1. What’s your name? Where can we find you? Blog? Twitter? Facebook?
Gar LaSalle, you can connect with me on Facebook, Twitteror GarLaSalle.com.
2. Other than writing, what is your favorite hobby or thing you enjoy for fun?
I have many interests that I enjoy. I teach the business of medicine at Cornell, Columbia and the University of Washington to Emergency Medicine Residents and faculty. In my spare time, I am a sculptor (bronze, wood, stone). I also enjoy long distance target shooting and bow and rifle hunting.
3. How long have you been writing? What genres have you written? They don’t have to be published.
During my career as a physician, I have written many non-fiction articles about leadership, disaster management, clinical Emergency Medicine patient safety, “bedside manner” and clinical risk prevention. In fiction writing, I authored several screenplays over several years. I structured Widow Walk, the first book in the saga, as a treatment for yet another screenplay. However, a producer friend, Nick Kazan, liked the story and suggested I turn it into a novel instead.
4. What has been the greatest influence to your writing? Other authors, life experiences, etc…
Influences — well, during my post-grad M.F.A. studies at CalArts, I also moonlighted as an Emergency Physician in Los Angeles. I recorded stories from the E.R.. The tragic-comedic drama of that setting, the pathos and pathology was always moving and helped me lend realism and plausibility to the fiction writing as I learned my craft.
I love the work of Larry McMurtry, Tom Clancy, Stephen Ambrose, Cormac McCarthy, Saki (H.H. Munro), Richard Selzer M.D., Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Hemmingway and Stegner. I am also influenced by great filmmakers like Scorsese, Fellini, De Sica, Ozu, Ridley Scott, Wadja, Attenborough and Spielburg.
5. Are you currently writing anything now? If so tell us about it?
The Fairness of Beasts, book III in the Widow Walk Saga, is scheduled for publication along with new editions of Widow Walk and Isthmus, in October. I have structured book IV of the series (working title: A Little Gang of Five) and am researching the background for it in the Kansas City Museum of Orphan Trains, the haunted fields of Gettysburg, and the bypassed small towns of the Mid West. Book V (no working title yet) will entail the epic events of the latter half of the nineteenth century Pacific Northwest, including the impact of the Chinese Exclusion (Expulsion) Act and Women’s Suffrage. Am also working as an exec producer for a documentary about the challenge of palliative care in a film, Never Say Die – Dying in America, being shot in Detroit.
6. How do you typically begin your projects? Do you create outlines and character profiles or jump in head first with the initial idea? And do you focus on just one at a time?
I “postcard” my writing on a large white board in my office, starting with two scenes: “Fade In” and “Fade Out” then I work from both ends to the middle “obligatory scenes.” The white board has sections for plot lines, conflicts, character “arcs” and themes. I find that characters get invented along the way because they act as foils for the main protagonists and antagonists. What is really fun for me is creating the backstories for those characters, because they allow me to expand the breadth of the world in which my main characters live. The book and on-line research I do is to find facts that corroborate the historical context of the plot, little known facts about well known historical events. I also always try to visit the places in which I place my characters — to get a sense of the feel of the terrain and the weather, humidity and general atmosphere of the air above it all. It was very important for me to traipse the Dariéne Jungle on what remains of the Camino Real, go by bungo boat on the Chagres River, walk the cemetery and home site on Whidbey, stand on the parapet where Pickett stood down the Brits on San Juan during the “Pig War”, and walk the streets to Richmond to find Chimburazo Hospital stood and know where the old whore houses were in during the Civil War.
7. What aspect of your writing do you consider your strength? Your weakness?
My historical situations are historically plausible and accurate. Readers describe my work as intelligent, “compelling” driven and visually evocative. Different readers have called the work “Dickensonian.” Some have compared the labyrinthine twists in the books to Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” To drive plot and move the story along in an engaging manner, I try keep my style “lean.” But I am fascinated by the panoply of characters I get to introduce in the story and I sometimes absolutely must exlpore. The diversions I take, in exploring some character’s backstories, does risk diverting the plot-driven reader from the main tension lines of the story.
Although I love poetry and know I can write lyrical work, the leanness of my narratives do not allow me to dally much on poetic metaphors. I have gifted colleagues who write lyrical work, which many people love, but the stories seem thin to me so I don’t do that. I try to put lyricism in my prologues and epilogues so there is at least a bit more music in the work.
8. After publishing, the next trouble facing writers is marketing. What do you typically do when marketing your novel? Do you have tips you’d like to share?
I work with a great team. Scott James and Archana Murthy are wonderful for the design of the “platform” and attention to the manyt details of the publishing process. Randy Mott (MottGraphics.com) and Neil Gonzalez (Greenleaf Book Group) are extremely talented cover and interior artists. Alex Head (theDraftLab.com) does precise work with the interior design. And Andrea Thatcher and others on Sandy Smith’s team at SmithPR are terrific for the outreach process. To the would-be-writer or those colleagues who have ventured into it already, be aware that the marketing is more than half of the effort. Considering how long it takes to research and write in the first place, that is potentially daunting. My advice is that in the marketing effort, one must not expect to receive the immediate gratification found in putting pen to paper, or reading one’s work aloud to oneself or to others. Be aware that even if you have the luck to get a “big” publisher to carry your work, the time/effort and expense given by the publisher is discouragingly brief and meager. If there is no return on investment, there will be no further investment.
9. What advice would you give a writer who is starting out?
I always tell myself the same things: Have Passion, Patience, Practice, Persistence — and forget “Perfection.” If any of those four first things are missing, you cannot succeed.