There are so many instances of neutral initial pen names, also called non de plumes, that it’s rather ordinary and taken as a normal happenstance in the literary world. Jo Rowling is perhaps one of the most famous examples. C.S. Lewis and D.L. James come to mind. Pretty ordinary stuff here. What about a gender flip-flop though? During the last generations of literature, dozens of women have taken on male pen names to approach a reading crowd that might not have given them the time of day had they revealed their true gender Identity. They were certainly justified in adopting this theory. Nothing wrong with that at all. It worked out for them. They could adventure, crash, bang and boom with the best of them. We didn’t care. That’s the point. We loved them and became one with their universe.
Robin Hobb–she’s a gal
George Eliot is a gal
Isak Dinesen is a female
Alas. Leigh Greenwood is a guy! And so is Jessica Blair!
These authors chose a gender flip-flop pseudonym, and their reasons were varied: identity cloaking, privacy, restart failing careers, outright deception (a few), testing purposes–insert your reason. A few didn’t have to change their names–Nicholas Sparks, being one of the talented male authors who writes very believable female leads and characters, had no reason to cloak his real identity. He had the experience and formula down and the women readers readily accepted his talent. Such wonderful things happen when you get it right, and you more than often than not, should get it right consistently. Because if you stumble, it might raise suspicion about your motives. You have to feel very comfortable with the switch and feel justified in your decision to use it. Now Rowling and King used a different approach, swapping gender author names to test the waters as a new, or unknown talent. They wanted to distance themselves from their famous brands. It worked for only a little while until they were found out. Their questions were answered, though.
I wanted to write as a female because of the genre I wanted to specialize in–YA fantasy and paranormal. I needed to distance my real name from my SF and adult thrillers. I even wrote an erotic romance that went belly up when I used my real name. I was switching my category, changing to all female leads and using a unique or catchy new name. I settled on Chrisy J. Breedlove, because my first real name was in the mix and I just happened to love the last name Breedlove. I’d first heard the Breedlove last name in a move decades ago, and if was called Hamersmith is Out. A sub-character in that movie was called Billy Breedlove. There I had it.
My reasons? I wasn’t hiding under a skirt and pretending to be a woman. That would have been easily discovered by my group display site fans and friends. With close to 5,000 followers on FB, who did I think I was kidding? I would be found out instantly because of the hints and bios plastered all over the Internet. If you played cross-the-links in my profiles, it would be more than easy to find me out. Most did. Some, however, did not and refused to believe I was not a gal writing gal characters. They were in the minority, though. Ninety percent of the reviewers and readers really didn’t give a flying you know what. “Oh, is she strong, with great leadership capabilities, courage and brains. She also has athletic prowess! What a woman! We love her! She is my favorite in the whole story.” What a wonderful reception. Almost like a vindication.
I always had a gut feeling I could write the female side. It did come naturally for me and I never had any complaints about it. Well, except for being dog-piled on my erotic romance. Oh, I didn’t hear the end of that one. It served me right. I’d always written sweet romance in all my books. Taking it too deeply into the sexual desires of women drew a lot of fire–machine gun fire. Even though the book was co-written and passed muster with a female co-author, I still took the brunt of harsh critiques, EVEN BEFORE THE WHOLE BOOK WAS READ. That’s another story, though.
My motives were simple and logical, to my mind. It was a business decision as well as anything. It’s true that nearly 65% of all books bought and read are by women. Romance has dominated the genres since forever, it seems. Just like the male writing fraternity, the sisters had a close group of reading fans, only much larger and just as discerning. I only planned on spontaneous sales, those who looked at the cover, read the blurb, blitzed through the sample pages and adored the title. That was a primary hook. After that, I didn’t care who outed me. The point was, I had a better chance of discovery. I’d always thought that women possessed more of a realistic and emotional accuracy in writing YA fiction. I don’t have to name the super blockbusters for you–you know them, have read them and certainly heard of them. I so wanted to tap that market without being intrusive or offensive. How could I do it honestly and what was the secret?
Men have a female side and women have a male side. They can delve into it and explore anytime they want. Yet, the MOST IMPORTANT ingredient was and always has been the fact that they are both human beings. They have the same likes, desires, fears, needs and feelings. They are basically the same animal. They have only nuances and traits that are specific to them–microcosms of separation. In other words, there are certain things that men and women don’t ordinarily do. Yet this is highly subjective too! Why? Because we have the basic human being as the main ingredient, and then we have the individual who calls out to be recognized. These are personality traits. You can explore all this territory without being stereotypical and sexist. Just remember: Human beings.
How has it worked out? That’s the big question isn’t it? For such a bold move, one would expect bold and unforgiving mistakes. Christy is only about six months old so I had to look at it with stats in mind. I’ve never had more reviews, clicks, raves, sample reads and other kudos. Sales came a little heavy in the beginning. (Of course, you have to stay on the marketing and promo wagon). As far as popularity, it has out-shined the other books. It’s only the fresh beginning. I don’t know what I’m on to, but I’ll let Christy take the spotlight. But more importantly, I want the story to take the spotlight. Judge ye not the author, but the story that he or she tells. The story is the real driving force for any author, and the end game is for the reader.
Chris J. Breelove–“Blue shift to me. Or check out the second star on the right.”