David Kowalski on the process of writing The Company of the Dead
It asks the question: Can one man save the Titanic?
March 1912. A mysterious man appears aboard the Titanic on its doomed voyage. His mission? To save the ship.
The result? A world where the United States never entered World War I, thus launching the secret history of the 20th Century.
April 2012. Joseph Kennedy – grand-nephew of John F. Kennedy – lives in an America occupied in the East by Greater Germany and on the West Coast by Imperial Japan. He is one of six people who can restore history to its rightful order – even though it would mean his own death.
We are delighted to welcome David Kowalski to Fantasy Book Review and hope you all enjoy reading his words on the writing process that created The Company of the Dead.
I first started writing Company back in 1997. It was going to be a short story about how the Titanic misses the iceberg and arrives safely in New York. I was looking for a happy ending but what I had written was not really satisfying.
I started doing more reading about the Titanic and was amazed at how much had been done on the topic. At that time I’d also read that someone called James Cameron was making a film on the subject.
The process of writing was truly trial and error. I had never done any courses in creative writing. I figured the best way of learning how to write involved just that, writing. I also read widely, history and fiction, trying to analyse the skills of the trade. I set myself word targets to achieve at each writing session. As I have an element of OCD, editing was a problem. Looking back at early drafts I can see that there were some chapters that had been revised close to a thousand times over the course of seven years. Many of those changes may have been minor but I kept going over and over my earlier writing. I saw the book as something I was building from the ground up and, while I made notes for what lay ahead, I always wrote the book in the order it would be read.
Research was very important to me. Writing about time travel and alterations in history had to invite criticism from experts in their field. I didn’t want to disappoint readers with obvious or even subtle blunders. I discussed airship designs with aeronautical engineers and Twentieth Century history with (very patient) historians. I wrote to locals living in Nevada and New York to get the geography right. When I had to get inside the head of a Japanese emperor I read Musashi and the Hagekure. I studied the deck plans of the Titanic from the hull up. This may sound like a strange distinction but while I was writing fiction, I didn’t want it to be a fantasy. The reader had to believe…
It never felt like work because it was always interesting. I found that planting the material in solid reality leant it a truth I could never manufacture from pure conjecture. That’s the way it worked for me.
I also had to try and resist the desire to write about all the things that fascinated me. I suspect that is a common problem with first time authors. Perhaps it’s due to the fear that you may only have one shot at saying what you want to say. The other trick I had to learn was determining what to cut. The original final manuscript came in at over 1000 pages.
After a while, I noticed a phenomenon I’d heard of but never much believed in. Some writers say that their characters assume a life of their own. That never made sense to me, as the characters were surely just pure creation. Nevertheless I found that as the novel progressed my cast seemed to resist the direction I wanted them to go. Planned conflicts were resolved without violence, betrayals turned into friendships, controlled situations turned into chaotic firefights, as the characters, following the path I’d set, seemingly determined their own futures within the frame of the story. Sometimes I felt more like a stenographer, struggling to keep up with my cast, than the author!
I had no idea at the outset, how long the book would take to write. I’m thankful for that or I might have baulked at the task. I never actually imagined it seeing the light of day. And I certainly never imagined having the chance to discuss all the stuff that went in to making this book. Thanks for giving me that opportunity.
For more information on this book and its author, David Kowalski, please visit http://titanbooks.com/the-company-of-the-dead-5816/