While a lot of today’s reflection is generated from personal thoughts, it also is thoughts about my character Jess Davies in We Three. In the sequel, We Fit, Jess will investigate ways to improve her employment situation. She’s a bartender in a swing club, living in a room provided by her employer. She’s 25 with only a high school diploma, and has jail time in her background.
Considering a career change at any point in life requires a lot of self-examination. The older we get, the further we can feel we “strayed” from the dreams of childhood. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” becomes “What can I do to bring in money for food, clothes, and a roof over my head?”
I had dreams, as a kid, of traveling the world. This became an interest in all cultures, history, and in my teens, politics. Which all led me to apply to colleges seeking a program that would prepare me for the U.S. Foreign Service, a job as a diplomat. My college years derailed that in a number of ways, and I slotted my interest in people into writing, finally obtaining a degree in journalism. Only for that industry to be in so much transition at the time that I couldn’t get hired locally. And I was in a situation where relocating was not possible. I couldn’t chase the jobs. I had to find them here.
“I need income” had pushed me into “find work” mode. I freelanced for a while, temped in secretarial positions, call centers, database conversions, and other project jobs. Unsteady money was better than no money, but even that could only be tenable for a couple years before I had to admit I needed full-time work. Finally, I drew on my tech skills from my work-study job in college and landed a professional job in IT.
No doubt about it. These were all interesting jobs in their own way, but none were my dream. My writing hobby was reborn as the thing to have happiness outside of work. My first novel was essentially giving the journalist in me free rein to research and write a story… that many of the things I was researching about were enacted on the page by made up people was just ‘creative license.’ I fully embraced that I was fiction writing, and suddenly I was unfettered, off and running. It was exciting. I didn’t need to be interviewing people and writing feature articles to be able to show human nature to readers. I could do it just swimmingly through fiction. Ah, an unexpected sideways-ish match to my childhood dream: I was exploring and sharing the world with readers, from the chair at my desk.
I started to take jobs that gave me time to write. But these jobs didn’t have steady benefits or pay well enough for my family’s needs. So I had to get buried again in another profession that ate up all my energy and time: public school teaching. My writing struggled to continue.
Now I’m at a crossroads again. I’ve chosen a path. It only remains to be seen now what I will find out about myself and whether or not I can find something that connects to my first dream, or if I have to create a new dream.
Back to how this thinking about my own life situation has affected my character writing. I’m currently working out Jess’s childhood in detail so I can figure out her decision-making as she contemplates leaving bartending behind. Would she try for some sort of degree, go for a vocational training program, or simply move into something that provided on-the-job training? If so, what jobs could that be? Some resources I’m checking out are:
- Careers for Your Characters
- U.S. Bureau of Labor job descriptions
- local want ads
For Jess I do have to consider what jobs she might be barred from since she has a six month jail sentence in her past. Jess has done a lot of seasonal and day labor, but until bartending, she didn’t have a steady job. But it’s barely meeting her needs financially. So she needs to find better work. She doesn’t have a vehicle, so becoming a delivery driver is out. She does want a day shift position rather than a night job, because she wants to spend her nights more frequently with Eric and Elena. She’s comfortable in customer service, so perhaps a call center position would work. I’ll have to keep looking — just like Jess. And that can drive several scene in We Fit.
I’ve already done some of the same looking into jobs when figuring out how Elena moved through her jobs: cafe worker, waitress, flight attendant, and now working to start an adult travel agency. She wanted away from home and traveling to Miami got that but it wasn’t as simple as applying to cruise lines or airlines for work right away at 18. So she turned to waitressing and then finally had enough customer service background that the flight attendant program let her in. A bad experience with the airline customers made her decided to leave the airline without an immediate job-transition plan, which is why she’s been “grounded” the last year or so and desiring to get back to traveling, but on her own terms. A lot of this I already plan to play out in We Fit.
Eric’s career progression was relatively simple by comparison to either Elena or Jess. He grew up wanting to fly planes. He joined the Air Force and took advantage of every internal opportunity for training and advancement, testing well enough to eventually train as a pilot, which he flew through several military operations. Then he retired from the USAF and moved easily to commercial airline pilot. If he lost his job now due to some economic downturn or disaster in the air, right now, I have no idea what he’d turn to doing. He might get a nice severance package though, giving him time to think about it. But that might be something to explore in We Fit also.
Maybe this blog post should have been titled “how I use real life to help me write fiction.”