Welcome to the 2018 author interview series. Author interviews will be posted every Friday throughout the year.
I am honored to continue this series with Ken La Salle, a California author, philosopher and monologist.
For those of you that have read my interviews in the past, you’ll find a new set of questions in this series. You can catch up with all of my past author interviews (nearly 200) on my Author Directory page.
If you’re an author interested in being interviewed in this series, I still have limited spots available for 2018. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now, please enjoy this conversation with author Ken La Salle:
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I’d like to begin my answer by saying I’m not certain if people-pleasing is a quality any artist should have. I say that because, deep down, I feel like I’m a people-pleaser, by which I mean that I like to see my readers happy.
But the problem with this, and this partially carries over in my answer to the next question as well, is that art has very little to do with people-pleasing. Our job as artists is not always to please.
And so, I spent far too much of my early career trying to write what I thought would please my reader – and failing miserably because, again, that’s a misinterpretation of the job itself. Readers don’t simply want to be pleased and we know that because of all the ways books reward us in unpleasant ways: glorious sacrifices, meaningful defeats, disappointments, loss, and a little thing the more pretentious among us call “pathos.”
Meaningful art isn’t always pleasing. Realizing this, along with a few other things, I decided my time spent writing is best spent writing those stories only I could write, stories that nobody else was doing, stories that I knew deep in my gut… my stories. And because they’re mine and not a rehash of something else, they also more original, which is a reward in itself.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
When I refer to myself as my “younger writing self,” I feel I should come clean and admit that this covers a pretty solid 30 years of writing. For about 30 years, I spent far too much time in one pursuit I would never repeat again, which I like to call Publisher Pleasing.
Granted, this also includes agents… and editors… and cover artists… and even friends with opinions. I basically spent far too much of my life trying to make everyone happy. So, when someone suggested a change to one of my books, I went with it. When someone told me I needed to write a specific genre, I did. When someone told me to take the jokes out of my work, I removed the jokes.
As a result, I found that my work resembled me less and less. I didn’t like what I did quite as much. My writing career felt like less, worth less. Something was missing. It just wasn’t working out.
As if that wasn’t enough, I also found that publishers weren’t that interested in the end result. Agents shook their heads. And the many, faceless voices who always told me what to do were never there to stand by the finished product, as if they would say, “I told him to do that!”
Only after years of making this mistake did it really sink in that, when it comes to my art, I am the only one who will stand by the finished product. I am the only one who knows what I’m going for. Propping bad, artistic decisions on the advice of others is the worst sort of delusion and, shameful as it is to admit, this took me a while to figure that out.
Last year, I decided to take a major step away from all of that and devote the next chapter of my life to being a truly independent artist, creating the kind of work I like in the way I like. And I kinda wish I could go back and tell my younger self to start much sooner.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Of mine? I’d have to pick Indian Paintbrush, the story of man who takes a long, hard look at his life and is not impressed by what he sees.
In general? I’m going to go really obscure and mention one of my favorite fantasy series of novels, The Pelbar Cycle. (I know it’s not just one novel but the entire series deserves some love.) This is post-post-post-apocalyptic at its best from Paul O.Williams and delivered from a small publisher. The whole series is something special that you should read if you can find it.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Book reviews are really so integral to book sales, you kind of have to pay attention to them. Yes, I read my reviews. I am generally pleased but the negative review does pop up now and then.
Good reviews are easy to handle. They brighten a career that can often feel isolating, letting me know that there are some folks out there who dig what I’m doing. Then, the bad ones come along and squash any good feelings I might have.
Worst review I ever got was a one-star rating. No description was left, no justification, just a single star. And I was left to wonder what I had done to warrant this reader’s cold response. Was it, to employ an overused phrase, something I said?
But that review, every bad review, comes with the territory. Not everyone is going to dig what you do. But that is our opportunity, as artists, to remind ourselves why we do this, to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and not allow anyone or anything to stop us.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Understanding that I can’t give explicit examples without ruining any said secrets, I have to admit that there are a few secrets here and there. There are times when I like to tie my work together in different ways.
With that said, though, that’s not my focus. I like to get down to the story and don’t like anything, such as a reminder to seed that twist that may pay off in book three, to get in my way. If it works, and if the book needs it, I’m happy to oblige.
Do you Google yourself?
There’s a word I picked up early in my writing career and that word is: platform. Sometimes, it’s referred to as an “online platform.” Basically, it’s a word that publishers and agents like to use in place of “Are you a celebrity? Because we can sell books by celebrities.”
Publishers want you to do as much of their work for them as they can, which includes being a celebrity. There’s nothing “wrong” or “unfair” about this; it’s how they sell books.
So, yes. I got in the habit rather early of googling myself, checking my online platform, seeing if any new reviews are out, and so forth.
Is it egotistical and self-absorbed? Sure. Probably. But then, so is every other part of our social media lives, from attracting followers to seeing how many likes something got. We’re a society of self-Googlers; some of us are just more obvious about it.
What is your favorite childhood book?
I’m afraid I don’t have a very good answer to that one.
Naming my favorite childhood book feels very much like choosing my favorite childhood toy. I wouldn’t know where to start!
I wasn’t really a reader as a kid, so my favorite books were usually the ones with pictures: anything by Seuss, Silverstein, or Mad Magazine pretty much fell in this category.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
Cliché time. Ready?
If I could have done one thing different, I would have believed in myself more.
But I’d like to emphasize that I would not have believed in myself with regards to how much money I would make as an artist. Rather, I would have believed in myself because of the fulfillment I would find as an artist. These are two distinctions that I often think get lost these days.
You often see stories about characters who lack the ability to believe in themselves and, once they do, they are miraculously successful. But confidence and determination do not necessarily lead to success. Confident, determined people still fail. On the other hand, confidence and determination do lead to fulfillment.
I didn’t begin my writing career until later in life precisely because I lacked confidence and determination. I let everyone else tell me why I would not succeed. What I didn’t possess, what I would certainly have benefitted from as a younger man, was the confidence and determination to live the life that would eventually make me much happier and more fulfilled.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
From the time I lay down the first few words, I can finish a book in about 2-3 months.
Sounds pretty fast, right?
But what that equation does not include is all the time beforehand during which I lay out the story and work on the characters and refine, refine, refine just about as much as I can. I like to be as ready as possible when I sit down to write so that, when I do, I can just write it.
Add that in and we’re talking several years.
But 2-3 months does sound more impressive.
This interview has been a lot of fun because it asked a few things that these kinds of interviews don’t cover. Having done a few of these, I really appreciate that.
Connect with Ken:
Follow my writing career at www.kenlasalle.com
Find Ken’s Work:
You can find me on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ken-La-Salle/e/B004U6OFQ0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_2?qid=1514932856&sr=8-2
And, as always, at www.kenlasalle.com.
Author and occasional philosopher and monologist, Ken La Salle’s passion is intense humor, meaningful drama, and finding answers to the questions that define our lives. Ken La Salle grew up in Santa Ana, California and has remained in the surrounding area his entire life. He was raised with strong, blue collar roots, which have given his writing a progressive and environmentalist view. You can find a growing number of his books and performances available online. Find out more about Ken on his website at www.kenlasalle.com.