Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Wigs Did It

by Nina Wright, author of the Whiskey Mattimoe Mysteries

Confession: I wore wigs to school.

At age fifteen, I discovered that the easy way to be somebody different every single day was to build a wig collection that included all available colors and styles…and then be brazen enough to wear 'em. On some level I must have been hoping that my fellow students wouldn’t recognize me. Or would want to meet the Real Me, whoever that was. Although I wouldn’t have admitted it, most days I wished I was the cheerleader rather than the artistic loner. True, I knew how to be funny, and that helped. But I was dramatically intense. I had to be; my life was hugely misunderstood. To underscore that, I dressed as if I couldn’t possibly belong to my conservative middle-class family. Despite my strict mother and the school dress code, I managed to look outlandish. I wore the most make-up and the most eccentric accessories I could find. And wigs. A different one every day.

Little did I know that my Wig Phase—which lasted about six months—was my preparation for careers on both the stage and page. Wearing an ash-blonde shoulder-length flip one day, an auburn shag the next, and a frosted pixie-cut the day after that no doubt served as dress rehearsals for characters I would later play or write.

In time I discovered that theatre and literature express a basic human desire: “Get me out of my own life!” We all want to know what it’s like to be somebody else. I’m not saying we’re ready to trade lives, but we would like a taste of somebody else's. We wonder what it's like to be that green-eyed redhead driving the Maserati. Or that sleek brunette with the black belt in karate. Or even (if I'm lucky) that bumbling, love-sick Michigan Realtor with the runaway Afghan hound. We want to safely, vicariously live pieces of those lives...on the pages of a mystery novel, on the stage or screen, or--in my adolescence--from under a wig.

My burning desire to be someone other than who I really was at age fifteen fueled my drive to become an actor and writer. Put another way, I wanted to keep wearing wigs. Sometimes, as a professional actor, I was required to wear one. Happy day! Now, as a writer, I own a vast metaphorical wig collection, and I don a different one while imagining each point-of-view character. For Easter Hutton, my teen protagonist in Homefree and Sensitive (Flux/Llewellyn), I wear a spiky flat-black number. For Whiskey Mattimoe, amateur sleuth, I wear a perpetually disheveled curly brown one. I never owned either of those wigs in high school, but now in my adult years, I spend many hours imagining life with such hair. And the myriad troubles that come with it.

Although my books feature lots of male characters, some of whom I'd no doubt fall in love (or lust) with if they were real, I have yet to write an entire book from a man's point of view. My unpublished starter novel was a thriller alternately told by a stockbroker and his wife caught in a high-stakes foreign adoption scam. Lacking a metaphorical wig for the husband narrator, I channeled the voices of a couple flesh-and-blood guys. The character that emerged was compelling and fun to write. I'd discovered non-wig ways to get inside a person's soul.

Still, when I think about what launched my creative careers, there’s no question: The wigs did it. Thanks, Mom, for letting me win that battle. You were right, of course; I looked ridiculous, especially as a platinum blonde. But, hey, I was just doing my homework.


Mark Terry said...

The Walter Mitty fantasy. Yeah, I think so, at least to some extent. I don't think I'm that much like Derek Stillwater--well, okay, the neurotic part, yeah. But I'm not former Special Forces, I don't live on a boat (okay, I'd like to, especially whenever I mow the grass), and...

Okay. It's a fantasy.

I recently read a novel manuscript by a friend of mine, and it took place "up north" in Michigan, about a widowed cop who retired to the northern Michigan and opened a diner on a river (think Grayling) and got sucked into a mystery. I commented to him that I had gone through that phase as well, writing a novel or two about a cop who retired on disability to live in Traverse City and gets sucked into a mystery.

In other words, we probably had similar fanatasies for ourselves that involved moving up north and not working for a living... or something like that.

My books have improved once I got away from the personal fantasies and my guess is his will as well. On the other hand, maybe there's a need for a mystery about a freelance writer who moves to Higgins Lake and gets sucked into a mystery...

Candy Calvert said...

What a great post, Nina--and I insist that you display at least one photo of yourself back in the days (daze?)! Your description reminds me of that classic "Brat Pack" Molly Ringwald movie, "Pretty in Pink." Loved it.

Far from fantasy, my only experience with wigs was when I was a student nurse. No animal print scrubs and neon plastic hospital clogs back then--caps, white pinafores and stockings . . . and a hard rule that "your hair must not touch your collar." My long gypsy hair would not cooperate, so (along with several friends)I settled for those awful "Mod"-style acrylic wigs. Which popped up like a ConeHead whenever you smiled, made your head sweat like a pig . . . and unfortunately did nothing to impress the cute medical residents.

My nurse heroine--Darcy Cavanaugh--has long, wild and free hair . . . and climbs the gangways of glamourous cruise ships. She does CPR in sequins and heels . . . and never breaks a sweat.

This month RN MAGAZINE will share my fictional "R&R" with ONE MILLION readers as they encourage nurses to "take a break" with my books! IMO, those folks absolutely deserve some fantasy!

Nina Wright said...

Candy--You asked for it!


;<) Nina

Candy Calvert said...

Omigosh--how adorable are you?!

Obviously the ConeHead deal was my own personal abberation . . . gad.

I think as a 15-year old California girl, I was more into the whole "surfer girl" fantasy. Which required me to straighten my hair with a clothes iron. Seriously. Very dicey when doing your bangs, trust me.

jbr said...

Hi, Nina and other Midnight Ink scribes! I'm a novelist, too, and can relate to the quest for the right wig to "feel" your character. I like to wander the aisles at shoe stores and pick out the appropriate footwear. For some personalities, I "shop" at Pic-Way; for others, I go straight to Neiman Marcus. Works for me!

Nina Wright said...

Thanks, JBR, for your comment. You may be on to something brilliant and fundamental with the footwear. As an actor I once worked with a director who ordered us to come to the first rehearsal with "shoes our character would wear." I groaned. But she was right. There's something very informative about isolating how we stand and move, not to mention our connection to the ground....

Nina Wright
Now out: Whiskey and Tonic
the third Whiskey Mattimoe mystery

Candy Calvert said...

Hi JBR--I'm glad to hear about your "research." Totally justifies my own (mouse-click) virtual shopping sprees at Neimans, Macy's, Nordstroms,Abercrombie and J.Crew to "dress" my characters for their scenes. Fun and guilt-free-- as long as I hide my Visa card.

Thanks for stopping by InkSpot!