When I became serious about writing five years ago, I did Google search on my name before I started submitting my short stories. Lo and behold, there was another “writer” with my name, who hasn’t published much of anything from what I can tell. I decided to combine the initials of my first and middle names to come up with C.D. Reimer to avoid being confused with the competition. Six months ago I decided to separate my professional technical life from my personal writing life.
I removed my middle initial from my resume and all the job search websites to become another somebody in Silicon Valley, and my full name from all my websites. C.D. Reimer became the “brand name” for my Internet existence. By day I’m the sophisticated Bruce Wayne who works as an anonymous technician for some Silicon Valley company. At night I’m the Batman who is breaking knuckles to get another short story out of the typewriter. (Sorry, Superman, but Clark Kent can suck it.) As any cape crusader knows, you need to keep your secret identity a secret from the outside world.
Why keep your writing identity a secret in Silicon Valley?
Most Silicon Valley companies, either officially or unofficially, discouraged moonlighting by their employees. A manager’s worst fear is a group of employees working together in a garage on the weekends to come up with the newest technological wonder, take one-third of the employees with them in a mass exodus to form a new company, and make a few billion dollars after Microsoft/Google/Facebook buys them out. Everyone and their grandmother were doing this before the dot com bust. Now people are being more discreet about moonlighting in fear of losing their regular paying job when the unemployment rate is at 10% and the overall job market is slowly improving.
I find it easier to be an anonymous technician while crawling underneath the desks of Silicon Valley. When people knew I was a writer, I would get all kinds of odd questions and weird looks. Being regarded as the eccentric uncle in a non-reading family was one thing I didn’t want to repeat at work. That was before I started publishing regularly. With my work being more accessible through ebooks, I’m sure the odd questions and weirder looks would have gotten odder and weirder if I wasn’t hiding behind a secret identity.
Now that I’m doing contract work after being unemployed for two years, no one knows I’m a writer when I show up for a new assignment. More specifically, I’m a Silicon Valley fiction writer. There are a bazillion non-fiction books about Silicon Valley, but almost no fiction books about Silicon Valley and certainly no writer making a name writing fiction about Silicon Valley (although the parody memoir, “Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs” by the Fake Steve Jobs, is a close competitor). Besides, this is California. If you’re a writer, everyone assumes you’re writing a Hollywood screenplay that will fetch $50,000 the moment you type THE END on the last page. I got some oddball looks when I told people that I write fiction. Everyone knows that there is no money in fiction if you’re not Stephen King, J.K. Rowling or Sarah Palin.
I’m an anthropologist of sorts studying the Silicon Valley culture, which is an ongoing project at San Jose State University that I may pursue a degree in if I ever won the lottery to go back to school, trying to relate a strange world through fiction to ordinary readers. Working anonymously in Silicon Valley is key to being a good observer and finding fresh material for my short stories and novels.
I had just finished a three-day assignment at a college textbook publisher that brought back memories of working at the San Jose City College bookstore warehouse, where I was once familiar with all the imprints that this company had bought up over the last 20 years. A boring job involving too many mouse clicks to convert online courses from the legacy platform to the new platform. The green palm leaves made from lightweight fabric to shade the desks from the overhead lights will make a fantastic detail for a story someday.
But maintaining a secret writing identity and being successful in two lines of work is a difficult task. This week we learned about the secret identity of romance author Judy Mays from a busybody parent looking for trouble and a TV station looking for a sensational news story about a female high school teacher writing racy novels under a pen name on her own time. If being exposed wasn’t bad enough, they also demanding that Mays choose between being a teacher or an author.
As I commented on Jess Haines’ blog, would there be a controversy if a male teacher wrote action/adventure novels about big guns, fast broads and shagging the carpet every other chapter? Probably not. If I was Judy Mays, I would send the Batman to break some knuckles and watch her book sale numbers spike from the controversy.