THE BLOG
06/16/2007 08:45 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Imperfect But Happy in My First Life

In a surreal twist the title character of my teen novel, The Virtual Life of Lexie Diamond (HarperCollins), spawned her own virtual self: an avatar on the 3D online

digital world of secondlife.com. The teen grid, which is separate from the adult world,

recently launched an educator's island. And it was here that Lexie's doppelganger was

invited to be a sort of pundit for teens. In her first life, on the pages of my book, Lexie

will tell you that life is a Bubble in which we humans are trapped like fish in a bowl, or

icons on some Super Geek's Game Boy, nothing more than playthings for a higher

intelligence. Lexie discovers a portal out of the Bubble, which leads to not only her

deceased mother but also renewed belief in Lexie's view of the world. Therefore what

better place for Lexie's alter ego to exist than on a website that portends to be a portal out

of Life As We Know It?

After getting cozy with Second Life, I realized that the possibilities for

creation in first life paled next to those in a second life. As the mystic saying goes: As

above, so below. The so-called real world in which we work, play, fight, and struggle to

love is fantastically mirrored in the hyper real world of Second Life. Your avatar can

spend time meditating at a Hare Krishna ashram or forgo the karmic investment and live

La Vida Loca at a stream of wild parties. You can even earn a first life income by selling

goods "in world" to exchange Linden dollars at the current rate of $US1 to L264.

One subscriber apparently made a million dollars U.S. in fiscal year 2006. Whatever you

imagine can be.

I confess, however, that Lexie's virtual second life aroused in me a host of

conflicting emotions from interest to fear. On the page, the borders of my imagination

defined Lexie's voice and world. But on Second Life, teens would interact with

Lexie, co-create her environment, meet at her house for events, post comments on a

communal bulletin board, or just hang out. This would not be the continuation of book to

movie or television in which I might maintain control of Lexie's world. True, I would

provide Lexie's "voice" on Second Life but who knew what might happen to her?

Essentially, she would be having a life without me.

As a writer, I have imagined many virtual lives, sorting through and sculpting my

inner life in the process. More often than not, my experiences provide the inspiration if

not the literal translation for my characters. Perhaps making an avatar is the closest

experience to creating a literary character, minus countless hours of writing, editing and

training. In order to resonate, however, a literary character must be, as we all are, flawed.

And if the voice is true and the narrative captivating, its flaws might engender a certain

fondness and catharsis for the reader. On Second Life, however, you would have to comb

through to the far reaches of almost seven million subscribers to find a single

imperfection. Everyone is fabulous.

The first pass at Lexie's virtual construction rendered her homely, gawky, and a

bit pudgy. A real teenager. Guess what? Passersby besieged her, wanting to chat. In

her too-true-to-her-fictional-life, she stood out. A little sleeker, a little prettier and she

began to fade into the virtual background where she belonged. Still, my heart ached to

lose her edge of imperfection and I wondered what was the emotional cost of

straddling existence between one's fantasy self and the one you faced every morning

in the mirror? Would you lose respect for that imperfect self, gradually siphoning off

your emotional investment into a world of your design?

There was only one way to know: I decided to create my own avatar. And while

my ego enjoyed choosing options such as the perfect nose, eye-popping breast buoyancy

and slim hips, I soon became distracted by my very real children, my wonderful partner,

my dear friends. My hapless avatar was left in the incubation stage like a sloughed off

beauty mask. For now, Lexie Diamond's avatar is alive and well on secondlife.com and

her creator continues to mine her own imperfections for the basis of future literary

characters.