Nightfall Authors Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski on Inspiration, Collaboration, and Fear of the Dark

Nightfall

Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski’s fourth co-penned novel, Nightfall, imagines a world in which the sun rises just a few times in a lifetime, staying up for 14 years…then leaving the world in blackness for the 14 years that follow. On the eve of a deadly Night on their island home of Bliss, twins Marin and Kana are ready to depart with their families to the sunnier Desert Lands, until their best friend, Line, goes missing. While searching for him, they’re left behind, and soon discover the supernatural horrors Night can hold. Here’s Halpern and Kujawinski on the fearful dark, and why working together just works.

Jake Halpern: Imagine the following. It’s almost midnight, deep in the woods in a remote part of New England. It’s dark—really dark—imagine outer space without the stars. I am visiting my parents’ house, which is nestled on the side of a lonely mountain. My co-author and best pal, Peter—aka, “Kujo”—is with me. We decide we want to take a little mini-adventure. Behind the house, deep in the woods, is a magnificent old treehouse cantilevered over a waterfall. We decide to visit the tree house—barefoot—without a flashlight. Why? Because it seems like a crazy idea, and we are testing out the idea for our new book, Nightfall. So we start tiptoeing into the pine forest. My heart is pounding in my chest. My senses are hyper-alert. I can feel the pine needles with my toes. I can feel the mist from the waterfall on my face. I hear the sound of a branch snap in the woods. I am aware of the blackness—the utter absence of sight. And I’m scared. I am a grown man, forty paces from my parents’ house—forty paces from a killer flat screen TV, a sauna, and a hot tub—and I am freaking out. It’s because I have forgotten what darkness, real darkness, feels like. And now that I am experiencing it, I am terrified. “We have to bottle this feeling,” I tell Kujo. “This feeling is our book.”

Peter Kujawinski: I’m hiking through the Canadian Rockies, taking in the jaw-dropping scenery, but most of all I’m wondering if a grizzly is about to step onto the trail. The phone rings—it’s Jake calling from vacation in Italy. Unbelievable as it sounds, he’s thinking about gangrene. It’s a late-breaking plot point in our new novel, Nightfall, and this is our third phone conversation of the day.

Multiply these conversations—in the Rockies and in New England—over thousands of days, thousands of hours, and in far-flung places across the earth, and that’s how Jake and I wrote the book. You see, Jake’s a journalist who also loves to travel. Work and vacation take him to Navajo reservations in New Mexico, the tropics of southern India, and the mountains of Iceland. And I was a U.S. diplomat for 18 years, living next to a mango tree in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, along the seashore in Tel Aviv, Israel, and in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies in Calgary.

We’ve been doing this for more than a decade, across multiple time zones. From the beginning, we hit upon a way to write together—outline first, and then we’d individually start writing a chapter or two. We’d call each other up daily to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and which plot twists needed refinement—maybe the gangrene is too gross? Once we had a first draft, it was on to the second, and third, and fourth drafts, until finally we had something to show our agent.

Who is my audience? Kids, teenagers, adults—but most of all, it’s Jake. If I can impress him, well, I feel like it was a good day of writing. It’s part of why writing with Jake is so much fun. It transforms a lonely profession into a collaboration in which you share the ups and the downs, and the joy of creating something from nothing. It makes those mornings struggling at the computer worthwhile, when you hear the other person on the phone, excited by something you just wrote. Did I mention it was fun? People are often amazed Jake and I can collaborate on writing books. It feels so unusual to them. I’m glad I didn’t realize early on how rare and strange it is in the book world. But it has never seemed that way to Jake and I. It has always felt very normal—and I guess that’s the ultimate proof it’s working!

Nightfall is out tomorrow, and available for pre-order now.

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