Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pen Names

Every now and then, I'm asked if I publish my work under my own name. My response is always 'yes'--I've always figured that if I'm going to put in all that work, I want people to know it was me who wrote it. The only exception to that would be if I decided to write something I wouldn't want young readers Googling my name to find--alien erotica, or satanic dog training methods, for example. But since I have no intention of going down any such roads in the foreseeable future, any of my published work is going to show up under the name of Cynthia Cotten.

A few weeks ago, during the last big snow here in the DC metroplex, my son sent me a link to a column in the online version of the Washington Post. The author, Jo-Ann Armao, began by apologizing for her part in bringing on that snow. It seems that she'd remarked that the snowstorm before that (dubbed "Snowmageddon") didn't really qualify as a blizzard, so--either to prove her right or shame her into silence, as she put it, Mother Nature unleashed the fury that is blizzardness on the Washington region. I got more than a couple of chuckles out of the piece, since I--like Ms. Armao--am a transplanted Buffalonian and, even though I've been living in Northern Virginia for almost six years, I still shake my head sometimes over this area's reaction to the word "snow".

After reading Ms. Armao's column, I made the mistake of reading the comments posted afterwards. Chuckling did not ensue. Many of the commenters were mean--rude, even--calling her condescending and smug. One referred to Buffalo as a cowtown. While I told myself that people were probably so sick of snow that any humor about the white stuff was lost on them, these comments were an example of something that's been bothering me for some time, now.

When one wants to write a letter to be published in an ink-and-paper newspaper, one has to give one's name and (usually) address when submitting it. But when writing comments to something online, this isn't the case. Everyone gets a pen name--or, rather, a screen name. Under this blanket of anonymity, one can say anything--nice or not, complimentary or vitriolic--and nobody knows who's really doing the writing.

Sometimes I wonder if some of those things would be said if a commenter had to take true ownership of his or her words.

1 comment:

  1. It was great meeting you today at the Bull Run Library. Thank you for taking the time to listen and give your thoughts. I have thought more about the encouragement that Robert Cormier gave you about the path a certain book and a certain character needs to take. I have also put several of the books you recommended on hold at the library. I look forward to talking to you more in the future.