12 Reasons to Change Your Name

Pen NamesAs a writer of fiction, you might choose to be published under a name other than your real one for a variety of reasons. The use of pen names, (or nom de plumes, literary doubles, or pseudonyms, if you prefer) is not uncommon. Although I’ve blogged about one reason for pen names before, I figured I’d provide a more comprehensive list of reasons today.

• The first three on my list have to do with Branding.
1. To separate your books into different genres or types or styles. For each name, readers know what to expect.
2. To give the reader the impression the book is an autobiography. You can adopt a character’s name as your pen name, as Daniel Handler did by choosing Lemony Snicket as a nom de plume in A Series of Unfortunate Events.
3. To share the same pen name with other authors, making it seem like a book series was written by one person. With the Tom Swift series of children’s books, several authors wrote under the single pen name, Victor Appleton.

• You may have reasons to shield your true identity.
4. To keep your real name in reserve until you’re a more established author. Eric Blair used the name George Orwell for this purpose, though it’s not clear what he was waiting for!
5. To protect your reputation. As a don at Oxford University, C. S. Lewis got published under the names Clive Hamilton and N. W. Clerk for this purpose.
6. To maintain your privacy. Enough said.

• There may be problems with your real name.
7. To choose a name more appropriate to the genre you write in. Pearl Grey chose the pen name Zane Grey for his Westerns.
8. To present yourself as the other gender. As a woman, you might feel your military adventure novels would sell better with a man’s name as the author, and similarly for you men who write romance novels.
9. To enable readers to more easily pronounce your name. Face it, some names are difficult to say.
10. To distinguish yourself from someone else. Your real name might spell or sound like another person (or thing). The British statesman and author Winston Churchill always wrote under the name Winston S. Churchill (I know, not much of a pseudonym) to avoid being confused with the then-famous American author Winston Churchill.

• Sometimes the publisher has reasons for suggesting a pen name.
11. To enable several of your stories to appear in the same magazine. Thus Robert A. Heinlein became also Anson MacDonald and Caleb Strong to avoid the appearance that a single author was monopolizing that issue.
12. To keep from saturating the market. If you write very fast, publishers might fear the public will see your name too often and tire of your novels too quickly. For this reason, some of Stephen King’s books were published under the name Richard Bachman.

Sure, there might be additional reasons for using a pen name. You don’t really need a reason, after all. It’s a personal choice and nobody’s business except yours and the publisher’s. (You’ll want your publisher to know your real name so they send those huge advance and royalty checks to the right account!)

Other good sites or blog posts that list reasons for pen names include this one, this one, and this one.

Oh, yeah, in case you were wondering, my real name isn’t—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 14, 2014Permalink

Tom Swift and His Psycho-Subliminal Writer Inspiratron

When I was a young lad growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in the mid-1960s, my Aunt Betty gave me a precious gift, a copy of Tom Swift and His Flying Lab by Victor Appleton II, ©1954.  It was the first book in “the New Tom Swift Jr. Adventures” series which eventually included 33 novels.

The series involves the adventures and inventions of an 18 year old engineer and scientist.  Each book features a new invention and typical titles are Tom Swift and His Ultrasonic Cycloplane, or … and His Electronic Retroscope, or … and His Subocean Geotron.  The series is a continuation of the previous Tom Swift (Senior) series that ran from 1910 to 1941.

Aside from the blond main character with the crew cut, there was Tom’s sidekick Bud Barclay, Tom’s sister (and Bud’s girlfriend) Sandy, Tom’s girlfriend Phyllis Newton, Tom’s father Tom Sr., his mother Mary Nestor Swift, and the executive chef for Swift Enterprises, Charles “Chow” Winkler.  I remember these characters as if I knew them as real people.

Story lines typically involved some trouble somewhere, like a kidnapping, a stolen invention, or some other evil being done in some exotic locale.  Often one of the dastardly countries of Brungaria or Kranjovia was behind it all.  Tom, fresh from some previous adventure, has just invented (or proceeds to invent) some gadget used to save the day.

We are not discussing superb literature here, admittedly.  The characters were stereotypical and lacked depth.  None of them changed or learned anything as a result of the conflicts they dealt with, either within any book or across the series.  Tom himself had no character flaws whatsoever, other than paying insufficient attention to his very tolerant girlfriend.  The writing style was amateurish.  In an earlier post I already mentioned the occurrence of “Tom Swifties.”  Any notion of realism was abandoned in these novels, from the basic premise of an 18 year old being the sole inventor of all the gadgets, to the implausibility of the inventions themselves, to the fact that one young man could be the hero in so many dangerous escapades.

