While expanding a short story into the novel In the Red, I realized an uncomfortable truth. My lead character, Jeremiah Kensington, annoyed me. Not only did he annoy me, but there were times when my feelings for him bordered on outright antipathy. I’d written characters that were different than me before, of course, but at least I found a way to get into their psyche and connect with them enough to finish things. Jeremiah was my total polar opposite in a lot of ways. I have no doubt that in most cases if he really existed, he and I would never have more than a brief conversation with each other. He was a big fat wall between me and my end goal, and I didn’t have a lot of time to figure out how to scale it. There were similarities between myself and Jeremiah, but there were some key differences there, too. Writing became an excavation as I looked for ways to figure out how to access who Jeremiah was and make the book work.
Jeremiah starts out in a small town, and I’ve lived in many small, Midwestern locales. I’ve felt occasional frustration, but nothing close to his resentment. I have been stuck a few times in my life, and it has built up to some festering emotions, so I began to play with that. I took voice lessons for a good decade, so I’d had the experience of gigging around a small-town environment. I also wished for bigger and better things, but I’m not the type to sit around and wait for something to happen. I’m a fairly pro-active person, and as I’ve gotten older I dislike being bitter just because. Still, I can vaguely remember the times I spent wishing and wishing something would just hurry up and happen so things could be easy! That went into Jeremiah’s character, as well. In a lot of ways, he starts out with childish demands and expectations – it isn’t that he’s unlikable (as I first feared), but he hasn’t really had the chance to become a full person.
To make matters better for the moment but worse in the long run, he pretty much gets everything he wants right away. Being out of his element and impressionable, his instincts aren’t to be suspicious, but to lean on his questionable new band members and manager for advice, instruction, and everything else. I will admit that I like to be in control. I don’t like unanswered questions, and I sure as hell wouldn’t just go along for the ride with a huge life change the way Jeremiah does. And yet…this was strangely where I began to feel for him. I don’t know if it was pity or sympathy, but it helped me begin to warm to his unique situation. Plus, I will admit, that there is a bit of the ‘yearning to be a rock star’ in me, as well. I love the genre; I’m an unfortunate walking Wikipedia of classic rock, and I have a guilty love of rock n’ roll urban legends. It was a fun time plunging him into an alter ego and playing up the bad behavior. The thrill he got from being onstage I definitely knew – albeit for different reasons – and could definitely identify with. His anxiety at not being enough was all too close to home, too.
At some point my sympathy for Jeremiah and my love of music and fantasy took hold and guided me towards what was supposed to be the ending, but was really only the midpoint of the book. That was one of the most surprising moments of all. I’d assumed that I’d end things on a dark note, keep it edgy, keep it somewhat in the same tone as the fairy tale that had inspired me.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave him in that place. Whether it was because I instinctively knew there was more story to tell or because I’ve felt lost, alone, and helpless at times, I’m not sure. But before I realized what I was really doing, I began the second section of the book, and started the roller coaster all over again. Jeremiah wasn’t the type to immediately change and reconsider his actions. He clings to what’s familiar, and that I definitely understood. I understood his frustrations with himself, his disappointments, and his struggles. I was also lucky that a whole new cast of supporting characters crawled out of the woodwork, and through their eyes I was able to see a whole new side to the character that had ticked me off so righteously. And this spark of possibility, this was a character I cared about. This was a character I wanted to see come out with at least a possibility of being okay. This was someone I maybe couldn’t exactly identify with, but at least it was someone I could relate to…and even grow to like very much.
About the Author:
Selah Janel has been blessed with a giant imagination since she was little and convinced that fairies lived in the nearby state park or vampires hid in the abandoned barns outside of town. Her appreciation for a good story was enhanced by a love of reading, the many talented storytellers that surrounded her, and a healthy curiosity for everything. A talent for warping everything she learned didn’t hurt, either. She gravitates to writing fantasy and horror, but can be convinced to pursue any genre if the idea is good enough. Often her stories feature the unknown creeping into the “real” world and she loves to find the magical in the mundane.