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This is my old blog, which I no longer update. Feel free to browse around old posts and such, but the much more recent version of my ramblings are to be found at MarilynAnneCampbell.com

Monday, February 12, 2007

Questioning Initial Assumptions

P.D. James
E.B. White
A.A. Milne
T.S. Eliot

Not too long ago I had to reconsider what name to write under. I Googled myself and discovered a published romance writer who's already snatched up the moniker I use in daily life. For a brief time I was going to boil myself down to initials, but instead my submissions of late have expanded to include my middle name. It makes for a long line of text, but it feels more like me. A recent trip to the movies however has got me second-guessing the decision.

I already wrote how impressed I was with
Children of Men
. After watching the film I looked up the author whose novel the screenplay was based on -- the first name on the list above. I assumed, wrongly, that P.D. James was a man. In fact of the list above, the only author whose sex I have always been correct about was Mr. T.S. Eliot.

The most embarrassing of the mistakes was with E.B. White, who provided a landmark in my development as a reader. After Charlotte's Web I made my first request for any more books written by the same person, crossing over into the realm of having a "favourite author" -- a favourite author who I thought was a woman for the ensuing decade or so.

My understanding though is that in some cases that's what an author who goes by their initials wants -- to obscure their sex and thus allow readers to make whatever assumption they're more comfortable with. Would Harry Potter have been as big a hit with the boys if it was written by Joanne Rowling? Or would Charlotte's Web itself have been so warmly received if it was written by an Elwyn or the so nicknamed Andy White?

I'd like to think the answer is yes. I'd like to think that books and films and everything else succeed on their quality and content rather than the sex -- or any other particular quality -- of the person behind them. I'd like to think that, but I'm not sure I do. There is a great number of people, scholars especially, who treat the author's background as having the utmost importance. I've never gotten behind that kind of scholarship, but then I can't even be sure how my own opinions as a reader were influenced by the kind of assumptions I've made in the past.

So now I find myself reconsidering my decision. So many wonderful writers have, intentionally or no, pushed thier own identity that little bit further back and left the work itself closer to the forefront. I wonder if I wouldn't be better off doing the same.


P. S. Of course, the 54,000 Google hits on that version of my name suggests a whole new problem with that plan. *sigh* It's too bad I so love my incredibly popular surname.

3 comments:

  1. Great post! I've wondered about that, myself -- whether to use only my initials as my byline. Ultimately though I decided to go with my real name -- heck, it's such an odd name that it strikes people as non-gender specific, LOL!

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  2. P.D. James is a woman? I had no clue.
    Much as I like the sounds of initials on a cover, I'd go with my name. I thought it clearly demarked me as female until one day almost 20 years ago when I found a fellow working in a shoe store who had my first name.

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  3. Thanks Thomma Lyn. :)

    Why, you've got such a wonderful name for writing, I highly doubt you'll ever run into a problem with needing to distinguish yourself from another author!

    Leah, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who didn't know about P.D. James. And I'm with you - I would have always assumed your first name was only used by women, but then my track record on getting these things right appears to be spotty at best. :)

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