This essay is for fans of my work(1). In particular, those who know me as, and/or have read my work under my original byline, Laura J. Mixon(2).
Something has been on my mind lately, dear ones, and I’d like to share it with you. I’m trying to figure out how to tell this as I go, so I hope you’ll bear with me. I can’t tell you everything, but everything I am about to tell you is true.
I don’t talk a lot publicly about my most deeply held beliefs and opinions. I am a storyteller at heart, not an essayist. I remember, even as a kid, preferring to express myself through narrative. Expositive clarity often bleaches out the most important truths, which become blindingly obvious when viewed through the lens of narrative(3).
But there are times when an essay is necessary, and this is one of those times.
Since the release of my latest book, I’ve encountered some fans of my work who seem not merely perplexed, but also hurt, by my choice to adopt a pseudonym(4). That haunts me.
There are likely as many reasons for readers’ reactions to any writer’s choices as there are reactions, and part of my reluctance to write about this stems from an awareness that there is no way I can fully understand, much less speak to, the heart of any reader. But (and this probably sounds kinda goofy, but still, it’s true) how you feel matters to me.
I keep talking to you in my head, you know. Imagining myself telling you this story. Here’s this woman, y’see, who set out with a shining dream. She would write books that would ignite people’s imagination–stories that bring them the joy that I feel when I read a new book by a favorite author. I imagine telling you all the twists and turns of that woman’s life–the choices made, the failures, the wins–and give you this great ending: I’d tell you with a great reveal and flourish how she achieved her dream! Or at the very least, I’d give you a bittersweet but satisfying ending that showed you how she found meaning in it all, despite not achieving everything she’d hoped for.
But neither of those futures has come to pass. My youthful fantasy of a career as a full-time writer has long since twisted away from me. Like many writers–like most, even(5)–I have to satisfy my storytelling jones in the crannies of a life filled with demands and priorities whose importance can’t be wished away or put off.
In the grander scheme of things, that is no tragedy. But I haven’t made peace with all these competing priorities and psychological Gordian knots that separate me from my personal ever-after, whatever it may be. So how can I, honestly, offer a resolution to you? It wouldn’t be honest, and I promised myself I’d be honest with you.
So herewith, some honesty.
Some of y’all may not care at all that I’ve adopted a new byline, or may not have read my prior works, and you are right there going, hey, I don’t care what you call yourself, as long as you keep writing. Thanks; I appreciate that.
But here’s what my conscience is saying. By abandoning my previous byline, I’ve left some of my readers feeling abandoned, as if their loyalty didn’t matter. And by choosing a gender-neutral byline, I prioritized my own success over my commitment to my fellow women in SFF and science.
To the former, I need you to know: your loyalty really does matter to me.
The nine-year stretch between UP AGAINST IT and BURNING THE ICE was paved with miles of sharp stones. I have many things to be thankful for in my life. But for a variety of reasons, it was hard for me to fight my way back to my writing, and donning a new name seemed like a good way to reboot.
It was my own difficulties and painful memories I was putting behind me, in other words; not you. I am deeply grateful for your readership, and I hope you will be willing to make the leap with me.
To the latter, I say: your criticism is just. But I hope you can believe, I haven’t abandoned you either.
When I was first setting out as a writer, back in my twenties, I spent a long time pondering whether I should write under L. J. Mixon(6). I chose my own name because I am first and foremost a feminist, and I believe we must all strive to carve out space for each other, as we are able, and that means making hard choices sometimes, and taking a leap of faith that everything will come out all right.
I remember recently attending a meeting with a woman my age, a tech-professional woman about fifty, with salt-and-pepper hair. I remember the rush of gratitude I felt. Her choice not to color her hair–a brave choice for a Professional Woman of a Certain Age–was a vivid and visual affirmation that she could be a valuable contributor without having to pretend she was younger, that she didn’t have to play to the expectation that a woman must be young and attractive to have anything worth saying in a professional setting. I felt like tossing my own graying locks in solidarity!
We face a headwind, we women in technology and science. I tried to meet it head-on, on my first go-round. I got knocked back on my heels. Hard. This time I decided to try a different tack. Quite literally, I’m tacking against that headwind. It’s a gamble. We’ll have to see.
I have a whole post I’d like to do sometime, about James Tiptree, Jr., and the choices we make, we Others. The cracks we try to find in the wall. I honor the warriors who batter at that wall, and the clear clarion voices who refuse to be quieted(7). I can’t ask you to grant me a pass on my choice. Your disappointment is fair. But even if I’m not as visible as I might have been or as others are whom I admire for their clarity of voice and vision, I am here. For me, for right now, getting back up on my feet and moving forward again is my affirmation. It’s what I have in me to do.
So, there you have it: MJ Locke. A rosebush that has gotten perhaps a bit stinky in the transplant process, but I give it credit for this much: it’s got its roots planted in the soil again, and its face turned toward the sun.
(1) All twelve of you. Heh. (jk, y’all; you know I love you)
(2) I have published five books and some short works under my own name, prior to the release of UP AGAINST IT.
(3) This is what we writers mean when we say fiction is a string of lies that reveals a deeper truth.
(4) I.e., MJ Locke.
(5) Writers, even successful ones whose names you’ve heard of, don’t make a lot of money.
(6) The question of whether or not a woman’s name on the cover of an SF book (especially hard SF) hurts its sales is not the point of this essay. I’ll pick this one up in a future blog post, if there’s interest.
(7) Not just feminists, but other Others.