The Cabin at the End of the World liner notes

The following is included in the newly released paperback version of THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD. I’m posting it here so all you kind folks who purchased the book previously can have a peek at the inspirations, easter eggs, and my not-really-petulant thoughts on the ending. The perfect (for this book) ending, if I don’t say so myself.

 

Liner notes for CABIN

 

That was fun, right?

(I assume you read the book before turning to the back to read this. You really should read the book before wandering back here. No good will come from the following otherwise.)

Below is a collection of somewhat disjointed thoughts on the writing of the book.

Origin

The novel started with a sketch in my notebook. I was flying back to the east coast from Los Angeles and doodling in one of my writing notebooks. Tucked underneath a random joke from Young Frankenstein, I unconsciously or subconsciously drew a little cabin. The cabin made me think of home invasion stories. Oddly enough it’s probably my least favorite horror subgenre. Home invasion stories are so personally frightening, but too many of the movies focus on the violence/torture over character. So, I thought, okay, big mouth, how would you write a home invasion story then? When I got home I moved the cabin sketch/idea into a more serious notebook (I have issues…) and fleshed out who the characters would become.

cabinnotebook

(The watching-a-film thing is something I wrote about in my short story “The Teacher,” and here it evolved into the family being shown news clips on the satellite television.  I still don’t know what “fancy pen horror” is.)

 

Chapter 1

  • The only book that I re-read before I started to write Cabin was the classic Lord of the Flies by William Golding. It’s not a home invasion story, clearly, but I wanted the mindset of that novel. I wanted my book to (hopefully) make the reader feel the way that book makes me feel. The opening lines of Cabin are a riff on the opening lines of Flies. • Being a math person by day (um, no math at night; thems the rules), I couldn’t help but play some numbers games with the book. Its original, working title was The Four in reference to the special number of invaders who show up. The book is broken up into four sections and I was going to include a fourth epigraph (more on that in the last chapter). Anyway, yes, it was purposeful that Wen and Leonard catch seven grasshoppers (the same number of main characters in the novel) and then have a discussion about that number. Seven seals (not the cute aquatic mammals) perhaps? • The sizable Leonard was named after Of Mice and Men’s Lenny. • Leonard and Wen sitting across from each other on the grass is meant to recall an iconic scene in James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931).

Chapter 2

  • A yellow canoe glides by the cabin. For years I’ve been borderline obsessed with using the color yellow in many of stories without ever really being able to explain why. In an older novella called “The Harlequin and the Train” (reprinted by Concord Free Press as one half of a free book called Another Way to Fall. Yes, I said free; all you have to do is write them and ask for a copy.), the color yellow was used to mirror the yellow letters crawling across the news ticker on a television screen. In one of my earlier novels, A Head Full of Ghosts, yellow was a reference to the classic short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” In Cabin (or at least in my mind) yellow represents death. • Eric’s nondescript thriller about a child going missing, yeah, he’s reading (and not really into) my novel Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. Everyone’s a critic. • I mention Andrew reading aloud passages about Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. There are many academics who think yellow represents death in that novel. So that was a tiny, obscure yellow clue, I suppose, not one I would ever expect anyone to pick up when reading my book. Sometimes I play little games with myself to keep the novel-writing process fresh and interesting (interesting to me, anyway). And playing with yellow here was a fun way to keep my gears spinning instead of grinding during the writing process. Let’s keep track of the end table and its little yellow lamp going forward, okay? • Leonard, Sabrina, Adriane, and Redmond. Their names all have seven letters. Their names have origins/meanings that correspond to the color of their shirts. The colors correspond, mostly, to the color of the Four Horsemen. • Redmond knocks over the little yellow (death!) lamp and that means he’s going to be the first to die. You’ll see.

Chapter 3

  • One of the tropes of crime fiction is the hero getting knocked in the head and passing out at the end of one chapter and then waking up in the next chapter, confused and in trouble, but physically none the worse for the wear. That’s not how concussions work, particularly if it’s a serious one. If you black out, it’s a serious concussion. I coach a couple of sports as a part of my teaching day job and part of that responsibility includes my having to take and pass an online concussion course at the start of every school year. Glad I could finally make use of all those classes by giving Eric a realistic concussion. I mean, of course, besides keeping my players safe and all that. • I have to admit I’m partial to Adventure Time but Steven Universe is a nice show. • If a novel is to have a thesis statement then this one has two. The last line of the novel is one and the following line is the other: “as though everyday people have nothing but love in their hearts and are always reasonable and have never committed atrocities in the name of their self-proclaimed everydayness.” • Masks of all sorts have been worn by slashers and would-be killers in many a horror movie. Those masks tend to lend the killer personality or character. I thought the featureless white masks that rubbed out the wearer’s identity would be creepy. • I spent a long time writing the different POVs of the sacrifice of Redmond. That was hard to write. • In January 2018—about a month after advance reader/review copies of CABIN had already been printed and sent out into the cold, cruel world—there was an earthquake off the coast of the Aleutians. I know, right? And parts of the Pacific Northwest were then put on a tsunami watch. I KNOW, RIGHT? Well, thankfully, no tsunami and everyone was okay. Later that afternoon I got an email from a more-than-kind-of-famous horror writer who’d already read the book. The email referenced the earthquake and ended with, “Quick, sacrifice someone!” Cooler heads prevailed. • Adriane tries turning on the yellow lamp so that means she’ll be next to die.

