Monday, July 25, 2016

WHY DO AUTHORS USE PEN NAMES?

By Jane Doe    (aka Valerie Capps)

Have you ever wondered why authors use pen names? I'm sure as writers we can all produce a list of reasons, but I have a theory that the word "Mother" would appear somewhere on most of our lists.

At fifteen years of age, I felt I had found my niche in life. Journalism was in my blood. I joined the school paper and the words seemed to flow naturally from my pen. My English teacher encouraged my writing and even submitted one of my fictional manuscripts, a short story about a teenage girl contemplating suicide, for competition. It placed second. I was thrilled, at least until my mother read the story. Then my budding career came to an abrupt halt.

Convinced that I was the girl in my story, Mother watched me constantly for signs that I might attempt to kill myself. She hid the prescription medicine, bought an electric razor, and suggested that I shower instead of bathe. She would even creep into my room late at night to make sure I was still breathing.

Mother showed my story to anyone in the family who would take the time to read it. If someone happened to mention it was well written, she would lower her voice to a conspiratorial whisper and remind him or her that "normal" people didn't think of such things. You couldn't just make up something like that!

After a while the family furor died down, but I was left with insecurity about allowing anyone close to me read my work. My constant self-censorship greatly hampered my creativity. I finally confided my problem to my English teacher and he told me a lot of authors felt the way I did. He suggested I assume a pseudonym, on the premise that what my mother didn't know wouldn't hurt her. He assured me that many great writers did this and pointed to Mark Twain as an example. I silently wondered if Mr. Clemens had also had a problem with his mother.

I took his advice and things went well for about a year. Then an article I had written for the school paper on drug abuse was reprinted in the local paper. What was worse, they printed my real name! It was right there in black and white for God and the world, and my mother to see! 

Needless to say, Mother was convinced my information had been obtained first hand. Using a fictitious name, she took me to a doctor (in another town, of course) for a physical. The doctor assured her that, considering the state of the world in the mid-sixties, I was within the range of normalcy for a sixteen-year-old and was not on drugs. Mother wasn't convinced and once again I suffered through weeks of covert surveillance as she searched for signs of a drug overdose. 

To Mother's relief, I finally gave up the fight and let my dream of becoming a journalist fade into oblivion. I settled into a nice safe career in business and started raising a family. The years passed and, as people are fond of saying, time healed the void left by my "lost love."  Or so I thought. 

One day we bought a new computer for the office. I installed it, and to check out the word processing capabilities, I typed a short anecdote about a paranoid computer and let it fly across the Internet. The phones came alive as coworkers and friends intercepted my e-mail. Everyone loved it. I was hooked again!

I wrote a short story and dropped it in the mail. It was accepted, published, and I promptly received a check for my work. After all this time, dare I believe I still had the knack? To prove to myself that my first publication in nearly thirty years wasn’t just a fluke, I took keyboard in hand and pounded out another story. Once again, my work was published. I was on a roll!

Somehow my mother, who rarely reads anything but the local paper, got word that I was writing again. She boarded the first bus out of town. (She has never flown—she insists that it is impossible for anything as heavy as a plane to stay airborne.) 

Mother traveled across three states, arrived at the front door with suitcase in hand and announced that she had just dropped by to see how we were doing. Mother stayed a week and for perhaps the first time in our lives we really talked. After all those years of tension and resentment, we finally reached an understanding. Mother agreed to accept that I was a fictional writer and my stories could possibly be the product of a very active imagination. In turn, I assured her I would always use a pen name when I wrote anything that might shock Aunt Mary or the Reverend Brown. Elated that I had finally removed the major stumbling block to a successful writing career, I put Mother on the bus for home.

With the problem of Mother solved, I finally began a romance novel that had been bouncing around inside my head for several months. My inhibitions gone, I proceeded with total abandon and was so excited with the results of my work that I let my husband read part of my first draft. It included a sizzling sex scene. 


“Hey, Honey,” he said, his forehead furrowed into a concerned frown as his gaze quickly scanned the pages of my manuscript, “just where did you come up with this story . . . “

Friday, July 22, 2016

WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT THE WRITING GAME
You only fail if you stop writing! ~ Ray Bradbury

Two years ago, I retired from the rat race and found myself free to do anything I wanted to do. Well, almost anything. So what's next in my life story? 

I've always wanted to write fulltime. I've had short stories and articles published in world-wide markets over the years so I thought, what the heck? I'll write!

I spent the next several months dabbling in writing, mostly articles for magazines. It was fun. I wrote some stuff, sent it off to be published and sat back to wait for the accolades and money to roll in. Easy--right? Well, not so much. I have a very thin skin and get my feelings hurt easily. Any author will tell you that doesn't go very well with submitting manuscripts to editors. Dozens of rejection came my way in those first few months.

I finally completed a novel. I figured it might have a better chance at publication. It has received some impressive rejections. Editors can be pretty blunt. One editor thinks it is a good story and well-written, but a subject that has been "done to death." Another one thinks I am hopeless as a writer and, basically, a worthless human being. That manuscript is sitting on the shelf or I should say sitting on my hard drive. I'm trying to grow tougher skin before I send it off again or try my hand at another novel.

I nursed my wounds and stayed away from my computer for a while. I watched TV, read a bunch of books, cleaned the house--well not really, but the housecleaning part sounds good. Then, encouraged by my famous prolific author daughter and my equally talented content strategist daughter, I found a website that pays (ghost) writers. That meant that no one would know if I was rejected because someone else used my work and signed their name. No harsh feedback and no nasty form letters from editors. 

I sold several articles and two e-books on that site. It satisfied me for a while, plus I was earning a little money. The key word here is "little" money. But the truth be known, writers don't write for the money alone. They write because they must and because they crave the feedback. That's something I wasn't getting--feedback. 

So I've decided to go back to writing under my own name. While I gather my courage for the big commitment of another full length novel, I am writing short stories and sharpening my skills. My short stories are usually under 5,000 words. I believe this fast-paced world has a place for quick reads, plus those of us who are slowing down a bit or have short attention spans like to finish a book in one sitting. My Kindle eBooks take 10 to 20 minutes to read. Wish me luck.


What about you? Are you tough-skinned or do you shy away from what you really love because of fear of rejection?