I loved that series, and still do.  I begged my parents for the next book I hadn’t read until I could afford to buy them myself.  I thought about how cool it would be to have such machines and vehicles myself, or to be able to invent them.  I compiled a personal library of about 2/3 of the series.  Decades later, I found my mother had disposed of them, thinking I no longer wanted the set.  That saddened me, but my brother scoured garage sales and helped me rebuild the collection.  Thanks to him, I now have 18 volumes from that series, and 20 novels from the earlier Tom Swift series.

It appears I’m not Tom Swift’s only admirer.  There’s at least one website dedicated to the series, and an active discussion group.

None of Tom’s inventions mentioned were actually built.  Indeed, most are impossible.  But one of his gadgets, a mechanism never actually named or referred to, worked really well.  That’s Tom’s Psycho-Subliminal Writer Inspiratron.  The Tom Swift Jr. series, so loathed by librarians and English teachers, motivated my interest in engineering and in storytelling.   It prompted me to read other things, better books, including the works of Jules Verne.  Tom kindled an interest in adventure and traveling to distant places, and is a big part of why I joined the submarine service.

Please comment and let me know if Tom Swift also inspired you, or let me know what other books of your youth did.  For now I’d like to say thanks for everything, Tom, especially your amazing Inspiratron.  Sincerely,

                                                   Poseidon’s Scribe


Writing for Young Adults

Want to write stories for Young Adults?  Hard to blame you.  It’s a large market, and some authors have become successful in aiming for it.  If you, like J. K. Rowling, happen to write a YA story that also appeals to adults, then your story’s market is that much bigger.

Perhaps your purpose in writing YA stories is more complex than a direct desire for money or fame.  One web commenter has suggested writer Robert Heinlein wrote YA (then called ‘juvenile’) novels to shape a young audience, to prepare readers for later buying his brand of adult novels.  If true…wow!  That’s thinking ahead!

Whatever your reason for wanting to write for it, the YA market is an interesting one.  It took until about 1900, several hundred years after the first printed books, for the following confluence of events to make a YA market possible:  (1) the price of books dropped to be within a teen’s budget, (2) teen buying power rose so they could afford books, and (3) teens weren’t working so long and had available time to read.  Once the market emerged, authors began aiming for it.

What are YA stories like, and how do they differ from other genres?  Young adults, as an audience, are leaving the comfortable world of childhood and ready to experience adulthood.  They’re curious about it, anxious to try things.  Fiction gives them a safe opportunity to “try” things in a vicarious way.  They’ve grown beyond simple, moralistic tales.  They crave stories with identifiable, strong but vulnerable characters–complex characters who aren’t all good or all bad.  A good, solid plot-line is more important to them now than it was in the children’s books they no longer read.

In short, YA stories are very similar to those written for adults.  I thought I’d read once where Robert Heinlein had said writing for juveniles (the old term for YA) was just like writing for adults except you take out all the sex and swearing.  I can’t find that quote now, but it would need amending anyway.  Notice Heinlein had no problem with violence in YA stories, and that remains true.  As for sex, it’s probably best to leave out graphic descriptions, but don’t pretend the act doesn’t exist.  As for swearing, it’s my guess that mild swearing is acceptable in YA literature these days.

How do you write for the YA market?  I think it’s important to think back to your own teen years and pull what you recall from those experiences.  Remember when the world was new to you, when all your emotions were intense ones, when you longed to be accepted and wondered if there were others like you, wondered if you’d find even one special person for you?  Pick a protagonist who is aged a few years older than your target audience, either in the late teens or early twenties.  Don’t talk down to your readers; they’re old enough to look up words they don’t understand.  Don’t set out to write a moralistic story of instruction; teens are quick to spot a lecture and, frankly, they get enough of those from their parents.  They’re not about to shell out good money and spend their time reading a sermon from you.

My own reading as an early teenager focused on the Tom Swift, Jr. series published between 1954 and 1971.  After that I primarily read Jules Verne and other science fiction authors, mostly those writing hard science fiction.  Now as a writer, I think all my stories should be acceptable for the YA audience, though I haven’t consciously aimed for it.  My tales have very little swearing.  There is a sex scene (of sorts) in my horror story, “Blood in the River,” but nothing too graphic.  However, none of my published stories feature a teen protagonist.

