I Don't Mean to be Controversial, But I Won't be Using a Pseudonym (or a symbol)

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A name. Everything is in a name. It is your identity, it is you. And since writing is the very essence of me, I’m using my name. This is a personal decision. Everyone comes at this decision in their own way and for their own reasons, and I respect others who do use pseudonyms. There are very valid points in using one: marketing in different genres, anonymity, protecting your reputation in an active non-writing career that actually pays money, allows you to buy stuff at the grocery store. So on.

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Column by Shannon Kirk, author of debut novel METHOD 15/33
(May 2015, Oceanview Publishing). Kirk has been honored three
times by the Faulkner Society for her work (Heavens, 2012 finalist,
to be published in 2016). METHOD 15/33, her debut Psychological
Thriller, is available everywhere, and Kirk has another work in progress.
She won the 2015 Indie Excellence Award for METHOD 15/33 for best
suspense. When not practicing law, she writes in her free time.
She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and son. She is a proud
member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America. 
Connect with her on Twitter.

How did I reach my decision? What various calculus gymnastics did I twist in my head to say, hey, no, I’m using my name for realz in psycho-thriller writing and in literary fiction and in whatever else I might be lucky enough to get published someday.

I was first presented with this aching proposition when my debut publisher, Oceanview Publishing, laughed at the universe like wonderful villains and said, Yeah, we’re going to publish this unknown, let’s do it. Let’s go craaaaazzzy, Let’s get nuts. Or maybe they were just quoting Prince, I mean Prince Roger Nelson, I mean that guy who sings Little Red Corvette.

The question was first posed because I am a practicing attorney at an international firm and it’s taken me since 1998 to establish my name in law. I’m also an adjunct law professor. So do I create a pseudonym, protect my name in law, quarantine my legal life from my writing life? I thought long and hard about this. For one, I hadn’t told those in my legal life that for years I have been hiding in dark corners, staying up late in hotel rooms, and squirreling into train seats like a traitorous hunchback to steal minutes here and there and everywhere to write. What would they think? Would they shun me? What if the book is a bomb? But as I thought on using a pseudonym, and again this is very personal, I felt ill. To think that someone else would have her name on my heart and soul, that someone else being me—but a different me—a me that doesn’t exist, gave me an existential crisis. What was the point in doing all this heart work, spilling my soul on the page, if it wasn’t me?

So, the calculus in my mind, this first time in considering a pseudonym, was this:

  • I think that by now, 2014/2015, my legal community GETS that not all lawyers are soulless automaton robots who have no hobbies; I see other lawyers acting in their art in their free time. I have faith they’ll understand. (And fortunately they have—they’ve been awesomely supportive).
  • I can’t bear to come up with a new identity. It’s hard enough remembering my purse in the morning, let alone who the hell I am in whatever arena.
  • I am proud of this work and even if I get bad reviews, I’m still proud.
  • But…..

But, there was a bit of a concession I did have to make. My legal name is Shannon Capone Kirk, as used in the legal world. As I didn’t want readers Googling “Shannon Capone Kirk” and seeing law stuff, and I didn’t want clients googling “Shannon Capone Kirk” and seeing writing stuff, I created a demarcation of names.

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I decided to go with “Shannon Kirk” when wearing my writer hat, sticking with “Shannon Capone Kirk” for law. And I think it’s working okay.

Now. The mind-math over my name didn’t stop though. I was again presented with the question of a pseudonym when I got a rejection for my literary fiction piece from a major publisher because the publisher said my debut psychological thriller might confuse the reading public. Method 15/33, my debut about a sociopathic pregnant teen, is totally different than Heavens, literary fiction about a woman battling a decision over life and death in touring different Heavens. (Plugs: Method 15/33 available now everywhere; Heavens to be published in 2016).

Confusion? I was really thrown by this rejection. Aren’t readers the crowd of folks who would best understand the difference between psychological thriller and literary fiction? Cue the book publishing marketing professionals screeching over me pushing back on this concept. I’m sure the professionals have actual market studies and real science to support the conclusion that there is confusion.

But. But. I hear their points. I’m just not going there. I’m going to stick with my name, my writer name, for all the same reasons I first made this decision. And if I’m wrong, well I’m wrong. At the end of the day, I trust readers and I love writing. And I’m incredibly lucky to have an agent and publishers who are working with me. But if I ever do have to use a pseudonym, I’ll probably use the best man’s name I’ve been able to come up with: Jackson Razor. How hot is that?

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