Several years ago, Ken La Salle embarked on the adventure of becoming a full-time writer. Since then, he has released dozens of titles, produced his own audiobooks, and is having a great time. [ed. Note: love that attitude.]
When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?
I have a rule for when I read, which coincidentally is the same rule I apply to movies and TV shows. I call it the “Pissed Off” rule. If I’m reading a book and something pisses me off, that’s it. I’m done. This can apply to characters doing stupid things or just to bad writing. When the purpose of something is to entertain me, I figure I don’t need to put up with anything that will piss me off.
Now, there are exceptions, of course. And I try to give everyone a fair shake, because the flip side of that is that it’s possible to learn from things that piss you off. Oftentimes, when I see some particularly bad writing, I ask myself, “How would I have approached that? How could the writer have done this more successfully?” Bad movies are a great way of learning from the writing mistakes of others, because they usually cost less time than a book.
But when I’m done giving second chances, that’s it. Down it goes!
What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?
Sometimes, my background noise is my computer’s fan. (It’s a bit old and noisy.)
I remember being in my twenties and writing alongside my friend, Tim. We would shout ideas back and forth with music blasting in the background, foreground, and off the ground entirely. I have no idea how I was able to concentrate and, as I’ve grown older, I’ve become the kind of person who enjoys silence when I write. Honestly? I’m keen on silence most of the time. Old age is a bitch that way.
What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why?
The Journals of Spalding Gray, found as part of a display in a department store!
I was a huge admirer of Gray and, before he passed away in 2004, I had begun performing my own autobiographical monologues. (I released my first full-length monologue, That Olympic Peninsula Layby, last year.)
Witnessing how different his system was, not just for writing but also for coping with life, has brought a smile to my face since the first page. I have very little time to read but when I do it’s nice to spend time with someone who almost feels like an old friend.
Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?
I’m just going to come out and say it. I’m a review whore. I wait for every new review with baited breath, but especially love the ones that take me by surprise. I’ve been so happy to see how the reviews I’ve attracted have been getting better over the years, especially since some of the early ones were pretty brutal.
But writing is not just my vocation. It is also my pleasure, my fun. So, it’s a treat to know that someone else enjoyed a story (especially when it’s a story I wrote) as much as I did. Better still, it’s a lovely feeling to hear about how someone found a level or an insight in one of my books I didn’t even know was there.
What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?
I tend to write extremely long sentences that can often be mistaken for run-ons but are actually composed that way intentionally so that the reader gets a sense of stresses felt by the character or the rush of an experience as it happens, which I can understand might cause an editor to pull on his or her hair or hair piece or maybe even their dog’s hair but is actually not at all meant to have that effect. You know?
(And then, we cut them down like old growth weeds.)
Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?
Like many writers, I began as a strict pantser, because I believed that in order to convey a sense of wonder I had to be engaged in that wonder entirely. I couldn’t reveal any secrets to myself about the story or a character. Otherwise, it would be old hat by the time I got there. I’d lose interest.
Recently, however, after spending many years waffling between pants and plots, I developed what I feel to be a workable compromise, which I call “The What and The Why.” Simply put: I plot the what. I outline what happens. I’ll even go so far as to outline when it happens and how it happens. But I tend to leave the “why” out of the equation. I like to get to know the characters and allow their motivations to take me through each sequence of events, thus leaving enough of the mystery there for me to discover as I go while also having outlined a story I believe will work in the long run. And sometimes the “why” will change the “what,” which is also fun.
When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?
I always add words on the second draft, sometimes significantly. It is at this point when I paint in the colors.
You see, I’m a dialogue guy. I love dialogue. But I don’t necessarily love the details in the picture. I don’t care so much about what people are wearing or how they look; my focus as I write the first draft is to tell the story. After I’ve done that in the first draft, I go back with my paint brushes and color everything in.
After that, I cut as though I’m weeding, trying to find the devil in all those details. This is when I’ll hand it to my beta readers and I’ll make more cuts after each read. Then, it’s off to my editor. After all that, though, I still usually come out ahead.
How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?
I’m actually in the process of releasing a new title as I write a new title. Both are quite different so I’ll take on both of them.
In the next month, I’ll be releasing my first comedy album, inspired by such “theater of the mind” geniuses as The Firesign Theatre. As I get further in my career, I’ve realized that writing is only a part of it and I want to perform as well. This has resulted in audiobooks and sketch comedy on my YouTube channels, but I have always wanted to do a comedy album.
It’s surprising how much turning 50 can light a fire under your butt. Before that date arrived, I decided I would release my first comedy album with my sketch comedy group, the 3rd Wall. As an independent artist, however, this meant writing and directing and producing the album myself, which took more than half a year. But it’s great to shift gears and take on projects that are outside of your comfort zone, and doing a comedy album was unlike anything I’ve done before. The album is called The War on Green and it will be released through CD Baby very soon.
The title I’m currently writing is a sequel to my romantic novel, Heaven Enough. So many readers asked if there’d be a sequel, though I wrote it as a stand-alone novel, I had to pay attention. In the coming months, I will be writing not one but two sequels and I’m nearly halfway through with the first.
Without a planned sequel, my first task was to go back and read Heaven Enough and refamiliarize myself with the material. Without giving too much away, I realized that the main characters had experienced so much trauma that I couldn’t just move ahead to the next chapter. Instead, I decided to use Heaven Enough as a sort of prequel and asked myself, “What happens to a person to who experiences trauma like that? Where do they go next?”
The answers have been utterly surprising. Again, while plotting the whats and waiting on the whys, I find myself surprised and occasionally devastated by the answers. My life is an emotional roller coaster as a result and I am thankful that my wife, Vicky, is so patient. (She has no idea why I’m so emotional but she’s very accepting.)
What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?
This isn’t a business for the faint of heart and “writing” is never just about writing. You need to be on your guard. You need to be a jack of so many trades. Long story short: If you aren’t willing to put everything aside and devote your life to this, make it your religion, it ain’t gonna happen.
And if you do those things… it probably still won’t happen.
Accepting that is step one.
You can find much more about me, my writing, and the 3rd Wall from my website at www.kenlasalle.com. I’m also active on Facebook (www.facebook.com/kenlasalleAuthor) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/KenLaSalle). In addition to the many titles I have available on iTunes, you can also find my podcast, The Monday Morning Show, available for free a couple times each week.
Here’s a blurb for Heaven Enough
Heaven Enough is a poem about longing, about wishing for something more. "What would it be like if I had heaven enough?" it reads. Matt Murphy reads these words for the first time at his wife's funeral. After a death shrouded with mystery, it is the first time he learns that she wrote poetry. He and Diva were married for nearly twenty years, when she is struck by a car and killed instantly—randomly—on the wrong side of town. When her brother, the "monk," appears for the funeral, Matt is set on an unprecedented course. The two find Diva's computer filled with preparations to hike the Pacific Crest Trail...and she was leaving without her husband. Matt takes it upon himself to hike the trail and sprinkle her ashes along the way. What happens in the first two hours is dumbfounding. What happens next changes his life forever…