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.