Today I wrote the final 2,000 words to Throw Away Kitten, a children’s book I’ll publish under the pen name Candy McMudd. As any writer knows, these moments are special. It’s time to celebrate. Another draft is completed.
Throw Away Kitten was inspired by my youngest son, the cat lover. He’s always preferred cats over dogs, but many of the chapter books he’s read are one-sided. The majority of the stories involving kittens have female lead characters whereas puppies have boy characters. Well, being a cat lover, that didn’t sit well with him, so he asked me to write a story about a boy who owed a kitten.
The other day a friend asked if my youth novel, Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove, could be borrowed from the library. It was then I remembered I didn’t promote the availability of my book through this public location.
Names. Our characters need them, but where do we find them? I’ve searched dozens of sources looking for perfect names, ones readers will remember easily and relate with. Often times I do find unique ones that suit the characters, but not always.
Sometimes my adult brain gets in the way of finding a great name. Perhaps I should start letting my kids pick them. They seem to have a knack for discovering the perfect name that describes a character, is unique and memorable. Their names – which are mostly gender neutral – for their pets stand out and make visitors smile.
I’m a quiet person who likes to tinker around the house in the morning, write for several hours and drop a line now and again to see if I get a bite. I’m not one for galas, dinners or standing on a grandstand boasting about my book. But I’ve learned over the past ten months that if I’m going to stick around a while in this writing business I have to tell people I’m here and what I have to offer.
The writing world is filled with pleasant surprises, disappointments and moments you may want to remember and forget. Sometimes you can expect that something different will happen. Other times, when you’re doing something for the first time, you’re caught off guard by something that is done to you or something that you must do.
One of those ‘strange to me’ moments happened Monday when I hand-delivered a copy of Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove to my daughter’s school. It all began quite innocently enough. While picking her up for an appointment, I thought it’d be a great time to donate my book to her school library. The office secretary pointed me in the right direction and asked if the book she carried was of special importance to me.
“Yes,” I said with way too little confidence. I hesitated to say more, hoping I’d escape without fanfare. See, I really don’t like fanfare, being the centre of attention. I know it’s something I should get used to. After all, this business dictates that I meet others and show off what I’ve done.
Taking the plunge, I said, “I wrote it.”
That’s where a simple drop off turned into something more. I was introduced to the librarian as the author. She produced a camera and wanted to take a picture of me and my book.
Gosh, I know I said I like old photographs of me, but I really don’t like getting my picture taken. Still, I took a deep breath, pulled my daughter under my arm and smiled. I smiled as though the librarian wasn’t going to steal my soul with that digital device. I smiled as if I had just been handed an award for my book. I smiled like I was never going to see that picture . . . ever.
Several years ago while having my eyes tested, the optometrist asked me if I ever hesitated to make decisions. A little confused, I asked why. “You’re the quickest patient I ever had for giving answers,” he said. Each time he changed the lens for me to see which was clearer than the other, my answer was immediate.
I still give quick answers unless there is an important reason to ponder. However, I’ve learnt over the years that sometimes pondering can taint an answer. Gut reaction is sometimes better.
When it came to deciding if I wanted to use a pen name for my youth novel, I thought long and hard about the consequences. After all, I had become attached to the name I had grown up with. I had even researched and found it had arrived in Canada in 1751. Although the spelling had changed over the centuries, it was the name given to me at birth.
The surname doesn’t accurately reflect who I am, just who my father’s father’s father was. He was German and could trace all his ancestors back to Germany. However, I am an equal mixture of four cultures: German, Scottish, English and Irish.
Still, the name on my official records stood above the other three surnames of my ancestors.
With the deadline for my novel approaching, I flipped back and forth from, No, don’t use a pen name to, Yes, use a pen name.
The argument for not using a pen name was obvious. My real name was my name. It had already been published, so readers may recognise it. It could easily be found all over the web. I could claim that book as mine without explanation.
The argument for using a pen name was also obvious. I could create a name easily pronounced, easily spelt and easily remembered. After all, adults couldn’t pronounce it properly so how could I expect a ten-year-old to do so? Secretaries copying information from one source to another couldn’t even get the spelling right to keep my medical records straight.
I thought about creating a pen name for a month, considering the pros and cons. Then one morning, before opening my eyes, a name materialized in my head. I admit I was half asleep when I thought of it. I asked myself, “What name would not only appeal to kids, but be easily remembered by them?”
Candy McMudd popped in my head. I got up and immediately wrote it down. There, I had decided in that one second that I should use a pen name and what that pen name would be. All day, I played with the idea. Maybe it wasn’t the best. Maybe I should rethink this idea. Then I’d remind myself that gut reactions were better than long pondering discussions with one self.
And Candy McMudd was born. She would be the author of all my children’s books and similar material.
Now and again, I wonder if my decision was the right one. I feel a little uncertain about saying, “I’m Candy McMudd.” when promoting my book. I feel I must explain that it is just a name, one that is easy to remember, spell and pronounce.
On the other hand, books sold over the Internet don’t need me to say that. It doesn’t really matter what name is attached to a title as long as readers recognise it.
Throughout my nonfiction career, I’ve used my given name. Now that I feel I’m on the verge of my fiction career, I must decide what I’ll use. Should I simply use my given name or use both my given name for nonfiction and Candy McMudd for everything else? Or should I chose a third and use it for my adult fiction?
I feel like I’m going through an identity crisis.
It will probably be years before I know for sure if my decisions were good or a not so good. Until then, I’ll just keep on writing with whatever name tag I’m wearing.
Do you use a pen name? If so, how do you feel about it?