Today I’m pleased to interview author David Litwack. I loved his novel The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky (see my review of it here) and jumped at this chance to ask him about his books and views on writing.
David, it’s a pleasure to have you on Ancient Children. What led you to become a writer?
The urge to write first struck me at age sixteen when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the wild night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by the northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter’s editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. The next day, I had a column published under my byline, and I was hooked.
Which part of the writing process do you find most enjoyable? Which do you find most challenging?
The best part is opening the box and clutching the finished book in my hands, especially staring at the gorgeous cover my artist, Mallory Rock, has produced. Far and away the most challenging part is writing the first draft. I have to keep reminding myself that no matter how awful it seems, the primary purpose of a first draft is to understand what the author is trying to say. I quiet my doubts and order myself to finish the draft. Then I put in the months of hard work to smooth it out and make it better.
Which books and authors have influenced you the most?
There are so many I love that have influenced my writing. I have always read cross genre. When I became an avid reader in my teens, I devoured fantasy and science fiction, but also literary fiction. I loved the works of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and of course, Tolkien, but also of Hemingway and Steinbeck.
If you forced me to name a book I wish I wrote, I think it would be a composite of Clarke’s The City and the Stars and Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls—a story beautifully written, with a fantastic alternate world, lofty themes, and intense characters who believe passionately in their cause.
I love The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky. Kailani is an endearing and memorable character. In the novel you create a world in which there are two hostile nations, the Blessed Lands and the Republic. In the Blessed Lands, people of faith have rejected reason and science. As a result they live primitively. The people of the Republic embrace reason and have developed a technology that gives them comfortable lives, but a sadness hangs over them, a kind of ennui. One theme of the novel seems to be that we need both faith and reason to be completely human, but their opposition creates tension — both within individuals and between groups. Can that tension ever be resolved? Should it be?
That’s a really hard question. I think an author’s job is to pose the really hard questions, to make people think, but not necessarily to provide the answers (there may be none).
The question highlights one of the primary benefits of reading novels—the ability to get inside another person’s mind and see the world through different eyes. The more you read, the broader your perspective. The broader your perspective, the more you can accept other points of view. Your thoughts become more nuanced and less polarized. At the very least, you become able to understand other ways of thinking, at least enough to not make war.
I haven’t yet read The Seekers: The Children of Darkness, but the description suggests it may have a similar theme. Does it?
The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky is about a world divided between two peoples with very different belief systems and world views, a situation that has led, in the past, to tragic wars. To solve the problem, the powers that be have separated the two and provided a limited mechanism to transfer between them, thereby keeping the peace. While both sides may have gone too far in enforcing their beliefs, neither is really a dystopian society.
The Children of Darkness takes a different tack. One side dominates in order to maintain the peace, but over time, power corrupts. The best intentions have led to a dystopia (dystopia comes from dysfunctional utopia—good intentions gone bad). The first book in the trilogy asks the question: how do some, after a thousand years of controlled thought, come to question the rigid beliefs of their society, and what sacrifices are they willing to make to change their world.
I think you’ll find as the trilogy progresses, the lines blur. The main characters confront the good and bad of both belief systems. In the end, all they want is for each individual to be free to choose what they believe and to be allowed to fulfill their potential. Can this be done without constantly recreating the problem? Stay tuned,
How does writing a series such as The Children of Darkness differ from writing a stand-alone novel?
I’ve found that the more time an author spends with his characters, the better he knows them. That’s why I moved from third person perspective in the first book to Orah’s first person in the subsequent novels. I’m much more comfortable inside her head, and as the moral dilemma intensifies, I’m better able to show the reader how it affects her.
Any advice for writers just starting out?
If you love it, never give up. If not, find something easier to do.
If you still insist on writing, take to heart the words of Justice Louis Brandeis: “There a no good writers, only good rewriters.” If you want to become a better writer, read lots and rewrite until no unnecessary word remains.
Assess every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph and scene objectively. Remove what’s not necessary, even if you love it. I have a favorite quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of that gem of a novel, The Little Prince): “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Polish each and every word until all that’s left sparkles.
Thank you again for the interview. I’m looking forward to reading The Children of Darkness.