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Pen Names: A Mask or A Shield?

This is the first time since having this spot that I've been completely unprepared with a topic to share. I knew the date was coming up and I planned to have my post ready and waiting to go at least a day before.


I'm chalking it up to summer. I know...I know. What's a season got to do with me getting my blog post done?

Well, for me summertime means a million more distractions with my kiddos completely underfoot, in my hair with their little voices ringing in my ears every other minute. I love them so, but seriously, my writing count has gone way down in the last two weeks and it's depressing.

I spend my days coming up with creative games, crafts, STUFF, for my children to do and by the end of the day I've got nothing creative left.

I'm going to find my writing groove. I will...maybe next week.

I read a fellow TEB author's email revealing her use of several pen names and thought I'd talk about that topic. (Thanks for the post idea!)

Nichelle Gregory is a pen name. It's actually my middle name and my husband's first name put together. Deciding to use a pen name for me was a necessity. I wanted the freedom to write what I wanted to write without fear of judgment. I felt I needed it as a outer perimeter, a boundary no one can cross unless I allow them to.

Maybe that makes me a coward.

I should just face the world or the people within my world and say, "Hey, I write erotic romance. Some of them are on the sweeter side, but I've got some that are well...out there and yes, they're all filled with sex scenes. But, hey, I'm still me."

But, I know they wouldn't still see me as me. And maybe that would be a good thing, because I'm not at all who they think I am. I've got hot, naughty, wild stories to tell and by golly, I'm gonna tell 'em!

Whoo ooo!

I'm just not willing to go on full disclosure about that fact with EVERYBODY.

Why should I?

What I write, who reads nobody's damned business.

Yeah, so why do I care then? Why am I using a pen name?

Honestly, I'm not sure why I should care. Most of the folks who would stand in judgement of what I write haven't really talked to me in years. They're not really 'friends,' but rather people in my orbit who know me, know my understand –don't you?

It's weird because having a pen name is like having a dual personality, an alter ego and the bottom-line is...the name is an extension of me. I am Nichelle Gregory. The name is as authentic to me as my real name. Everything that I write or say using that pen name is who I am and I know there are many in my world that'd have something to say about that.


So, I wonder if my pen name is simply a mask for me. A mask I use to be free, to say and write what I want happily with no fear.

I wonder if readers find it harder to connect to an avatar as opposed to a real face. My sister designed my author avatar for me and I was hopeful the silhouette would connect with readers, but I often wonder if readers are more readily drawn to authors who use real pictures...real names for that matter.

It doesn't seem fair. Readers can cloak their identities, purchase and enjoy our work in complete anonymity. I've gotten emails from readers who I'm quite sure are using nicknames or blog-o-sphere names themselves.

Anonymity within creativity is sometimes necessary for the author to thrive.

Nichelle Gregory


Ranae Rose said...

My name isn't a pen name, though I understand why many people (especially erotic romance writers) choose to use them. I've always been one to, well, push the limits, and I'm sure some people think I'm doing that with my writing. But if people don't like what I write, then they don't have to read it. In fact, the only way they'd find themselves doing that is if they deliberately sought out my work. And if they do that they might as well admit they like it.

Marie Haynes said...

My name is also a pen name for several reasons. First, my full time job is that of an educator for a VERY conservative district - they'd fire me in a heartbeat if my students found out what I write about. Second, I like the freedom of the "mask" that a pen name allows. Insightful post. Thank you.

Nichelle Gregory said...

Hi, Ranae!

I admire your fearless commitment to pushing the limits with no mask in place! I agree with you that those seeking out your work are definitely doing so because they have an interest in it! Thanks for commenting and you have a lovely name BTW. :)


I grew up surrounded by ultra-conservatives myself. I completely understand your need for a mask. Thanks for sharing your reason for using a pen name! ;)

Jaime Samms said...

