Have you ever heard a writer say “when my character gets on the page, they write themselves?” I always thought that was hyperbole….until I met Jake Foreman.
I’ve written eleven novels and twenty short stories, but my favorite supporting character appeared in the first short story I ever wrote.
(More about that later)
Jake Foreman is Ellie Foreman’s father. Ellie, a video producer and single mother in Chicago, is the protagonist of my amateur sleuth series. Ellie has a teen-age daughter, an ex-husband who, unfortunately, shows up in every book, and Jake, her senior citizen father. For some reason, Jake is the only character about whom I never have to worry. Whenever he appears in a scene, the scene literarily writes itself, and, of course, he steals it.
After fifteen years I’m still not sure where he comes from. I can say he’s nothing like my own father, who was a businessman and banker. Jake is a lawyer. He’s retired, lives in an assisted-living facility although he’s in reasonably good health, and always has a good line or comeback. He looks a little like Ben Kingsley; he’s prone to wisecracks, and he snaps his fingers to Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra. (Okay, in that way he IS like my father). He loves Ellie desperately, even protectively, but he has his own secrets. Some of them are revealed in the series. In one book Jake tells his daughter a story from his youth where he brushed up against the Outfit. In another he tells her the story of his true love, who wasn’t Ellie’s mother. In yet another he has a girlfriend of his own. In AN EYE FOR MURDER, the first Ellie Foreman mystery, it’s Jake’s youth in Lawndale that sets up the premise of the novel.
But Jake is critical to the series in other ways, too. He is an integral part of Ellie’s support system. He reflects back her insatiable curiosity, puts up with her neuroses, becomes exasperated at the dangers she takes, and adores his granddaughter Rachel. Btw, the feeling is mutual, much to Ellie’s chagrin when she accuses both generations of ganging up on her, the generation in the middle. Moreover, Ellie’s sense of humor is directly attributable to Jake. Her tenderness, too. In fact, I can not imagine writing an Elie book without Jake in it. He may get a little older and frailer in each novel, but aside from some scrapes and his unyielding arthritis, nothing serious is going to happen to him for a long time.
I mentioned above that Jake first appeared in a short story as a teenager. “The Day Miriam Hirsch Disappeared” was the first short story I wrote. It takes place in 1938 in the formerly Jewish neighborhood of Chicago’s Lawndale. Jake develops a crush on an actress with the Yiddish theater. But Miriam only has eyes for a guy named Skull who may or may not be a gangster. It sounds like a story about unrequited love—until you remember the year in which it was set. The story won a couple of contests and the brief burst of confidence it gave me inspired me to keep writing.
At the time, of course, I had no idea that story would be prequel to my Ellie Foreman series, or that the Georgia Davis series would spin off Ellie’s. Funny about that.
Anyway, that story is now free and you can download it from my website so you can meet Jake at the same time I first did.
Btw, AN IMAGE OF DEATH, the third Ellie Foreman mystery, featuring Jake as one the supporting characters, is also free through June 13 at Amazon.
Thanks, Neil, for letting me go on about Jake.
Libby Fischer Hellmann is the award-winning author of 10 crime thrillers, including A BITTER VEIL, SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, and the Ellie Foreman and Georgia Davis series. She also writes short stories and novellas. Her next thriller, HAVANA LOST, will be out in September. She’s lived in Chicago 35 years. Find out more here.