I documented my pseudonym-related dilemma a few days ago. Since then, I’ve been using my free time (and some writing time, shamefully enough) to go hunting for cool pseudonyms on the internet. I found the regular suspects, of course: the Bronte sisters writing under the name ‘Bell’, Mary Ann Evans as George Eliot, Stephen King as Richard Bachman, Agatha Christie as Mary Westmacott, and a few others.
Women writing as men is not that uncommon, because at any time before 1950 at virtually any place in the world, if you were a woman and wished to publish a book, the easiest way was to pretend to be a man. But here are a few men who wrote during their careers as women.
Mrs Silence Dogood (Benjamin Franklin)
What do you do when your own elder brother runs a printing shop for a respectable newspaper and refuses to ever print your stuff? You take on the persona of a middle-aged widow and try again. In his sixteenth year, tired of his brother’s rejections of his writing, Benjamin Franklin created Silence Dogood and wrote letters in her name that were published fifteen times in The New-England Courant before his brother caught on. By then, though, Mrs Dogood was popular enough to get marriage proposals from single male readers.
Jennifer Wilde (Tom E Huff)
In the romance genre, the rules for writers get flipped. Your chances of getting noticed actually go up if you write as a woman. Tom E Huff, a best-selling American author, discovered this when his first historical romance novel written as Jennifer Wilde, Love’s Tender Fury, had forty-one printings in its first five years. He also wrote gothic novels (another genre with staple female leads) under the names Edwina Barlow, Beatrice Parker and Katherine St. Clair. In the tradition of Bollywood and Bachelorette, most of his books featured multiple male protagonists wooing the main female character, and it has been said about his work that ‘the man who first captures the heroine’s heart is not always the one who ends up with it.’
Sue Denim (Dav Pilkey)
Best known for his Captain Underpants series of children’s books, Dav Pilkey wrote four ‘Dumb Bunnies’ books as Sue Denim (pseu-donym. Get it?) These books are loaded with parodies and puns, and are quite a riot to read even for adults. What’s not to like about a family of bunnies who pride themselves on doing everything in reverse (‘Is it raining? Perfect day to go to the beach!’)?
Madeleine Brent (Peter O’Donnell)
Known for his Modesty Blaise cartoon strip and mystery novel series, Peter O’Donnell was lured into writing a gothic romance in 1969 for Souvenir Press. He created Madeleine Brent (who shares initials with Modesty Blaise) and scribbled the first four chapters or so of a novel as an experiment, expecting never to hear word of it again. But Tregaron’s Daughter was not just published, but also went on to become such a success that O’Donnell wrote eight more novels under the same name. His publisher would not learn of Madeleine’s true identity until twenty years later. To keep up the deceit, O’Donnell got his wife to sign all his outgoing letters.
Penelope Ashe (various)
In 1969, an American novel called Naked Came the Stranger hit the stands. It told the story of the sexual escapades of Gillian, a radio show host, as she has affair after affair with different men in her neighbourhood to get back at her cheating husband. It became a bestseller, selling 20,000 copies in a few months. But then came the big reveal. Penelope Ashe, the ‘author’ on the cover, turned out to be not a single person but a group of journalists – most of them male – who published the book as a social experiement on the debasement of American culture, where sex-based, vacant books were becoming bestsellers. It was Newsday columnist Mike McGrady’s brainchild. Needless to say, soon after the myth was busted, sales of the book soared even higher.
Know more men who wrote as women, or women who wrote as men? Share your thoughts below.
Image courtesy: Mask in the Void