Authors and long time friends Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski, the dudes also behind the Dormia series, joined forces yet again to bring readers their new sci-fi/fantasy novel Nightfall. The world of Nightfall is mysterious and dark…literally. In this world, daylight shines for 14 years, and when darkness falls, that too lasts for 14 years. Young heroine Marin has never really known the darkness, and she watches as the adults on her island home prepare for the coming blackness. Marin is confused by their rituals and also disturbed by the disappearance of a friend. Marin and readers attempt to uncover the mysteries of the island in this taut and intriguing thriller. YE was lucky enough to get some time with these old pals to discuss their inspirations for the world of Nightfall, their creative process as collaborators, and maybe even give us some hints about the mysteries of Marin’s island.
YE: You guys are good friends now, but how did the relationship become professional and creative?
Peter: We met in Israel, about a decade and a half ago, but I can’t say that it was “Ah, potential creative partner!” at first sight. We liked hanging out, but both of us were just out of college and in very transitory stages of our lives. It wasn’t until several years later, when I was living in Paris and Jake and his wife visited that we hatched this notion of collaborating together. At that point, I had been a diplomat [In addition to being an author and a journalist, Peter has enjoyed a whole separate career as a US diplomat currently serving as US Consul General for Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.] for several years, and Jake was a journalist. Separately, both of us had been playing around with fiction, and so we started to talk about this shared interest. Neither one of us started with the idea of making this our life’s work–it was simply a fun, exciting thing to do. It started at a very pure, creative place. Luckily, that foundation has endured for all these years. I admit it’s total luck–collaborating with someone on a fiction book is not a common situation at all!
Jake: At some point during the trip, in my exuberance, I said: “We should write a book together!” The next morning Kujo–that’s what I call Peter–was like, when do we start? And that was the start of our bro-mance.
YE: What is the creative process like for you two bros? Were Dormia and Nightfall written entirely long distance, or were you 2 dudes ever in a room together hashing out ideas?
Jake: We hardly ever actually see each other face to face. We are like two pen pals who mainly correspond by writing. Somehow–and I am still not sure exactly how–this works. Usually we spend a few weeks just talking about the idea for the story and the characters. Afterwards, we write a chapter-by-chapter outline. The outline always changes along the way. It is a living, breathing thing. Then, once in a while, we meet in some random locale--Paris, Manhattan, Calgary, Shiprock–and we see each other face to face. It’s always a little weird to be in the same room. We’re like, “Wow, that’s what you look like. I forgot!”
Peter: Essentially, we write for each other. We start with a specific concept – in this case, 14 years of day, followed by 14 years of night–and then we begin discussing characters, storylines, images, etc. If during this creative process, I come up with something that Jake seizes on (and vice versa), then we know we’ve got something there. And afterwards it’s all about digging deeper, following specific character arcs and narrative threads, and building the book. But it starts and ends with the same question–do we both love the idea or image?
Jake: Usually when Kujo feels strongly about something, he is right. Plus, I am a bit scared of him, that’s why I call him Kujo.
YE: Do you prefer writing fiction in this collaborative manner?
Jake: Yes. Writing is essentially a very lonely process. I know because I have written three non-fiction books for adults by myself. Sometimes it feels like you are on a raft in the middle of the ocean–with no land in sight–and you have a really crappy map. It is very easy to get stuck/lost in the middle of a book. With Kujo, I never feel alone like that. I am on the raft with my buddy. And even when we are lost–and a bit desperate–we’re in it together. And that’s a hell of a lot better than being alone.
Peter: Jake is a pretty eloquent guy, isn’t he?
YE: Both you guys came into YA fiction from a bit of a serious journalism background. How’d you get from A to B?
Peter: In my time as a diplomat, I wrote the types of cables that were revealed by Wikileaks. Very serious, analytical stuff. I started writing fiction well before meeting Jake, and it was always a dream of mine to make a living from it. If I hadn’t met Jake, I may have gone into adult fiction or nonfiction first. But YA turned out to be a perfect place for our collaboration. For our entire lives, both of us have loved reading books that told great stories, and that’s what we’re trying to do now.
Jake: I got my start in journalism and non-fiction, and I still do it. People often ask: How do you do both–they seem so incredibly different? Here’s the thing: they are not that different at all. Fact is often stranger and more fantastical than fiction. Not long ago, I wrote an article for The New Yorker–among the stuffiest and most serious of adult nonfiction venues–about a temple in India where they discovered $20 billion worth of treasure in the vaults beneath the temple. There were actually two vaults. One had the treasure, the other they didn’t open because it had a door emblazoned with a cobra. The priests at the temple said it was cursed. It is still sealed shut. When this article came out, Hey Day Films–which made the Harry Potter movies–optioned it, and they are now turning it into a fictional feature. All of this is to say, that true stories often are the inspiration for fiction. And that is the case for me in much of my fantasy writing.
YE: Tell us about your inspiration for Nightfall, for a world where darkness feels permanent, where it changes everything about day-to-day life and brings along something mysterious?
Peter: Fear of the darkness is never taught–it’s felt. For as long as human beings have been in existence, the night is a time of heightened danger. Today, especially in our 24-hour cities, the darkness has less of a daily impact, but the fear never goes away. Why is it that the creaking of wood can make your heart race at night, but during the day, you may not even hear it? Our instinctive reaction to the night lies at the heart of Nightfall.
YE: Tell us about Marin, the main character. How is she different from other young people after growing up in this world?
Jake: Marin is an outsider among the people on her island of Bliss. [Marin’s mother is from a more southern region of the Nightfall world, and Marin identifies with both her mother’s and father’s cultures.] Marin is kind of torn between two worlds. On the one hand, she loves Bliss. She is a tomboy who enjoys cliff climbing and sailing. She is definitely not a girly girl. But she is not like the other kids from Bliss. She looks different–she has her mother’s dark brown skin–and she feels different. The same is true for Kana her twin brother, but for TOTALLY different reasons. But I won’t give any more away…
YE: Is there anything you can give away regarding the mysteries of the world of Nightfall?
Jake: Ahh, yes. Okay, let me try to do this carefully. Marin’s twin Kana has this very special condition where he can only see clearly in extremely low levels of light. So during the height of the day years he couldn’t see a thing. But as the sun sank, and the light grew dimmer, he began to be able to see better and better. The people in town just think that he has some kind of rare condition like a birth defect. But this is wrong. There is a better and much more important explanation for why Kana is the way he is–and it ends up putting all of their lives at risk…
YE:What’s up next for you guys?
Jake: I am plowing ahead with my journalism. I am currently working on a story about refugees. I am also working with Peter on a new YA book called Edgelands about an island at the edge of the world where people bring their dead. It is an entire island that functions as one big funeral parlor. And in this strange setting, two kids try to pull off a crazy heist.
Peter: Well, I’m in the middle of a crazy transition! For 18 years, I was a US diplomat who wrote fiction on the side. But because of Penguin’s embrace of Nightfall and Edgelands, I decided now was the time to make a big life change. So I quit my job as a diplomat, moved back to my hometown of Chicago, and am focused on writing full-time. I’ll probably reserve the YA space for my writing with Jake, but I’ve got some other projects I’m working on solo–for younger kids and adults. And perhaps some nonfiction too. We’ll see how it all goes–ask me again in a year!
Wow! We can’t wait for this new collaboration Edgelands or to finish unraveling the mysteries of Bliss, Marin, and Nightfall!