Please welcome Lane Kareska here today for a very emotional guest post which will touch the hearts of anyone who’s ever loved a pet, especially a dog. My readers know about how much Bobby means to me after less that a year. But Lane uses his experience to show how it informed the writing of North Dark, his post-apocalyptic dystopian thriller.
Rough Inspiration by Lane Kareska
North Dark came about in a pretty ugly way. My graduate program had just ended and I’d taken a new job that I was deeply suspicious of while living in Chicago—a place I didn’t want to be. Winters in Chicago are hilariously brutal, and they’re so much worse when you’re not living there by choice. So already things weren’t great, and then I got the call from the veterinarian’s office telling me that my dog’s blood tests results had returned and they weren’t great.
My dog Charlie was a rugged, highly-intelligent Australian Shepherd that had been with me for eight really stellar years. I’d found him wandering around outside a dusty gas station just north of Phoenix and learned from the guy behind the register that some family had “kicked him out of their van” hours ago and that animal services were coming to get him shortly.
I was living in Flagstaff at the time and knew of a no-kill animal shelter, so I volunteered to drive the dog up the mountain where I knew he at least wouldn’t be euthanized. I pulled into town on a Saturday night and found the shelter closed until Tuesday. I had no other option but to take him home with me. I cleaned and fed the dog and just kind of hung out with him for the rest of the weekend. By Tuesday, it was totally clear to both the dog and me that we were going to be sticking together for the long haul.
Eight year later, the news I was hearing from the vet was pretty dismal: Charlie’s kidneys were failing and even though he looked perfectly healthy, his life was almost certainly going to be shortened by this just-discovered congenital condition. The next year (and all of my money) was spent dealing with this.
Charlie, a happy-go-lucky, loving, romping, profoundly intelligent animal was forced to start an extreme and difficult regimen of prescription medications, vet and specialists visits, and eventually, twice daily dialysis treatments, conducted (tearfully) by me. It sucked.
The factory issue, post-graduation unhappiness I was feeling was pretty mild compared to Charlie’s physical misery. The way I navigated this—the only way I could really deal with this—was to get a little weird. Every weekend that winter, I’d pack up my car and drive Charlie and myself out to my dad’s secluded house in the Indiana Dunes. I’d take Charlie on long, cold hikes on the frozen beach or in the woods, and write what would eventually become North Dark.
When I read the book now, it’s pretty clear that I must have been a real dick to be around at the time. The story that came through is cold, dark, and violent. But it really was, and I wasn’t totally conscious of this at the time, the thing that helped me deal. Art, y’know?
Charlie made it through one more year after the kidney disease was discovered. Toward the end, he began to suffer seizures, and then, in the middle of July, with the sun on his face, he died in my arms. Charlie’s life really was better than any adventure book: he was a well-traveled dog who swam across rivers, climbed hills and mountains, displayed very real problem-solving abilities, knew dozens of words, loved to run, loved to lick new friends in the mouth, and more. There’s no way to sum up his life or what he did for me and I wouldn’t try.
In fact, I think it’s a little bit messed up that my tribute to him wound up being such a grisly book, but North Dark isn’t all about the horror and unhappiness he and I had to traverse during that period. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and (I hope) moments of beauty throughout. The entire book is dedicated to Charlie, but the final paragraphs especially, I think, point to his impact on me and the unnervingly powerful effect of animals on us lesser creatures.
Adventure on, Charlie.
North Dark by Lane Kareska
Set in a lonesome and barbarous failed state, North Dark is the story of a lone man traveling by dogsled across a frozen wasteland in pursuit of the fugitive who destroyed his family.
Haunted by predators both physical and spectral, the musher’s journey takes him across a deadened tundra, tortured cities and the remains of civilizations long-lapsed into madness. All the while, his enemy slides in and out of striking distance, always one step ahead, always one act of violence away.
Lane Kareska was born in Houston, Texas. He studied writing at Columbia College Chicago and his MFA is from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he was also awarded a Fellowship to live and write in Ireland. Lane traveled Europe and South America to research his graduate thesis. He teaches creative writing and works in technology and new media. His fiction has appeared in Berkeley Fiction Review, Sheepshead Review, Flashquake and elsewhere.
Lane currently lives in Chicago and can be followed here: Twitter @LaneKareska as well as reached at Lane.Kareska@Gmail.com.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I wept a little after reading this guest post. Do you have a pet? It did, however, pique my interest for the novel. What about you? Are you into post-apocalyptic dystopian thrillers? Sounds pretty awesome to me… 🙂 The image below is not of poor Charlie, (I don’t have an image of him), but I couldn’t resist posting this caption shot of my Bobby again. I LOVE it! 😀