I can think of several reasons to use more than one name, and most of them involve getting away with some criminal activity. But if you are Michael Marshall Smith, each name represents a category of sorts for bringing stories, novels, and screenplays into the world.
The first time I saw The Anomaly at Powells Books in Portland, Oregon, I didn’t know who the author, Michael Rutger, was. But the description of “Indiana Jones meets X-Files” was right up my alley, so I bought the book, loved it, and it wasn’t until after I finished reading that I searched online and found Mr. Rutger had already written several books I enjoyed, including the influential (and Stephen King praised) novel The Straw Men, under a different name. The Straw Men, by Michael Marshall was later re-released by Cemetery Dance in a special edition that included pages of Smith’s handwritten notes for keeping tracking of all the twists and turns.
Although born in England, Smith spent much of his early childhood growing up elsewhere; America, South Africa, and Australia. His early work, written as Michael Marshall Smith, was mostly horror and science fiction. But when Smith wrote The Straw Men, a novel about serial killers, it was so different from his other novels that he and his publishers decided a name change was in order to market the new work.
That book became part of what was eventually a trilogy that includes The Upright Man and Blood of Angels. Smith continued to write under the Marshall name for his next four supernatural/suspense/thriller novels before returning to Smith for his 2017 novel Hannah Green and her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence.
With The Anomaly, Smith once again took on a new name for what is turning into a wonderful series that follow Nolan Moore, a YouTube documentarian who investigates paranormal phenomena. Part mystery, part thriller, and all adventrure, the new Rutger novel, The Possession veers straight into horror when Moore and his team look into a what may be a case of witchcraft in a remote American village.
Whatever name he goes by, Michael Marshall Smith has an uncanny ability to write intense and exciting books. He was kind enough to answer some questions via email.