Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Use of Pen Names

I asked several erotica and non-fiction sexuality authors about the issue of pen names...

Do you use a pen name?

Gwen Masters: Yes. Always.

Gwen Masters is an erotica author and occasional songwriter, among other things. Her latest novel is Sex & Guitars. Her stories have been featured lately in Best American Erotica 2006, BUST Magazine, and the Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 6. She's a regular at Ruthie's Club (www.ruthiesclub.com) and an editor at Clean Sheets (www.cleansheets.com).

Roxanne Rhoads: Yes.

Roxanne Rhoads is a freelance writer, erotica author, poet and editor. Her poetry has appeared on justusroux.com, sensualvenus.com, barebackmag.com, oystersandchocolate.com, theeroticwoman.com and on tit-elation.com. Her nonfiction work can be read at Sex-Kitten.Net and Associated Content. Her erotic fiction stories have appeared in Playgirl Magazine and Tit-Elation.Com (where she also is an editor). Her story Eternal Passions can be purchased at midnightshowcase.com and her short story Renata and the Vampire Hunter can be purchased at ladyaibell.com.

Carrie White: The name I have chosen for my pen name is also my maiden name, so in effect the answer to your question is yes and no. Yes, I do use a pen name and no, I don't, because my pen name is my 'real' or maiden name.

Carrie White has written a number of erotic short stories, self published a few e-books and has been published both in print and online. Her story 'Casino' features in The Right Words anthology edited by Stevie Burns. Her latest e-book, Inner Sins, is a collection of articles about the different aspects of sex based on the author's own personal experience. More details about Carrie can be found at her website.

What were your reasons for using a pen name? (Please list in order of importance, with the most important at the top, and give the percentage for your number one reason.)

* privacy, fear of stalkers or other dangers
* to shield family or friends
* to keep your 'adult' works separate from your 'mainstream' works
* privacy, just to be more anonymous
* just liked the sound/idea of a new name
* other(s) (please list)

Gwen: Privacy, fear of stalkers or other dangers is 90%, the rest is 10%

Carrie: I've never been concerned about stalkers etc. Call me naive but it's something I've never even thought about. I'm proud of who I am so I'm not interested in hiding away. True family and friends should be supportive of you whatever your chosen career is so to shield them from your work kind of defeats the object. I've not had much experience writing outside of my chosen genre. If anything, I would like to mix my interests up together, so it would be okay to keep my pen name the same. I decided to use my maiden name because not only do I consider my married name unsuitable but I also preferred the sound of my maiden name and it's also the name of a very famous character in a Stephen King novel.

Roxanne: I use a pen name for many of the reasons listed; I want my privacy and I want my family shielded from any back lash that can occur because I am a sex writer. I have three kids and I am involved in a lot of the things they do and who knows how some of the other parents may react to what I write. I also want to keep my sex writing and mainstream writing separate.

If you were advising or mentoring another author, would you advocate "for" or "against" the use of a pen name?

Roxanne: To anyone writing erotica or other sexual works I highly recommend using a pen name. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Gwen: I would absolutely tell them that they need a pen name. Keep in mind: You can have thousands of fans that are absolute joys and treat you with the utmost respect. But it just takes one with the wrong kind of agenda to turn your world into a nightmare. A pseudonym will protect you from that.

Carrie: This is a difficult question for me. I don't have any strong feelings either way. I think it's all just a matter of choice. I would just say that it was up to them.

Would it make a difference if the author was writing works "for all audiences" or "for adults only"? If so, how?

Carrie: I think only if the author wrote children's books alongside adult books then a pen name would be good. But with any other genre, that's tricky. It may be necessary if there was a risk that it would ruin your credibility in the adult market or vice versa, but that would depend on whether you know your subject matter or not.

Roxanne: Under my real name I write everything including mom stuff and stories and articles for kids. Those publishers might not accept my writing if it was linked to the other things I write. It's unfair that things are viewed like that, but I can't change it so it is better to keep things separate.

Gwen: I think a pseudonym should be used in most circumstances. However, it would make a pseudonym even more necessary if a person was writing for adults only. Those of us who write about sexuality tend to seem more accessible in intimate ways, perhaps – there have been people who claimed they "knew" me because they had read so many of my stories, and they thought they knew what I liked in bed. They offered to show me, sometimes to the point of threatening to show me. When I was writing in any other genre, I never had that kind of problem.

