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By A Name I Know Not How to Tell You Who I Am

Photobucket [1]I am reading the galleys for my next book, THE LOST RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS [2], which (finally) has a firm release date of December 30, 2008. It’s been a long time arriving in stores—the book was finished over a year ago, but everyone involved (agent, editor, publisher, self) feel that is it a special, magical book, and we wanted to make sure it had the attention and launch it deserves. That meant a number of changes (publisher, imprint, editor) and waiting for the right moment to bring it out. It will be a part of the Bantam Discovery program [3], which is a line devoted to showcasing writers who haven’t yet been noticed in a big way. Some are debut authors, such as Sarah Addison Allen (the utterly wonderful Garden Spells [4]). Others have been published awhile, but haven’t yet attracted the audience they deserve, as with Jonathan Tropper [5], a man who writes beautiful stuff about life and relationships.

The Lost Recipe for Happiness will be the January book, and it will be released under a new name, Barbara O’Neal. There was a lot of discussion over whether to do this—the book has a strong thread of magic realism, but that wouldn’t throw my core readers all that much. Magic realism has appeared in my work many times—in the roses and spells of the grandmother in A Piece of Heaven [6]; in the ghost of Lucille in Goddess of Kitchen Avenue [7], in the bond between twins in Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas [8]. Magic realism has been a thread in my work from the earliest days as a category romance writer—legend meeting love, hints of the magic of an old woman’s story, reincarnation, ghosts, saints All sorts of things. Lost Recipe is just takes that thread and moves it forward one (giant) step.

There were a couple of good reasons to stick with the Barbara Samuel name, too. I’ve won awards. A lot of them, honestly. And I’ve been very positively reviewed, for the most part, in publications across the country. Within Romance Writers of America, I have a good reputation, and I have gained visibility as a teacher.

And yet, all the way through the writing of Lost Recipe, the possibility of publishing it under a new name stuck with me. Maybe my thoughts will help some of you decide if/where/when to take a pseudonym.

As a writer, I’ve always been quite restless, moving between non-fiction, articles, essays, and straight journalism to category romances set in the west, to dark, sweeping medieval romances to “straight” women’s fiction.

Now, here I must admit to a rather checkered name life. I’m a child of the seventies, and it shows in my erratic youth, so I must confess to a brief marriage to a beautiful young man. We were too young and drove each other crazy, but I enrolled in college as Barbara Larsen, so as a young journalist, that was the name I published under.

When I began to sell romances, Harlequin/Silhouette still required all writers to take a pseudonym, and I chose Ruth Wind. (At the time, I am ashamed to say, there was still an archaic idea that one should hide the fact that we wrote category romances at all, preserving our real names for the “real” work that would surely come later.) A few years later, I expanded into historical romance. By then, I was happily remarried and had a couple of little boys and I gladly published those books as Barbara Samuel. My “real” name. I considered publishing everything Ruth Wind, but the books were so very different that I realized that they would appeal to quite different sorts of readers. (An assumption that proved true, by the way. Rarely did my readers cross over between category and historical romances.) Publishing the historicals under a new name would help brand them more clearly. If there were readers who loved both kinds of romances, they would easily be able to find out what other names I used.

When I sold my first single title novels, to Harper Collins, it began to get a little tricky. The first book, In the Midnight Rain [9], is an atmospheric tale of music and redemption and love, and it seemed obvious that it was an extension of the work I was doing as Ruth Wind, so that’s where it was published.

When I wrote the second book (which became No Place Like Home [10]), there was a huge amount of support to take it into hardcover. The feeling was that everyone would be more comfortable with me writing under my “real” name. With some reservations—Ruth Wind had begun to develop a fair amount of name recognition—I agreed. It’s an old-fashioned sounding name, after all, and as I undertook the challenge of bigger books, I didn’t really have time to write historicals or category romance.

(That didn’t last all that long, honestly. I’m a fast writer, a restless writer, and no matter how many slings and arrows are flung at the category romance, I absolutely love to write it sometimes, and I found myself sliding one in now and then, reviving Ruth Wind to play with things Barbara Samuel might not be allowed to do. I still published some historical/paranormal novellas as Samuel, and that was fine with everyone. )

But fast forward seven years. I’ve been divorced for more than five years and my main work is headed into territory that’s quite a bit different from the tales of young love where I began. Some aspects of the work are very dark, and there’s that emerging magic realism. Some romance readers, following me from my roots, are furious or desperately unhappy about books that might portray a heroine who lost a child because she was a drunk, or a husband who is living with another woman through 90% of the book.

I wrote The Lost Recipe in its entirety because I knew it was taking me into a new place. Everyone agreed. We also agreed that Barbara Samuel, as a brand name, was quite muddied. It was muddied from my end because it was a name from a marriage I’d outgrown, and muddied from a professional aspect because I was on the computers and databases as writing historical romances, paranormal novellas, and women’s fiction. (Paranormal is not the same thing as magic realism, and that’s a muddy point right there.) It is also a sad truth that the mainstream review world still views anyone with romance roots as highly suspicious.

With The Lost Recipe For Happiness, the time seemed right to offer a new brand. To that end, I chose to take a new name, O’Neal, which is a family name I embrace with deep pride—my beloved grandmother’s name, my mother’s name, my uncle’s name. As a child, it was the name I always said I would take for my writing, and there is a deep power in that, too.

This move gives me a lot more freedom. Barbara Samuel can play with urban fantasy and dragons or even historical romance. Ruth can handle straight romances. And we all live happily as one writer with many guises, leaving readers free to make their choice of brand, too.

When you discover an author has a pseudonym, do you seek out the other names? Are you comfortable with the practice of multiple names? Do you plan to write under a pseudonym?

About Barbara O'Neal [11]

Barbara O'Neal [12] has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life [13], which landed her in the RWA Hall of Fame and was a Target Club Pick. She is a highly respected teacher who also publishes material for writers at Patreon.com/barbaraoneal. She is at work on her next novel to be published by Lake Union in July. A complete backlist is available here [14].