My second, also very welcome, guest on Thursday Themes today, is Jennifer Worrell, who has joined me to discuss the themes of her latest novel.
Thank you for inviting me to your blog!
A lot of writing advice suggests you worry about your theme after you’ve finished the manuscript. Or maybe it’ll come to you randomly while drafting. I like to do things the hard way so I developed the themes first and hung plot and character from it.
I wanted to write about a particular angle of loss that’s under-explored: lost opportunity. An exciting event is over before you arrive, a loved one disappears before you can say good-bye, a goal slips through your fingers because you didn’t take action. These kinds of scenarios are so heartbreaking because you have only your mistakes and inertia to blame. Everyone else moves on while you’re stuck in limbo, wishing for a time machine. You make detailed plans and fantasize about getting things right, refusing to believe it’s too late.
My protagonist, Val, is an aging sci-fi author who, while trying to secure his legacy with one last best-seller, lingers in the past due to unfinished business. In that sense, Edge of Sundown is somewhat of a ghost story. He refuses to acknowledge that he’s “dead”, despite multiple signs to the contrary.
Older protagonists have always fascinated me. I was partially inspired by the film Twilight (1998, with Paul Newman, not the vampires) and the novels Attius and The Diaries of Jane Somers (by Ron Hansen and Doris Lessing, respectively), to write about a man who stubbornly ignores how the modern world is racing forward without him.
At some point mortality shifts from the back of one’s mind to a foreseeable, urgent fixation. We look back and marvel at the road we covered, but the footprints left behind are greater than those remaining. We’re forced to acknowledge that our turn is coming. Yet we have no idea how much time is left on the clock. All those hours spent at the gym don’t mean squat if you’re run over by a bus. This gave rise to a disturbing supposition: what if there were a tangible, outside force deciding when you were no longer necessary?
I get many of my ideas by asking what if, and the further I followed this line, the darker the story became.
During the seven-plus years I worked on this novel, discord in America intensified. Class divides have always existed in one way or another: denials of health care coverage, concerns about death panels, defunding of social services. Hitler’s ultimate plan was to exploit such divides. What if he had been successful? It’s a terrifying prospect with arbitrary definitions. If human life is regarded as disposable, boundaries become meaningless.
By dwelling on the losses of the past, Val’s self-delusions obscure reality as he veers down a path of devastating clarity.
Blurb from back cover:
When dystopian fiction becomes real…
Val Haverford’s Sci-Fi and Western novels made him a household name. But that was then. A decade of creative stagnation and fading health has left him in the literary wilderness.
Attempting to end his dry spell and secure his legacy, Val pens a dystopian conspiracy theory set in a tangential universe where alien invaders eliminate ‘undesirables’ perceived as drains on society.
But as he digs deeper into violence plaguing his adopted home of Chicago, he discovers unsettling similarities between his work in progress and a life he thought he left behind. Soon he finds his fictional extremists are not only real—they’re intent on making sure his book never sees the light of day.
As he pieces together haunting truths about his city and his motives, Val realizes his last chance to revive his career and reconcile the past could get him—and the people he loves—killed.
Will he make the right choice? Or will it be too late?
Edge of Sundown is a provocative story that shows how the desperation of lost opportunity can lead to drastic and unexpected consequences.
If Jennifer were to make a deal with the Devil, she’d ask to live—in good health—just until she’s finished reading all the books. She figures that’s pretty square.
In case other bibliophiles attempt the same scheme, she’s working hard to get all her ideas on paper. She writes multi-genre fiction and the occasional essay, and is currently working on a collection of shorts and two picture books that may or may not be suitable for children.
Edge of Sundown is her first novel. She’s always been drawn to “what-ifs” and flawed characters, and has never quite mastered the happy ending.
Jennifer is a member of Chicago Writers Association and Independent Writers of Chicago, and works at a private university library. To connect with her and find links to her published works, check out her website; Twitter or Facebook pages; and/or sign up for her monthly newsletter. Photo credit: Rob Gaczol.
Check out Edge of Sundown at mybook.to/edgeofsundown