Today on Awesome Authors I have the distinct pleasure of interviewing author, playwright, actor, memoirist, and voice artist Ken LaSalle (I’ve probably missed something he does, like ninja surfing with throwing stars or free climbing while editing, but I think you get the drift). Ken and I met through Indies Unlimited and a couple of months ago Ken emailed to ask if I’d like to be a guest on his podcast So Dream Something. I did, and enjoyed the experience so much that in return I thought it would be fun to feature him on the blog. So, without further ado, heeeere’s Ken LaSalle:
(From the author’s bio): Author and playwright, 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 him a progressive and environmentalist view. As a result, you’ll find many of his stories touching those areas both geographically and philosophically. His plays have been seen in theaters across the country and you can find a growing number of books available online. Find out more about Ken on his website.
DV: Hi Ken! Welcome to Awesome Authors. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
KL: I usually describe myself with one word, “author,” but the years have shown me that one word encapsulates a whole lot. Just off the top of my head, for instance, I’m a writer, editor, publisher, cover artist, manager, admin assistant, interviewer, sound mixer, sound editor, voice actor, producer, and web monkey. And there are plenty of things I’ve probably forgotten.
Further, no two authors are the same. We all go about this job a bit differently. That’s one of the things that makes the indie author community so rewarding; there’s a lot of sharing of knowledge and experiences. It’s almost difficult to feel completely alone.
“I’m a writer, editor, publisher, cover artist, manager, admin assistant, interviewer, sound mixer, sound editor, voice actor, producer, and web monkey.”
Beyond that, I’d say I’m a “big picture” kind of guy. I try to think on the biggest scales I can manage, because I know that’s one of my strengths and there are plenty of other authors who do so many other things better than me. I’m so big picture, in fact, that I will very often overlook small details in my first drafts. That’s actually become part of my process, rewrites just for the purpose of getting the details in.
DV: I hear you’ve been busy this year. What have you accomplished so far and what are you working on now?
KL: That’s a dangerous question because, you’re right, I have been busy.
I finished a new, romantic novel, called Heaven Enough. It’s about accepting what life throws at you and trying not to over think things, finding the things that matter and saying to hell with the rest. My agent, Jeanie, is very enthusiastic about it.
I penned the first two books in a series of experimental “children’s books for adults” called Fun To Grow On. Fun To Grow On will be a series of very strange stories – you might say “morality tales,” were you to stretch the definition. One thing I’ve come to realize as I get older is just how little knowledge so many adults have and I think adults could use some children’s books to relearn a thing or two. Look for the first two books in the series coming in e-book, audiobook, and paperback soon.
But perhaps my favorite book this year, which may turn out to be my favorite book of the decade, is a book I recently wrote on Buddhism. I can’t say too much at this point but I will say that I’ve taken what can often be a confusing subject and I’ve found a way to make it easy to understand. After writing a book on success (Climbing Maya – available in e-book and paperback) and a book on ethics (Dynamic Pluralism –which we’re still looking to place with a publisher), this is really the most incredible story.
That’s just the start of what my year has held! I’ve been fortunate as a playwright to have two staged readings this year. I placed my romantic fantasy novel, The Wrong Magic, with WiDo Publishing, who should be releasing it in time for the holidays. I premiered a new YouTube series, Jackemoff Forest. (The “J” is pronounced like a “Y” and the “f”s are silent.) That’s about a liquor store employee who discusses current events with a host of very strange characters. And so much more
… it’s been a crazy year.
DV: What’s your process when sitting down to write? Do you outline or just go with the flow?
KL: I approach process on a couple of different levels.
First, I try to run my writing career as much like a business as I can. I keep regular hours. I work five days a week, sometimes 10-12 hours each day. I try and set a strategy for everything I do. If it’s a book, can it work as an audiobook? If it’s an essay, how can I re-purpose it? I try to think as far into the future as I can manage.
On the flip side, I know myself pretty well. So, I know any plan that goes too long is going to bore me if it’s not just amazing. A new fantasy series I’m trying to sell, for instance, will be nine books long. That will probably equal over a decade of writing. But it’s worth it. It is flat-out amazing.
And that brings me to the actual writing. As with most things, I try to be as pragmatic as I can while being completely insane. For instance, I use whatever method works for whatever project I’m on. A book like Heaven Enough required very little outlining. It was all feeling. (I tend to think of writing in strange terms, such as feeling, rhythm, landscape. It’s my own kind of shorthand.) The first book in this fantasy series, however, got diagrammed in extreme detail on a giant piece of poster board. I needed that to be as clear as possible, because so much happens at once.
“I tend to think of writing in strange terms, such as feeling, rhythm, landscape.”
Basically, and this leads to your next question, I go where the story takes me. My first problem is conceiving of a story I can’t stop thinking about. This is why I don’t take a lot of notes. I figure that if it’s not memorable I don’t want it. Somehow, I’ve been fortunate enough to get more of these ideas as I go and not less, owing to practice I suppose. I tend to be drawn to questions, which is how I ended up writing non-fiction. (And that surprised me more than anyone!) Otherwise, when a story comes to me, I try not to discriminate. I know it’s coming from a place deep within myself that needs to speak. So, I try to find a way to let that happen.
DV: You write in several different genres (horror, memoir, self-help, fantasy) as well as being a playwright—but you were first passionate about acting. Tell us a little about what prompted you to switch from acting to writing.
KL: You know, I loved acting more than just about anything. There is no feeling equal to a theater full of people applauding you and you alone. It is breathtaking.
And yet… I came to a point in my life when I realized that as an actor, and I was fairly good as far as actors go, I would only be good. I would never be great. Realizing this was only complicated by the fact that I knew I could be something special as an author. My competency as an actor does not come close to what I can do as an author. Just look at Climbing Maya, The Day We Said Goodbye, or Daughter of a One-Armed Man – three books that I believe do some remarkable things. Add to that two new books coming this year, Indian Paintbrush and The Wrong Magic, which are just a ton of fun. Add to this the book on Buddhism. And that’s just the start.
Perhaps the best thing that has happened very recently in my career is my discovery of audiobooks and YouTube content generation. I’ve found that I need not leave my acting career completely behind me. As the narrator of my audiobooks, I get to be the one to interpret my books in that medium. On YouTube, I’ve produced spoken-word essays, theater of the mind, and this new thing: Jackemoff Forest. Not only do I act but I direct, mix the sound, edit – everything!
DV: Audiobooks have become a huge industry for indies as well as for trad pubbed authors. You’ve got a great voice for narration and have produced and recorded your own audiobooks. Can you tell us what’s involved?
Producing your own audiobook requires a kind of “jack of all trades” mentality. And, just like writing itself, you won’t get it absolutely right the first time out. Maybe not even the second. But you have to get good pretty fast because consumers are not very forgiving.
The reading itself is never a problem because one of my steps in rewriting is often to read aloud and listen to how the book sounds. Sometimes, acting isn’t even required. When I read A Grand Canyon and The Day We Said Goodbye, and in those moments when I got choked up (yes, even after all the times I’d read, re-read, written, and re-written those words before), those were real emotions from real times in my life.
But I know my limitations. I’ve stayed away from books with too many characters or too much action because those don’t quite suit me. I suppose I’ll just have to find someone else for those.
DV: How do you define success?
KL: Funny you should ask! I define success in my book, Climbing Maya, An Exploration Into Success. No kidding. The dictionary has it wrong. Conventional Wisdom has it wrong. I found myself without a job one day. One friend was dying of leukemia and another was crawling into a bottle. And I had to know what we mean when we refer to “success.” The answer to that question lies in the pages of Climbing Maya.
… but you probably want something for your interview. I don’t really think about success all that much anymore. (After years on Climbing Maya, I’d kind of beaten it to death.) As an artist, I’ve pretty much accepted that “success” is really not the name of the game. An artist is someone who puts themselves through discomfort, possibly embarrassment, to create something meaningful. They basically transform fear into meaning.
So, I’ve found myself intentionally doing things that scare me. My YouTube videos, for instance. I’m basically daring the Internet to call me names. Why would anyone do that? Because there is a thread coming from the edge. It’s my hope that someone pulls on the thread and finds the meaning I’ve left there.
