Everyone knows that only women are qualified to write romance novels, right? Men are supposed to be writing books about sharks or beer, DOY. Sadly, we're not so far from the days when Mary Anne Evans had no choice but to take on the nom de plume George Eliot in order to be taken seriously as a writer (although this mentality still haunts the modern lit world in the form of "chick lit" book covers on non-chick lit novels, e.g. Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep).
A popular romance novelist named Jessica Blair, the author of 22 romantic tomes based in Whitby, North Yorkshire, has been unmasked as 89-year-old war grandfather and World War II veteran Bill Spence. When he penned his first 19th century Whitby romance in 1993, he had already written 36 Westerns, a war novel, and one non-fiction book about whaling (dude's hella versatile). Spence's publishers advised him that the romance novel's sales would fare better if he took on a female pen name. Hence, Jessica Blair was born. Spence had no qualms about taking on a female pen name for his novels:
"I suppose some men may suppose their masculinity had been questioned, but it has never bothered me... You do not say no to publishers. I was just very glad I had found someone who wanted to print my books, and it didn't bother me at all that I'd been given a female name."
Spence also adds that he adores writing romance novels—the Blair books, incidentally, seem a classier step or two above the Harlequin bosom-heavers at the grocery store—and probably won't be returning to any of his former genres at this point. As for the most important woman in Spence's life, above even "Jessica Blair," he says: "My wife, Joan, who died sadly a few years ago thought [the female pen name] was amusing, but she has been a great support to me throughout my years of writing."
Jessica Blair's latest, In The Silence of the Snow, comes out later this week.