Friday, January 02, 2009

The Secret of Imagination

I love action figures. It probably stems from my love of making up stories. From the time I could remember, I loved inventing my own stories, and action figures were the perfect way to act those stories out.

When I was a kid, female action figures didn’t exist. My brother had G.I. Joes. You know, the good twelve-inch-tall G.I. Joes with Kung-Foo grip and life-like hair. His were peace-loving former soldiers who belonged to the Adventure Team (since Vietnam had made military toys no longer politically correct at that time). G.I. Joes could do a lot of fun things. For me, the biggies were shooting guns and riding horses. Barbie could do neither of those things. Her hands couldn’t hold a gun, and she couldn’t sit astride one of my many model horses. Those deficiencies in Barbie left me playing with G.I. Joes and wishing for a day when female dolls could do everything the male dolls could.

Flash ahead a few years–
Before I sold my first novel, I was a professional window washer. Kind of an odd choice for a job, I’ll grant you. But I was a creative writing major in college and needed to make a living. There were many dirty windows in the world in need of washing, so my brother and I started a business to answer the demand. One of our regular clients was a former NFL quarterback, and he had a collection of memorabilia in his office that included an action figure of himself in uniform. Well, I thought that was just about the coolest thing ever. Just think of it! An action figure of yourself! What could be more bizarre and fun than that?

Flash ahead a few years–
I am a published novelist writing stories for a living. But I still haven’t gotten over my love for action figures. Only now there are female action figures in stores. I can collect my favorite strong, female fictional characters and use them to decorate my office. Super heroines like Batgirl, Hawkgirl, The Huntress, Wonder Woman and The Invisible Woman. Villains like and Harley Quinn (because I write for Harlequin, don’t you know). And my favorite movie characters - so far I have Eowyn from Lord of the Rings, Elizabeth Swan from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Princess Leia from Star Wars and Marion Ravenwood from Indiana Jones.

I have a few odds and ends, too. The head Ringwraith is here so Eowyn can kill him (no man can kill him, after all). And I have a Cairo bad guy for Marion to hit over the head with a frying pan (above). And there’s my newest addition that my brother gave me for Christmas, the Barack Obama action figure (“an action figure we can believe in,” it says on the box). He also bid on a John McCain, in the interest of bipartisanship, but wasn’t able to win him on Ebay.

Although I’ve realized my childhood dream of gender equality in plastic action figure form, I cannot forget the yen for an action figure of myself. What would she do? Slay a bad guy with a pen? Bash a villain over the head with a laptop? Or would she be sucked into the world of her books, having to duke it out on the page with serial killers while being mistakenly chased by the law and falling in love with a cowboy?

Well, I may not ever have a little plastic me to play with, but inspired by a November interview I did at the Writers At Play blog, I discovered something close. An animated me! And so here I am, dressed in something I might wear to a winter writer’s conference.

I’m a little wacked, I know. I suppose when you make up stuff for a living, some wackiness is bound to rub off. Or maybe I’ve just always been this way. But I’ll tell you a secret. It’s a boat load of fun. And if you haven't figured it out, that is what I believe is the secret of imagination. Fun. Play. So why not let your imagination loose to celebrate the new year? What were your favorite toys as a kid? And do you still get the urge to play with them now?

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