Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Who, Who Are You?

Today, I thought we’d chat about that old bugaboo—pen names. Pseudonyms. The nom de plume. Why do writers use them? Why are they so prevalent in erotic writing? Is it a necessity to cloak yourself in a new identity if you’re writing about sex? Or can you just be plain old you?

Of course, writers use pen names for at least a million reasons, and maybe more: to protect themselves and their loved ones, to save their career (see the recent rash of politicians writing erotica under a nom de plume), to keep their anonymity, to write more freely…

In some cases, it’s used as a marketing tool. (Apparently, publishers believe that a writer with a name like Howard Dumpleberry is probably going to sell a lot less erotic books than a writer named Arizona Gorgeousbody).

Over the years, many writers have used pen names to great success (and often found even greater success after their real name was disclosed to the public). Right off the top of my head, I think of two:

Anne Desclos, the intellectual French Journalist and translator who penned “Story of O” under the pseudonym Pauline Reage. The story is that she wrote the sado-masochistic book after her lover told her than women couldn’t write erotic novels.

Under the pen names A.N. Roquelaure and Anne Rampling, Anne Rice wrote her “Sleeping Beauty” series as well as a number of other erotic works. (By the way, while we’re talking about names, did you know that her given name was Howard Allen O'Brien?)

On the other hand, there are erotic writers out there who have chosen to disclose their identity, to be proud of what they write no matter the costs. Susie Bright is a perfect example. Cecilia Tan, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Bill Noble…the list goes on.

Personally, I’ve chosen not to use a pen name. For lots of reasons. The first is probably because I’m too damn proud. If I’m going to go through all the time and energy to write something good, I want the world to know it’s mine.

The second reason is because I made a choice early on that if I was going to write erotica and make money at it, I had to give back. And for me, that giving back means being proud to write about sex. It means showing respect to my readers—if they’re going to be brave enough to buy and read my writing, then I’m going to be brave enough to claim it as mine. And it means making a dent in a system (at least here in the States) that says sex is bad and is something that must be hidden. When people ask me what I write, I want to be able to say, “I write erotica, and here is my book that I’m so very proud of."

Okay, ladies (and gents), I’ve spouted off long enough. Do you use a pen name? Why or why not?

And, readers chime in: do you like it when an author uses their own name? Do you prefer not to know who's writing the books you read? Do you not care as long as the writing’s good?

Inquiring and erotic minds want to know!


Shanna Germain


Alison Tyler said...

Hi Shanna,

Awesome, intelligent post…
My favorite pen name story is this: There is a top-500 reviewer on Amazon who hates me. Trashes my novels with flat-out nasty reviews. However, he also loves me. He just doesn’t realize he loves me. Although he slams almost every Alison Tyler work I put out, he has heaped praises on the work I’ve done under a pen name.

Go figure.

Didn’t Stephen King also write under a pseudonym? And I’ve always been curious as to why Anne Rice used three different names. Now, as a religious writer, is she penning under Anne O’Brien Rice? (That’s what I heard.)

Anyway, looking forward to the discussion...


Shanna Germain said...

Alison, that's a great story! And it's a perfect example of how it's not always the writing that people don't like. Sometimes it's the subject matter or this impression that they have of the "author."

And yes, King used the name "Richard Bachman." And I've read that he did it for two reasons: 1. He wanted to see if his books would sell without the "King" name on them and 2. He didn't want to flood the market with King books.

I don't know why Rice used so many names. It's truly been an amazing journey for her, I'd guess, from s/m to vampires and now to religious work. It will be interesting to watch what happens.

May said...

I do intend to use a pen name, though I don't write erotic novels, because even other Chinese people have problems pronouncing my last name. Why oh why couldn't I have been born with one of the easy ones, like Lisa See or Cecilia Tan? LOL.

As a reader, I don't mind. I'll track down everything the fabulous Alison Tyler writes, for instance but it's difficult if you don't know about the pseudonym. That's why I think printable bibliographies are an absolute must on an author website.

Nikki Magennis said...

Would you believe I was told my real name was too absurd for an erotica writer? Howardina Rumpelstiltskin Dumpleberry - I mean, who could have thought that absurd? (How did you find that out, by the way, Shanna?)

I've grown fond of my 'nym'. I even got a message from the REAL Nikki Magennis, who is lovely and offered me a free tattoo.

Plus I like to have a buffer between me and my smut. As though I could blush and act all coy and pretend it wasn't me who dunnit, should anyone ever raise the subject...

Madelynne Ellis said...

