Saturday, March 17, 2012

Name as Mask

By Sharazade (Guest Blogger)

Last September (2011) I attended the Erotic Authors Association conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. To save money, I arranged to share a hotel room with another participant, whom I knew only as Nan Andrews (a pen name). Since she was arriving first, she put the room on her credit card; I was to pay her when I arrived; and she left a room key for me at reception in an envelope with my name on it.

So, upon arrival, I presented myself to the woman at reception and asked if she had an envelope for Sharazade. She did.

“Can I just see some photo ID?”

Ah. Well…

“I don’t have any photo ID.”

“Why not?”

“Because that isn’t my legal name.”

We stared at each other for a few moments, neither one of us quite sure what to do next. Then I had an inspiration.

“How about a business card? I have a business card with my name on it!” And I presented her with one.

I got my room key; but I’m not sure that would have worked anywhere other than Las Vegas.


That’s the mask I wear as an erotica writer: my pen name. I often hear people refer having a pen name and a real name. However, that distinction doesn’t feel correct to me. Sharazade is not my legal name; it’s not my passport name. But it’s certainly my real name.

Not everyone would agree. Recently I was approached (online) by an indie fiction writer who wanted some editing. We chatted a bit about rates, and then he asked if he could have my real name. “Sharazade,” I said, “will do, or just Shar.” No—he wanted my “real” name. Even if it was just a first name. Without that, he said, he would not do business with me.

Now, obviously I could have picked anything—I could have said I was Edith or Nancy or Esmeralda or Sarah, and he’d never have known any better. But I was a little put out at being told my name wasn’t real. I mean, I write with this name. I publish with it, and I am published under it. I edit and consult. I blog as Shar. I interact on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. I do public readings, and I attend conferences, and I give workshops. I’ve done a radio interview on NPR as Sharazade. How is the name not “real”? I declined the work opportunity, and wished him all the best in finding a suitable editor.

I’ve seen erotica authors on forums and lists imply—or outright state—that those who use pen names are hiding. I suppose you could see it that way. To me, it feels more like I’m shining the light on a different facet. It might sound more romantic to say that when I slip on the mask of Sharazade, finally my forbidden sensuous thoughts flow freely from my now-unfettered mind. But that’s not quite the case. It is more like, well, like holding a piece of paper in front of a light. Some of what’s below is now in shadow; some in light. But what’s in shadow is still there. It’s simply not the focus at the moment. In the same way, a physical mask might say, “Don’t look at my face right now—look at my body, or listen to my voice, or watch me move.” Not a lie; a different emphasis.

In many ways, my name division is a work division. Non-Sharazade works in non-fiction; Sharazade works in fiction. Non-Sharazade works in some pretty conservative sectors and countries; Sharazade is surrounded by open-minded and, for the most part, liberal readers and authors. Neither aspect of me is false. Neither one is a part I dislike. None of my roles are resented. They’re just different. A woman might be “Sweetheart” to her husband, “Mom” to her kids, “Melissa” to her friends, “Ms. Smith” to a client on the phone, and “Keith’s mom” to her son’s friends. None of those names are fake. They just show different aspects. Sharazade can assume that the people she’s talking to have an active interest in sex and in fiction. It’s a good bet they’re interested in bookstores and publishing. Many share my love of grammar and words. I don’t have to ask what their opinion of PayPal’s recent moves was. It’s a comfortable community, and I feel at home in it. I feel at home as Sharazade, just as in other circles, I feel at home being called something else.

What would happen, I’ve been asked, if I were outed? Well, not too terribly much. If it got spread all over the Internet, I could lose some job opportunities. I suppose in some of the more conservative countries I travel to, it could cause visa problems—assuming it got that widespread. It could cause some embarrassment to a few family members whom I’d rather not embarrass, though nobody would really freak out much. I have far fewer potential penalties than a lot of erotica writers.

Even if there were no penalties at all, though, I’d keep this mask. I like writing as Sharazade, she who was so sure of her story-telling abilities that she bet her life on them. And won.

(The reason I chose this pen name can be found here.)

Bio: A professional writer, editor, and consultant who divides her time among Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the U.S., Shar enjoys stories that are realistic enough that they might have happened and fanciful enough that they might not have. She values communication, adventure, exploration, passion, and love. Her first collection of stories, Transported: Erotic Travel Tales, is published by Fanny Press. Her stories also appear in anthologies with Cleis Press and Sizzler. Recently Shar started publishing her own works and those of others under the 1001 Nights Press imprint. Find her on the web at: (blog) and (publishing company).


  1. Hello, Shar,

    Thanks so much for being our guest here at the grip.

    I love your story. And I guess I have to agree with you - my pen name is more than a mask, it's an alternate view on who I am. Despite what I said in my post, Lisabet isn't really a fiction. She's simply a facet of who I am in total.

    Best of luck with your publishing company! I adore your covers.

  2. A beautiful perspective on this issue!

  3. Shar - I agree! Our pen names give us license to be that slice of ourselves and to shuck all the other bits.

  4. Apparently one thing that makes a name "real" is having a first name
    and a last name, as I find every time I try to set up a social
    networking account or such as Sharazade. Thus I'm Shar Azade at a
    number of places.

    Even that didn't reassure google+, who suspended my account briefly,
    probably over their "real names" policy. Ironically, one test of a
    "real name" is whether it's used for a Facebook account, which mine
    is. So I got my account restored.

    See, Pinocchio could have sped the whole process up just by getting on Facebook.

  5. @Lisabet: Thanks for the kind words on the covers! Only one of them has been banned. ;) (The Lucy one--supposedly that's what got my entire publisher account shut down at BookStrand. And Smashwords wanted a censored version, which I gave them.)

    I would never have believed I could make such things, but ... it's rather fun, I find.

  6. I very much hear you about the description "real" name. I have rarely used that term for that reason—I've tended to say "given name" or "legal name," as that seems more accurate to me.

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. @Emerald: Oh, nice! I thought I might be one of a limited few who won't use the term "real name." I say "legal name" or "passport name."

  8. I can see why the name attracted you, and like you I think we all have multiple identities. At one point in my like I spent a lot of time in the goth community, where no one uses their given name and people regularly re-invent and re-name themselves. And the whole thing of 'what's in a name?' has a long history in many cultures, with people receiving new names, or inventing them, to mark significant points in their lives.

    My pen-name came about for far more prosaic reasons. It was the domain name I used to set up my first email account, over twenty years ago - because all the more obvious names I could think of had already been taken. Then it got to be a name I was known by on the fetish scene. And when I started writing, I knew my audience would be drawn from the fetish world - in other words from people who knew me by that name.

  9. Amazing blogs you have guys!! Keeps the ball rolling…..
    masquerade masks

  10. Thank you for this blog. I'm trying to decide whether to use my real name or not, so this was really helpful.


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