I write under my maiden name. I went back to it because my triple-barrel name — first, maiden, married — sounded like a romance writer’s, my initials sounded like a pesticide, and I thought it would be too much of a mouthful for talk show hosts when I made it big.
I could have gone to my married name, but let’s face it, Barbara Brooks sounds like the competent, busty civil servant found in every office, one who will deal with your problem when she is damn well ready. It’s also a high frequency name. Another Barbara Brooks lives in my town and she proves my point about competence. She is a horse trainer, gaining control of thousand pound beasts by sheer strength of will, and maybe a good halter rope.
“Barbara Brooks” is a get-the-job-done, no-nonsense, down-to-earth, Proverbs 31 kind of woman: “She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.” I can’t find the dang light switch, much less a candle. So the name is both a bit too high frequency and a bit too vigorous to attach to my sensitive works of delicate fiction.
The only other Barbara Coles I’d run across was a fictional character in a British detective series that my mother used to watch. This character was a twittery bundle of shocks and starts and was the murdered person’s secretary. Not much of an inspiration to a nine- or ten-year-old girl, as I was then. Of course, it all would have been different if she had been the murderer, but no such luck. She stayed a quivering goop to the last.
I think I have the greater claim to the name and the strength of will, even if I’m not a busty civil servant, to drive the image of a flighty, one-time-off fictional English secretary of forty years ago from the public mind. No, you’re right, it won’t be easy, but I like a challenge.
So right before my son was born, in the last extremity of pregnancy and awash in hormones that told me THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE, I sent out two stories under the Barbara Coles banner. They both, and this is the shocker, were accepted for publication. Within two days of each other. When the letters came, I dropped the baby, but he’s okay now.
Names are important. Because Barbara Coles got accepted right off the bat, I prize the name with a superstitious reverence.
More than that, this Barbara Coles is my fallback position in life, she who has a soul that doesn’t belong to anyone else. When I became her again, as it were, I stood up for the right to exist as a writer. She cries over characters no one else knows, she holes up and growls at intruders, she stamps her foot and says, “Yes, I will!” She demands to make stories and be nonsensical. In my world of chosen, loved obligations, she allows me to have everything. She is not so much my alter-ego as my core.
I’d recommend a nom de plume for everyone, or is it a nom de guerre? Who knows, maybe within the hearts of busty civil servants and wiry cowgirls there also lives a name of power, throwing tantrums for their dreams.