On writing programs and pen names…

A little confession… Because I like to keep my identity private, I’m sometimes cagey about the details of my life, but I need to share this: The writing program I’m in is the Book Project through Lighthouse Writers in Denver. You don’t need to live in Denver to participate.

The Book Project isn’t an MFA program. You don’t get any sort of degree or certification. It’s a 2-year intensive that gives you the support you need to finish a book. There are classes, both in-person and online, three weekend intensives a year, an optional retreat, and an annual literary festival where you get to talk to agents. Through the process, you get a mentor who’s a published author who will work with you 1-1 and give you constructive feedback on your work-in-progress.

My mentor is the amazing New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Brown, best known for her book The Weird Sisters. The other mentors are equally distinguished and all awesome.

Eleanor’s fantastic debut novel.

You don’t need to be an aspiring novelist, by the way – we’ve got people working on poetry, short story collections, and non-fiction. It’s a really nice variety.

Why this feels a bit like a confession? My name isn’t really Leah Kent. I mean, it is, but it isn’t. I decided to use a variation of my legal name for two reasons:
1. I have a day job, and likely always will even if I do get published, because most writers, even bestselling authors, have day jobs or side hustles, and…
2. What I’m writing could get me in a bit of trouble professionally and, you know, I like being able to pay my mortgage.

How would you get in trouble? My novel-in-progress explores several major issues in the United States that are very political. My job requires me to not be openly political. We’re actually told to politely excuse ourselves and walk away if anyone tries to engage us in a political conversation during one of our meetings or events.

If I publish a book that takes a strong stance on the particular issue that impacts the industry I work in, it would be a huge headache for my employer. Therefore, I blog and tweet and will (hopefully!) publish under a pen name.

A note on pen names… The Lighthouse has a former literary agent on staff, who is amazing and supportive and will answer all of your questions. I asked her about using pen names, and if that’s something that’s off-putting to agents. She says no, it’s not. It’s no big deal. So if anyone else out there is considering whether to pen name or not to pen name…I have it from someone with experience that it’s totally fine.

In fact, she said that the possibility of me getting in a bit of trouble professionally and using a pen name for that reason could be intriguing to potential agents.

Keep writing, all you writers who quietly follow me. Keep going.

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