is this the age of reality?

JK Rowling has yet another pseudonym. It bugged me when I first read it but I wasn't sure why.  Then I read this by Bob Mayer on Facebook: 
Utterly disgusted that JK Rowlings used a military bio for her pen name. We have a law in the US here about that called the Stolen Valor Law. I wonder if the UK has similar. Why did she need to embellish the bio of someone who didn't exist? It's an insult to every man and woman who has served in the British military. And she's giving interview joking about it.

and I realized why it was bothering me so much. They (meaning Rowling and her team) lied up a whole persona for this pseudonym:
After several years with the Royal Military Police, Robert Galbraith was attached to the SIB (Special Investigative Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who returned to the civilian world. ‘Robert Galbraith’ is a pseudonym.
In other words, this bio gives her attributes, experience, and inspirations that she didn't have, including the experience of being a man. Because we all know only men can write decent mysteries. Unless you're PD James. Or Agatha Christie. Or any of these women.  Even so, certainly no self-respecting male reader is going to read a mystery by a dumb girl, even a girl who wrote one of the best selling series of all time. But really, it's not even the sex-change that bugs me so much.

Rowling's manufactured history for her pseudonym has broken an unspoken contract between authors and readers; not one authors have asked for, but one we have nonetheless--one of friendship and honesty and a degree of openness. And in this "new era", I wonder that the pseudonym's time for demise may have come. Jo Rowlings and her "team", in all their marketing wisdom, may well have just pushed that time along.

The Internet Age, which should be called the Exposure Age, has brought the world closer to itself. Expectation from fandom is changing. Readers like to know their favorite authors. They friend us on Facebook and chat to us on Twitter. (I sure as hell squee over my favorite authors when they friend me! Don't you?) Readers like to know some of the stuff that makes writers tick, the stuff that makes us write the books we do. Do we embellish ourselves sometimes online and in person to make us more interesting? Sure. Does that give us a right to use well-crafted lies in a bio and a knifeless sex-change operation to give us the street cred to tell and selll our tales? Resoundingly, hell no.*

Rowling's "persona" could foster mistrust between readers and authors, especially on the heels of the sock puppet scandal and ongoing issues with Amazon reviews, an act like this could make readers think writers will do and say anything to part them from their cash.

We already lie for a living. Unfortunately, I guess some writers don't see it as too much of a leap to do it for realz.

* As an aside, this bothers me too. No one is more uniquely qualified to tell the story you want to tell than you.  We lose sight of that, man, we lose sight of art.


Veronica Roland said...

I thought the story said that the publishing house/editor wrote the bio.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Yeah, but she's JK ROWLING! I'm sorry, she had final approval or should have. No way is she not complicit.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU. I said this somewhere else, and people were quite dismissive of my thoughts ("if an author bio said Santa Claus had written the book, would you believe THAT?"). Whether she or her publishing house came up with this BRILLIANT idea, it doesn't sit well with me. I hate that female authors still feel like they have to use their initials or a man's name to be taken seriously. And then there's the outright lie about this being based on someone's actual experiences? Just... yeah, it feels far more dishonest than a regular pseudonym.

Stuart Neville said...

I have to respectfully disagree on this. The idea of the pseudonym is so well established within literature - dating back centuries, in fact - I doubt if many would regard it as a form of deception, no more than an actor or singer using a stage name. And it's not as if this is without precedent; remember it took several years for, I think, a bookstore clerk to identify Stephen King as the writer behind successful-in-their-own-right Richard Bachman books.

Do we question authors like Lee Child, George Orwell, Mark Twain and dozens more? Should we be bothered by artists like David Bowie or various members of Kiss pretending to be from other worlds?

There might be a valid argument regarding the fabricated bio, but only insofar as you're uncomfortable with the specifics of a history of military service. Personally, that doesn't bother me. The flip side of this might be John Le Carre, nee David Cornwell, who kept his true life experience as a member of the British secret service buried for much of his career as a writer. I can also cite Andy McNab.

One could be cynical and dismiss this as a publicity stunt, but I'm prepared to give Rowling the benefit of the doubt and believe that she genuinely wanted the book to stand on its own without the baggage and expectation her name carries. And I don't think the sexism argument stands up. Why would she pose as a man to boost sales when her own identity would send them through the roof? The mystery market has a healthy representation of women writers; there are biases within the subgenres - thriller leans towards men, cosy towards women, for example - so I really don't buy that as a valid criticism.

As I've said elsewhere in response to specific tweets, the sockpuppet comparison isn't valid. It might be if Rowling had blurbed or reviewed herself, but she hasn't, so it isn't.

Anyway, that's my take on the whole thing. I think there are greater problems in publishing to worry about.

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Well, I didn't actually compare it to sock puppets to this. I don't think they are comparable. And yes there are bigger problems in the industry, doubtless.

But it left a bad taste in my mouth and this is why. Maybe it's just a personal thing; maybe it has more to do with me and how I'd like to run my career (remember, I have a pseudonym of my own) but in any case, it's how I feel.

And there's no question males sell more books, especially in the thriller/mystery genre. Look at the names listed here, for example. If she is coming out anonymously, as she did here, then why not choose a female pseudonym? Because it's not nearly as effective, unfortunately. There's all sorts of evidence around that--I was told early on by several people to release my fantasy under a male name in GB if I wanted to sell many copies.

In any case she's selling like gangbusters now so what I think really doesn't matter. I'm quite surprised at the attacks I've gotten for saying my thoughts out loud (not from you, Stuart, but others online).

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Oh, and I give her intention the benefit of the doubt. But how she went about it... not so much. Don't like outright lies in bios. Why not just say nothing, as I've said before in other places?