What’s In a Pen Name?

pen name3So today is my birthday.  Not a particularly special one, but one more in the can.  Entering my 58th year today – in a few years, I’ll be 60.  Well, in three years to be precise.

My husband is 60 on Sunday.  Sorry, honey, I know.  Who wants to be reminded of that birthday.  Even if 60 isn’t what it used to be (or 57, for that matter!)  You did notice, smart reader that you are, that our birthdays are exactly two days apart.  Not that we planned it that way, but it is curious.  Yet in my dating life, it wasn’t so curious at all, as I knew a lot of people born in October and November.  For some reason, I gravitated towards them or they gravitated towards me.  My first husband’s birthday is a week before mine, too.

Statistically, October is a big month for birthdays – which must have something to do with the fact that January is a pretty cold month in the Northern Hemisphere, so people get busy indoors.  With the predictable result happening in October.

Not that I mind, but it’s crowded in our family.  My son was complaining the other day about this – all the birthdays are this month!  For him, that’s his sister, his girlfriend, his mom and his dad and his step-dad, and than in very early November, his two step-brothers (who are twins).   That’s a lot of birthdays.

So enough of birthdays – they happen, we’re lucky that they happen as they mean we’re still here and that’s that.  They are just one day a year and for most folks who don’t share my birthday, October 24 is no big deal (unless you work at the United Nations, then it’s also their ‘birthday’ or anniversary day of their founding, so you probably know about this day, too.)

I’m still at work on the novel and gearing up for NaNoWriMo which starts in about a week.  I’m going to use scrivener this year to write book two of my series.  Of course, I haven’t yet finished book one, but I’m pretty close.  So I’ll probably bang that out at the beginning of the NaNo month – and if you don’t tell, neither will I.

And along with all this writerly stuff, I decided that I’d like to maintain some separation between my fiction writing versus any non-fiction writing I may try to publish.  So for that, and for the fact that my real name is boring, I’ve picked a pen name.

I should back up a bit.  I’m a bit loosey goosey on names anyway.  Most women are, quite frankly.  After all, traditionally we are the gender who actually changes our name upon marriage – and less often changes it back upon divorce.  Names have a fluidity for many women that men cannot begin to understand.  Well, after all, we do live in a patriarchy, or so I’m told constantly by young third-wave feminists.

In fact, some of them are giving a rasher of shit to George Clooney’s brand new wife for changing her name to his.  She’s already gone so far as to have her name changed at her law firm in London – I’ll bet she even got new business cards with the new name.

Because some people are making a deal about this, I applaud the new Mrs. Clooney.  She wishes to give her husband this gift of aligning herself to him in this way.  I know . . . why does she have to align herself to his family?  Why doesn’t he choose to change his name to hers?  Well, in this case, he’s too well known by his name and she is less so by hers, which is probably part of it – but okay, I’ll go with patriarchy as the primary explanation.

We’re living with this a bit in our own family right now.  My step-son and his girlfriend are having a baby in March, a boy.  They’ve had the name discussion – not just first name – and agreed that the baby’s last name will be my step-son’s, but that the middle name will be a family name from her family (although not her last name apparently – she’s using another family name which can double as a first or middle name.)

There really is no reason why this baby has to have my step-son’s name, obviously, or even hers.  Parents can, legally, pick any name they want for their child, and that includes the last name.  But almost always babies get their father’s name – yup, there’s that patriarchy again.  Sorry – I guess in this way it’s real at least in the Western world.  I’ve no idea if this is the same elsewhere, although I’ve been told that in Japan if a man marries above himself in class, he often changes his name to match his wife’s family name, which serves as career enhancement.

And in our own house – I am finally in the process of changing my name to match my husband’s.  I did it once in 1981 when I married for the first time.  It took awhile and it was a real pain, the memory of which obviously has lasted longer than the marriage.  When the ‘Publican and I got married in 2006, I had a private practice under my first married name (I didn’t revert when I divorced because I had a child), so until I retired a year ago, it never occurred to me to change it to my husband’s.  People knew me by that name – I had a whole adult identity tied up with that name.  Although boring and somewhat common, it was mine (okay, and a whole lot of other people’s too).

But when I retired, I re-thought it.  My reasons for keeping my first ex-husband’s name – not really that relevant anymore.  Most of our family knows me as either that name or as Mrs. Husband’s name.  So why not just go for it?  And The ‘Publican liked it too, even if he never wanted to force me to do it.

