[LIT PROFILE] David Rocklin on His New Novel

Teacher and writer Laura Warrell asks David Rocklin about balancing his work as a lawyer with his work as a writer. Photo: Julia Ingalls.

Novelist David Rocklin’s joy in others is palpable, even if he finds existence in his own skin to be “sometimes uneasy,” as he put it.

In front of a standing room only crowd at Skylight Books on November 14th, Rocklin purposefully split the focus of the evening between the launch of his second novel, The Night Language, and an inventive range of questions from the audience.

Foregoing a moderator, the novelist welcomed comments on everything from intersectionality to the challenges of researching a historical novel to his lack of enthusiasm for fictional character Jessica Fletcher from the television show Murder, She Wrote. The evening became less of a strict question and answer session and more of a spirited discussion among friends.

This is typical for Rocklin, who purposefully cultivates a warm, yet thoughtful, atmosphere during each of his literary events.

Rocklin has been producing and hosting the monthly literary reading series Roar Shack since July 2012 at the Time Travel Mart in Echo Park, a series that gives both emerging and established writers the opportunity to present their work. Roar Shack also features “Live Write,” a five-minute writing session undertaken by two volunteers based on a one-line prompt supplied by the audience.

The volunteers then read their spontaneous compositions in front of the crowd; based on applause, only one writer is selected to appear at the next Roar Shack.

According to Rocklin, “The series features writers who are very brave, who tell very moving stories. The audience is often in tears, but at the same time, people are laughing and friendships are being made. I just get to step back and watch it all happen. It’s the most gratifying thing”

Rocklin, who moved to Los Angeles from his native Chicago in 1991, is also an attorney and mediator, specializing in employment and business litigation.

When Skylight Books audience member Laura Warrell asked him how he kept his legal work separate from his creative endeavors, Rocklin said that while in law school he made a commitment to “structure [his] life around protecting” his love of writing.

According to Rocklin, the crucial ingredient in balancing a day job and a writing career is “the desire and the relentlessness” to create. He said he has purposefully avoided joining a law firm or undertaking more time-intensive professional responsibilities in order to maintain energy for his writing and for his community.

To judge by the audience, which was largely composed of local writers and artists, Rocklin’s love of literary community is reciprocated.

The gathering also served as an ideal forum for bookish jokes. As he thanked his agent and publisher Rare Bird Books, Rocklin praised them for helping him publish an unusual novel that “doesn’t involve girls on trains and girls who are gone.”

The Night Language, which is based on real-life Ethiopian Prince Alamayou in Queen Victoria’s England, is a richly detailed period piece that explores the limits of love and class.

The prince and a male doctor-by-happenstance find love with each other, and compassion from the traditionally reticent queen.

The sacrifice each character undergoes, as well as the soot and chill of 19th century London that seemingly gusts out from the page, makes the book a compelling read.

The novel was inspired by a photograph Rocklin discovered while writing his last novel, The Luminist. While Rocklin did not anticipate the twists and turns the novel ultimately took, he welcomed them. “If it doesn’t surprise you, it’s dead on the page,” he said.

After a lively hour and a half of discussion, Rocklin relinquished the mic to begin signing books. Appearing very much at ease, he entreated everyone to “be there for each other, and let me know how I can help.”

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