(The estimated reading time for this is 7 minutes)
The genesis of most of my novels can be found in real experiences I’ve had throughout my life, and Long After Dark is no exception. The concept for the novel all began a few years ago when I had a terrible cold. Thankfully I rarely get sick (and often go years without as much as a head cold), but one winter not so long ago, I was hit with a terrible flu that included a high fever and the worst cough I’ve ever had. Because the cough was nearly constant, and even the slightest provocation sent me into horrible coughing fits that left my chest and lungs burning, my head pounding and my entire body aching and shaken with chills, sleeping was pretty much out of the question. My doctor gave me a few prescriptions for antibiotics and a heavy duty cough syrup with codeine (the same as in the novel) but even that didn’t work because every time I’d lay down the coughing would kick in. So I basically did my best to suffer through it. I spent much of the daylight hours upright on a couch, and the evenings in a recliner in the living room so as not to keep my wife up all night. I was a mess, a sniffling, hacking blob in a robe surrounded by boxes of tissues and medicine that was doing little to help. But for occasionally nodding off for a few seconds here and there (only to awaken, you guessed it, coughing) I didn’t sleep for four days.
During this period some interesting things began to happen. The world around me began to change, or at least the way I experienced it. Although I was exhausted, it seemed my senses actually heightened, and I began to see and hear and notice things I’d previously been unaware of. Due to the fever and lack of sleep, things were shifting within my brain, but I didn’t realize then the extent to which physiological changes were actually taking place. When it was very quiet, particularly at night, I began to hear strange voices and whispering sounds, and things moved about along the corners of my eyes. I began to feel like someone or something was watching me, and I found myself struggling to keep my paranoia and terror under control. But it only grew worse. Late one night I heard a strange rumbling sound and realized it was coming from the street outside. I looked and saw what appeared to be a clown in full regalia riding a skateboard. Slowly, the clown was gliding back and forth in front of the house, eyes trained on me throughout. It was three-thirty in the morning. Trust me on this: there is absolutely nothing amusing about a clown out in front of your house at three-thirty in the morning. To this day I have no idea if the clown was simply a hallucination or if there really was some nut in a clown costume skateboarding around the neighborhood in the middle of the night. In the moment, it made virtually no difference.
On the fourth night, I found myself sitting in the recliner giggling softly, unaware of what it was I’d found funny, but unable to stop myself. I realize now that I was completely out of my mind. And for some reason, night—which had frightened me after a day or two without sleep—had apparently become horrifically humorous. But my laughter was short-lived. Within an hour or so I was so paranoid and confused that I’m still not sure what I believed or thought was happening. Yet even in all the madness, I remember stopping and looking over at a pad of paper on a nearby coffee table and thinking, “Don’t forget this. You can use this.”
Sad, I know, but it’s what writers do. We can’t help it.
A few years later, when I decided to write Long After Dark, I referred to my notes during that time (many of them completely incoherent) and was able to use my own experiences as a template for the novel.
Long After Dark was a concept I’d had for years but had never written because I didn’t have a real handle on it beyond the basic idea, which was to write a sort of supernatural Rear Window mixed with themes of betrayal and self. Making the lead character Harry Fremont sick brought the whole thing together and allowed me to focus on the themes I wanted in the novel, but also opened the door for sleep depravation to play a big part. As it’s the perfect catalyst for paranoia and the blurring of reality and fantasy, it became an important device and helped make Long After Dark a reality.
From there I began researching sleep depravation and then began plugging other aspects into the piece. One was the concept that when someone died, rather than seeing their own life flash before their eyes, they instead experienced the final moments of someone else’s life, someone they had hurt. So I went in knowing Harry was really Kelly…but Harry was also Harry…and when I began to think about a physical manifestation of his agony, fear and destruction, the mysterious bandaged character was born. Another was the concept of betrayal, and what even the possibility of such a thing can do to a human being. Once all these themes were pulled together into a reasonable plot, it was simply a matter of dropping poor Harry into the meat grinder. Because in the end, even he has no idea what all this has done to him—or even, for that matter, what it is he’s done—until the darkness lifts and all is revealed not only to the reader, but to Harry and Kelly as well.
Because there needed to be a tangible other beyond the bandaged man, I next looked to the frightening beings wandering about the neighborhood with pipes or watching from nearby rooftops. I originally considered using the clown from my own experiences, and creepy though it was, I felt it was too cliché, and instead turned to another of my real life experiences.
My wife Carol and I lived in a small apartment building for the first five years of our marriage. Quiet and safe, it was located in the small town I’d grown up in. It was pleasant and uneventful, but for one night when I woke up to an odd sound outside our bedroom window. It was a strange scraping sound that would echo through the night for a few seconds, stop and then resume. I rolled out of bed and carefully pulled the window shade back enough to see out. There, on a paved walkway between the apartments, stood a strange older man in overalls. He wore a striped conductor’s hat and his clothing and skin was stained with what looked like soot. In his hands was a fat length of heavy pipe, which he was slowly dragging along the pavement. I stood at the window, mesmerized and trying to figure out who this man was and what he was doing. As I leaned closer to the window for a better look, the man froze and looked back over his shoulder. Right at my window. We held eye contact for several seconds, and then he turned away and continued dragging the pipe away, this time disappearing into the darkness and shadows beyond the nightlight on the side of the building. The scraping sound continued for a few more seconds and then fell silent.
I remember that experience quite vividly, though I’ve never been entirely sure if I dreamed it or if I’d come awake as I thought I had and truly saw a strange man below my window. I’m still not sure, but I never forgot it, and it became the basis for the shadow people in Long After Dark.
A year after I began writing it, Long After Dark was finally completed and came together as a novel. There were some changes along the way (like the character of Garret for example, who in early drafts was actually the narrator), but hopefully wound up being what I’d originally intended, a mysterious, frightening, thought-provoking and mind-bending novel about love, loss, betrayal, consequence, and ultimately, deliverance.
I hope you all enjoy this brief glimpse of how Long After Dark came to be, and I want to thank you all for coming with me to what the great F. Scott Fitzgerald called “the real dark night of the soul,” where it’s always long after dark…
Until next time, be sure to keep an eye on that roof across the street.
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