As a teenager, I was part of my school’s scout troop. There was this weekend where we had a training camp. And I know, the idea of a scouts camp are stereotypically associated with warm campfires and roasted marshmallow, but believe me, at that point of time, the scouts in Singapore had training better suited for the military than a group of 14 year old kids. Over the course of three days, we hiked for over 60 kilometres. For all you metric perplexed Americans out there, that’s a little over 27 miles. We carried packs that weighed slightly over 5 kilograms (11 pounds), and had all but 4 hours of sleep over the two nights combined. One of my friend took a dump near the outskirts of the campsite and did not feel the responsibility to cover up his business. We ended up with an obstacle course that the trainers decided over the fly trap. Long story short, we were really tired after that.
When I finally got home and bathed, I immediately fell into my bed and slept for the whole of 24 hours. Aside from waking up to do the businesses, I did not even wink for food. During that sleep though, I had one of the most vivid dreams I’ve had to date. In the dream, I was walking up to a farmhouse, beside which was a barn. The farmhouse was old and boarded up, but strangely the first floor kitchen looked brand, Victorian, new. There was an old lady cooking in there, which I ignored after I tried the door and found it was locked. There was also a man, in the small pathway between the barn and house, sawing away at a piece of wood. He wore a straw hat, and the sound of his saw, zoot-zooning front and back was etched forever in my mind. As you may have guessed by now, these two characters would eventually go on to inspire that of The Grandmother and The Father.
As dreams often do, I was suddenly teleported into the barn, where I was greeted by this girl in a white dressed. I found her on the second floor and carried her down, constantly being followed by this ominous feeling. When I reached the door to the barn, the girl disappeared from my arms and I turned around to face the man from before. He brought his saw down and slashed my arms clean off. That was when I woke up and shouted, in Mandarin, the number ‘139’. The whole experience was as surreal as life ever got in my opinion. That entire memory would go on to inspire the trilogy and be written into chapter 6 of In Evening.
Originally, there was never supposed to be an In Evening or a Years to the End of the World. There might have been a The Number 139 and a Chronicles of Tearha, but the story of 139 started out early in 2006 as a one-shot novella simply titled, 139, and the only characters to have been created then were Timothy, Joshua, The Father, Sister, and The Grandmother. Yes, they played the same role as they do now, but the story was of a much smaller scale. Everything happened within the confines of a farm, where Tim and Josh finds themselves trapped at after their car broke down. That story though was eventually left unfinished. Partly because of how inexperience in writing I was at that age, and also due to the lack of a strong story.
When I restarted 139 on JukePop in June of 2013 under the title we all know today, 139: In Evening, there could not have been a more dramatic moment to do so. I wrote the first ten chapters or so in a dark year of my life. Under mandatory military conscription while suffering from life-crippling depression, I was fighting death in real life just as my characters did so in their world. It did not help that my starting chapters were filled with linguistic errors due to the lack of focus caused by my depression, and was received quite poorly by JukePop in general. It was not until November when I started climbing back to normalcy did I made a heavy effort to improve In Evening. I had a new book cover done up, and overhauled the starting chapters with ferocious editing. I also increased my posting regularity slowly. From once a month to twice, and to my current schedule of once a week.
I doubt there’s any other stories on JukePop Serials with as dramatic a conception and journey as 139: In Evening. There was the sad, painful origin stories, to the slow build up, and the middle where life seemed good with a sequel and everything. There was a post climax failure where readership dwindled to a grinding halt. And during November 2014, it was closer to JP’s top 30 than it had even been in its release, culminating in a lost for the spot by just a couple of votes. Somehow, in the end, it managed to scrape into the top 30 at the very last moment of its life. Now, it holds the special spot in my heart as the first novel I’ve ever completed. Though in the end, it did not make it as a break out story, it did relatively well in the grand scheme of things.
During the revive in December 2013, it became clear to me the theme of 139. I wanted to focus on family, and did just that. The father-son relationship of Tim and Josh, the brother sister thing with Clay and Stella. Towards the end, when only two of the characters were left, the story became perhaps the darkest friendship is magic story to date. A lot more of that spirit carried over into the sequel, and though the demographics for In Evening and Years were two completely separate groups, I made sure that the familial connection between them stayed strong, and that readers who followed both serials were rewarded with insights.
One of the things I had the most fun with while writing In Evening was overusing the character trope. In an age where every writer and their mothers are trying to think out of the box in terms of storytelling, I wondered just how far into the box I could go, while still keeping things seemingly fresh. On the side of the heroes, we have Timothy Kleve, the classic protagonist. Clay Barber is the false hero. Stella Barber as the late deuteragonist. Sister, as the seductive antihero. Joshua Kleve, the early tritagonist. Howard Galloway, the mentor and narrator of the story. And Oliver Hardy, the supporting character turned main.
And on the side of the villains, we had The Father as the main antagonist. Julliane Smith as a rarely used antivillainess. Adam Pearlman as a false villain. Joseph Camein as the foil. We have, perhaps my favourite bad guy, The Brother, as Clay’s archenemy. The Mother as a trickster. And The Grandmother, The Uncle, and The Son as villains of the week. We even have a sidekick. Who remembers Horace from his one time appearance in chapter 1? I apparently didn’t, and had to check my records for his name.
My room feels quite empty now. Like the characters that have lived here had disappeared with the last period of the page. Of course, I’ve still got the crew from Years, and I’m looking forward to the next mate that walks in. I have a lot of stories to write. A lot of goodbyes to say when I’m done. As I’ve said before, In Evening saved my life. Without it, I probably would not have gotten past my suicidal depression. Who am I kidding? I would probably be dead. But hey, dying might not be so bad, so long as there’s a cute girl at the end of the light to kiss me goodnight.