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The Loyalty of Water: What's in a Name?

Guest post by Martha Gale

To my surprise, the most common question I got after publishing my first novel, Knowing Place, was not “how did you get the idea?” or “is it autobiographical?” It was “why did you use a pseudonym?”

It seemed obvious to me. My day job as Marti G. Parker is research and scientific writing. When I sit down to write fiction as Martha Gale, I change gears. Some people have a special pen or teapot, others have a writing shirt or muse socks. I take on a different name.

Not that there isn’t cross-fertilization between my scientific and fiction writing. I write better scientific articles because of my fiction writing, and vice versa. The same gray cells are exercised in all kinds of writing. I just have to keep the boundaries clear. Limit the exposition in fiction, forbid the fantasy in science. Marti G. Parker has to put A before B, while Martha Gale can play with flashbacks and foreshadows. But it’s all story telling, with the same challenges. How to hook the reader, lead her into the story, convey the motivation, stick to the plot, and find closure.

In hindsight, I see there are disadvantages. Someone heard I’d written a novel, but she couldn’t find it when looking under Parker. I took the pseudonym without thinking about the gender issue. Martha immediately identifies me as ‘that singular anomaly, the lady novelist’ (from Mikado’s Koko the executioner’s little list of potential victims who would not be missed).  Martha Gale is actually my given name. At age 11 I became aware of the limitations of femininity and changed it to Marti, a gender-neutral name that has occasionally been to my advantage in the scientific world. So don’t ask me why I didn’t think of that when choosing a pseudonym. For all the advances women have made in both the scientific and literary worlds, the statistics are clear: male scientists and authors are more likely to be taken seriously.

When the first people asked me about the pseudonym, I gave awkward replies about separating my scientific and fiction work. Now I just reply, “It felt right. Next question?”

Knowing Place is the story of Beatrice, an American stranded in Stockholm after being dumped by her Swedish boyfriend. Beatrice finds a job as a home-helper for elderly Swedes and soon discovers that one of her clients is a victim of abuse. In her efforts to rescue the victim, she learns about Swedish culture and why her boyfriend left her. 

Martha Gale herself moved to Stockholm in the seventies as a love hostage to a Brazilian man. She has worked as a nurse’s aide, physical therapist, English teacher and is now professor of social gerontology at the Karolinska Institute (under the name of Marti G. Parker).  Like Beatrice, she learned about Sweden and Swedish culture through her work with elderly people. You can read the first chapter of Knowing Place on her website: She is currently working on a sequel. 

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Reader Comments (4)

Great post, Marti! When I first began publishing my short stories back in the 1990s, I always published as "Kim Golden". My mother used to ask me why I didn't publish as "Kimberly Golden"--but I feel like "Kimberly" is not my writer name. "Kim" is my writer name.

Now when I'm married, I never use my married name when I publish. "Malmgren" is not my writer name. Unless I start writing gritty Scandinavian murder mysteries. ;)

March 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKimGM

I've been plotting a second career writing murder mysteries for years, before I was even married, and stealing Matt's name. E. M. Collins just sounds so perfect, doesn't it? Thanks for a great piece and things to think about!

March 27, 2014 | Registered CommenterEmily Breunig

Hi Marti,
Great writing,as usual.
When I contemplated writing 'hard-boiled' novels I thought "Pavel Hammer"could be a good handle, but it just isn't me. At least your 'pseudonym' is really you!
I still may use 'Alex Pallas' someday. It's more 'me', in that Alexander is my middle name and the Greek flavor remains. I like that each has two short syllables and will be easier to remember. But this presupposes that there will be a lot of titles with that author's name available.
Hmmm. Better get to work, Alex..

March 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRon Pavellas

So happy to hear that a sequel is in the works!

March 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen Roland

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