Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Who are You Today?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  When I was, oh, eight, I used to read Photoplay (anyone, anyone?) and look at photos of movie stars. Back then (imagine old woman voice) you could send in for eight-by-tens glossies of the stars, and they would send them to you. Free, if you sent a stamped self-addressed manila envelope.

That was irresistible to star-struck me, but I thought my own name, Harriet Ann, was not cool enough to entice a movie star to send me their photo. So I made up a name. A cooler name.  And my secret identity is the one who sent in my request to Photoplay.

Time went by. Some weeks later, my mom came into my room holding a manila mailing envelope. With our number, street and city. Strangely, in my handwriting. But to someone she did not realized lived with us at 4102 North Ritter. 

“Who,” she inquired in a bewildered but amused voice, “is Rita Capri?”

Erica O’Rourke totally understands. She's the award-winning author of young adult fiction, and she needed a new name too. But not to snag movie star photos. 

Here’s the scoop on how she handles her secret identity…and then we want to know: what would you do?.

The (Kinda) Secret Life of Lucy

In publishing, “debut” is a big word. So big, it should be surrounded by lights, perhaps posted on a marquee. Many of the (very nice) reviews I’ve received for my new book, TIME OF DEATH, mention that it’s a debut.

And technically, it is. TIME OF DEATH is Lucy Kerr’s debut novel.

But it’s not my first book. It’s my first adult novel, my first mystery. But I’ve published two entire series of books already. How do I put this gently? I am the publishing equivalent of “a woman of a certain age.”

And yet, that word keeps cropping up. “Debut.”

The trick, of course, is that I’m Lucy Kerr – but I’m also Erica O’Rourke. Like Clark Kent and Superman, Diana Prince and Wonder Woman, and countless other superheroes, I have a secret identity now. (Technically it’s a pen name. A nom de plume. A pseudonym. But I have a superhero-obsessed eight-year-old, so secret identity it is.)

What prompts a mild-mannered suburban mom to take on a secret identity?

The first reason is practical: Lucy and Erica write different books. Erica writes young adult books with a strong element of magic or science fiction, and an equally strong romantic bent. Lucy’s books are traditional adult mysteries. My teen readers know what to expect when they pick up a book with my name on it—and it’s not a thirty-two-year-old emergency room nurse who solves mysteries. The same applies to my adult readers: picking up paranormal romance when they’re expecting an amateur sleuth mystery might be an unwelcome surprise. Using different names for such different genres means my readers can easily find the types of books they’re interested in.

The second is psychological. When I sit down to write a Lucy book, my writing process is different, my authorial voice is different, my entire attitude changes. If you’re a crafter, maybe this will make sense: imagine knitting a sweater, and then crocheting one. Both times, you start with yarn and end up with clothing. But the stitches, the tools, and the directions are distinct. Even the way you hold the yarn changes. (Admittedly, I don’t enjoy crochet. This metaphor only works so far.) Using a pen name actually helps me shift my thinking as I write—it’s an outward symbol, but it still seems to reset my brain.

The other question my friends had, of course, was how I’d make the switch, particularly in cyberspace. Would Erica and Lucy have separate webpages? Twitter accounts? Facebook pages?

The answer was no, no, and definitely no. (I have three children, an elderly cat, and I’m a full-time author. Simple is the watchword at my house, whether we’re talking about author profiles or meal planning. We can talk about meal planning in the comments, if you like.)
Instead, I made four small changes:
  • I had a new author picture taken—one that was considerably sunnier than my very dramatic young adult picture.  
  • I added Lucy to my social media profiles, so they all say “Erica O’Rourke/Lucy Kerr.”
  • I made sure connected to
  • I had my graphic designer come up with a cute header for my newsletter incorporating both names. (and those author pics!) 

The result: Lucy Kerr and Erica O’Rourke peacefully coexist on the Internet and in my office. Unlike Batman and Bruce Wayne, you’ll often see us in the same room. And in the end, it doesn’t feel odd to have two writing names, because the stories I write and my connection to my readers doesn’t change, no matter what they call me.

The last question I get is a simple one: How’d I land on Lucy Kerr? I wish I had some sort of fancy story, but in fact, I went with old family names—and my grandfather’s love of Lucille Ball, which my children seem to have inherited, made Lucy the obvious choice.

If you could create a secret identity for yourself, who or what would you turn to for inspiration? 

