After retiring last June, former Harvard-Westlake English teacher Jeff Kwitny released his first book, “Desolation Lake.”
“It’s a small press and it’s a first start and I feel very proud of the book,” Kwitny said. “I realize that the book is going to be controversial because it has to do with a scandal in a prep school not too unlike Harvard-Westlake, [but] none of the people in the novel are based on anyone in particular.”
“Desolation Lake” describes the story of a teacher at a Los Angeles private school who is accused of a crime, who consequently flees the school to the Eastern Sierras. This results in the Los Angeles Police Department and his daughter, whom he has never met, searching for him.
The character goes on a spiritual journey as he backpacks through the Sierras to figure out his fate. Although the book features a school similar to Harvard -Westlake, Kwitny said that the school and plot in the book are completely fiction.
Before becoming a writer, Kwitny worked as a screenwriter and director for 20 years in the film industry. After finding that unsatisfying, Kwitny said that he pursued his original career choice as an English teacher.
“I got immersed in finding various jobs as a screenwriter and directed three films,” Kwitny said. “I really found that terribly unsatisfying and very disappointing, but I’m a stubborn guy so I spent 20 years struggling and making a living out of not being happy. I just had kind of a mid-life crisis and turned to my wife and said ‘I’m gonna do what I originally wanted to do’ and I was going to be an English teacher.”
After about 18 years of teaching at Harvard-Westlake, Kwitny decided to retire and begin a new career of being a writer. Kwitny had already started working on his new novel, “Desolation Lake,” during his last two years of teaching and throughout last fall and winter, he worked on getting it published. It is now sold on Amazon, Apple and in bookstores.
Even though the book is entirely fantasy, Kwitny said that he did get inspiration from his years teaching, especially about the various dangers that come with working at a private school.
“As a teacher at Harvard-Westlake, I was always fully aware of the various dangers,” said Kwitny. “I mean it’s not in the forefront of your mind, but you have to be careful about how you handle students and parents and administrators. It’s kind of a minefield of possible dangers. I remember having, a couple of years ago, a conversation at a lunch table [at Harvard-Westlake] about various scandals that were going on at different schools.We were talking and we were like, you know it can get kinda dangerous here. You know what if a teacher gets accused of something, but he’s innocent and he just sort of runs out of control of a situation and he runs amuck? What it became is a what if story.”
Kwitny also drew from his own experiences as a backpacker, he said.
“I’m an avid backpacker, so I know the Eastern Seaboard well,” Kwitny said. “The story takes place at ‘Desolation Lake’ which I know very well, so all that is very authentic.”
Kwitny said that the main theme of the book is the power of love and the role it has in the relationships featured in the book.
“It’s really a theme of father’s lost and found,” Kwitny said. “It’s a story of a daughter’s pursuit of a father she’s never known and it’s about the redemptive power of love, so there are really two storylines going on there. The deep friendship between the teacher and his backpacking partner and then his daughter, Chandler, and her boyfriend, so it’s a story about the power of love and it’s redemptive. I want people to know that this story is written from the heart.”