Saturday, March 26, 2005

Rose, Tulip, Daffodil. They're All Just Flowers, Right?

Yesterday morning I woke up with a fully formed idea for a story but it's waayy different than a normal romance. It involves some kind of out-there premises but it's still something I'd love to try someday, so I'm going to write up my synopsis and stick it in the Ideas folder.

But it got me to thinking about writing across genres or sub-genres. I can clearly see myself as a person who will do that because my ideas jump across the lines. Like I said, I'd always thought I'd write historical romance but have since turned my hand to contemporary romantic action, I have a YA idea or two floating around, and with my love of all things Buffy, I can see a paranormal in the mix somewhere.

And this thinking led me to how it is that some writers pull it off so well, which led me to thinking about names, which is where I've landed today.

How do writers come up with their nom de plume? And when is an alternate personae a good thing? And is it important to keep any individual names distinctly seperate with a lot of dramatic secrecy?

Backing up to the first question, and since I'm feeling highly organized today, I'll go about this in a nice orderly fashion. Here are ways I imagine writers determine what name will appear in glossy metallic type sprawled across the naked chest of some Marklander type cover model:

1 - The writer uses her own name. It's a good name and there is no reason not to use it.

2 - The writer's name doesn't lend itself very well to a "romantic" image so at the suggestion of editors or agents or just her own family, she changes Myrtle Brunsweigerfeld to something more splashy, like Bronwen Myrtz or Lacy Galena or some other heroine-like name. Heck, why not. How many of us wish we'd been standing next to our parents when they were filling out the info for our birth certificates so we could have screamed "Noooo....don't do that to me!"

Oh, and this would also cover those writers really named Bruce Butchman but choose to go with the slightly softer Bryn Butler or Rose LaLaLaLane because, well, sorry, Bruce, but everyone knows guys can't write romance!

3 - The writer feels the need to retain some seperation between her real self and her new public personae. If she chooses Bronwen Myrtz, none of the other moms on the PTA will ever know she's the one responsible for Rafe's throbbing manhood and Rowina's pulsing nubbin of flesh and firm globes of creamy white perfection. Nor will any of the dads standing on the sidelines at the Saturday morning soccer game be eyeing her husband with a mixture of disbelief, envy and admiration.

Honestly, I think this is a very legitimate reason for choosing a pseudonym. And I'm not saying this because I have the idea that writers of romance should in any way feel ashamed or embarrassed by what they write. I just know for myself that it's a lot easier to put the image of my grandma reading my love scenes as far from my mind as possible if I have the security of believing she'll never figure out that Lusty DeLibido is really her little Lynnie-bug.

Only problem with this approach is that eventually a big reveal might be required. Or rather, hopefully a big reveal will be required. Every writer would like to think/believe/dream/delude herself that some day in the distant future she'll be so successful she'll have to go on Oprah for one of Oprah's Book Club dinners, and unless she's willing do don a wig and some funny-nose-glasses, her friends and family are bound to say, "Hey, did you know you look EXACTLY like that famous writer, Winona McLoverly, that was on the Oprah Show?"

I suppose she could claim that she was twins seperated at birth, but how would she explain those long absences from Kindermusik class while she was in NYC making the morning show circuit and chatting it up with Katie Couric? Not to mention what happens when they turn her masterpiece into a movie and she has to show up on the red carpet to schmooze with Joan and Melissa about her classic Versace couture gown. Aahhh...the problems that come with success.

4 - I can imagine that coming up with a new name when entering a new genre or sub-genre would be very beneficial. Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb has done this, as has PBW, and I can very much understand why. If only for the simple reason that a hard-edged suspense/mystery novel written by a Nora Roberts doesn't deliver quite the same promise as one written by a J.D. Robb.

Too, I imagine that writing across genres involves injecting different styles and voices, and to carry any reputation a prior name might have earned might cause problems. If I've read and loved ten books by Lucy Scarlettlips who I know has a particular flair with purple prose, I might not believe she'd be able to pull off that based-on-real-life serial murder crime drama she just put out. If she changes her name to Luc Scarlettino, I might give her a go.

This also works for unsuccessful writers. If Lucy Scarlettlips wrote three books that bombed because she hadn't quite found her voice, wouldn't it be nice if she could have a second chance simply by changing her name? I like to believe that we can all improve ourselves, and to be forever burdened by past mistakes because of name recognition is pretty sad. Adopting a new name affords that fresh start.

Which then leads to the whole secrecy thing. What good would it do for Lucy to change her name if I know that it's still Lucy writing the book? Isn't the key to pulling off the whole new-name, new-style switcheroo based on making people believe that the two different names actually belong to two different writers with two different styles? Every single time I see a book by J.D. Robb I immediately say to myself, "Oh...Nora Roberts wrote that. And since I know that, why bother with the whole fake name thing? Who does she think she's fooling?"

There has been discussion that I've read (and I'm too lazy this morning to find the links) about outing writers and whether it is wrong to do or not. The argument, it seems, is that it is unfair to readers who are somehow being "tricked" when they buy a book they think is by a new writer when really it's someone who's been in the business a long time, either successfully or unsuccessfully. After all, why does the writer feel the need to hide behind new names?

While I do agree that it is wrong for a writer to try to sell themselves as a brand spanking new writer (i.e., entering books in contests as a debut effort when really, it's not) if they have some history, I guess I tend to fall in the camp of thinking that it isn't very fair for someone to broadcast to one and all the reality of the name situation. And I would ask, why, if the writer is not up to some nefarious end, anyone feels a need to reveal such information? What are they trying to accomplish except maybe to show that they are on the inside and know what's going on? If a writer writes a good story, worth the money paid for the book, who cares what name is on the cover and whether or not it belongs to a new person or an old-timer trying something new?

As for myself, at first I always believed I'd take a psuedonym because I didn't necessarily want my neighbors to know what I was writing. Now I know that the chances of my neighbors ever reading something I wrote is pretty small, and, too, I feel no need to hide something I hope I'm proud of. Plus there's that whole secret identity problem and the red carpet...

But I do think that, like PBW, I would adopt a new name when I cross genres and sub-genres. If anything, I think doing that would help me enter into a different state of thought. If I'm writing as Marla Squeezeme I'm going to be thinking differently than if I'm writing a book by Dude 4EVR Bit'chn. I want the distinction for myself and I want the readers to know that a book by the former will sound completely different than a book by the later. As such, I'd like for as long as possible to maintain the illusion that two different names means two different writers.

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