Because sales of my last few books have been less than astronomical, my agent and publisher have advised me to start fresh and write under a pen name. A pseudonym, a nom de plume. An alias. Whatever you call it, it means the same thing.
I’ve told myself it isn’t a big deal. Sam Clemens was Mark Twain. Liars Club’s Jon McGoran is D.H. Dublin. Lots of writers use false names.
And, in fact, I’ve already gone by lots of titles. My birth certificate says Merry Deborah Bloch. When I was little, I was called Deedles. Which evolved into Dee Dee. But in school, they called me Merry. When I grew up and married, I became Merry Deborah Bloch Valik. Married a second time and became Merry Deborah Bloch Jones. Some still call me Dee Dee; others Merry. My sister calls me Boo.
With all those names, adding another shouldn’t matter.
But somehow, it feels like I’m entering the Witness Protection Program. Hiding my real identity. Not telling bookstores who REALLY wrote the book. Manufacturing a false persona for marketing purposes. Going undercover, whether paper or hard.
Fine. It’s business. I shouldn’t be bothered about using a false name, as long as the contract, copyright and royalty checks–please let there be some–say, “Merry Jones.”
But how to choose a name? Naming the children and dogs was hard enough. We went through book after book of names, listed those of ancestors and friends and people we admired. Finally, some days after our daughters were born, we decided on names that seemed to fit them. Same with the dogs. We brought them home, got to know them, then dubbed them Sam and Jack.
But naming myself is different. I don’t know what “fits” me. Haven’t secretly longed to be Augusta or Elizabeth, Helen or Celeste. Have simply accepted the six or eight names or nine I’ve already been given.
I begin listing names that have meaning. Judith Herman—combining my parents’ names. Janet Aaron—combining my siblings’. Sarah Albert—combining my grandparents’. Deirdre Bogarth—my college alter ego. Nothing feels right.
I look in the mirror to see if I look like a certain name. Nope. I pore over baby books. Nothing. Names are just—names. Nothing I can relate to as my own. Well, obviously not. They aren’t my own. I have to change my attitude: I’m not actually naming a real person. I’m naming a character, like the ones in my books.
The name isn’t for me, but for an image I’m creating. A fresh product, a new and improved brand. Accordingly, it has to have a certain panache. Has to sound authorial. Not too affected, yet not too common. Appealing and easy to remember, yet distinctive and musical.
I consider recognition and shelf-placement factors. Maybe I should be Jane Patterson, Stephenie King, Joan Grisham. No, no and no. Then, suddenly, I realize I’ve chosen names a long time ago, only not for myself. I lift two from my daughters, mushing one’s middle name with the other’s first, and come up with (drum roll): Meredith Bailey.
Meredith Bailey. It has a nice enough rhythm. My original initials, too.
Down the road, if someone calls out, “Meredith!” or “Ms. Bailey!” I doubt I’ll respond. Probably, I won’t realize they’re calling to me. The name isn’t mine, never will be. But then, what name is mine? Bloch? Valik? Jones? Deedles? Dee Dee? Boo? Merry? Deborah? Meredith? Bailey? Does it matter? I’m the same person whichever one you choose, so call me what you want.
Just not late for dinner.
Merry Jones, aka Meredith Bailey, will have a new mystery out in summer, 2011. As Jones, she is the author of eleven books, including the Zoe Hayes mystery series (The Nanny Murders, The River Killings, The Deadly Neighbors, The Borrowed and Blue Murders), humor books, including I Love Him, But…, and non-fiction, including Birthmothers: Women who relinquished babies for adoption tell their stories.