The idea for the story itself actually came from years before, when I attended Christmas midnight mass with my mom. It had been years since I had been to any church, but I knew all the motions: At the start of the mass, the choir starts by singing, “Joy to the World.” Timpani drums pummel away and a trumpet squeals. Everybody stands. There’s a whole line of alter boys and girls and they proceed down the aisle, incense smoke stoking from a thurible, deacons with their hands folded and finally the priest waving and blessing everyone like he’s the star of the show. But I was watching the lead alter boy—a kid not much older than ten or twelve. He held a porcelain Christ child in his hands. As the procession came to the front of the church, they all genuflected and the boy walked up to the nativity scene—a sprawling display of the stable with porcelain animals the size of house pets. He placed the baby Jesus in the manger. The drums rolled, the trumpet hit an extra high note, and the choir went into an extra refrain of the song while the priest sprinkled holy water across the miniature stable.
I had a simple idea for a story. I wanted to write a nativity scene where the hope of salvation is killed before birth and nobody knew it. The world would be despairing and dark. The people who populate it would be simpletons. The result was Beyond the Horizon.