I'm With The Band — A Review of "ShapeShifter — The Demo Tapes, Year 1"

You’ve heard me say many times on this blog that the face of the publishing industry seems to be changing on an almost daily basis. New models are popping up all the time, and it’s fascinating to me, as a writer and as a reader, to track these changes. More material now is available than ever before, to a much bigger audience, thanks to the interwebz.

“The Demo Tapes — Year 1” is one of the most unique collections of shorts I’ve run across. Written by Susan Helene Gottfried between April 2006 and April 2007, this volume is a collection of stories about a fictional band, ShapeShifter. What makes it unusual is the stories are from her blog, and is meant as a companion to Susan’s debut novel, Trevor’s Song. This volume is much like a demo tape, introducing readers to Susan’s characters and fictional world as a real demo tape introduces listeners to a band’s music. I find this to be a very clever publishing model.

Although the stories do not appear in chronological order on the blog, in this collection they are arranged as such, making it much easier to track the life of Trevor Wolff and the formation of ShapeShifter. The book is meant to satisfy the “groupies”, or fans of Susan’s work, as well as whet the appetite for her upcoming release. In that, “The Demo Tapes” succeeds very well.

Each story is prefaced by a note from the author with details of the character’s lives and sometimes the inspiration for the post, or story. There are twenty stories included, along with an introduction and conclusion interspersed with “Thursday Thirteen” lists that are both interesting and hysterical. I consider the stories to be true flash, in that they don’t always have a beginning, middle, and end — that’s not their function. This might be disconcerting to new readers, but for me, I love it. It’s an ongoing tale and that makes it feel “alive”.

Susan’s characters are distinct and quite memorable, as are the stories about them. We’re introduced to Trevor and his best friend, Mitchell Voss. We are invited to witness the evolution of a troubled teen as he finds his way to making his dreams come true — making it to the big time and winning fame and fortune with his band. Like any band, as with a family, there are good times and bad times, but one thing I can say — they’re interesting times.

My favorite excerpt from Trevor’s life is not about Trevor — it’s about Mitchell, and how his hair turned green after spending time in a swimming pool. I laughed until I cried, and the Thirteen List that follows is so funny, I had to change my pants. I think “Backstage Party” really packs an emotional wallop, at least for me, it did. Every vignette is by turns haunting, funny, poignant — but I’ll let you find out for yourself.

This volume may be difficult to digest if you’re not familiar with Susan’s work. It has to be taken in context, because the stories in the book don’t hang together in a cohesive whole, but again, that’s not their function. Their mission is to fill in some blanks, give you a taste of hanging with the band, and establishing Susan Helene Gottfried as a born storyteller with a romping, evocative, insider’s look at what it’s like to say, “I’m with the band.”

You can find Susan at the Meet and Greet, where you can also hang out with Trevor and the band. She’s very fan-friendly, and the website is gorgeous. While you’re there, pick up a copy of “The Demo Tapes” — it’s fun reading, you’ll be supporting the arts, and you’ll fall in love with Trevor. Who doesn’t love to fall in love with a fictional character? Tune in tomorrow for an interview with the colorful and fabulous Ms. Susan.

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6 thoughts on “I'm With The Band — A Review of "ShapeShifter — The Demo Tapes, Year 1"

  1. I know exactly what you mean about killing your darlings. I’ve been building up to doing just that for the past month or so, setting up the villains, laying out where everyone is, prepping the situation to make it its absolute worst. I keep daydreaming about writing it while I’m doing other things. Dreading the moment for weeks. Now I’m just about to do the deed, and you know what my co-writer puts onto the playlist to psych me up for it?

    Christian. Death. Metal. The goofiest music there is. Goofier than Meat Loaf. Goofier than VeggieTales, even.

    I don’t know whether to hurt her or thank her for that move, but it’s certainly been distracting me from the gravity of the situation.

  2. Heh. I know, I danced around the chapter in which the Very Bad Thing Happens, but it worked out for the best. Sometime you just have to grit your teeth and do it. Good luck! Be ruthless. Otherwise, your darlings end up being stunted and flat. It’s for their own good.

    Yeah, I know. I hate doing it, too.

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