Are you who you write?

The other night I watched The Girl Hunters based on a novel by Mickey Spillane who also adapted the screenplay. Here’s the kicker: Spillane starred in the movie as his creation, Mike Hammer. There’s no need to discuss his acting (which was passable for a 1963 B-movie noir). What fascinates me is the bit of trivia that this may be the only example of a writer acting as his own character.

Can you imagine Arthur Conan Doyle acting in an early silent film as Sherlock Holmes?

What about Ian Fleming as James Bond?

I have a hard time imagining Raymond Chandler as Phillip Marlowe.

This then begs the question for all the writers I know. Can you see yourself playing one of your creations in a movie or t.v. show? Are you who you write? Or do you create the characters you wish you could be?

In my historical crime fiction series that started with Ark City Confidential, my main character was Baron Witherspoon, a facially scarred WWI soldier who became a beat cop in a small Kansas town. The shell shock (the early version of PTSD) and lingering questions about his past drove him forward in each book of the series. He is an interesting character to be sure but nothing like me and certainly no one I would wish to be.

I have, however, begun work on a new series. The main character this time is Jewish and lives in Wichita KS. (Okay, two points right there.) A former policeman and veteran of WWII, he walks with a limp based on a war injury and has deep concerns balancing the moral laws of his religion and the laws of man as exemplified by the legal code of the city and state. I have no such professional or military background but it does occur to me the balance of laws versus what is Right weighs out on a daily basis. Watch the news and you’ll see what I mean.

While this character is far closer to me, I do not honestly think I could play him in a movie (regardless of the nearly thirty year age difference). I was fascinated by the Spillane movie and his interpretation. But I firmly believe I would want to write a character that is so closely identified with me personally. For me, there has to be a separation between who I actually am and the characters I write.

To all my writer friends and acquaintances, are you who you write?

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