After Dark takes place in the middle of the night, during hours where much of the people in the Japanese city where the story takes place are asleep and unaware. Murakami creates an entire "invisible" world here that seems to be right under our noses. Like the wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia or the telephone booths in The Matrix, these magical places seem thrilling because they are at once so close at hand and yet so alien.
The same thing can be said for countless things that go on around us every day. What do our pets do when we're not home? What sort of negotiations happen behind the scenes at a museum? As writers, we have the exciting opportunity to uncover those things that no one else has paid any attention to.
This idea has really opened up a lot of story ideas for me. One sad topic that I had to confront back in 2007 was the death of my dogs, a brother and sister pair that were part of my life for over fifteen years. On the surface, this event probably doesn't sound that unique. A lot of people lose their loved ones and family members. But, when I reached an emotional place where I could actually write about it, I focused on the details of the death that people didn't ask about or pay attention to. It wasn't enough for me to write about the fact that they were dead, but I wanted to and needed to explore the events leading up to their death and the actual details of what happened when the deaths occurred. This led to my story "I'm Waiting For My Dogs To Die," which for me personally is one of the most emotional pieces I've ever written.
This concept of seeing things that no one else sees has become a really important component of my writing. In honor of my grandmother's death, I wrote a short story called "The Wild Grass." It's a piece that means a lot to me, but it was one that I had written BEFORE my grandmother's passing. When her death actually did come and I learned the details of it, my picture of the death was far less romantic than what I had created in "The Wild Grass." Because I felt that the real details were important and something that needed to be written down, I included them in another story of mine, Bread. It's strange to me now, because "The Wild Grass" is more obviously about my grandmother, but it is in this other story where I feel like the real unseen details emerged.
Some of the greatest authors have created masterpieces from observing something common in a very different way. Virginia Woolf delves so deeply into the mind of her characters during a fairly mundane day in To The Lighthouse. Leo Tolstoy follows a dying man to the smallest detail in The Death Of Ivan Ilyich. In Cinders, our very own Michelle created a whole story simply by asking what happened to a character after she reached her "happily ever after."
Often books and stories become popular because they transport us to an exotic location that we aren't familiar with. I think what's important to remember is that these strange places can be as close as our kitchen sink if we look at it with the proper mindset and the proper eye.
So, have you uncovered something before that other people don't seem to pay attention to?