“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schitzophrenia.” E.L. Doctorow said that. He was the author of the novel Ragtime, which the famous movie and play are based on, so the dude knows of which he speaks. But I am not sure if he was talking about pen names. However, in today’s world, he might as well be.
Just look at all of us out here. Nora Roberts writes sometimes as JD Robb. Stephen King had Richard Bachman. Joe Konrath (real name) writes under J. A. Konrath, Jack Kilborn, and now Joe Kimball. Heck, even Stan Lee, the creator of some of the greatest comics ever is really named Stanley Martin Leiber. Why do we do it?
Is it because we want to be someone else for a while? Because we want to keep ourselves hidden, even in the midst of putting our deepest dreams and hopes out on a page for the world to see? Or is because we just want to keep things straight in our minds, and perhaps in the minds of our readers?
I write under a pen name. My initial reason was more the last one than either of the other two. First, I wrote a book that was a pure thriller. It involved terrorism, a small town and was a lot of fun to write. But then I had an idea for a set of adventure novels. They would turn into the Rick Frost adventure series, of which two are currently available for purchase here and here (how’s that for a plug?). I still had ideas for more thrillers, some straight mysteries, and even had written a collection of noir short stories. So would they all be released under the same name? I put that question to my team of advisors, also known as my wife and a few close writing friends. Their answers were mixed, some in favor of a pen name, some not.
I decided to do it because I didn’t want the kids who would read my Rick Frost young adult adventures picking up my South Florida noir stories and delving into the dark and seedy side of life. So if one was written by Todd Bush, and the other by my pen name, then the kid wouldn’t know the difference. That is unless they did about five seconds worth of research on the internet and made the connection.
So what pen name would I pick? My name is Todd. But for some reason, people they either don’t know me, or know me and forget my name, always call me Scott. Don’t know why, just happens that way. I don’t have a bother named Scott, don’t even have friends named Scott. It just comes out. Maybe I look like a Scott. But I combined it with a random last name and got my pen name: Scott Chase.
Now I have my noir collection coming out next month. It is all about what happens away from the glitz and glamour of South Florida; how it was before the drug wars, and how it got to be the place it is today. The stories are not happy, not resolved at the end in a nice, neat little bow. But they are fun to write and, I hope, fun to read. They are also written by Scott Chase.
But do we use pen names so that we get to delve into a part of ourselves that doesn’t get to come out and play often? Perhaps that’s the case, because I don’t often get to show my love for the shadows, and curiosity for what’s happening behind the “Employees Only” and “Do Not Enter” signs at clubs and bars. Also, my mom worries about putting writing out that is… how to put it… less than holy might be an interesting way of saying it. So maybe writing under a pen name allows me to hide a little bit, even if I don’t want to. Let’s face it, if writing isn’t honest, then it doesn't have a prayer of being good.
Pen names have been around since the beginning of published writing. Ben Franklin even used one. They will still be around. I know a lot of indie writers who are using them to keep the genres they write in separate. But I am not going to hide that I am Todd Bush and Scott Chase. That wouldn't be honest. And I want to have at least a prayers chance of being good.