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Question of the Week: Aliases

by Susan Henderson on October 9, 2006

Will anyone here admit to using an alias? Tell me why you do it, or why you considered it, or why you’re dead-set against it.

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If you Google the name “Lemony Snicket,” you’ll quickly come across the story of why the author chose to use an alias. The story is this (according to Wikipedia):

Daniel Handler originally came up with “Lemony Snicket” as a pseudonym to use rather than placing his real name on the mailing lists of several right-wing organizations he was researching for one of his novels, The Basic Eight. It became something of an in-joke with his friends, who were known to order pizzas under the name. When he found himself writing a series of children’s books, he decided to use the Snicket name.

There will be no mention of aliases or other things to spoil Wednesday’s interview between Bach-Boy Henderson and Lemony Snicket. All content and links will be kid-friendly.

And this Friday the 13th, you can read THE END of A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS for yourself.

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

amy October 9, 2006 at 8:20 am

Even though I know it’s rare in the world of literary fiction, I intend to use an alias. My maiden name is much too long and difficult to spell — I’m afraid it would put off readers. And my married name is much too short and plain — too easy to forget.

I plan on using a slightly exoticized version of my first name, plus my actual last name, when (if) I get my books published.
Maybe it’s silly, but at least it gives me something to daydream about when I get sick of revising!

Besides, if anyone ever approaches me at a cocktail party and claims to be a great old friend, I’ll be able to tell if I really know him, or if he only knows me from my books.

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted October 9, 2006 at 11:07 am

I don’t use an alias, really. I’d like to think if I ever did come up with an alias, I could come up with something everyone could spell and pronounce, something that even those who didn’t get the memo about the women’s movement in the ’70s containing the rules about hyphenated names would be able to find easily in the bookstore. Alas, I is me.

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Robin Slick October 9, 2006 at 11:49 am

Hell no.

With a name like mine, why would I ever want another?

Plus, I go through all kinds of emotional torture when I write and I want credit!

Okay, the whole truth. When I first started writing erotica, my kids were younger and I didn’t want to embarrass them so yeah, I did use many pen names. But then one evening I had too much to drink and subbed a really naughty story to a magazine under my own name by mistake; frantically tried to get it changed, and really sweated it out when I never received a response from the editor. And so it was pubbed “as is”. But then I decided my kids were old enough to handle it so I just decided not to worry about anything…as it turned out, my kids were (and are) way too self-absorbed to read anything I write anyway. With the exception of my blog, that is, because they know I write about them there and they kind of like it, especially as they know certain celebrities are daily readers…some of whom have written to them directly after reading about them on my blog.

So bleh to pen names. Hooray for honesty.

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Jim October 9, 2006 at 12:24 pm

I dabbled in flash fiction a while back and wrote a joke poem for the local county shoppers weekly, the title “When I Kissed Miss Cassidy.”

At the time I was still passing myself off as this serious and semi-brilliant scientist/engineer in the cubicles of a mega-technology outfit. So I had the poem published under the name Carter Pugh. I remember Carter as more alter-ego than pseudonym, a bit stuffy but not above a good fart joke.

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Susan Henderson October 9, 2006 at 12:27 pm

Have you guys been here?

http://www.dooce.com/archives/daily_photo/10_09_2006.html

Amy – I used to use my maiden name, and one day I decided to start over. It was terrifying to be unknown again but I didn’t like the feeling of having two me’s.

Lauren – What’s the nationality of your two last names?

Robin – Ha! Is that so you to bust out of the erotica closet by mistake!

Jim – I find that’s really funny that you’d pick the name Pugh.

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Myfanwy Collins October 9, 2006 at 12:48 pm

The only time I used a nom de plume was for a few freelance articles I wrote. I used my middle and last name. I had to do this because there was a potential conflict of interest between what I was writing and my job at the time.

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted October 9, 2006 at 1:04 pm

“Lauren – What’s the nationality of your two last names?” Baratz=Russian; Logsted=Danish. I was a little surprised when none of my new publishers – since the books I’m doing for Random House and S&S are not funny – asked me to change my name, since supposedly there’s industry wisdom on not selling fish in your meat market. My original editor at RDI, knowing I wanted to write in other genres as well, said she’d never ask me to change it, but then shortly before my debut was published, she came to me embarrassed and said Marketing was requesting that I choose just one of my last names and go with that. It was presented in the most flattering light possible. I was told they were envisioning a time when I was as big as Nelson DeMille and they wanted to be able to blaze my name across the cover – tough to do with Baratz-Logsted. They also said my name would confuse people. I thought about it for all of two minutes and decided: No. There was a reason I’d kept my maiden name – not being a fan of alliterative names, I never wanted to be Lauren Lise Logsted – and I refused to divorce my husband’s name as a publishing expedient. Let it ride. If I was successful, people would learn how to spell/pronounce/find it; if not, it wouldn’t matter anyway.

