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?

Dream a Little Dream

A funny thing happened on the way to my next novel.

It took me three years to write my first book.  I self-published it before it was ready, and had to spend the next several months playing a game of Learn-As-You-Go as I scrambled to fix all of my mistakes.  My second book took a year to write, but I was much more prepared when I self-published that one.  My third is now in progress, tentatively heading toward a June release, which means it will only take me about six months to write when all is said and done.

And that’s where the wheels fall off the wagon.

First, I wanted to name my heroine Bobbie. I like that name, and it would have worked very well for the character.  However, I work with a woman named Bobbie, and that could become really awkward, really fast when I start writing a sex scene. So I asked Bobbie if she would mind my using her name for this book, as long as I promised that the character was not based on her in any way.

She gave her permission to use her name, but with the stipulation that she wanted the Bobbie in my book to be a villain.  Evil. A terrible, horrible, simply awful creature.

Well, crap. Since my first two books contain a beautiful but cruel female antagonist, I really wanted to avoid doing that again.  So the idea of “Evil Bobbie” had to be shelved for a while, and I went back to finding just the right name for my heroine.

A few nights later, I had a really vivid dream. I dreamed out the entire plot of a new story that was so realistic, so detailed, that it was like watching a movie.  It was the story of a divorcee who has spent the past year living in a sort of a fog, unable to move on from her divorce.  Her children go off to spend a month with their father over summer vacation, and she is at a loss about what to do during an entire month by herself.  Of course, she has a guy friend.  And since this is a romance novel, the guy friend is one hot and sexy studmuffin. Mr. Studmuffin convinces the heroine to make a list of things she’s never done before, and they spend the month working their way through the list as their friendship gradually grows into something more. The big question is whether or not she is ready to let herself take a chance on love, and I think the ending may come as a bit of a surprise.

I woke up and wrote it down.  I even found a place for “Evil Bobbie,” although she’s not so much evil as just unpleasant, and her name lost a letter somewhere along the line.

Some of you know that I’ve gone through my own divorce in the past year, so you may be wondering how much of myself I’ve put into this one.  Rest assured, the story is a work of fiction.  However, in the same way that Her House Divided is a piece of fiction that contains my real car accident and injuries, Love’s Little List is a piece of fiction that contains a few real emotions. Divorce sucks, even an amicable one like mine, and it felt really good to dig down deep and exorcise a few personal demons.

list

If that makes any sense at all.

I am very proud of Love’s Little List.  It turned out to be an 18,000-word mini-novel that may possibly be the most personal thing I’ve ever written, even though it is completely fictional.  I feel like I hit just the perfect tone with this one, somewhere in between the usual serious tone of my romance novels and the lighter tone of my blog. It’s not quite a romantic comedy, but it has a lot more humor than I’ve ever put into a novel before.  It’s not technically a part of my Beach Haven series, although it is set in the same town and even contains a few minor characters from the series.

I’m nervous about this one, especially since I released it with no fanfare, no publicity. I’m afraid I may have made a huge mistake by publishing it as-is instead of trying to flesh it out into a full-length novel, but time will have to tell if I did the right thing or not. This story basically wrote itself; who am I to tell it to grow to 50,000 words?

And just for the record, if there is a real Mr. Studmuffin out there looking for a middle-aged, overweight, divorced mother of three, would he please step out of the romance novel and give me a call?

Regrets, I’ve Had a Few

Have you ever done something so awful, so hurtful, so despicable that your stomach churns and your heart pounds with fresh horror every time the realization washes over you again?

I have.  It hit me today that I just may be a truly terrible person.

To tell the whole story, I have to go back twenty years to a point in my life when things were really not going well.  Things had just ended with my first love, and I was learning to deal with my first taste of heartache.  I was in a dead-end job with no foreseeable escape in the near future; I was lonely and desperately unhappy.

Then I met a Really Nice Guy.  Not traditionally handsome, but cute.  Big, soft eyes, an adorable smile, cute little dimples.  Absolutely delicious silky brown hair that I just couldn’t keep my hands out of.  He was tall and just pudgy enough to be a comfortable cuddler.  He worked two jobs – sometimes three—and took care of his mother while keeping a watchful eye on his younger brother.

He was perfect on paper.

And oh, his kisses!  With all due respect to Mr. First Love and to my ex-husband, I never knew anyone who could kiss like Mr. Nice.  We could make out for hours, until my lips ached and my body quivered, and I still couldn’t bear to stop.  I loved to stand and press myself against him while we kissed goodbye, because of the perfect way our bodies fit together.  Looking back, I’m pretty sure the poor fellow took a lot of cold showers while we were together.  To his credit, he never once pushed me for more, although I’m fairly sure it couldn’t have been easy for him to walk away after we got ourselves so worked up.

I wanted to fall in love with him.  I tried to fall in love with him.  I tried so hard.  I told myself over and over that I must be falling in love with him, or I wouldn’t enjoy kissing him so much.  He was a genuinely nice guy.  Perfect in every way.  Maybe I was still hurting from Mr. First Love.  Maybe I was just waiting for some elusive, magical “spark.”  Maybe I just wasn’t ready.

Whatever the reason, I . . . didn’t love him.  So I broke up with him after stringing him along for far too long.  I felt like a cruel and heartless bitch.

Probably because I was.

Over the years, I heard he got married, had kids.  He got a teaching job at my old high school and even had my niece and nephew in his class.

Still a really nice guy.

Over the years, I got married, had kids, moved to a small town.  Changed careers, lost a few loved ones, had some good times and some bad times.

Wrote a book.

I struggled to name my characters.  I had to use names that were not too weird, but not too boring.  Names that didn’t represent anyone currently in my life.  People thought they recognized themselves in early drafts and were offended or flattered.  The romantic hero’s name had to be changed because the ex-husband thought it was too close to Mr. First Love’s name (for the record, the similarity never crossed my mind).  The heroine was too close to a friend’s teenage daughter.  Everybody had something to say, an opinion to offer, and I paid too much attention to all of them.

I gave my heroine a real jerk of an ex-boyfriend.  Couldn’t be Ken.  Couldn’t be Mike.  Not Tim, Jeff, Mitch, David, Rob, Jim, Evan, Steven or Joey.  Not Brian, Carl, Kevin or Andrew.  In desperation, I grabbed a name out of mid-air:  Randy.  There was no one in my life at that time who was named Randy.  No one who could be offended.  No resemblance to anyone alive or dead, right?

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I ran into Mr. Nice on Facebook.  I spent a wonderful evening chatting with him, catching up on everything that had happened over the years.  I remembered so many things about him, asked about his mother and brother and kids.

I really enjoyed talking to him.  What a nice guy.  He even bought a copy of my book.

And promptly “unfriended” me on Facebook.

Why, I wondered.  What did I do wrong?  What happened?

I was standing in the shower this morning when it hit me from out of nowhere.

He read my book.  Randy read my book.

My ex-boyfriend Randy read my book with a horrible jerk of an ex-boyfriend named Randy.

I am a terrible person.

I can’t even begin to fathom how much that must have hurt him.  I can’t apologize to him; even if he hadn’t blocked me on Facebook, what would I say?  How would I explain it?  Why would he ever believe me?  He may be the nicest guy in the world, but nobody is that nice.  He’s got his limits, and I crossed them.

I have felt sick all day as I keep thinking back over what I did to him.  I am so, so sorry, but he will never know.  I blew it, folks.  I hurt the nicest guy in the world.  Not deliberately, which would have been bad enough.  I did it carelessly, thoughtlessly, which is even worse.

I don’t like myself very much right now.

I’m pretty sure Randy doesn’t like me very much either.