- Mark Twain
- Richard Bachman
- Robert Galbraith
- Anne Rampling
Avid book geeks will know what those four names represent. Those that don’t know, here are a few more names…
- Samuel Clemens
- Stephen King
- JK Rowling
- Anne Rice
Let me help you out…there are eight names, but only four people.
The first four are the pen names under which the latter four have all published work for a variety of reasons. The point here being that pen names are not uncommon, and are often used for very innocent reasons.
Often, being the operative word.
This past week the #WritingCommunity on Twitter had itself a scandal, all centering around the usage of a pen name for what IS a very nefarious, and reprehensible, purpose.
Here’s the headline for those that missed it:
A male Twitterer, who shall remain nameless for this blogpost, set up a twitter account using a pen name that identified as female in order to sell more books in his preferred subject of Lesbian Erotica.
Now, regardless of how you feel about this as a concept, whether you consider it deceitful or not, it is NOT what the crux of the scandal is about. It is what happened next that pushed this over the line from dubious to despicable. He used that name to prey on and deceive members of the LGBTQ community for his own gratification.
In fact…NOT in any way, shape or form acceptable.
Pen names, by their very definition, have an element of deception to them. The author, is for whatever reason, pertaining to be someone else. It’s not unusual in modern society – there are literally hundreds of examples of celebrities who are plying their trade in film, or music, or writing by using a nom-de-plume.
Here’s a few more names for you to demonstrate the point…
- Reginald Kenneth Dwight
- Thomas Mapother IV
- Norma Jeane Mortenson
- Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta
I’ll leave you to Google those if you don’t know who they are. Suffice to say you can see why these VERY famous people use a pseudonym.
What happened this week, however, showed the danger of what happens when someone who doesn’t have a very famous face uses a pen name for a purpose that is other than professional. It’s one thing to want to present your work under a different name; it’s another thing entirely to play into that alter ego for deceptive purposes. To prey on the vulnerable.
There is a line of appropriate behaviour, and what this person did this week vaults across that line.
As I read through the thread on Twitter, as I saw more and more comments regarding what had happened, how it had happened, and how many people it had affected, the angrier about it I got. That there were people actively defending this behaviour, frankly boggled my mind.
Nikki Anderson posted an entry about it in her blog just after the event. It’s a well thought out and measured piece. Go check it out on her website by clicking this link.
It made me think for a moment about how I present to the world, which I think is a warranted reflection. As a male writer, I really don’t want to be misrepresenting myself in any way, shape or form. Especially, in light of what happened this week.
That’s my Twitter profile page right there.
At first glance I could see why someone might jump to a quick conclusion that I’m a female writer, simply by taking a look at my avatar.
My Twitter avatar that is the painting of one of the antagonists from my book. It’s a profile shot of Gayle Knightley, as drawn by the very talented Tyler Wilson. I put it as my avatar because I love it as a piece of art that is related to the books I’m writing.
However, a look at my name should dispel this illusion and point you immediately in the right direction. Jon is short for Jonathan, and that’s the truth. I can’t even think of a female name that starts Jon…
Click on the link to come here to my website and my visage in all its cowboy hat-wearing glory greets you. I lay myself pretty bare here on my website (not like that, get your mind out of the gutter!) because this place represents all I am. My hopes and dreams.
It is MY responsibility to see that the people who come to my site, to read my work, are not drawn here under any kind of false pretenses. THAT is important to me. I want an honest relationship with my readers. It should NOT be up to them to be vetting every author they decide to follow, to decide whether we are a genuine person of interest, or if I’m a potentially dangerous predator posing as a writer online for nefarious purposes.
The gender mis-identification issue is something that I’ve been very aware of for a long while now, and I’m try to be careful to ensure that I’m not mistaken for something I’m not.
‘Hunters’ (my book) has two main characters. Gayle (as mentioned above) and Michael. Both of those characters were inspired by game avatars that I created in the game City of Heroes. The game is a sandbox MMORPG where you can create any character you like, and for a person like me, it is manna from heaven.
So, I went NUTS! Creating characters of all shapes and sizes, colors and race. I even had a character called HypnoCow! Who was…a Cow!
Gayle, very quickly became my favourite character to play. Mostly because I adored her power-sets. But, when playing as her, I had to be very careful. There is an assumption made that if you’re a female character, you must be a female player. Especially in a game, where initially all your communication is done via text in a chat window..
VERY much like Twitter.
It’s EASY to be taken in by someone’s well-crafted lies.
I was always up front about being a male player, right from the get go. But I was taken in by more than a few players who maintained to be something they were not. I actively met players who said they were female in conversation chat, and turned out to be lying from outset. The advent of voice communications for use in-game (like TeamSpeak, Skype, Discord, etc.) made it harder for these people to hide.
And if they didn’t come on voice comms, then it was considered pretty suspicious. Voice comms was a way to affirm your identity.
Twitter does not have voice communications.
The Direct Messaging in Twitter is a place where friendships are made, cemented and developed. But because all you see is hard text on a screen, it depends on TRUST.
The #WritingCommunity discovered this week how easy it is to abuse that.
I’m not adverse to using a pen name myself in the future. I’ve talked with Nikki, for instance, about possible collaboration work. Likely that would be under a pen name to separate that work from my work on Songbird. If I do, it won’t be something I’ll hide behind, pretending to be something I’m truly not. My pen name would be more like those listed above…
Like Elton John, or Tom Cruise. Marilyn Monroe or Lady Gaga.
The one thing about alter egos…you can try to hide them all you want, but sooner or later people will know the truth.
If you are one of those people, someone who’s moral compass is skewed toward the possibility that you might want to do something reprehensible under the mistaken guise of anonymity, then I’d urge you to ask yourself a very important question…
When people do inevitably find out WHO you are behind the avatar and pen name, did you carry yourself with integrity and honesty?
Because if you didn’t, your whole brand likely goes…
Love & Books