Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Welcome Jeannie Campbell, Character Therapist!

Susanne here, and today I’m delighted to welcome Jeannie Campbell to the Inkwell. Jeannie is an award-winning writer as well as a therapist. The skill she shares on her blog, The Character Therapist, has helped numerous writers to deepen their characters’ motivations, goals, and back stories. Two of my heroes have benefitted from Jeannie’s services. Welcome, Jeannie!

A big thanks to the Inkwell authors for hosting me today! I appreciate the invite so much.

I wanted to get a conversation started today about using aliases. First off, I’m a proponent of people doing whatever they want/need to do—so you won’t be getting a definitive out of me one way or the other—but I can tell you why I personally haven’t gone with an alias.

Since my day job is that of a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), I make my living working with people. Counseling, mediating, and conflict resolution all require strict confidentiality. People have asked me if I ever worry that someone, somewhere, will recognize my name on a future book or my blog, and I always respond, “No!” I actually hope they do…I think they’d be more likely to buy a book of mine, don’t you?

For all those people out there who also work with people in your day job (teachers, lawyers, doctors, bankers, etc), I think there are a few things for you to consider before you make a choice about whether to use an alias or not.

1) Does the “protection” afforded by an alias overcome the platform-building possibilities of your given name?

As a licensed therapist, the name Jeannie Campbell carries with it more weight than some other random alias I might pick, because I can’t just tag on the initials LMFT after just any name. People can look up my license information with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. I’ve written many non-fiction parenting articles and author a blog, both of which have helped build a platform for the name Jeannie Campbell, LMFT. Wouldn’t I want my current platform audience to know I’ve written a book? The fact that I’m a therapist also gives credence to agents/editors when I pitch my “therapeutic romances.”

2) Are you going to be regretful that your real name isn’t on the cover of the book?

I belong to a few writers’ loops and I’ve always been surprised when authors using aliases sign their emails with something like, “Jackie Clark writing as Renee Bennett.” This disclosure is on their blogs, websites, facebook, and other social media. I just don’t get this. What’s the point? It’s almost like at some point, the person got wet feet in the middle of the process and decided they wanted everyone to know their real name. I’m honest enough to admit that I want absolutely everyone who knows me to know that I’m also published (if and when that dream Lord-willing becomes a reality). I also don’t want to deal with the headache (to me) of trying to explain to people that I really am published, just under a different name.

3) How much of your everyday life do you include in your fiction?

I include therapeutic matters in my books. I’ve picked certain disorders or situations that might be common to a few clients I’ve seen, but no client would be able to pick up one my manuscripts and know that I was using them for inspiration. Besides, there is that no-small matter of confidentiality I mentioned earlier (wouldn’t want to lose my license, now would I?). I accomplish this by changing physical descriptions, race, sex, marital status, age, and anything else I can. If I saw an obsessive-compulsive 30-year-old single male, he could become a 46-year-old female with 3 children in a book. There is a difference between writing what I know and who I know.

I know there are several things I haven’t covered, such as an established author trying to branch out into a very different genre or crossing from fiction to non-fiction. Feel free to bring these up in the comments section. Hopefully these three questions will get you thinking about aliases and why you should or shouldn’t use them.

Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit and enjoys working mainly with children and couples. She has a Masters of Divinity in Psychology and Counseling and bachelors degrees in both psychology and journalism. Jeannie started doing character therapy in March of 2009. Her Treatment Tuesdays feature assessments of fictional characters and plot feasibility while her Thursday Therapeutic Thoughts take a psychological topic and make it relevant to writers. She can be found at her blog, The Character Therapist.


  1. Wow, this is a first ever...I've never been the first person to comment before! Whee! I get to pick breakfast. Let's open the omelette bar!

    Jeannie, I'm so glad you could join us today. Great discussion topic and I'm interested to hear what others have to say about it. As for me, I've wondered if I'll need an alias because there's another author out there with my name. Yep, I was shocked too. Different genre, but still. Maybe someone with experience in the industry can share their thoughts with me.

    I'll be back later -- today is crazy busy -- but I pray everyone's morning goes well. And thanks again, Jeannie!

