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J.K. Rowling On Her Nom De Plume Robert Galbraith

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Next, one of the world's most famous writers opens up about her hidden life. J.K. Rowling created Harry Potter under her own name, and she's been writing crime novels under a penname, Robert Galbraith. She explained why she felt the need to take a penname elsewhere in today's program and here, tells our colleague David Greene how the secret got out.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Yeah, J.K. Rowling can no longer really hide behind the fake name Robert Galbraith. She was outed back in 2013 after she wrote the first of three crime books. But she's still using the name on her crime novels, and Robert Galbraith certainly still lives on in her mind.

J.K. ROWLING: I mean, Robert's a very real person to me.

GREENE: Oh, yeah? What's he look like? What's the image we should have?

ROWLING: Well, he's younger than me.

GREENE: OK.

ROWLING: But he's a kind of craggy guy. I had a whole biography - very detailed biography worked out for him. There are certain individuals who helped me in this, and we, together, concocted a CV for Robert Galbraith, who is ex-military and who is working in the private security industry. And that's why when he produces this novel, he doesn't want to have his face plaster all over his books because he has a day job. And I have to say that the whole cover worked really remarkably well.

GREENE: You know, I know that - I mean, your publisher knew who you were, so in terms of finding the purity of a first-time author, that wasn't a part of it. But in terms of your relationship to reviewers and readers, I mean, what was the different...

ROWLING: Well, actually. Sorry to interrupt.

GREENE: No, no.

ROWLING: Actually, my publisher didn't know who I was when they first saw the book.

GREENE: Oh, you gave them the manuscript - they didn't know that you were J.K. Rowling?

ROWLING: Oh, no, no, no, no. My editor saw it without knowing who I was, yeah.

GREENE: Wow. And then your editor accepted the manuscript, and you were like, hey, by the way...

ROWLING: Well, we had this very, very, very funny lunch where he didn't know who he was coming to meet. He thought he was meeting my agent, who was also Robert's age, and then I turned up. So that was (laughter) - that was one of the most memorable lunches of all our lives.

GREENE: Your editor was like...

ROWLING: I remember...

GREENE: ...J.K., what are you doing here?

ROWLING: Well, he looked at me, I think - he said - I remember him putting his hands in his hair and saying, this is too much information.

GREENE: OK. So her editor knew Robert Galbraith was J.K. Rowling, and he kept it a secret. But then a newspaper got a tip and revealed who Galbraith really was.

Did you get what you were looking for out of that penname? I mean, now that you were outed, do you feel like you, you know...

ROWLING: I think I did. I'll be honest and say, I wish I had longer. I had this, in retrospect, perhaps crazy hope that I'd get three books out. I was never going to out myself. But I always - I always knew if the books had any success, it would become harder and harder to remain anonymous because, quite reasonably, people would say, well, I would like to interview him or ask him some questions. And it was going to become a difficult pose to sustain.

GREENE: Someone would try to track you down in the woods or something and find you.

ROWLING: Yeah. And - yeah. And that's the way it goes. You know, you feel - well, OK, that's fair game. When I was outed, I was sad that the game was up.

GREENE: That's Robert Galbraith - OK, J.K. Rowling. Her latest crime novel "Career Of Evil," is out now, and she talks much more about it elsewhere in the show.

MONTAGNE: That was also David Greene speaking with author J.K. Rowling. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 2, 2015 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous headline misspelled author J.K. Rowling's name as Rolling.