Good luck with the YA story you’re writing.  If this blog post has helped in any way, or if you take issue with what I’ve stated, please leave a comment for–

                                                    Poseidon’s Scribe



What He Said About ‘Said’

“Today’s blog post is about the word ‘said,’” said Poseidon’s Scribe.

“What is there to say about ‘said?’” asked Blog Reader, who hoped to write fiction someday.

“First, ‘said’ is the most common type of ‘dialogue tag’ used in fiction to indicate who’s speaking,” said the Scribe.  “However, many budding authors worry about overusing that word, so they substitute other words.”

“I don’t believe that,” asserted the Reader.

“It’s true, but the fact is, ‘said’ is pretty much invisible.  You can’t overuse it,” said the Scribe.  “People pass right over it as they read.”

“Well, I declare,” declared the Reader.

“Still, there is something even worse than that,” said the Scribe.

“What’s that?” the Reader asked, questioningly.

“Modifying ‘said’ with an adverb.”

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” the Reader said unthinkingly.

“Use of adverbs in that way is termed a ‘Tom Swifty,’ from the Tom Swift series of books about a young inventor.  The authors of those books occasionally sought to modify ‘said’ with adverbs.  Not only are they examples of bad writing, but Tom Swifties have given rise to an entire brand of humor.  There are examples here and here and here.”

“Okay, please stop listing links,” the Blog Reader said haltingly.

“Look, there are at least four things to remember about writing dialogue,” said the Scribe, “and the first is to be very clear about who’s talking.  Don’t leave your readers wondering about that.”

“What do you mean?”

“If you go on for several lines of dialogue without tags–“

“Like we’re doing now, you mean?”

“–the reader can lose track of who’s speaking.”

“You don’t say.”

“I do.  Especially when there’s more than two characters or when they have similar styles of speech.”

“Are there any times you would use several lines of untagged dialogue?”

“Oh, yes.  That technique can heighten the drama of a scene, build it up to a climax.  As each line of dialogue becomes shorter and shorter, your readers will naturally sense the tension building.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Yes, I’m certain.”

“Really certain?”

“Oh, yes.”



“Okay, I think I understand that,” said the Blog Reader.  “You said there are four key points about dialogue.  What’s the next one?”

“Keep it interesting,” said Poseidon’s Scribe.  “Humans are social animals and love to talk.  Your readers want to hear your characters talking, and they have a preference for dialogue over narration.  But they don’t want to be bored, so keep dialogue interesting.”

“And the third key point?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” said the Scribe.  “It’s related to the second point.  Use dialogue for dramatic purposes, to show characters at their moments of strong emotion as they grapple with the problem that represents the story’s conflict.  Minimize the use of dialogue just for providing information.  That’s called info-dumping.”

“Which is what you’re doing now,” said the Reader.

“True, but we’re having a real discussion, not a fictional one.”

“Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure,” Poseidon’s Scribe held up his right index finger.  “There’s one last point I want to make about the use of ‘said’ in dialogue.  If you’re still worried about repeating ‘said’ and you doubt my point earlier about readers skipping over it, then substitute some type of action, or movement, or description.”

“What do you mean?”  The Reader’s brows furrowed.

“Instead of using ‘said,’ have your character do something while speaking.”  The Scribe swept his hand to indicate motion.  “After all, people really do things while talking.  They don’t just stand there.”

The Reader nodded.  “I see what you mean.  But what do I do if I have a question about this later?”

“Just click on ‘leave a comment’ below this blog entry.  See it down there?”

“Yeah, there it is.  Well, thanks for everything!”  The Blog Reader smiled.

“Don’t mention it,” said–

                                                             Poseidon’s Scribe

A Stroll through My Mental Library

Why would you read a blog post containing a list of writers who influenced me?  My aim is to provoke you to think about (perhaps even write down) the list of those who inspired you.  It’s a useful exercise.  Perhaps the most important part of the exercise is to describe those writers as well—what they mean to you.

Come on, walk along beside me now through the library of my mind.  The shelves have all the books I ever read.  My apologies for its small size; a busy life interferes with reading, unfortunately.  But I’m trying to read more.  For the purposes of today’s tour the books have been arranged by author, and we’ll be viewing busts of the more prominent ones.  Engraved on the pedestal of each bust are the author’s name and a few words describing his or her works.

