On April 29, I was one of three speakers at an event at my alma mater, Dickinson College; the student group Idea Fund hosted a TED Talk-esque event as part of their Our Community Their Ideas series, the theme of which was “Alter Ego: Who’s the Other You?” Below is the fleshed-out version of my notes for my talk.
I first heard about this event when Nate LaFrance, one of Dickinson’s Regional Development Officers, sent me an email saying, “Your varied interests fit with an upcoming event. If I remember correctly, Project Manager at QVC by day, novelist by night – and … piloting small aircraft,” and described the theme: “Alter Egos: Who’s the Superman to Your Clark Kent?”
Nate wasn’t explicit, so I had to guess as to which of those roles matched up to which part of the theme, but I feel pretty confident that he was thinking: Clark Kent / Project Manager and Superman / Novelist.
For my Clark Kent / Project Manager persona, I’m not just any project manager, I’m a project manager for the Supply Chain and Transportation functions at QVC—a logical, left brain job, focused on operations, consistency, predictability … certainly satisfying but maybe not so exciting.
For my Superman / Novelist persona, I’m not just any novelist, I’m the writer of paranormal suspense books—a creative, right brain job, focused on the supernatural, on creating excitement and raising people’s pulses … sometimes even dealing with the heroic.
So what type of questions might I be concerned with as each persona?
In my Clark Kent / Project Manager persona, I’m concerned with questions like:
In my Superman / Novelist persona, I’m concerned with questions like:
But sometimes you have to answer the same type of questions for both personas …
As a Clark Kent project manager, I might ask:
As a Clark Kent PM, I might ask:
That certainly requires some creativity—how do you vary the excitement level so you keep the reader hooked but don’t wear them out, what is the perfect conclusion that is both surprising and inevitable—but it also helps to apply some organizational skill to achieve that. I now use an application for my writing called Scrivener, which makes it very easy to write chunks of material, such as scenes or chapters, and then rearrange them to meet the needs of the plot. But before I discovered Scrivener, I tried to figure this out by using post-it notes stuck to a white board, and I suspect that the result looked a lot like the diagram a transportation planner might use to determine logistical efficiency.
Sometimes even the Superman persona requires Clark Kent skills. Being a novelist isn’t all Superman adventures—I not only create books, but I also publish and promote them, and that involves a lot of tedious but necessary activities like:
Those all sound like the kinds of things Clark Kent might do at the Daily Planet.
Nate also referred in that email I mentioned earlier to the fact that I have piloted small aircraft, an experience I wrote about in an article for the Winter 2016 issue of Dickinson Magazine.
My husband is a pilot and flies a 1979 Piper Arrow, which is suspiciously like the one the character Walt Federman flies in my first novel, The Sense of Death. I travel as a passenger in the Arrow quite frequently, and a couple of years ago I decided to take a "pinch hitter" course which teaches a non-pilot passenger how to control and land a plane in case the pilot is incapacitated. I took my first lesson in a Piper Warrior—a sort of baby Arrow—at Brandywine Airport in West Chester, Pennsylvania (which also makes an appearance in The Sense of Death) and I was hooked, and I continued taking lessons.
On the surface that sounds like classic Superman—after all, what’s more Superman-like than flying?
But there’s a lot of Clark Kent in there too.
As I took my lessons, I went from being nervous about even taxiing the plane to being so blasé about it that my instructor once asked me if I planned to take off from the taxiway—ah yes, never taxi faster than a fast walk. I went from slewing all over the runway on landing to doing a fairly decent job of staying on the centerline.
In addition, I started learning about how the engine works and doing the calculations necessary to plan for fuel consumption during a flight, despite the fact that I never thought of myself as particularly mechanically- or mathematically-inclined. And those Clark Kent parts contributed just as much as the Superman parts to my belief that I could do this thing that at one point I might have thought was beyond my abilities.
The fact that I was able to do all those things—the flying and the taxiing, the landing and the flight plan calculations—made me believe that I could take on the creative right-brain challenge of writing a novel, and then that I could take on the practical left-brain challenge of publishing and promoting it.
Or, to paraphrase another “superhero”—Dr. Frank-N-Furter from Rocky Horror Picture Show …