  2. Hey Susie! I was here and had to run off before posting but thanks for getting out some virtual breakfast choices!

    I too have had Jeannie do a therapy session with my characters. Some of you who know my setting won't be surprised. We're talking serious mental health issues!

    I really recommend ya'll popping over to Jeannie's blog! I got to meet Jeannie at ACFW last year and she's is every bit as beautiful - okay more so- as her photo. And as pleasant and sweet as she looks; a kindness that is needed in her field, I'm sure.

    We've also learned that the idea of alias often comes up at the last moment, after a contract has been suggested. Publishers like to suggest things too!

  3. I love aliases... but only for my characters. It's pretty shallow, but gosh darn it, I'm working hard to be published and I want the credit!

    Thanks for stopping by Jeannie. I love your blog.It's an absolutely brilliant idea!

  4. Lisa, I think you're safe with your name because you've established it with the middle name in there. And unless you are doing undercover work . . .

    Susie and Jeannie will be around when the west coast joins us!

  5. I'm up! Had to get ready to go to work and all that....

    Thanks for the kind comments, ladies!

    Susie, maybe you could go by Susie instead of Susanne?

    Debra - I'm worried about the last-minute publisher's changing my name. There is an author out there who did a beadwork book named Jean Campbell....but I always figured I'd have the LMFT after my name and that would distinguish me from her. What say you?

    So glad to be here today!!!

  6. Hi Jeannie,
    I have to admit that I wasn't familiar with your website. It's awesome. I recently sold and my agent asked me if I'd considered changing my name(Jill Nutter). I said yes and then the search began because we wanted something with more of a British feel to it. I have a mental health thread running through each of my books. And in England nutter means:


    nutter: n someone with a screw loose. This applies to both the “insane” or “reckless” definitions, so a gentleman who scaled the Eiger naked and a chap who ate both of his parents could both validly be “nutters,” albeit in slightly different ways.

    I think that's a good enough reason to use a pen name.:) My hubby and I both used to work on adolescent psych. units. You can imagine the abuse we got from the kids. Luckily we both have a great sense of humor.

    I decided on Jillian Kent because I currently write Regency historicals. The decison wasn't an easy one because like you say, I won't see my real name on the book cover.

    It's complicated for me, but I'm praying that it will work. I am one of those writers who is currently signing off as Jill Nutter writing as Jillian Kent on my e-mails because I want my friends to know what's going on, I even explain it on my new website under the Meet Jill tab and will eventually blog on it as well. I'm hoping this will make for a smooth transition but I may need a session with a character therapist.:)

    I've been employed as a Social Worker, LISW-S(Licensed Independent Social Worker and Supervisor) for 30 years. I currently counsel nursing students and everyone I work with in the college knows I recently got a contract.

    Okay, Jeannie. From one therapist to another how am I doing?

  7. Jill - So glad you're weighing in with one of those reasons to maybe have an alias. Sounds like you've got it figured out! in your case, I think I'd probably consider changing Nutter, as well, since you're writing British historicals and Brits themselves would maybe be off-put with a nutter author. :) You wouldn't want a name with ANY kind of negative connotation, I wouldn't think.

    There is a Campbell couple who had several children and named them after Hitler and his siblings (one of which had "Jeannie" for a middle name). I kept getting Google alerts for Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell....because, let's face it, that kind of name gets attention. I began to add the LMFT to my name after discovering that.

    So you're agent asked you to change your name for a more positive connotation, it opened the door for you to be creative and almost select a name based on your brand, which is interesting. If something doesn't go right, then I'll pencil you in for a session. :)

  8. Jeannie,
    Thanks for the feedback. Yes I see where you could have a bit of trouble with your name too. When you are published how do you expect your name to appear on the book? are you writing non-fiction, fiction or both and if you publish in both how would you expect the names to differ if at all regarding publisher branding ideas, etc.?

    Secondly, I know a lot of us are overwhelmed with day jobs, family issues and needs, etc. It seems eveyone wants us to blog and it looks like everything under the sun is being blogged about. What's your advice for someone like me who is newly contracted related to blogging and all the other responsibilities we women have on our plates? How much of me, Jill Nutter, do I bring to my Jillian Kent blog? For instance, I saw that you are a member of AACC. Me too. What happens good or bad if I merge Jill Nutter with Jillian Kent? I'm trying to think about what makes Jillian Kent special. Maybe I can blog about mental health during the Regency period but what about present time? It's a confusing subject for a writer.

