If you look closely, somewhere among the cover bands and textbooks that are so prevalent in State College, somewhere between the "paint your own pottery" and a Bon Jovi poster, there is a more creative and original scene in this town.

Suzanne Keller was hoping to explore that creative, energetic life when she self-published her book, Free Spirits: A Celebratory Look at Sixteen People Living the Creative Life in Happy Valley .

"Art is very important to me," Keller said. "I'm attracted to those that live off the beaten path. I think art adds to the quality of life and the community, and this community is also very important to me."

Keller, who has lived in State College for almost her entire life, decided to become a free spirit herself when she quit her job at Penn State's Office of University Development and Alumni Relations about four years ago.

Since then, she has been producing fiction, as well as writing articles for the Centre Daily Times and several magazines.

"I wanted a book published by myself, and chose this type of book because, unfortunately, most people don't give much credence to unpublished fiction writers," Keller said.

Keller selected the sixteen artists featured in the book mostly by looking where her own interest lies and by her broad definition of art.

"I've always had an interest in painting and music, but landscape design and the healing arts can be creative and artistic as well," she said.

Keller's general definition of a free spirit is "somebody who has learned to push beyond their fears and live a more authentic and creative life."

"These are people that have gotten past expectations of family and friends and money and made some personally accountable choices," Keller said.

A strong example in Keller's book is Dora E. McQuaid, a poet, performer, activist and lecturer at Penn State.

McQuaid said she began writing around the age of five; since then, her hobby has seen her through many tough times.

"Writing literally saved my life," McQuaid said. "I've lived through a lot of violence, and I've used writing to re-empower myself in my own life. Writing allowed me to put it outside myself and then I was able to see the options there were to change my life. I wrote my way back to myself."

McQuaid said although it is difficult to share her story and writing with so many, she feels that by sharing she can help others.

"It's not easy," she said. "There's a constant fear of being exposed, but I wouldn't have it any other way."

McQuaid said she is appreciative to Keller for her book because it celebrates a community of creative people.

"Shared experience is very important through both good and difficult times," she said.

Joey Lenze, a guitarist and singer-songwriter, is a musician featured in Free Spirits who has a lot more on his plate than his punk-rock band, Super Robot Kill Kill.

He also works full-time at the University's Applied Research Lab, is getting his master's degree in electrical engineering and writes for a California-based magazine reviewing records and interviewing bands.

"Everyone has 24 hours in a day and it's up to each person how they want to spend them," Lenze said.

As for obligations, Lenze said he deals with things that need to be done during a certain time, like work and class, and in between is where he "squishes all the extra stuff."

As far as the creative scene in State College, Lenze believes there's talent out there, but it's not necessarily harvested.

"There's no shortage of talent, but it's not the most supportive place if you don't want to be a wedding band," he said.

Jennifer Tucker, a consulting herbalist and instructor of herbal studies featured in the book, also realizes the value of Keller's book.

"I don't think people move to State College because of the creative community, and that's why I enjoy Suzanne's book," Tucker said. "I have found other like-spirited people within the community."

Among other original, free spirits included in the book are tattoo artist Paul Rupeka, recording engineer Bob Klotz and landscape and garden designer Evelyn Vincent, to name just a few.

Keller considers her book a gift to the artists in the community.

"It's kind of like a mirror for them to hold up and be able to say, 'Yeah, we are a community,' " she said. "It's also for the entire community to see just how vibrant and great it can be here. The population changes so much and it's good because it's not stagnant. People are doing wonderful, creative things with their lives."

Free Spirits: A Celebratory Look at Sixteen People Living the Creative Life in Happy Valley is available at www.EiderdownPress.com .

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