Ah, I see you noticed the 30-foot high bronze statue just within the entrance.  Kind of hard to miss.  Yes, that’s Jules Verne.  I’ve read most of his works that have been translated into English.  His Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is the only book I ever re-read, and I do that every couple of years.  That book inspired me both to join the submarine service and to major in naval architecture in college.  To me, he represents scientific accuracy, exotic voyages, high drama and adventure, and a glimpse of a time when technology seemed on the verge of making everything possible for the first time in human history.

Over here is the bust of Isaac Asimov.  I’ve read only a fraction of his published work but it’s still a lot, both fiction and non-fiction.  The words engraved beneath his name are scientific accuracy, easy-to-read writing style, clever ideas, and love of wordplay.

Walking along, we’ve come to Arthur C. Clarke.  To me, he too symbolizes scientific accuracy, but also an optimistic view of mankind’s future, and various ways we could deal with aliens of far greater and different intelligences.

That bust there depicts Robert Heinlein.  Hard-edged style, a strict morality, a libertarian viewpoint, and success through struggle are the hallmarks of his writing, to me.

Watch your step; this area is not well lit.  Here, take my flashlight.  That bust you just bumped into is Ray Bradbury.  He has the most poetic prose of any author here—a flowing style that seduces you into his stories with the sheer magic and power of the words.  Then he often slaps you hard with some dark and twisted surprise.

And that one over there is Ayn Rand.  She’s the only woman on the tour; I wish there were more.  Her writing is characterized by emotional power, uncompromising philosophy, and a deep belief in human freedom coupled with strict ideas about how to live one’s life.

We’ve come to the bust of Larry Niven.  Amazing ideas, compelling characters, and the most well-thought-out aliens of any author in the library.

Here we are in the Children’s section—quite dusty, I know.  This next bust looks a little strange, with no discernable features.   Maybe you don’t recognize the name, Victor Appleton II. It’s a pseudonym used by many authors.  I grew up reading the Tom Swift, Jr. series written by the various “Mr. Appletons.”  With fondness I recall the high adventure, the marvelous inventions, and the use of science to solve problems.

One more and I think we’ll wrap up the tour.  Clive Cussler’s bust bears the following descriptions on beneath the name on its pedestal—engaging adventures set at sea, a writer with an easy-reading style that really puts his characters through hell.

That’s enough for this trip.  Perhaps we’ll continue the tour in a future blog post and examine busts of authors we missed.  I should mention you won’t necessarily see the influences of all of these writers in my own stories.  Also, I don’t necessarily agree with the viewpoints of all of them—I just enjoy reading their books.

Thanks for stopping by for a tour today.  Hope you enjoyed strolling through the mind of–

Poseidon’s Scribe

Why I am Poseidon’s Scribe

I write fiction, and most of the time the setting for my stories is the ocean.  When you grow up in the Midwest, the sea is so distant and seems very exotic.  You can only imagine the smell of the salt air, the wind-whipped spray, and the mountainous wave cressets.  Saying the words “ocean” or “sea” is akin to screaming the word “adventure.”

You might read some Jules Verne and some Tom Swift, and become even more enthused about the mysterious depths, and man’s ever-advancing technologies for exploring and living in the sea.  Maybe when you grow up, you might join the submarine service.  That dose of reality might just take the magic out of the ocean, but in your case it doesn’t.  At some point, you realized a muse is begging you to write down all the stories in your head.

Maybe it’s not a muse, though.  Perhaps it’s the ocean itself I hear, the watery echoes of wakes left by all the ships down through history that sailed there, or ripples sent back to our time somehow from future vessels.  If it’s the ocean’s mighty voice I hear, then that makes me Poseidon’s Scribe.

Well, let us say Apprentice Scribe, since I’m still learning the craft.  After all, I’m trying to convert eddies and surf and currents into prose.  Something’s bound to get lost in translation.

The sea is omni-faceted, as it turns out, and my stories now span several genres.  These include historical, science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and horror.  Not all of my stories take place in a seawater setting, but most do.

I’m glad you’re here.  Look around the shop.  Read some of the results of my scribbling.  I’ll use this space to share thoughts about reading, writing, and the sea.  So long as the ocean keeps whispering in my ear, I’ll keep writing it all down, because I’m…

Poseidon’s Scribe