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Pen Names, And Why I Love Them
by Claudia Gray
Claudia Gray is not my real name. My bio makes this clear, and you can find my real name easily enough in any copy of my books. So – lots of people ask – why bother with a pen name in the first place?
The most common theories people have are all wrong. No, I don’t dislike my real name. No, I’m not trying to keep the books a secret from anyone. No, I’m not in the witness protection program. (OK, nobody actually asks that, but I always wish they would.) Basically, the main reason I use a pen name is … I thought it would be fun.
That’s it. When I was a little kid, and I first learned that people sometimes wrote books under other names, I thought that sounded cool. Even then I knew that if I ever got a chance to do that, I would. Who doesn’t want to name themselves? It’s an interesting and sort of powerful thing to do. I chose Claudia because my all-time favorite miniseries, “I, Claudius” was in the DVD player. And Gray had the sound I was looking for – but I’ll tell you a secret I’ve never actually revealed before. Originally Gray was the last name of Balthazar in the EVERNIGHT novels. In the end, though, I decided I needed that more than he did, and he would up being Balthazar More, which suited him perfectly. Really, it was just that simple.
That said, using a pen name has had some positive aspects I didn’t realize back when I chose it. Social media, for instance. Having separate Facebook/Twitter/etc. accounts is hugely helpful. You guys are not interested in the same information as, say, my former college roommate. (And vice versa.) The biggest benefit, though, is a subtler one and yet far more important.
We all know that you have to have a thick skin to be an author. Even the best-intentioned, most fair-minded reviewers may write things that make you cringe, and there are a few people out there who get downright malevolent. Why, I don’t know, but that’s another post. Acquiring that thick skin is difficult, though. No matter how often you tell yourself that no, of course, you have not magically written the very first book in the entire history of planet earth that absolutely everyone adored – hearing harsh words about a story that you cared about, and worked on for months if not years, can be devastating.
Yet I find that having the pseudonym helps me there. People write their negative (or positive) comments about books by “Claudia Gray.” But Claudia Gray is only who I am as a writer. Yes, bad reviews can still sting. However, I know that this person is talking about their response to my work, not judging me as an individual. Separating those two things can be harder than you might think; a pseudonym helps with this tricky psychological divide.
A few people ask whether I have a persona to go with the false name. While some authors do create elaborate fictional bios for the pseudonyms, I have not. It sort of amazes me that anyone who reads my Twitter/blog/etc. could think that I chose, for pure glamor, the persona of someone whose idea of a wild Saturday night involves Netflix. Claudia is the real me, but only a facet of the real me. There are certain insecurities and life events that I keep to myself, but everything I reveal is genuine. Being authentic doesn’t have much to do with the name you go by, as pretty much anybody who’s had an online persona (in fandom or gaming, whatever) can tell you.
Another question I get – no, I don’t mind being called Claudia. By this point it’s the same as a nickname I like. To be honest, I get a little annoyed when people call me by my real name at a professional event. Like I said, Claudia Gray is who I am as a writer. If I’m out in public as a writer, then I feel like Claudia is what I’d rather be called.
If you hope to become a writer, chances are you plan to use your real name. Most people long to see their name on the cover, or on Amazon, which I totally understand. But if you’ve ever been tempted to use a pseudonym – I say go for it. Naming yourself can be powerful.
For the comments: What do you think of pen names? Would you ever use one?