Sunday, August 17, 2008

What's in a Name by Jennie Bentley

But for the grace of God (and my editor), I could be writing this as Charisma Crafton.

No, I’m not kidding.

It all started when I began negotiating with my editor at Berkley Prime Crime about generating a series of cozies for them. (The first, FATAL FIXER-UPPER, will be released November 4th. It’s about a home renovator, and it has those cutesy tips for Do-It-Yourself projects in the back. It also has two cats, a hot handyman, scheming relatives, missing heirlooms, and a few dead bodies. But more about that later.)

We had established that I was qualified to write the books (I’ve owned eight houses in the past eight years, and renovated all of them), that I wanted to write the books (there are worse ways to break into publishing than accepting a multi-book contract from Penguin), and that I was willing to write the books for what they were willing to pay me (the less said about that, the better)... and then my editor said, “Oh, by the way... we’d like you to use a pseudonym.”


Now, it wasn’t like it was unexpected. I have an unusual first name. People mispronounce it all the time, and nobody would be able to remember how to spell it, so Google wouldn’t have any idea how to find me. (I’m going on the assumption that sooner or later, someone would have to use Google to find “those really fun DIY Home Renovation books that that woman writes... you know the ones I mean, with the cats and the hot handyman... what’s her name again?”) My last name is Irish, courtesy of the love of my life, and it’s also easy to misspell. The juxtaposition of the two is interesting, to say the least. Not best-selling author material, though. At least not according to Berkley, who suggested I come up with something different.

And so the hunt was on. For the next few days, I invented various combinations of Bentley, Benton, and Bennett, both because they’re somewhat close to my real name, and because they come early in the alphabet, which I was told is a benefit when choosing a pseudonym. I also toyed with names I thought sounded appropriate for a writer of home renovation mysteries. Carpenter was one of them, as was Crafton. (Crafton’s a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, FYI. I’d just been there for a visit. It seemed like a good choice. In addition to the fact that it, also, comes early in the alphabet.) When I ran the various possibilities past my agent, someone in her office remembered that there’s an actress named Charisma Carpenter. “Why not,” this person suggested, “be Charisma Crafton?”

Cooler heads prevailed, I’m happy to say. My editor very diplomatically suggested I go with something friendlier and more approachable, and if I’d been in New York at the time, I would have kissed her.

So I became Jennie Bentley instead. It’s a better fit, I think. The idea of introducing myself to someone – anyone – as Charisma is more than I can bear. I couldn’t do with a straight face.

So what about you? If you’re a writer, do you use a pseudonym in your writing? Would you choose to, if you weren’t required? Why, or why not? And if you’re not a writer, what do you think of the whole idea? Do you care what your favorite author is named? Would you read a book, or not read it, based on the name of the writer? And finally, just because it sounds like fun, if you had to come up with a pseudonym for yourself, what would it be?

Bente Gallagher is the author of the Do-It-Yourself Home Renovation mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. Jennie Bentley gets all the credit. You can visit both of them at

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