Published by Double Dragon Publishing on 6/3/2013
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A Tragic Warrior Lost in Two Worlds…
The war in Iraq ended for Lieutenant Freddie Williams when an IED explosion left his mind and body shattered. Once he was a skilled gamer and expert in virtual warfare. Now he’s a broken warrior, emerging from a medically induced coma to discover he’s inhabiting two separate realities. The first is his waking world of pain, family trials, and remorse—and slow rehabilitation through the tender care of Becky, his physical therapist. The second is a dark fantasy realm of quests, demons, and magic that Freddie enters when he sleeps.
In his dreams he is Frederick, Prince of Stormwind, who must make sense of his horrific visions in order to save his embattled kingdom from the monstrous Horde. His only solace awaits him in the royal gardens, where the gentle words of the beautiful gardener, Rebecca, calm the storms in his soul. While in the conscious world, the severely wounded vet faces a strangely similar and equally perilous mission—a journey along a dark road haunted by demons of guilt and memory—and letting patient, loving Becky into his damaged and shuttered heart may be his only way back from Hell.
Today I have an interview and giveaway from Author David Litwack. His books have won Reader’s Favorite Book awards and are consistently highly reviewed.
Can you briefly explain what Along the Watchtower is about?
Along the Watchtower crosses genre borders, part love story, part fantasy adventure, part family drama and chronicle of recovery and personal growth.
It’s the story of an Iraq war veteran, Lieutenant Freddie Williams, whose mind and body have been shattered in an IED explosion. Once a skilled gamer and expert in virtual warfare, now he’s a broken warrior, emerging from a medically induced coma to discover he’s inhabiting two separate realities. The first is his waking world of pain, family trials, and remorse—and slow rehabilitation through the tender care of Becky, his physical therapist. The second is a dark fantasy realm of quests, demons, and magic that Freddie enters when he sleeps.
In his dreams he becomes Frederick, Prince of Stormwind, who must make sense of his horrific visions in order to save his kingdom. His only solace awaits him in the royal gardens, where the words of the gardener, Rebecca, calm the storms in his soul. While in the conscious world, the severely wounded vet faces a similar and equally perilous mission—a journey along a dark road haunted by personal demons—and letting Becky into his damaged heart may be his only way back from Hell.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
I’ve always been fascinated by how subjectively people perceive reality, each of us bringing our own experiences and biases into play. But when we’re ripped from our normal lives and placed in extreme circumstances, our reality becomes totally fragmented. Such is the case with hospitals and war.
Then a couple of years ago, I become engrossed in the online fantasy game, World of Warcraft, playing with my son. I’m on the east coast on he’s on the west, so we’d meet every Wednesday evening in the virtual world of Azeroth, where our avatars would go on quests together. I was struck by how quickly time passed and how immersed I became in the surreal mood of the game, wandering around in strange places, solving riddles and overcoming trials.
The fantasy gaming experience has a dream-like quality to it. And I began to wonder: how would this experience affect the dreams of someone whose reality has been fragmented by war, PTSD and traumatic brain injury? These concepts—war, hospitals, and the fantasy world of online gaming—came together in Along the Watchtower.
How long did it take to write it?
About a year and a half.
Did the book take any unexpected directions from when you first envisioned it?
I struggled to find the balance between Freddie’s waking world and the fantasy world of his dreams. Ultimately, this is a real world, wounded warrior’s story. The fantasy world is an alter consciousness, a place where Freddie can go to confront the demons he’s unable to face in reality. I was always tempted when in Azeroth to write a classic fantasy. But there’s no classic ending that’s appropriate to Freddie’s story. His war trauma never ends. His triumph is finding a way to accept what happened and move on with his life.
Can you talk a little about how you write? Do you use an outline?
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 file for the new novel and do a rough draft of these scenes—a very rough draft, what some people call “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 pretty 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.
You’re working on a new book, The Daughter of the Sea and Sky. What is that book about?
It’s about a world divided between the Blessed Lands, a place of the spirit, and the Republic, whose people worship at the altar of reason. A mysterious nine-year-old girl from the Blessed Lands sails into the lives of a troubled couple in the Republic and seems to heal everyone she meets. She reveals nothing about herself, other than to say she’s the daughter of the sea and the sky. But she harbors a secret wound she herself cannot heal.
When will it be released?
It’s off to the publisher, so it’s in their hands. Hopefully, in the first half of 2014.
Can you talk about how you came up for the covers for each of your books?
My publisher designed the first cover based on my suggestion. The scene between Nathaniel and Orah in the observatory has always been one of my favorites, the moment when they make their fateful decision. It also seemed like the most visual.
I worked with my own artist for Along the Watchtower. I wanted a split cover that reflected Freddie’s dual worlds. The artists came up with the surreal castle right away. It took a few iterations to get the wounded warrior just right. We finally ended up with the rumpled fatigues, with the medals and a crutch under one arm but with no face showing.
Will you be revisiting the world from There Comes a Prophet in a future sequel?
I’ve begun work on a sequel to There Comes a Prophet. I’ve always wondered what happened to Orah and Nathaniel after their world changing heroics and what became of the contemporaries of the keepmasters who had crossed the great ocean. Stay tuned.
Who was your favorite character from that book?
My favorite is Thomas. All three main characters were called upon to do more than they ever imagined possible. But Orah and Nathaniel, despite their self-doubt, were naturally idealistic, with a penchant for heroics. Thomas is more of an every man, mostly just wanting to be free to live his life. He’s the last one to think of himself as a hero. When his moment came, he was the least likely to answer the call. Loyalty to his friends and something deep in his character allowed him to overcome his fears and save the day.
I had an editor suggest that I shouldn’t be ending a book with a point-of-view scene for a secondary character like Thomas. But while Orah and Nathaniel were the revolutionaries, Thomas was the reason for the revolution. As Orah says: “Innovation reborn.”
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
The urge to write first struck me when I was sixteen 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—the only time I’ve ever seen them. Or maybe it was the newsletter’s editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean, who encouraged me to write an article each night for the next day’s issue. In any case, I was hooked.
You’ve had a long career in the software industry. Can you talk about that?
I started as an entry level software engineer, but unbeknownst to all but my closest friends, I would spend my evenings writing. Eventually, in addition to starting a family, the dramatic growth of the industry eliminated all of my time to write. So I gave it up. Over the years, I was fortunate enough to participate in most of the major revolutions in computing, including starting multiple successful companies. The good news—when I was done, that career in software enabled me to return to writing.
What are your favorite authors and books?
Hemingway’s For Whom the Bells Tolls, Steinbeck’s To a God Unknown and Of Mice and Men, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And of course, The Lord of the Rings.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Justice Louis Brandeis once said: “There is no great writing, only great rewriting.” The process of producing a novel is a lot more about hard work than inspiration.
If you love it, keep writing and never give up. It won’t be easy, but it will be fulfilling. If you don’t love it, find something easier to do.
Enter to win a paperback of Along the Watchtower. US Residents Only. Ends 11/21/13.