I was reading a series of posts by Charlie J Forrest earlier this evening while pondering some identity issues of my own. My concerns are to do with the fact that I have just landed a bit of a part time Proper Job which will demand respectability and grown-upness of me, and my most overwhelming thought is: thank FUCK my blog, Other Me's blog, both Twitter accounts and my main Facebook account are under a name which is not actually my real, legal, taxpaying-and-voting name, so no little beancounter in an office miles away is going to make the connection and fire me for the modern equivalent of moral turpitude before I've even picked up my first paycheck.
Nearly all erotica writers use pseudonyms. I can only think of a handful who write under the name that is genuinely the one on their passports and birth certificates (and no, I'm not going to say who. It's their business). In the 90s, writers tended to pick elaborate, glamorous names for themselves, simply because they could - and the recieved wisdom at the time was that while readers accepted that these names were aliases, they preferred to read the writings of Rock Steele or Violetta Harlequin-Hampstead to those of Ethel Figgins or Timmy Thompson. The other generally accepted view was, of course, that the male writer of sexy stories was better off selling them under a female identity and the majority of male writers published by Nexus etc in those days did put their work out with a woman's name attached. So my initial reaction to Charlie's concerns was a little bit more 'Calm down love, you'll hurt yourself' than 'How dare you tell such lies to your readers?'
But things have changed in the last 20 years, as I am constantly having to remind myself. Back then, the erotic writer just wrote her or his stories, the publisher published them, they got reviewed in mags like Forum, Desire, Fetish Times or Penthouse, and on the whole the readers just read them. Some readers might speculate about the actual private life of the author, and some authors might have any amount of fun dreaming up biographies for their pseudonymous selves, but no one really cared. These days, though, everyone, even the shyest of scribblers, has to have a social media presence, preferably with a picture or two, and engage in online conversation with readers and potential readers and other writers and anyone at all. And while a pseudonym is still acceptable, a pseudo-personality is not.
I'm not entirely happy about the demand to bare your whole self to the public if you want them to buy your work. I appreciate that people have been angry about a few bloggers and memoirists who invented entire alternative lives for themselves, changing age, sex, race and ethnicity, because these authors were claiming - or at least allowing others to claim - that they were telling an important truth. A fiction writer, though, is telling a story that s/he has made up. So it seems entirely reasonable to use a pseudonym if you are so inclined. Your work isn't about truth or about the unvarnished version of yourself. It;s a story. It doesn't matter who wrote it as long as it's good.