Though I’ve never had children, even I know that the worst thing imaginable would be for a parent to outlive their kid. But it is out of great tragedy that we sometimes get great art. In his new science fiction novel A Life Twice Given (paperback, digital), writer David Daniel has tried to deal with the death of his son by imagining what he, as a father, might’ve done if human cloning was a reality. But in talking to Daniel about the book, he revealed that immortalizing his son in a science fiction novel isn’t the only way he’s dealing with this immense loss.
To start, what is A Life Twice Given about?
The first universal question the book asks is “How far would you go to give a loved or dear one back their life?” If you had the chance to bring them back, would you? If there was someone who could clone that person, for example, how much risk would you take, for side effects, for breaking the law?
These are all questions that the book’s protagonists Rachel and Joseph face when their oldest child, seven-year-old Joey, is killed and Rachel is gravely injured.
Where did the idea for this novel come from, and how different is the final version from your original idea?
In 2004, my wife Lisa and I lost our son David in much the way the book described in the novel. The names are changed but the book is largely biographical otherwise until the cloning scene.
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, Lisa and I were overcome by our loss of David, and by David’s loss of his future. After Lisa was stabilized, I spoke with a scientist who claimed to have cloned humans to very early stages. It quickly became apparent that cloning David would not be in his interest. There were too many medical uncertainties, not to mention the moral ones. Would there be risk to Lisa? Would David be the same person? Would he have the same soul?
These conversations inspired the novel. Fiction was the only way we could give our son his life back.
There have been works of fiction before in which people try to bring their deceased children back to life, such as Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. Did you look to any of them for ideas of how to deal with such a sensitive and volatile subject?
It’s funny you ask about Pet Sematary. It’s one of my favorite books. I wasn’t conscious of it when I wrote A Life Twice Given, but its portrayal of the sudden and irreversible life changes and the emptiness and desperation parents experience with the loss of a child was masterful. Pet Sematary deals with supernatural means of restoring “life” and aptly tells the reader, “sometimes dead is better.” In contrast, A Life Twice Given addresses a risky, but probably scientifically plausible, at least in the future technology and the moral questions surrounding it.
Aside from talking to the scientist about your own son, when it came to how you’d depict cloning in your novel, did you research how real scientists have been experimenting with the process, or did you look to fiction?
The depiction of cloning reflected what I gleaned from the medical literature and discussions with scientists after the accident, including one who claimed he had cloned human cells.
At what point in the process of writing A Life Twice Given did you decide it would be a sci-fi novel?
I set out to preserve David’s memory and to give him the life in fiction he wouldn’t have in reality. For the novel, cloning was the most realistic way to bring him back, but at this stage human cloning is still science fiction.
If you don’t mind me asking, how did your wife react, both to the the idea of you writing a book about your son, but also by your decision to have it be science-fiction?
Actually, I’m glad you asked and I appreciate both your sensitivity and the thoughtfulness of your questions. Even in the immediate aftermath of the accident, Lisa and I were talking about keeping David’s memory alive. The Foundation and the book were the first things we agreed upon when she was medically stable.
Speaking of the Foundation, all of the proceeds from the sales of A Life Twice Given are going to the David Gordon Louis Daniel Foundation. What does the Foundation do?
David loved learning, and the Foundation tries to engender love of learning in children of impoverished parents. To give you a flavor of David, he loved his National Geographic Atlas, and knew the gross national product of many of the poorest countries in Africa, what it meant and had a real sympathy for the suffering it caused. The Foundation has also supported successful medical research into mysterious childhood sicknesses such as Kawasaki Disease.
Going back to the book, A Life Twice Given has been compared to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Jessica Chiarella’s And Again, as well as to the writings of Philip K. Dick. Do you think these comparisons are apt?
These are fantastically creative and well written books. Like these novels, A Life Twice Given portrays the infallibility of the human spirit in overcoming disasters and restoring the joy of life. In most books with cloning themes the cloners have diabolical, exploitive motives. Our novel suggest that human cloning, albeit currently medically imperfect may become as accepted in the future as in vitro fertilization.
What writers or specific books do you see being the biggest influences on A Life Twice Given, both in terms of what you wrote and how you wrote it?
The unrequited love themes were inspired by Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, which made a huge impression on me as a teenager, and later Garcia Marquez’s Love In The Time Of Cholera. The notion of creating a being in the attic of the old synagogue in Prague, naming him Joey, and a tragic outcome was inspired by the Golem of Prague. The psychotherapy and fantasy scenes were inspired by D.M. Thomas’s The White Hotel. I also love Cormack McCarthy’s writing, and The Road inspired the post-apocalyptic rural scenes.
So, has there been any interest from Hollywood in turning A Life Twice Given into a movie or TV show?
We’ve always thought this would make a great movie or television mini-series and have been exploring how to make that happen. It’s been really exciting.
If A Life Twice Given was being made into a movie or show, you wouldn’t have any say in who they they cast. But if you did, what actors would you cast and why them?
My wife Lisa is better at this, but it’s a topic we like to think about.
Logan Lerman [the Percy Jackson movies] would make a good Joey. Sandra Bullock [Speed] could easily play Rachel, I think, given her beauty and versatility. I could see Emma Stone [Easy A] as Madeleine. She’s smart and real and captures that lightness. For Bevy, Jennifer Lawrence [the Hunger Games movies] is a no brainer given Bevy’s morphing to warrior heroine in the last chapter. Although Barrett Wilbert Weed [the stage play of Heathers] looks more like Bevy. As for Joseph, that’s a hard one, though one of our readers suggested Russell Crowe [Man Of Steel]. Donald Sutherland [also the Hunger Games movies] would be good the old scientist who did the cloning and as the obstetrician, and I see Woody Harrelson [another Hunger Games vet] as the mohel. As for Khatarina, she’s a very complex spy character mixing wiliness and vulnerability. When I think of Peta Wilson in La Femme Nikita saying, “It’s not death you have to be afraid of, that’s the easy part. It’s life that you have to worry about,” she seems like a good fit for Khatarina.
Finally, if someone really enjoys A Life Twice Given, what book would you recommend they read next and why?
There are so many. What would I read first? Hmmm, maybe Number9Dream by David Mitchell. Like A Life Twice Given, it elaborates the idea of the soul, the power of the human spirit and the ambiguity of the boundary between fantasy and reality.