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Aimee October 9, 2006 at 1:20 pm

I’m way too much of a glory hound to use a pen name. Unless, as my Mother suggested, I decided to write romance novels to support my writing habit. I might use a pen name at that point.

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Greg Boose October 9, 2006 at 1:34 pm

I’ve mentioned my Fargo paper before… but my name never actually appeared on it – just a whole bunch of aliases: Shelly Showers, Herb Gries, Montgomery Muraco, Aaron Nora(a), Pat Matterson, and the list goes on.

When I want to comment on people’s blog posts or articles and want to keep it on the sly, I’ll use Craig Bruce. I’m known to mumble, and that’s what a lot of people hear when I introduce myself.

Oh, and I’ve started IM-ing as Mark F69boner.

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mikel k October 9, 2006 at 1:36 pm

gosh…it would be a sin in the eyes of whose lord to use a name other than that that i was given at birth. well, i m a sinner.

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Gail Siegel October 9, 2006 at 2:15 pm

Yes I have an occassionally still do use the alias Gail Chagall. There are several reasons. First and foremost, if you google my own name, there are MANY Gail Siegels, many of whom are easy to confuse. Several are even writers. I’ve tried to use my middle name here and there to avoid the confusion (Gail Louise Siegel) but it still pops up. I often get email or phone calls for the other Gails. Gail Anne Siegel’s grandmother called me in college. It’s all rather ridiculous.

(If I didn’t already have a lot of stories published under my own name, and I could start over, I would NEVER use ‘Siegel.’ But it’s too late. I want credit for those publications.)

Also, I am not too keen on my children reading anything I blog — they already have plenty to use against me; why give them more — so I reserve use of Gail Chagall for my blog.

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Megan October 9, 2006 at 2:24 pm

Interesting subject. I was just harassing Mr. Reynald into helping me pick out a new last name for more serious writing purposes, I Know Epstein Barbie is genius…

As for my real last name and reasons for not using it, I want to avoid my family who love a crisis and enjoy any reason to have huge, loud drama. They’re Italian.

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Ellen Meister October 9, 2006 at 2:25 pm

Susan, I do like the idea of having two me’s, which is why I write under my maiden name. Ellen Meister is who I am as a writer. The other Ellen is who I am as a wife and mother. I also like the idea that my family’s anonymity is protected to some extent. And incidentally, even though everyone in my neighborhood knows me by my married name, I never officially changed it. Legally, I’m still Ellen Meister (and always will be).

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Gail Siegel October 9, 2006 at 2:35 pm

Re: Ellen

I rarely remember, but people know me through my husband or kids sometimes call me ‘Mrs. Saver’ or ‘Meredith’s mom’ or ‘Wesley’s mom’. I was picking up Mer from work Saturday and heard Eliza Gilford yell ‘Hi Mrs. Saver’ and it took me a minute to react. By then she was gone. I only identify weakly with that identity, though that’s who I am to a large part of my world. (Man, I am a typo-generating machine today. Sorry.) So, I guess that’s my third me.

So many comments so early!

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Lance Reynald October 9, 2006 at 3:39 pm

ok, I’ll bite.
yes Megan has good reasons, They are italian and considering her writing and lovely kneecaps it might be best to be a Jones or something.

I’m a big fan of modified spelling; improves your google-ability. Otherwise I would come up as the headcoach of the BYU football program, which for countless and amusing reasons represents a serious conflict of interest for both parties.

Outside of that I’m always interested in how many people are unintentionally known by aliases. The nickname your family gives you, the name you use on you business cards, your closest friends call you something, religion steps in, all those things add up to a prismatic assortment of who you are, essentially you are just you with a few names. Jennifer Garner with some ridiculous wigs? tamato-tahmahto?

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Betsy October 9, 2006 at 4:05 pm

Real name on birth certificate Elizabeth Crane here. Although my dad once suggested a pen name like O. Crane.

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Gail Siegel October 9, 2006 at 4:08 pm

Re: Betsy

But do people call you Betsy? Or Liz? I don’t have one of those names that lend themselves to variation.

