By Ann LaBar
As some romance authors write under a pseudonym, it can be one of those things a writer feels a need to choose before she can even begin writing. There is romance and mystery wrapped up in the very notion of having an alternative identity. Not to mention, it’s much more fun to explore and try on different personas than slogging away at a manuscript.
Having come to writing romance via the unlikely road of academic poet, I eschewed the notion of pen names as being archaic and unnecessary, perhaps even frivolous. It never occurred to me it might be a savvy business move in order to establish a brand, as seems so necessary in the crowded, competitive, media-driven world we now live in.
However, in the early 1990’s I had struggled with the name issue when I was planning to get married. I was a teaching assistant in graduate school at the time and put my name choices on the board during one of my freshman composition classes.
I asked the group of eighteen-year-olds to consider who they would most likely buy a book from and to write their choice on a piece of paper. They could explain their reasoning if they so choose and it would count as an in-class assignment. As a T.A. I was actually under less scrutiny than a tenure-track professor. I could and did often make assignments with less intellectual rigor than even this.
Far and away the votes came for Ann LaBar Russek—I was at the University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska, on the whole, is a conservative state. While some bits of feminism had become common thinking and the idea of discarding your birth-given surname for a husband’s was becoming seen as unnecessary, most still felt the husband’s name should be the wife’s. Being a love-struck fiancé during those shifting but still largely traditional times, I tended to agree.
And so, Ann Margaret LaBar tossed Margaret to the wind and took her maiden name as her legal middle name and acquired a place in the tribe of Russek. It was easy to do since I had never been fond of my middle name to begin with and was quite finished with being called Margaret Ann by my aunts. More importantly, I had quite a few old boyfriends with criminal records and several of whom had been to jail. Having a new last name would make it harder for them to find me. This of course was long before Facebook and the like, but for better or worse, most of them have reformed, take their meds on a regular basis, and have friended me.
After I was married I soon found out it was a long-ish name, and most people dropped the LaBar. Not being particularly particular about things in general, I soon settled in to being Ann Russek.
Then, sometime after the birth of my two daughters, despite being a literary snob and smarty-pants poet, I discovered historical romances. Being occasionally, one might argue cyclically, on the manic side I soon found myself sleeping four hours a night and easily consuming one or more lengthy romance novel a day for several months. And as most intelligent women do at one point or another, I found myself thinking, “I could write one of these.”
I began researching and writing my first historical romance novel. My new found passion for excessively reading paperbacks had upset my husband for obvious and not so obvious reasons. The manic behavior had him concerned. But perhaps even more upsetting for him was what he saw as a troubling shift in my personality. He had married an intellectual, an artist. Who was this woman reading smut and now attempting to write it? At one point, he informed me that his name would not be on such a book.
Fine. Afterall, a receptionist at the newspaper where I worked between undergraduate and graduate school had once told me that Ann LaBar sounded like a romance writer’s name so now it seemed an obvious choice for a pen name.
Fast forward fifteen years. Ann Russek left teaching college due to my husband’s frequent business travel to stay home with the kids. Ann Russek freelanced for trade magazines and some local and regional publications. Ann Russek continued to write and occasionally publish poetry. Ann LaBar Russek made, displayed, and sold fiber art and art quilts in a local gallery.
I finished the historical romance novel around ten years after I’d started it and had a few nibbles but no bites. Along the way I discovered I was at heart a little prudish, and though I can talk a good sexy game, I wasn’t much for writing one.
Then several seemingly unrelated things happened. My mother died, my sister asked me to make her a knitting needle holder, and I bought knitting needles to see if they fit said needle holder once made. No longer having my mother at my beck and call to make mittens and hats for me or my kids and now owning the tools, I bought some yarn, watched videos on You Tube, and taught myself how to knit.
Still attempting to write my historical series, I took to knitting with a group of ladies at my Valley Forge Romance Writer’s chapter. Which led one day to go off on silly riff on wooden knitting needles and “Buffy-like” story lines. On the drive home I couldn’t stop thinking about my improvised story. I realized there was a Young Adult story in there and I could tell it.
Suddenly writing was easy and fun. I started getting some extraordinarily good feedback. I realized I’d found my genre. It was time to get my website up and running and focus my efforts into creating a brand for my new YA writer persona. I ran the question of whom should I be once again, this time through Facebook. I got all the silly suggestions. My favorite was Ann LaBra Rufsex. Which would be great for erotica but not so much for young adult.
It came down to Ann LaBar, easier to remember and easier to spell correctly. There were no famous Ann LaBars writing or on the web for that matter. It was, again, an easy decision.
I created my website and had a fabulously fun time doing it. Afterward, I looked at it and realized all those things about myself, my Ann LaBar self, I had tried to leave behind in adulthood were front and center: Silly, slightly manic, sloppy, wry and often sarcastic, and self-deprecating. Ann LaBar has a tacky sense of style and is at times naïve about the world at large. I have spent most of my life trying to come off as smooth and together. I’ve tried to be someone far more adult, sophisticated and intellectual than I am. I remembered the kid I was: loud, weird, and not sitting at the popular kid table at lunch.
Guess what? I like her, am not ashamed of her any longer, and she writes better than the old grown up stiff self. So, I’m a dork at 55 with a great agent and a NY book deal. And just yesterday—April 19, 2022—the paperback version of my debut young adult romance Prom Theory became “available wherever books are sold.”
Overall, it’s really been a journey of discovery, of finding my true self. I’m more comfortable being Ann LaBar. She’s a goof. She’s the one my husband fell in love with and married. She’s the one who didn’t have a lot of friends but knew everyone. She’s the one who surprises no one because they think she’ll do just about anything. She’s the one that likes attention. She’s the one who acts and has a great radio voice. She’s pretty but not beautiful. She’s got really big feet and likes bad science fiction. Her life is a wonderfully scattered and unorganized art project. She’s a hell of a lot more fun than Ann LaBar Russek. She doesn’t have to try so hard. I am she and things can only get better from here – though it may involve bungy cords and a cup of hot tea. Hats are good too. Not to mention I can feel my writing career revving it’s 4-cylinder turbo engine, ready to take off for the petting zoo. Ann LaBar is back. Coming soon to a bookstore, local radio ad, and performance art sewing circle near you.
Categories: Ann's Voice