Well, I’ve not done that much to effect the change, but I know what I need to do which includes dealing with both the DMV and Social Security Administration, neither of which I’m really looking forward to.  But it’s on the list and rising higher there, so it will be done – just about nine years later than usual.

So . . . back to the pen name.

Once the decision was made,  then it became what should it be?  And you know, it was an easier choice than I thought it would be.  I wanted the last name to be my father’s last name – or as we quaintly put in the patriarchy, my maiden name – and then I wanted to use a variation of my middle name which also is a variant of my mother’s name.

This honors the people who gave me life and is probably not as common a name as the one I carry around on a daily basis, and it’s a nod to the patriarchy, too, I guess.  After all, I’m going to use my father’s last name as my pen name, and yet, change my every-day name from my first husband’s to my current husband’s.  Brother – I need some re-education somewhere, I guess!

My actual middle name is Suzanne (yes, my mother’s first name is Susan, so Suzanne is a variant of her name.)  My pen name is Susannah.  Just a more musical sounding variation.  And a slightly different spelling.  I’ve always liked Suzanne as a name and when I was a kid I experimented with dropping the Laura and just using Suzanne.  That never stuck entirely, but I’m fond of the name and I’m especially fond of the variation of Susannah.

My maiden name is Brewster.  I didn’t realize what a common name this is in England until I visited for the first time many years ago and saw it splashed on manhole covers and on the roads of London.  I think the company either built the roads or, at the least, quarried the asphalt that made them.  When I was growing up I didn’t know anybody with the name, of course, and for some reason I got teased for it.  It’s obviously not any worse than most last names and is a whole lot better than a lot of them, too.  Yet, as a child, I was called “rooster” and, oddly, “booster.”  Okay, that’s not awful, but couple this with being a fat kid with glasses, and it was just one more thing to be unmercilously teased about.

I was glad to shed it upon marriage.  I never looked back, even when I got divorced and there was the question right on the form – “restore wife’s former name”.  Nope.  I was keeping this name I’d married into.  Although to be even more honest, it wasn’t even the real name of my husband, but his middle name that he’d changed to legally.  He was born a Smith and he couldn’t stand how common that name was, so he took his middle name as his last and picked a new middle name.  His father wasn’t too pleased about it, but other family members understood.  I was never Laura Smith.  I probably would have ditched that upon divorce!

I did say I was pretty loosey goosey about this stuff, right?

So . . . Brewster was a name I didn’t like as a kid, but was stuck with, and now I’ve mellowed about the name and, as an only daughter who didn’t pass on the name further, I decided to revive it with a pen name.  I guess if I get a book or two published, that will be a legacy of sorts that honors my dad.

So after all this buildup and meandering, I introduce my writer persona, Susannah Brewster. 

Now, back to writing!

It’s October – Where is Zental Floss?

So I’ve been writing. In fact, I’ve written a lot of words – on a novel. Yes, one of those. I’m in the third act and trucking along on the first draft. Will it be good? I don’t know. Probably not.

First novels aren’t usually that good. Okay, exceptions exist. Always.

But I’m not that lyrical a writer – not yet anyway. I have modest goals. I don’t need the money. Although that would be nice.

So I suspect when I finish draft number one that I’ll sit on it for a bit. Will I even have the guts to start revising? Because revision is a whole other ballgame from getting that first draft done.

I’ve never gotten this far before. Several years ago I finished NaNoWriMo with about 55K words give or take on a novel, but it was a mess. Most of it was the middle and I couldn’t figure out how to finish it up. I didn’t write it in order, and it was written in Word, so it wasn’t as easy as using Scrivener to move sections around. And frankly, by the time NaNo ended, I was done with the story. I just didn’t like it that much.

Maybe it was the story I had to write and almost finish to just do it.

Last year for NaNoWriMo I rebelled and wrote over 50K words on blog posts – both for this blog and another one I was contemplating. A dark and ironic political blog. Hah! Nobody wants to read such things, but I got a lot of venting out during November.

Now in less than a month, NaNo calls my name again.

Where I’m at with my story is this – it’s part of a series, I already see that. Otherwise, the book would be inordinately long. It’s a genre story. In a category that I’ve made up, but it borrows heavily from Romance and Chick-Lit. I call it “Dame Lit” because it’s really chick lit grown up and gotten divorced. You know, for the boomer, over 45 set. But positive and optimistic – yes, there’s a HEA or HFN. Which for those in the know is the hallmark of the romance genre – the “happily ever after” or “happily for now” ending. I’ve got a lot of nice things in the first book. So I think NaNo will be for book two of the series.