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Sarah Roundell October 9, 2006 at 4:33 pm

I’ve used a pseudonym in writing all of my own screenplays and for nefarious reasons(somewhere along the lines of riding coattails you might say). When collaborating, my partner and I came up with names based on nicknames given to us by friends(we all had names from songs-mine’s Prudence) and then added last names we chose mostly because our writings involved fictional murders of not-so-fictional characters and we wanted to avoid the drama with our family&friends. Sounds awful, I know. Lately, I’ve adopted my screenwriter name for just about anything I can get away with because my own last name is often misspelled by people and I don’t think it flows nicely so I stick with Sarah Waters, but my pal recently informed me that the name already belongs to a popular British author that she was shocked to find I’d never heard of… Looks like I’ll be shopping around for a new one like Megan.

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Carolyn Burns Bass October 9, 2006 at 4:45 pm

My first published byline was Carolyn A Burns. A is for Amedea, my middle name which has much more character than Burns or Bass. But when I married I bumped my surname to the middle and created me into a full sentence: Noun verb noun, Carolyn Burns Bass. I have never liked having a name that implies I am a poor cook, because cooking in my family is more than an art, it’s a way of life. I’ve toyed with the idea of going back to Burns when my novel is published, or dropping both Burns and Bass and becoming Carolyn Amedea. But until an offer is made, I’ll just continue burning the bass and anything else that stays on the fire too long.

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Noria October 9, 2006 at 5:27 pm

I flirted with the idea of changing the ending of my last name from “ski” to “ska,” which is technically the correct for ending for female Jablonskis, but ultimately I decided that my name is showstopping enough as it is. I think there was also some panicky pre-publication impulse to protect my family going on there, that perhaps changing one letter would create a buffer between me and them.

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n.l. belardes October 9, 2006 at 7:04 pm

If I stumbled upon a name as cool as Lemony Snicket, I would have a bad-assed alias that little kids and adults would drool over.

The end of time would be mine if I had such an alias (and such fun stories!)

And I think I would only use an alias for children’s literature, especially in a grandiose series about who-knows-what.

I came up with a series of Christmas literary nonsensical tales: a publisher’s daughter who works for a tabloid and is obsessed with embarrassing everything about the North Pole. She discovers Christmasy secrets and then exposes them. She wears striped leggings, and crunches candy canes because she’s an addict. She looks like the too-thin actress, Calista Flockfuck. Only with big cat-eye glasses and dark hair. Her name is Slim Pardoux.

I think her weird name would be a good alias for a children’s book author as well as a character.

In a funny side note I showed the ideas to an agent.

The agent ripped me a new asshole without exploring the weird cartoon network zany ideas I was presenting. Happens all the time. Agents know what they’re looking for. Mine wasn’t it.

Didn’t change the fact that I wanted to change sexes, jump from the pages of my thoughts and whoop her ass with a candy cane as some kind of maniacal Slim Pardoux.

Heh.

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Susan Henderson October 9, 2006 at 7:59 pm

(Ritchie and Candy, thank you for the link, but I’m afraid I might need to find my backup generator if you send too many more folks my way!)

All the rest of you wonderful people, I’ll stop by and comment later tonight or early tomorrow. Great discussion!

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mikel k October 9, 2006 at 10:16 pm

As is mentioned in my book “The Delivery Guy,” when it was time for me to go off to college,I told Dear Old Dad that I wanted to be a writer and Dear Old Dad said, “That’s a rough game,one in a million make it at that; I don ‘t think that you have what it takes.”

Well, pop, thanks for the positive input.

With his “encouragement” ringing in my ears I went off to college, joined a frat, majored in business and developed into a bad drunk. Now, this is not to say that I would not have developed into a bad drunk if I had majored in Journalism or English. It just goes to say where not following your dreams can leave you and hot following bad advice can lead you away from following your dreams.

Anyway, when I finally decided, eight years after that conversation with my father, to buy a notebook and some pens and start writing, I changed my name, in part,due to his lack of support of my life’s goals and, in part, due to an article that I read, around that time, about “punk” rock.

The article said that a lot of young people, (“punks” as they were being tagged) were changing their name as a form of self-determinism. Changing your name to what you wanted your name to be and not what your parents wanted you to be named or what your grandmother or grandfather were named sort of let you step up to the plate to be your own man or your own woman, the article said, and it made great sense to me.

