What’s in a Name?

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Before I published my first book (yeah, yeah, and only book to date), my husband and I went round and round over the author name that should appear on the cover. We debated the merits of using a pen name vs. my real name. In the end, we decided this first go at romance writing would require a pen name. We didn’t want our kids’ friends or their parents making any sort of comment to our kids about it. Also, I’ve been in public education for a decade. Can you imagine what would happen if it was well-known that I write naughty things in books?

With great care–okay, with some brief Google research–I set out to find the perfect pen name. I quickly found it doesn’t exist. So I went with something I found pleasing to the ear, slapped it on my book, and published it. And now I think I have to alter it.

I have set up this blog, my Twitter, email, and a Facebook account with this pen name. Without really knowing what I was doing, I quickly earned 400 followers on Twitter. I think that’s pretty good considering that I had never used it before and relied solely on Twitter interactions and Amazon for helping me find followers. I didn’t even know how to utilize hashtags to get my Tweets in front of people. I can hear some of you laughing at that number, but don’t feel bad, I can take it. I can handle any ridicule because my real name Twitter account has 14 followers. 14! I blame the people I know for the low number because so few of them are on Twitter. I could get more if I wanted. I could. My family thinks this is hilarious, by the way.

Anyway, back to fake me. I was doing some publishing research and I came across an author with a name very similar to my pen name. She has multiple books with an actual publisher. So she wins. I doubt I have it in my heart to destroy the Cass Alexander I’ve come to know and love (she is me, after all). I suppose I could leave my Twitter handle as @cassalexan as long as my printed name is some form of that. I was thinking C. Alexander. Or C.C. Alexander. I don’t want to do this, but I’m pretty sure if I want to be successful, I can’t be mistaken for someone else. Or I could sell 1 million copies, tell the world to fuck off, and use my real name. Hmm. I like that option better. Let’s make it happen, people! Bwahahaaa! <—Evil laugh

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Oh, Sweet Revenge! Kind of…

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Oops, I did it again.

I’m starting to see a disturbing trend in my writing: I might be a terrible person. I sometimes pull people from my subconscious (a.k.a. long list of people on my naughty list) and put collective pieces of their personalities into a single character. Not my main characters, of course. But the side-show characters that help me add comedic relief–at their expense. And it’s not just my grandmother (see Punching Grandma post).

Someone tell me this is normal. Do it. Now. Or I’ll write about you. See! I can’t stop. And I’m not sure I want to. My, God. It’s an addiction. Look, Mom, my first real addiction!

Thankfully, I do use a pen name; though I’m not sure how great of one it is. (Thinking of changing it. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments.). A few people know my real name and are probably wondering if they’re on my list. No, they are not. I know better. Well, except for the whole ‘Punching Grandma’ thing. But that was a one-off. Probably.

I’m not sure what my point is, because, frankly, I’m not going to stop doing it. I can’t. It’s not done consciously. And none of my characters are “real” people. My writing is 100% fictional. None of the situations actually happened. But if I see a character on television, or remember a jerk from my past, and sprinkle a little of how he/she made me feel into my writing, is that so wrong? Is it a little piece of revenge? Or is it simply a representation of feelings I buried that need to get out in a constructive way? Yes, let’s choose the last option. It makes me sound like less of a revenge-seeking lunatic. Continue reading

So I Went To a Party Last Night…

Last night was a rare night out for the hubs and I. Our kids were at a friend’s overnight and we were out on the town. Okay, not really, but we did use an Uber to go to a holiday party at the home of some friends from college. And shit got awkward. Real fast. You’ll have to forgive me if this post sounds disjointed–but Momma’s nursing a hangover and the brain-to-typing-fingers router may be broken.

We only knew a handful of people at the party, but that’s okay because we’re good socializers. Just ask our Uber drivers. The problem was that, since I knew I had a sober ride home, I decided to embrace this one night of freedom. And by embrace, I mean inhale a half-liter of wine and move on to the vodka and cranberry. Momma doesn’t get out much; and when she does, she tends to talk in the third person.

A couple of hours in, our host says, “So, I heard you wrote a book.” Commence opening can of worms. You see, I wrote a naughty romance under a pen name called, Working On It. And not only did I use a pen name, but the characters from the story share many traits with the handful of college friends at this party. The story is entirely fictional, but inspiration often comes from the familiar. Like accidentally making the villain-mommy in my second book a loose interpretation of my grandmother. It happens.

In all my drunken glory, I decided to tell them. And, oh yes, did I tell them. In front of the other guests. Who were not really “friends” of the hosts, but the parents of their children’s private school friends. Things like, “Oh, and my Virgin Slayer character totally reminds me of you because…” And, “Do you want to be a character in my next book? I can make sure you’re in a band and have a huge…” And let’s not forget, “So, I could kill you, but after you screw your best friend’s girlfriend. Sound good?”

Just wait, it gets worse.

My husband, who is so proud of me for publishing a book, and who is also drinking a lot, starts bragging on my urban dictionary research. I took it as a personal challenge to put some of these fun words in my novel. He decides to throw out my favorite new use of unique vocabulary, like twatwaffle, dickweed, and Adolf Titler. Oh my. Someone asked me what a twatwaffle was. “It’s…well, let’s just say it’s a literal visual.” Room fell silent. But the funny part is they were all imagining the visual.

