From The Booking Desk:
I have long been a fan of Katia Lief’s writing output, so I am thrilled to have her here on the blog today. Wait? What’s that? Ah, yes the header of this post says we are getting a guest post from Karen Ellis. Sorry for the confusion. Allow me to let Katia explain…
The Name Game
by Katia Lief
(aka Karen Ellis)
As the publication of my novel A Map of the Dark gets closer, people ask me lots of questions about the book, my writing habits, my other books, my reading tastes, my house, my neighborhood, my children, my cats, and so on and so forth. Answering is easy because I like to talk and these are subjects I know by heart. But the one question I find it nearly impossible to answer is “Why did you decide to use a pseudonym for your new book?”
My task today is to try to answer that here, once and for all.
To begin, some context. My first two novels were published under my maiden name—Katia Spiegelman (though if you believe I was ever a maiden, you might want to do a reality check). That’s the name I was born with, so you could say it’s my real name, my authentic name, the name I’d default to were I to peel back the onion skins of all the years that came later.
Next up was tagging my husband’s name onto my own, because at the time it felt important to me to have the same last name as my children—and I became Katia Spiegelman Lief.
When I surprised myself and everyone who knew me by veering from the literary fiction I’d always written and not just producing but selling a thriller, I glommed onto a pseudonym on the theory that I could hide behind it while I figured out what it meant to be a mystery writer—and so I became Kate Pepper. (Pepper was the name of my childhood cat.)
Four books later, no longer wanting to hide behind what felt like a flimsy mask, I came out and began publishing under my real name—and I was, simply, Katia Lief. Call it real name number two.
Book after book followed, I was becoming the queen of paperback original thrillers (well, not the queen, but maybe a rook…though probably, really, just a pawn), and I wanted out of that game. Truth is, I wanted respect for all my hard work, and you don’t get much writing paperbacks. Also, I truly care about the art and craft of novel writing; it matters to me and I wanted a chance to spread my wings.
I enlisted the help of a new literary agent who agreed to guide me out of the paperback original publishing ghetto into the far better land of hardcovers, but he told me that the cost would likely be yet another name change. I told him that I didn’t want to. He said that was pretty much tough luck, that if I wanted what I wanted, then I’d have to play the game and playing the game meant finding a way to signal that I was making a big change in the kind of work I’d be publishing from now on. That signal would be a different name.
This time, the new name would have to fit better; it would need a personal connection that rang true for me so that I could live with it comfortably. So I do what I always do and looked to my children to center me. And then I borrowed their names—Karenna and Eli, the heartfelt root of Karen Ellis.
Happily, the wonderful publisher who agreed to bring forth my new novel, psychological suspense with a literary bent written without the genre-conforming constraints of the paperback original format—guided me carefully into the thicket of using a new name when I had already developed a readership under a different name. “Fly your flag,” they told me. “Say what you want. Be yourself. Tell everyone who you are.”
Basically, it’s a rebranding in an age when branding is everything. Karen Ellis is big and bold on the front of the book. But Katia Lief is still there, tucked into the flap. No secrets, no hiding; this new pseudonym is like having a new shade of hair color but the same old eyes.