Tangents

I have a new friend whose mind works a lot like mine. In other words, we are both easily distracted and often guilty of slipping into “squirrel mode” at any given time. She is a professional writer, so I am a little bit in awe of her, but all of our conversations end up in a jumbled mess of tangents and non sequiturs that make absolutely no sense to anyone else in the vicinity.

I’m not sure if we have ever followed any discussion all the way through to its logical conclusion. We tend to reach a point at which one of us hollers “derailed!” while the other makes train whistle noises, after which we simply start all over again as though nothing has happened.

For the record, my children think we are idiots.

But as I sat here this morning trying to come up with an idea for a new blog post, it dawned on me that our conversations are a lot like my writing process. I start with a lot of vaguely connected ideas and then start veering off into weird tangents that usually lead me to ideas and thoughts that I never even knew I had.  The fun part of all of this is deciding whether to try to tie it all together or just run with it in a whole new direction.

So I thought I’d throw out some random tangents today and pull them all together to answer some questions that several people have been asking me lately about my pen name.

Tangent #1. I hate my given name. It doesn’t fit. Amy is a name for someone refined and delicate; Amy is quiet and sophisticated. I am none of those things. Growing up, I hated the fact that my entire name—first, middle and last—had less letters than some first names. I craved something more elaborate, more unique. I wanted a name that could be shortened into a nickname that wasn’t a verb.

To this day, I refuse to acknowledge anyone who addresses me as “Aim.”

Tangent #2. My mother had a huge crush on Gerald McRaney, which meant that we watched a lot of Simon & Simon when I was in high school. That was fine with me because I happened to have a pretty huge crush on Jameson Parker.

simon

She also had a thing for Yul Brynner, but Westworld scared the crap out of me and sort of ruined me for watching him in anything, even The King and I.

Tangent #3. I grew up addicted to the Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators books, a series of Young Adult mysteries about three boy detectives. The series started in 1964 and I became hooked about ten years later. I have read every single book, short story, magazine article and blog post I could find about the books, the characters, and the authors.  I even have a not-so-secret past as a Three Investigators fanfiction writer.

My favorite Three Investigators author was M.V. Carey, who had a profound effect on me as a young girl. I assumed that she used her initials instead of her full name to disguise the fact that she was a woman writing for a series that was aimed at boys.  At the time, my greatest dream was to write my own series of Young Adult mysteries that would appeal to readers of both genders, so I decided that I would someday use my initials in a pen name, just like my hero M.V. Carey.

Just as sort of a sub-tangent here, I should mention that Carey created one of the greatest female characters to ever grace the pages of a Young Adult series, even though she only appeared in two books.  Allie Jamison was smart, brash and spunky, and I always hoped she would be spun off into her own series.  For a while, I even fantasized about writing that series myself!

t3i

Tangent #4.  When I created a pen name, I wasn’t trying to hide anything; it’s never been about hiding my identity from anyone. It was an opportunity to step away from a name I have always despised. Besides, there were at least four other Amy Goodwins out there when I started Googling my name. One is a journalist and three others have books published on Amazon.

I was married at the time, and I didn’t want to hurt my husband’s feelings by going back to my maiden name.

A.L. Goodwin wouldn’t work because there is a comedian named Al Goodwin.

I tried the trick of combining the name of my first pet with the name of the street I grew up on to create a pen name, but I didn’t think anyone would buy a romance novel by Smudge Schuring.  We also had a parrot named Fonzie and an exceedingly whiny Seal Point Siamese named Alley J. Cat, but none of those really rang any bells for me.

siamese

Meanwhile, I was trying to come up with a name for my blog. I wanted it to be cute but not too cute, clever without trying too hard, memorable but for the right reasons. I thought about the way my Aunt Marian used to nudge me and wink every time someone said my last name. “Good one, Goodwin,” she’d say.

Amy Goodwin. A Goodwin. A Goode One. Derp. There was the name for my blog. I added the “e” because I thought it made it seem more like a name than a self-promoting description. In retrospect, I think it seems a bit pretentious, like Petunia in Keeping up Appearances, who insists that her last name be pronounced “Boo-kay” instead of “Bucket.”

Okay, so how about A-something-Goode? And that’s when it fell into place. My favorite character created by M.V. Carey was Allie Jamison.  A.J. My favorite character on Simon and Simon was A.J. Simon, played by Jameson Parker (who is now an author and blogger, by the way). I had a cat named Alley J. Cat.

