Friday, March 12, 2010

Of Pen Names and Privacy

Kinsey W. Holley is a pen name. Kinsey is the name of my sister-in-law’s dog, W. is the initial of another sister-in-law, and Holley is a family name.

When I first started writing romance a couple years ago, I submitted material to contests under my real name. When I started to place in contests, I thought – holy crap, maybe I can actually get published one day.

Then I thought – Eek! I write graphic sex! There are SO many people whom I wouldn’t want to know about this!

So I made up a pen name.

I'm not ashamed of what I write, but I will confess to a little…embarrassment. One of the sisters-in-law scoffs at this. She says that if she could write books, she’d be so proud of herself she’d tell everyone.

“Okay,” I said. “Pretend you’ve written a scene with the words “clit” and “cock” in it, and then give it to someone’s mother to read. Not your mother, because she’s imperturbable. But someone else’s mother. Or someone your mother-in-law goes to church with. Or one of the guys in your office.”

She thought about it – and agreed that maybe she wouldn’t tell everyone what she wrote.

I've told plenty of people what I do, including one of the librarians I work with. (I just can't see telling my boss. She really doesn't strike me as a romance reader.) Many of my friends have bought and enjoyed Kiss and Kin. But I'm still not ready for people I go to church with, or people Diva goes to school with, or my mother’s husband, or my mothers’ friends – or, you know, my mother – to read this stuff. I may never be. My father-in-law - my father-in-law, people – read my book. Why in God's name did my sister-in-law (that would be the one with the W. initial, not the one with the imperturbable mom) – tell him about it?

Am I being a hypocrite? A coward? If so, I’m not sure I care. Like many people right now, the Hub and I are going through a very rough patch economically; this is not a great time to be a small business owner. I am so grateful every month when I get that royalty statement. If anyone ever criticized me for writing hot romance, I'd point out that my hot romance is paying for my daughter to attend a school we probably couldn't otherwise afford, and for that reason alone I'm glad I do it.

I suppose I could write less steamy sex. But I write paranormal romance, not urban fantasy, and I think most paranormal romance readers expect a certain heat level. I don’t consider my stuff to be erotic romance because the sex-to-story ratio is rather low. I mean, the sex scenes are lengthy and graphic, but they aren’t numerous. In the full length novel I just submitted there are only two sex scenes, and it’s a 100,000 plus word novel.

I’m thinking about this a lot lately because three copies of Shifting Dreams, the anthology in which Kiss and Kin appears, showed up yesterday. I was so psyched! I didn’t even know they were coming. KnK has been available in e format, of course, since June, but yeah – as much as I trumpet ebooks and how wonderful the epub model can be for authors, there is just something magical about holding wood pulp in my hands and looking at my name on the cover:
And then Diva – a reader like her mommy – said, “Oh, a new book! What’s it about?” And I said, “Um, don’t worry about it. It’s a grown-up book.” And she said, “Is it your book, Mommy? The one you wrote?”

Because she knows I write. She knows I’ve written a book, and that it’s been published and that Daddy likes the money it’s brought in. She knows we don’t tell people about the fact that Mommy writes books. But I had to tell her about my writing, because I spend a hell of a lot of time on the laptop and I don’t want her to think I’m ignoring her in order to play video games or something. This is a money-making venture (I hope), and it will benefit her (I hope), and I want her to know about it.

I just don’t want her to read about it. Or tell anyone about it.


Erin Nicholas said...

Hey, Kinsey,
I'm with you! :) I use a pen name (Erin is my real first name... have to avoid as much confusion as possible! but different last name) I have an amazing group of friends and family who know about my writing, read it and support everything about it. But I also have a little group who I love dearly, but who don't know what I do in my spare time (the writing I mean! *g*). I feel guilty about that sometimes, but it's more comfortable that way. Someday that might change, but not right now. And my kids know I write. They know I write stuff they're not supposed to read. Which, at their ages, means they know there are naked people and kissing in there! But they definitely think it's cool and like keeping the "family secret" *G*

Willa said...

I write with a pen name too (so far unpublished but submitting often). I choose to write with a pen name for similar reasons. I don't have a child who might read it but I did think one day I would want an new job, and with how much we network, promo and sell on the internet I didn't want a perspective employer to pull up my works and include the fact that I write erotic romance in my evaluation as a prospective employee. True it could help, many people see the hard work and dedication it takes to write any kind of novel, but many would probably judge it harshly (even though they know nothing about it). My current boss knows I write, but he has no idea what, and its going to stay that way.

I also think having a pen name gives me a freedom I wouldn't have if I knew that my coworkers or the family were going to read my work. I don't want to be untrue to a story because I'm afraid of what my mom or my next door neighbor is going to say about it. Its hard enough dealing with complete strangers criticism, from someone I see everyday it just feels too close to home.

Besides this way its something special I have all for myself. It becomes a gift that I give to let someone into this part of my life.

Kelly Jamieson said...

I'm in the exact same boat. Some people know I write (and what I write) but I will NOT tell the people I work with. I told my MIL she could buy my books to support me but she should not read them. I know she wouldn't like them. There may come a day when I want to (or have to) tell everyone what I do but for now, no. Like you Erin, my kids know I write and they know they can't read it (well, my daughter's almost 20, she could if she wanted to, but she doesn't because she's too busy to read much during the school year). Unfortunately I can't even say the money's worth it, because my royalty checks are barely enough to pay for my writing expenses like website and internet and printer ink. Although my last royalty check was a good one, so good I showed it to the kids, just so (like you Kinsey) they would know I'm not ignoring them because I have an internet addiction - I'm WORKING.