Why a pen name? The obvious answer is that if you’re writing romance or erotica, it’s separating your writing from your day job. But even if I didn’t have a day job I’d still use a pen name. There’s lots of good reasons like branding, and if you write in two very distinct genres you want to keep them separate (essentially brand them with the name you write each with, so I guess that’s still branding).
For me it’s also because I just like names. I grew up in an age of the internet when we were all anonymous, there was no Facebook, we didn’t put our real names on anything. I’ve never been good at coming up with clever internet handles, but I love when other people do. I love the expressiveness of choosing your own name. And the ability to change it like an outfit. As evidenced by the many I’ve had in the last ~20 years: jax, pinklady, starcat, stoneprincess, jayjay, evereadysmile and now flickerjax (and several variations on my real name).
A pen name is a little different. It’s lasting, forever tied to whatever work you created it for. It can’t be changed like a url or a handle. I went through a dozen choices of what to use for the works I’m currently writing and finally settled on one that I think fits the ‘brand’ of the stories and fits me. I chose a traditionally masculine name (about 9/12 of my list of choices were masculine) not because I’m hiding behind it while writing m/m romance (a quick perusal of this blog or my FB will reveal almost immediately that I’m not a guy). I picked it because I love the name and it reflects me in a way I like. And perhaps because in real life my first name is “masculine” this feels more comfortable. Most traditionally feminine names felt more fake to me than my final choice: Ajax Owen Bell.
My imaginary son is in the ether somewhere thankful he was never born to me because this probably would have been his first and middle names. Actually that was the only thing that made me hesitate about it, but I have no reason to save the name for a child, so I took it for myself. It feels comfortably like my name, correct in a way other choices I weighed never did. They all felt false and thin, but this is solid for me, like this is a name that I already somehow own.
If you’re looking for Ajax Bell, you can find me other places online (psst, over in the sidebar). Facebook, necessarily separated from my “real life” account, mostly to protect my grandmother from anything more offensive than what I already post, and because my day job coworkers probably aren’t interested in gay romance writing. And of course I’m on the endless rabbit hole of time wasting that is Tumblr. Follow if you like, but fair warning, it’s mostly gay porn, mermaids, and Tokio Hotel in my feed and it gets graphic at times (I do tag because without Tumblr Savior all civility is lost to the world) and my tags probably expose a level of insanity I should be ashamed of (but I’m not, bring on the gay porn German pop star mermen and my ramblings about them, yeah).
Anonymity on the internet is clearly a relic of the past, gone but still mourned. Identity is something else entirely. I think it’s fair to say the person I am when I wake up early and go slog at my office all day is different from the fangirl gleefully watching endless eps of Looking and Orphan Black while reblogging Bob’s Burgers gifs. I have no problem at all with the idea that I need different spaces, different names and (ugh) different brands for those identities. So here I am, yes it’s me. Still me, no matter what you call me, but if we’re friends (and we are, aren’t we?) feel free to call me JJ no matter what space we’re in.