Sunday, September 23, 2012

Interview with Louis Bertrand Shalako

We are starting out last week of Bak to School, our chance to meet a new class of writer Louis Bertrand Shalako lives in Canada. He studied Radio, Television, and Journalism Arts at Lambton College. He enjoys cycling, swimming, and loves good books. He writes full time. His work appears in six languages. A writer since 1983, Louis knocked about at various jobs from the time he was 15 until he went back to school at the age of 25, which gives him a remarkable perspective into regular working folk’s lives. As for the college stint, which included a year of fine arts, virtually every course involved some form of human communication, whether it was writing for the news, advertising and marketing, local radio, or art history. According to Louis, he ‘just wanted someone to teach me how to write.’ Journalism skills serve him well considering the modern emphasis on social networking.

1)      Tell me a little bit about your latest book?

I’m just putting the final polish on ‘The Art of Murder,’ the second in my Inspector Maintenon mystery series. I liked the noir feel of Georges Simenon’s Maigret series, and one or two other French detective stories I have read over the years. This series gives me the opportunity to exercise what I call dense prose. Since the series is set in the ‘20s, it’s challenging enough that I can’t just dash it off from the top of my head. I do the research and learn about the era at the same time.

2)      How did you come up with the title?

During the research I stumbled across a source, a book entitled ‘Surrealism and the Art of Murder.’ Since the artistic influences, especially painterly ones, are pretty strong in my work, it seemed I had my title. French Impressionism and German Expressionism are greater influences than Surrealism, but it is good title.

3)      When and why did you begin writing?

At some point in my mid twenties, I must have been fooling around with writing, but once I realized that I had a really bad lower back, and that construction and other unskilled professions would be essentially closed to me, I had to put some thought into what I was going to do. Selling insurance or baking doughnuts had no appeal. There was some youthful idealism involved. Most people end up with jobs they can do well but never would have chosen out of romanticism. But I had some notion that writers don’t work too hard, and I’ve always loved my freedom. I was a young man who left school halfway through grade ten, and working with a group of other people, most of whom were either fools or perfectly content with their lot in life held no interest for someone like me.

4)      Do you write in the same genre you like to read?

I read whatever was on the bookshelf in the family home when I was growing up, and there were quite a few mysteries in there. Now I read a lot of history, as well as non-fiction on the internet. My mystery series is historical fiction, as for the sci-fi and horror, a knowledge of history, and human nature is essential.

5)      Do you have a specific writing style?

My writing style is first of all concise, and secondly, quite psychological. I like to push people’s buttons, and more than anything, I like to make them laugh. I want to make them feel something.

6)      Do you have a writing schedule?

I have self-imposed deadlines but no schedule. I used to write until noon and then quit, but lately it’s mostly in the evenings before eleven o’clock. I’m getting older now and routine and those afternoon naps are extremely helpful in coping with life’s daily challenges.

7)      Do you plan your work or just go with it and start with the initial idea?

I need to know more or less where the story is going. I call it the ‘art of the gag.’ I am never more uncomfortable writing than when I don’t really know how it ends, and I’m just treading water.

8)      Are there any downsides to being a writer?

If there is a downside, it’s that no one really understands what we actually do, also, everyone thinks it’s easy to come up with a good book or story. If we’re not bestsellers, we don’t get a lot of respect. We are perceived as failures in life, which most of us are most certainly not. We are pursuing a dream which means everything to us, and nothing to someone else.

9)      How do you come up with your characters?

That’s a very good question, but the story demands certain things to work, and we simply invent characters that fit and do the job. Most characters are a pastiche of people we know and people we have met through books and film.

10)   Are the names of your characters important?

Yes and no. Some names carry connotations—like Butch for example. A cab driver, or a tough cop, might be appropriate for Butch, but maybe not a doctor.

11)   If there was one thing you could have learnt about being a writer before you started, what would it be?

Nothing. I knew everything about writing before I started. The unlearning process is essential to development as a writer. But if I thought I was going to be bad at it, why would I have ever started in the first place? We need some optimism or idealism to carry us through the tougher days.

12)   If you could choose one writer to be your mentor, who would it be?

They are all mostly dead now.

13)   How do you perceive the world of self publishing?

I see it as a wonderful opportunity to blaze a trail, and to learn a lot about the art of selling books. I owe nothing to mainstream publishing. What is disaster for them is a chance for me to do what I was meant to do. And I’m going to take it to the max, bearing in mind that I have the slenderest of resources to work with.

Follow this link to find the author page for Louis B. Shalako

You can find Louis B Shalako on Barnes and Noble and here at iTunes

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