Wednesday, June 13, 2018

0 WoW: L. E. Sterling on Using a Pen Name

From Mark Twain to Dr. Seuss, I've always been interested in pen names. From those who choose to identify with their initials, to writers who develop brand new identities to use when sharing their fictional worlds with readers, I'm so curious to know how and why authors develop their nom de plumes. So today, I'm super excited to welcome L. E. Sterling, author of the True Born Trilogy, who de-mystifies the process! Stay tuned after the guest post for a bit more about L.E. and her latest book TRUE STORM.

Why I use a pen name (and why you should consider it)
by L. E. Sterling
When I was ten I braved a forty-minute hike to West Edmonton Mall. “The Mall,” as it was known to us West Enders, was a monster –– but unlike other kids, I didn’t go in for the stores bursting with cool clothes for girls, or to hang out with the boys at the arcade or roller coaster.

I went to the bookstore.

I wandered through the store before coming to my real destination: the science fiction and fantasy shelves. I stood there, maybe for an hour, and just stared at the titles of the books and their authors. Jack Vance. Ursula K. LeGuin. Sherri S. Tepper. Guy Gavriel Kay.

I think that was the first day I realized that writing was a business, and that to be successful, I needed to think like those who were succeeding.

First, you need to understand that at the time, YA was relegated to the (totally awesome but completely maligned) Sweet Valley High series …. Which I totally recommend, by the way. The stories were about proms and part-time jobs and how to get that boy to kiss you at the carnival. There were no books about girls who save planets in the YA section.

I made a few other striking observations that day: the first was that there were very few women writers on those shelves. Oh sure, there was Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Still, the shelves were overwhelmingly stocked with male authors.

There were also a few notable books that fell into a no-man’s land. Literally. And by that I mean these were books written by names, by literary initials. I picked up one, a pocket paperback by one C.J. Cherryh. And more than the book’s description, it was the bio that had me hooked.

C. J. Cherryh was a woman.

Back then, the only women writers I could identify with had pen names with initials. One of my favorites, for instance, was S. E. Hinton.

I had known at least since I was seven that I was going to be a writer. But that morning, as I staggered away from the bookstore feeling like a bell had tolled, I learned something more. I was going to write not ordinary stories, but science fiction and fantasy.

And I was going to use a pen name to do it. I was going to write books under the name L.E. Vollick, comprising my initials and my last name. Like C.J. Cherryh. Like S.E. Hinton.

I published a fairly substantial body of work under the pen name of my childhood: poetry, essays, short stories, and yes, my first novel, The Originals. None of these early publications fell under the speculative fiction rubric.

After the publication of my first novel, The Originals, though, I saw that I was stuck. You see, I’d gone through two creative writing degrees and was finally learning “the biz,” and “the biz” had made it clear that once you started making a name for yourself it was very difficult to change your trajectory. But I still wanted to dabble in urban fantasy, in dystopian lit. I didn’t think my past body of work would allow for that kind of change.

So when it came time to publish my second novel, the urban fantasy Pluto’s Gate, I decided to keep the first part of my name but change my last name. I became L.E. Sterling.

A few considerations went into this decision. First and foremost, it gave me some creative space to write and think in new and bolder ways. Many of my fellow writers often have a different name for their different audiences or genres (for instance, my writer friend Mary Lindsay (YA) / Marissa Clarke (romance/thriller, adult)). This allows them the freedom to jump genres and market their work to completely different audiences.

Sterling was also a last name well-suited to the male-dominated science fiction and fantasy markets (Rod Sirling, Bruce Sterling, S.M.Sterling). And finally — finally! — I would get away from the problem of the V’s.

In bookstores and for most catalogues, books are ordered alphabetically by an author’s last name. My first book was sandwiched in the shelves beside Voltaire. And while there’s a certain pride with that, it wasn’t where I wanted to be. People cruising a bookstore almost never make it to the end of the alphabet.

With the last name Sterling, I crept up in the alphabet game and sat beside some of those genre giants. In fact, now that I’m properly categorized as a YA author, my works are shelved beside an author I truly admire: bestselling author Maggie Stievater.

There is also a familiarity to the Sterling surname. People will recall it, and be able to spell it, much more easily than Vollick.

Does it work? It does have some drawbacks, particularly on websites like Goodreads, which doesn't have the functionality to attribute my first novel, The Originals, to me. But I still enjoy my writing name. And even in this era of YA (scifi/fantasy) being dominated by women authors, I don’t regret the use of my initials in place of my first name.

Here’s a little secret: the “L.” and the “E.” of my pen names are stand-ins for my real names. My parents always called me by my middle name (Erin), so I have always kept the L. as a placeholder for the name I’m never called and don’t answer to. But don’t ask me to tell you what it is….

About L.E. Sterling
L.E. Sterling had an early obsession with sci-fi, fantasy and romance, to which she remained faithful through an M.A. in creative writing and a PhD in English literature, where she completed a thesis on magical representation.

She is the author of cult hit YA novel The Originals (under pen name L.E. Vollick) and the Urban Fantasy Pluto’s Gate, and the True Born Trilogy. True Born, first in the series, won the 2017 Athena Award® from the Young Adult chapter of the RWA. Originally hailing from Parry Sound, Ontario, L.E. spent most of her summers roaming across Canada in a van, inspiring her writing career. She currently lives in Toronto, Canada.

About TRUE STORM (True Born #3)
Lucy’s twin sister, Margot, may be safely back with her—but all is not well in Plague-ravaged Dominion City. The Watchers have come out of hiding, spreading chaos and death throughout the city, and suddenly Lucy finds herself under pressure to choose her future: does it lie with her handsome new friend, Alastair; her guardian, the enigmatic True Born leader Nolan Storm; or the man who makes her heart trip, her savage True Born bodyguard Jared Price?

But while Lucy ponders her path, fate has other plans. Betrayal is a cruel lesson, and the Fox sisters can hardly believe who is behind the plot against them. To survive this deadly game of politics, Lucy is forced to agree to a marriage of convenience. But is the DNA of her will stronger than the forces opposing her? Can she turn the tide against the oncoming storm??

As they say in Dominion, can rogue genes ever have a happy ending?

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