This weekend I did something I’ve never done before. I took a break from the novel I’m writing to write something else.
Started it yesterday, finished it today: a grand total of just over 16,000 words.
It’s called The Dusk Country Blues and it’s certainly one of the strangest and most explicit things I’ve ever written. It’s also something I’m really proud of and happy with.
Here’s how it started.
Kyle Muntz showed me a story he was struggling with and asked for some suggestions. It was this story about two brothers and a girl with antlers living in this place called the dusk country, which is full of these huge abandoned manufacturing plants.
His story wasn’t working and we talked about it for about an hour. I kept getting more and more ideas and telling him about all kinds of things he could do with this story. Thing is, he’s trying to keep it a short story, so probably somewhere around 5,000 words. That made some of the ideas just too big to tackle in that amount of space and those ideas would’ve distracted from the real story: the relationship between the brothers and this antlered girl.
So I told him to write it a certain way for a short story and then to write it again as a novella or even a novel, if it turned that large.
Incidentally, this is exactly how the novel I’m working on began. A short story that was too big for its size, so I rewrote it into something very different, only to realise that if I combined the two short stories [which would work], then I could tell the whole story and I’d have a nice short novella. But then I got a few more ideas and now these two short stories are turning into a novel that may be up to 100,000 words.
Anyrate, so I suggested Kyle try that, but he told me he probably wouldn’t, and then he encouraged me to write the longer version of it.
I kind of shrugged that off, but over the next two days, all I could think about was the dusk country and these three people.
So I wrote the first half yesterday and sent it to Kyle.
His excitement got me really jazzed to finish it, so I wrote the second half today. Just finished about half an hour ago.
It’s really funny to me, because Kyle and I have often joked how we’re slowly becoming the same writer. We both come from experimental backgrounds and are sliding into more straightforward and less stylistic writing. We’re also diving into genre fiction, which has, I think, been freeing for both of us.
We often talk about stories and give each other suggestions. We’re typically each other’s first readers. And so it amuses me that he wrote a story that inspired me to essentially rewrite his story, coming up with something very different, but also intensely similar [for obvious reasons].
He’s writing another draft of his dusk country story soon.
But, yeah, maybe this isn’t interesting to other people, but I find it funny and exciting.
Also, a novel I plan on writing this summer was directly inspired by a story Kyle wrote a few months ago.
What I’m saying, I guess, is that talking about ideas and being unguarded with your suggestions and inspirations is useful for the creative process. It’s good to inspire one another and to work off each other’s inspirations.
Anyrate, I want to share one of my favorite bits from this novella. It gave me an interesting way to go about worldbuilding, which is to do it through absence or contrast.
“You awake?” I felt his voice vibrate through the mattress, through my skin pressed against him.
“Tell me a story?”
“What you wanna hear?”
He shifted beside me, his body coiling in on itself. “Something beautiful.”
The cracks in the ceiling were just large enough to see through but there was only blackness. The faint glow of the fireflies only revealed outlines of our room. I rolled over to face them, my back pressed against Abe’s. I imagined this is how we were in the womb. Reluctantly pressed together. All that’s desirable in a man pouring into him, while I leeched what I could to make myself whole. Somehow I stole enough to have the voice that belonged to him. The rich and unforgettable one that would fit inside his lungs and mouth so well, completing the image of a human perfected. But the voice was mine and Abe couldn’t sleep without it.
I stared at the fireflies rattling against the glass chaotically. “Years ago, the dusk country was alive. The hum of machinery was everywhere. The sun came up and stayed up for hours. It went up so high that you could look straight up and it would be there before it fell back down. Mothers and fathers went to work and made the machines sing. Children gathered together in the sunlight and played games. They didn’t just collect fireflies. They collected spiders and beetles and butterflies. They traded them, not as a commodity, but like treasures. The streets weren’t full of dust and grass didn’t break them up. No, people got in cars and made them move. They moved as fast as you can run and no one got tired. There was food everywhere too. People ate more than insects and plants. Even the river flowed clean. The dusk country was a town made of light. Even the streets had light. And night would come but there were stars. Like a thousand fireflies but way up in the air. So high you couldn’t even reach them standing on a building. And there was a moon. It was like the sun but smaller. Night lasted only a little while before the sun came back. The best part was seeing people smile. Seeing people everywhere, smiling. Just smiling for no good reason. Just smiling because the sun was shining.
“You know what the best part was?”
“What?” his voice only a whisper.
“People didn’t just disappear.”
If you’re still reading this and want to read an extremely bizarre story about two brothers, a girl with antlers, an abandoned town full of abandoned buildings and machines, a place where the sun only ever reaches the horizon for a few hours before descending back into hours of night, then give me a shout.
Here’s a song by a guy with a beautiful voice.