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5 Writers with Gender-Bending Pseudonyms

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When Penguin handed Dean James a three book contract for his Cat in the Stacks mystery series, it came with one condition: He’d have to get a sex change.

Okay, not really. But to connect with the traditional mystery genre’s primarily female fan base, the publisher decided that James should adopt a female pseudonym; he chose Miranda James. For a previous mystery series he’d taken the androgynous nom de plume Jimmie Ruth Evans. “I picked Evans so it would get me on the shelf next to Janet Evanovich,” he remembers.

Miranda James has found commercial success that eluded Dean James and Jimmie Ruth Evans: a string of New York Times bestsellers and an upcoming spinoff series.

Here are five famous writers who, mostly for marketing reasons, changed genders for their bylines and book covers.

1. Ann Rule

Ann Rule is probably the bestselling true crime writer in history, but when she began reporting on murders for pulp magazines in the late 1960s, it was still a field dominated by men—so she wrote as Andy Stack at the request of her editor.

When The Stranger Beside Me—the book about her friendship with Ted Bundy and the realization that he was a serial killer—became a runaway bestseller under her own name, her name alone seemed destined to make the next few books she already had contracts for instant bestsellers.

But she stayed with Andy Stack. “The Stranger Beside Me was doing very well, so my agent said that these books got such small advances I should not put my name on them,” she later explained. “I stayed with 'Andy Stack,' but after a while I put them under my real name and they sold much better."

2. Ben Franklin

When this founding father wanted to draw attention to the injustice of women taking all the blame for children born out of wedlock, he published "The Speech of Polly Baker" in the April 1747 issue of The Gentleman's Magazine. He also wrote a gossip column under the name Alice Addertongue and he wrote letters to The American Weekly Mercury under the names Caelia Shortface and Martha Careful.

3. L. Frank Baum

Lyman Frank Baum is most famous for his Wizard of Oz series. But when he wanted to sell stories aimed at young girls, he was perfectly happy to adopt a female persona, and he used three: Edith Van Dyne, Laura Bancroft, and Suzanne Metcalf.

4. Bob Rogers

This married man found his calling writing romance novels—a genre read almost exclusively by women, few of whom are interested in reading stories by men. So he’s written 24 novels as a woman, mostly using the name Jean Barrett. How many other popular romance writers are secretly men? We may never know, because if they told us, their sales would plummet.

5. Lawrence Block

Block, most famous for his Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr crime novels, has had a career that’s spanned seven decades and he’s used a few names over that period: William Ard, Ben Christopher, Lee Duncan, Chip Harrison, Paul Kavanagh, Sheldon Lord, Andrew Shaw, B.L. Lawrence, John Warren Wells, and two women: Jill Emerson (he used that one for lesbian novels) and Anne Campbell Clarke. Block, who got his start writing pornographic material, once explained it this way: “Sometimes I used pen names because I was being cute ... But most of the pseudonymous books bore pen names because the work on which they appeared was generically second–rate.”

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Kyle Ely
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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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How the Rise of Paperback Books Turned To Kill a Mockingbird Into a Literary Classic
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If you went to middle or high school in the U.S. in the last few decades, chances are you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's now-classic novel (which was adapted into a now-classic film) about racial injustice in the South. Even if you grew up far-removed from Jim Crow laws, you probably still understand its significance; in 2006, British librarians voted it the one book every adult should read before they die. And yet the novel, while considered an instant success, wasn’t always destined for its immense fame, as we learned from the Vox video series Overrated. In fact, its status in the American literary canon has a lot to do with the format in which it was printed.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in paperback at a time when literary houses were just starting to invest in the format. After its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was reviewed favorably in The New York Times, but it wasn’t the bestselling novel that year. It was the evolution of paperbacks that helped put it into more hands.

Prior to the 1960s, paperbacks were often kind of trashy, and when literary novels were published in the format, they still featured what Vox calls “sexy covers,” like a softcover edition of The Great Gatsby that featured a shirtless Jay Gatsby on the cover. According to a 1961 article in The New York Times, back in the 1950s, paperbacks were described as “a showcase for the ‘three S’s—sex, sadism, and the smoking gun.’” But then, paperbacks came to schools.

The mass-market paperback for To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1962. It was cheap, but had stellar credentials, which appealed to teachers. It was a popular, well-reviewed book that earned Lee the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, it was in virtually every school and, even half a century later, it still is.

Learn the whole story in the video below from Vox.

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