As a writer in the Brave New World, I concern myself almost as much with what people think I am as what I actually am. Oh? Wait…that’s everyone?
Sorry. Got a little self-absorbed there for a second. I apologize. Lemme reboot.
As a human in the Brave New World, I concern myself almost as much with what people think I am as what I actually am. As a writer, though, I have an option most people don’t have — I can change my name with the click of a button. Instantly become someone else. But…should I?
Noms de plume have been around as long as the patriarchy, which is, by my historical reckoning, forever. People create under different names for lots of reasons — privacy (good luck), branding (real name sucks), and genre differentiation (don’t want the kiddos buying erotic novels by mistake). Jo Rowling wrote under a pen name so that she could find out whether she was a good writer, or just spectacularly lucky (both, it turns out). Archibald Leach was unlikely to become a leading man, but Cary Grant managed it. And so on.
For as long as I’ve been writing, I have used pen names. I think the problem was that I didn’t think my name was very interesting. The first novel I ever wrote carried the name Christopher Faramir (yeah, I was reading Lord of the Rings). I burned the novel and the pen name.
But since? I’ve written under ten or eleven names of various kinds. Chris Jones just doesn’t light up the meter, you know what I mean? How about Cristoff Jackson Cardamon, tho? Maybe Cristof Jones Harrison? Right? AmIright?
Well, crud. Because sometimes events overtake and there’s nothing you can do about it. In December a really good book hit the public consciousness, called From Poop to Gold, written by me. As…Chris Jones. I don’t think I ever, like, approved that officially, but there it is, and I had plenty of chances to say stuff about changing it, and I didn’t. Silence indicates consent, your majesty Henry VIII (look it up).
Thus that ship has sailed. I’m in the process of publishing two additional books this year under my own name, and since this is the year I actually start delivering on all the writing I’ve been doing, it’s time to choose a name and stick with it. Chris Jones is out there. At least I’ll have thousands of other people with that name to keep me company.
Ay, there’s the rub, Hamlet. Because if I want people to find me — and I do — and I want them to know that it is actually me they have found — and I do — then I need clear space for just me. Chris Jones has a rather crowded sky. It would take some robust SEO work to get me past the bluegrass band, and the actor, and the punter and defensive tackle and assistant coach with the Browns. Among others listed on Google’s page one.
But my quirky father gave me an out, there. He gave me two middle names. There are hundreds and thousands of Chris Joneses in the world, but if there are two Christopher John Harrison Joneses, I haven’t met the other one (and I’ve been looking). It’s cumbersome and (to me) kind of pretentious, but at least it’s discernibly me.
And really — what is it I want? Privacy, surely not. Anyone that wants to know who and where I am can find that out with a few mouse clicks. To differentiate my early crap from the good stuff I’m writing now? Hardly. I’m still writing crap, and intend to continue. Genre differentiation might be good, because although I write a lot of fairy-tale-type stuff, I also write a couple of grittier crime series. Still, changing names too much loses the vertical momentum of people finding they like Trinity Flynn* and buying Cheating Death^ as well. Differentiation also means that I have to establish a new following for each name. It’s hard work. And it’s work I’m not good at.
In the end, it’s just too big a hassle trying to keep it all straight. I’m killing off the pen names and just going with the one my folks gave me. I’m not overly proud of what that name represents, but I’m not ashamed of it, either. It brings all the writing together under a single roof, and if that building has different rooms — Chris Jones in nonfiction, Christopher JH Jones in juvenile fiction, and probably Christopher John Harrison Jones in adult stuff (dark crime/thriller) — I think people will feel more comfortable not having to find new addresses for everything.
In honor of which — here’s the new cover of my first fairy tale collection, with the name in big bold letters right at the top.
I think it’s growing on me.
*Slated for release in May, 2019
^Slated for release whenever I’m done editing, so don’t hold your breath. Christmas, maybe?