Becoming "Famus"

1981
This is the only picture of me in the 80s
I can find. I'm 7, not 13, but close
enough, right?


I wrote my first novel at age thirteen. Afterward, poring over my 400-plus-pages of loose leaf and notebook scribblings, I just knew a literary star had ignited its nuclear engines.

The only question, of course, was which nom de plume to adopt.

In true teenaged fashion, I devoted days to this Very Serious Investment in My Future™. I consulted the local library, super-supportive junior high besties, and at least 2/3 of my sisters before finally landing on a surefire formula.

My first two legal initials are “L. J.”* World weary, thirteen-year-old me apparently knew far too well the patriarchal lay of the land, because I felt certain obscuring my sex would lead to better sales. Obviously, I should outsmart this gender-unequal system by switching my first two initials, from “L. J.” to “J. L.” Ha ha! Take that, sexists!

But, what to do for a last name? Worry not, friends! (Then-)Ultra-Christian, nascent-feminist, barely-teenaged Elle simply cobbled together a portmanteau from the two most important things evs: family and Jesus. Enter “Famus.” (It didn’t hurt that “Famus” also seemed a keen predictor of my literary prospects.)

Circa 1987, lucky future readers (unknowingly) welcomed to the literary world J. L. Famus, future NYT bestselling author.

With endless apologies to J. L., I didn’t actually publish any fiction till my 30s. It’s not you, little J. L.—it’s me. Also, come time to choose my adult pen name, I went a slightly different route, in part because I wanted to honor my recently-deceased father, whose middle name was “Hill.” And unfortunately, little one, we haven’t quite made it to the pages of the NYT. I mean, I do have a subscription, though. So, yay?

Alas, J. L. Famus never really lived up to her ambitious moniker. She served us well, though, keeping this newborn author afloat through two more angsty teenaged novels and dozens of melodramatic short stories. Good ol’ J. L. kept the hearth stoked and the porch swept so that, when Elle Hill moved in a couple of decades later, she found a warm and comfy space to set up her new literary identity.

Hats off to you, Ms. Famus.
* The first initial of my legal name is why I later chose “Elle,” which astute readers may note is pronounced like the twelfth letter of the alphabet.

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