Jessica Brody On Missing Memories And Unremembered
Teenager Violet may have survived a plane crash, but she has not walked away unscathed. A serious case of amnesia has left her without memories. When she discovers she has some remarkable abilities, Violet questions her super strength and super intelligence. In Unremembered author Jessica Brody asks readers to follow Violet on her journey to find out why she is so different from everyone around her. In return, we ask the author about what it was like crafting a character whose entire life is a mystery.
At the beginning of Unremembered Violet doesn’t remember anything. But it is not only her past, she has to relearn everything from the type of food she likes to how to use a cell phone. Violet’s mind is like a clean slate. How did you put yourself in her position while you were writing her story?
This was probably the most challenging aspect of writing the novel. Especially after writing so many contemporary novels where pop culture references are such integral parts of the storytelling. To get into the headspace of an amnesiac, I watched a lot of documentaries and movies about amnesia. But to achieve that extra authenticity of a truly “blank slate,” as strange as it sounds, as I was writing, I tried to look at the world around me as though I were an alien visiting the planet for the first time. Which is a game I often play with myself. I call it the “alien test.” If aliens came to Earth, which things about our life would seem really weird to them? What would they think was cool and “inventive” and what would they swore made no sense at all? This is very much how Violet sees the world.
Her memories may be gone, but Violet does retain some remarkable talents. Why did you choose to make her a genius at math and languages? Is her intelligence really important if she has no context to use it?
Without giving away too many spoilers about the plot, I will say this: the people who “made” Violet the way she is, did have very specific reasons for doing so. On a more personal level, the “abilities” I gave to Violet as a writer were fairly aspirational. I’ve always loved math and languages. And I’ve always fantasized about being a walking calculator and speaking multiple languages. It’s one of the reasons I loved the show Alias so much (which was a huge influence for me when writing this trilogy). But that’s kinda the rub, isn’t it? What good are her skills if she never has any reason to use them? What good is perfecting a human being who is so removed from ordinary life that they don’t even understand how or why they’re perfect? These are some of the themes I sought to explore in the book.
Violet is not only brilliant, but she is exceptionally beautiful. However, it seems like her looks cause more problems that they solve, don’t you think?
Absolutely! And even more so in book 2, Unforgotten. But of course, as you read the book you learn that she was never really meant to live in the “real world.” This was another theme/question that begged to be explored in this book: Just because we can create something (and just because our technology is advanced enough to do it), does it really mean we should?
There are a lot of questions surrounding Violet’s past and the more opinions about her life are given, the less she trusts others' “answers”. Is she suspicious person by nature or would anyone in her situation be unsatisfied by not knowing who they really are?
That is a terrific question! I think anyone would be distrustful in Violet’s unique situation. However, when I set out to create her as a character, one of the challenges of her being that “blank slate” was that I had to a) figure out what her personality truly was and b) subtly bring out that personality despite her amnesia. And one of the things I decided early on was that she would be a fiery, passionate, highly-independent person who had a tendency to distrust. That is her natural personality, but it’s also something that’s been hardwired into her DNA for specific reasons. But again, I don’t want to give away too much, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Okay, now it is time for the big philosophical question: Are we the same person if we lose all of our memories? Is personality hardwired into every individual or do our experiences make us who we are?
I truly believe it’s a little of both. And again, this was something I explored heavily in the book and had to dive even deeper into as the writer. I wanted Violet to have a personality that went beyond her memories, beyond her creation, something she is ultimately “born” with. But I also think she changes and develops as a person as the book goes on (and will continue to change and develop throughout the series) so I do think her experiences are shaping her as she goes.
And finally, if like Violet, you lost all your memories, which one would you miss the most?
I’d have to say any memories involving my dogs. They are the highlights of my life. They make me smile every day and whenever I’m having a bad day or am in a bad mood, I just look at them (or think of them) and it all goes away. If I were to Unremember them, I’d be one sad, gloomy person!
Thanks so much for your wonderful, insightful questions! I hope everyone enjoys the book!