pen names

Kiss Your Anonymity Goodbye

 

Authors have been using pseudonyms for almost as long as publishing has existed, for various reasons. Victorian George Eliot reportedly chose a male pseudonym because no one would have taken her literary creations seriously if they knew she was a woman. J.K. Rowling wrote her crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling as Robert Galbraith, to avoid contamination from her Harry Potter fame. Male authors of romance sometimes choose a female-sounding pen name to deal with the widely-held notion that men can’t write romantic fiction. Likewise, women writing thrillers may opt for a masculine or gender-neutral pen name. Many authors who write in multiple genres use different pen names for each, with the goal of building separate brands and reducing reader confusion.

Of course, for those of us who write sexually explicit material, a pseudonym may be more than just a convenience or a tool for maximizing sales. There’s a good reason why so many erotic works are attributed to the prolific Anonymous. In some countries, creating and selling erotic content is literally a crime. Even in nations that supposedly guarantee free speech, society often treats erotic authors or artists as psychologically deviant or dangerous to youth. We walk a fine line almost everywhere. Staying on the safe side of the law, avoiding being stigmatized or black listed, almost always requires that we publish under a false name. Furthermore, it’s essential that we keep our true identities secret from all but the narrowest group of trusted individuals where disclosure cannot be avoided, such as our publishers or accountants. Even our families may not be aware of our hidden lives as purveyors of the prurient.

Unfortunately, technology has made the preservation of anonymity almost impossible, and the situation is getting worse all the time. Back in 2012 I wrote a series of columns for ERWA called “Naughty Bits: The Erotogeek’s Guide for Technologically-Challenged Authors”. (You can download the entire series as a free ebook here.) One of those columns discussed some of the measures you can take to protect your identity and your privacy. Everything I said in that article is still true. However, even if you adhere to all my suggestions, you are still at significant risk.

Since 2012, computers have gotten even better at learning patterns and making connections between seemingly disparate items buried in huge amounts of data. You may see this discussed in the media under the general headings of “Big Data Analytics”, “Deep Learning” or “AI” – Artificial Intelligence. In fact, there’s not much real intelligence behind these processes, just extremely effective algorithms for sifting through massive amounts of information to discover previously hidden structure. These algorithms were already being explored in 2012, but there have been two important changes since then:

  • Computers have become faster and cheaper than ever, and these high powered computational capabilities are available to anyone via commercial cloud services.
  • The explosion of mobile applications and digital services has made nearly everyone’s data footprint a lot larger than it was in 2012.

Almost all these computational methods have the property that they become increasingly powerful and accurate as the size of their input data sets grows. Privacy through obscurity is a thing of the past.

As a consequence of these developments, even digital activity that you undertake anonymously (for instance, without logging in) can be easily linked to a well-known identity. This is a significant issue for responsible research. For instance, sensitive medical records used to investigate lifestyle correlates of health problems may be stripped of all personal identification (“anonymized”) to meet privacy restrictions. However, it has been demonstrated repeatedly that by combining multiple anonymized data sets, individual identities can be recovered.

Researchers may view this as a problem. Businesses see it as an enormous opportunity. Personalized, targeting marketing is demonstrably more effective than broadly designed, generic efforts. The more a business knows about you, the more they can influence you — not just what you buy, but how you think about them, how you talk about them, what you share with your friends. Meanwhile the data sets available to business becomes broader, richer and more informative every day,

Do you want a demonstration? Go to Google image search, https://images.google.com. You might not have realized that you don’t need to use keywords for image searching. If you click on the camera icon, you can search using a picture as the search key.

Click on the camera, then put the following into the URL box:

http://www.lisabetsarai.com/lisabetimages/04Assistant.jpg

Then click on “Search by Image”. The results are labeled as “domestic short-haired cat” and many similar photos show up on the results page, as well as articles about cats.

You may think this is a bit crude (most of the cats don’t have double paws, like mine did!), but it’s only going to improve over time. How long do you think it will be before it’s possible to find every personal selfie you’ve ever posted? (My estimate: two years from now.)

If you use Facebook, here’s something else to try. Login to Facebook. Then in another browser tab, go to a hotel booking site such as Booking.com. Don’t log in (if you have an account), but search for hotels in San Francisco, and click on a few results to look at the details.

I’m willing to bet that within the next twenty four hours, Facebook will be showing you travel ads about San Francisco.

