Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rowling, Pseudonyms, and Writing in Multiple Genres

The recent buzz in the literary world is all about a detective novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling and its author, Robert Galbraith-- or, as has recently been revealed, J. K. Rowling. The novel was apparently well-received critically before anyone knew that the beloved Harry Potter author was behind it, and now that she has come clean, the book is flying off the shelves. For more on the story, check out this article or this review.

Pseudonyms are nothing new, of course. But what makes an author choose to use one? In Rowling’s case, it seems to have been a desire for reviews and reactions that were not constantly comparing her new work to the Harry Potter series. I can understand wishing to avoid that pressure. Other authors use pseudonyms in order to protect their own or their family’s privacy, to avoid connections to other famed authors (like Joe Hill, son of Stephen King), or just because they don’t feel that their own name is appropriate or interesting.

Personally, I sort of fall into that last category. When I submit work or do anything else in my "professional writer" capacity, I always use “K. J.” Neal instead of Kiley Neal. It’s not because I’m seeking anonymity or because I’m trying to mask my gender (which I always fear I’ll be accused of), but because I think “Kiley” sounds like a little girl’s name. Is that just me? Maybe. But ever since I decided to be a writer around age 15 or 16, I’ve always intended to be published under K. J.

I’ve been following the conversations about Rowling/Galbraith on Twitter, and someone mentioned that it was no big deal: Popular authors use pseudonyms all the time when they want to write in a different genre. They do this because people expect a certain type of writing from them, and are likely to be overly critical when they go a new direction. (I think we saw this with Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, which is probably why Galbraith was born.) This got me thinking about myself and my own work. I’m currently editing a light sci-fi manuscript, but my heart-- and virtually ALL the other writing I’ve ever done-- lies in the fantasy genre. Does that mean I should use two names if I’m ever published in both genres? I’m probably getting ahead of myself, but it’s interesting to think about. 

What about you? Do you/would you use a pseudonym or abbreviated version of your name? Do you write in multiple genres? And while you’re at it, do you think Kiley sounds like a little girl, too?

Comment below!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Not All Heroines Are Katniss Clones

It has come to my attention that I was very, very lucky growing up. In my middle school library-- a place I escaped to often in those years-- there was no shortage of heroine-centric fantasy novels. It was there that I was introduced to Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley, who are my idols and favorite authors to this day, as well as writers in various genres who were not afraid to make strong women and girls their protagonists. It was not until later-- much later-- that I found out strong female characters (SFCs) are not the norm, so much later that I had already written several manuscript drafts about them. 

I just found this sweet old-school copy of The Woman
Who Rides Like a Man
 by Tamora Pierce at a used bookstore. Alanna
is DEFINITELY a strong heroine! 

Lately, we’ve seen a surge of interest in kickass girls, in large part because of the popularity of The Hunger Games and Katniss Everdeen. And, no doubt about it, Katniss does kick ass, and she’s an interesting, flawed character. But I think it’s important for us all to remember that our SFCs don’t have to hit quite Katniss’s level of badassery (although it’s always cool if they do). Strong Girl shouldn't be some type of cookie-cutter designation: being “strong” doesn’t automatically equal physical toughness, aggressive/abrasive personality, and skill with deadly weapons. Smart girls are strong (Hermione!). Hardworking girls are strong. Opinionated girls are strong. Independent girls are strong. Determined girls are strong. There should be no absolute dichotomy between the Katniss Everdeens (or Xenas or Lara Crofts) and the empty-headed, helpless, sexualized princess-- instead, there are shades of gray in between, and there are countless ways to fall on the Katniss end of the spectrum.

Although this is good too.
So before you strap a sword onto your heroine’s hip, think about her as a character and about the story you’re trying to tell, and make sure you’re not doing it just to make her seem strong. FYI-- it’s not about the sword, or the bow, or the boxing gloves, or whatever. It’s about who she is as a person: her convictions, her attitudes, her experiences, her choices. If she’s a sword-swinger, fine, but if not, don’t despair. Every woman has different strengths and weaknesses, and every character should, too!

How do you create SFCs, then? Making sure they are three-dimensional, interesting, and realistic is a good start. The Bechdel test is also helpful. Read this cool Kate Beaton comic lampooning some common attempts at SFCs. And share your own tips and thoughts below!