Ask the Brain: Update on THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE. Plus, Should I Change My Name?

Ask the Brain is a semi-regular column where readers can ask me advice about love, life, writing, and, well, just about anything. My massive, all-powerful brain will deign to grant an answer. Either that, or I’ll just make some s**t up.

Speaking of which, do you have a question for the brain? Ask it here!

So what’s up with The Elephant of Surprise, the next Russel Middlebrook book? When exactly is it coming out? Why isn’t it out ALREADY?! — An Impatient Fan

The Brain Responds:

Um, well … what with the movie version of Geography Club coming out next year (see below), The Elephant of Surprise has been pushed back a bit. We’re now planning on an early 2013 release.

What’s the book about anyway? As you may recall, Double Feature (the third book in the Russel Middlebrook series) left the Russel-Kevin-Otto love triangle on a bit of a cliff-hanger. The Elephant of Surprise starts to finally resolve that conflict (and the story will wrap up completely in the fifth book, coming in 2013). But as usual, there’s a whole new story, with some (hopefully) great new characters as well, and new storylines for Min and Gunnar too.

Nutshell? Russel gets involved with yet another secret organization — the most interesting one yet, IMHO. It’s a hidden society that exists in real life, in almost every city in America.

But if I told you more, I’d spoil the surprise of Surprise.

Hello, Brain: My dream has always been to be an author. The problem is that I’m leery my name will work against me. My first has a “Christian” implication, and my last is the name of a town. Then I also plan on writing both poetry and fiction, which leaves the possibility of confusion. I’ve considered both using a pen name and changing my name legally, but the drawbacks leave me wondering. I’m hoping to self-publish and open a website, and if I use a pen name, it might not work well, but if I change my name, I worry it’ll cause past files and records to conflict with my new name. Advice? — What’s In a Name?

The Brain Responds:

First, the good news: it’s entirely possible for a writer to have a pen name, and it doesn’t require any legal name-change, nor does it create any weird legal situations (you typically sign all contracts and receive all payments with your real name).

There is also something to be said for name “branding”: the idea that an author’s works in one particular genre are all written under one name, either a pen name or the actual name, while works in other genres are written under different names. I’ve written about that topic before here, but the point is, it can give you a certain freedom, and it definitely makes a lot of sense from a marketing POV.

And let’s face it: if your name really does seem to be in direct conflict with the genre you’re writing in — if your name is “Lilith” and you’re trying to write Christian fiction — it isn’t a terrible idea to change it.

That said, keep in mind that “weird” authors’ names aren’t usually a problem. In fact, a weird name can actually be a good thing, because it’s more memorable. Writers aren’t like movie stars: most of the time, “quirky” is salable.

Besides, don’t you want the people who teased you in high school to know you’re now a world-famous author?

But I’m getting a sense from your email that this issue isn’t quite any of these issues. Is it the fact that you’re just not very crazy about your name? If so, why not change it, either legally or merely professionally?

However, before you do, I advise you to ask five of your friends: “What do you really think of my name? I’m thinking of changing it, so please be totally honest.” Then listen to what they have to say. It’s very possible that the issue isn’t really your name, but rather some negative associations you have with it for reasons you’re not quite conscious of. You can still change your name, either legally or professionally, but at least you’ll know exactly why you’re doing it.

Now do you have a question for the Brain? Ask it here!

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