  9. Hi Jeannie! Nice to see you here.

    I never understood the "Jackie Clark writing as Renee Bennett" thing either. Aren't pseudonyms supposed to make the author anonymous?

    I can tell you I'm always surprised when I learn that a writer I've come to know by way of her books or the Internet is using a different name than her given name (usually because someone else "outs" her). I kind of assume everyone's name is their real name, until otherwise notified.

    I'm guessing people whose names are not very unique, like a Carol Jones, might want to make up a name that they think will have more cache. I can also see where someone with a very unique and distinguishing name might want something less obvious, depending on what they write.

  10. jill - i've given that question some thought (as every pre-pubbed writer has) and I think the LMFT on my name might do two things: 1) lend credence to my fiction as being based in reality...something very feasible b/c i work with people, so therefore should know what i'm talking about (hopefully this is the case!) or #2) confuse the reader b/c LMFT might not be known or might make them think the book is a non-fiction or self-help on the fiction shelf, which then i would have to rely solely on my cover to influence them otherwise.

    so i'm not sure what a publisher would think. i'd be fine with jeannie campbell. however, i've built a brand for myself utilizing the LMFT...and that might leave out readers who would have bought the book b/c they either knew me through my parenting articles, blog, or was a former client, even!

    this can get confusing, which was why i decided to blog about it and get my own head around it further. you bring up great questions. :)

  11. I'm back! Phew! What a lively discussion. There are some truly valid reasons for using a pseudonym. (I knew what "nutter" meant thanks to Harry Potter.) One writer I know was asked to use a pseudonym by her employer so her work-related publications wouldn't be confused (or perhaps, in his opinion, associated) with her romance novels. Others fear an invasion of their privacy.

    The issue isn't clear cut for everyone, that's for sure. Well, since I'm unpubbed I don't have to worry about it at the moment :-) If I need to use an alias, I pray that God will make it clear and will give me the right name and the best way to build a platform on it.

    Jeannie, thanks so much for your visit today.

  12. patricia - hey yourself! i think you make some great points...and to apply that to jill....jill nutter to jillian kent....(no offense here jill) but jillian kent just sounds more....i dunno...well-traveled, the name of someone who has had more life experiences than jill nutter has.

    there's a lot that goes into a name. when i was in high school, i wrote an editorial column called Jeannie's Mood. my name was Jeannie Mood (maiden). it rocked. then i almost got a PhD...can you imagine a therapist called Dr. Mood? Dr. Campbell just doesn't bring the same tone as Dr. Mood would. it'd be like a plastic surgeon going by Dr. Cutter. Just funny stuff....that play on words.

    Jill's alias surname of Kent evokes images of that very place, which just happens to be in the heart of many regency romance novels! i think it's classy and catchy, myself.


  13. Hi Patricia and Jeannie,
    Patricia, I used to feel exactly the same way until I found myself in the midst of having to make some pretty quick decisions. I believe I've done the right thing. Time will tell.

    Jeannie, no offense taken. I like my pen name for all the same reasons. I think it's also important to remember that readers are a savvy lot. That's why on my website at www.jilliankent.com I tell everyone what my real name is because I wanted the truth out there. I certainly hope in today's sophisticated market place that readers will understand why I chose a pen name.

    Like I said earlier. It's complicated. Now if I ever finish writing my mental health book do you all think I should go with jill nutter or another name? Ah, the plot thickens. :)

    And believe it or not I know a surgeon with the name Dr. Slaughter and a gynecologist with the name Dr. Wiwi.

  14. I heart you Jeannie but you already know that! I love how your intergrating your career into your writing. Brilliant.

  15. Interesting topic. I have a very unique name--one that has an apostrophe in it. I've always loved my name (well, except for a stint in elementary school where I wanted to be called by my middle name!) for that reason. However, when my parents named me, computers were not in the picture. Since they now rule our everyday lives, especially as authors, I've had to consider using a different name because it just messes things up--web address, databases, online forms, etc. Some won't let the apostrophe be used at all, others use it but then it comes out as a variety of strange characters.