So I became A.J. Goode.  Pretty simple, in a convoluted sort of way. For a very brief time in the late 80’s, I used my middle name to publish a couple of articles as A.J. Lee, but that was long before a much younger, hotter, and prettier young lady became far more famous with that name than I will ever be under any pen name.

Other than that, the only pen name I ever used was something so flowery and with so many syllables that it made “anti-disestablishmentarianism” seem like an abbreviation. I used it to publish a bit of erotica about a year ago – an embarrassing little tidbit about a middle-aged woman and a studly Latino gardener. It sold well for about two weeks and then tanked, as it should have. It was a slap in the face to every author out there who actually writes good erotica, and I hit “unpublish” as soon as my 90 days in Kindle Select were done. It was so bad that I feel like I owe an apology to erotica writers everywhere for making a mockery of their genre.

And there you have it. The ridiculously tangential answer to the questions “What does A.J. stand for?” and “Why do you use a pen name?”

The answer to “Have you ever written under any other pen names?” is just a bonus.

You’re welcome.

So what about the rest of you? If you’re a writer, do you use a pen name, and if so, how did you come up with it? If you’re not a writer, what pen name would you use if you ever needed one?

Toys In the Attic

One of my earliest memories is of my mom reading to me from Little House in the Big Woods.    If I close my eyes, I can still see the Garth Williams artwork that was on the page when I told Mom to hurry up and turn the page.

“I’m not done reading it yet,”  she told me.

“But I am,”  I said.

I was four years old, and I realized two things that day:  that I knew how to read, and that I wanted to be a writer.  Just like Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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I got my first typewriter not long after that.  It was a toy, but it worked like a real typewriter.  It was made out of hard blue plastic and it came with its own sturdy carrying case.  I took it with me everywhere I went, and I pounded out stories and poems that probably gave any readers a severe case of bleeding eyeballs.

By third grade, I had worn it out, but that was okay because I learned about quotation marks and discovered that my little typewriter didn’t have a key for those.  I figured out how to type two apostrophes together to make my own, and I expanded my vocabulary as other keys began to wear out.  I learned to find words that didn’t include the letters “g” and “r” but finally had to admit defeat when I lost the letter “e”.

It took less than a year to blow out the next toy typewriter.   Aunt Marian referred to my method of typing as “Hunt and Peck”, but Mom said I was using “The Bible Method”, otherwise known as the“Seek-and-ye-shall-find” method.

Am I the only one who sees the Star Wars influence here?
Am I the only one who sees the Star Wars influence here?

By the time I went away to college, my “toy” had been upgraded to an IBM Selectric.  That thing must have weighed fifty pounds, and it came with a corrector cartridge that was supposed to simplify the process of using Liquid Paper or White-Out.  I had taken an actual typing class by then with the oddest teacher my school ever employed (“My name is Frakes and it rhymes with brakes, and I won’t put the brakes on your typing speed!”).

I used that IBM Selectric to get through some pretty tough college classes, and even used it to hammer out my first query letter to Amazing Heroes magazine.  I knew that no one ever sells an article on the first try, so I wrote the letter as a practice exercise with no thoughts of actually writing the article. I nearly passed out when I got a letter from editor Kim Thompson a few weeks later calling me a “copacetic young lady” and giving me the go-ahead with a very tight deadline.

Oh, the horror that was the 1980's!
Oh, the horror that was the 1980’s!

I looked up “copacetic” and gave up eating, drinking or sleeping for a few days as I wrote “The Forgotten Reader” about what it was like to be one of the few female fans of comic books in those days.  I scrambled for a pen name—for the record, I was writing as “A.J. Lee” before the wrestler by that name was born—and thought my writing career was really taking off when I got my check for $35.20.

We’re often mistaken for twins.

The magazine ceased publication not long after that.

There have been a lot of detours since then.  A few articles here and there, some really egregious poetry, and a lot of self-indulgent attempts at “literary” fiction.   The Selectric eventually went the way of the two toy typewriters, and I now go back and forth between a tiny Asus Netbook and a “real” computer at a desk with my ergonomic chair to support my neck and shoulders.  I have access to things like spell-check and beta-readers and will most likely never again have to breathe the scent of Liquid Paper at two a.m. while chugging cans of tepid Tab and wondering why in the hell I ever wanted to be a writer in the first place.

In a way, I’ve come full circle from the days of that poor old blue typewriter.  It doesn’t matter if I type on a toy or scribble on the back of an envelope with a two-inch pencil stub with a gnawed-off eraser.   I’m a writer.  Always have been, always will be.

And I owe it all to Laura Ingalls Wilder and a little toy typerwriter.

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