First, a Fence
Twelve years ago I was thinking about fences.
I’m fascinated by fences. From the Great Wall of China to the wire rabbit fence protecting my Swiss chard. I like their geometry, their simplicity, the opportunities for self-indulgent metaphor.
I imagine a young man, maybe seventeen or eighteen, with a wispy beard, walking along an eight foot chain-link fence. Is the fence keeping him in, or keeping something out? I don’t yet know. I see grasslands on both sides, rolling hills stretching to the horizon. Looks like Montana.
I give the young man a rifle because I’m worried about him. I don’t know if danger will come from the other side of the fence, or from within, but I want him to be prepared.
I look more closely. He is young,
A cool breeze moves the blades of amber grass to his left. Trees are visible ahead. Their leaves have turned to shades of yellow, brown, and red. It must be autumn. I hear the call of a bird. I make a note to research Montana trees and wildlife.
He is following a worn footpath. Others have walked this fence line. On the other side the grass is shorter, heavily grazed, probably by cattle. A faint smile shows through the young man’s scant beard. Something is about to happen, but he doesn’t know it. Will he need his rifle? Perhaps.
Some stories begin with a plot. Some begin with a character, a conceit, or a message. Eden West began with the image of a fence, and many unanswered questions. The world, the character, and the story grew from there.
This is an inefficient way to write a novel. It leads to wrong turns, blind alleys, and dead ends. Eden West stalled out several times. It took twelve years to finish.
The fence, I discovered, surrounds Nodd, a twelve-square-mile compound in western Montana. Within Nodd live the followers of Father Grace. They are awaiting the End of Days. The young man, seventeen-year-old Jacob, was raised in Nodd.
I was pretty sure I would find a story in Jacob’s world. There would be love, lust, faith, betrayal, revelation, and redemption, because all stories should have those things. Eventually I came to know my characters, their hopes and dreams, their sins and failures. I learned about the fence.
I write for the same reasons I read: to learn, to understand, to find out what happens next. Eden West turned out to be particularly long journey. Sometimes I got lost, but I always found my way by returning to the fence, where the story began.