    So, all that said, I will soon be switching to a pen name. And while it will be disappointing to not someday see my name on a book cover, it will keep me humble. :) Besides, all my friends know who I am. It's just potential readers who will know me by another name. And I've chosen one very close to my real name (and keeping my last name) so it really isn't that big of a deal. It will hopefully someday, though, help readers find me on the web and in bookstores!

  16. Sorry to be joining the conversation so late. It's been a busy day.

    Jill, I enjoyed the discussion of your name change. Now if you publish a mental health book under the name Nutter, who's going to believe that's your real name? :)

    Jeannie, I agree with your reasons for not using a pseudonym in fiction; however, I have a different situation in my nonfiction writing. My topic is pornography addiction in children, and you'll see why I choose to use a pseudonym in tomorrow's post.

    Using an "alias" does pose problems in publishing and marketing, but sometimes it's crucial to protecting yourself or others. And it hasn't been as hard to set up an alternate persona as you might think. I've published a number of articles and set up a web site under my pseudonym which gives me credibility on the topic. When I do publish a book under my pseudonym, I will already have a history attached to that name.

    Using a pseudonym isn't easy, but it has worked for me. And I agree, D'Ann, it does keep me humble!

  17. Hadn't thought about the name thing along these lines. I can see why sometimes an alias is helpful. I'm still thinking I will use my name when the time comes, though:)

  18. I think the pen name issue is very important for each writer for different reasons. We each have to weigh the pros and cons and make the best decision possible for our careers.

    My agent Rachelle Gardner has a great article you can locate at

    I'm not convinced that writers who use a pen name to remain anonymous are really protected in this technological age.

    As far as the mental health book goes in my own name. I think I'd just start a new blog and website on line to help with marketing purposes and I'd probably add that I write fiction under the name of Jillian Kent IF my agent and publishing house thought it was a good idea.

    Always seek wisdom and pray about these kinds of decisions.

    I look forward to keeping up with the Character Therapist. :) Blessings!

  19. d'ann - wow...that's something to consider for aliases for sure. you have an apostrophe...so that's more of a logistical reason, really. (by the way...love your first name! very different and distinguishing). but i can imagine it'd be difficult to have dannmateer.com. people would think that was a man! great point you bring up.

  20. teresa - i'll have to be sure to stop by tomorrow to see your post. that topic is surely very different from fiction...

    i don't think it's hard to set up another persona. (quite the opposite, really....it's a bit too easy, i think.)

    karen - i've always wondered how you pronounce your last name. is it "Lang" or "Lanje?" i see you on blogger all the time and always ask myself!

  21. jill - thanks for that link to rachelle's post. definitely a good read there.

    thanks everyone for having me here as a guest. i've felt very welcomed and hope to do it again soon. :)


  22. I had to work all day yesterday and got home late so I missed this, but I just wanted to add to what that other gentleman said. The character therapist idea is brilliant. :)

  23. I picked a pen name when I was about 8 yrs old when I first realized I wanted to be a writer. I don't know why I decided I needed to change my name, but I had one ready to go. But now I don't want to have to use it. Well, unless current thinking about branding stays the same because I like writing in both historical and contemporary and yet I've been told I need to pick one. sigh

    I've also picked a pen name to use in conjunction with my son. He's 11 and has his own blog under a pen name. Funny thing, the surname he uses is the same surname I picked all those yrs ago. We've discussed writing a book together so then I had to pick a pen name that didn't sound like a girl. LOL. So, I did. It's a 3 letter unisex name which doesn't say anything about the gender. We're ready. All we have to do is write the book. :)

    I'm heading over to check out your site, Jeannie. Thanks for sharing.

    Anita Mae.

  24. Alright, this is way past the party, I know, and no one will likely read it, but I found this topic very interesting. And, Jill, I thought "Nutter" was a pseudonym. And, I can see why you'd want to invent another name. It is fun naming yourself, claiming your name, and finding the best fit. Write on!


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