Monday, May 9, 2011

To be Me, or Not to be Me? That is the question.

Picture this:  A family dinner with my active-duty-military husband and twelve-year-old son, sitting on the back deck enjoying the gentle summer breeze.  I’d prepared a meal of spicy shrimp scampi and Italian bread smothered with melted cheese, green onions and poppy seeds.  After a glass (or three) of a spunky Piniot Grigio, I worked up enough courage to confess my lifelong secret.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  “I want to be a writer.”

Them:  “That’s great.”

Me:  “Actually, I’ve been writing for a few years now.”

Them:  Gentle murmurings of encouragement.

Me:  “My first short story will be published next month.”

They offer a celebratory toast.

Husband:  “What’s the story about?”

Me:  “It’s a romance called ‘Three Little Words’.”

Silence.  Stillness. Even the no-see-ums stopped humming.

Son:  “You write porn?”

Husband:  “It wouldn’t be good for my career to be married to someone who writes porn.”

Me:  “For gawd’s sake, people.  Romance is about two people falling in love, not what happens between the sheets.”

Husband: “Don’t embarrass me.”

Freaked-out son:  “Will we be moving anytime soon?  Maybe Andrew’s family can adopt me…” 

I sipped my wine while they worked out how to disassociate themselves from me.  It soon became apparent the best solution for all concerned would be for me to choose a nom de plume.
You’d think selecting a writing alias would be easy, one might even think fun.  But it’s not like a ordering a Pajama-gram, where one size fits all, and only people closest to you are going to see you in it.  A published name is going to be out there, in 48-point font (hopefully) above the title (one can dream).  It’s a forever and ever, amen, brand.  Oh, the pressure!  It’s enough to send a teetotalist reaching for the Shiraz!   

As a woman of the 21st century, I know when I have questions, Google has answers.  I found a formula for coming up with a new name (okay, so it’s how to come up with your Porn Star name, but it should work just as well to come up with my porn writing—I mean romance writing—moniker).  Here’s how it works: you take the name of your childhood pet as a first name, and the street you lived on as a child for the last name.  (Go ahead and try it out for yourself.  I’ll wait….)  This would make me Punchy Miles. Hmmm. that doesn’t invoke images of a voluptuous, tassel-spinning pole dancer, let alone a name that would look good on the top of the New York Times Bestseller list.

Time to hit the reference books.  Digging the old four-inch thick White Pages (currently propping up a chair whose leg broke in a move) and my writer’s reference of The Very Best Baby Name Book, I thumbed through those tomes as if they were Godiva Chocolate catalogs, mixing, matching and melding different combinations of first and last names in search of the perfect pseudonym.  I even practiced “autographs” to see which lent itself to my handwriting style.  I worked on this for months, putting more thought and effort into it than I had to writing a full-length novel.  But no combination had the right balance of “me” and “not me” I was looking for.

Then while romping in the leaves with my two pound puppies one day, I had an epiphany.  My middle name, Jo, had been selected because it was the initials of my mother’s maiden name, Jayne Ormerod.  She’d lost her life to pancreatic cancer 20 years ago, but I still felt her presence, especially when I wrote.  It’s like JO is a secret code for me, and yet nobody would ever know.  I finally had my nom de plume. 

Except when “the call” came in about publishing my first book, I wanted the world to know.  So now I tell everyone my pen name.  And then I spell it for them, because it’s a rather unusual last name.  And then I hand them business cards and ask them to tell their friends.  And here I am blogging my secret to hundreds of strangers.  But since my books are more mystery than romance--with nary a hint of porn--my family is happy.  Might I even say, proud?

The only problem with revealing my secret identity is I’m currently noodleing around an idea for a cozy mystery involving Navy spouses, specifically Admiral’s wives.  I will have to disassociate myself from my husband’s name if that ever comes to fruition.  But when you see a bestseller by Punchy Miles on the shelf, you’ll know who wrote it.  Just don’t tell anyone, please…it’ll be our little secret.        

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