A stranger in fiction

Galbraith writes mysteries while being the subject of one

HOW ARE YOUR Literary Chops?

Test them out by matching these authors with their pen names. Answers below.

Pen Name

1. Richard Bachman

2. J.D. Robb

3. Anne Rampling

4. Robert Galbraith

5. Ali Knight

6. Nicci French

7. Robert Jordan

8. Sapphire

9. Stan Lee

10. George Orwell

11. Ayn Rand

12. Mary Westmacott

13. Lewis Carroll

14. John Lange

15. Mark Twain

Real Name

A. Agatha Christie

B. Charles Lutwidge

C. Nicci Gerrard &
Sean French

D. Samuel Clemens

E. Eric Arthur Blair

F.  Anne Rice

G. Michael Crichton

H. J.K. Rowling

I. Alisa Zinov’yevna

J. Stephen King

K. Alison Potter

L. Ramona Lofton

M. Nora Roberts

N. James Oliver Rigney, Jr.

O. Stanley Martin Lieber

Whodunit? That’s the question readers love to answer. But in the case of The Cuckoo’s Calling, a mystery novel released last year to strong reviews and slow sales, a better question might have been, “Who wrote it?”

Still publishing under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, J.K. Rowling has written a follow-up novel to The Cuckoo’s Calling. In The Silkworm, which hits shelves today, Cormoran Strike investigates the disappearance of a novelist in possession of a damaging manuscript.

Readers eager to get their hands on a copy will probably need to visit a brick-and-mortar bookstore; a dispute between Amazon and the publisher resulted in the online store banning pre-orders of the book. The ban could hurt the book’s best-seller chances, but the novel’s potential success isn’t the only non-literary mystery hovering over the new book.

Although readers learned Galbraith’s true identity last summer, the question remains: Why would one of the most recognizable names in the publishing world use a pseudonym?

In an FAQ posted on the Robert Galbraith website, Rowling explained why she chose to publish the Cormoran Strike series using a pen name. She “was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre.” She went on to say she “enjoyed a long period of writing and researching without pressure or expectation, and it was wonderful to receive feedback from publishers, reviewers and readers under a different name.”

Barri Bumgarner, a Columbia-based author, can relate to the expectations   that come with being an established author. “There’s a constant pressure to follow up on characters and books,” Bumgarner says. “Every time you see people who really love your books, they are like, ‘When’s the next one; why   aren’t you writing?’ I probably get 100 emails a week.”

Bumgarner’s three published novels include 8 Days and Slipping, both thrillers, and Dregs, a YA novel. Once readers come to know a writer for working within a certain genre, it can be difficult for the author to break away and write something different. Bumgarner experienced this in her own career when her publisher was hesitant to produce Dregs after two thriller novels.

“I said, ‘I really want to publish a young adult now,’” Bumgarner says. “I find if you’re a good writer, people want to read your stuff.”

Rowling’s gender also might have contributed to biased feedback had she chosen to use her own name. “When my publisher met me after they had already published me, they admitted they were surprised because men dominate this industry,” Bumgarner says. “It shows the gender bias because women write romantic, frolicky, fun books, but men write the more thriller, mystery stuff.”

In the FAQ, Rowling expressed pleasure that one of the first things her editor said after her identity was revealed was, “‘I never would have thought a woman wrote that.’” Rowling wrote, “Apparently, I had successfully channeled my inner bloke!” In the predominately male thriller genre, it seems even Rowling found it necessary to present her first work in the genre as a man’s.

As a mystery writer, Bumgarner believes Rowling’s use of the pen name made an important point about the industry’s — and perhaps readers’ — bias toward male-written thriller novels.

“I think she raised a lot of awareness and proved her point because she got published because her writing was good enough, and that’s all that should matter,” Bumgarner says. “She proved that good writing should get published whether you are male or female based on the merit of your story.”

Quiz answers:

1. J, 2. M, 3. F, 4. H, 5. K, 6. C, 7. N, 8. L, 9. O, 10. E, 11. I, 12. A, 13. B, 14. G, 15. D