Today we're talking with David Litwack, author of The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky
FQ: The ocean, of course, is important and used often in the story, is the ocean one of your favorite places to be and did that provide some inspiration for this story?
LITWACK: I live on Cape Cod, which is surrounded by ocean. Many an inspiration has come while walking by the sea. One of my favorite places to walk is along Falmouth Heights beach, with a constant view of Martha’s Vineyard, frequently shrouded in fog. There’s a mystery about the far side of an ocean, one that emphasizes the divide between people.
FQ: What was the time period of this book? Were you picturing the present time, sometime in the future, or this more a period of the past?
LITWACK: I made the setting an alternate world, albeit similar to our own. I wanted the freedom to have a complete separation between religious and secular societies, one that’s not credible in our own interconnected world. The advent of the Internet has produced two contrasting effects—the positive one of minimizing differences between people and the negative of allowing extremists on all sides to organize more effectively. How would the early stages of such advances in communication impact a polarized world? As a model, I used the mid 1970’s ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet that was limited to the government and universities. In The Daughter, the new technology is embraced by the zealot, Benjamin, despite his disdain for secular science, but it also opens the door for the two worlds to come together.
FQ: Kailani is quite an intriguing character, what provided the inspiration for this character?
LITWACK: I had the concept of a girl from the Blessed Lands crashing her boat on the cliffs, but no model for the girl. During the planning phase for the book, I went to a wedding at a venue by the sea. A young girl, about nine-years-old, came walking down the aisle (to this day, I don’t know who she was). She was dressed all in white, carrying a bouquet of flowers, and had golden hair and striking blue eyes. As she drifted past a picture window, with the sun setting over the ocean, looking more serious than a nine-year-old should, I knew I’d found my model. Ideas are everywhere if you’re open to them.
FQ: What was the reason for her young age? Was there something in particular that made you choose not to make her older?
LITWACK: I needed a character old enough to have been inculcated in her culture, enough so she would build myths about what happened to her, but not so much as to rationalize it. I wanted the passion of a young child and innocence without cynicism.
FQ: The line between reason and faith can be tricky, how did you decide what to include in this story?
LITWACK: I believe the writer’s role is more to pose questions than provide answers. One of the great issues of our time is the clash between reason and faith. Extremists on both sides have become so polarized they fail to see that the most important questions remain unanswered. Through Kailani, those on both sides discover how much we share the human condition. Beliefs become less important than relationships, and the clash between reason and faith matters less than the power of hope and love.
FQ: Both faith and reason are shown in positive and negative ways, was that your intention when writing this story or did you intend to focus on one more than the other?
LITWACK: Our strident media would have us believe that everyone has a strong position on one side or the other. But most people are just trying to find their way in life. As the minister of commerce from the Blessed Lands says about the so-called soulless: “He’d met some. They were not as the senkyosei portrayed them in temple sermons—empty shells or demons. They were not so different from him. They loved their children and grieved for their dead.”
FQ: The questions continued to pile up as I read this story wondering about Kailani’s past giving this book a mysterious feel. Was a sense of mystery intended when you started writing this story?
LITWACK: One of the unusual things about this book is that the main character is never the point-of-view character. This was necessary to maintain Kailani’s mystery. If the reader was allowed inside her head, she’d either reveal her past too soon or have to lie in her thoughts, becoming an unreliable narrator.
Not to compare, but F. Scott Fitzgerald uses a similar technique in The Great Gatsby. The main character is Gatsby. The plot is to discover the secret of his mysterious past. He’s never the point-of-view character, and the reader only discovers his secret near the end.
FQ: Near the ending I was sure Jason and Helena would migrate to a new country, what was the reason for keeping them in their original country?
LITWACK: The Daughter is Kailani’s story, not theirs. The ending needs to be about her, not them. Furthermore, what they learn from her is that the fulfilment they were seeking comes not in some exotic new place but from within themselves.