By Shari Randall
Any writer will tell you there are ups and downs on the road to publication. To torture the metaphor, there are washouts, hairpin turns, and dead ends along with the rare, blessed miles of straight-as-a-pin, put-the-top-down-and-blow-your-hair-back Montana highway. I thought I’d managed these changing conditions pretty well until the publication journey threw up a completely unexpected challenge.
Anyone who’s ever watched horror movies is now having flashbacks and shouting, “Never pick up the hitchhiker!” But since it was required, I took a deep breath, swung open the door, and let her in.
Not only did I let her in, I let her drive.
I picked up a pen name, Meri Allen.
“Why a pen name?” readers asked. My agent says “new series new name,” and luckily, the new Ice Cream Shop series has been welcomed with great energy and reviews.
But how does one “be” another author? Sally Field in Sybil haunts my dreams. I have questions. What about Meri’s author photo? Should I change my look? Use a disguise? The pandemic already changed my hair color, so at least I have that going for me. A new website is in order, but who gets it, Shari or Meri? How to write Meri’s bio when she doesn’t really exist?
Thank goodness the writing has gone smoothly. Both Meri and Shari adore the same writers and cut their teeth on Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Agatha Christie, Ross MacDonald, and Sue Grafton. They’re both huge Murder, She Wrote fans.
Shari’s main character, Allegra “Allie” Larkin is a dancer who works in a lobster shack and discovered a talent for and love of sleuthing. Meri’s main character, Riley Rhodes, is a librarian who worked for the CIA – and had a few undercover assignments on her many travels. Riley’s older and has been around the block a few more times than Allie, but both are independent women, fiercely loyal to their families and friends. Shari set her stories on the Connecticut shoreline, Meri sets hers in a wonderful little spot in Connecticut we call the Quiet Corner. Quiet, except for the murders I’ve written in. The Lobster Shack Mysteries had definite Gilmore Girls vibes, while Meri’s Ice Cream Shop Mysteries have a Midsomer Murders vibe, darker, as befits a protagonist who has secrets of her own.
The writing process took me to some unexpected places, but I’ve come to love Riley and her friends in Penniman, a quintessential New England village with the covered bridge, town green, and locals with generations-long grudges and secrets to prove it. At first it was hard to put aside my Lobster Shack mysteries characters, but I’ve signed on to the Destination Murders anthology series and will bring them back in short stories once a year. I’ll still get to spend time in beloved Mystic Bay.
As a writer, I’ve discovered one big benefit to a pen name. In talking with a friend who uses pen names (three!), I realized a wonderful advantage. Using a pen name gives you clear headspace to write new characters. When I write as “Meri Allen,” it’s easy to switch gears and enter into Riley’s world.
To my relief, Meri’s a terrific driver, and I’m enjoying the ride.
Writers, have you ever used a pen name? What was your experience? Readers, what do you think about authors using pen names?
Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack Mystery series. The first in series, Curses, Boiled Again, won an Agatha Award for Best First Novel.
Meet Meri on social media. She’ll, well, we’ll be celebrating her new book, The Rocky Road to Ruin, with lots of giveaways and fun, plus sharing all things cozy New England and ice cream galore!
Check out The Rocky Road to Ruin here.
Facebook: Meri Allen Books
July 14-26: Win a paperback copy of The Rocky Road to Ruin! Macmillan has set up a Goodreads Giveaway!