Hence, MIKEL K was born and he has been alive for 24 years ago and he can’t bitch and whine that his daddy deterred him from that which he was both intended and desired to be.

You can check out a bit of “The Delivery Guy” at http://www.185cool.com/mikelkpoet under “word of…”

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mikel k October 9, 2006 at 10:19 pm

dreams can leave you and hot (should be…and how)

and he has been alive for 24 years ago and (should be…for 24 years and…)

i hate when this happens…

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Lance Reynald October 9, 2006 at 10:28 pm

Kudos Mikel!!

every artist is certainly entitled to self determination. It can be one of their most well authored creations.

and, with the input you got from dear old dad, perhaps his name should not be considered entitled to your unique gifts.

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mikel k October 9, 2006 at 11:09 pm

thanks lance….

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Kathy October 9, 2006 at 11:19 pm

Oddly enough, I had this same discussion on another message board regarding online aliases. I guess if you have nothing to hide, go for it. Use your real name. I don’t have a cool “writerly” sounding name (if there is such a thing), but my dad would be awfully proud to see the family name in print, I’m sure.

A few days ago I was wasting time on an internet anagram server making up “tough guy” pen named from my real first name: Kathleen. Kent Hale? Thane Elk?

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Kathy October 10, 2006 at 12:53 am

Oops. That should read pen “names” not pen named.

When my hands turn into ineffectual flippers, it’s time to back away from the keyboard.

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Kasper October 10, 2006 at 1:06 pm

Some of the Internet aliases I have used:

Sandoval Gulden
John Argent
Carolyn Rayberg
Scatar Milovec

As a writer of comic strips, I make it my business to try out a constant fountain of ficto-names.

–Kasper

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Kevin Noel Olson October 10, 2006 at 2:27 pm

I have used psuedonyms for short stories and articles before. Sometimes, it gives a writer the freedom to express and explore ideas without creating a label for said writer. I’m not embarrassed of anything I’ve written, but sometimes I write just for fun and don’t want the quality of the piece or its subject matter to get in the way. I don’t want to use a pseudonym as a crutch or apology for my own name. I started to label everything I’ve written with my full name, including the middle. This delivers a bit of individuality to my work without having to change my name to something spectacular and shiny like Donald Cerevantes or somesuch. My name is the first title given to me. I don’t think changing the title will make a book better.

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Joe October 10, 2006 at 4:44 pm

I’ll let you know if I am ever published. When I was a poor student (both senses of “poor” applied) I’d use ficticious names to scam free food from Au Bon Pan by filling out complaint forms. I was Walter ‘Bunny’ Jimenez, the itinerant food critic for a free socialist newsletter who found a name badge baked into the flaky crust of my chocolate chip croissant. The coupons kept me from going public. Yum!

I’ve maintained a certain level of anonymity on the Internet to avoid spam, but that is easily pierced. I’m not ashamed of my name or my opinions so if and when I am published it will be under some form of my real name: Joe Hanley, Joseph Hanley, JW Hanley, J. William Hanley (feh!). Um… I expect you all not to rat me out to Au Bon Pan. For foreign distribution I’m willing to change it to Jiu Han Lee or Giussepi Hanelli or Jo Johanleysen or whatever will sell.

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Susan Henderson October 10, 2006 at 8:46 pm

Amy, Lauren, Robin, Jim, Myf, Aimee, Greg, Mikel K, Gail, Megan, Ellen, Lance, Betsy, Sarah, Carolyn, Noria, n.l., Kathy, Kasper, Kevin & Joe – You’ll all be featured on my Friday weekly wrap. Love the insights here. I’m trying to re-work something in my novel and I’ve needed to really wrap my head around it. I’m checking in and reading all of your responses, but have decided to hold my response so I can keep the momentum. You all are awesome. I hope you know that.

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted October 10, 2006 at 10:06 pm

Susan, it sounds like the re-working is going well – WOO-HOO! I did read and enjoy your HuffPo piece today but didn’t comment there because they said I had to register first, I thought I’d registered before, was too lazy to register or re-register – or even pre-register – and so it goes. Keep working. Pretend we’re not even here.

