By Dawn Ius
When Lynne Constantine walks into a room these days, she pauses a second before introducing herself.
It’s not because she’s suffering some kind of identity crisis—though she’d be forgiven if that were the case—but rather in the last couple of years the writer “formerly known as Lynne” has taken on a couple of pseudonyms.
The most recent is L. C. Shaw, the nom de plume she’s adopted for her recently announced series of conspiracy thrillers. But Lynne is also one half of “Liv Constantine,” the pen name she and her sister Valerie created when the two co-wrote last year’s sensational debut The Last Mrs. Parrish.
Writing under pseudonyms isn’t new—just ask Dean Koontz, whose works have been published under a half dozen or so different pen names—but the idea of combining authors into one is a new-ish trend that seems to be born more out of necessity than artistry or anonymity.
“I think it can sometimes be confusing or off-putting to readers to see two names on a book,” Constantine says. “It’s also much easier to promote on social media and use one name when blurbing other books.”
Constantine admits that she’s so used to being “Liv” online that she still feels like it’s her.
For “Liv,” the decision to use one name was an easy choice—The Last Mrs. Parrish was the authors’ first thriller, and thus the pen name came without reader expectations. But for some author pairings, writing under a combined pseudonym is a chance for a career reboot.
Alex Latimer is one half of South Africa’s writing team known as Frank Owen, and when not partnered up with Diane Awerbuck—who has published femme-horror novels, short stories, poetry, reviews, and academic texts—he writes picture books, a far cry from the apocalyptic frontier thrillers he and Awerbuck work on together.
“A new name is a new start,” Latimer says. “And that’s both good and bad. The good is that Frank Owen can write the books that Alex Latimer wouldn’t. The bad is that whatever readership you’ve developed is essentially lost.”
“Also,” says Awerbuck, “I was taken to task at a women writers’ festival in Nigeria where another writer wanted to know why I’d chosen a male identity, when women needed to come out of the ghetto. I explained the genre business, but the thing I didn’t say was that I’d wanted to be a dude since nursery school. Boys just seemed to have it better where I came from. I’ve since realized that integration of all the disparate parts of ourselves is the thing, not sociosexual identity. Sometimes I’m Frank; sometimes I’m Diane. I can choose.”
But Awerbuck acknowledges that for the “fresh start” approach to work, a tremendous amount of marketing is required. That ever-dwindling marketing support—even from the traditional publishers—is one of the reasons Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip collaborate under the name “Michael Stanley.”
“We were told that it’s hard enough for a reader to remember one author name, let alone two, and that single authors sold better,” Sears says. “So we combined our first names.”
The simplicity works for the duo, who admit that their writing process is quite complicated. Each chapter is sent back and forth between them multiple times for editing, brainstorming, and corrections.
“We often say that somewhere in the ether between the U.S. and South Africa, there really is a ‘Michael Stanley’ who writes quite different books from what either of us would have written alone,” Sears says. “In fact, our friends who claim they can tell which of us wrote each chapter are correct only half of the time.”
For thriller fan Karen DeSutter, trying to guess who wrote specific scenes or characters in a collaborative story is part of the fun of reading—and one of the main reasons she appreciates when single-pseudonym authors reveal their identities. And lately, she’s noticed that more and more of her favorite writers are collaborating in this way.
“Ever since The Last Mrs. Parrish came out, I’ve been keeping an eye out for it,” DeSutter says, noting that she’s very much looking forward to the upcoming Liv Constantine book, The Last Time I Saw You. “And once you start looking for it, you see it everywhere. Did you know that Lars Kepler is actually the pen name for a married couple?”
It’s true, but as the couple write on their website, the decision to create a new “author” was the best way to channel their creativity.
“We didn’t tell anyone when we wrote our first book, The Hypnotist; not even our children knew, or the publishing house that housed us,” Kepler writes. “Our intent was to stay hidden forever, but just like [pseudonymous Italian novelist] Elena Ferrante, we were revealed after much speculation and months of being chased by the media.”