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Monday, May 26, 2014

Identity, Anxiety, Self-Esteem, and the Pen Name That Failed

How do I phrase this so I don't sound like a crazy person?

I forced back the bile threatening to rise in my throat. Tried to calm the buzz of nerves that had my heart competing to win the Indy 500. And when the moment arrived and my turn came, I took a quick deep breath, willing my voice not to shake.

The author glanced at the post-it note the helpful Chapters employee had stuck to the title page. "Hi, Laura. How's it going?"

That's when it hit me.

"Um, hi." I set down my bag. Now or never. "I'm *not* Moira Young, and I wanted to thank you for that."

Okay, the above exchange probably makes very little sense to anyone not in the know. As the webcomic Head Trip's creator, Shinga, would say, "Welcome to Out-Of-Context Theatre." So let me explain.

About six, nearly seven years ago, I was freshly married and reeling from events that ended my friendship with two of my bridesmaids and a few other people in my life. One bridesmaid in particular had done and said some very damaging things before, during, and after the wedding that left me picking up the pieces for months after. My self-esteem was at a low I hadn't experienced since high school or earlier, and despite my wonderful and supportive new husband, Don Rocko, my anxiety levels were higher than they'd ever been. Top it off with a rejection from a publisher who'd asked me to rewrite and resubmit, and it's no surprise that I suddenly didn't want to be myself anymore.

So I took a pen name.

Hey, it worked for some people. Gabe and Tycho from Penny Arcade, for example, who didn't mind the anonymity despite being "famous on the Internet," as I think one of them put it one Pax Prime. Local horror author Michael Slade, for another, who at a party told me and and a friend how it was helpful to keep his writing and personal lives separate. Many people have many reasons for taking pen names. So I thought, why not? I should, too.

I think at the time it was exactly what I needed.

Choosing a name wasn't hard. It just so happened at the time that multiple strangers, on hearing my name, for some reason misheard it as "Moira". Then I thought, well, a name like that needs a strong single-syllable last name. So I randomly chose the name of an old high school teacher, Mrs. Young, without giving it much thought.

New identity in hand, I went full out embracing the name. Thinking that one aforementioned rejection equalled failure, I started a new novel. I posted on the Internet under this new name. I set up a Twitter handle, got business cards, even purchased moirayoung.com. In 2010, I stumbled upon MagicalWords.net and started commenting there as Moira Young, too.

Awesome and now embarrassing factoid: there's a comment in the MW book, How To Write Magical Words, that is attributed to Moira Young. As I told the editor, Edmund Schubert, "That's my pen name, so I'd like to keep it that way in the book, too!" Sigh. Weeks later, just after the book went to print, I'd regret ever saying that.

Things were going well. I was happy. Then one fateful night between Christmas and New Years in 2010, I got an e-mail from a published author I know:

I saw the news on GalleyCat about BLOOD RED ROAD. Are congratulations in order?

Wait, what?

That's when I learned there was another author who'd just been accepted for publication under the name Moira Young. Further research told me the following: not only was that actually her name. Not only did she also write YA speculative fiction. Not only was she also Canadian. No, to top it all off she was also from New Westminster, which is very near where I live.

Seriously, what are the odds?

I won't lie, it felt like a cosmic slap in the face. After pouring all that energy into this new persona, I suddenly had to find some other name. I had to rethink who I was, who I wanted to be. Never was I actually angry at the other author (after all, it's her name), but I was mortified. And totally lost.

What am I supposed to do now? I think I floundered for about a week, asking everyone I knew for advice. But the more I talked about it, the more options I considered, the more I suddenly realized the answer staring right in my face.

More than two years had passed. I wasn't as hurt or scared as I'd been. My time as Moira Young had given me a chance to regain my lost confidence, to break new ground about my identity and most importantly, to heal.

I was ready to be myself again. My real self, the name I was born with. So I went with L.S. Taylor and I've been fairly happy ever since.

There was just one lingering problem. I felt like the story lacked closure.
 
I had nothing to regret. After all, when using the pen name, I'd kept my posts and web interactions polite. If anything, I was worried that the actual author would for some reason be angry with me. But I wasn't quite sure how to get in touch with the author (yes, me, of all people), especially without it sounding weird, or worse, me being written off as crazy.

Which brings me back to what happened last Saturday.

When I found out she was coming to my suburb of Greater Vancouver, it seemed like fate. I worried myself nearly sick that morning, trying to figure out what I should say, how not to get kicked out of the bookstore or sound harassing. I calmed down through her talk. Listening to Moira speak about how she was inspired by the landscape around her, when I'm a geography nerd and would like to think it's been a part of my writing too, absolutely mesmerized me. And as my turn in line neared, all I could feel was one thing: gratitude. Without this experience, I wouldn't have discovered myself.

At my words, Moira pushed back her seat, leapt up, and hugged me. "I've heard of you!" she said, and she didn't mean it in a bad way. (I believe my response was, "Oh wow. This is a thing?") And then we cheerfully talked for a few minutes. I got some photos and autographs. And everything was okay.


So this story had a good ending. I worried way too much for nothing. But I am grateful for the journey this Adventures With Pen Names led to. I'm not saying that no one should take a pen name, just that it didn't work out for me, and the path I took was exactly what I needed.

The best part was how she signed my copy of her book.


3 comments:

  1. I am so glad it went so swimmingly well!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Through all your pen name adventures, I'm glad you found yourself again. Hugs

    ReplyDelete