Monday, March 5, 2012

Sam Eastland is not my real name. My real name is Paul Watkins and I have published 9 books under my real name. If you are interested, you can find details of those books on the website
So why the pseudonym?
A few years ago, I wrote a book set in Stalinist Russia, in which the main character just happened to be a detective. My publisher in the UK, Faber & Faber, told me that the book should really be part of a series, rather than just a one-off, as all of my previous books had been. They suggested that I adopt a pseudonym for the series. The reason for this is that, if you create a series of books with the same kind of setting and characters, but intersperse that series with other books having nothing to do with the series, it tends to throw off  readers whose reading habits are devoted to the particular genre in which the series is set.
I liked the idea of a pseudonym, and also of expanding the book I had written into what has now become the Inspector Pekkala series.
Choosing the pseudonym turned out to be more difficult than I had expected. I kept going back and forth with Faber about various names. They were really picky! I ended up choosing the name Sam because of Sam Watkins, a soldier from Tennessee who fought in the American Civil War. The book he wrote about his experiences, titled Company H, was quoted many times in that fantastic documentary about the Civil War made by Ken Burns. The way the narrator spoke the name of Sam Watkins was so beautiful than it made me wish my own name had been Sam, instead of Paul. I chose Eastland for a last name because the the main character of the first book I had published, Night Over Day Over Night, was named Westland.
There are some practical reasons for why Faber approved the name. The first is that the name Sam is universally pronouncable. The second is that Eastland, beginning with the letter E, is usually displayed in the center mass of book shelves, which tends to be the first part of the book shelf people see when they go into a book shop.
Of course, I hoped the series would do well, but I had no idea it would do as well as it has done. It is now in more than 15 translations, and I spent at least a portion of each day answering messages from all over the world. I am very grateful for those messages! It means a lot to me that people take the time to write and it provides a real and meaningful link with the outside world, which really matters when I spend so much of my time hunched over the keyboard. I have joked with people that I spend more time with people I've invented than with people who are real, but it's actually not far from the truth.
There has been only one disadvantage. Writing the Sam Eastland books has kept me so busy that, for several years, I had to stop writing books under my own name.
At first, that felt a little depressing. It bothered me that people thought I had stopped writing altogether, especially since, in the beginning, I was not allowed to tell people about the Sam Eastland project. But those feelings didn't last. I was having too much fun to worry about what name went on the books.
Next week, I will write about the experience of bringing Inspector Pekkala to life.

1 comment:

  1. Sam/Paul, I write a book blog - I thoroughly enjoy your Inspector Pekkela series. In fact, I am posting a blog later this week called Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader, Volume IV. I have 13 books on each list that I think are so good that even those who normally read only non-fiction would enjoy. I will be including The Eye of the Red Tsar on this new list. I will also be blogging about Archive 17 in the next week or two. I will be giving it a very favorable review.