Okay, okay, that’s what drunk brain told me. Reality? I’m guessing not. I’m not really sure what happened. All I know for sure is that I woke up naked in my bed with a case of anxiety mixed with a pounding headache. That usually means I did or said something I shouldn’t have the night before. Sometimes, I get diarrhea of the mouth when I drink. And, sometimes, I teach a room full of strangers about twatwaffles. Successful night out? I think yes. (Obviously, I have problems. I should write about them).

Punching Grandma

Ever accidentally create characters that have very strong resemblances to real people in your life? I figured out yesterday, while working on my second novel, that the horrible mother of my main character is really … my grandmother. *gasp*

I didn’t intentionally do it. I needed the mother to be antagonistic and a constant creator of strife in her daughter’s life. My brain had zero problem imagining such a person’s personality or the jabs she would take. I named her Joann.

She only appears briefly in a few parts, thus far, but she bothers me. She bothers me to the point that I considered having Joann’s daughter punch her in the face just to make me feel better. I mean, it’s my story, and I can do what I want. Right? Unfortunately, punches to Joann’s face don’t fit the narrative at this point. Can’t have my main character going off to jail on assault charges.

I was rereading some sections yesterday and gave up on writing for the day because I was stuck on the story line. Instead, I spent some time on Twitter and had some back-and-forth with some authors about disliking characters. And then it hit me.

I knew exactly why Joann was getting under my skin. I didn’t see it at first. But it’s so obvious. Joann is my father’s mother, in a younger package.

I know, I know. It’s not right to speak ill of the dead. But I didn’t set out to make some sort of statement about my family in my book. It’s a romantic comedy, for Pete’s sake. And who the hell is Pete, anyway?? I don’t like not knowing things.

The deceased in question was young when she had my dad. She was a fun grandma, more of a buddy at first than a grandmother. In fact, we weren’t allowed to call her ‘Grandma.’

I didn’t see the bites she was taking out of people until I was much older. I was ten when she offered me money to lose weight. $2 a pound. I was a chunky monkey at the time, but I was on the verge of a growth spurt where I would become the tallest girl in my grade. I guess my body needed the fuel…and some Little Debbies. But I just thought there must be something wrong with me because she said so. Oh, and she constantly asked what size I was (for years) so she could tell me what size she wore. She was 5’2″ and 95 lbs. I haven’t seen 95 lbs. since I was 9.

She was the queen of back-handed complements and hidden insults. “You cut your hair, didn’t you?” “Yes, m’am.” “Well, your cousin Marylynn has the prettiest head of hair I’ve ever seen.” WTF? I was 24 when that jab hit me. It was the turning point in our relationship and I started to distance myself. I never did confront her. No one did.

And now she’s in my book. And now I can choose to have Jen confront her mother, Joann. Or I can let it stay dysfunctional with no resolution where everyone dies in a zombie apocalypse. Kidding. No zombies in this book.

In short, I think this is my subconscious self figuring out how to deal with what I haven’t dealt with. Maybe it’s time to punch Grandma. Figuratively, of course. My God, you’re a blood thirsty reader, wanting me to have Jen punch Joann. (That’s me talking to my subconscious self again).

p.s. You cannot tell my father. I’m trusting you with my secrets, Universe. Your turn to confide. *waiting patiently, tapping foot*

 

Second Verse, Harder Than the First

Writing my first novel was an amazing experience. I never considered myself to be “a writer,” but I had this story in my mind for a few years. After a big move (from the South to the Midwest for my husband’s job), I had some time on my hands. So I decided to put the story down on paper.

I wrote here and there, and never consistently–just when I had the time in my day away from my kids. Because the story was already in my brain, it was a matter of getting it out. Getting 3,000-5,000 words out at a time was easy. And before I knew it, I had written over 80,000 words and had a completed story. And it was funny. Granted, I laugh at my own jokes, so maybe I’m biased; but the few readers that have reached out to me have told me it was funny. And what a compliment that is for me.

I really liked the characters, so I started a second novel, based on my main character’s roommate. “Write another,” they said. “It will be funny, too,” they said. Yeah, well they’re a bunch of f-ing liars. This s*&! is hard!

I thought the second story line would pour out of my mind as easily as the first. How naive of me. I guess I forgot that I had given years of thought into the first before I wrote it. I’ve gotten 20,000+ words down. And now I’m stuck. Is this what they call writer’s block? I don’t think so. The issue is that I have too many ways to take it and I feel pressured to pick the “best” path. I can’t seem to get away from thinking about what I would say and do as opposed to what the characters would say and do.

Oh, and to make matters worse, I now have become fixated on a fantasy story playing in my head about three sisters living in a parallel universe. Where the hell did that come from? I started making notes and character names with back stories. All of which distract me from that second novel I’m a third of the way through writing. Writer ADD? Can we call it WADD? Is that a thing? If not, I’d like to take credit for coining the term.