Now, maybe you don’t care. Maybe you want to see ads that reflect your current interests, even if that means that the different sites or apps you use are exchanging information without your explicit permission. If you’re an erotica author who uses a private pseudonym, though, I’d guess that you don’t want Google or Facebook connecting the dots between your author persona and your real world identity, revealing to your boss or your students or your church congregation that you’re actually Lulu Pinkcheeks, award-winning author of spanking erotica.

So what can you do about this? How can you reduce the risks?

I’m assuming you’re already following my recommendations from the earlier article. If not, start there. Below you’ll find additional precautions you should take, now that it’s nearly 2019.

Maintain separate login credentials for every site or digital service you use. Do not ever use a social media account (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to log in to a third party site.

Never maintain two accounts on the same social media platform, one for your real world identity and one for your author identity. In the real world, I use Facebook and LinkedIn. I don’t have an account on either as Lisabet. On the other hand, as an author I use Pinterest and Twitter.

Use a completely different computer for your writing-related work than you do for your other work. This may seem extreme, but today’s browsers and applications save large amounts of contextual information which can be used to link your two identities. Using separate computers also reduces the risk of errors, e.g sending an email from your author identity to someone in your real-world contact list.

You might be thinking, “I don’t have the money for multiple computers.” In fact, what I do is to use different virtual machines A virtual machine acts like a totally separate computer (and can have a different operating system than your native computer), but shares the hardware with its host machine. An additional advantage of virtual machines is the ability to have them reset back to a known state every time you shut them down. This can also help protect against malware.

By the way, the recommendation above also applies to your mobile devices. Don’t mix real world and author accounts, data or business on one device. In fact, mobile devices are significantly more vulnerable to data leaks and data theft than desktop devices, because the mobile network protocols are less secure and because app stores do not investigate or stringently police violations of privacy by the apps they host. (I can provide references to support this claim if you don’t believe it.)

Consider encrypting your author-related files. “Encryption” is a process that protects your data from being understood by malicious third parties, by translating it into a form that cannot be read by anyone without the encryption key. It’s comparable to keeping your information in a secret code. You can set up your computer so that it encrypts the full contents of a disk whenever the machine shuts down. This protects you if your computer is lost or stolen.

Consider using an anonymizing service. One problem that will remain, even if you use different computing devices as recommended above, is that your public IP address—the unique number that identifies you on the Internet—will very likely remain the same regardless of which computer or virtual machine you use, since this comes from your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Thus it is possible to connect activity from the two different machines. Furthermore, your IP address will often tell an Internet application where you are located, since different countries are allocated different blocks of addresses.Anonymizing browsers, such as TOR, solve this problem by relaying your communications through different servers, to hide your actual IP address and location.

By now your head is probably aching. “I don’t want to worry about this,” you’re thinking. “It sounds so inconvenient!” You’re completely right.

In fact, increased convenience is one of the ways we’re seduced into giving away our personal data. It’s far more convenient to use your Facebook login than to create (and manage) a new account for each new website or service you use. It’s more convenient to wave your phone in front of reader and deduct money from your digital wallet than to carry cash or a credit card, even though you’re at much greater risk of being hacked. You might find it more comfortable to keep your mobile GPS location service enabled all the time, so you can quickly do online navigation, even though that means that your detailed movements are being tracked and saved.

Trying to maintain your anonymity is inconvenient. It takes thought and work. However, for me, living in a foreign country with stringent anti-pornography laws, the alternative is too dangerous to risk.

By the way, you may think I’m paranoid, but as it happens I’m a computer professional in real life. I can provide solid documentation for all the claims I’ve made in this article. Just get in touch.

~ Lisabet

The Story Behind Pen Names

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of
genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the
Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four cats.

Pseudonyms, pen
names, noms de plume. Regardless of what you wish to call them, writers have
chosen fake names for as long as they’ve been transferring their thoughts to the
written word. I interviewed some of my writer friends to learn why they chose
the pen names they chose. Everyone gave sensible and even fascinating answers.

