By Susan Helene Gottfried
One of the benefits of being a writer is the chance to become many different people. When I created ShapeShifter, it was so tone-deaf me could be a member of one of the world's biggest rock bands. Kerri is an artist; my children draw better than I do. Pam is an aerobic instructor; I have orthopedic issues that give my sports medicine doctor nightmares. About the closest I've come to fictionalizing myself is my newest character, Chelle LaFleur, a journalist with attitude.
In fiction, the best characters are the ones with a contradiction. I know this intimately; most of the time, I feel like a living contradiction. This is something that I've wrestled with for years; I suppose I always will. Usually, it's a dormant issue, something I try not to dwell on. But it came back up for me recently, when I was wandering through a crafts show and realized that one of the vendors was a woman I knew.
I didn't say hello, partly because I couldn't place exactly where I knew her from. But also because this was a craft show that featured struggling artists with visions of the off-beat. These vendors were the way cool, grungy, creative, artist-types I used to hang with.
And there I was, with my North Face fleece jacket, two kids, handsome husband, wallet stuffed with twenties, luxury car parked three blocks away, the alarm armed. The bland, blasé picture of a conventional lifestyle.
I was actually sort of embarrassed. I felt like this woman I knew had also recognized me and was shaking her head, proclaiming me a sell-out. Even if she wasn't, I can see how the charge would stick.
That's only the surface, though. I was at that craft show because I was searching for the funky, for the off-beat. For the remade t-shirts that scream Rock and Roll. The earrings shaped like pink ESP Explorer guitars. To support the people who were braver than I was, who chose this lifestyle as their own because of their dedication to their art. They didn't sell out, and I wish I could do more to help them succeed.
It's a trade-off, I tell myself. My mainstream lifestyle lets me do what I do best: write fiction. I have the comfort of a home office, a cat curled in my lap and my satellite radio playing away, while I dream up characters who live the lifestyle I didn't have the guts, or the patience, or the desire to.
I've always tiptoed that line between funky and mainstream, but I jumped firmly to one side so I'd have the freedom to be right here, doing just this.
It's a contradiction in who I am, absolutely. But it's also what defines my fiction -- as well as my self-image. Just as I define myself by the twin pulls of books and music, so, too, do I have the twin pulls of funky and mainstream.