There’s a lot to be said about a pseudonym.
Every time I’m at a book signing or a convention, I get asked by people why I chose to use the name Peter Dawes. It’s obvious from meeting me that I am not Peter, although that sentiment’s changed a little recently. (More on that later.) In lieu of that, there’s three stories I usually tell, after delivering the cheeky assertion that I look remarkably like a Peter Dawes.
Story One: Selling books under a female name is difficult in my genre. My main series is an action adventure, dark fantasy cross between The Dresden Files and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, and back when I first started, it was tough to get traction as the really real me.
Story Two: The Vampire Flynn books are told from the perspective of Peter Dawes, an emergency room doctor turned cold-blooded killer. They’re essentially his autobiography, so when it came time to choose a pen name, I figured he’d like to be the author of his own stories. Anyone who knows me can tell you how self-aware Peter is in my head. It’s not a far stretch to call him his own writer.
Story Three: Sparing a long and complicated story, I had something awful happen to me eight years ago that taught me to put some distance between the “real” me and my artistic work. It’s safer for me this way.
Now, all of these stories are true, so telling someone one or more of them isn’t fabricating an excuse. That being said, something began to happen which took me aback the first time somebody did it. Rather than get the normal fare of confused looks and nods of understanding, I had somebody ask me, with all the sincere earnestness he could muster…
“Do you… want me to call you Peter?”
It wasn’t even at an LGBT-themed convention. At an anime convention in Philly, he issued the question as a (he told me later) cisgender, straight man who had struggled with the concept of tolerance and finally came to a reckoning through a gay friend of his. It opened his eyes to the struggles of many in the LGBT community. And this man, ebbing compassion, wanted to show me deference. He might have been looking at a (albeit tomboyish) woman, but he wanted to respect me.
I admit, it took me a moment to figure out how to respond to that, like someone gave a damn enough to want to know something personal and I felt inclined to be honest with them. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to yet. So I chuckled and said, “No, Jules is fine,” and continued my discussion with him. Maybe it’s being hard on myself to say I was lying, because Jules is the preferred version of my birth name, but I said no to dismiss any sort of deference to myself.
Here’s the more honest story, though.
Story Four: I used to self-publish under my birth name, back in the olden days of ebooks. While it made it easier to connect with my audience – hell, I still have friends from those days – it also exposed me to scrutiny at a time and place where I wasn’t ready to be scrutinized. Long story short, something bad happened before something remarkable followed.
I decided to let Peter be the author of his own books. And the internet being as anonymous as it is, I played it up a lot. Peter the vampire would tell you all about his work and it’s been fun to use Peter to explore a lot more about myself while making me more comfortable with who I was. It also shielded me from being dismissed for writing in what used to be considered more of a “male” genre. Women will read books irrespective of the author name. Guys, on the other hand, didn’t always trust girls to write male protagonists.
Peter’s really his own person. He’s no Mary Sue or anything like that. (Hell, I think Robin might be more self-insertion than Peter is sometimes, though Peter and I are a lot more similar, personality-wise.) And I like using his name for the books because we get to have these witty conversations, reader-to-author. But no, you don’t have to call me Peter, although I don’t mind if you do. I’m Jules.
And if you want to know what it means to be Jules, I’m a lot more open now toward discussing that. We love our labels, and I could share a bunch with you, but the long story short is that those of us who use pseudonyms have a myriad of reasons for doing so. That being said, I challenged myself this year to get a few official author photos taken, in some effort to bridge the gap between the author you know online and the person you meet elsewhere. Every now and then I feel more comfortable sharing the “man behind the curtain” with the rest of the world, but I’ve felt more viscerally honest lately.
So, this is me…
Sometimes, I wish I could find that man again and tell him his heart was in the right place, though I’d consider myself more genderfluid than transgendered. I don’t mind my birth-assigned gender all that much some days, even if I’ve never been overly “feminine” girl, but some days, I want to don a suit and tie and sink a little more being masculine. Maybe one of these days I might change my mind about that, but I’ve given myself the luxury of being a work-in-progress. I tried to “out” myself a while back, to tell the people who knew me only as Peter who Jules was, but then I mourned the loss of presenting as the male, vampire author, because it’s been liberating. So, I’m straddling the line here.
Not sure what that says about me, but hell… I might as well embrace it.
One of my good friends, an amazing professional photographer named Cassandra Panek, captured that for me in the pictures I’ll be using as my author photos. I can’t recommend her work enough. And in case anyone might be afraid Peter himself is going anywhere, don’t worry…
After a decade of being stuck with him, I don’t think anything is going to get rid of him.
Him, or Flynn for that matter.
It’s nice to share a recent photo again after all this time, even if it’s scary. Thank you, everyone, for how supportive you have always been, and hello to everyone who might have wanted to put a face more to the name.
Until next time,