Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What's in a Name? Guest post by Lise McClendon

Pen Names, Pseudonyms, AKA:  Decisions to be made. They're all part of the writing process. Today I welcome Lise McClendon aka Rory Tate.

As Rory Tate, Lise McClendon recently published Jump Cut, a thriller set in Seattle and the tiny republic of Moldova. She is also the author of seven mystery and suspense novels. Read about them at her website, or at Rory Tate’s website (where there is a trailer for Jump Cut.) Rory Tate also has a story in the Thalia Press Authors Co-op collection of short stories: DEAD OF WINTER. Lise McClendon has served on the national boards of Mystery Writers of America and the International Association of Crime Writers, as well as the faculty of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference. She lives in Montana.

What’s in a Name? by Lise McClendon

Pseudonyms in crime fiction have a long, colorful history, from the collective who wrote Nancy Drew to the group of writers behind Ellery Queen. Sometimes an author is trying to hide his professional life from the tawdry thrillers he pens. But most of the time a pseudonym is a marketing angle, a way to ‘sell’ a novel. Maybe your real name has too many consonants. Or you are so prolific your publisher gets worked up about your burgeoning oeuvre. Or the computerized stats of booksellers are working against you.

My reason for changing names is a classic one: to reach more readers. My series novels are whodunits in the traditional vein. My first mysteries, the Alix Thorssen novels, are written in first person and feature an amateur sleuth in a small resort town, stumbling over the bodies of acquaintances. My historical mysteries with Dorie Lennox, set just as World War 2 breaks out, are in the hardboiled camp, reflecting that time period of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. I even went so far as to write a homage to Chandler in Sweet and Lowdown.

I wanted to try something more modern when I wrote Jump Cut. To write a contemporary thriller about ordinary people. No spies, no techno wizards, no heroes without names. Just a regular reporter, struggling to make a life for herself. And an ordinary cop who gets in trouble with the department through no crime of his own.

It’s called a thriller but it’s probably not exactly that either. (I have a hard time slotting myself. Who wants to fall into a predestined cog?) There’s action and danger, for sure, but also the search for redemption, honor, and connection which I think every good novel should have, whether you’re writing about the end of the world or the end of the widow lady next door. Oh, and sacrifice. Every novel needs a good sacrifice.

I probably should have used my new penname, Rory Tate, on my 2009 stand-alone, Blackbird Fly. It’s not a series book either. A suspense novel, it probably falls in the line of women’s fiction too and has gained a wider audience than my mystery novels. (Strangely, some people don’t read mystery fiction. Shocking to discover!) But I didn’t use the penname until now.

As Rory Tate I can be anybody: male, female, British, American, Canadian -- Australian even! (Fancy a little rugby?) I thought about keeping my true identity a secret, making a game of it. Who is Rory Tate? What mystery aficionado doesn’t like a good secret identity? I remember the fun stories about the discovery of who Paul Garrison really was. (Read Justin Scott’s journey for a real pro at pseudonyms.) But in the end I decided that the people who knew my writing as Lise McClendon might possibly want to read another novel by said author. And how would they find me?

So murder and secret identities will out. I hope to find new readers with my snappy, new, androgynous name, people who don’t necessarily read about Rocky Mountain backwaters or the gritty streets of Kansas City during the war. People who like to read about people like themselves: city dwellers, young professionals, struggling careerists. Reporters and policemen, daughters and sons.

And people who, as Rory might say, like a cracking good yarn. As always.

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