Pen Names

When I handed in my manuscript of Spartacus: Swords & Ashes, I decided to call myself J.M. Clements. I thought it would be a smart move to stop Amazon spamming everybody who’d bought one of my non-fiction books and expecting them to like my fiction, too. I mean, they might. But I figured Spartacus is for Spartacus fans, and my name on the cover shouldn’t influence them one way or the other.

“It’s pretty obvious who you are,” sniffed the Editrix. “It’s about as likely to fool the public as Iain ‘M’ Banks.”

“I know,” I said. “And I’m proud of the book. I’m just trying to keep fact and fiction in separate areas. I hate it when some douche on Library Thing decides I shouldn’t be allowed to write about one subject because he thinks I can only write about something else.”

“That’s stupid,” said the Editrix. “That never happens.”

“It always happens!” I protested. “And they’ve got a particular hard-on for people who switch between fact and fiction, which people often do if they write for a living. I dread to imagine what these one-track people are like in real life, as if they don’t think it’s possible to be a father and an insurance salesman, or a Saturday footballer and a chef. They probably have conniptions if they have to do two things at once. Then they review themselves and say: ‘I cannot possibly walk and chew gum, for those activities are mutually exclusive. Worst gum-chewing walk evarrr.’”

“You are over-reacting,” said the Editrix.

“If they ran the world,” I ranted, “they’d say Neil Gaiman could only write about Duran Duran. Lynda la Plante would be good for nothing but Rentaghost. Robert Silverberg could only write popular history. And Tolkien can piss right off and stick to Anglo-Saxon etymology.”

“All right,” sighed the Editrix. “Have it your way.”

The next day, the Editrix was back.

“The distributors want to know about the other things you’ve written,” she said. “It’s so they can tell booksellers how brilliant you are.”

“But won’t that make it really obvious who I am?” I said.

“Yes, probably,” she said, without pause or apology.

So I told her about The Destroyer of Delights, which was a Doctor Who audio I was very pleased with, which had a recurring subtext about the nature of slavery. And since there were lots of fights in it, I thought that my Highlander story Secret of the Sword, was probably worth a mention. I decided it probably wasn’t worth bringing up the biography I once wrote of the president of Finland. He doesn’t crop up much in Spartacus.

A day later, the Editrix was back again.

“The distributors want to know where you live,” she said.

“Jupiter’s cock! Why!?”

“They like it. Their sales people like being able to say, ‘he’s a local boy’, to a bookseller near you.”

“But isn’t it more productive if everybody thinks I am a local boy?”

“Do not question the House of Random!”

“All right, all right.” So I told her where I lived. It felt a little bit like I was handing over my bank details to a Nigerian prince.

All of which meant was that by the time Spartacus: Swords & Ashes was up on Amazon, some bright spark had already worked out precisely who I was, and it was listed with all my other books. My attempt to carefully separate my fact and fiction had failed again.

“I’ve got a translation of The Art of War coming out in the summer,” I protested. “But shelvers at book-stores are going to look me up online and order their copies on the basis of the sales of this novel, which is full of sword-fights, swearing, rape and adverbs. It will be the most heavily over-ordered classical text in living memory.”

“You say that,” said the Editrix, “like it’s a bad thing.”

J.M. Clements is the author of Spartacus: Swords & Ashes, available now in paperback and on Kindle. He has written a few other things, too.

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6 thoughts on “Pen Names

  1. I wonder if this makes Spartacus your ‘first fifteen minutes’ as it were…

    Though hopefully by couching it in those terms, I’m not seeling the rest of your body of work short (as I’ve enjoyed all I’ve read so far)

  2. Oh, not what I meant… It was more an allusion to one of your articles about a certain Korean anime that exploited a certain licensing companies tendency to only watch the first fifteen minutes o a show before getting out the checkbook.

    Sorry, I’m afraid I have a weird sense of humour.

  3. Well look at it this way,
    Roald Dahl wrote my favourite childrens books and the screenplay for my favourite Bond film
    David Hayter voice actor for dozens of roles including Captain America, Solid Snake, and actor behind Power Rangers for grownups Guyver also wrote the X-Men movie screenplay and the only version of the Watchmen screenplay Alan Moore actually approved of.
    What you’re known for doing is not all you do.

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