I’ll start with
myself. Elizabeth Black is not my real name. It is one of my pen names. I chose
Elizabeth Black for my erotic fiction to differentiate it from the political
and feminist non-fiction I had written under my real name. Elizabeth is
my favorite woman’s name. I chose “Black” because the “Bs”
would be at eye level or above in a bookstore. Black is also a classy name and
it’s one of my favorite colors. My horror, fantasy, and speculative fiction pen
name is E. A. Black, and I created it to separate those works from my erotic
works. I liked the idea of using initials and a surname because I thought it
was cool. “E” for Elizabeth, obviously. Black is already my fake
surname. “A” is my fake middle name – Alexia. I first saw that name
on the game “Resident Evil: Code Veronica”. I’m a fan. I later learned
that “alexia” is the name of an acquired reading disability. That
didn’t cause me to waver in my choice at all, but it did make me giggle.

Authors choose pen
names for a wide variety of mundane and interesting reasons. Here are a few
examples of famous pen names:

J. K. Rowling –
Joanne Rowling’s publishers feared that pre-adolescent boys (her target market
for her Harry Potter books) would not want to read stories about a boy wizard
written by a woman. So, they asked her to use her initials. She has no middle
name so she used the initial of her grandmother Kathleen. The interesting thing
about this is that these days, it’s largely assumed that anyone whose pen name
includes initials is a woman.

Nathaniel Hawthorne
was born Nathaniel Hathorne. He was a direct descendent of one of the hanging
judges of the Salem witch trials. Hawthorne may have added the “W” to
his last name as a means of distancing himself from his personal history.

George Orwell – Eric
Arthur Blair chose a pen name so his family wouldn’t be embarrassed by his time
living in poverty. He chose the name George after the patron saint of England.
He chose the name Orwell from the River Orwell, a popular sailing spot he loved
to visit.

Stan Lee – Stanley
Martin Lieber wanted to save his real name for the more serious literary work
he hoped to someday write. He got his start writing comic books, so he chose
the name Stan Lee. He legally changed his name to Stan Lee after making it big
in the kid’s market as a comic book writer.

Lewis Carroll –
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wanted a simpler, less snooty name and he wanted to
keep his privacy. He changed Charles Ludwidge into Carolus Lusovicus, changed
that to Carroll Lewis, and then switched the words, resulting in Lewis Carroll.

William Makepeace
Thackeray – He wrote under pen names that were just plain silly, since he was a
satirist. His pen names included C. J. Yellowplush, Esq., George Savage
Fitz-Boodle, and Théophile Wagstaff.

Harry Turtledove –
(from Dear
Readers: A Letter From Harry Turtledove
) “When
I sold my first fantasy novel, the publisher renamed me Eric Iverson. 
They said no one would believe Harry Turtledove, which is my real name.  I
decided to live with it, though I gave myself a middle initial, G., which stood
for Goddam.  The pen name had certain uses:  I could use it for my
fiction and my own name for academic nonfiction, which I still published
then.  But when Lester bought The Videssos Cycle, he named me Turtledove
again–people would remember it, he declared.  I objected that I was just
starting to get known as Iverson.  He said he wouldn’t buy the books if I
wanted to stay Scandinavian.  I stopped objecting.  But I may be the
only writer in captivity who’s had both his pen-name and his own name imposed
on him by force!  I hope you will remember my name–that’s Harry
Turtledove–and look for the reprint of The Videssos Cycle (and maybe even some
other things I’ve done).”

My
friends who write erotic fiction had many sensible reasons for choosing their
pen names. Here are the most common reasons:

Some
writers simply wanted to create a new identity for their writing, and the way
they chose their pen names was rather creative. Julez S. Morbius told me:
“The first two initials are
my real name initials and Morbius because of my love for vampires and Marvel
Comics.” Angelica Dawson’s pen name is derived from Angelica dawsonii, a
yellow flower in the carrot family native to her province. She’s a botanist and
environmental consultant in her day job.

Dawson also gives
another reason for her pen name: she writes Young Adult fiction under her real
name, Kimberly Gould. Many erotic writers like to differentiate their erotic
works from their other works by use of multiple pen names.

Writers
like Jacques Gerard chose pen names to protect their privacy, especially when
it comes to disapproval from family and religious people. Gemma Parkes also
wanted to protect herself from familial disapproval and she wanted to protect
her children from negative comments from her family in case any of them read
her books, hence her pen name. Vanessa de Sade feared her family would discover her erotic writing so she chose her pen name to protect her privacy. Obviously, de Sade is based on the Marquis de Sade. She wrote: “So I thought, well I don’t want to be Fluffy von Kitten, or Sweetcakes McGhee or anything like that. And then I thought about the Marquis de Sade, and all his weird shit, and I thought, yeah, that’s more like me.” She’s not sure where Vanessa came from. Might be an old girlfriend from years ago.

