Sunday, April 6, 2008

Who the heck am I?

My mother named me Susan after the actress Susan Hayward. I always thought that was flattering until I actually grew up and caught a couple of the woman's movies. She was elegant, sophisticated, and seemed to have an unnatural talent for portreying dramatic deaths, as I recall. I understood then why I'd always had this feeling I wasn't quite what my mother had hoped for. Unlike Susan Hayward, I was boistrous, awkward, grossly naive, and had an unnatural talent for keeping frogs in the bathtub. Unauthorized frogs, I should add.

But did you know Ms. Hayward was actually born Edythe Marrener? I guess I should be thankful she chose a stage name! Then again, as I scan the Romance shelves at the bookstore, I don't see nearly as many Edythe's as I do Susan's. Or Suzanne's or Sue's or Susanna's or some other variant of the name. If Ms. Hayward had gone out into the world as Edythe, perhaps I would be Edythe today and not feel myself such a part of the crowd.

But I gave up trying to be a part of the crowd way back in high school when I realized I was still too boistrous, still too awkward, still way too naive, and still had an unnatural affinity for catching frogs. No way was I ever going to fit in with those more normal individuals around me who comprised "the Crowd".

Now it feels unnatural for me to find myself just one amongst many.

Oh, there are some great Susan's with our name plastered proudly on book spines, and maybe that's my problem. It irks me that it is their name and not mine I see on those shelves. I'm jealous, I suppose.

But I also want to be unique. I want my name to conjure all sorts of wonderful things that lead people to think of only me, not any of the other fine Susan's of the world. Perhaps young Edythe Marrener felt something like that when she adopted her new moniker. Or perhaps her studio said, "Here's your new name. Get used to it." Either way, it seemed to work for her.

So how to I transition from being Susan Number Whatever to being (insert fabulous pen name here)? First, I suppose, I need to come up with said fabulous pen name. That's the tricky part, isn't it? I've been asking around for advice and here's what I've heard:

Many authors have chosen their pen name based on some beloved nickname they have. Well, I haven't got any of those. My husband calls me Susan. My sisters call me Susan. My kids try to call me Susan and I scold them. Occassionally folks drop off the -zun part and I end up just being Sue, but that really doesn't take me very far from the trouble. I'm still in the Susan Family.

In junior high some boys in my neighborhood had a nickname for me. They called me "Raisin". I didn't like it. There used to be a commercial on TV about the raisins in a certain cereal. According to the earnest announcer, these raisins were always "plump and juicy." Hence my nickname. I wished to be neither plump nor juicy. (Remember, I was hopelessly naive and failed to recognize that those boys may possibly have not been insulting my physique quite so much as my purpose in life, but either way, it was a yucky nickname.)

Another technique authors use in seaching for a pen name is to consider family names. Their own maiden name, their mother's maiden name, Grandma's name, etc. So, I did this, too.

My maiden name is Gee. Pronounced like the letter of the alphabet. It sounds Chinese, though I'm not ethnic in any way. My mother's maiden name is Stickradt; it's prounounced like "stick-rat". Yeah, I crossed that off my list pretty quickly.

My maternal grandmother's maiden name was Deike--sounds like, er, "like." Not that there's anything wrong with it, but that's not exactly the sort of Romance I write. I'm looking for something a bit more evocative of my chosen genre.

So, I'm on the prowl to reinvent myself. Any and all suggestions are welcome. I'm hoping one day something will just leap out and grab me, sweeping me passionately into its embrace and convincing me unequivocably this is who I should be.

Until that happens, though, I'll just go on being Susan. It's a good name; a familiar name; a respectable name. But for some reason, no one expects a Susan to have a tub full of frogs in her bathroom, do they?

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