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Book Spotlight: Edge of Sundown by Jennifer Worrell

Edge of Sundown

by Jennifer Worrell

Genre: Suspense

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When dystopian fiction becomes real…

Val Haverford’s Sci-Fi and Western novels made him a household name. But that was then. A decade of creative stagnation and fading health has left him in the literary wilderness.

Attempting to end his dry spell and secure his legacy, Val pens a dystopian conspiracy theory set in a tangential universe where alien invaders eliminate ‘undesirables’ perceived as drains on society.

But as he digs deeper into violence plaguing his adopted home of Chicago, he discovers unsettling similarities between his work in progress and a life he thought he left behind. Soon he finds his fictional extremists are not only real—they’re intent on making sure his book never sees the light of day.

As he pieces together haunting truths about his city and his motives, Val realizes his last chance to revive his career and reconcile the past could get him—and the people he loves—killed.

Will he make the right choice? Or will it be too late?

Edge of Sundown is a provocative story that shows how the desperation of lost opportunity can lead to drastic and unexpected consequences.

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It was hard to pinpoint when the elephant had invited itself to their shit-shootings at Calvyn’s. Val had always prickled at Graham’s teasing curiosity about his next project, yet when it dawned on him how long it had been since the last prodding, it hurt like nothing else. Stories used to pile up in Val’s head, colliding into each other as they multiplied. Legal pad after legal pad littering his floor with madcap scribbles, just enough detail to remind him of one plot before moving on to the next. Now someone else’s calendar filled up with interviews and speaking engagements, their hard drive spilling into the Cloud, while Val’s floor remained spotless.

Shame concentrated into a singularity, and it took every effort to pretend nothing had changed. He’d practiced a smile until it came almost naturally. But the idea of dragging that world-weary science officer out of the dust was against all principle; an admission of failure and a shrug of the shoulders. He might as well take a back cover shot with his palms up and pockets turned out.

A barricade had sprung up whenever he’d headed toward the open laptop, obligation turning his passion into a chore. The cursor blinked in time with the ticking of the clock and it was all downhill with the brakes out: one day gone, then two, then thousands, twilight looming larger and urgency hissing louder. Trying to make a comeback with more of the same would be humiliating to both of them, whether Graham wanted to admit it or not. An allegory mirroring the current gravity in the news, packaged in his signature brand of dystopia, was bound to rekindle the allure that used to follow every release.

He returned to the studio and paced, massaging his hands. Unknotting the kinks in his back and limbs was an incremental, percussive event. Foolish, lying out on a stone wall in this weather. His right eye adjusted more slowly to the indoor light, the stars not quite faded.

History spread before him in the bookcase. He fingered the glossy spines, his embossed name that demanded increasingly shorter titles. The days when language rolled like poetry, mellifluous and robust, a rich broth you could savor on your tongue. At the end of the last row, a block of space waited for one more hardback. After that, he’d have to clear the half-empty notebooks and outdated travel pamphlets off the bottom shelf.

Westerns were his novice’s fast-track to publication. That old ‘write what you know’ chestnut was gold. But after a few years, a miasma of romanticism pervaded the reviews, people whitewashing the past with little more than picnics and parades. Spending so much time writing in one era projected a false sentimentality that he had no trouble ditching. Declining interest in the genre didn’t hurt, either. The challenge to reinvent himself led to a full reversal. If he couldn’t escape the primitive mindsets of real life, he would write them into existence. Evolution under the guise of cutting-edge technology and rocket science.

He knew exactly how the narrative rhythm, the drawl of his protagonists, the cadence of every line, should sound in readers’ heads. But until he could figure out how to pin the words down on paper the way he used to, it was all music and no lyrics.

When he’d moved in with little more than the tube of floorplans and a massive box of notes, the cardboard handles cutting off the circulation in his fingers, he had nothing but time. No clock ticking backwards. The future stretched before him in an endless, laggard expanse.

Imagining Graham reading this draft, then seeing his expression sink, was something Val couldn’t handle. He needed to nail a pivotal scene, compose one little snippet of biting prose, anything to combat any possible criticism, before he could sleep.

He fired up the wood-burning stove in the corner and set a pot of coffee on to percolate. While waiting for the telltale rumble, he polished the sketch’s frame, rubbing away the smudge on the glass obscuring ‘MH, Kano IL, 1967’ in the bottom right corner.

This time I won’t let you down.

 

If Jennifer were to make a deal with the Devil, she’d ask to live—in good health—just until she’s finished reading all the books. She figures that’s pretty square.

In case other bibliophiles attempt the same scheme, she’s working hard to get all her ideas on paper. She writes multi-genre fiction and the occasional essay, and is currently working on a collection of shorts and two picture books that may or may not be suitable for children.

Edge of Sundown is her first novel. She’s always been drawn to “what-ifs” and flawed characters, and has never quite mastered the happy ending.

Jennifer is a member of Chicago Writers Association and Independent Writers of Chicago, and works at a private university library.

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