Many writers use pen names. I’ve never written anything under my real name. But why do writers feel the need to use an alternative guise?
Speaking for myself the main reason was confidence. A writer bares their soul when they put pen to paper. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, what the genre is, or what the setting is, the moment a writer puts pen to paper it’s personal. I went into this writing lark expecting a sea of rejection slips. I didn’t want that level of rejection under my real name.
Writing under a pen name allowed me to hide, but it also gave me a freedom to express myself in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to under my real name. Back in those early days only two people knew that I wrote. It’s ironic these days that I barely bat an eyelid at a rejection, and I don’t care who knows that I write. Again, ironically, it’s the continued practice of writing that’s given me confidence and belief.
The second reason for using a pen name was practicality, or maybe I mean marketability. Most people struggle to pronounce my real surname. If by some miracle of good fortune I happened to get a book deal it would hardly help my sales if people were wandering into bookshops asking for the latest book by Mike (insert long pause) er, I think it’s…. You get the point. Even in the work place I’ve always been referred to as Mike K.
Let’s look at some professional writers. Shaun Hutson has worked under seven different pen names to date. Dean Koontz has used various pen names. Stephen King had fun with Richard Bachman. Agatha Christie was also Mary Westmacott.
All the writers above used multiple pen names for reasons of identity. Agatha Christie used Mary Westmacott to separate out her historical romances from her crime fiction. Shaun Hutson’s seven pen names are utilised across seven different genres.
Identity is important.
If I want to read a Horror story I’ll look for the latest Stephen King, or a James Herbert, or a Clive Barker. If I want to read a Historical novel I’ll look for Bernard Cornwell, or George MacDonald Fraser. Those writers have a very clear identity in terms of their output.
I’ll say it again… Identity is important. The last thing a writer wants to do is to confuse their reader.
My pen name that has served me so well for so long is now causing me a problem of identity. Who exactly is M. J. Wolfson? What does he write? Take a look at my genre output:
Post Apocalypse Sci-fi
Experimental Stream of Consciousness
Can you see the dilemma? I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to utilise more pen names. I know I need to be careful. I’m not sure I’d want to go down the Shaun Hutson route.
The majority of my work will remain under the brand of M. J. Wolfson, but I’ve already written two stories as Jane Hunter. Both stories – The Things We Can’t Foresee and Beautiful – have been published. I’ve already developed a persona and style of writing for Jane which is different to Mr. Wolfson’s.
One of my other stories The Proposal – accepted for publication but never actually published – is another work that is very different from anything else I’ve written as M. J. Wolfson or Jane Hunter. As a result I’ve always struggled to know what to do with it after the initial acceptance failed to result in a publication. Lately I’ve considered using a different pen name and all of a sudden I’ve become enthused about the story again.
I accept that multiple pen names aren’t necessarily the answer for everyone. Dennis Wheatley, although lesser known these days, was a popular writer in his heyday being second only to Agatha Christie in terms of sales.
Dennis wrote black magic horrors, historical thrillers, murder mysteries, and non-fiction books, and he did it all under the name of Dennis Wheatley.
It’s like everything else in the creative world of the writer… You have to identify the approach that works best for you and embrace it!
I hope this has been useful and / or interesting.
Two of my flash fiction pieces have been published recently. Shush was published by Theme of Absence and The Man on the Train was published by The Starving Artist.
Theme of Absence is a market I’ve been tracking for a while. I first submitted a story to them about 12 months ago which was rejected, but the rejection was encouraging.
They publish speculative fiction, and do author interviews too. You can read my interview here. You can read Shush here.
The quality of fiction on Theme of Absence is pretty good. I’d recommend checking them out from both a reader & writers perspective.
The Starving Artist published The Man on the Train, and I’m glad I’ve finally managed to get this one published. The Man on the Train was originally written in answer to a challenge given to me by another writer. I’ve had nothing but positive comments about it, but it has collected a few rejection slips. The rejections have always stated, “We liked it but it’s not a good fit for our mag.”
The Man on the Train is a good example of why you shouldn't give up on a piece just because it has collected a couple of rejections. Isaac Asimov said:
"You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success - but only if you persist."
I stumbled across The Starving Artist a few weeks back. I wasn’t sure if it would be a good fit for them or not as they’re a very new market concentrating on Flash fiction & poetry.
