by Sarah M. Chen
As I scramble to have everything ready for the Left Coast Crime conference in Phoenix (which is in a few days, yikes!), something in the back of my mind continues to tug at me. No, it’s not to order more book cover postcards (although I really wish that had occurred to me before late last night). It’s not to try to figure out how many books I can realistically fit in my suitcase without being overweight (I’m going to carry on the majority of them). What is bugging me is what my name is.
I haven’t gone nuts, although that’s debatable. I have a children’s chapter book coming out this year (hopefully) entitled Superbeetle and it’s targeted towards 6-9 year olds. It’s about an Asian-American girl named Hong who’s half Chinese and half Caucasian. She visits Taiwan for the first time but isn’t crazy about the huge bugs there. It’s not until she meets Superbeetle, a giant rainbow beetle in her grandmother’s bathtub, does she see bugs in a new light. It’s a book about the importance of learning about your culture, accepting who you are, and of course, the beauty of bugs!
We’re at the point in the publishing process where I have one last polish to the draft and the illustrator is working on a mockup for the cover. But the big question my publisher asked me was do I want to use my name “Sarah M. Chen” or do I want a pen name? Of course, this didn’t even dawn on me, but she has a point. I don’t want children – and most importantly, their parents – to look up my name to see what else I’ve written only to be horrified to find my crime fiction that skews fairly dark. My upcoming noir novella “Cleaning Up Finn” has strong language and sexual situations. It’d be rated R in movieland.
So who do I want to be? My publisher suggested dropping the “M” but I didn’t think that was enough of a difference. Plus there is a Taiwanese singer named Sarah Chen. I thought of using my middle name and dropping my last name. Then I’d be “Sarah Michele” and I could be cool like Buffy.
But others told me it’s important to keep the “Chen” as diversity is important with children’s literature. So then I thought of Michele Chen but when I Googled that, I came up with a Michelle Chen who writes Hello Kitty cookbooks. I thought of “S. Michele Chen” to keep the Sarah in there yet distinguish it from the Hello Kitty fanatic. Plus she has two “l”s in her name whereas I only have one “l” (my mom didn’t know how to spell Michelle).
That also brought up a slew of other questions. Do I want to do signings with people thinking my first name is Michele? Will I get confused and not know who they’re talking to? Is it weird to have my first initial in front of “Michele”? I haven’t seen any other authors do that. Is Sarah Michele Chen different enough from Sarah M. Chen? I kind of like that one too. Do kids even care about the author’s name? Most likely not. And do I want my “Sarah M. Chen, crime fiction writer” identity to be a secret?
I also have a YA novel in the works. Would I use “Sarah M. Chen” or would I then go with whatever pen name I decide upon? This pen name would have to be something I’m comfortable with then. I hit up a few chat forums and the advice varied. Some said to use a totally different name that has nothing to do with my real name. The idea of being a completely different person is appealing, I have to admit. Others said that “Chen” is such a common last name that a variation of my name would be fine (I tend to agree).
How do other authors out there handle this kind of stress and pressure? Ack! I know there are many of you who use pen names, sometimes more than one.
Either way, I’m going to Left Coast Crime as Sarah M. Chen and that’s a huge relief.
Sarah M. Chen juggles several jobs including indie bookseller, transcriber, and insurance adjuster. Her crime fiction short stories have been accepted for publication online and in various anthologies, including All Due Respect, Akashic, Plan B, Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Out of the Gutter, Betty Fedora, Spelk, and the Sisters in Crime/LA anthology, Ladies Night. Her noir novella, Cleaning Up Finn, is coming out May 2016 with All Due Respect Books. www.sarahmchen.com