Hi all,

Yeah, psuedonames. I use one, well half of one. Madelynne is actually my middle name. The Ellis part is in honour of Emily Bronte. As for why, well, it's not to hide my identity, as all my family and friends know that I write erotica. It just seemed like a good idea when I was writing my first novel because my real name isn't terribly exciting.

Madelynne Ellis said...

Damn, I wish I could spell...

Shanna Germain said...

Damn, I wish I could spell...

Now that is one reason I would consider using a pen name (and did you notice I said "pen name" and not that psuedo-nimmy that I can't spell either!), is to protect myself from all those writing errors.

Sometimes I do stupid things like write "right" instead of "write" and I still can't figure out how to spell certain words. I'd tell you what they were, but then you'd see badly I actually spell them, and I'd have to steal Nikki's real name as my pen name and all hell would break loose!


Nikki Magennis said...

Okay, but can I be Arizona Gorgeousbody in that case? According to the pornstar name generator I'm Sandra Spunk, and I don't like that at all

Shanna Germain said...

Oh my god, that thing told me my pornstar name is Mary Muffmuncher!!!!

I'll trade you...


Robin L. Rotham said...

I use a pen name because I wouldn't have a babysitter for special occasions if I didn't.

posting as other said...

Apparently, my pornstar name is Venus Vegas. Sounds like an embarrassing infection to me.

I am posting as other in order to protect my true identity but it's me really. Oh, you know ... me! ME!

Jeremy Edwards said...

Knock-knock. Hi! I heard a rumo(u)r that boys may enter the clubhouse, provided we furnish the right password. Fortunately, the "Dirty Words" post below has given me a long list of passwords to work from.

Yeah, the pseudonym tradeoff. In my case, I felt it was the prudent way to go. Too many conversations I'd rather not have, too many potentially-awkward interactions that I can live very happily without. But, yes, a tradeoff. The disunity of one's publication credits. The suggestive hole in one's resume. The additional layers of complication on one's semiannual identity crises. The weak substitution of a "Not much" for a "My story is appearing at blah blah blah" when a friend asks what's new. (On the other hand, I probably talk about myself too much as it is, so this forced reticence is a good exercise in reining in my ego from time to time!)

Shanna Germain said...

Hi Jeremy,

Good to see you here! We could use a few more boys around these parts. I figured that the red-head in the post might draw a few!

And Mathilde,

I love that post, and the idea that you get to almost create (and re-create yourself as a character). That, to me, sounds like a fun thing. Perhaps I should start writing a specific genre and only submitting it until a pen name. That would be kind of fun. But on the other hand, I feel like I'm sort of stuck with this, "I've never used a pen name" stance. I should probably just get over it!



Shanna Germain said...

See, now I wish I could type!

That would be: *under a pen name.

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

Interesting topic!

I write under a variety of names as a necessity! When I first published, I was writing mainly SF/F, and used my own name (Dayle A. Dermatis). But I also sold erotica to venues that required pen names, and I didn't think anything of it.

Now, I have two co-authors, so both sets have joint names (Sophie Mouette and Sarah Dale). Meanwhile, I still sell SF/F and media tie-in under my own name, so my solo erotica is also under a pen name (Andrea Dale) so readers don't pick up something and get a shock because it's not like the last thing they read. ;-P

All that said, I don't hide any of it--my business cards list all my genres and pen names, and my website lists all my publications and the various names they're under. I'm not ashamed of writing erotica--far from it!--so I have no reason to hide that aspect of my work.

Another aspect of using a pen name is the business of publishing. If you start having bad sales, changing your name is one way to start fresh. As someone mentioned, Stephen King used a pen name for a while because his publisher didn't want him to glut the market. Thankfully today, if you're popular enough, that doesn't matter--look at Nora Roberts! But there are still a myriad of business reasons to use different names, and I don't have a problem with that--this is my career, and it's a business.

As a reader, though, I find it a little annoying. I freely read across genres, and I tend to follow authors rather than "types" of books. (I'll try new authors, of course, but if I like an author, they get first dibs on my book-buying money. [g]) So I like it when an author is open about all his/her names.

(Ooh, my porn star name is Nurse Naughty!)

Jeremy Edwards said...

By the way, I should add that I am definitely proud rather than ashamed to write erotica. Though I personally don't want to have to try to explain to certain categories of people in the big wide world why I'm proud rather than ashamed, I ardently admire those of you who undertake this. (Heck, I wouldn't even want to have to deal with the innocuous jaw-dropping and heavy teasing that many people who were basically accepting of the whole thing might be inclined to indulge in. So you'll find me sprawled pseudonymously on a chaise longue, basking in the hassle-free comfort one finds among readers and writers who are self-selected as believers in erotica as a legitimate art form.)

Jeremy Edwards said...

