I thought about using a pen name for The First Assassin.
My given name is just too darn common. In my college dorm, there was another John Miller. When I moved to Washington, D.C., there was a John Miller in Congress. He later served in the State Department. One time, I called an old colleague for an interview. We talked for a minute or two before he realized it was me, rather than the other guy. I think he was disappointed. Another fellow with my name became semi-famous for interviewing Osama bin Laden in a cave before 9/11. Now he’s an FBI spokesman. There was also the professional golfer, Johnny Miller. I could go on.
I’ve tried to compensate by using my middle initial. When I joined the Michigan Review as a freshman, the editor had a no-middle-initials rule. That was the first thing I changed when I took over his job.
A professional writer can’t alter his byline in the middle of his career, at least not easily or without drawing strange looks. Still, I’ve occasionally wondered if I should switch to “J.J. Miller,” a byline that is at once less exact but also possibly more distinctive than the one I use. But then people might actually call me “J.J.,” and nobody has called me that since I was about five. It just wouldn’t feel right.
If I’m ever going to take a pen name, publishing my first novel provides the perfect occasion and excuse. I could use it only for fiction. Another option might involve adopting my mother’s maiden name. There’s also my mother’s mother’s maiden name, which was Schiller. It even rhymes with my real surname. According to family legend, we are related to the great German writer Friedrich Schiller. He’s best known for writing the play William Tell.
But I’ve decided against it. At this point, I’ve made my mark as a writer, however slight, as John J. Miller. And that’s what I’ll continue to do, in obscurity or otherwise.
Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805)
See the resemblance?