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?

What’s In a Name?

Well, I did it.  Something I never thought I’d do.

I wrote The Scene this weekend. The Biggee.  I wrote a full-out, down and dirty, detailed and delicious sex scene.  A lemon.   And it was fun.

That’s right; I did it . . . . And I liked it.

All I had to do was step away from the characters I’ve been working with and write about a pair of complete strangers doing things my established characters have never even thought of trying.  Well, things I’ve never thought if doing to them — with them–for them — oh, hell, ya’lll know what I mean.

The bad news is that this particular scene doesn’t fit with my novel, even if I plug in different names. No, this is basically a stand alone bit of erotica.  The good news is that I feel ready to do it again now that I pushed my way through the first time.  I’m not scared of it any more, now that I know what to expect.

Not unlike losing my virginity a second time, but with Josh Groban playing in the background this time around instead of Michael Bolton.

So now I have this . . . thing that I’ve written and I don’t know what to do with it.  I’ve discovered that most erotic “novels” on Smashwords are actually little more than short stories, and I’m thinking about putting my little story on Smashwords.  I have to do more research first to make sure that Smashwords really is free, and that I really would retain all rights to my own work, but I’m seriously considering the idea.

My biggest dilemma here is deciding what name to use when (and if) I self-publish it.

As it is now, I don’t use a pen name to hide my identity from anyone.  I use a pen name because my real name is boring.  Also because I apparently share my real name with a  semi-famous journalist.  But I post links to my blog right on my personal Facebook page with my own picture, and there’s not a person in my life who doesn’t know that I am also A.J. Goode.  So far, I have nothing to hide.

I have no idea what to do if I self-publish erotica.

Do I publish it as A.J. Goode and use the experience to build up my professional writing resume?   Do I create another pen name just for this?   If I publish erotica under a different name, do I keep it a secret from my followers here on this blog, or do I share the links with you guys and just let the world know that I write under two names?

Or do I just set the whole thing aside and forget about it while I get back to work on my novel?

I’m just not sure what my next step is at this point.

A Wilder Thought

I am having a major problem completing my novel.

I blame blogging and Jasinda Wilder.

Let’s tackle blogging first.  Some days, I really struggle to write anything worth posting.  It’s hard work.  It’s not fun.  And when it’s finished, I usually don’t like it.  On those days, it’s not that there’s a problem with the actual writing itself; grammatically speaking, it’s fine.

It’s just . .  . cold.  Flat.  Lifeless.  A well-written Wikipedia entry.

But then I have the days when everything flows.   I sit at the computer and zap! I’m just along for the ride.  It doesn’t feel like work at all.  It feels like play.  It’s fun.  My stories and essays write themselves, just borrowing my fingers on the keyboard to give them life.

I can feel my face flush with the exhilaration of knowing that I am creating something good.  I am writing things that I will later look at with awe and ask, “Did I really write that?”

Blogging has taught me that, while writing is a business that requires hard work and planning, it’s also something I don’t ever want to give up again.  And that some of my very best work is the stuff that comes out when I’m enjoying myself, not when I’m trying so hard.   And that lesson has made me doubt the work I have done so far on my own novel.

My novel isn’t fun.  I’ve spent two years fighting with it, and it’s still not finished. I’ve started to hate my main characters.  Part of me wants to put the whole damn thing away for a few months and take a break so I can write something fun, but the logical part of me knows I will never come back to it if I do.  I know that follow-through is not my strong suit, and that I tend to quit projects because of self-doubt and fear.

Besides, an agent wants to see it.  I can’t blow this opportunity!

Then there’s Jasinda Wilder.  She and her husband were facing foreclosure when they decided to write an erotic romance novel a la Fifty Shades of Grey. In less than thirty days, she did her market research, churned out and self-published Big Girls Do it Better, and sold more than 500 copies in the first day.   Since then, she has published several more, and according to CBS News, she now averages over $100,000 in sales per month.

I want to hate her.  I want to dismiss her as a talentless hack.   But I’ve read her books, and they’re pretty good.  Not always to my taste; I’m really not a fan of erotica, and my favorite romances tend to be the more chaste ones.  But she writes very well, and I have to say that she deserves the success she has found.

