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10 Authors Who Write Under Different Pen Names

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by Sarah Dobbs

When you see a familiar author’s name on a book cover, you probably feel confident that you know what you’re getting. Most writers have a specific style and a genre that they return to over and over again. But what if a well-known author wants to write something completely different without alerting their fans? That's where pseudonyms come in. Here are 10 authors who also wrote under other names:

1. STEPHEN KING

King has penned more than 50 novels in his career, but that collection would be smaller if his early publishers had their way. According to his official website, authors in the '70s and '80s were encouraged to release one book per year in order to avoid saturating the market. To get around that restriction, King came up with a pseudonym: Richard Bachman.

Publishing as Bachman was also a test, of sorts. King wanted to know whether the success of his 1974 work Carrie was genuinely merited by his writing or just a result of the buzz created around the movie version of the story. Unfortunately for him, the experiment didn't last long. Readers noticed the similarities, and by the time he’d written a few Bachman books, the secret was out.

2. RICHARD MATHESON

Matheson also chose to distance himself from some of his work—but in his case, it was because he took issue with what editors or filmmakers had done with his work.

When his novel I Am Legend was adapted into the 1964 movie The Last Man On Earth, Matheson was so annoyed by changes to his screenplay that he asked to be credited as Logan Swanson. He repeated the trick when Playboy Press published a heavily edited version of his story Earthbound, and also reused the pseudonym for episodes he wrote for Combat! and The Twilight Zone.

3. J.K. ROWLING

For Rowling's second book aimed at adults, she chose to submit the draft to publishers without letting on that she was the one behind it. Instead, she picked a different moniker: Robert Galbraith, a combination of Robert F. Kennedy and Ella Galbraith, a name that Rowling admits she was fascinated with as a child. She fooled some. The Cuckoo’s Calling was rejected by a few publishers, but, like King's, Rowling's identity was quickly leaked. "Being Robert Galbraith was all about the work, which is my favourite part of being a writer," Rowling writes on her site. "Now, my cover has been blown, I plan to continue to write as Robert to keep the distinction from other writing and because I rather enjoy having another persona."

4. C.S. LEWIS

C.S. Lewis is best known for the series of children’s fantasy books The Chronicles Of Narnia. But before he released those, Lewis published several volumes of poetry under the name Clive Hamilton. The first collection, Spirits In Bondagewritten by a 20-year-old Lewis who had just returned from military service, went largely ignored. His second volume of poetry, Dymer, had a similar fate, and that failure put Lewis off writing much more poetry. It might also explain why his later books were attributed to C.S. Lewis.

Later, in 1961, Lewis used another pseudonym when he wrote A Grief Observed about the death of his wife. 'N. W. Clerk' wasn’t revealed to be Lewis until after his death in 1963.

5. JOYCE CAROL OATES

In the ‘80s, award-winning author Joyce Carol Oates wrote a short, experimental novel called Lives Of The Twins, and submitted it to publishers under the name Rosamond Smith. The book was accepted, but before it was even published, her cover was blown, leaving her editors and agents confused. After all, she’d already published more than 40 books in different genres under her birth name.

A chastened Oates told the New York Times that she had just been trying to get a fresh reading from critics, and vowed never to use a pseudonym again. She soon broke her promise, publishing a total of eight books under the Rosamond Smith moniker as well as another three novels as Lauren Kelly. Eventually, it was revealed that Rosamond Smith wasn’t her first pseudonym. She’d also published several stories under the name Rae Jolene Smith.

6. ISAAC ASIMOV

When science fiction writer Isaac Asimov started writing David Starr, Space Ranger, a YA sci-fi book that was going to be turned into a TV show, he chose a new name: Paul French.

Not familiar with that show? The TV series never actually happened, but Asimov went on to write a further five books in the Lucky Starr series. Eventually, he stopped being embarrassed about them, brought in his famous Three Laws Of Robotics, and admitted Paul French and Isaac Asimov were one and the same.

7. AGATHA CHRISTIE

Agatha Christie’s name is synonymous with mystery stories—you expect murders, detectives, and red herrings from her books. So when she wanted to write something different, she picked a new name: Mary Westmacott. According to Christie, it was less to do with targeting a different demographic and more about letting herself play with a new genre. Writing mysteries was her day job; writing romances was fun. Christie wrote six novels as Westmacott and kept her cover a secret for nearly two decades.

8. DEAN KOONTZ

New York Times bestselling author Dean Koontz has admitted to writing under at least ten names. Throughout the 1970s, he published as many as eight books a year. Because his editors cautioned him against writing in different genres under the same name, he needed some alternative aliases. His alter-egos included Aaron Wolfe, Brian Coffey, David Axton, Deanna Dwyer, John Hill, K.R. Dwyer, Leigh Nichols, Anthony North, Owen West, and Richard Paige.

9. ANNE RICE

Under her own name, Anne Rice is known as the author of The Vampire Chronicles. But she has also penned works under two other names: A. N. Roquelaure, the author of four medieval erotic novels, and Anne Rampling, who wrote two erotic fiction novels.

10. MICHAEL CRICHTON

Michael Crichton is a pretty well-known name in the action/thriller/sci-fi genres, with many of his best-selling books having been turned into blockbusting movies. But when he was just starting out (and still at medical school) Crichton published his writing under pseudonyms.