Chapter 4

  • The POV here is an odd (odd to me anyway) third person plural using both Andrew’s and Eric’s perspectives; a warm-up for the odder POV in the final chapter. • Maybe this is weird but I was really excited to write this nothing-really-happens part of the book. I thought that the remaining intruders cleaning up and then making dinner and sitting around chatting like everything was fine and okay could be a quietly disturbing scene. Not to bring you down, but I wanted to reflect our own day-to-day and the awful stuff we have to ignore (or at least forget about for a few hours) to be able to go about the business of living without going totally mad. Also, this might be the first time I’ve written characters having to use the bathroom. Felt like gritty realism to me. • Wen wakes up in the middle of the night, and yeah, I’m sorry, but she tries to turn on the yellow lamp, so that means…. • The name “Jeff O’Bannon” is a splicing of two politicians’ names together. • The Penalty Box is a real bar/place. • The story Andrew told Wen about how he got his scar is from my childhood. I was eight years old and playing in a neighborhood baseball game (unsupervised by adults, which is how it should be, despite what happened next). We were only using a tennis ball so I thought it would be okay to play catcher without a mask. Oops. One batter flung his bat back right into my head. I saw literal stars and then passed out briefly. There was lots of blood. And then there were eight stitches on the right side of my forehead. I will not age myself by telling you the year this occurred, but it was long ago enough that concussion was not part of any diagnosis or concern. My bell got rung, as they used to say. And hard. • “Targeted Individuals” or TI’s eschewing treatment and congregating online is a real, sad, and frightening thing. • Andrew’s escape from the cabin and the run to the SUV for a gun was the section of the book that took me the longest to write. My hope was to realistically stage the action (and set up the big and terrible end to the chapter) without losing the tone of what came before.

Chapter 5

  • One of my biggest concerns about the book’s construction relates to the transition here. I didn’t want Wen’s death to be the emotional climax of the book with another eighty or so pages still to go (and maybe it is, I don’t know…but at the very least I was fully aware of that potential issue). I thought switching to Leonard’s POV, even briefly, was important to keep the reader on unsteady footing while adjusting to Wen’s death. In my first draft this Leonard chapter was written in second person POV. I thought it might be a way to implicate the reader in the action and further prep the reader for the jarring POV in the final chapter. But I switched the POV from second to third because I didn’t want readers thinking I wanted them to sympathize with Leonard. • Leonard throws rope that knocks into the yellow lamp, so you know he’s next.

Chapter 6

  • Maybe the lesson learned here is to never trust young people wearing watches. • More odd POV switches here. I thought it was especially important to dip into Sabrina’s POV. I do not want readers sympathizing with the invaders. But I did think their experience was a horror worth exploring: the horror of feeling like you have no freedom and no choice. That’s a horror partly because abdicating personal responsibility is kind of attractive. Living without conscience, maintaining that you have no choice because of a set of beliefs, I imagine, could be quite intoxicating. That break with the social compact is terrifying to me. • I wanted to use a reference to some kind of drowned city event. Friend and writer Anthony Breznican told me about the collapse of the St. Francis Dam in Valencia, CA. Then he did one better and in April of 2017 he took me on a tour of the ruins, which are as described (to the best of my ability) in the novel. I tried to capture how eerie that walk through a past disaster felt. • After Sabrina kills Leonard, she tosses her staff away, and it knocks over the yellow lamp. She’s next.

Chapter 7

  • Andrew’s and Eric’s POV, presented as first person plural. We. Would it be too cheesy of me to say that we are Andrew and Eric by the end? • I originally intended to have a fourth epigraph at the start of the novel, quoting Samuel Beckett’s novel The Unnamable, but then I thought it would give away the end of my book. • When I conceived of Cabin and during the first quarter of its life in my head, I had a much bleaker ending in mind. But for a variety of reasons, I couldn’t do it and didn’t want to do it. I needed to go out on a note of defiant hope. The movie The Terminator, of all things, helped me reshape the end of the book. That movie ends with Sarah Connor/Linda Hamilton in the desert, fleeing south, and a boy takes the Polaroid picture the nice man from the future (the father of her son) would then carry around with him in the future and bring back with him to the past. She’s sad because he’s dead and sad because Skynet is going to blow up the world, but… But. She’s still a badass. And she’s still going to fight. That’s defiant hope. I could be petulant and say if you must admit you failed the book’s empathy test, feel free to add a line of your choosing to the end: “Then the world ended” or “Then the world didn’t end.” But I won’t be petulant. My defiant hope for you is that this book ultimately becomes about the choice Eric and Andrew make and not whether or not the world is actually ending. I mean, shit, their world has already been definitively shattered, don’t you think? The book is about the choice: do they and do we choose fear or that most defiant of all hopes, love?
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8 Comments

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8 responses to “The Cabin at the End of the World liner notes

  1. These notes are great! You know I actually cried near the end of the book and realized, wow I genuinely care and feel for the relationship of this married couple. And I was very happy that the world-ending was ambiguous but the emphasis on their choice was brilliant.

  2. This was a fascinating peek into your thought process while writing Cabin. Good post!

  3. Will Overby

    Wow, that’s awesome to see how you got to where you were going. I loved this book but I still wanted to throw it across the room at the end though. LOL.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. Your tale ripped me apart on many levels. It is nice to have this as a kind of road map into your thinking and story-building process.

  5. Thanks for sharing this, I love these behind the story type things and wish more authors would do them! Home invasion horror is by far the scariest and your build up to the invaders approach and subsequent invasion really got to me. There’s a short story in the booked anthology by Fred Venturini called A pound of Flesh, and I couldn’t sleep after reading that, just brutal. So yes, home invasion really set me off, but also the subject of choices regarding the people you love – unthinkable horror. Cruel. And as for the ending – yep, definitely right choice, because it kind of the end of the world to lose the people you love most isn’t it. Have you ever played life is strange? That’s got an interesting and polarising final choice. Understanding the intricate details of numbers (also 7 chapters I notice) and names and colours are fascinating and I hope you continue to share these with us for all your stories. Damn that yellow lamp!

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