HANK: And what name would you choose?
 Share it in the comments! (We promise not to tell.)

 Lucy Kerr is the pen name of Erica O'Rourke, an award-winning author of young adult fiction. Her debut adult mystery, TIME OF DEATH, launched with Crooked Lane Books on December 13, 2016. Lucy lives outside Chicago with her family, her cat, and many, many piles of books. She likes strong coffee, rainy days, old buildings, and fresh-baked cookies -- but she likes telling stories best of all.

 It’s been twelve years since ER nurse Frankie Stapleton fled her hometown, but with her sister’s pregnancy taking a dangerous turn and a string of failed relationships in Chicago hanging over her, Frankie is back–and hoping to put the past behind her. Within minutes of arriving at Stillwater General Hospital however, she ends up saving a man’s life, only to have him turn up dead hours later—and the hospital blames Frankie. With her career–and future–on life support, Frankie must catch a killer, clear her name, and heal the wounds of her past.


  1. It seems to me that being two different writers is kind of like two halves of a whole . . . like being both parts of a set of fraternal twins. At any rate, congratulations on your success. Now I’ll have to add “Time of Death” to my forever-teetering to-be-read pile.

    Not once have I ever considered creating a secret identity for myself. As an identical twin, I discovered that being myself was often a sort of a secret identity since almost everyone called me by my sister’s name.

  2. Joan, I never thought of identical twins in that context. You could hide in plain sight, a sort of human purloined letter.

    Since I've written professionally for decades I've toyed with the idea of a pen name, but never really got serious about it. Hank, Rita Capri does sound more glamorous than Harriet Ann!

    One question I have for authors with multiple personalities is how do you want to be addressed, by your actual name, or by your nom de plume? It's disconcerting to converse with authors at conventions when I know they have two, three, even five names. Very confusing.

  3. Congratulations, Erica/Lucy! I love the sound of the new series (especially since one of my protagonists is a midwife) and am going to go find Time of Death. Hank - Rita Capri is a stunning name...

    I know exactly what you're going through, although for slightly different reasons. Despite having one cozy series out as Edith Maxwell, my editor wanted the second cozy series to look like a DEBUT author in the bookstores, so I picked Maddie Day. And sure enough, her voice is different, and that series is doing quite well. But as Edith I also write a historical mystery series, which is also thriving. A few years ago, also for publisher reasons, I wrote my first two mysteries as Tace Baker. She's on semi-permanent sabbatical for the moment, although I still think it's a great pen name. And like you, we all share a web site! They never said I couldn't link the names, and I do, everywhere. Will we see you at Malice, Lucy?

    Karen - because I do link so closely, hardly anyone calls me Maddie, but I'd happily answer to it, and these days my nametag at conferences always has both Edith and Maddie on it.

  4. Oh, the name thing. I have lived with that for the past… Well,40 something years. If someone says to me: "what's your name? "I have to think about why they're asking!
    I name I tell the bank teller is different from the name I tell the bookseller.
    But only people in my family call me Ann ( thename on my passport) , and even family has switched to Hank.
    If I had to pick a pen name? I would go with Harriet Ryan . Isn't that a great book name? And has the added benefit of being pieces of my own name.

  5. And I have gotten into the habit of thinking of Roberta as Lucy, hilariously. Half the time I call her that… I'm not quite sure why!

    And Peter Abrahams, who's pen name is Spencer-Fleming… I call him Peter.

  6. Don't! I had no idea you were a twin! So cool. What is your sister's name?
    Did you ever try to confuse people on purpose?

  7. Karen, that is a great idea! And I sat here, contemplating that… Until I remembered in the 10 rules of detection, "no twins.". :-) Right?

  8. Karen: That is a great question about how authors with multiple series and names want to be addressed. I understand that authors publishing with different publishers want different (distinct) names for their respective series, but it can be confusing for a reader.

    I wrote and published scientific works professionally for over 25 years. I used my name but with no initials since that is how I was listed by my employer. It worked well for me since my surname is unusual (only Koshida out of 300,000 Canadian government employees!), so it was easy for people to find me in government directory and on ejournal or research citation websites.

    If I had a second secret identity, I would probably choose a surname earlier in the alphabet. Having a surname starting with K has its drawbacks in the bookstore!

  9. I love the idea of writing as taking on a secret identity. And that your character is often you... there's always a main character in my books who's really me -- like 90-year-old Mina in THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN is me when I get old enough that I don't have to be "polite."