Kara
Huntington works with children in a very small town. She figured she’d save the
locals the trouble of running her out of town with pitchforks. Her concern over
small-minded townspeople lead her to create her pen name. Alysha Ellis voiced a
similar concern. She is also a teacher. Any connection between her real name
and erotica or even erotic romance would result in instant dismissal. Even if
it didn’t, the knowledge would be very disruptive to her ability to teach very
curious 15 – 18 year olds who would probably make a big deal of it.

Sometimes
having more than one pen name makes decisions difficult, even if you started
out creating them for good reasons. Sacchi Green said: I started out writing
science fiction and fantasy short stories under my real name, Connie Wilkins.
Eventually I published work in a couple of anthologies for kids, and enjoyed it
so much (plus it paid pretty well) that I thought that was the direction I’d
mostly go. When I wrote a lesbian erotica story and had it accepted at Best
Lesbian Erotica, I thought I should use a pen name in case I wrote so much for
kids that they might look me up online. Things didn’t work out that way,
though, and my pen name got a whole lot more mileage than my real one. I’ve
still used the real one sometimes for speculative fiction, and in cases where I
have more than one story in an anthology, but it gets to be hard to decide when
it comes to erotic speculative fiction. Right now I’m in the process of having
a mini-ebook published by Circlet Press, consisting of three stories I wrote
for their books previously and one more that’s about one of the same group of
characters. The problem is that two of the stories are under my real name, and
two under my pen name, so we’re having a hard time deciding which name to use
on the cover.

Some
writers chose pen names to keep them safe. Phoenix Johnson had an online
stalker and she didn’t want that person following her and hurting her writing
career in any way. Phoenix to her means rebirth, and it represents her darker,
wilder side. Her surname was luck of the draw.

Lynn
Townsend (real name K. T. Hicks) wanted a name that sounded more appropriate
for erotic romances. Her real name to her sounded like someone who should write
Tractor Romances, which were what her Russian Studies professor called “a
series of Stalin-era propaganda novels that were about farmers and farmers’
daughters who would sneak off to talk about Comrade Stalin behind haystacks.”

So
there you have it. Writers create pen names for a wide variety of very
interesting reasons. If you use a pen name, what’s your story behind it?

ABOUT ELIZABETH BLACK

Elizabeth Black
writes erotica, erotic romance, speculative fiction, fantasy, and dark fiction.
She also enjoys writing erotic retellings of classic fairy tales. Born and bred
in Baltimore, she grew up under the influence of Edgar Allan Poe. Her erotic
fiction has been published by Xcite Books (U. K.), Circlet Press, Ravenous
Romance, Scarlet Magazine (U. K.), and other publishers. Her dark fiction has
appeared in “Kizuna: Fiction For Japan”, “Stupefying
Stories”, “Midnight Movie Creature Feature 2”, “Zippered
Flesh 2: More Tales Of Body Enhancements Gone Bad”, and “Mirages:
Tales From Authors Of The Macabre”. An accomplished essayist, she was the
sex columnist for the pop culture e-zine nuts4chic (also U. K.) until it folded
in 2008. Her articles about sex, erotica, and relationships have appeared in
Good Vibrations Magazine, Alternet, CarnalNation, the Ms. Magazine Blog, Sexis
Magazine, On The Issues, Sexy Mama Magazine, and Circlet blog. She also writes
sex toys reviews for several sex toys companies.

In addition to
writing, she has also worked as a gaffer (lighting), scenic artist, and make-up
artist (including prosthetics) for movies, television, stage, and concerts. She
worked as a gaffer for “Die Hard With A Vengeance” and “12
Monkeys”. She did make-up, including prosthetics, for “Homicide: Life
On The Street”. She is especially proud of the gunshot wound to the head
she had created with makeup for that particular episode. She also worked as a
prosthetic makeup artist specializing in cyanotic blue, bruises, and buckets of
blood for a test of Maryland’s fire departments at the Baltimore/Washington
International Airport plane crash simulation test. Yes, her jobs are fun.
 😉

She lives in
Lovecraft country on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four
cats. The ocean calls her every day, and she always listens. She has yet to run
into Cthulhu.

Visit her web
site at http://elizabethablack.blogspot.com/

Her Facebook
page is https://www.facebook.com/elizabethablack

Follow her at
Twitter: http://twitter.com/ElizabethABlack

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