They're not genre specific it’s more about good quality writing. Please check them out and see what you think.You can read The Man on the Train here.
Both markets can be found in the Selected Markets page of this site. Theme of Absence has been listed there for some time.
Well, a quarter of 2016 has flown by already. If anybody knows where the time goes, and has any ideas on how we can all slow it down, please let me know.
2016 has been pretty good to me so far. I’ve had two acceptances and both works should be published over the next few months. I still get a buzz when I see my work in physical print, or E-print.
Acceptances can be scary though. When a story gets rejected a handful of people will have read your submission. When you get an acceptance your work is scheduled to be exposed to the entire readership of the publication that said, YES! It’s a sobering thought and it’s exactly why you shouldn’t submit a story until you’re 200% happy with it. As a writer you should take pride in your work, and you should strive to deliver your very best for your audience.
I’ve worked on six issues of Firewords Quarterly and it still surprises me that we get submissions with really basic errors: Missing full stops, spelling mistakes etc.
Spelling mistakes is probably my pet hate. Pretty much every word processing package out there will highlight spelling mistakes. Ms Word underlines the offending articles with a big red squiggly line. There’s no excuse for an author not to make those corrections. It’s lazy writing.
The perfect submission probably doesn’t exist, and I’m not asking for it. I’m pretty sure that some of my own submissions are guilty of having a misplaced or missing comma. But is there any excuse for really basic errors?
Anyway I’m going off topic. The words have been flowing lately. Although, not exactly as planned. Quite a few times I’ve sat down to write Project A, or B, and nothings really happened. Then the muse will give me a painful elbow to the ribs, and I’m writing something completely new, completely unplanned. Two stories have come to fruition thanks to the muse: Shush and A Brief History of Doozer’s Cyclic Theory of Re-Invention. Both were seat of the pants creative outpourings and I had no idea where they were going.
I’ve also been busy with re-writes and submissions.
The Ending has been re-titled as Beautiful. The prose has been cut and submitted to Anti-Heroin Chic under a different pen name.
Dancers was tweaked following some useful feedback from my buddy Dan Burgess. I’ve entered it into the annual FictionDesk, Ghost Story, competition. I hope it does well. Any writer likes their work but sometimes a writer can’t help having favourites, and Dancers is one of mine. The standard at FictionDesk is high though, so it’s going to be up against some strong competition. Fingers crossed.
The Man On The Train has been sent to The Starving Artist. I’m pretty confident that I can place this one somewhere. Feedback has been universally good. It’s just finding the right market.
Wiped Clean has been re-titled The Remote Control Love Affair. I’m re-writing this one at the moment. This is an accepted work, but one that was never published. These things do happen.
I’ve added the new stories to the My Stories section of the blog. Rather embarrassingly I also noticed that two of my stories weren’t listed. So The Man On The Train, and A Quiet Retirement have now been added to my canon of work.
Shush was a small flash fiction story that wrote itself. I'm not sure the word 'Story' actually applies either. It's more of a mood piece. A piece of writing to reflect on. I wasn't sure what I felt about it on completion. That's very unusual for me. My gut instinct is pretty good in determining the quality of a piece of finished work. So I sent it to a writer friend of mine along with another piece of flash fiction that had already been accepted for publication*.
His response was interesting because he preferred Shush. He pointed out several elements and explained why he liked it so much. I was pleased that he liked it and surprised. Armed with positive feedback I sent the story off to Theme of Absence.
Theme of Absence publish speculative fiction. I've sent them work before and had it rejected, but they were encouraging and at the time requested to see more of my work. At the time I didn't have anything that fitted with their submission guidelines, but Shush seemed to be a good fit. Thankfully, they liked it too and it's due to be published early April. I'll post again nearer the time. Shush will be available to read for free.
* That other story I referenced... I've been playing around with pen names lately and it's an acceptance that I've had under another pen name. There's no reference to the story anywhere else on this website. I'll do a post on pen names sometime during April.
Hi - I recently did an online interview with Dan Burgess the editor at Firewords Quarterly. So if you'd like a little bit of insight into the world of indie publishing then please do click on the following link to see what I had to say for myself.
Here it is: http://blog.firewords.co.uk/post/132922099388/meet-the-team-mike-wolfson-assistant-editor
All the best,
It’s that time again when I felt that ‘The Musings’ needed a bit of a spring clean. I hope you like the new design.