And that way, I don’t have to do any big revisions to book one. Ha. See how I did that. Just pushed over revisions to another time. Like December or something.

On another note, October. Where did September go? And most of August?

For us, August was for some significant birthdays – My father-in-law, my father and my mother. My mother turned 80. My father-in-law 87 and my dad 84. Now every parent is 80 or over in our family and yes, we have all of them present and accounted for still.

Then in September, it ended. First, back in late July, my husband’s aunt died at 95. Then on September 6 his uncle died at 97. Then seven days later, my father-in-law died – yes, at the age of 87. A mere youngster.

So now our parents are starting to look like more normal families – it was rare at our age (I’m 56 and my husband is 59) that we had all four parents still. Now we don’t.

Weird. Who’s next? Unfortunately, the race is between my parents – even though they are both younger than my mother-in-law, they both smoked for decades (and my mom still smokes). Neither is in great shape. The one who will live the longest will be my mother-in-law (she of the siblings who lived well into their 90’s.)

And on a more positive note, we will be grandparents again – my husband’s oldest son and his girlfriend are having a baby boy next March. We’re excited about that. And for the gender balance as Nugget is a precocious 2 1/2 year old girl. I of course have already stepped in it, as I’ve offered my screed on names, which is never a good thing to do. Parents are going to do whatever they want on names . . . (I keep telling myself to shut up on the topic.)

When 2014 started I predicted that it would be a year of funerals. I wasn’t wrong. I’ve been to three in about six weeks. I can take a break now, really.

And I’ve got a few ideas to not completely abandon this blog, too. It’s been fun and I want it to continue to be fun. And I want to finish the novel and write the next one.

Can I do it all? (big breath.) I think so. Thanks for hanging in there and reading this.

More Readerly Detours – But Not Much Writing

old fashioned woman reading 2I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately.  Also learning Spanish.  Two things that have nothing, necessarily, to do with writing.

Yep, I’ve been in a slump for the past number of weeks.  I hear my husband click clacking on the computer keys and feel . . . like picking up a book or my kindle and reading some more.  His writing output which right now is prodigious doesn’t necessarily spur me on to writing productivity.  In fact, I feel a bit depressed about the whole thing.

Oh well.

I don’t think the Spanish helps with the writing, but I suspect the reading does.  I know I mentioned that I had discovered J.A. Konrath by finding kindle bargains on amazon.com.  He’s a terrific mystery writer, if you like that sort of thing.  Which I do!

I’ve always been a fan of mysteries.  Yesterday at my in-laws, we got on the topic by a circuitous pathway, of where we’re headed on a quickie vacation week after next.  “Pismo Beach,” I said.  And then I remembered Joe Friday’s sidekick on Dragnet – and this was his favorite place to escape from LA., too.  Who was the sidekick?  Harry Morgan played Bill Gannon, the perfect foil for Jack Webb’s deadpan Joe Friday. But this funky memory of Pismo Beach led me to remark that I’d loved Dragnet as a child and that this probably was the reason I loved police procedurals as an adult (yes, I’ve saturated myself in the Law & Order franchise, even watching the British version, so there.)

One summer I read all of Raymond Chandler – even the Black Mask stories.  I must have been in college when I did that and it was an effort to find everything, since this was a few years before the internet.  Yes, I’m that old.  Stop it.

But anyway – mysteries are my all time favorite genre of fiction.  Second to that is probably the more literary fiction and third, I’m embarrassed to admit this, is chick lit.  Well, no need to be embarrassed, right?  Okay, yeah, I guess there’s a reason to be a little teensy weensy bit embarrassed.  A lot of it isn’t that great.  But a lot of genre fiction from a literary standpoint isn’t that great.  What IS great is the story.  The plot.  The characters that you learn to love or hate – or both.

So . . . one of the genres that I’ve never really been able to connect with much is science fiction.

Another detour.  About a year and a half ago my son said I had to read Game of Thrones.  I tried.  I read the first ten or twenty pages – and I hated it.  It was confusing.  It was “dark” and well, confusing.  I couldn’t imagine it as I was reading and that’s fatal for this reader.  When I pick up a book, if I’m going to be captured by it, I can imagine the scene in my mind.  I’m a pretty visual thinker, so this is how it works for me.  Your mileage may vary if you’re a more kinesthetic or auditory thinker.