What consequences, if any, have there been in using a pen name? (Problems with payments, complexities with credentials, issues with public appearances etc)

Gwen: I haven't had many problems with using the pseudonym. Most editors and publishers are used to that, and so they always ask what my legal name is, and that's what they use on the check. Only twice has it happened that an editor used my pen name instead of my real name on a check, but those situations were taken care of very quickly, and I had no complaints.

Carrie: My only problem I've come across is that all my official documents and accounts are in my married name. Sometimes, with the way that some publishers have their websites set up it means I have to give my official name as well in order to receive payment. That could mean that the credits or byline on my work may include my married name and I don't want that! One day, soon, I will change all my official documents back into my maiden name so that I would no longer have to worry about this.

In your opinion, how prominent is the stalking of authors?

Carrie: Personally, I've never heard of any stories about the stalking of authors. Maybe, I'm out of the loop but I've just not heard anything about it. Perhaps it has occurred with some of the Best Selling authors, but if it has, it's not made many headlines.

Gwen: Most of the authors I know have dealt with stalking on some level. It's the norm rather than the exception, but it isn't something that makes the evening news, so the general public doesn't know about the prominence of it until someone with a big spotlight gets stalked – the Stephen Kings of the world, let's say -- or until someone winds up killed by the person who was obsessed with them.

Roxanne: I also worry about stalking. I don't know how many authors are actually stalked. I've seen it in movies and in books much more than I've heard about it in real life though I'm sure it must happen especially to very popular writers. I had an experience with it early in my career when I wrote for the local newspaper. My photos sometimes appeared along with my work and it caught the attention of some local guys. Some only wrote letters but some looked me up and called my house and even showed up at my house. It was creepy. No one ever got out of hand and once they got the hint I wasn't interested they went away, but it could have been worse. Now being a sex writer I decided it was best to use a pen name to avoid any weirdoes that might get any obsessive tendencies or strange thoughts.

How did you select your name? (Any tips or 'things to avoid' that you'd like to mention?)

Carrie: My only advice in choosing a name (one that I haven't followed myself!) is to choose one as high up in the alphabet as possible. This way when your book is in the bookstores, consumers do not have to crouch down to the lower shelves to find your book.

Gwen: My name is actually the blending of the names of two of my friends. Several of us were sitting at dinner one night, tossing around names that I might use, and we started combining names of the people at the table. As soon as "Gwen Masters" was uttered, that was it. It felt perfect.

Make sure your pseudonym fits you, and make certain that it is something you can live with. If you are a very prolific or popular author, you will wind up answering to your pseudonym just as often – if not more often! – than your real name.

Roxanne: I created my pen name before I ever started writing erotica. Roxanne was the sexy alter ego persona that I created when doing something special for my husband. She is the completely uninhibited sex goddess. When I started writing erotica, naturally she became the sex writer.

If you have a story about why you use a pen name -- and you feel comfortable sharing it -- please tell us about it.

Gwen: I chose to use a pseudonym early on in my career. It wasn't in response to anything other than the vague possibility of something negative happening in the future. When it did happen – when I dealt with stalking from two angry women and one very persistent man within the same few crazy months – I was forever thankful that I had a pseudonym.

I realized early on that giving away my real name was very easy, and when I chose a pseudonym for my erotica writing, I chose a different approach to dealing with the "when do I give them my real name?" situation. Those who write my checks know my real name, and they are also careful not to reveal it, of course. In my personal life, I can count the people who know my real name on two hands. Even those who think they do, don't. I've been extremely careful, and it literally saved my life a few years ago. Never underestimate the value of a pseudonym.

When someone is trying to tell you something, trying to warn you, pay attention. When the stalking I dealt with a few years ago took a very serious turn, it was a reader who alerted me to it. She forwarded emails that contained very specific threats against my life and the safety of those close to me. That gave me the proof to turn over to authorities, and it also gave me a "heads-up" to protect my family. If I had ignored her emails, I might not have known until it was too late. The thought makes me shudder.

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