I’ve really been getting into ambient music lately, and I’m noticing that many ambient artists–maybe most of them–have stage names. Loscil, Biosphere, Oöphoi–many of these folks name themselves as though they were themselves science fiction characters.
I’ve also been wondering a lot about identity in my writing, whether the fact that I’ve been published many times before makes it likelier for new editors to accept a story of mine for publication (it doesn’t seem to–I’m definitely an opening act as far as magazines and podcasts are concerned). But I do like the idea of my writing having an existence which is separate from my gender and ethnic and religious and sexual identity.
If fantasy and science fiction writing were more like ambient music (or if I thought it would accomplish something for me to take on a mysterious, Banksy-esque persona), I would choose the name Gravitrope or Pánfilo for my nom de plume. Both of these names resonate with me for personal reasons: for much of my thirties I was in a band called The Gravitropes, and I feel a kind of spiritual affinity for gravitropism, which is the ability of sprouting seeds to send their first shoots away from the pull of gravity and their first roots towards it. Pánfilo is a wonderful old Mexican name pulled from ancient Greek; the name means “lover of all.” I picked the name for one of my alter egos in my next novel, Pacifica.
One might wonder whether my taking on a writing name like Gravitrope or Pánfilo would be an attempt to game the publication system of speculative fiction. To their great credit, fantasy and science fiction editors are actively working to publish voices from a full diversity of genders, ethnicities, and sexualities. Would a writer with a pen name that seemed less white and male get a little more attention from editors today? Inasmuch as I hold the most privileged identities on the planet–I definitely present as white, male, straight, cis-, Christian, and it’s not worth quibbling over ways that not all of those labels are perfectly, scrupulously accurate when the labels are definitely more true than not and when they are really markers of social privilege that I’ve held my whole life–it’s fair to say that if I took on a name that suggested a different gender, or genderlessness, or a different ethnicity, I would be dismissed as a poseur. I also don’t want to do anything that will make it harder for people from the full spectrum of humanity to get greater attention for their work. And, if there’s something I can do to help others from that fuller spectrum get published (short of refraining from writing myself), I’ll do it.
Having said that, there is something liberating in sending a story to a magazine under a different name, or to a magazine that uses a blind submissions process (i.e. you send the story in anonymously and the editors only learn who you are if they decide to publish your work). I don’t know whether I’ve had any better luck–or worse luck–getting published in blind-submission venues than in others. But I do like the prospect of my writing being read on its own terms, irrespective of who I am or who editors think that I am. I’d like to imagine my work reaching across boundaries of ethnicity and gender and history to tap at the bedrock of the human condition–in other words, I hope that my stories might function as works of art rather than simply as statements about what it means to be white and male in America.
That’s a fantasy, I know. But hey, I’m a fantasy writer.
And you? If you were to write sci fi under a pen name, what would you choose?