One of the cool things about pen names is that, in creating a pen name, you’ve created an “identity,” in the marketing sense.
For example, I created “De Kenyon” to write pulp stories for kids. That’s it. If you’re creating a pen name, you’re identifying your market; if you’re identifying your market, you’re creating an “identity.”
It’s easier for me to do the whole “identity” thing with pen names rather than with my own. I’m me, after all, and there’s a lot more me than will fit into an “identity.” As with all actual writers.
But, after a little more than a year of writing short stories (nearly) every week, I’m starting to get a sense of what makes up a “DeAnna Knippling” story. I feel pretty comfortable about starting to get an “identity,” actually. I thought it would bother me, that I would just feel fake.
Well, no. It’s not a question of fake or real, because this IS fiction. It’s all fake, and it’s all as real and as personal as I can make it, all at the same time. It’s fabricated. The “identity” that I have as a writer comes not from some kind of fabricated story about myself, though. It comes from seeing what I write and feel comfortable publishing under the “DeAnna Knippling” name. If it has to go under a different pen name, then it’s not part of my “identity.”
As I start figuring out what “DeAnna Knippling” likes to write, I also deduce the facts of my life that are relevant to that. From those facts come my identity as a writer.
“What would a person who reads story X like to know about?”
That’s where my marketing identify comes from. From me, but also from my readers. True things that fit the same pattern as what I write. At least, that’s how I’m currently understanding it.
So what does “DeAnna Knippling” write?
She writes Weird Westerns in which strong-willed characters miss the point entirely. They’re sexist, racist, and just about as bigoted as you can get–all while having no idea that they’re that way. Part of her history is being surrounded by people with the same kinds of prejudices. They could get hard to be around–but they were all still people. Being bigots didn’t make them inhuman monsters; we’re all hypocrites and bigots of some type. It’s biology.
She writes SF stories in which she takes what-ifs usually related to psychology and pushes them out as far as she can reasonably take them, then populates her big-idea stories with people she almost knows, because that’s what it takes to make a far-out idea connect with her. When she started work at Schriever AFB, one of the things that surprised her was how goofy engineers are, one second talking the sky, the next gabbling on about reality TV shows, because both seem equally fantastic.
She’s still not sure why she writes contemporary fantasy, but it seems like it’s because she just wants to play around with the border between psychology and myth. She minored in psychology, after all.
She writes horror stories for reasons other than the ones that most people write horror stories, she thinks. She doesn’t think of horror stories as fun, per se, although she has definitely read some that were fun. When she was in college, when she was restless, she went on long walks out to the river, in the dark. This was not the smartest thing; lots of people had been assaulted in the woods near the river, and it was dark as sin. But when she needed to find out what she was thinking about and couldn’t find it within the confines of her own head, she went there to look for it, and it was usually there. A dark kind of magic is what she’s looking for, when she writes horror stories now.
–These things aren’t lies or fakery, not at all. But they don’t tell the whole story, either. But they explain why I write what I do, and I think that’s what a writer’s “identity” is for.