I met Erica Strange while I was in the hospital, eight months pregnant, which means I hadn't had a night's sleep in months. And no, Erica Strange is not a real person. She's a character in a television show called Being Erica, which is produced in Toronto by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. By sheer luck, I caught a rerun of the pilot. I don't remember what time of the day or night it was. These things run together when you don't sleep.
Erica is thirty two and full of regrets. Her career never took of, or more to the point, she doesn't really have career. Or a love life. Too old to be finding herself and too young for a midlife crisis, she's resigned to the idea that she's a disappointment to her family, friends, and most notably, herself. The story kicks off when a man, known only as Dr. Tom, gives her a business card for time travel therapy. This is the point when I stopped channel surfing. I'm a science fiction junkie (as would make sense given I began my writing career in science fiction) though I felt trepidation. I'd never heard of this show and time travel stories can be brilliant, but are often convoluted and downright dumb.
Still, I watched Erica go on her first therapy session, in which she traveled back to her high school days to relive her school dance. The first time around she got roaring drunk and everyone mocked her. This time around she avoided getting drunk, but managed to lose her dress after a friend puked on it, and had to run out into the middle of the dance naked to get help for said friend who had passed out. Needless to say, everyone mocked her.
And the therapy session was a success.
The purpose of time travel therapy in Being Erica is not to go and change the past to erase bad experiences. It is to face old fears and regrets and deal with them. Erica doesn't return at the end of the episode to a new life. She goes back to her old life, but as a new person, one who can better confront situations that were once her undoing. At this point in the show, I was sitting bolt upright. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to watch all the seasons, but I watch any that are broadcast here in the UK. People in the US should know that you can get all the episodes for free over Netflix, and that I am insanely jealous of all of you whether you have done so or not (you really should, though).
Time travel stories, when done right, are a powerful metaphor. We may not actually be able to redo past events, but don't we all do it in our minds? How often do we think of theperfect comeback to an insult days later, or relive a conversation with an attractive person that didn't go exactly as we'd hoped? But as much as we might regret a missed opportunity, this kind of self examination allows us to strike off in a new direction the next time we find ourselves at that same old crossroads.
I write for the same reason I read, to broaden life experience without the disastrous consequences. Through my characters I try on different masks, attempt to see life in a different way, and learn from mistakes that I don't have to make in the real world. We all do this, whether we write it down or not. This is why I am a big believer in flawed characters and happy endings. I don't like to write or read about perfect characters. They have nothing to teach me because they've got nothing to learn, and happy endings are essential because they're hard. Sad endings are easy - I do those all the time in real life. It's called screwing up, letting people down, embarrassing myself, and there are a variety of other names for the experience. Keeping it all together? That's what I need practice at.
So if you're here looking for flights of fancy in which everyone's gorgeous and it all works out easily, I'm afraid you've come to the wrong writer. My heroines make mistakes. My heroes aren't always well toned. I aspire to make them look and act like normal people, because those are the kinds of people who interest me.
This month only, Paint Me True is available for the promotional price of $.99 in the Amazon Kindle store.