Ramblings Of a Steampunk Writer

A blog about writing... occasionally mine. But, mostly just writing.
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The Pen Name: Writing for a Different Genre & What It Means For Audience

Saturday, November 29, 2014


In 1968 James T. Tiptree wrote Birth of a Saleman for Analog Science Fiction. He corresponded with fans and others via letters, never once speaking on the phone or meeting with people at conventions. His life was private, and, many assumed his reasoning had everything to do with keeping his writing separate from his everyday. Considering many other writers of the time did the same, working another job on top of writing and not wanting either to become entangled, it was a sound explanation. But, in 1976 James was outed during a slip when he revealed in a letter that his mother had passed away."Inquiring fan-sleuths identified the obituary—and its reference to an only child, Alice Sheldon" (Techgnotic).

For female fan readers everywhere this meant the feminist themes in James’ stories made more sense. This also gave them reason to cheer when so many male fans of James’ writing, writers and simply readers alike, all felt there was no way such writing could come from a woman. Of the experience, Alice only had to say:

“I've had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.” (Sheldon via Techgnotic).

Many writers like Alice have had similar reasons for choosing a pen name over the name they were given at birth (or, several days later if their parents had a case of indecision). For some, it really is a matter of keeping their identity hidden due to sexism. J.K. Rowling was also one of these women; her publisher, Barry Cunningham, thought that boys might be more likely to overlook the series if it was known a woman wrote it. Thus, her name—Joanne—was remade. (The K stands for Kathleen—her grandmother’s name.)

But it’s not just women.

In the romance genre it’s almost entirely unheard of for a man to write, so if one did write for it he too would likely choose a pen name that denoted him as female. Don’t believe me? I cite Leigh Greenwood; to meet her in person you would call him Harold Lowry. Much the same goes for Jennifer Wilde (Thomas Elmer Huff) and Jessica Blair (Bill Spence).

But a name we with write with—be it our name or one we’ve name up—isn’t just something that’s on the book. It does represent you, doesn’t it? For a writer this can be more than a matter of sexism, but also of genre. If you’ve established yourself an erotica novelist and suddenly want to write YA adventure books, it can become a problem. Do you take a different name, or take the chance of your established audience shying away from this new project—either out of fear of it being bad, or, because of disinterest in said genre?

It does pose other problems as well if you’re an indy writer, or, a writer who depends heavily on advertising via your own pocket. Do you make a new webpage for this personality? Or, remake your own page to suit both sides of yourself?

Unlike the question of sexism in writing and reading, the answer might not be so obvious. There isn’t an easy solution. It really comes down to what your capable of, and, how comfortable you are as a writer. If the genre you’ve established yourself in isn’t too different from the new one you want to write in as well, then why not use the same name instead of reinventing yourself? However, if you’re known as a children’s writer and are thinking about writing erotica… it might be best to pick a new name. (Or, if your a man writing in a female-predominated genre: a female name.) It does mean working from the ground up, but if it feels better for you then the chances might be better served rebuilding a little.


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The Dreaded Creativity Curse

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I had an interesting conversation with a fellow writer friend today. Actually, he shared an image with me that had me laughing and thinking, "Yes, that happens to me all the time."


I've often wondered about artists and how they continue to create and make things, constantly worrying themselves to death about how good or bad something is. A million people could think their work is amazing, brilliant, and setting some kind of precedence; however, ask them about it and I'll tell you all they wished they'd done differently now that its done.

I'm guilty of this. I look back on things I wrote last week and think to myself, "I could have done that better. I should have worded this that way." It gets worse the farther I go back; though, there are those singularly rare occasions when I create something and tell myself, "Don't fuck with it. Nope. Not doing it."

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why? Why do we worry and sigh before telling ourselves we'll just make it count in the next project? Better yet, that the next project will be better and you'll do something entirely different with it? Part of you loves what you did before, but you end up partially regretting it like a sullen child who thinks you just didn't have enough time.

That might be a drastic exaggeration, but you get my point.

I think every artist in every category in life, be it a architect, a painter, or a engineer thinks this way because its what drives them to keep going and keep making this amazingly beautiful things we all get to experience. (Which, is pretty much what the comic says...) If artists were entirely satisfied with what they made they'd stop, I think. Some musician would listen to that piece as he played it, finish, and then say, "Well, that's it. I've done it--made the perfect song. No more oboe for me, no sir."

I'm not sure I can imagine my life being unable to create and write; it would be a dismal existence indeed. And really, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't trying to achieve and unachievable perfection with each work I complete. I know I'll never get there, but I bask in that knowledge even as I desire what I can never have. The drive to write the perfect novel urges me to put fingers to keys and to keep enjoying my passion.

Perfection might be unobtainable, but striving for it has its purposes.
 

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