East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


It’s not fantasy

I just found out my old paperback copy of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Italian edition published by Rusconi, which I bought in 1983 or 1984, goes for up to 150 bucks, second-hand, online.
I could give it a thought, really.

Apparently all the old editions of Tolkien’s doorstop novel are being called back and destroyed, or so it seems, as part of a complicated copyright infringement lawsuit that also branches out in a legal battle about slander and what not.
The crux of the problem: the current Italian publisher of Tolkien commissioned a new translation, and all hell broke loose. The old translation’s been accused of being inaccurate, the new translation’s been mocked for some choices and some have talked of twisting Tolkien’s word for the sake of political correctness. Then the current translator said the old translation featured “five hundred mistakes per page”, which was at least quite rude, and the old translator passed the thing to her lawyers.
It’s a mess, and the fans are going berserk.
In the meantime, the old versions are being pulped, or so it seems. Only the new translation will exist from now on.

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Finding an alias

secret-identity_designI’m not particularly hot about pen names.
I happen to like the name my father and my mother gave me – and I like to have my achievements marked with my name.

On the other hand, while the vast majority of my colleagues in academia tend to find my activity as a fiction and gaming author perfectly all right, a few sometimes make a face at the idea.

How can you reconcile your work as a scientist and the fact that you write stories about little green men?

Now, disocunting the facts that
a . finding work as a scientist is getting harder by the hour
b . I never wrote a story about little green men

Discounting this, I was saying, I normally reply that I like to think about my readers as smart enough to tell scientific papers from fantasies.
If nothing else, scientific papers tend not to have weapons and monsters in them.
But anyway, it can get hawkward.

Also, should things get really going, an author might need a number of alternate identities in order to place his or her stories on a variety of different markets at the same time – or on the same market!
Henry Kuttner used at least 21 pseudonyms, often appearing with more than one story in the same magazine, under different names.

name-tagSo, what if I wanted to find me a pen name?
Is it enough to open the phone directory at random two or three times, jotting down and mixing&matching first and last names?
Well, not exactly.

First, the author’s name on the cover influences the voice in which the reader perceives the narrative.
That’s why romance stories are usually presented as written by female authors – the female “voice” ringing in the reader’s head is considered more or less a given.

Which makes me wonder – is there a connection between the default “voice” of science fiction and fantasy and the fact that a lot of authors go by their initials?
H.P. Lovecraft. E.R. Burroughs, C.L. Moore, J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, C.J. Cherry…

Second, the name should fit the genre.
Sometimes it’s clear it’s a pen name, so why not use it to reinforce the product?
P.J. Storm does not write the same genre as Mary Walker.

And as we are at it, and we design our pen name as part of our marketing strategy – let’s check if the name’s already in use on the web.
can we use it as part of our email address, of our website URL, of our Twitter or Facebook account?
Will our alter ego be the first to pop up in a Google search?

All of this, plus the fact that we want our alias to be easy to remember, hard to get wrong (ever thought about what it means to be called J. Michael Straczynski, in terms of typos and bad searches?), and fast to sign (who knows, we may make it big with our stories, and find ourselves at conventions signing huge piles of books for the fans*.)

Finally, we should decide if our pen name will be just that – a name – or if we need to create a full alternate character, with a bio, a photo, the works.
This, again, might be part of our marketing strategy.
We are selling not just the story, but the author.

All of which means, it’s a lot of work.
But – with a little luck – I’ll be doing it soon.
If a certain story sells.


* As Blondie used to sing, dreaming is free.