"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Monday, August 5, 2013

5 Questions with Sam Halpern, author of A Far Piece to Canaan

1. How does an accomplished professor of nuclear medicine come to write fiction?

I’ve been writing since I was five. My first composition was in red crayon on the living room wall. My mother panned what I considered a brilliant piece of work. My interest in writing has continued all my life. Even as my medical career and family responsibilities increased, I continued to write, getting up before dawn to get in an hour or two before going to work. Eventually demands of career and family forced a hiatus in my writing, but when I retired from academia, I took up writing full time.

2. What is your favorite stop in Los Angeles?

That’s easy -- the home of Justin, Amanda and my grandson, Nathaniel.

3. Who are your literary influences?

First comes Mark Twain. Twain is the most important Southern writer and has had a huge influence on all American literature.  I think Huckleberry Finn initiated a new writing style when it was published; one so close to the people and places he wrote about that it invites you to appreciate the story with all five of your senses. Another writer who influenced me was John Steinbeck. I don’t know how many times I’ve read Of Mice and Men and his other short novels. Grapes of wrath, of course, helped change our nation.  Steinbeck was a great story teller, and readers remember his characters because they were so close to our own humanity. Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea taught me that a writer must know his characters so well they can enter their souls and put more than just their thoughts on paper.
4.You are perhaps infamous for your frank and colorful advice. What advice would you give to young writers?

The first thing you need to do is read one book that covers such things as person, point of view, arc, etc. then throw the son of a bitch away and don’t look in another one. Read good literature by accomplished authors and see how they used the rules of writing. Then stop screwing around, sit your ass down and write. Don’t write about molecular biology if you think a base pair is a piece of bad fruit. Write what you know. Get a writing group together, people who read good literature and are serious about writing. Don’t have more than six people in the group and five is optimal. Check your ego at the door and listen to the criticism of what you read.  Evaluate every critique when you get home and take time to consider it.  I have a rule. If one person thinks something needs changing and no one else does, I give it serious thought, but if two people think it needs changing, I make changes. Finally, if you want to write for publication and keep getting rejection letters from agents, do not stop writing! Remember, if you slam your guts against a door long enough people will open it, if for no other reason than to get rid of the noise.

5. What was it like to watch William Shatner play you on a television program?

It was funny. Many years ago some magazine voted Shatner one of the sexiest men in America. I’ve been homely as a mud fence all my life. I laughed for months about Shatner playing me.