My first trip to Costa Rica was not on my own initiative. At least not at first.
At the time, I was a freelance scout going from job to job, looking for locations to shoot movies, TV shows, and commercials. I was also an unreleased writer working on my first book. At this point, the two activities – sometimes sitting alone in front of a keyboard and sometimes working with ever-changing groups of creators on film projects – didn’t seem to overlap.
I thought about my disparate roles as Jekyll and Hyde, even though I wasn’t sure which was which. Sometimes the independent scout, looking for ways to get into a property or access a certain point of view (by placing photos before clearance) can look like the criminal Hyde. At other times, the lonely fiction writer, his unfettered mind wandering dark places, would look more like the crazy half of a split personality.
I got a call from Los Angeles and got hired to explore parts of Costa Rica for a coffee ad. I live in Miami, so I flew straight to San JosÃ©, rented a car, and started investigating coffee plantations and volcanoes.
It was the part of a cinematic job that I loved the most, just me in the world wandering around to take pictures, expense paid, without any member of the crew having arrived yet. After the director, producer, set designer, cinematographer, and crew (and in the case of commercials: ad agency representatives and client) have introduced themselves, my responsibilities have changed.
The work became more a matter of management, obtaining authorizations and permits and working out logistical issues such as geographical directions and access, physically bringing the group and its equipment to real places that do not exist. had so far only been seen in FedExed photographs in Los Angeles.
In the next phase, the locations were scouted and chosen as a group, then a schedule was established, the job was shot and completed in about a week. We had one last dinner, the team members toasted a job well done and started discussing the next job at home. By then, I had seen Costa Rica enough to know I needed to see more. A bit more.
I thought to myself, what’s the rush? I have an open plane ticket. Who knew when I would have a chance to come back down here? Why not explore this beautiful country now? So yes, AdiÃ³s amigos, I say. I will stay.
At this point, the two parts of my work personality started to merge. A coffee company and a director I had worked with previously brought me here. I had fresh money in my pocket and free time in front of me. I had the freedom of the freelance worker, the solo explorer. Now the schedule and route was up to me to plan. The photos I took and the notes I took would be for the other me, the unknown novelist.
It can take a while for ideas to seep in and blend into a story. I loved exploring Costa Rica on this first trip, which went from being a commercial job, a TV commercial that took about three weeks to spot and shoot, into an additional four weeks of traveling east to west. , from north to south, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Tortuguero to Osa.
In the end, I was grateful for the opportunities offered by chance. I had seen great natural beauty and met wonderful people. I had a few writing ideas that would stay in a notebook and in the recesses of my brain for years to come. I thought of a story about squatters in a remote location, another about a collector of animal skulls, inspired by an exhibit I had seen in Corcovado. For me, a story begins with a single sentence, an idea or a picture. Sometimes they don’t lead anywhere else. And sometimes they do, even much later.
In the meantime, other writing came first, short stories and novels, and more movies and commercials were spotted and managed. Jekyll and Hyde worked together the best they could. I was hired by a prestigious literary agency in New York. And then dropped out a year later. The world of DIY publishing has progressed. My first novel has been published. I have traveled to other countries for business and pleasure. And Costa Rica stuck in my mind.
A few years ago a friend invited my wife and I to visit him in Uvita. We did a relatively quick trip in May, hiked and kayaked, and listened to the afternoon rains. I became more interested in the South Pacific region. On our last night at the restaurant, I had an idea for a story that looked like a novel. Two girls die in a fire. Why? I did not know. Then I saw a man at another table who became the physical model for my interviewer.
I worked on the novel between two films for a few years. I had written what looked like half a book when I realized I had to return to Costa Rica for more research.
This time I stayed in mid July. Saw humpback whales without expecting or planning. I mapped out the geography where almost all of the story takes place. I took notes and photos. At home, I resumed work on the book and then I stopped working on a film, Bad boys for life, For many months. Life intercedes. Time flies and new events make your head spin and time keeps flowing. To complete a long-term project, you need to hang on to the already woven thread. Immerse yourself in history. Two-thirds done means one-third to go.
The pandemic has struck. Film production has stopped like everything else. I was doing a printing job for Parisian clients. They returned home just before confinement. For me, confinement was perfect for finishing a novel. Writing is its own lock anyway. Nothing writes itself.
My goal was to get the book out before the end of 2020. It happened.
The novel is called The path of the tapir. Here is one way to describe it.
Two American girls who love to have fun on vacation – in the midst of their fun activities – meet a provocative expat and decide to take on an environmental adventure, make a statement that they believe will turn their vacation into something more meaningful than a collection of recreational selfies, tropical parties and surf memorabilia.
Things turn out badly, as the reader finds out on the first page. From there, the story follows two timelines, the ongoing investigation into what happened, intertwined with the recent past that follows the girls to their untimely demise.
The investigation, focused on finding the missing male expatriate, is led by an unassuming middle-aged investigator, driven by professionalism and curiosity. He is bowled over by the appearance of a disturbing mercenary whose actions were sparked by the grief of a parent and the need to assign blame, in an effort to deliver self-defense justice, eye for eye. The ensuing conflict of missions and methods creates the tension that brings the story to its conclusion.
And although this book is finished and I have evolved, I carry Costa Rica in my head and in my heart. Pura Vida!
Michael Jarvis was born on an air base and traveled regularly, living as a child in Alabama, Texas, Ohio, Guam, Georgia and England. He graduated from Florida International University with degrees in Fine Arts and English, and lives in Miami, researching venues for various film projects and writing fiction.
The path of the tapir can be found on Amazon and various other sites listed on the author’s website: https://www.michaeljarvis.net/books/