The following sections have all been recently updated too:
My Stories – Three new stories have been added. The first of which is Wiped Clean: A cautionary tale about the unusual manner in which a man attempts to save his marriage.
Then we have Dominoes: A black comedy drama that shows how the smallest of events can snowball out of control.
Last but not least we have The Unspoken: A drama depicting the lost and the lonely. I could say a lot more about The Unspoken but let’s see how it fares in relation to finding a publisher.
I haven’t got any specific markets in mind for any of the above. I’ll be doing the usual research in an attempt to find suitable markets. It can be time consuming, but it’s important to find a good fit.
Several new additions have been made to the Useful Links page. First up is Writer’s Village. If you’re a writer check this site out. I was impressed, and I’m not easily impressed. There’s a wealth of resources on offer. Yes, you have to pay for it, but there are free samples allowing you to make an informed choice.
Next up is Shooting People. I haven’t used Shooting People but I love the idea. It’s a place for anyone who wants to make an indie film to hook up, and find the people that you need to make it happen. So if you’ve written a low budget indie film script, but you don’t have access to a production crew then Shooting People could be your solution.
The next link is for Horror fans only. It’s The Big List of Horror Film Festivals. It’s exactly what it says it is.
The actual links can be found within the Useful Links page. That’s the point, right?
More blog posts coming soon!
Do you like reading short story anthologies by various writers? Can I persuade you into trying the latest offering from a group of collaborative writers? If I can’t persuade you can I at least tempt you?
I never was very good at pitching but here goes…
What exactly is good and evil, and what lies in-between? Fourteen writers have done their very best to try and answer that question. The end result is a depiction of the very best and worst of humanity, all bundled into a highly readable anthology.
Did I mention the word anthology? Here it is:
There’s something in those hallowed pages for everyone. Here are a few highlights:
Hard Rain: The mother of all storms breaks when a man has to get to hospital for the birth of his first child. Nothing is going to stop him irrespective of anything else happening around him…
Spirals: A gritty crime drama that explores the criminal underworld and the choices and consequences that villains have to face amongst their own kind.
Living The Life of Riley: A harrowing and moving drama which depicts the fragmented relationship between a father and son.
The stories encompass many genres from straight drama, to fantasy, to crime, and there’s even a western tale thrown into the mix.
My contribution is Acid House. A semi-comedic drama about a late middle aged couple, in total hate with each other, who unexpectedly have to deal with their only son’s relationship problems.
Thank you in advance to anyone who does decide to purchase a copy.
As I write this the Triggerstreetlabs.com site (affectionately termed TSL) is still up and running, but by the end of January the site will be no more. TSL opened its doors in 2002. Its intention was to provide a platform for writers to post their work and get feedback from other writers. Help others, Help yourself was TSL’s original motto.
My association with TSL goes back to 2008. I was decorating and I had the radio on. Kevin Spacey was being interviewed about his latest film, but the interview strayed into other areas including TSL. Kevin made a fine pitch for the site so I put down the paint brush and scribbled down the site name. Back then I wanted to write but I knew next to nothing about the writing craft. Every time I tried to write anything I made little progress. I knew I needed help with writing and I had previously tried local writing circles but they just didn’t work for me. I kept going to look at the TSL site, and each time I’d walk away without having joined. Eventually I took the plunge. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Two months after joining I posted a story. The story was ok, but technically it was a mess. It was too slow, the format was all wrong, and there were grammar errors on every page. On the whole constructive criticism rolled in and helped me focus on the elements I needed to improve.
I never looked back. My second story wasn’t perfect but it was a huge step forward, and I continued to post and I continued to learn. I would never have managed to write stories to a standard worthy of publication without TSL.
TSL also taught me how to handle rejection. Not all reviews were constructive some were destructive. These reviews were hard to take, but they also toughened me up. It’s been a while since I’ve had a rejection but I generally just shrug my shoulders and carry on. Night Owls was originally rejected by one publication, so I found another potential market who did publish it.
I also made some great friends on TSL, and I was privileged to meet some very talented writers. So I’m pretty sad to see it go, but I don’t blame Trigger Street Productions for shutting it down. I don’t know why but over the last couple of years a lot of the writing talent on TSL has dwindled away. The standard of reviews and the quality of the writers has dropped significantly. I’m speaking in general terms as there are some incredibly talented writers on that site. It’s a shame but I guess all good things must come to an end. I’m just thankful for everything that the site gave to me. Its memory will be cherished.
