The Quirky Ladies is a group of eclectic (and dare I say quirky?) ladies who are passionate about writing romantic fiction. All types of romantic fiction...paranormal, fantasy, historical, erotic and contemporary. Bring it on!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

To Pen Name or Not to Pen Name, That is the Question (apologies, Shakespeare)

Years ago my parents made a pivotal decision affecting my entire life. They chose my name. Michelle Pressma (I’ll skip the middle for sake of brevity – ha!). At times I wondered whether they had chosen correctly. Did I feel like a Michelle Pressma? I asked myself this question mainly in adolescence. Since then I’ve had no time for that level of foolish self-indulgence and preferred to get on with the business of living Michelle Pressma’s life than angsting over the appropriate moniker for the “true me.”

Except, recently this issue has reared its ugly head again. I became a writer and started realizing that many of the most beloved author names painting the books I’ve adored are pseudonyms and not actual birth or legal names. I began to consider this issue. If the wonderful day came when I was offered a book contract, would I choose a pen name or keep the name I’ve used my entire life? I began to feel indignant I would be forced to change my real name. Heck, even when I married I stubbornly insisted on keeping my name. Just because I’d chosen a husband didn’t mean that I’d given up my identity. Why was his name better than mine? Sure, I caved to popular tradition by giving my children his last name, but to this day I keep my own.

I asked myself if I was I ashamed of what I had written? I wasn't. I am a deep believer that to feel shame about an important part of your identity (and what is more self-defining than that which we create?) eats away at self-esteem. We need to be accepting of who we are even at the same time we acknowledge our weaknesses. (Okay, getting off the soapbox now.)
No, I decided. I would not choose a pen name.

Life continued. I met many new writing friends who considered this same question. Often they chose a pen name to protect their privacy, their non-writing career paths, the lives of their children. There are professional reasons to choose a pseudonym, as well. Reasons having to do with sell through numbers, attaining and keeping readership base while genre hopping, keeping first option rights if you create something significantly different than what you produce for a current publisher, etc…

I started to feel the pressure. Then I made a decision to start a project I’d feel uncomfortable publishing under my own name. Fine, I said. I’d choose a pen name for this and similar projects, but still publish other material under my own name.

More friends were offered first contracts. They chose pen names. As it became apparent there was some hope for publishing the material I’d decided would go under my true name, I revisited the question. Yes, there was an argument that my outside career might be affected by my publishing history. Not that my work would be in jeopardy, but that boundaries with clients might be affected.

Consequently, I began the difficult search for alternative names. I examined and discarded and did domain searches for a variety. I had already purchased the domain name for Michelle Pressma and the pseudonym I had previously identified for my less traditional writing. Finally, I came to an uncomfortable peace with a second alternate name for my mainstream fantasy--the stories I’d originally intended to publish under Michelle Pressma. I purchased the new name.

As I write this blog I remain uneasy about my choice. No publishing contract has arrived as of yet for my stories, though I have some hope. I have not made a transition with my website url. You can still visit and read about my mainstream fantasy work. But a distinct possibility exists that Michelle Pressma may disappear in the future. For a few moments Quirky Ladies blog readers might scratch their heads. Huh, what happened to Michelle Pressma and who is this (fill in the blank with pen name) person who has popped up on the Quirky list? Luckily, I have full confidence that this readership will make the transition easily. Heck, I’m not that self-involved that I believe folks waste their precious time obsessed with me. If you do, stop this instant and get a life.

Thank you for indulging me with this rambling. This choice has been on my mind. I am proud of what I write. Some if it is pretty darn good. One way or another, if I publish, and no matter what name I choose, readers will get a chance to enjoy the words I suffered over for so long. They’ll meet the characters I fell in love with and visit my worlds. In the end, this is the important legacy. Like many writers, I write because I have to write. That doesn’t go away no matter what I call myself.


Name to be determined later


Penny Watson said...

Michelle, not many people get to "re-invent" themselves over the course of their lifetime. Most people are stuck with their given names whether they like it or not. I think you should embrace this chance to adopt a new name...celebrate your writing career with a name that is meaningful to you! It's a cool way to usher in the next phase of your career...publication!...which I know is right around the corner for you.

Dalton Diaz said...

I have a different take on it, Michelle. I was "blessed" with a real name that is rarely said or spelled correctly, first or last. Yes, I have a pen name because I write erotic stories, but it also feels darn good to use a name that is rarely misspelled or mispronounced. Oh, and I don't have a middle name. Never have. I was the brat on the on the schoolyard who said, "I'll tell you mine if you'll tell me yours" only to inform them I didn't have one. Whatta brat, huh? It only worked if they went first, tho.