Nicole, this sounds so much like me. Some days, I think I'm hiding behind my pen name, and that might make me cowardly. Some days, I feel my pen name is as much, or even more me than my real name. After all, my real name was given to me by people who had some idea what they thought I would be when I was grown. I'm pretty sure neither of them thought "gay erotic romance writer" when they held my squalling self in their arms that first time. Now I've chosen a name for myself, and yes, I've grown into that name, too, and it is very much a reflection of who I am now. It really has given me the freedom to be who I am and to grow into the person who can step out from behind the pen name and still be that brave. For me, it was the right decision. this was a great post, and ver y timely for me, as I have just recently begun to share my pen name with people I meet face to face.

Jaime Samms said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nichelle Gregory said...


I feel using a pen name was the right decision for me too! I'm glad my post helped you in some way. I needed to hear that. I debated whether to share any of this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

p.s. I deleted one of your posts because it came up twice. ;-)

Saranna DeWylde said...

I agree! ;)

I think it can be both a mask and a shield. Like I was babbling about before, I used to work in law enforcement. So, it was necessary.

And my books, my stories, they embody Camille, Sara, or Saranna.

And I really like what you said about it being authentic. I answer to Saranna. I *am* Saranna. I am Sara too. And even Camille. They're all me on some level.

Nichelle is a very pretty name, by the way. ;)

Further, you're right. It's no one's business what you write. As authors, we're the ones behind the curtain already. If we want to paint that curtain with pretty colors and pleasing syllables, that's our business.

A great post!

TCBlue said...

My case is a fair bit different, in that the name on my books is NOT my current legal name, but it IS the name everyone in my life knows me by (aside from my Mum, but she does know what I write and the name I use). I've been using this name for more than 20 years.

There's a VERY long story behind it which I'll not bore you with right now. LOL

I AM T.C. Blue (the T.C. is for Tisienne Corana, which would never fit on a book cover, given my propensity for long-ass titles). Aside from Mum, everyone in my life calls me Tis, and I've never hidden what I write from anyone should they ask.

For the record, how someone reacts when I tell them I write boy-on-boy romances with sex? Pretty much tells me whether they're going to be friends of mine or not. LOL

That said, I don't have children and I'm not in the position where someone knowing what I write could possibly affect my life, so I think it's likely very different for me than many.

I see nothing wrong with using a pen name, in all honesty. With the internet being what it is, it's FAR too easy for people to track someone down by their 'real' name. It's vital to have that step of remove, especially if an author has a family and children.

Sadly, there's no such thing as being too safe, these days.


Lisabet Sarai said...

I have no choice about a pen name. I'd get kicked out of the country where I live, or maybe worse, if anyone knew about my creative alter ego.

On the other hand, Lisabet is a far more glamorous and intriguing person than I am. So I'm glad that I had to invent her.

Nichelle Gregory said...

Hey, Saranna! Your email on the loop prompted this blog thanks for the inspiration! Keeping up with two names is hard enough, I can't imagine the work that must go into having three. :0)

TCBlue,using a pen name for safety reasons was part of my thinking as well, although I'm sure a diligent person could find out who I was regardless of my attempt at anonymity. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 'Tisienne Corana' is a gorgeous name BTW...too bad it's too big for most covers! ;)

Lisabet, it must be quite an experience living in a place with such strict laws! Your pen name does sounds glamorous and exotic!

Saranna DeWylde said...

Oh, definitely on the safety. When I was writing erotic horror, you wouldn't believe the emails I got. Well, you might. LOL.

All pretty names, ladies. I haz a jealous. ;)

Amy Valenti said...

This is so true! I'm writing under a pseudonym because I have an internet-savvy mother who would find it hilarious that I've gotten some erotica published. Then she'd realise that it was BDSM and a little bit more explicit than just blurry fade-to-black scenes after a few mentions of heaving bosoms. And THEN she would book me in for some therapy.

Plus, my real name is so boring. ;D