Chuck Lichtman is an expert in Middle East affairs and issues regarding terrorism. His newest novel, an action-packed spy thriller, The Sword of David, is out now! He has twice been recognized as “Lawyer of the Year,” founded a national voter protection program, and is an avid photographer and pianist. He lives in South Florida with his wife and two dogs.
Interviewed by Bookstr’s very own Jordan Elizabeth Gelber, Chuck is here to talk about what made him write The Sword of David, and the impact of the Holocaust and everyday antisemitism on himself, his family, and his career.
Q: Can you tell us about The Sword of David and what inspired that particular story?
A: Living in an integrated city and seeing that my black friends did not have the same opportunities in high school that the white kids had, and the Jewish kids were a rung lower. Living in South Florida where I continued to see it. My work on elections where I actually liked- it’s my favorite thing to do- to go into the minority neighborhoods and help all the minorities vote because they are disenfranchised frequently impacted me. And I look around, I say, you know like the old song, “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”. I really wanted to write that particular ending so that maybe it would at least start a conversation. Obviously, the book is fiction, but that’s really what my goal was.
Q: What would you like the audience to focus on when reading the book?
A: I wrote the book on purpose wanting to appeal to the Jewish audience, a Christian audience, and a Muslim audience at the same time. The Christian audience was important because if you take a look historically at what’s happened in the Middle East going back a thousand years but for the Crusades, the world would be completely different. There’s no doubt that there is a segment of the Muslim population to this day, particularly fundamentalists, that hate the Christians and still hold the Crusades that occurred a thousand years ago against them. And the Christians are subject to a lot of the same terrorism in their own way that Israel has been subjected to. So I wanted to include Christians in the solution and I wanted to reach out to the Muslim community. That was a little tougher because the book starts with terrorist activity in a family that’s divided in terms of whether or not they support terrorism as a basis to try and bring about change in relations with Isreal. But as the story progresses, things start to moderate in a number of ways, and I do have a belief that there is an opening with the Muslim community.
One of the things that I like to stress when I talk about my book is that I went to Isreal, I think it was five times, to research the story, and I interviewed people at all the locations that I wrote about plus a lot more, but I also spent a significant amount of time in the Muslim Quarter of the old city in Jerusalem in East Jerusalem, and a cousin who’s also named Cline took me to Ramallah and Hebron where I was able to go into cafe’s and sit and talk to people and cozy up to them and slowly get into a discussion about the Middle East and particularly Israeli-Palestinian affairs, and the conclusion that I came away with virtually unanimously is that nobody wanted there to be more war. Nobody wanted there to be this continued conflict between Isreal and the Palestinians. The Palestinian people to me, if I was blind and I didn’t understand what their religion was about, they were people that I talked to that wanted the same things for their families that we in America want- Good Healthcare, a nice place to live, food on their table, job opportunities, better education. And that’s why I slowly migrated the story so that it would incorporate, at the end, something that I think that the Palestinians and the Arabs could latch on to.
Q: What is your typical writing journey and process when it comes to books?
A: I have an outline so I kind of know where I’m going. I’ve never held 100% true to an outline whether it was The Last Inauguration or The Sword of David, but it guides me. My chapters are about where I think they should be. Inside the chapters once I start writing they change. I don’t like to start writing a chapter unless I have really researched the locale thoroughly. And virtually every instance where I can be there, I like to be in the locale so I can photograph it from angles and observe and get a feel for what the neighborhood or the location is like. And then I write like crazy and end up going through about 10 to 12 drafts per chapter that change a lot from beginning to end and when I finally say “Okay. Nothing more to do on this one” then I move on to the next.
If there are people out there that wish to become writers I will tell you that I know for a fact because I have met many authors, I have two authors I can think of that to my recollection sit down and just write all the way through to the end of the story, and then they go back and they start editing and filling in. But I don’t like to do that ’cause I like to know exactly what I have and how to use what I have to get me to the next spot.
Check out the full interview here to get more tips on writing and research!