Invisible Man

Jul 26, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Craig Clevenger

I was between drafts of my second novel and needed a breather. I normally work on a single project at a time, so it was unusual for me to knock out a short story while I still had a novel in progress, but some fragment of nerd trivia drifted through my brain one afternoon, when I recalled hearing that an invisible man would have to be blind. It made sense, since invisible retinas wouldn’t register light that passes through them (assuming anyone’s going to nitpick on the realistic details of human invisibility).

That detail was the seed of a short story, The Fade, written as a letter from an old man who was gradually turning invisible. While my nameless narrator was not blind, the byproducts of slowly disappearing were in some ways indistinguishable from being unseen, whether one is literally invisible or not. At the time, I’d been doing volunteer work on weekends, interacting with the very people I tuned out while en route to work or home in the middle of San Francisco.

The letter began with, “Dear Lyle,” and it flew out of my brain over the course of just a few days, which happens very rarely, and only when I’m working on something short (even more infrequent). As The Fade took shape, it became something of a mirror that reflected my daily conflict: witnessing firsthand the number of human beings sleeping on the sidewalk but blocking out specific segments of my week to look them in the eye instead of looking away.

When the novel was finished and my brief tour wrapped, I had nothing in mind for the next book. I re-visited that short story and asked myself, “Who’s ‘Lyle’ anyway?” The name had no significance; I’d plucked it out of the air at random when writing. But I was curious who Lyle was, and likewise the man writing to him (a footnote at the end said the letter was unsigned and found in an abandoned notebook at a rescue mission).

I’d gone into my first two novels with massive preparation, either research or outlining or both, with detailed story maps and chapter breakdowns that I revised repeatedly throughout the drafting process. But this time, every attempt to outline or plan or create the usual safety nets… none of it lasted. I simply chased the voices, those of Lyle and his great-grandfather, the nameless man only known as Mr. Fade. It took years, but that seed of trivia became a story that became my third novel, Mother Howl.

Mother Howl collected dust for almost a decade before it was finally on bookstore shelves. I’d never thought about the story in terms of theme (I rarely do); those years spent grappling with the ‘what’ of the story, I never once considered the ‘why.’ Like The Fade that preceded it, Mother Howl is a mirror. After a dozen interviewers asking variants of why I wrote it, I’m only starting to see the answer.

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Craig Clevenger is an American author of contemporary fiction. He was born in Dallas, Texas and raised in Southern California, where he studied English at California State University, Long Beach. He has traveled extensively and lived in Dublin and London, but currently resides in California. He is the author of two previously published novels, The Contortionist’s Handbook and Dermaphoria. His works have been translated into 30+ languages.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


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