Here's the official press release for the Saints & Sinners anthology featuring Acid House, and a host of other stories by talented writers such as J W Nelson, Gary Clifton, J T Harrell, and Max Watt to name but a few. Here it is...
The 13 Project’s new short story anthology ‘Saints and Sinners’ is coming soon!
Following the acclaim of ’13 The Anthology’, The 13 Project are now set to release the second
instalment in their series of short story anthologies, Saints and Sinners, this time featuring
fourteen stories from fourteen unique minds. As literary as it is fun, this fiery collection of diverse
narratives delivers the very best and truly worst of humanity ‐ in prose!
Edited by Nick Keller and Francesca Mansfield, the collection features stories by renowned and
underground writers alike; who deliver a versatile spectrum of tales zeroing in on the mindsets and
private lives of cops, limo drivers, pirates, criminals, and much more – enough variety to tingle the
collective psyche of book‐rats across the globe.
Is there such a thing as an absolute sinner or a perfect saint? Is it possible to be either purely evil or driven only by the forces of good, or does everyone have a little of both in them? In this, the second anthology from The 13 Project, fourteen writers unite for the saint and sinner in each of us, creating a diverse collection of characters each grappling with their own inner demons: the lovelorn pirate who ventures into hell to rescue his beloved, the homesick assassin whose moral dilemma is close to her heart, a lawyer tangled in the occult and many more unique characters, floundering in adventures that will make your moral compass waver. Think you know right from wrong? Read on...
Praise for “13,” by the same collective:
“…weaves itself beautifully through genres and styles... the writing is of a consistently high
standard ... it became a joy to note with some surprise how that one spark of inspiration had
embedded itself in the process.”
Steve Nash, Soundsphere Magazine
Unfortunately, I don't think the anthology is going to hit the shops in time for Christmas. However, everybody needs a New Year read so keep your eyes peeled...
Dancers – my new short story - has had a long 12 month journey from initial idea to shareable first draft. It all started back in 2013 when a scene kept on popping into my head. The scene was a couple dancing through the streets of Paris. That’s generally how my stories start with an image or a scene. I start by writing that scene. Sometimes all I’m doing is writing notes as opposed to prose. That’s how I started with Dancers by scribbling down notes.
So at this stage I had some rough notes and the inkling of an ending, but little else. Next I had to think about characters. I don’t define my characters before I drop them into a story. I literally drop ‘shadows’ into stories and then the characters start to define themselves. The conversations that occur are those of the characters not mine. I have no idea what they’re going to say. In respect of Dancers I knew where the characters and the story had to go, but I had no idea how my characters were going to get to the end point.
A strange thing happened with Dancers. The characters that started to appear on the page were completely wrong for the story I was trying to write. That’s never happened to me before. Initially, I thought that maybe the scenes were wrong so I kept dropping the characters in different locations, a hotel room, a restaurant, and numerous other locales and venues to see what difference it made. Changing the setting / situation didn’t work, but the characters that were evolving on the page were real living breathing people.
The solution was to break one of the cardinal rules of writing (if such a thing exists): Finish what you start.
I left Dancers well alone and dropped the two characters into a London mews house and just started writing. By removing them completely and giving them their own world to inhabit a second story Acid House sprang into life which will be published late 2014 / early 2015. I can’t be specific because I’m waiting on an update from the publishing editors.
Once Acid House was wrapped I went back to Dancers . The first time that story went wrong I had two characters coming out of a Paris restaurant. I went back to the original scene and this time the story wrote itself. The new characters inhabiting Dancers are fitting for the story at hand, and are complete opposites of the Acid House characters.
The point of this blog? Listen to your muse. Had I ‘forced’ these particular characters into Dancers then the story would have been a mess. More importantly the original two characters were obviously desperate to get out into the big literary world. They wanted to tell their own story, and not the story I had planned for them. In those circumstances my advice would be to always follow your characters. Characters will quite often define stories. Trust them. They’re the lifeblood of any story.
I’ve added Dancers to the ‘My Stories’ section of the site. I’ve broken that page down into published works and works looking for a home. Dancers at the moment will go into a drawer. In a couple of months I’ll dust it off and do a final re-write before sending it out to publishers. Feedback from my inner circle is very promising.
M J Wolfson - That's me.