As you know, I am currently reading David Litwack’s book, The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky. Since I am still in the process of reading and writing the review, he agreed to answer a few questions for me about the book and his writing process. Keep an eye out for the upcoming review, but for now, enjoy this brief interview.
What inspired you the most while writing this book?
We live in an increasingly polarized world, where too many of us see things in black and white and take hardened positions. In The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky, I thought I’d take this problem to the extreme, by creating an alternate world with two lands that each rigidly enforce their opposing points of view. Then I asked the question: what if this strict separation is violated, not by fanatics but my ordinary people? Would dogma win out or does humanity prevail. As one of the characters says about the other side: “We all love our children and mourn for our dead.”
Which character in your book do you relate to the most? Why?
Kailani is my favorite, a mysterious little girl who has a profound impact on everyone she meets, healing their pain, while hiding a pain of her own that she cannot heal.
I probably relate more to Helena, whose life has been thrown into turmoil by family tragedy. One of the threads of the story is Helena’s fighting her way through that dark period of her life to find the light on the other side–with the help of Jason and Kailani. Like most people, I’ve dealt with family tragedy and can relate to Helena’s struggles.
What is the most important thing that you hope readers take away from your book?
Ultimately, I see myself as a storyteller, so I hope readers will see the book as a good story, well told. I hope they’ll been able to identify with one or more of the characters, so they can fully experience what the characters are going through. And I hope weeks after finishing the book, it has affected them in some way, so that they continue to think about it now and then.
As Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Which other authors have inspired or 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.
Can you share a little bit about your writing process?
I usually conceive of a new book as a series of images and scenes, daydreaming about them while I finish work on the prior novel. I maintain a notes file for the new novel and do a rough draft of these scenes—a very rough draft, what some people call “scaffolding” or “riff writing” like improvisation in jazz. The file can get pretty chaotic. Every now and then I make a feeble attempt to organize it (when I’m finishing up a novel, I try to avoid distractions and stay focused on getting it out to the publisher). By the time I’m ready to start the new novel, I usually have about 20,000 words of loosely connected prose—20-25% of the eventual novel but probably 80% of its essence. I take a couple of months to read, edit and organize that file into a dense plot outline. Then I start a new file from scratch, cutting and pasting prose as appropriate.
It’s messy in the early going, but unlike those who start with a more organized outline, I need that amount of writing to get to know the characters and live in the story.
Tell us about your next book.
My next project after The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky is the Seekers dystopian trilogy. The first book, The Children of Darkness, was published this past June. The second, The Stuff of Stars, is at my publisher in final edits and scheduled to come out in November, 2015. I’m about two thirds done with a first draft of the third and final book, targeted for late 2016.
The trilogy is about a society devoid of technology, the result of an overreaction to a distant past where progress had overtaken humanity and led to social collapse. The solution—an enforced return to a simpler time. The seekers of the series title are young people, newly come of age, who bristle at the limits set on them by their society. When they stumble upon a truth from the distant past, they realize much of what they’d been taught has been lies, and they set out to change their world at the risk of their lives.
What is the best piece of writing advice that you have ever received?
I take to heart the words of Justice Louis Brandeis: “There are 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.