Odds On, his first published novel, was attributed to John Lange; after several more books written as Lange, he published A Case Of Need under the name 'Jeffery Hudson'. The first time he actually used the name Michael Crichton was in 1969, for The Andromeda Strain. More Lange books followed, but Crichton eventually reverted to using his own name… though not before he published Dealing, a thriller co-written with his brother, under the name 'Michael Douglas'.

All images courtesy of Getty.

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Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain
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The Time the Oxford English Dictionary Forgot a Word
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain

When the complete edition of what would become the Oxford English Dictionary debuted in 1928, it was lauded as a comprehensive collection of the English language, a glossary so vast—and so thorough—that no other reference book could ever exceed its detail or depth. In total, the project took seven decades to catalogue everything from A to Z, defining a total of 414,825 words. But in the eyes of its editor James Murray, the very first volume of the dictionary was something of an embarrassment: It was missing a word.

Looking back, it’s impressive that more words were not lost. Assembling the OED was a nightmare. Before the first volume—an installment consisting of words beginning with the letters A and B—was published in 1888, multiple editors had taken (and abandoned) the helm, and each regime change created new opportunities for mayhem. When James Murray took command in 1879, the Oxford English Dictionary could best be defined by the word disarray.

The irony of making this massive reference book was that it required millions upon millions of tiny, tiny pieces of paper. Every day, volunteers mailed in thousands of small strips of paper called “quotation slips.” On these slips, volunteers would copy a single sentence from a book, in hopes that this sentence could help illuminate a particular word’s meaning. (For example, the previous sentence might be a good example of the word illuminate. Volunteers would copy that sentence and mail it to Oxford’s editors, who would review it and compare the slip to others to highlight the word illuminate.)

The process helped Oxford’s editors study all of the shades of meaning expressed by a single word, but it was also tedious and messy. With thousands of slips pouring into the OED’s offices every day, things could often go wrong.

And they did.

Some papers were stuffed haphazardly into boxes or bags, where they gathered cobwebs and were forgotten. Words beginning with Pa went missing for 12 years, only to be recovered in County Cavan, Ireland, where somebody was using the papers as kindling. Slips for the letter G were nearly burned with somebody’s trash. In 1879, the entire letter H turned up in Italy. At one point, Murray opened a bag only to find a family of live mice chewing on the paperwork.

When Murray took over, he tried to right the ship. To better organize the project, he built a small building of corrugated iron called the “Scriptorium.” It resembled a sunken tool shed, but it was here—with the help of 1029 built-in pigeonholes—that Murray and his subeditors arranged, sorted, and filed more than a thousand incoming slips every day. Millions of quotations would pass through the Scriptorium, and hundreds of thousands of words would be neatly organized by Murray’s trusty team.

One word, however, slipped through the cracks.

Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Media Specialist, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bondmaid is not the kind of word people drop during conversation anymore, and that’s for the best: It means “a slave girl.” The word was most popular in the 16th century. Murray’s file for bondmaid, however, reached back even further: It included quotations as old as William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the Bible.

But then bondmaid went missing. “Its slips had fallen down behind some books, and the editors had never noticed that it was gone,” writes Simon Winchester in The Meaning of Everything. When the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1888, bondmaid wasn’t there. (That volume of the OED does miss other words, but those exclusions were deliberate matters of editorial policy—bondmaid is the only word that the editors are known to have physically lost.)

When the slips were later rediscovered in the Scriptorium, Murray reportedly turned red with embarrassment. By 1901, some 14 years after the exclusion, he was still reeling over the mistake in a draft of a letter addressed to an anonymous contributor: “[N]ot one of the 30 people (at least) who saw the work at various stages between MS. and electrotyped pages noticed the omission. The phenomenon is absolutely inexplicable, and with our minute organization one would have said absolutely impossible; I hope also absolutely unparalleled.”

All was not lost for the lost word, however. In 1933, bondmaid made its Oxford dictionary debut. It had taken nearly five decades to make the correction.

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Rent an Incredible Harry Potter-Themed Apartment in the City Where the Series Was Born
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The Muggle city of Edinburgh has deep ties to the wizarding world of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling wrote much of the book series while living there, and there’s even a pub in Edinburgh that named itself after the author for a month. Now, fans passing through the Scottish capital have the chance to live like their favorite boy wizard. As Digital Spy reports, a Harry Potter-themed holiday home in the city’s historic district is now available to rent for around $200 (£150) a night.

Property owner Yue Gao used her own knowledge as a fan when decorating the apartment. With red and yellow accents, a four-poster bed, and floating candles adorning the wallpaper on the ceiling, the master bedroom pays tribute to both the Gryffindor dormitory and the Hogwarts Great Hall. The Hogwarts theme extends to the lounge area, where each door is painted with a different house’s colors and crest. Guests will also find design aspects inspired by the Hogwarts Express around the apartment: The second bedroom is designed to look like a sleeping car, and the front door is disguised as the brick wall at Platform 9 3/4.

Pieces of Harry Potter memorabilia Gao has picked up in her travels are hidden throughout the home, too. If visitors look closely, they’ll find several items that once belonged to Rowling herself, including the writer’s old desk.

Take a look at some of the photos of the magical interiors:

The apartment is available to rent throughout the year through canongateluxuryapartment.co.uk. And if you can tear yourself away from the residence for long enough, there are plenty of other Harry Potter-themed attractions to check out in Edinburgh during your stay.

[h/t Digital Spy]

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