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.