Ken La Salle is the author of the new novel An Intention of Flowers, the first in a series called Work of Art. His other books include Illumination and Dynamic Pluralism. He is based in Southern California.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for An Intention of Flowers, and for your character Andy Hollis?
A: 1. The idea for An Intention of Flowers entered my noggin one day as my wife, Vicky, and I were driving across the old 6th Street Viaduct in Los Angeles, which is sadly no longer with us. From atop that bridge, I looked down and witnessed children painting a parking lot with all sorts of wild, colorful flowers.
My writer's mind began doing what it always does, looking for the story there. At first, I thought it would make an incredible setting for a fantasy novel. But upon reflection I considered it on a smaller, more intimate scale, which eventually became my story.
But what did I know about that kind of story? Sure. I had been a teenager who dreamed of being an artist - but not that kind of artist. Honestly, I know very little about painting or that kind of art.
Understanding this, I knew that my point of entry could only be with someone who didn't know very much. Enter Andy Hollis, someone finding his way later in life, a little lost, just a step behind, a guy who thinks he's not hung up on doing the right thing although he kinda is.
Decades of writing have taught me that, while I could write stories from a place of authority, it's a lot more fun to use my characters’ ignorance as well as their knowledge, to jump in the deep end with them and help them find their way.
Q: This is the first in a series--have you planned out what will happen throughout the other books?
A: Yes and no.
As a writer, I tend to look at stories as a series of whats and whys. Whats are facts about the story. Whys are avenues toward those facts: intentions, motivations, and so forth.
So, I plan out my whats but I leave my whys to the writing.
Because if the story is no fun for me to explore, how is it going to be fun for the reader?
But there are some really great moments and events (also known as whats) on the horizon. And I can't wait to unearth the whys.
Q: The novel takes place in Santa Ana, California. How important is setting to you in your writing?
A: When I was in my 20s, sometime back in the Mesozoic era, I heard about this author who often set his books in Orange County, California, where I'm from.
I had never heard of such a thing, having read many fantasy novels that were set worlds away and literary fiction that hardly took place near the west coast. The author's name was Dean Koontz and I thought, "If he can do it, so can I!"
This proved to be especially helpful and, as it turns out, most of my books start near here.
The Work of Art series takes place at Santa Ana High School. I didn't attend Santa Ana High but I set the story there because I wanted the setting close but unfamiliar.
I wanted the feeling of home - and, in fact, I lived in the neighborhood near Washington Avenue for many years - but I also wanted it just outside of my comfort zone. And I know how strange that might sound but, in a way, geographical setting often equates to where my mind is at as well. This is why setting is important.
Q: What do you think the book says about the importance of art, especially for young people?
A: Work of Art is fun to write because it’s filled with the kind of people I like spending time with: passionate, engaged artists. So, it would be strange to say that Work of Art doesn’t say anything about the importance of art.
And yet, in a way, I think these books are about something bigger, set against the backdrop of art. My hope is that art will help expose these characters, their desires and their weaknesses. Work of Art is never about just one work of art but, rather, it exposes the work of art that is our lives.
Having said that, my reason for choosing artists, young and old, comes right down to that passion and engagement. This passion that infects us, that wrests our lives almost completely out of our hands, that is more powerful than any of us can know, also connects us in ways we can't quite understand. And that connection, too, can be seen as a work of art in itself.
Perhaps, if Work of Art says anything about the importance of art, it speaks to this connection that so many of us share, this connection that drives us and moves us.
It is, perhaps, a reminder that those who allow art to change them and change their lives may pay a terrible price. But it is a price we must acknowledge for the many riches art also provides.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: At the moment, I'm working on two projects simultaneously.
First, I'm recording the audiobook of another novel, Heaven Enough. I'm recording with a wonderful actress named Brenda Kenworthy and I cannot wait for people to hear it. My own reading aside, she brings a depth and compassion that honestly make my words sing.
The other project is more difficult to describe but it is a work of political satire to say the least. After one year of Trump, my rage at the harm he is doing and has done to both our country and our world has now been released into the third book in my Fun To Grow On series of "children's books for adults."
And I suppose you might get the idea of just what kind of absurdist rage I'm talking about when I tell you the title...Pussies: Disemboweling Trump.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I am an independent author with a lot of passion and dedication to wherever my art is taking me. I don't write in any one genre but I like to think that if you connect to one of my books you may find that you like some others as well. I don't write the usual stories in the usual ways; I am unapologetically me.
And you can find me at www.kenlasalle.com.
Thanks to all of my readers for their support. I need all I can get.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb