This week I was able to interview Mitchell James Kaplan, author of By Fire, By Water (my review). If you haven't had a chance to read this great book or if it looks interesting please read the interview and comment below and you could win my own personal copy! Contest will start today and end on August 6th. See my contest rules here. The winner will be announced shortly after. And without further ado, here is my interview with Mr. Kaplan!
That's a very big question, so with your indulgence I'll narrow it. Since adolescence, I've always felt I was an "artist"-a person who would never be able to hold a regular job for very long because there were issues to explore and express that seemed more important than merely making a living. It is an affliction. Not just for me, of course. There are so many people out there who are crippled in this way. That's why I have respect for every writer, every musician or painter or sculptor. I identify with them and their struggle. That's also why I don't believe in the concept of literary criticism, except as a necessary means of promotion of works of literature. Every work of art is valid if it is sincere.
2. Can you tell us about By Fire, By Water and why you wrote it?
I wrote it for two reasons, one historical and one philosophical. In terms of history, I wanted to put Christopher Columbus's first voyage of discovery in its context. The period is so rich, so meaningful, and yet his voyage is taught in such a shallow, superficial way, as if it were an isolated event. It seemed to me Columbus was sailing away from a world that was destroying itself, toward hope for a better world. I am not only talking about his personal motivation, but about what his voyage meant and still means.
Philosophically, I wanted to show that even people with good intentions can become enemies and do great harm. Sometimes, perhaps often, people who hurt other people are not driven by hatred or envy, but by misguided love.
3. What are some of the biggest challenges you face writing By Fire, By Water?
Oh, there were many challenges. Sometimes you'll write something effective, but then you realize the focus is off. You've focused on the wrong character or set of events, and you have to rewrite the whole passage - maybe three pages, maybe a hundred or more - looking at the scene or scenes from a different angle. Sometimes you have to cut your favorite passages because they don't work in context. When the words are enchanting, it's so hard to erase them! Sometimes you have to reorganize scenes to ensure the structure is as effective as possible. Then you have to check for consistency, proper sequence of events, character development...The book was always in flux, I was constantly adjusting, cutting, rearranging. Trying to hold all the details in my mind and make sure the dots connected on the page. I described the process as "struggling with a bear."
My protagonist, Luis de Stantangel, was the most difficult character to write because he is quite complex and he changes over the course of the story. In fact, the heart of the story, for me, is how and why he changes. Other characters like Columbus, Isabella, Torquemada, Pedro Gutierrez, Medina Celi came easily to me. They just flowed out of my pen, as it were.
5. What was your favorite part of the writing process?
The point at which things finally started to gel. I started to have the feeling that I had represented a real world, that my characters were real people who were speaking through me, rather than my creations.
6. What is coming up next for you?
I'm working on a book about early proto-Christianity and early modern Judaism. How and why did these two sibling faiths (in fact, originally two sects of one faith) start to see each other as enemies in the first century? Another period full of love, struggle, faith, and violence...
To learn more about Mitchell James Kaplan please visit his website: http://www.mitchelljameskaplan.com/
He can also be found on Twitter!
Since this was my very first interview I am going give one lucky person my copy of By Fire, By Water Contest ends August 6th!
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