Why the pseudo?
Why the Pseudo? It’s the question I get asked most when talking about my debut novel, I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU (Thomas & Mercer, 2018). If you look on Amazon, you’ll find the author of that book is “S.M. Thayer.” Which doesn’t match the name listed on the byline of this guest post. So what’s up with that? Until a couple years ago, I saw myself as a writer of wry absurdist fiction. Despite the efforts of several really good literary agents, none of my novels came close to being published though. The emotional toll of writing these failed novels was high. Something had to give—I either needed to stop writing to spare myself of the heartache of failure or drastically reconceptualize what I wanted to do. In January 2016, I read Paula Hawkins’s THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. It was my first dip into the domestic suspense/psychological thriller genre. Hawkins’s fast-paced twisty plot, her bevy of largely unlikeable characters, and the inadvisable choices these characters made, provided immense readerly pleasure. More than anything, I was struck by the novel’s narrative propulsion. I tore through the pages and then dweebishly Googled, “Books like GIRL ON THE TRAIN” to find similar books. The genre had me hooked. I devoured domestic suspense and psychological thrillers like nobody’s business, reading about twenty of them over the course of a few months. More than anything, I wanted to write a domestic suspense novel of my own. Before beginning to write I’LL NEVER LEAVE YOU, I never tried to write an accessible plot-based novel. It felt immediately different to me, and exciting. My characters were fundamentally selfish in an underhanded way, yet human enough to have moments of sublime generosity and noble aspirations. The conflict between selfishness and generosity hooks each of these characters up and creates the novel’s tension and narrative momentum. The novel had life. Which, honestly, was what my failed novels lacked: life. Several agents offered to represent this new novel. A couple voiced concerns that the digital footprint I established as “Nick Kocz.” If you Google my name, you’re apt to find a bunch of bizarre short stories that could prejudice the way potential editors and readers approached my novel. To get around this problem, I weighed the idea of using a pen name. I’m a Scott Fitzgerald buff. During Fitzgerald’s last years, he’d been unable to sell his stories to top-flight commercial magazines. The Saturday Evening Post, which had long been Fitzgerald’s cash cow, quit publishing him in 1937. By 1940, he was desperate. In a letter to one of his editors, he wrote,“I’m awfully tired of being Scott Fitzgerald anyhow, as there doesn’t seem to be so much money in it, and I’d like to find out if people read me just because I am Scott Fitzgerald or, what is more likely, don’t read me for the same reason.” Fitzgerald’s solution was to try using a pen name. Lord knows, there’s really no money to be had in being Nick Kocz. I wish it were otherwise. None of my previous book-length manuscripts have been published. More than anything, I wanted to give I’LL NEVER LEAVE YOU the best chance possible at finding a readership. The novel represented a rebirth for me, something befitting of a new name. So I offered to let the novel go out under a pseudonym. If Fitzgerald was willing to try a pen name, who was I to say I was above giving it a try? In the end, the name on the cover means nothing. What matters are the words and stories between the covers. Nick Kocz’s debut novel, I’LL NEVER LEAVE YOU (Thomas & Mercer, 2018) was written under the pen name of S.M. Thayer. He’s an award-winning fiction writer and McDowell Fellow whose work has appeared in numerous publications and received several Pushcart Prize nominations. A native of New York, Thayer lived for decades in the Washington, DC, metropolitan region before moving to rural Virginia and earning an MFA from Virginia Tech. He lives in Blacksburg, VA with his wife and three children.