Pen Names: Our Secret Identity

We know it is commonplace. If you write, you may well do so under a pen name. “R. J. Nello” is mine.

And social media is vital in authoring nowadays. I use Twitter and this blog, which are entirely my “published persona.” However, I cannot readily use Facebook because of that pen name.

Yes, I have also “squatted” on “R. J. Nello” on Facebook as a public figure so no one else gets it. But Facebook had been – and is – for the real me under my real name. “Robert” is my real first name, and the real me on Facebook long predates my recent novelist efforts.

Thus the root of the problem is found in my new “double identity” – meaning who knows what I have been authoring vs. who doesn’t. Some of my Facebook friends do know what I have authored under my pen name, and those who do happen also to be trusted English relations/ friends or European friends. On the other hand, no one from the American side of my family has a clue what I’ve been up to.

Even my parents apparently think I am working as I had been, in consulting, in partnership with my wife. (My wife still does alone – generously allowing me this “sabbatical” to try my hand at writing these books.) In fact, when visiting us in the Catskills, my parents never even seek to set foot in our study (fortunately it is in a loft space, and they don’t care to walk up to it), so they never stumble on my novel and assorted related materials often lying around near my desktop PC. I’ve just now realized how very “Bruce Wayne-like” that sounds. 😉

As I have also written on here previously, in the books I fictionalize some real experiences of real people I know. In addition, I borrow from some of them for various fictional characterizations – especially to bolster some of the American characters. Unsurprisingly that creates a potential for varying degrees of discomfort should they find out.

But all of that makes for some unintended “secret identity” amusement also.

A real uncle of mine is actually a real, and reasonably successful, novelist. He has been interviewed on TV numerous times over the years, and has also been involved in a major film. As such, he has also been an inspiration for me. Naturally I can’t tell you who he is, but, let’s just say, bless him, and I love him, but he has provided me with plenty of useful story material as well. 😉


Last year, I came close to spilling the beans with him about my then almost finished first book. During a phone chat, after his ritual complaining that my mother never calls him and he always has to call her (it’s not that one-sided; my mother in turn complains all he does is whine and she can take only so much), he explained how he tires of friends and acquaintances who’ve been newly bitten by the writing bug sending him their unpublished manuscripts. I recall it going something like this:

“I have my own writing to do,” he moaned. “You know, nephew, I just don’t have time to critique everyone else’s. And a lot of it is just bad. If you’re a surgeon, Robert, why the hell do you want to be a writer? Geez….”

“Oh, yeh,” I replied sympathetically. “That must be such a pain. Everyone out there thinks they’re Hemingway, don’t they?”

[And yours truly then moved the phone to the other ear, and smiled to himself.]

Recently he had also been on at me to publicly share some of a private Facebook exchange we had had about life in Europe. These are a couple of bits from his messages to me about what I had written to him:

….First of all Robert I love this and with your permission I would post it on my fb page. You should post it and share it, you do have a way with creative non fiction it is really nicely done. Do it..have a blog of sorts not so much but a day by day sort of where u r and what u know. I’ve learned more in the last piece u wrote than I had known….

Do I have a blog? Uh, well, where do I start, Uncle….

….your writing on these subjects, for me and many Americans, although there are a number of Europeans on my fb page, your writing is absolutely wonderful enlightening stuff. …. there are a number of writers as well as a number of my students on the page that would take great pleasure from your sharing. Robert it is very well done, trust me I’m a pro I know the difference….

“Thanks for the praise! Gotta go, Uncle! Bye for now,” I signed off. (His “my students” reference is to his teaching creative writing part-time. Incidentally, as you likely noticed, he also writes in a very relaxed manner on Facebook. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are never a priority for him on it.)

There has also been sadness too in borrowing from those I once knew. I found in writing the original that sourcing even somewhat from deceased family and friends is, even for fictive purposes, often gut-wrenching and emotional. As I write the sequel, I continue to feel that way – particularly now when I return to writing lovely “Valérie.” A couple of times I have caught myself typing with tears in my eyes given who she is partly based upon.

Those who know my secret – “Bruce Wayne” on Facebook and “Batman” in publishing – also know never to reveal my “crimefighting writing identity.” Indeed that creates some awkwardness. For instance, no one who knows the real me on Facebook may post a Facebook link to my book, or mention it, or even “like” it on Goodreads, in case doing so gives away who I am to mutual friends and family on social media who don’t know about my “secret identity.”

I have been asked by several people who know the truth, “Why not just tell everyone?”

My response: “I know not everyone who is fictionalized will greatly like everything that appears in my novels. So if the books are never big sellers, why do they need to know about them? Why stir up any potential troubles if I don’t have to? But if the books eventually do well and ‘my mask’ falls, well… I’ll, errr, cross that friends and family bridge when I come to it.”

Have a good weekend. I’m off now again…. “to the Bat cave!” 😉


  1. Hi, Robert,

    On pen names, well, yes they are important, but writing is way more important, and I won’t push you to write your next book before you’re ready. Which will be soon, I hope.

    But why haven’t you written yet? An impertinent question from someone you just met briefly on Twitter I am sure, but since you wrote, here I am, responding to you 🙂

    I have always loved books and their power to inspire and move. My influences, much as I have come to love film, art, and music, have always been the written word, and if my movie never gets made, so be it, but I want to finish my books, because I know I have something to say.

    Having (briefly) read your work, I know you do too.

    But, Tweeting is like short hand. Not quite the same. Here’s what I did when I wrote my two books. 12 hours a day of writing and editing, and nothing else, for three months each, and only occasionally coming up for air. But really, you have to breathe your book.


  2. But, speaking of pen names, yes it can be confusing. Lost my manfromatlan password on Huffington Post, became Ergon there, and now I’m all over, and people still get confused..


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