Thursday, June 11, 2009

By any other name...

I just learned that one of my more recent favorite authors is, in fact, fictitious. At least, her name and persona are; the actual person exists. Kim Harrison, author of the urban fantasy Hollows series that I follow, recently outed herself as Dawn Cook, a romance/fantasy author. This relationship had been suspected by many, but the question was studiously avoided. In this discussion at Locus (gotta pay for the whole thing, sorry), Cook discusses some of what goes into the creation of the Harrison persona, including a distinctively "dark" wardrobe and wig.

Now, I am by no means decrying the author for their choice to use a different name to promote different works. Established authors do that all the time when they want to move in a different direction. I am saddened a bit in that I liked the Kim Harrison persona. I can see why it was created; lots writers in the urban fantasy genre are offbeat in dress or personality. "Harrison" straddled those conventions rather well; I had put her falling somewhere between the outdated geek-polymath skills of Jim Butcher and the batshit insanity that is Laurell K. Hamilton. It was interesting enough to make me want to know more, without being off-putting. I knew people who were similar in tone and dress. I know people like Hamilton, too, but I don't associate with them. They weird me out, and frankly, that's hard to do.

That said, having learned a while back that Harrison lived relatively close by (in West Virginia Terms, not North Carolina terms;it boils down to "less than a couple of hours away") I had hoped to meet her at a book signing or some such, as Coralius and Aradia recently did. While that still holds some appeal, there's not as much. I have to look at it now with some wistfulness, because the author I liked is now an idea, and not a person. To phrase this vague disappointment in other terms, "There's no 'there' there."

I don't know why a nom de plume should bug me so much. It's a common convention, especially when an author is trying to keep from having preconceptions color work that goes in a different direction. I don't know how often a persona is created around a name, though. That may be it. I want people I'm interested in (even from a distance) to be real. I guess that's what separates a pseudonym from a nom de plume in my mind; the pseudonym is the same person, hiding a real name. A person using a nom de plume like this has a real name; they are a separate person from the idea they have created. That's not to say pseudonymity can't affect personality. I'm far more open and confident behind my 'nym; snarkier, too, per the John Gabriel Theory. However, those are all just factors of who I was to begin with -- I just let them out more publicly when I'm "Ranson". Since I don't know whether or not this may be just as true for the Harrison persona that Cook developed, it really shouldn't affect me.


I'm still disappointed just a little, though.


Coralius said...

Umm, I never met Kim Harrison/Dawn Cook. It would have been nice, though.

Now, I have to disagree with your thoughts on the difference between a nom de plume and a pseudonym.

The only interaction we have with Kim Harrison is through her writings, barring the occasional interview. The "persona" is just a couple of pictures on the back covers of books. The bulk of your (and my own, of course) impression of "Kim Harrison" comes from what she writes. And you just can't fake the personality that comes shining through in seven books (and five short stories). Kim Harrison is not just a character that Dawn Cook has created. Kim Harrison is a part of Dawn Cook. She would have to be, or else she couldn't create and sustain such an interesting world. So we call that person by a different name. Big deal.

At the end of the day, that author is probably going to keep putting out books that we like, and that's ALL we have a right to ask of our favorite authors. And even then, they have the right to not listen to us, a la Laurell K. Hamilton.

I realize that the Kim Harrison persona was appealing to you. It was appealing to me, as well. Hell, any woman that enjoys writing about thigh-high leather boots and handcuffs is appealing to me. That's just the way I'm wired, I guess. But that woman is not gone, she's just more complex than we knew about. Framed in those terms, is it all that surprising or disappointing?

I don't think so, although I can understand why it might seem that way at first blush.

Ranson said...

re: meeting Kim Harrison.

Sorry, I thought you guys had made it to a book signing. Misremembering is a bitch.

Ultimately, I agree with your assessment. This is mainly about how it struck me at first blush.

Coralius said...

That's cool. I DO understand that "What the hell?!?" response.