Why Writers Need Pen Names

I was in the midst of writing my debut novel, The Charm Bracelet, when I was hired by People magazine to write an article revealing that Robert Galbraith was actually the secret pen name of J.K. Rowling.

Before starting the research, I gulped and opened my own working manuscript for my novel. The first page read, The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman. To be clear, my name is not Viola, and I am not a woman. After writing four humorous memoirs, I chose a pen name for my first novel. Or, more accurately, the pen name chose me.

The Charm Bracelet—a novel about how the charms on an heirloom bracelet reconnect three generations of women and remind them of what’s most important in life—is a tribute to my grandmother Viola Shipman. The story was inspired by her charms and lessons.

I grew up with my grandmother in the Ozarks, and the jangling of her charm bracelet was as ever present as the moan of bullfrogs, the call of whip-poor-wills, and the hum of cicadas. Through her charms I got to know my grandmother as not just my grandma but an incredible woman who’d lived an extraordinary life filled with beauty, hope, and tragedy.

My grandmother encouraged me to become a writer. She taught me to dream big but to always remember that the simplest things in life—family, friends, faith, fun, love, and a passion for what you do—are the grandest gifts. She was a seamstress at a local factory, but she dreamed of being a fashion designer. I believe, based on her encouragement, that she saw a piece of her own dreams come true through my subsequent accomplishments as a writer.

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