Friday, March 28, 2008

A Tale Of Two Citizens

I had an odd thing happen on Tuesday. For the first time ever, the two sides of my life came crashing together without warning.

"Maya Reynolds" came into existence in early 2005. In February of that year, I'd made the decision to actively pursue erotic romance as a genre and started the story that would eventually become Bad Girl.

My business plan included entering contests in order to get my work in front of agents and editors. The very first contest I entered left a bad taste in my mouth, and I'd decided a pseudonym would put some distance between me and any whack jobs who might suddenly take the notion to look me up.

That probably sounds pretty paranoid, but I'd been conditioned to be careful. The previous year, I'd shattered my left leg in a fall on an icy hill. And, when I say "shattered," I'm not exaggerating. I broke both bones in two places each, leaving the leg so unstable that I spent a week in a hospital and another month in a rehab unit. It took two months in a wheelchair (punctuated by a surgery on either end of that eight weeks) BEFORE I graduated to crutches.

Five weeks on an inpatient unit introduced me to the Law & Order franchise. I'd never seen the show until my accident, but since it rules late night television--a time when pain and the unfamiliar surroundings took a toll on my sleep--I saw a lot of episodes in a very short time.

Law & Order will put the fear of the Lord into a single girl. Unattached women appear to be an endangered species in the mind of producer Dick Wolf. And women authors were among his favorite targets for murder and mayhem. Selecting a pseudonym to keep religious fundamentalist nuts and lonely geek psychopaths at bay sounded like a good plan to me.

A word to the wise: spend a bit more time (and thought) than I did selecting a pseudonym. In casting around for a name, I thought of Maya Angelou, whose writing I'd admired for years. Because she was on my mind, I googled her, and discovered she held the lifetime chair as the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. In less time than it takes to eat a M&M, I decided I liked the sound of "Maya Reynolds."

Of course, not thinking that decision through guaranteed that any time someone googled "Maya Reynolds," they would get pages and pages of results on Maya Angelou. It took eighteen months for me to shove that lovely lady off the first page of Google results.

Back to my story. I ended up entering five contests in 2005 with three different stories. I won two contests, placed second in two and got a message from a judge in the fifth that she was "offended" by my entry. That fifth contest also happened to be the first of the five. The judge--who had obviously never read an erotic romance story before--was so extreme in her reaction, I felt personally attacked. She helped to toughen my hide and make me aware that not everyone would be tolerant of my choice of genres. It also helped me decide to write under a pseudonym--for safety reasons.

Since assuming the Maya Reynolds mantle, I've tried to keep my two personas separate on the Internet. I'm less concerned in the Dallas writing community where a lot of people know me by both names. At my university, some of my co-workers are aware of my extra-curricular activities, but it doesn't come up often.

Once a month, my school offers a luncheon for me and my administrative peers. A group of us get together for free food and discussion about common issues.

Toward the end of our monthly soiree this past Tuesday, I was standing near the door talking to two colleagues when a woman I barely know came running up to me. "I finished Bad Girl in one sitting," she gushed. "My husband kept asking, 'Are you STILL reading that book?' I've loaned it to two friends, and I'm waiting for it to come back so you can autograph it."

I was so startled, I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind. In true author fashion, I said, "Tell your friends to buy their own copies."

Everyone laughed, and the moment passed. But it was the first time my life as an author had intruded into my daily world as an university administrator. I've had fans come up to me at RWA chapter meetings or at workshops and say much the same thing. But this was the first time I'd had the experience in my "other life." I was surprised at how much it startled me.

As most things do, it got me to thinking about writing a story about a woman who compartmentalizes her life to an extreme degree.

Maybe I could even submit a television screenplay to Law & Order.

1 comment:

Maria Zannini said...

I've always tried to keep my writing life separated from my personal life. A few years ago, my sister-in-law discovered my author-self when she picked up a magazine at the hairdresser's and read a story about country living. Imagine her shock when she realized it was written by me. She called her brother and gave him an earful. "Why didn't you tell us Maria was a writer?" To which Greg replied, "Huh?"

He didn't know either.

At the time I hadn't yet decided to take up writing as a career. That article was my introduction into the publishing world. How was I to know I'd be ratted out so quickly? (grin)