
“As the Mist Leaves No Scar,” Leonard Cohen

26) Essay?
“Art Objects,” Jeanette Winterson

27) tiffanysShort story?
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Truman Capote

28) Work of non-fiction?
Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

29) Who is your favorite writer?
I love my man LC, but I feel compelled to say J.M. Coetzee.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
That damn woman who wrote those stupid “Twilight” books that all the pre-teens are reading these days. Bleh!

31) What is your desert island book?
I hate these “desert island” questions, since I can never decide whether I want an old fave or something that will keep me occupied for a long while. How about the Tao Te Ching just to hurt my brain?

32) And … what are you reading right now?
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, as well as Do Everything in the Dark by Gary Indiana, and a vast assortment of magazines, newspaper articles and whatever’s close at hand.