GUEST POST: Live from West of Mars…it’s Susan and ShapeShifter!

Please welcome author and book-blog-community-builder Susan Helene Gottfried to The 3 R’s! Susan and I originally connected years ago on BookCrossing, but lost touch until I re-discovered her through her blog, West of Mars: The Meet and Greet. I had the opportunity to read and review her first collection of fiction about the band ShapeShifter, The Demo Tapes: Year One, last week (all of which was originally published on her blog). Today, she shares some some thoughts about where her inspiration, and her characters, come from. Read on, visit her blog, and get your hands on the book!

Disclaimer: I don’t think I’m in any position to validate anyone’s “innate coolness,” since I have none of my own, but I appreciate that Susan thinks so! I think she is far cooler than I have any hope of being.

I am thrilled that Florinda asked me to guest blog today. She’s always got cool stuff going on, so this is a validation of my innate coolness. Although, if I’m wrong about that, please don’t shatter my delusion!
I come from a long line of avid readers. I have memories of going to visit my grandparents and coming home from the library with my grandmother in her big brown car. I have no memory of the library itself, mind you. Just being in her car, on those wide bench seats, no car seats needed in those days. It let a little girl sit next to her beloved grandmother and read out loud the whole way home. The physical proximity was good for the emotional bonds.
Literacy and reading were important to my grandparents. There were always books around and now, as an adult, I have a copy of a very old book about Abraham Lincoln on my shelves. My mother gave it to me after my grandfather died. Like my memory of my grandmother’s car, I have only patches of recollection of this book. I’d loved it. I’m not sure why.
It wasn’t until I was studying creative writing in college that I first experienced one of my grandfather’s more interesting skills: he could read a book and pick out which details were autobiographical. I remember him returning a book to me and informing me of all these things my professor, the book’s author, had done in his life. Sure enough, as I got to know the professor better, my grandfather had been right.
He shared those insights with me many times over through the years. Most of the time, we spoke about authors I had no prior knowledge of. Authors I lacked cool connections to. That meant I never got to find out if Papa was right or not.
Now, as I look back at my characters and the fiction I’ve written about them during the years since I began my blog, the Meet and Greet, I wonder what my grandfather would glean. After all, my character of Trevor Wolff is an abused child. Badly abused.
Yet I wasn’t abused. Not physically, at least, although no one can ever be certain how to classify the torment heaped on a youngest sister. It’s doubtful that anyone would consider that to be anything but normal.
I’m not musical, like my character Mitchell Voss. Music oozes out of Mitchell, but me? I’m tone deaf. Very tone deaf. My son was blowing into a pitch pipe last week while turning his cello and believe me, even if I hadn’t been informed of my disability by a professional, we’d all have known about it.
How about an artist, like Mitchell’s wife, Kerri? Again, I strike out. When I took art classes at a local center for the arts, my finished work often waited to be claimed on the shelves where the children’s creations were stowed. I decided that was proof I’ve got a child’s sense of wonder about the world. And that my artistic talents lie with the written word.
Maybe part of what I reveal in my fiction is that other than the whole abuse issue, I spent a lot of time wishing I could be these things. Musical. Visually artistic. Not to mention cool, like Mitchell and Kerri. Impertinent (and able to get away with it) like Trevor is. He’s not afraid of confrontation, to get in your face and speak the truth. And he’s always looking for the shiny side of any situation. Anything to make him look better — at least in his own mind.
Maybe my grandfather would have picked up on my yearnings to be like my characters. My desire to make a comfortable living off my art, to channel my passions into something that touches millions of people. Just as Trevor, Mitchell, and Kerri do.
One thing I’m certain of, though: by publishing The Demo Tapes, I’m allowing those dreams and wishes to come true. And in the eyes of my grandfather, writing a book — something he always encouraged me to do — is every bit as revealing as the books we choose to read.
Come meet Trevor, Kerri, and Mitchell either at The Meet and Greet or in The Demo Tapes: Year 1. You can buy a copy at Amazon, through my storefront at, or directly from me.

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  • Coolness is in the eye of the beholder (and in our attitude). You’re there, believe me.

    Thanks again for asking me to stop in today!

  • What a thought-provoking post! Not counting my first novel, which was a Mary Sue (aren’t they usually?) I’d say my fiction is more autobiographical for what’s not there than for what is: family.

    My half-sibs are way younger than me, so I had no true sibling relationships. You’ll find few siblings in my fiction, and none among my main characters. I had no mother and I didn’t get along with my stepmother. You’ll find no close mother-child bonds in my stories. I was emotionally close to my father, but he was often gone and only half-heartedly took up for me against my stepmom. You’ll find no strong fathers in my fiction. Come to think of it, I don’t believe I’ve ever written an MC whose father wasn’t dead or missing. Hm.

    What you’ll find in spades in my writing is family of choice–close, loving, and deeply cherished. That part is autobiographical for sure!

  • I love this story about Susan’s grandfather. I love that he could pick out the autobiographical bits in novels, etc. I’m so happy to hear someone else’s grandparent inspired them to be a writer. Like Susan’s grandfather, my nana did the same for me with reading and writing. She’d set me up at her typewriter on the kitchen table from morning until lunch….then I was back at it again until dinner.

  • I really enjoyed this post. When I think about the characters I’m writing, I’m with Susan…they’re more people or things I wish I could be than autobiographical.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  • My mother likes to read my books. She’s read three of them so far. I’ve been trying to keep her from reading the latest, but she’s making demands, so I’ll eventually let her see it. This makes me painfully aware of the autobiographical elements in my work, as well as some common themes. It’s too much to ask that she didn’t notice, too.

  • Hi Susan! Really wonderful post about your creative side.

    I think many authors are drawn to certain themes and issues which they haven’t actually lived through themselves but which touch the writer very, very deeply. I write often about violent relationships between father-son or master-servant, and these aren’t my day-to-day experiences, but they definitely inhabit my narrative side. I think if you’re drawn to really explore an issue inside and out, it does reveal an aspect of your character.

    And I love the glimpses you’ve given us of your book-loving family.

  • Thanks to everyone who’s come by for Susan’s guest post, and welcome to those of you who are here for the first time – hope to see you again some time!

  • So much of writing, I find, is about sinking into places and characters we’ve yearned to know or be. We are granted multiple lives.

  • What a wonderful, thought-provoking post, Susan! And what an honor to “meet” your grandfather. He sounds like he was a great fellow. My grandmother was a voracious reader and a huge influence on me, and she was always excited about my writing dreams.

    My stories center around family of choice, too, as Bunnygirl talked about. Society heaps so much expectation on people re: “family”, and often the reality is quite different. One size doesn’t fit all, and through my stories, I explore the variations.

    Excellent blog, Florinda! It’s nice to meet you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • It’s true. You always do have cool stuff going on, Florinda.

    I really enjoyed sharing in some of Susan’s memories of her grandparents, especially her grandfather. My grandfather was influential in my life as well. I have such fond memories of our reading time together. He helped foster a love for writing in me as well. Now you’ve got me wondering what my stories say about me . . .