by Jennie Bentley
I’ve always had a pretty healthy self image, I think. At least I used to believe so. But I’ll freely admit I’m starting to feel a little schizophrenic.
It all started when I began negotiating with my editor at Penguin-Putnam about generating a series of cozies for them. (The first, FATAL FIXER-UPPER, will be released in November. It’s about a home renovator, and it has those cutesy tips for Do-It-Yourself projects in the back. It also has two cats, a hot handyman, missing heirlooms and a few dead bodies. But more about that later.)
We had established that I was qualified to write the books, that I wanted to write the books, that I was willing to write the books for what they were willing to pay me... and then my editor said, "Oh, by the way... we’d like you to use a pseudonym."
Now, it wasn’t like it was unexpected. I have an unusual first name. People mispronounce it all the time, and nobody would be able to remember how to spell it, so Google wouldn’t have any idea how to find me. (I’m going on the assumption that sooner or later, someone would have to use Google to find "those really fun DIY Home Renovation books that that woman writes... you know the ones I mean, with the cats and the hot handyman... what’s her name again?") My last name is Irish, courtesy of the love of my life, whom I married a while back, and it’s also easy to misspell. The juxtaposition of the two is interesting, to say the least. Not best-selling author material, though. At least not according to Penguin, who suggested I come up with something different.
Hence, Jennie Bentley. Bentley because it’s close to my first name and Jennie because... well, really just because I thought they sounded good together. (The runner-up, in case you were wondering, was Crafton. I had just visited Pittsburgh when the name-issue was brought up to me, and I thought Crafton would be an appropriate name for someone who writes home renovation mysteries. Someone suggested Charisma as a first name, and but for the grace of God, I might be writing this as Charisma Crafton. My editor stepped in and said that Jennie Bentley sounded more approachable, and if I’d been in New York at that time, I would have kissed her.)
So here I am, pretending to be someone named Jennie, and let me tell you, it’s freaky. People think that’s who I am. They email me, saying things like, "Hi, Jennie! I saw your profile on Crimespace," or "Jennie, I was visiting the ITW Debut Authors page, and discovered your series," or – alternatively – "Jennie has just thrown a sheep at you. Throw a sheep at Jennie!" (That’d be Facebook, in case you were wondering.) I just know that one of these days I’ll be walking across a hotel lobby somewhere, and somebody’ll yell, "Hey, Jennie, hold the elevator!" and I’ll let it shut in their face just because I don’t realize that they’re talking to me.
I know that there are benefits to using a pseudonym, and the misspelling nightmare is just one of them. Dean James’s fans no longer have to wade through pages of hits on a certain 1950s teen idol to find out about his books, and during the time Rhonda Pollero wrote her books as Kasey Roberts, it was that much harder for the recently paroled to find her. (She has a sizable fan base among the prison population, I’m told. Poor girl.) And of course there’s the reason my agent brought up: "If the series bombs, the Bookscan numbers won’t go against your name, sweetie."
Of all the excuses, that may be the best one yet.
So what about you? If you’re a writer, do you use a pseudonym? Would you choose to, if you weren’t required? Why, or why not? And if you’re not a writer, what do you think of the whole idea? Do you care what your favorite writer is named? Would you read a book, or not read it, based on the name of the author?
And while you’re at it, why don’t you help me figure out who this Jennie Bentley chick is, who has taken over my computer. Because I’m sure she isn’t me. Pretty sure. I mean... she’s not me, right?