On pen names – Julianna Baggott

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By Julianna Baggott

I’m often asked about my use of pen names. All of Us and Everything is my fourth novel written under the pen name Bridget Asher, but if you combine books under my own name and both of my pen names (my other is N.E. Bode, who penned darkly whimsical novels for younger readers), I’ve published over twenty books. The pen names aren’t secrets so why use them at all? ♥

There are a few reasons, some strategic and some deeply personal and probably more that are so deeply personal. they’re subconscious.

The strategic reasons are an answer to being a prolific writer. With my first three novels, which came out one per year and all of which were fairly literary, I was competing with myself for review space. Literary novels are so review-driven that this was a problem. My agent asked me if I wanted to write thrillers under a pen name; I was rereading the novels I first fell in love with as a kid to my own kids and so N.E. Bode was born instead.

Bode opened me up to the idea of Asher who came along shortly thereafter. I had stories I wanted to tell specifically to women around my own age, and I wanted to create a voice that they could rely on. The rest of my career is so buckshot – I’ve written historical and went on to write post-apocalyptic thrillers, have three books of poems – it made sense to open up a space and protect it within contemporary fiction.

So, all of this is fine. Sure. But it’s not the whole story. When I was moving a few years ago, I found some old notes. On one, I found something I’d scribbled to myself. I write myself notes all the time so this wasn’t unusual except that the handwriting was blocky print, which was odd and drew my eye. I could tell I was trying to tell myself something – clearly and plainly. It was a brief confession – I no longer have the exact wording – that I needed the pen names, that they were a form of insulation, self-protection. They freed me up.

From what?

Well, from the very beginning, publishing – going public with my work – has been brutal in ways I never could have predicted. And, yes, it’s also been wonderful in ways I never could have predicted. But I’ve found that even when things are going well, I can get rattled. When they go badly, I also can get rattled. I’m rattle-able, it turns out. So I have to reinvent ways to open up that space to write and protect it – no matter what I’m trying to create.

All of Us and Everything is an invention, yes, truly, but it also comes from a million small moments in my own life, little pieces that get woven and rewoven together. Being Asher allows me to get away from Baggott being Baggott, which can be a merciful thing [see rattle-able comment above]. Asher is a little funnier, rowdier, more raucous.

In All of Us and Everything, I created three sisters – very different from each other – and was invited into their chaotic lives. Asher wrote it in ways Baggott never could have.

And yet it was really written with my sisters in mind – all kinds of sisters, the ones you’re born with and the ones you choose. It’s a love letter, in some ways, to sisterhood.


 

Julianna Baggott has published more than twenty books under the monikers Baggott, Asher and Bode. Her Bridget Asher novels include The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, The Pretend Wife, and My Husband’s Sweethearts. She has also published award-winning novels for younger readers under the pen name N.E. Bode as well as under Julianna Baggott.

juliannabaggott.com

1 Comment

  1. Phoebe Fox

    November 25, 2015 at 4:23 am

    Really love this, Julianna! I chose a pen name initially to separate my writing life from my work with authors as an editor, but I have found that it offers a level of insulation that I cherish. Phoebe is a bit more freewheeling, uninhibited, and maybe a little more fun than I am…and “she” gives me the freedom to take myself out of my writing and let go. Thanks for this post about something I rarely see much written about.

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