Pseudonyms and Such

When I was a teenager, I used to read a lot of romance novels. I always thought they would be fairly easy to write.

Enter stage right. Boy meets girl. Boy chases girl. Boy gets girl. Boy does some bodice-ripping. His willy gets mentioned, but you call it something sexy and use the word “throbbing” a lot. Drama happens. Girl leaves boy. Girl cries. Things get fixed. Boy falls at her feet and they make up. His wiggling … errrr … throbbing willy gets mentioned again. Life is good. Curtain.

I have a friend who reads a lot of romances. She calls them her “girl porn.”

I’m poking just a little fun here, but I mean no disrespect to romance writers. Anyone who can weave a story and get paid for it is a hero or heroine in my book. But a few years ago, I actually read some romance publisher’s web sites, and they gave a formula much like this one as the key for successful writing. They didn’t mention the throbbing or the willies, but the rest was pretty much there. I thought seriously about giving it a go. You could make a few thousand dollars as a new published romance writer, and if you clicked, things could get better from there.

But I never did.

Of course, I can say “I never did” about a lot of the things I’ve thought of writing so far. In this case, though, I have a little more understanding of the reasons. My long-term writing goals are in very different genres. Those genres aren’t better or worse than romance fiction, but they are a far cry from it. It seems to me that romance novelists get pigeonholed. For some, I’m sure that’s because they are doing what they want to do and they never try to publish anything else.

But I have to wonder. If an author has a stack of published novels with Fabio on the cover holding some swooning chick who is just about bursting out of her peasant dress, how do publishers react when the same author tries to submit something different?

I’m pretty sure a lot of romance authors write under psuedonyms for that very reason. I thought about that before too. But for me, part of the whole thing was about gaining credibility because my name was in print. If I didn’t want my name on it, I didn’t want to write it.

I’m still kind of that way, and feel a little snobby for it. But we had an interesting discussion in my writing class the other day regarding psuedonyms and whether or not you should use them. Writers publish under different names for a lot of reasons. There is the whole fear of being pigeonholed in a genre. But there’s also just not wanting the attention or simply having fun. Some even create names that sound more “authorlike” because they think their real moniker is boring or silly.

I also learned in that class that Stephen King once wrote a romance novel under a pen name. Now, I have known forever that he’s written tons of things under psuedonyms. I just didn’t know that romance was one of them. And I can see why. For him, it would be just the opposite of someone like me. I’m a new writer who wouldn’t want to get boxed into the romance genre and be dismissed when I tried to transition to something else.   

Stephen King is the master of the crazy and the horrific and the weird. That’s usually not what romance readers are looking for. Would you want a love story set in Pet Semetary? In one of his lesser-known novels, he writes about aliens who make something he calls “shit-weasels” grow inside humans and eventually rip their way out into the world through their butts. Knowing that, would you pick up a Stephen King novel with a lovelorn Fabio on the cover and not worry about that Fabio writing “redrum” on his sweetheart’s walls in blood and then running through the mansion with an axe?

So yeah, I guess if Stephen wanted to try his hand at bodice-ripping, he had to do it under a different name. It isn’t about snobbery. Genres DO get stuck on you like glue if you’re lucky enough to be a successful writer.

I’m not saying I am going to give writing romance under a psuedonym a try. But I’m no longer saying I’m not, either. So what if it isn’t the writing I want to do forever? It IS writing. That’s a step closer. Right now, I make my living as an overtaxed office drone.
If I do go there, I’m not saying I’ll succeed, either. Sure, there’s a formula, but there’s also a gift to it. And I have a weird sense of humor. I might be completely unable to finish a romance novel without mentioning waggling willies. After all, I’m one of the few who WOULD pick up a Stephen King romance, half hoping the shit-weasels would make an appearance along the way.

About hawleywood40

Writer, Steelers Fan in Baltimore, Frequent Visitor to the Shot Fairy
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4 Responses to Pseudonyms and Such

  1. l'empress says:

    Agatha Christie, still one of my favorite writers, tried her hand at romance fiction under the name of…I think it was Mary Westmacott. I read one and never wanted another. (Lost my taste for romance fiction while still in my teens.) Agatha’s mysteries are dated but interesting. Her Egyptian fiction is well researched, naturally, as her husband was an archaeologist.

    Best Christie quote: It’s a good thing to be married to an archaeologist. He gets more interested, the older you get.

  2. Bridgette Gubernatis says:

    I don’t think I’d want my name on the book. I could see using a pen name for that reason as well. If you love to write you can share with those you care about that it is your book. I’d probably go by way of Harper Lee and write one book and then by way of George Eliot.

    I realize that many authors are fairly private people in real life. Although we observe a lot of the world, that keen eye often leaves me feeling like an outsider.

    Two summers ago when I worked in real estate I’d run ads on craigslist and two or three old friends found me this way. I felt exposed and embarrassed. So it’s interesting to consider the way the world has changed with it’s exposure of people. I can see using a pen name as a sweet way out.

  3. hawleywood40 says:

    l’empress, I love that quote : )! Bridgette, your words “that keen eye often leaves me feeling like an outsider” gave me chills. The good kind, because I feel that way so often. On the pseudonym thing, we did this goofy exercise in class combining our towns and pets and a few other things to come up with pen names with a ring … mine ended up being “Vinnie Lansdowne.” I kinda liked it : ).

  4. akamonsoon says:

    Wow, I had no idea that Stephen King wrote a romance novel under a pen name. Of course I’m snickering like a 12 year old thinking about Fabio having a case of the shit-weasels right now.

    It sounds like you are getting so much out of this writing classing right now. I read on FB earlier that you had submitted some work to a popular series. That is awesome! I hope that comes through for you as I would look forward to reading it if it does.

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