New York Times writers on writing series – Susan Richards Shreve

Again I won’t post the whole article here, just go to “A storyteller finds comfort in a cloak of anonymity” in the aforementioned series. This also relates (sort of) to the post on Jim C.Hines’s blog, interview with an author who used a pseudonym. So pseudonym (or nom-de-plume) is the topic of today’s rant.

Susan Richards Shreve used it to write under another race voice (she’s white and wrote form a black woman’s POV). “Benjamin Tate” did it to start a new series of books – read his reasons in the interview. I do it because (like I say in the comments to BT’s interview)

“I use a pen-name or pseudonym because my real family name is in the unpronouncable/unspellable category even for my mother tongue (Italian – it contains a “grammar mistake”. And I’m not that fond of it that I want to see it on a book cover. I picked up the pseudonym years ago, even if I’m still unpublished. I’ve written some articles (in Italian) under my real name, but I keep the “journalist” very separate from the “writer” (I’m a writer, I don’t like being a journalist, so I quit doing it – never was may “dayjob” anyway! ;-)).”

During my first writing course (in 2001) there was a 17-year-old who couldn’t believe our teacher had written an anthology under a pen-name. She couldn’t believe someone would hide his/her name – I was about to tell her. I’ve lived in 3 different countries, traveled to a few more, and I can tell you my real family name is a real pain in the… whenever I reach the customs or check-in or whatever. As I couldn’t find a husband to legally change it (maybe I didn’t look very thoroughly… ;-)), I picked up a pseudonym a long time ago. In the late 80s, and used it as a ziner in the 90s.

Susan says “And so began the deep pleasure of anonymity” – something I think most have learned to enjoy through the internet in later years (in 2001 it wasn’t very spread, especially in Italy. I wonder if that girl now uses a nick or something – can’t remember her name, can’t google her, haha). Here are more words of wisdom from her about the topic:

Fiction is a glimpse at our common humanity, a reminder of it, a generous engagement between the reader and the imagined world of a book. So much of what we do as writers, no matter how grounded in the particular a story might be, is a leap of faith.

What I found myself thinking about, disappearing into the mind and heart of my young black protagonist, was the process of discovery, even self-discovery in writing outside of my own experience. Here is this young woman with no sense of who she is racially, sexually, no capacity for telling the truth, sinking toward madness. It is the reader who first knows the truth about this young woman’s experience and in that recognition comes, I hope, as I did, to love her.

After all, even Shakespeare tells us “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet” (and there you have roses again. Maybe I should have chosen “Barbara Rose” as a pseudonym! :-D)… so what are your thoughts on the topic? Pseudonym or not?

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  1. I’m for the pseudonym though my name is more or less my name, with a minor variation. Mostly I wanted to keep my writing seperate from my teaching – as much as possible.


    • same here! Keep the writing away from real life/day job (+ the problem of spelling&pronounciation, of course)! 😀


  2. There are other good reasons for choosing a pen name. My legal name is very common. If I do a google search I come up with more than a hundred thousand people who are not me, so it’s more of a practical thing for me.


    • that’s definitely another point! Love your pen-name, btw! 🙂


    • You mean your name isn’t Tessa Bazelli?

      That’s craziness!

      (It is a pretty good looking name, though.)


  3. Very interesting. I’m actually planning on addressing the topic, at least tangentially, in a blog post next week.

    For me, I am a fan of my real name, and I’d like to see it in print…. but if a pseudonym becomes necessary, I’m prepared for the eventuality. Several years ago I was strongly considering using a pseudonym (I no longer recall my reasoning at the time) until someone told me that “Stephen Watkins” would be a great name for an author. It renewed my pride in my name, and I’ve set my goals on that since then. But in more recent months, I’ve become painfully aware that my name is terribly common – which may mean that it’s not a terribly good name for an author.

    As proud as I am of my name, that fact has forced me to accept that I may need to adopt a pseudonym.

    But if I do… I plan to have an “open” pseudonym – meaning it will be no secret, as far as I’m concerned, that “Mr. Nom-de-plume” is actually me. (This contrasts with the approach taken by “Benjamin Tate” in the Jim Hines interview.)


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