Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Daniel Vitale Interview - Orphans of Canland

Photo Content from Daniel Vitale

Daniel Vitale is a Jewish-American writer and a graduate of Amherst College. He owns a hockey goalie coaching business. Originally from New York, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife and dog. Orphans of Canland is his first novel.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
I’m not going to answer that, because the answer is unfortunately Infinite Jest, for no other reason than that I was twenty-three when I read it, and I read the whole thing, and I never knew that people were allowed to make art like that. The second question is much more fun to answer! The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. No one writes landscapes like her. I felt like I was on fire, reading that book.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
I won’t lie: receiving a starred review in Kirkus was pretty cool. Getting this book published wasn’t easy. It took a long time to write, it went through so many different drafts, so many ideas were thrown away. When that review came in, I felt like I could take a deep breath and finally feel good about my work. (Yes, words of affirmation is my love language.)

If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
There are a lot of answers to this. Something by Darwin, Hawking, Shakespeare. But the answer I’m giving—in keeping with the themes of Orphans of Canland—is Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Who knows how much worse the state of the natural world would be without it…

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
My own self-doubt. But doubt can be really useful, too. It can let you know what’s wrong with a piece. And when the doubt starts to lower its voice, you know you’re on the right track. So maybe it’s not doubt so much as perfectionism, or the obsession with writing something “good”. I might walk away from a writing session feeling great, and then in the editing process wonder what the hell I was thinking. Pardon me for invoking Hemingway, but now I always try to start by writing something true. That tends to lead the story somewhere organic, and my hand is less visible on the page.

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
Oh sure, books change my life all the time. They inspire me to try new voices in my writing, spark new interests, open me up. But the first book I can remember having changed my life was The Road by Cormac McCarthy. In high school, I was in an alternative program for my humanities courses, and I led the two-day-long class discussion of The Road. I was sixteen. That experience taught me that books don’t have to be difficult or boring or academic. Their importance can just be in their ability to move the reader, to explore other consciousnesses, and thereby unite people. That was the first time I felt confident in my ability to be in conversation with art.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Stories create us as much as we create them.

Can you tell us when you started ORPHANS OF CANLAND, how that came about?
This I can certainly answer! In my early-mid-twenties, I’d written three or four atrocious novels that will never see the light of day. I felt like I was suffocated in LA, uninspired, bored, and worst of all, lacking curiosity. So I went for a drive: I spent three weeks going from LA to Vancouver and back. There was a day I was hiking in Oregon, looking out over a gorge, listening to the rush of waterfalls after a rainstorm, and I really did feel something shift in me. I realized I’d been living in the absence of places like that. So I wrote about that feeling of absence. But through whose eyes? Well, one day I came up with the idea of a kid who gets hurt and pops right back up. I mean, who better to put at the center of a burning world than someone who doesn’t know not to walk into the fire?

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
Writing, to me, is a constant process of discovery. Hopefully, the characters will take on a life of their own, and almost start making their own decisions. The most surprising thing I learned was about my process: I often have to sit for the better part of an hour, doing something like a Meisner emotional preparation exercise (I took an acting class once, good times, but not my thing), and think deeply about how my characters would behave around the people they’re in the scene with, rather than trying to force an action to happen for the sake of propelling the narrative.

I wrote 120,000 words about it, you’d think this would be easier… OK, let me try:
  • 1. The book went through about ten drafts. At least half of those were total page-one rewrites. But I only cried about it once.
  • 2. The cover artist, Patrick Atkins, included a detail in the artwork which actually preceded its appearance in the book. I’ll let you guess. (Shout-out to Patrick!)
  • 3. The two longest scenes, measured both by page count and the time I spent working on them, were both cut out. Entirely. Gone forever. Bye! But that’s like rule number one of novel writing, isn’t it?
  • 4. Tristan and Helena’s relationship changed a lot in the years I spent writing this book. But Tristan and Dylan’s never did. I knew what their brotherly love looked like from the moment I wrote their names—and they never had other names, either. (Shout-out to my brothers, David and Jake!)
  • 5. Tristan’s deep love for arachnids comes from my own personal experience. Until just before writing this book, I had a debilitating fear of spiders. I put a challenge to myself to get over that fear. I watched videos of tarantulas, read all about different species… I still get creeped out, but I’m not terrified anymore—and, best of all, I think they’re fascinating. (Did you know that, in some species, their brain overflows into their legs?!) I always take time to marvel if I see an orb weaver in the wild.
  • 6. The word Canland—the Restoration Part in which the story takes place—is a portmanteau of the worlds California and Inland (as in, California Inland Valley Desert-Greening Project). Let that influence the way you pronounce it!
  • 7. My wife, Ashley, who is an intimidatingly talented TV writer and producer, provided the most ruthless feedback of all the book’s edits. Thing is, she was right about it all. I’m eternally grateful to her for telling me the truth, instead of the old, “Oh my gosh babe, it’s so good!”
  • 8. I think it’s a neat exercise to know what an author was reading while writing a book. Here’s a few I admire and which I think influenced Orphans of Canland: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; everything by George Saunders; Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor; Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy; Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
  • 9. This book—like many novels—was rejected by about twenty different people/publications before it was published. And while I often doubted whether this book was any good, I never took a break from writing it—it was always the story I wanted to tell.
  • 10. I’m almost always writing while listening to music. So many moods and metaphors and words and rhythms in this book, came from what I was listening to. I open up so readily to music, I almost can’t write without it. It felt important to give Tristan a measure of musical talent, because music is such an innate and natural art form. It’s so pure and true. Whereas literature gets filthy the moment you put the words on the page.
What is the first job you have had?
Scooping ice cream. (I quit after two days because of the 9:59p.m. drunk-fro-yo rush… and because I got a job at a Halloween costume store.)