She also seems to be a very nice, down-to Earth person.

But.

If she can knock out book after book after book faster than the speed of light while I do everything but pour my blood on the page, then maybe I’m not meant to be a writer.  Should it really be this hard?

If it’s this hard, maybe it’s just not meant to be.

So I am asking my fellow writers for advice.  What do you do when self-doubt and frustration attack?  How do you keep from being jealous of writers like Jasinda Wilder, for whom it all seems to be so easy?

How do you know when it’s time to give up on a project or just keep pushing to break through the tough spots on your current one?

How do you convince yourself to finish something when it has stopped being fun?

Thinking of Ewww

I decided to try reading a little erotica last night.  Strictly for research purposes, of course.

I’ve written here before about my difficulty in writing sex scenes for my romance novel.  I’m still waffling on which direction to go:  squeaky-clean or hot and heavy.  While I’m more comfortable with the squeaky route, it seems as though the sexier books are more in demand.  Besides, I’ve reached a point in my story where a chaste kiss just ain’t getting it done.

I’ve read my share of “naughty” books in my life; I’m not that naïve.   My friends and I used to pass around worn-out copies of Wifey, Seventeen, and anything by Danielle Steele.  I’ve blocked out the trauma of reading Lace and  A Sensuous Woman while still in high school, but most of Destiny is still locked in my memory.  Unfortunately.

My mother was addicted to those multi-generational sagas that were so popular back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, and she really shouldn’t have let me borrow them.  I remember lots of descriptive sex scenes with heaving bosoms and swelling manhood and a definite overuse of the verb “thrust”.  Those books always seemed to have a heroine who was multi-orgasmic when deflowered, usually against her will, only to fall in love and live happily ever after with her assailant.

Those books were referred to as “Bodice-rippers.”  Mom called them “Crotch-wetters.”

Classy lady, my mother.

But I had never encountered full-out erotica until recently.  There is a huge market for writers of erotica, especially with all of the self-publishing options available today.  If I could write a really hot piece of erotic fiction, I could get myself published and start making money with my writing almost immediately.  It could be a great way to open some doors.

Or so I thought.

I bought a 99-cent erotic romance for my Nook so I could read it and see for myself what the fuss is all about.   Put the kids to bed, told The Big Guy what I was going to read, and made myself a nice hot cup of Chamomile.  I figured my “research” could be sort of fun.

Two pages in, I dumped the Chamomile and grabbed a beer.

By the end of the first chapter, I announced, “Screw the beer.  Do we have anything stronger?”

It was the most badly-written, God-awful, amateurish piece of crap I have ever seen.  It was like reading a sexual fantasy scribbled by a horny seventh grader hiding under his bed with a notebook, flashlight, and box of tissue.

I couldn’t even focus on the action in the story.  I was too focused on the almost complete lack of punctuation and the fact that the story kept switching from past to present tense.  I kept finding plot holes and bad characterization, poor sentence structure and physically impossible contortions that weren’t sexually appealing at all.  Instead of getting turned on, all I got was a desire to attack the book with a red pen and start proofreading the living hell out of it.

I think my eyeballs are bruised.  I can’t believe I read that.

I can’t believe I paid money to read that.

With the erotica market so big right now, and the success of books like Fifty Shades of Grey, I have to wonder if the average reader has standards set so low that quality no longer matters in fiction.  Are well-written books a thing of the past as long as writers can churn out a steady diet of smut?

Is it worth even trying to take the high road, or am I doomed to failure if my characters aren’t practitioners of BDSM?

There has to be a middle road between a Steeple Hill Christian novel that sings the virtues of virginity, and an Ellora’s Cave sex romp extolling the joys of double penetration with a dwarf and 7-foot mime while swinging from a trapeze under a chocolate waterfall.   Is it possible to write and sell a novel with sex scenes that just involve sex . . . in a bed . . . with just two people . . . no ropes or whip crème or furry rodents?

Or is that too boring?

Maybe I should write children’s books.  I’m  pretty sure Dr Seuss never had this problem.