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Betsy October 10, 2006 at 10:34 pm

Most people call me Betsy. Never Liz.
Gaily? Guess not.
Susan, back at you! And like Lauren, I enjoyed the HuffPo piece but didn’t feel like registering to comment and decided I was better off not yelling at some of the other people who commented anyway. But – I love the subject of forgiveness, as I too am hardly Amish in that regard, but I truly admire them for it. To me, it seems a no-brainer that forgiveness benefits the one doing the forgiving. If someone tortured and killed my kid? I don’t think forgiveness would be my initial thought. My issue with all the school shooting stuff is that the media is glorifying the killers whether they realize it or not – posthumous glory better than none at all I guess – I read an interesting article some time back, maybe an oped piece in the Times, I can’t remember, that suggested we not mention the names of these killers in the media toward that end. This is incoherent… but I still think that’s a really great idea.

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n.l. belardes October 10, 2006 at 10:35 pm

I wonder if any of the fake resumes from my past count? My real name was the only thing I didn’t change though.

No, they didn’t count. My conscience is yelling at me. Nevermind.

I agree with Lauren Baratz-Loggysomething about registering. Although if you use Firefox, you can alleviate some of that problem.

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted October 10, 2006 at 11:33 pm

“Lauren Baratz-Loggysomething” – See? I knew I should have gone with that for my name.

An old friend of mine and his brother used to use Steve Lancer as an alias. Steve Lancer was the one who got into trouble, Steve Lancer was the name on the registration of several of the cars they jointly purchased including one for $25 that they actually managed to keep on the road for a whole year.

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Kevin Noel Olson October 11, 2006 at 11:48 am

Susan,
This is a great site. Thanks for leading me here. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water and I happen to be thirsty. Pretty certain that’s how it goes. Good luck with your re-write, although I am certain your talent will see you through without too much horseshoe rubbing. Again with the horse references-I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Thanks for giving upstart writers a place to have a voice.

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Gail Siegel October 11, 2006 at 1:30 pm

Re: Betsy

Well, 2 or 3 have called me Gaily, and yesterday my boss — who I’ve known for 20+ years — called me Gailsy after a particularly good press conference. But these are so few and far between that it always shocks me when someone says either. I suggest that anyone to call me anything but Gail, but if they volunteer, hey, that’s okay.

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Gail Siegel October 11, 2006 at 1:30 pm

That is, I never suggest… God, I am typo ridden…

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Aurelio October 11, 2006 at 3:45 pm

Aurelio O’Brien is an alias, though I prefer “nom de plume.” Alias makes it sound like I’m evading the law or have a sordid past – both of which would be fairly interesting but neither of which is the case.

Since taking the name I have truly become Aurelio. It’s rather like being given a nick-name. It becomes you, or maybe you become it over time.

I took one because I had made so many familiar family films that whenever I mentioned to folks that I was writing a novel, their immediate response was, “Oh, a children’s book!” I would correct them, but it did no good, for the next time they would say, “So, how’s your children’s book coming?” I got tired of fighting it.

Sometimes it’s best to start with a clean slate.

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Susan Henderson October 11, 2006 at 4:59 pm

To all who commented on the HuffPost piece – yes, it’s a pain to register and I would hesitate, too, before jumping into the brawl. I have to say, I’ve been really chuckling along with some of those comments – and, you know, the intensity of them!

Betsy – How hard is it for me not to call you Elizabeth?! Yes, I agree about not rewarding the kids (and adults) who go on a rampage. I think that’s definitely the reason for all the copy-catting.

n.l. – It’s really funny how the question of the week turned into an interesting survey on who here used other names to pay bills, get jobs, and so on. Nice!

Lauren – Steve Lancer is a great name. And that’s a clever use for the name!

Kevin – Thanks for being here. And yes, the novel is galloping along this week.

Gail – Uh oh. Gailsy might stick. It’s pretty fun to say.

Aurelio – It’s good to have you back! How was your trip, 1-10?

And FYI, we have ALL your movies. And when my boys were younger, there were some we watched so many times that – no offense – I would have rather turned my eyelids inside out and pulled my hair out in clumps. XO!

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mikel k October 11, 2006 at 9:21 pm

ps susan good luck with the novel.

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michael r. williams October 20, 2006 at 12:19 am

Iron mother fucking Mike! Is my a.k.a

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Susan Henderson October 20, 2006 at 12:41 am

Love it.

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Michael D. Williams September 14, 2007 at 5:16 pm

In some circles I am known only by my middle initial, D. D or Dfer, as in D for. When people asks whats the D for, The answer is usualy DYNOMITE spelled just like Jimmie Walker says it and it must be said with the same bravado. Dirty shows up a lot and then Dirty D. It is hard to believe that an initial can develop a persona of it’s own..

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