Well, with GoT, I was just lost.  And the premise of supernatural stuff happening . . . I just couldn’t get it, no matter how much my son tried to talk to me about it.

Then I had occasion to see the first episode on HBO.  It was great!  For the first time, the scene was alive and visual and I decided to give the book a second try.

And this time, with some visual help from the TV show, I got into the book, and I got captured and finished all five books in short order.

So even though fantasy is not a genre I generally like – I was able to fall in love with A Song of Ice and Fire  – after some help.

Same with horror – not a genre I generally like, but I’ve found Stephen King to be a pretty decent author of it.  I started out with The Stand and again, I read that when the TV mini-series was showing (this is years ago.)  I recognized it was a basically religious story, so that helped me with it, too.

But I have very little interest in a lot of King’s work.  I’ve read Misery which has no supernatural stuff in it, and about a year ago I read 11/22/63 which has a time travel device, but is essentially an historical novel about the Kennedy assassination (in case you didn’t catch the date.)

Now I’m at the beginning of The Shining.

About six months ago we watched the Kubrick film of the book, and even though I saw it ages ago, it felt very fresh to me.  It’s an interesting film but I can also see why King didn’t like it much.  I’ve also seen the TV mini-series that was done a few years ago which is truer to King’s vision of his own story.  It was also good, but visually it didn’t pack the punch of Kubrick’s version.

So I decided to try the book myself.  And I’m loving it.  Yes, it’s got a supernatural theme in it but to me it’s the story of an alcoholic writer which in all those permutations, holds a lot of interest to me, more than the supernatural stuff actually.

So back to science fiction.  After many detours.

Because I find it fun to tool around Kindle – I somehow stumbled upon a book with the curious title of Wool.  By an author I’d never heard of, Hugh Howey.  (For some reason, that name, Hugh Howey, reminds me of Sylvester the Cat lisping “Sufferin’ Succotash” – too much sibilance, I guess.)

Wool blew me away – and it’s science fiction.  Who knew?  I ended up reading in short order the remaining parts of the “Silo” trilogy, Shift and Dust.

Perhaps it was the knitting references that pulled me in.  The author originally self published Wool in small novella-like pieces – each titled for the handling of the substance of wool – “Proper Gauge,” “Casting Off,” “The Unraveling,” and “The Stranded.”  Only the first section, “Holston” has no sneaky references to knitting.  But it was the first section that totally grabbed me and hurled me into this dystopian future.

The other grabber was that there were strong female characters throughout.  The primary character is named Juliette (yes, after Romeo & you know . . .), but even besides her there are fully realized women in the Mayor Jahn, Shirly, Courtnee, Anna, Charlotte, and others.  One negative I had with the books, though, is that the bad guys are all men with the possible exception of Anna, who we aren’t sure of (of course she turns out to be a good person.)  That’s a weakness of the story – because this is a fairly egalitarian world he’s created, it’s entirely probable that women would be just as reprehensible as men at times.

The story has a few other plot weaknesses, but overall, it’s an engaging, fun read.  There’s plenty of twists and turns and “black moments” to keep you turning pages, or swiping them if you’re on a kindle.  But in the end, although not completely positive, there’s a nascent hopefulness that gives it a satisfying closure.

Although there is no supernatural element to the story, there is the use of science fact, stretched to logical, or at least possible, conclusions.   What if nanotechnology can be used as a weapon in warfare?  What if propofol became the newest psychotropic drug, used to erase painful, negative memories?  What if we had perfected the hibernation of people?  All of these pseudo scientific elements in the near future (although Wool and Dust take place in 2345, the second book Shift brings it back to 2049) form the backdrop for the actions taken.

It’s the Waking Dead, not the Walking Dead, but both are set near Atlanta.  And the waking are not “dead” exactly, just in the deep freeze for decades at a time.  And nobody remembers their recent past, their legacy, due to their water being “treated” with the memory erasing drug.  And when a group gets out of line or threatens to – they are dispatched via nanos that attack their bodily systems from the inside with no way to escape them.

Of course, people not being robots (at least not quite yet), some of them do the courageous thing – they don’t conform, they make trouble, they get sneaky and attack back – and in these books a lot of these courageous ones die for their trouble.   Our heroine, Juliette, survives although she pays a high price with loss of friends and lovers and a new, painful understanding of both her people’s legacy and their possible future, which is left a bit unknown.

All in all, a great read, even if – or especially if – you don’t like science fiction.