On Privileged White Male Authors Masquerading as Females for Money

Book Riot’s podcast episode #219 put me on to the fact that Riley Sager is a pen name for a fella named Todd Ritter. Jezebel broke the story. Every write-up that followed – including Book Riot – made the clipped observation that it’s uncool for men to flip the script and create ambiguous-sounding pen names to sell female-led books to women.

I agree. Full stop. It’s not even up for discussion.

Isn’t it hard enough for a woman (or a woman of color with a decidedly ethnic name, like me) to get someone to pick up their book, much less read it, based on her name? Because it is. It’s the first rule of marketing: have a catchy name.

People outwardly reject what they fear, what they can’t make heads or tails of.

I’m looking at you, He Who Shall Not Be Named.

One of my biggest fears is actually getting published at the Big Five under my own name (and goddammit, I will). I’m deathly afraid of the rejection because people can’t ask to pronounce my name before plodding on and butchering it.

But now I gotta compete with John Smith because his pen name is Florence Jones? It narrows the playing field. I already have the entire publishing world against me, because I’m a woman of color who refuses to use a pen name.

I don’t want to be “acceptable” or “palatable” for readers. I believe that changing a name in this way is a form of control. You are allowing other people to control the conversation. I’m a writer; I want ALL the control.

Having to fight for space on the shelf is simply part and parcel of being a professional author. I’d rather do it on an even playing field. Accept the work for what it is, not how I’m marketed because I’m Jane Doe and you can pronounce that name as easy as you can breathe.

It comes down to this: we have to work harder to dispel the assumption that men can’t write about women and vice versa. Joss Whedon gets asked all the time about “strong” female characters he writes.

They’re not “strong.” They’re fictional characters he’s written that happen to be female. Buffy could’ve been a dude. But he didn’t write her that way. What people are saying when they ask such a dumb question is that women aren’t strong in real life, so we have to qualify his female characters as strong. It’s ridiculous.

Jezebel makes the excellent point that these men are co-opting a female identity, by choice or accidentally, but they don’t have to deal with the problems of being a woman.

Do creeps slide into their DMs asking if they want unsolicited dick pics?

Do they get leered at while walking down the aisle at the grocery store?

Does a “nice guy” comment on their bikini pic with an emoji saying nice (.)(.)?

Do they carry the stain of Eve’s sin, suffering through unwanted pregnancies?

Do they get told, “you’re so pretty, why don’t you smile more?”

Do you want to be a woman to make money? Fine.

Let me share the invisible yoke that all women wear whether we know it or not, and tell me how it REALLY feels to be a woman in the twenty-first century.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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Why I Write

I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say.
I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.

Sometimes, I think so fast that the words come out garbled if I were to speak them, or my throat does its weird thing and closes up on me and I can’t get the words out at all.

I write because I must.
I write because I have to express myself.
I write because it physically pains me to keep it locked up inside.

Sometimes, I can get into such a groove that time falls away. There’s nobody but me and the paper in front of me, the ink on that blank page, or the text in a doc file.

I’ve got music pounding in my ears, but all it does is keep my emotions in check. I tend to get highly charged when I write. It’s such a great feeling. I want to feel that high every day.

What are you passionate about? Why do you write? Let me know in the comments!

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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Which do you enjoy more – the start of a book or the end?

I always like the end of the book. You’ve fallen in love with the characters a long time ago, you’ve seen what they’ve done and what has been done for them, all you need now is the catharsis, so you can walk away feeling empty or feeling fulfilled. I’ve read so many books where there’s no payoff and it sort of ends and you’re left with more questions than answers.

Like “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. It took me three years to finish that book because I could not feel anything for Offred. She downright infuriated me. But the premise of the book was fascinating, and that’s the only reason why I kept reading. I had to know the end, even if it was going to piss me off further.

Conversely, the Gemma Doyle trilogy was perfection to me. I had bought “A Great and Terrible Beauty” ages ago but never got around to reading it. During a particularly bad period of writer’s block, I decided to get out of my funk and read it. I was hooked immediately and bought “Rebel Angels” and “The Sweet Far Thing” before I was even done with half of “Beauty.” That’s how well I believe that they were written. I was emotionally – and monetarily – invested. I HAD to know what happened.

Historical fiction has always appealed to me, particularly the era in which Gemma’s story takes place. I believe there was so much potential in 19th-century life. The divide between classes, the stereotyped image we have of the Wild West that I’ve always had an affinity for, and all that fun stuff we like to idealize. If I had had enough sense to take that final semester of French sooner, I probably would’ve transferred to a school that specialized in 19th-century French literature.

But speaking from a history minor’s point of view, I cannot fantasize that life would be easier because it wouldn’t have been. The technological and medical advances in the 20th and 21st centuries are good enough to keep me grounded in this time. But it’s fun to play around with those idealizations.

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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Craft Talk

The Unpretty Side of Being a Writer

Happy New Year!

This is a continuation of last week’s post. To be a professional writer, did you know that you need to sacrifice something when you walk down this path? This is why so many writers nowadays depend on partners or a sizable inheritance to allow them to focus on what they do.

Anybody can call themselves a writer. I’m not splitting hairs about that.

But working-class writers like you and I don’t have that luxury.

This is a genuine question. What do you give up?

I am reminded of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when I think about it:

Maslow's hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and self-actualization.

The writing life isn’t necessarily a triangle. I was simply using it as a graphical representation. A writer will have to give up and/or prioritize any one of Maslow’s levels over others, in order to do this thing we do.

If you have a family, writing will always take a backseat. If you are nurturing a relationship that could lead to a family, I guarantee writing will be your co-pilot, not your primary focus. If you don’t have a steady income, writing will not keep you warm at night.

It’s not easy being a full-time writer. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a goddamn liar. It’s not even up for discussion.

I feel like a caricature in the sense that I talk more about being a writer rather than actually writing. Not to say that I haven’t tried to submit my work to be published. Why the hell am I going down this path if not to be published and shared and dissected and loved?

To be forthright, I’m drowning in rejections, which is more than likely contributing to my feeling like an overall failure.

I know, I know; how many times was Harry Potter rejected before it was picked up?

It would do wonders for my already fragile ego to say, “Hey, I’ve been published here, here, and here. Buy my book because those places have already validated my worth as a writer.”

Patience is a virtue but I’d slap that bitch silly if I had the chance.

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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Craft Talk

When Do You Call Yourself a Writer?

Happy Christmas.

What is the first thing you think of when someone tells you they are a writer by trade?

I know what I think of:

A hunched body with bloodshot eyes (insert gender here), pounding feverishly at their typewriter, floating ghost-like amongst crumpled papers, a stack of books nearby, open, lined journals within reach, empty coffee cups and even more empty liquor bottles surround the desk they’re bent over in a room with one window facing the back garden to which they occasionally gaze out and towards wistfully.

I never saw myself in that role, even when I was saying I wanted to be a writer. It feels positively stifling to feed that romanticized view, to become the stereotype.

Writing – for me – has always been about creating worlds. I am a short fiction writer, so I get even less space than novelists do to tell my story. It’s a great exercise in restraint.

I create these fantastically absurd worlds within my overarching theme of cinematic absurdism. I have an entire literary-like theory about it in my head, which I will share once I figure out what I want to say about it.

But when do you get to call yourself a writer?

The moment you wake up in the morning and say, “there’s nothing else that I want to do but write. This is what I was born to do. I will sacrifice goats to the pantheon of gods if it means that I get to put words on a page.”

write on, Guilliean
write on, Guilliean

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