My latest mystery/crime novel Third Rail (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) has it all -- a charismatic but troubled cop who loses his gun, a deadly smart drug, a small town in turmoil, and a big city wrestling with corruption. What doesn't it have? My name on the cover. After many novels and many more years, I'm no longer going by Stona Fitch, the weird-sounding Cherokee-Scottish name I was born with, along with my father and grandfather and so on.
Now I'm Rory Flynn - a name so Irish it hurts, lucky as a shamrock, and 100% Boston. Why write under a pen name? I want my constitutionally guaranteed right to escape my past and get a fresh start. And why not? It's worked for many other writers. Here are just a few.
1. Stephen King wrote four novels under the pen name Richard Bachman, hoping to lure Bachman-Turner Overdrive fans into his world (it was the '70s).
2. J. K. Rowling tried to escape her fans and experience a normal writer's life (low sales, misery, invisibility) by writing under the pen name Robert Galbraith. But it didn't work, because everyone found out about it. And then she sold a pile of books.
3. Man-about-Albany William Kennedy wrote under the name Diana Diamond, unleashing his feminine side.
4. The great Donald E. Westlake wrote under many pen names, including Richard Stark, Tucker Coe, Allan Marshall, and Samuel Holt.
5. The equally great Ed McBain wrote under the names Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon, Richard Marsten, and Evan Hunter. How he kept these all straight is a mystery.
6. Lawrence Block split into Jill Emerson, Chip Harrison, Paul Kavanagh, and Sheldon Lord. All those names sound kind of fake, don't they? Then again, so does Lawrence Block. Like Writer's Block, which he most definitely did not have.
7. John Banville writes novels under the (very transparent) Benjamin Black pen name. In fact, the Black novels seem just as literary and wonderful.
8. JR LeRoy was revealed to be American writer Laura Albert in a super messy revelation that made everyone feel sad and violated because they got duped.
9. Joyce Carol Oates wrote a mystery (Lives of the Twins) under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith because she wanted to "escape her own identity" - and because she could put out a novel every two weeks, her preferred pace. But her ruse was revealed -- it was news even to her publisher.