Authors Peter Kujawinski and Jake Halpern stretched our imaginations with last year’s Nightfall — a novel about a world in which 14 years of night follow 14 years of daylight… and the kids who accidentally get left behind as the sun is setting. Their next novel, Edgeland, is set in the same universe as Nightfall, but it’s a completely different story. In this one, Wren and her friend Alec live on the island of Edgeland, situated near a 30-mile-wide whirlpool called the Drain. Nothing sucked into the Drain is ever seen again — including the treasure- and corpse-filled boats people send into whirlpool when burying their dead. Wren, an orphan, dreams of escaping Edgeland, so she and Alec plan to rob one of the boats on its way down — but the plan goes awry, and the two get sucked into the Drain, only to discover what’s beneath is like nothing they ever could have conceived.
Below, EW exclusively reveals Edgeland’s cover, and Kujawinski and Halpern tell us where they find their out-of-this-world ideas.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did the concept for Edgeland come from?
JAKE HALPERN: It’s a story about two kids who fall off the edge of the earth. And there’s a real life inspiration here. You see, I grew up near Niagara Falls. Ever since I was a kid, I was obsessed with stories of people who “jumped” the falls. In fact, there was a legend about a seven-year-old boy who went over the edge and lived. Turns out, the legend was true. Afterwards, fans and – even some religious zealots – made pilgrimages to the trailer park where this kid lived. Some believed he’d been touched by God. I wrote a story about him for Outside Magazine. Anyway, the story stayed with me. I had this image in my mind of a boy, falling in a cascade of water, down, and down, and down into some other world. Then I called up Peter, my co-author – and shared the idea.
PETER KUJAWINSKI: I loved the idea! Of course, the next question was, if this boy falls down a waterfall at the edge of the world and survives, what does he find at the bottom? We kicked around some ideas, but settled on the notion that the waterfall was a portal to the afterlife. And from there, it was an easy step to imagine an island of funeral homes next to the waterfall nearby, where all the world’s dead were prepared, blessed and then slipped into the current. From the beginning, we loved these concepts – they were creepy, mind-bending, and very cool.
How did travels in Jerusalem influence you?
JH: Peter and I met in Israel. He was working as a U.S. diplomat and I was teaching at the American International School. We spent a lot of time in the old city of Jerusalem, which is – without a doubt – the most intense place I have ever visited. The narrow, twisting streets are teeming with street vendors, machine-gun-toting soldiers, bewildered tourists, and religious pilgrims headed to their respective holy sites – the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – each within a stone’s throw of the other. So, when we envisioned the island of Edgeland, where our novel takes place, we pictured the old city of Jerusalem, filled with dead bodies, and perched on a waterfall at the edge of the world. Describing it this way sounds kind of insane, and that’s what we were going for.
PK: Jerusalem is a place where devout Jews, Christians, and Muslims rub shoulders all the time. Being there, you see the power of religion – and the complexity of living next to people with different, sometimes antagonistic, beliefs. It’s an atmosphere that we channeled when writing Edgeland.
Why did you want to continue writing in Nightfall’s universe but not write a sequel to Nightfall? Do you have other stories planned in this same world?
JH: We always envisioned Nightfall as a stand-alone book, but the thing is, we loved the world in which it was set. We loved its epic 500-mile tides and its 14-year-long nights. So we decided to set Edgeland in another bizarre corner of this same world. In fact, there are some crossover characters. In Nightfall, there’s a group of traders, known as the “furriers.” They are hired to take everyone on the island of Bliss to the south. We open Edgeland with these same furriers. They’ve made their trip to the south, dropped off their passengers, and now they’re taking their dead – who are frozen in blocks of ice – and bringing them to the island of Edgeland.
PK: I could well imagine other stories based in this same world, perhaps even a potential meet-up between the main characters in Nightfall and those in Edgeland However, right now we’re focused on the release of Edgeland, so the conversation on future stories hasn’t happened yet.
What’s your process like when writing together? How does the collaboration work?
JHWe talk all the time. My wife sometimes jokes that he is my “other spouse.” And often we’re on opposite ends of the globe. I will be reporting a story in Poland and he’ll be on a diplomatic mission to the Arctic Circle. Or, I’ll be living in southern India with my wife and kids and he’ll be working at the United Nations in New York. But we always find a way to talk and share ideas. The talking is as important as the writing because we like to map out our stories, in detail, before we start pecking away at our keyboards. Our goal in life is to be like two twelve-year old boys who refuse to grow up. And yes, we like Stranger Things.
You both have had jobs that dealt explicitly with the real world—investigative journalism and diplomacy. What appeals to you about creating new, fantastical ones?
PK: Living in so many countries has made me realize that the divide between real life and fantasy is not as large as you might think. Edgeland is based on our time in Jerusalem, as well as other things like Jake’s travels to India. Another example of the connection between fantasy and real life is from living in Haiti, where I remember talking to people who believed profoundly in loup-garou — the French word for werewolves — stalking their homes. One man told me a werewolf had circled his house the night before, and I can still see the terror in his eyes. Finally, both Jake and I were enthralled with an idea that was considered absolutely true centuries ago: that the earth was flat, and that ships could sail to the end and fall off. For people living in the Middle Ages, this was the real world.
JH: For pure inspiration, you can’t beat the real world. Fact is stranger than fiction, for sure. That’s why I love reporting stories for outlets like New Yorker and This American Life. So in my novels, I like starting with a true premise and then, flipping a switch, and delving into the unreal. It feels like defying gravity or breathing underwater.