Jessica initially came to me, Clarice Swan, as a name, with a list of character traits, and a picture of an attractive stranger. Emmett introduced me to her along with the outline for Forest of Lost Secrets.
I knew where Jessica lived, how old she was, a little about her family and friends, and how she fit into the plot of our story. But Jessica was two-dimensional when I met her. She was as flat as the paper on which she was presented. And that’s okay, because this is how Emmett and I work. He creates characters, sets them in wonderfully descriptive settings of his prolific imagination, and plots the events that unfold to weave entertaining tales of far-off places. It is my job to give the character life and depth.
Jessica and I have a lot in common, and that’s helpful when adding “flesh” to a character’s bones. We both fancy ourselves writers. We were both raised as Catholics in Louisville, Kentucky, the northern most city of this southern state. We share a strong work ethic, attention to details, list-making, and set high standards for ourselves. And physically, we’re both blonde, thin, and surprisingly strong. But the most important thing Jessica and I have in common, is what allowed me to feel at home inside her head.
Jessica has experienced pain; as have I. Jessica’s pain was caused by the tragic loss of her first steady boyfriend, Curtis. She was unfortunately present at his drowning, and blames herself for not being able to prevent it. Our book opens with this difficult and significant incident. She’s trying to get back on track and redeem herself through volunteer work with the organization, Against Drunk Boating. But Catholic guilt weighs heavily on her young shoulders. Jessica is at a definite cross roads in many ways: her psychological development, her life after high school, and beyond.
The arc this character takes in our story will effect, in large part, the rest of her life. If she continues to blame herself for Curtis’s accidental death, carrying that burden into adulthood, it will no doubt negate her still-developing self-confidence, and encumber her ability to make confident decisions. But, if she can trust her burgeoning inner wisdom, and take a leap of pure faith in an effort to save the Kyne Brothers, she will undoubtedly arc in the direction toward self-agency. She will need this if she is to blossom into the competent and confident adult she can become.
I was able to relate to Jessica as I too experienced the pain of loss — not of another person, but of myself. For a long time, I suffered from the lack of a strong inner core to center and guide me. An inherent certainty in Clarice as a secure, capable, and worthy individual was missing. Having little confidence in my decisions, judgment, or ability, I fell prey to many traps of man and mind, trying to fill this essential void. So, like Jessica, I too have come to a psychological and career crossroads of sorts. While no lives but my own hinge on my “character arc” or career choice, there is a path I’m taking which requires a great leap of faith and a lot of elbow grease. I’ve decided, not having known my true self all these years, there’s nothing more significant I could lose. Might as well go for it! Forest of Lost Secrets is the first “bend” in the road leading to my future.