    Welcome to Jungle Reds, Lucy (& Erica)

  10. Oh, yes, I quite like Harriet Ryan. There's the Whimsy connection, too!

  11. Stillwater, as in Stillwater, OK? Wow. I look forward to reading about a nurse sleuth!

    If I were a writer, I certainly would use a pen name, because I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want anyone to know how untalented I was.

    I'm considering something like Hallie Effron or Ankh Phillippi Ryan or Deborah Crumbie or Lucy Isleib. I see no point in not having a running start on marketing, and I have an artist friend who could forge the look of the cover art.

    Watch this space.

  12. Joan: Ooohhh! Twins are even better than a secret identity! It's a classic mystery twist! Did you ever try to swap places and trick people? Please, please say yes and give us all the juicy details! (And thank you for the kind words.)

  13. Hi Karen! That's an excellent question and one of those things I probably should have considered. Because I'm new at the mystery game, I haven't attended any conferences as Lucy yet. I suppose I'll make my nametag say "Hello My Name Is Lucy" and then underneath I'll write in "aka Erica O'Rourke," and people can address me however they feel comfortable. (Some authors I know are prickly about things like this, and some are very laid-back -- I definitely fall on the laid-back end of the spectrum, at least in this area!)

  14. Edith/Maddie, thank you so much for the tips! Both the midwife series AND the country store series sound great -- one of my fantasies is to open up a general store in our town, actually! A general store with excellent coffee and a few nice skeins of yarn and some books and treats from my favorite bakery I need to run out and read your series for tips! I'm really hoping to attend Malice this year; everyone tells me such great things about it, and it would be nice to stick my head out of the office for something more exciting than a Target run. If I make it there, I will definitely look you up!

  15. Ann, WOw, you are stealthy! And I actually often write Ankh when I am hurrying. And Jaml is the name that comes out if I have my fingers in the wrong place on the keyboard. (Someday I'll use that as a clue...)

    NOt to mention auto correct, who decided on my computer that when I typed Spencer Quinn, I MEANT SPencer Fleming. Which I did not. Silly old bear.

    Erica, how difficult was it to stay in Lucy's voice?

  16. Hank, Rita Capri sounds like a super-glamorous film star who does lots of shoots in the Mediterranean. And like Karen said, Harriet Ryan is so close to Harriet's like catnip for mystery lovers. I am not surprised at all that you have a knack for this sort of thing!

  17. Hi Grace! I totally understand the concern about confusing people -- it's the one thing that gave me pause about the name change. I'm really hoping the transparency helps my readers. The one thing people will no longer be confused by is the apostrophe in my last name, for which I am very, VERY grateful! Computers loathe apostrophes, as it turns out.

  18. Congrats on the release Erika/Lucy! I look forward to reading "Time of Death."

    Being a published writer has pushed the issue of my last name to the forefront, specifically, that I don't have my husband's last name. People mistake my name for a pen name. This always makes me wonder, what year is it?

    My grandmother was a radio actress at WBZ Boston in the early 1930s. Her real name was Ruth Clark, but WBZ gave her the on-air name of Constance D'Arcy. Rita Capri and Constance D'Arcy sound like they would be BFFs!

  19. Erica, my grandmother always wanted us to switch places in school, and we probably could have gotten away with it because none of the teachers could tell us apart. Honestly, when the teachers come right out and ask you if you are “Jean” or “Joan,” you really could get away with the switch, but we were always honest about it and never did [much, I fear, to my grandmother’s disappointment].

    Since I’ve always been a twin, I have no idea what it’s like not to be one . . . I grew up being called “Jean” instead of “Joan” because no one could tell us apart [except our family, of course], but I can honestly say that it never really bothered me.
    I genuinely like being a twin and I do enjoy reading “twin” stories. But I am so not a fan of those “oops, the evil twin no one knew existed is the real culprit” stories. For me, that stratagem is rife with spuriousness, even if it is a classic mystery twist . . . .

  20. Well of course during my brief, exciting career writing erotic romance, befor moving on the the more respectable world of murder, I had a pen name. Because I have grandkids.

    Spencer Quinn, Hank? Thank goodness you clarified that. I thought you were outing Julia S-F as a guy named Peter. Yikes!

    Harriet Ryan. I like it. And Rita Capri? Sounds like she's got some history.

