Many writers use pen names in the genre world. Some are just deviations or abbreviations of their day-to-day names like Chuck Box writing as “C.J. Box.” Others use multiple names for the various “types” of stories they write, like Jayne Ann Krentz who uses that name, her married name for contemporary romantic-suspense, her maiden name, Jayne Castle, for paranormal romance and Amanda Quick for her historic romantic-suspense. She gave an interesting talk at the RWA National Convention about how she’d destroyed the “Jayne Castle” voice for a while, because readers wouldn’t buy it. She later resurrected the name with the upsurge in interest in paranormal romance.
So, I can see the point: Chuck picks something that looks good on a cover. Jayne uses several names, to guide readers to the kind of story they like to read.
But it starts to get silly in the world of online writers loops. Maybe it’s complicated by the fear of internet stalkers thing. But often someone will have an email address like firstname.lastname@example.org and then her IM avatar will be called Stella, Queen of the Night. Then she’ll email you and say her name is really Mary Beth Jones, but that she writes as Angora Conch. It splits my skull, I tell you. Especially if I’ve only met her online and have managed to recognize bethwrites and Stella as the same person, but she wants to hook up at the RT convention, but her name tag will probably say Angora.
I know, I should talk. But I’m only Jennifer for legal stuff. Everything I’ve written is as Jeffe Kennedy. My email address is my name, at my domain name, which is my name. My avatars are all some version of Jeffe. I contemplated seperating my fiction and nonfiction selves with a pen name, but all my stories feel like a part of me. I want them all to belong to the same name.
It’s interesting to me, because the literary types rarely do this. Oh, they’ll do the Chuck Box thing, or like I did. But, as a “serious” writer, your name, your self, is your copywrightable product. Much was made for some time of making sure you got the yourname.com domain, since your name is your product.
Of course, there’s the element of fantasy in the world of romance. Readers escape into it, so it’s natural that the writers do, too. Everybody wants to be the spy or the superhero, with multiple secret identities. But there’s also some obsfucation involved. Anne Rice wrote BDSM stuff as A.N. Roquelaure and another novel that toyed with pedophilia as Anne Rampling. Perhaps it’s a nod to the Puritanical whispers in our culture, the urge to hide behind an alternate identity. Though the trend these days seems to be to proudly acknowledge all pen names, which to me begs the point of having them in the first place.
Of course, the most interesting part of any spy or superhero story is when the secret identity is revealed. Noteworthy that it’s also the crisis point when the hero is brought down. Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true and it must follow, as the night follows day, thou canst not be false to any man.”
I wonder sometimes, if the secret identity makes one more true or more false, inside our skulls.