Someone by the name of Benjamin Black has recently published a pair of entertaining novels – Christine Falls and The Silver Swan – about an atmospheric and cigarette-fumigated Dublin in the 1950s (with a third, The Lemur, serialized in the NYT magazine). Perhaps the quirkiest plot twist in each book was the inclusion of a picture of John Banville on the dust cover, followed by this explanation:
Benjamin Black is the pen name of acclaimed author John Banville, who was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. His novels have won numerous awards, most recently the Man Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea. He lives in Dublin.
Clearly, it’s not too terribly pseudonymous to own up to your own subterfuge in the very first, hardback printing of your novel. So Banville must be up to something else with this exercise. In a recent NPR interview, he confessed to enjoying an identity that allows him to write a very different kind of novel with great facility. Presumably, he would like to enjoy the commercial success of these genre novels while cordoning off – and keeping intact – his literary reputation.
Perhaps law professors could adopt a similar technique: for anything less than tenure-quality work, we can just affix a different name – but if it turns out to be entertaining or widely acclaimed, we then publicly acknowledge it in a different segment of our c.v.