(And, just in case anyone found that all unbearably pretentious, I completely agree. This La Salle guy, huh?)
“As an artist, I’ve pretty much accepted that “success” is really not the name of the game.”
DV: You’re a big believer in having a dream, but you haven’t always felt that way. Would you talk about that and what it means to you to believe in your dreams?
KL: I grew up in a very blue-collar home. We were poor and there wasn’t much hope. I was told to find a job in a factory and keep it. Just keep it. I ended up being the black sheep for many years, horribly misunderstood, because I just couldn’t. I just wasn’t built that way.
As much as I fought my artistic tendencies, I couldn’t stop myself. I found an avenue that allowed me to write for a living, which was in technical and marketing writing. I spent 20 years doing that, thinking that was all I could hope for. Then, the economy crashed just over a decade ago, and I went from one layoff to another as I went from one job to another. The idea of focusing on my writing only came because, strangely enough, the economy was so bad that being an author made about as much sense as trying to find a “real job.”
But I still didn’t believe in the power of dreams. This was all a fluke. I couldn’t understand that my dream, buried as deep down as I could manage, had been steering me this way despite my best efforts to avoid it. A dream is just your body’s way of exerting its will, of telling you, “I want this.” If you try and run away, you’re only running away from yourself.
Writing about following your dreams for Recovering the Self was just a lark at the beginning. How was I to believe in something I’d spent my life running away from? Yet, the more I considered the power of dreams, even hosting a podcast on the subject, the more I realized something that should be clear to everyone.
“I couldn’t understand that my dream, buried as deep down as I could manage, had been steering me this way despite my best efforts to avoid it.”
This is what I’ve come to understand: Dreams make us better people. They make us happier and healthier. Even if we do not accomplish our goal, even if we fail, we’re better off. Because trying breeds a kind of confidence. Failure fades but the knowledge that you went for it lives on.
DV: What advice do you have for a writer just starting out?
I say this, of course, fully aware that anyone who has to write has to write. So, I say that if you can avoid it you should, because it probably isn’t that important in the long wrong.
Writing is tough and shouldn’t be attempted by anyone who can help it. You make nothing for money most of the time. You toil in anonymity for the most part. And people will take advantage of you at every step, if you’re not careful.
But, if you have to do it, then I say, “Do it.” Don’t let anyone tell you to have a Plan B or something to fall back on. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that life is long and you should fail as many times as you can. Only failure will show you what you’re doing wrong and, perhaps, what you should be doing to get things right.
DV: Where do you see yourself in five years?
KL: This is an interesting question as I am writing this at the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail season. Every year, at the end of April, thru-hikers attempt to traverse the 2,668 miles from Mexico to Canada, along the Pacific Crest Trail.
One of my life goals is hiking the PCT. For me, it’s all about conquering fear. I’m personally terrified of being eaten alive by wild animals, which I have built up to a point where the entire 2,668 distance seems wallpapered with bears and mountain lions and rattle snakes.
To get there, I’m going to need to write my little heart out. The PCT trek takes about 5-6 months. That means I’ll need to have an income to afford not working that long and I’ll also need to be physically fit enough to go that far.
As unlikely as that may sound, that is where I see myself in five years. Now, let’s see how good I am at predicting the future…
DV: What’s next for Ken La Salle?
KL: A lot of work.
This year, you’re going to see several new titles from Ken La Salle. Some titles will include e-books, paperbacks, and audiobooks. You’ll see new YouTube videos each month, along with new episodes of So Dream Something, and new essays on Recovering the Self and perhaps even on Indies Unlimited.
As strange as it might sound, I’m even more excited about the work I have laid out beyond that. As of now, I have five new books just sitting there, waiting to be written. There’s nothing as exciting as a new book. This is partially why I don’t read so much anymore. Why read it when you can write it?
DV: Wow. That’s a lotta work! I completely agree with your description of the excitement of a new book. I feel it every time. Go get ’em, Ken, and good luck! 😀
To find out more about Ken LaSalle and his work, here are some links:
On the web at www.kenlasalle.com
And, on YouTube