Thought-provoking and creative in unexpected ways, Daniel Vitale’s debut novel, Orphans of Canland, is a sure-fire bestseller in the making. Serving as a terrifyingly realistic environmental warning sign, it follows an ensemble of rich, complex characters as they navigate life on a deteriorating Earth. Engrossing. Emotional... and powerful.
To learn more about the story behind the story, read A Good Book To End The Day’s interview with the author below.
Describe your journey to becoming an author in eight words or less.
A curiosity became an obsession, became a habit.
Tell us about Orphans of Canland and the inspiration behind the story?
Orphans of Canland is the story of twelve-year-old eternal optimist Tristan Weekes, who is born without the ability to feel pain. He comes of age in Canland, a California desert-greening project, in the wake of an environmental collapse. I had some medical issues as a child, and I wanted to write a story about a child who smiles through all of that—not because he’s faking it, but because he is literally fine the whole time!
I live in LA, where it seems there are so many effects of global warming right in our faces—wealth gap, heatwaves, fires, droughts. It, like, is the apocalypse. But we’ve all seen the crumbling of everything in film and books a million times before, so instead, I wanted to explore what it would look like to rebuild everything. What would arise in place of what we have today? In what ways are things better or worse? What questions are people asking? And then there was Tristan, our smiling medical marvel, growing up in this slowly-unfolding dystopia that might only be bad if you look at it from a certain angle. It was so much fun (and so much torture!) to discover this world, and all the people in it, through his eyes.
What do you hope your readers take away from your book?
Honestly, I try to view fiction as an experience with a purpose like any other art. Why do we watch movies? Why do we listen to music? We want to feel something! I hope readers come away from Orphans of Canland with that cracked-open feeling that the best books give me. The feeling of having had a real experience, having known real people, lived for a time in a real (imagined) world. But I also know that people often turn to books to consider social questions, to learn, to expand their perspectives. So I made sure that I wrote what I felt equipped to write—and that took a lot of research. (Thank you to my history major!) It was important to me that the biology, ecology, neurology, and all the other science had a factual basis. Every author wants to uphold their end of the deal when readers decide to trust them with 350 pages.
What was your hardest scene to write, and why?
The hardest scene to write didn’t even make it into the novel. I had to cut it. Which made it doubly hard to write. *Sigh*
But the hardest scene to write that made it into the novel is a conversation between Tristan and his mother, Helena. I had to know so much more about the characters than what makes it onto the page in order to write dialogue and action that felt like it was coming from two real people. We all have pain and sadness and anger, and we all have hopes and passions and joys. But we also have our ways of disguising all that. Knowing these characters well enough to write this really intimate scene, and then having to write it from the first-person, present-tense perspective of a child who has a limited emotional capacity! Oof. It was different with every draft, but I love the way it ended up.
When you finished the novel, how did you celebrate?
Celebrate? What’s that? I think I threw my fist in the air and then got started on my next novel. Maybe my wife and I got sushi and ice cream, then splurged at the bookstore. She always makes sure I celebrate my accomplishments. (Thanks babe!)
Do you have any other projects in the works at this time?
I’m on draft number four of my second novel. It’s an idea I had a long time ago, wrote two quick drafts, then stuffed them in the drawer. Then, back in July, I heard a whisper from inside my desk… It was the manuscript telling me that it had an idea, and I was allowed back in! What can I say about it? It’s about the limits of reality, the relationship between our pasts and our presents, and an unlikely friendship—with an element of the surreal. Vague enough to pique your interest?
What does literary success look like to you?
I said this recently when my wife and I were in a bookstore: Literary success is, on any given Saturday, five people buy a work of mine in an indie bookshop. They hold it up and say, “Oh my gosh, have you read this?” They’re excited to recommend and read my work! That’s what every artist wants, I think—to connect with an audience.
But the other half of the answer is that I continue to enjoy creating. I always want to be excited about and interested in what I’m writing. I don’t want to get lazy, and I definitely don’t want to repeat myself. I want to continue to grow as a writer and a person.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Just write! Make time for your writing. Take the practice of sitting down and putting words on the page seriously. And then have fun with it! It’s a crazy thing to declare: “I am a writer!” No one is going to give you permission. You just have to insist that it’s what you want to do, and then do it.
Also: Read. Everything.
How can readers keep in touch with you?
Thanks so much for being part of the A Good Book To End The Day family! Is there
anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for having me in the AGBTETD family! I had so much fun answering these questions, and I’m flattered that you’d make space for my book. I hope readers enjoy it!