P.S. Hi, Shanna! Thanks for the welcome. : )

Portia Da Costa said...

Hi guys

Just getting back into the swing of things after Christmas...

Pen names... pah! I've got more than I can actually remember, mostly assumed so that I could write different things for different publishers and all made up in a fit of deranged silliness... I mean, Portia Da Costa, how absurd is that? I suppose I harboured the vain hope that some readers might think I was a Brazillian countess or something, but when people get to know me they all quickly discover I'm a down to earth Yorkshire lass who's about as exotic as floor mop.

H'wever... I don't really hide my real name, because having so many different identities, the real me is a good umbrella name to bring together the lot of them under. Haven't had any crazed stalkers yet... but there's always hope!

Rachel Kramer Bussel said...

This is a very interesting post. Yes, I do use my real name, for erotica and non-fiction. I guess I got into the habit early on (I started writing erotica in my early 20s but wrote other things before that) and never really thought about the pseudonym route all that much. It's worked out, though I would say people should really consider that choice early on.

At the same time, I have a few psuedonyms. I've used them when I either don't want my real name on a story or, in some cases, when I have multiple stories in a given book and either the editor/publisher or I think it would be more advantageous to have a variety of bylines rather than the same name show up over and over.

As an anthology editor, I would say at least half of the authors I work with use pseudonyms. I don't mind, though I find that I usually only have the brain capacity to truly remember one name for them, not two (or more). But I do think that a pseudonym should sound at least somewhat realistic, at least, if I'm publishing the person. It doesn't have to be Jane Smith, but when people come up with ones that are some variation of "Ima Ho" or just something outrageous and over-the-top, if you ask me, it makes the entire genre look a little silly.

Portia Da Costa said...

Ack, with the amount of silly pseudonyms I've got, it's a wonder that I haven't singlehandedly destroyed the entire genre! LOL

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Wonderful post, Shanna. I wish everyone were able to attach his/her own name to the fiction they create, but there are many good reasons for not doing so.

I've heard lots of writers talk about choosing names that got them better shelf placement, or placement near a bestselling author.

Whether you use your given name or a nomme de plume, I think you're all awfully brave to write what you do. And I'm terribly grateful, as is my husband.

BTW, back to Alison Tyler's post. I'm wondering if your ambivalent reviewer pal is brave enough to use his real name...

My friends gave me the nomme de plume Vonda Decollete. Which I guess would work just as dandy were I a porn actress.

Michelle Buonfiglio, who won't be hired for a busty fetish flick any time soon.

Kate Pearce said...

I use a pen name because I like the thrill of anonymity. I have 3 teenage sons and although they all know what I write and are very supportive, I don't particularly want all their friends and their friends parents to start googling me. (Yanno-in California, a lot of people take sex very seriously...)

It was also a fabulous opportunity to poke a little fun at my mum (should I say mom now I live in CA?) by using her maiden name, Pearce...she's very middle class and is totally horrified by what I write. I kept the Kate because I don't think I'd remember to answer to anything else!

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

I'm the other half of Sophie Mouette, but just about everything else I've published has been under my own full name. The exceptions were one story that the editor wanted under a pseudonym because I already had one story in the anthology and a contracted but not yet published erotic horror piece that's under a different name because I swear my Evil Twin wrote it. Either that or my muse was really wasted. For those two, I used combinations of various names from my family history--one being the one I used to give to creepy but persistent guys in bars, along with a fake phone number.

The interesting thing is that I write poetry and some speculative as well as erotic fiction. I don't know that there's a lot of overlap between the people who like my nature-oriented, pagan poetry and those who like my erotica, but I imagine there might be some confusion if someone of the poetry in SageWoman, then Googled me and stumbled upon BDSM erotica when expecting more thoughtful pagan poems!

The only time I've regretted not using a different name for erotica was when a teacher friend started talking about having me come to his school as a visiting poet.

And then we both stopped to think about the possible complications if some student--or worse, the parent of one of the little darlings--decided to find more of my work. The ramifications for me could, in the long run, be great publicity. ("School Accidentally Hires Erotica Writer as Poet-in-the-School" would probably get picked up by the wire services because face it, it's funny) but probably wouldn't be great for my friend's career.

R. said...

I publish under three names, and my primary pseudonym is not that pseudonymous. Its just my first initial and last name, and I only do that because, well, I want to. I rolled out two new pseudonyms in the past year to sort of have a bit more organization to the writing that's being published. And also, because its really awkward when my students tell me they've read something of mine. I'm proud of everything I write but as a woman in the classroom teaching 25 19-22 year old guys at a predominately male university, its besst to start separating my professional lives.