I am a big fan of Richard Lewis. I Loved his first book and have been enjoying his writing ever since. Maybe it is his unique background, or just his personality, but he brings a different sensibility and viewpoint than most authors – and I enjoy it.
His latest work was self-published as an e-book for reasons discussed below. It might not be economically viable in today’s publishing world but – like all of his books – it is an engaging and entertaining read that I hope you will check out.
BTW, in light of recent events you might want to check out Lewis’s The Killing Sea. A novel Booklist called “a powerful fictional tale of survival and cooperation in the wake of the 2004 tsunami.”
Richard graciously agreed to answer some questions via email about his books, writing and career. My questions in bold and his below.
Remind us how you ended up writing young adult fiction in the first place.
I wrote a book for adults called THE FLAME TREE, set in Java, against the backdrop of 9/11, about the friendship of the son of American missionary doctors and a Muslim village boy. It went on submission after 9/11, adult houses passed, but an editor at Simon and Schuster YA read it and loved it. I had to cut out some sub-plots, but I still think it’s adult.
And what led to your self-publishing The Last Witch as an e-book?
Essentially, my four YA novels that S&S published didn’t make them money. My career as Richard Lewis, YA author, was pretty much done–at least in the traditional publishing sense. One of the brutal (and impersonal) facts of the business. I had this novel on my hard drive, and I liked it enough to think it should at least have a chance for an audience.
How do you think the ability of authors to sell directly to readers via e-books changes the self-publishing and standard publishing worlds?
Gosh, so much has ink has been spilled, and pixels aglow on blogs and industry websites, about this topic. As Yogi Berra said, prediction is hard, especially if it’s about the future, so I’m not sure what is going to happen, but I do think some measure of equilibrium between the two will be reached (by standard publishing I mean standard publishing houses publishing both print and electronic editions). I’ve been honored to be a part of the traditional world. There is a sense of self-validation in being print published by a major publisher.
What’s happening in the self-publishing world (whether a printed book or an e-edition) is a growing cacophony of noise, and so it seems to me that clever, dedicated, sly, and at times very loud self promotion is key to standing out. People aren’t going to read you if they don’t know you aren’t there. Unfortunately, I don’t have that personality. I’m a writer–I love writing stories–well, I hate writing stories because it’s a process of continuous, frustrating, hair-pulling dissonance resulting in many nights of insomnia and grouchy mornings, but I do love it too. I’ve always loved putting together puzzles, and there’s nothing like making a story fit together from out of nowhere. But the process is like having ants crawl around in your brain.
The Last Witch has elements of science, higher math, faith/religion, mysticism, etc. All of these elements have appeared in your previous books. Do you use things that might not have been used directly in previous projects or that you “collected” along the way?
Everything that I’ve ever experienced in my life, or heard about, or read about (and I read a TON of non-fiction, love it) is fodder for my imagination, plus my imagination can come up with things on its own. Being the son of missionaries, who grew up on Bali where the mystical world is just real as the world you see, add in my education in science and math (only to a first year PhD level before I bailed to go surfing), and that’s just the start of what I have to draw on in making up my stories.
As for the LAST WITCH, I’d been doing a lot of reading in science & religion, and the “new atheism” of Dawkins, Hitchens and the other High Prophets of There is No God, plus I’d read Philip Pullman‘s GOLDEN COMPASS trilogy with its atheistic world view, and so I decided to try my hand on the other side of the ledger, so to speak. Not that I can write like Pullman, but it was a certain aesthetic & world view I wanted to express for myself in a YA story. (And I’m doing the same again right now, but in an adult novel). I was not entirely satisfied with the result, but satisfied enough to let it go out into the world, alone with bag slung over the shoulder, to make its way as best it could.
Do you find it a challenge to write from the perspective of a young girl? What helps you capture that voice?
Having a daughter helps an awful lot.
What drew you to Central Park as a setting? So famous and yet probably full of little known secrets and facts.
A huge sprawling park full of nooks and crannies (Eden both pure and corrupted) in a huge sprawling city (Gotham and Babylon)? What a set-up for a fantasy, for all kinds of what-ifs. I devoured books and websites on the park, scoured it with Google Earth. And I might add, I’m not the only writer attracted to that place. A colleague of mine, Lesley Livingston, used Central Park as a principal setting in her terrific faerie novel WONDROUS STRANGE
Do you write with a particular audience in mind (Americans of a certain age, etc.)?
Nope. The story shapes itself. Who reads it, reads it.
You like to surf. What comes first writing or surfing? Do you have a set schedule?
Surf depends on swell, which comes and goes. So if the surf is good, yeah, I probably go surfing before I sit down to write. I also do a lot of boat trips to outer islands to go surfing. I don’t write, but I catch up on my reading. (I can’t wait to get a Kindle and travel with one device with a thousand books on it–but Kindle, and other e-devices, aren’t available in Indonesia, not just the physical platform, but the downloading service.
What is one thing that surprised you about writing YA and something you find frustrating?
Nothing particularly surprising. Or frustrating for that matter, except for maybe the increasing PR writers are expected to do.
What’s next? On to “adult” fiction? Can you give us some insight into what you are working on now?
Oh, adult fiction for sure. Last year I wrote a very adult novel on the 1965 massacres in Bali (over 50000 Balinese massacred by other Balinese as a consequence of a Communist-inspired coup attempt in Jakarta, although it’s more complicated than that). Impossible to get this book traditionally print published at this moment of upheaval, but there is definitely a niche audience, so I will probably get it e-published later this year.
Right now I’m working on a more commercial project, a kind of post-apocalypse set in the States, from New York to Chicago to Vegas to LA. More info later!
- The Last Witch of Manhattan by Richard Lewis (collectedmiscellany.com)