Donna Tytko Explores Various Perspectives as an Author

Donna Tytko always thought that she’d write a book, and, as a student in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program at Excelsior College, she finally had the impetus.

For the capstone experience of the program, she chose to pursue a creative thesis. “How could you argue with writing a book as part of your education?” quips Tytko, an avid reader since childhood. The course requirements directed that she incorporate her graduate-level research into the creative thesis and show how her studies influenced the novel. Her research paper explored psychology, education, and leadership, so she brought these themes to her novel “Night Air,” a psychological thriller about a woman named Penny who is haunted by her past.

Favorite authors:
E.M. Forster, David Sedaris, Jeannette Walls, Edith Wharton
Current book:
“A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles
Prior degree:
BS in Communications Studies

The book captures situations from the perspectives of various characters. “I wanted the book to be from different people’s points of view. It’s like research [that way] … I wanted all these people’s points of view coming through in the story,” says Tytko.

The novel was essentially completed when she earned her master’s degree in May 2010, but Tytko wasn’t finished with the story. She ultimately rewrote the novel five times, starting from page 1 each time and working her way through it. “I wasn’t really satisfied with it,” she says. She’d consider whether a character was adding to the story and then decided to eliminate those that didn’t advance the story.

Through the rewrites, Tytko didn’t know how the book would end. Once she did have this elusive piece of the plot, the novel finally came together. In all, it took nine years to bring the novel to completion. After that, she moved on to writing another one. “I spend a lot of time enjoying the act of writing,” says Tytko with a laugh.

“My vacation for years was working on my novel.” –Donna Tytko

She was not going to be one of those people who throw away their first novel, however, since she had put countless hours into perfecting hers. “It was certainly difficult to stop writing it,” says Tytko, who explains that she would write from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. and then wake at 6 a.m. for her day. “My vacation for years was working on my novel.”

For the second book, Tytko has learned to write outlines for each chapter so that she knows the ending early on and can avoid complete rewrites. This next book is a biography of Hattie Gray, the founder of the famed Hattie’s Chicken Shack in Saratoga Springs, New York, who was known as much for her restaurant as for her support of neighbors and the community. “I greatly admire her generous spirit,” says Tytko. “I learned about Hattie when I was doing research for my novel. I was looking for someone who lived in the Capital District and was known for their extraordinary kindness. In my book “Night Air,” Penny is given a “hand up” by Hattie.”

When she was learning how to write a novel, Tytko, the associate dean for liberal arts at Siena College in Loudonville, New York, was also learning about herself. “I learned to respect my own intuition and skills,” she says, adding that she put the book out for the public only when she thought it was ready.

“The education I received at Excelsior really did make this novel much richer,” says Tytko. As a graduate student, she incorporated liberal arts concepts into a research paper titled “You Do Better When You Know Better.” These concepts also appear in her novel. “There is so much available to us to make our decisions, so many viewpoints out there.”