Best date you've ever had?
Easy. My first date with my wife. Only, she cut it short after an hour, because she had a one-hour-first-date rule… Joke’s on her!

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
“Oh no, did I sleep well enough?!”

What is your most memorable travel experience?
My wife and I went paddle boarding in Kona, Hawaii, and a pod of wild bottlenose dolphins came up to us. They swam under our boards, breached and spun and laughed… It was like they were putting on a show for us. A perfect moment.

What's your most missed memory?
Can I give the same answer twice? Because those dolphins made me cry. Other than that… I miss the smell of snow, cold air, the silence of winter. I’m from New York. I went to college in Massachusetts. And now I live in LA. But when I think about New England in December, that time before everyone’s completely sick and tired of winter, it’s like I’m picturing life on another planet. I miss those snowy forests.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
When I said the words, “I’m a writer.” If only I knew better.

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
Remember that playground motto, “You can’t say you can’t play”? I used to take it pretty seriously.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Isn’t all love guaranteed to end in heartbreak? Even life’s greatest loves all end the same way… So what’s the use in trying to fight death? Gimme love.

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
“How is my hair ever going to recover from this?”

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
The texts I’ve gone too long without responding to.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
I’ve been a hockey goalie my whole life, and I’ve given up some goals I’d like back… Hopefully they won’t haunt me forever.

First Love?
I mean, I was pretty young when I discovered sushi.

If you could be born into history as any famous person who would it be and why?
Since history is just one long tunnel of darkness leading to the present, I’m going to pass 0n this one. (Or Mozart.)

Most horrifying dream you have ever had?
It’s actually a dream that I wrote into Orphans of Canland, in an altered form… It won’t seem scary if I say which one, so I’m not telling.

First Heartbreak?
Losing in the Peewee hockey playoffs. Maybe that was the taste of defeat that gave rise to my ultra-competitive nature.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
While on the hockey topic, I had a bit of a Cinderella story run in my college hockey career. I started as a backup who never played, and finished as the starting goalie, team MVP, conference champion, and our team went all the way to the national semifinal. Shout-out to my Amherst hockey teammates!

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
Baby pictures of themselves?

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
Have you heard of this thing called trypophobia? There’s a Wikipedia page. It’s a fear of irregularly-spaced holes. Like a shower head in bizarro land, or a lotus root. I believe the word I’m looking for is heebie-jeebies.

It’s 2088, and the dust has settled on America, decades after an environmental collapse. The eco-totalitarian organization, WORLD, has reconfigured society with the intention of restoring nature. Twelve-year-old eternal optimist Tristan Weekes lives in what he believes must be paradise: Canland, an agrarian California desert-greening project. However, Tristan’s life-defining medical condition, analgesia, prevents him from feeling physical pain, leaving his brain’s stress centers unresponsive to everything from ego-blows to heatwaves.

Well-intended, curious, and wielding a stunning vocabulary, Tristan loves to listen to the subversive theories spouted by his older brother, Dylan, a drug-addicted satellite hacker. He also wants to prove his independence to his mother, Helena, a powerful population control-extremist. Meanwhile, all around him, the survivors of the environmental collapse are just working toward a better tomorrow. But when a slew of violent acts befalls Canland, Tristan must confront certain truths about the community he loves—including his family’s secrets, his own involvement in the horrors enacted by WORLD, and the debts that are owed to the orphans of Canland.

In this work of literary fiction, set against the backdrop of a frighteningly plausible dystopia, Daniel Vitale explores the fate of our planet, the nature of family, and the duty of science, as Orphans of Canland asks: What does it mean to belong on Earth?
You can purchase Orphans of Canland at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you DANIEL VITALE for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Orphans of Canland by Daniel Vitale.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. If she shows up. It's probably the best date i ever had.

  3. When my husband and I went on our first date, the restaurant thought we were already married.