This is the most asked question that I get. I’m not sure what prompts the curiosity over the use of my first initial on my work, but it’s been asked by almost everyone who starts talking to me about my writing. The answer isn’t what you think.
Sometimes, the questioner will start to answer for themselves–Is it a feminist thing? I’m not sure what an initial has to do with feminism, instead of my full first name, but that’s the usual follow up question before I stammer out my answer.
Back in college when I was focusing on becoming an author, not just playing at it, I asked myself what name I wanted on the cover of my books. I have a very common name, and there is no way around it being less common, unless I used a pen name completely different from my real name. That option was on the table for a long time, but what name would I want to bear into old age, on my epitaph, on my legacy. Taking another name just felt like losing my identity behind another character I had created. It might have helped with the stage fright. However, I wasn’t going to hide behind a made up persona. I wasn’t embarrassed about what I was doing. There was no reason to secret away my books. Most of all, I wanted credit, under my given name, as I had been pushed aside so much growing up. This was for the little girl who was bullied into introversion.
A little more thought on the topic, led me to an opportunity to hold close once more someone I had lost. There is always the consideration of not being taken seriously enough as a woman writer, that you seek to hide your gender by stunting your first name to an initial. It’s no secret that the field of historical writing, not Historical Romance, was rife with sexism. History, you know, is presided over by stodgy old men sporting funny beards or mustaches, and smoking pipes, as they clutch their tweed lapels and blow out their sweater vest clothed big bellies. I did not fit that description. Much like STEM can discriminate on gender, so can the humanities. Don’t be fooled. Even in the English Department there is an understanding.
What question would you ask K. Williams?
Cutting my name down to my first initial served two purposes. It disguised the initial impact of my first name keeping them from denoting me as one of those scribbling romance writers (and really, what is wrong with romance? It’s seriously popular. Stop dissing the romance. I again recommend Lady Gallant. One sexy historical read) and allowed me to first appear on the shelf as something more respectable. K. Williams could be anyone–Kenneth, Kevin, Karol, Kraig, Karl. Hopefully, they wouldn’t notice my very tiny picture on the back. That’s the giveaway, once they’ve picked it up and read a bit of the blurb, the idea that I am a serious writer is already there. I have given them three very good reasons to take me seriously, before they can dismiss me as a scribbling woman: an amazing cover design, a non-gendered name, a blurb that doesn’t smack of smut. Men can feel assured that they won’t be caught holding the next Bridges of Madison County. Their cred is safe.
It was pretty intuitive of those asking to recognize that it might be because of sexism that I chose my initial over my full first name. Most people who know me, know my first name, and it’s probably pretty easy to pull down from the internet if you’re savvy. That helps with my life staying private.
But, that is not the entire story. I had a great grandmother for the first decade of my life named Katherine (there is some debate in the family about the spelling being a c or a k, but I think the precedence of k names in the family are because it was spelled with a k and we’re all in her honor). She went by Kay. It was this grandmother who helped to take care of me as an infant when my mother took ill immediately after my birth. Obviously, because of my attachment to her, which I had to no one else, I had imprinted on her. Her death was devastating, and I have remarked that she took my soul with her. I wasn’t the same.
So, I chose K. Williams to honor the legacy that I hope for the little girl I once was, for the grandmother that I lost, and to defy the idea that women cannot write anything more than bloody romances.
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