I will preface this post by saying that I refuse to confirm or deny that I am KJ Parker. I also refuse to confirm or deny that I’m anyone else, including Mark Lawrence.
Six months after the publication of my first book and things are going very nicely thank you. I am though, by many counts, old news. The eyes of the blogging community are firmly fixed on the 2012 debutants, with Myke Cole and Saladin Ahmed at fore of the January charge. It’s Christmas every day in blog-world with the permanent excitement of opening new presents, and there are always more waiting under the tree. Sure the favourite toys get played with, but those unopened boxes have a special pull.
I can’t, even for a heartbeat, resent this state of affairs. I rode the newbie wave and benefited hugely. The new kid on the block needs the spotlight, needs that chance to catch people’s attention. And special kudos to the bloggers who try to spread the love and cover some of the releases from smaller houses without a mega-push behind them. It does, however, make me pause to think about the business of discovering new writers and how people think about ‘old’ ones.
I recently contributed to an anthology to help out with Fantasy Faction’s web costs. (I really like the site and hope to be able to continue enjoying it without adverts for skin care products and medical miracles taking up half the screen.) I sent a bunch of short stories for them to select from, and the first reaction was great surprise that they were all so different in style, from each other and from Prince of Thorns. And that kinda brought it home to me. Even people who had high expectations of me expected me to dole out the same goodies time and again. That I could write a good horror tale, or a weird Gaiman-esque yarn, or a literary fiction piece . . . ran contrary to the opinions formed from my single book. Which underscores the sad fact that people who didn’t like Prince of Thorns (and yes, a few such strange beasts exist) will like as not never pick up another Mark Lawrence book because they ‘have me pegged’. It’s not that I can’t surprise them – it’s that I’ll never get a chance to, not with a book that has Mark Lawrence on the cover.
Now as it happens I have had several opportunities to see people read and rate work I’ve written under different names, ignorant of the fact the fiction is from the same pen. And I’ve had 1* on one, 5* on the other, and vice versa depending on the particular tastes of the individuals (and almost never 3* on both!).
So it’s not the bloggers’ spotlight and love affair with the new that is the true reason a writer might have for keeping a collection of masked identities in their writing cupboard, it’s the fact that we’re typecast by our first book. Readers, in the main, like to know what they’re getting. If they want something different they’ll try someone new – if they come to you, they want some more of the reason they liked you.