  21. Hi Erica/Lucy,

    Two cool names for what sound like two cool series! I will look for Time of Death. Congratulations on its recent launch into the world!

    I've never thought about a nom de plume for myself but will ponder the question.

    In the meantime, I can easily imagine many things about a woman with the name of Rita Capri, Hank. No wonder your mother was shocked.

  22. Hi Hallie! Yes, I find that there's at least a piece of me in every character I write, both primary and secondary -- but the main character often borrows more of me. (Or at least, the me I'd like to be.) Mina sounds utterly delightful, by the way -- maybe we should start emulating her now, rather than waiting until we're ninety!

  23. Ingrid, that's fascinating--and wonderful. Are there any stories about Ruth? (was it pronounced Dee-arcy or Darcy?) And yes, she and Rita were thisclose.

    Yeah, gotta use Harriet Ryan someday.

    And Brenda, I'd say my mother was less shocked and more...derisive. Probably she thought "Can't she come up with less tacky name?" But I loved it. It seemed glamorous to me....

  24. Ann, that is a fiendishly brilliant idea! Stillwater is actually Stillwater, Illinois -- it's a fictional town, but it borrows from the many rural towns I've spent time in over the years. I grew up in one, taught in several, and even though my current home is firmly located in the suburbs, it functions very much like a small town -- for both good and ill. (Happily, no recent murders, though.)

  25. I love this post--as the Malice registrar one of my biggest jobs is to remember all the names for all the authors. And have them help me figure out which name goes first which year (usually corresponding to what book is front and center each spring). Behind all the names are the authors I love--whatever they are calling themselves any given day.

    Good luck with all your books--and names!

  26. HI Ingrid! Isn't it funny how much people reveal when they ask those questions (about maiden/married names) -- and even more so, what they reveal when they hear the answer?

    I LOVE the story about your grandmother -- just the job of radio actress sounds glamorous and exciting, no matter what name she went by, and so wonderful that you have that story to treasure. Do you have recordings of her performances? The Adventures of Constance and Rita seems like it could be a radio mystery of its own!

  27. Joan, your grandmother sounds AWESOME. (And I agree -- the evil unknown twin seems like a cheat. I was thinking more like the twins in Christie's At Bertram's Hotel...a fun twist to complicate things, but right there in front of the reader the whole time. *runs off to reread*)

  28. Susan, that is an EXCELLENT reason for writing under a pen name! (And I had the same thought about Spencer Quinn vs. Julia Spencer-Fleming! Very relieved to know I wasn't losing my mind.)

  29. Hi Brenda! Thank you so much for the good wishes! I hope you enjoy. The nicest thing about picking your own name, I've found, is that you can make it fit whatever personality you want. Lucy, to me, felt warm and fun and welcoming -- and I hope that's an authentic representation of me. (Unless you ask my kids, who will tell you that no matter what name I go by, they still have to do kitchen duty, and wear coats in sub-freezing temperatures, and therefore my TRUE name is Meanest Mom.)

  30. Hi Shawn! Thanks for the good wishes -- and your commitment to keeping everyone organized! I have a feeling spreadsheets are one of your many superpowers, yes?

  31. Erica, I can really understand the importance of a nom de plume after you've been a YA writer. Having had passionate teen readers (and there's still one around) I know teens are very brand loyal - but you need to make sure you don't mix up the brand!

    I have my own pseudonym all picked out - Avery Key, which was the name of my great-grandfather on the southern side of the family. Since the 1880s, the name Avery has slid from strictly male to gender neutral to trending female, so I figure I'd have it covered. Also, it's a LOT shorter to sign than Julia Spencer-Fleming.

    Oops! I mean Spencer Quinn. :-)

  32. Hank, D'Arcy was pronounced like Mr. Darcy. I think the apostrophe was just for flair! My grandmother played supporting roles on the daytime soaps and did restaurant reviews. Not that she ever ate at the restaurants, but she was very good at reading the reviews on-air.

    Erica, sorry for the misspelling! I have a sister named Erika, and my fingers automatically go for the "k". Unfortunately, we don't have any recordings of Constance D'Arcy, but I do have a wonderful picture of her in front of her microphone looking very chic!

  33. Hi Julia! Yes, my teen readers are wonderful and loyal and passionate -- which is exactly why I would hate for them to pick up a Lucy book thinking they were going to get the kind of kissy bits and teen drama and magical powers they've come to expect from an Erica book!

    Avery Key is a stunning pen name! And much shorter to sign, which is something people should REALLY think about when embarking on a publishing career! Such smart advice!

  34. Oh, Ingrid -- no worries! I'm so accustomed to it that it doesn't faze me in the slightest! I'm so glad you have that picture of your grandmother, too. It's a truly wonderful heirloom.

  35. Rita Capri, may I introduce you to Samantha Lovejoy? (I am still sorry I was too chicken to take that name back in my romance-writing days!)

  36. Erica/Lucy, I think your syncing of the two author identities was so clever, with the two different pictures for the two different names, but combined in a simple, but catchy header for the same web page, even having different fonts for the names. It's rather like a great cover for a book that just works so well.

    Rita Capri! Hank, I would have loved to have been friends with you growing up. I do like the Harriet Ryan choice, too. Ann, I think you're on to something using the name combinations you stated. Joan, you're an identical twin? Oh, I be you have all sorts of interesting stories. Ingrid, your grandmother was a radio actress? I am fascinated with radio plays, especially mysteries, and I love the recreation of them. Julia, Avery Key is such a smooth name to say, love it.

    I don't have a secret name picked out, but I do like to write down names I find interesting in the newspaper or elsewhere. It may sound a bit morose, but there are some great names, especially older ones, found in the passing notices of those who obtained a great age in life.

    Karen, I, too, wonder by which name an author really wants to be called when she/he has a nom de plume. My good friend and author Elly Griffiths' real name is Dominica de Rosa, and after spending some quality time with her in Raleigh, we settled on me calling her Dom, which is what her friends in England and elsewhere call her. She helped me through that, which is what I needed. So, our dear Reds here who have a "real" name and a "writing" name, what do you want us to call you? I will have to say that I have gotten quite fond of the name Rhys, so I don't know that I could switch to Janet.

    Erica, I am so happy to have met you here on the Reds today, and Time of Death sounds like a wonderful read. It's now going on my TBR list.

    1. How many countries away from Ellie Griffith is Domineca de Rosa?

  37. Thank you, Kathy! I will cheerfully admit that the clever header wasn't my idea at all, but my graphic designer, so I'll pass the compliment on to her. And yes, aren't older names delightful? I love that some of them are coming back around.

  38. LOL says Kim Striker/Kait Carson! Isn't it amazing how pen names have their own persona. Well done Lucy/Erica.

    Hank/Rita. Really! How cool. I was Danielle Thompson back in the day, but not in photoplay. Tiger Beat.

  39. Erica, I think I'd like to read your books no matter what you call yourself! (Note to self: get to a bookstore over the weekend.)

    One hundred years ago not long after the Internet was invented, I joined an on-line group under a phony name. (I wasn't sure how I felt about that Internet thing:-)

    I can't tell you the name, though; it's a secret:-)

    Deb Romano

  40. Nope!

    Deb Romano (aka something else)

  41. Grrr....

    Thank you, dear Erica/Lucy! You are fabulous--please come back and visit! xooo

    1. Thank you so much for the warm welcome, Hank -- and to the rest of the fabulous Jungle Red community, too! xoxo

  42. Hank, it's not JUST your family... When I convey some post or news or comment about "Hank Phillippi Ryan" to one of your old teachers, he looks puzzled for a couple of seconds and then says, "Oh. You mean Ann."

  43. Sounds like you've got the new person inside of you sharing just the right spaces and doing just the right things. I wish you and your alter ego much success, Erica/Lucy?

    1. Thank you so much, Morgan! I wish the same for you!

  44. Loved movie magazines, though I forgot the names of the movie magazines. I remember seeing a photo of Jackie Kennedy Onassis and I asked my Mom if she was an actress.

    she explained to me that she was the widow of President John F. Kennedy, She explained who JFK was and showed me a photo of him on a big record with his speeches. She also mentioned that Jackie married again to a man in Greece.

    I remember seeing photos of many famous people in movie magazines, even though some of them were not actors!

    Welcome to JRW! I have to think about what names I would use if I published my novel. Would I use my several times great grandmother's name? she had this really cool name - Rachel Ryker. Two similar initials!

    Or perhaps I could "borrow" the last name of one of my favorite boyfriends who had this cool last name - it was a Welsh name.


    1. Diana, Rachel Ryker is an excellent pen name - it really rolls off the tongue! Welsh names and accents are so cool - as long as he's the kind of ex you want to remember, not forget, I say borrow away!