Posted on November 16, 2018 at 8:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
Break a musician’s heart, and you just might be the muse for a fantastic album.
And while romantic woes weren’t what set Jonathan LaPoma rolling towards a career as an author, there certainly was some angst and soul-searching involved.
It started, as much great literature does, with a road trip. First came a cross-country trip with a friend; then came a one-way ticket to Mexico, where LaPoma lived for five months.
He emerged from that stay with a fresh, newly bright outlook on life — and also the inspiration for a novel.
LaPoma wrote the story but didn’t publish it; that wouldn’t come for quite a few years.
Instead, he went to work in the public-school system, as he’d studied to do at college, and rode the roller-coaster that is teaching.
That led him to realize, eventually, that the story he’d told in his post-Mexico novel wasn’t over yet.
Developing Minds, a sequel of sorts to that unpublished book, emerged from LaPoma’s teaching experiences and garnered him several prizes and bestseller status.
It wasn’t the end of his creative production or accolades, though.
He’s up to four novels now (including that post-Mexico book, Understanding the Alacran); several screenplays that have won over forty awards and also caught a Hollywood producer’s attention; and hundreds of songs and poems.
LaPoma found the time amongst all of that, plus his teaching career, to answer a few questions about his journey so far.
SADYE: What inspired you to publish your work and make a career out of writing?
JONATHAN: Most of my scripts and all of my novels are about characters who need to look inward in order to face their own suffering and grow as people, which is something I've had to do in my own life, and I hope that, by reading my books, people will find a way to overcome some of the challenges in their own lives as well.
I think that reading a book is the closest we’ll ever get to being inside of someone else’s head, and if swimming around inside my brain for a few hours gives someone a better understanding of themselves and makes them feel less alone, then I feel I’ve accomplished my job as a writer.
Also, by publishing my work, I feel as if I'm carving my initials on the tree of life.
SADYE: You’ve said that you prefer writing novels to screenplays, so what draws you to keep doing screenplays?
JONATHAN: While I do prefer writing novels, I've found that some stories work best told in a visual medium such as film.
It would be challenging for me to adapt some of my scripts into books because these stories are so reliant on what can be seen or heard on screen.
I try to give each story exactly what it needs in order to reach its audience, and if that story needs to be told as a film, then I write it as a film.
With novels, I love that I can speak directly to my audience, but screenplays are blueprints for actors, directors, producers to create a film.
With scripts, you’re working as part of a team, and thus, there are more rules and restrictions on what you can and can’t do so that you can best communicate with that team, rather than communicating directly with an audience.
Working with such rules and restrictions can be challenging but also rewarding.
From screenwriting, I’ve learned a lot about how to write the structure, characters, dialogue, etc., for my novels, so I see screenwriting as an opportunity to hone my craft and learn better ways of communicating with a team so that together we can best present our story to an audience.
SADYE: Since you’ve had such success in the screenwriting area, do you think about adapting your novels into screenplays?
JONATHAN: I've done the opposite, adapting two of my scripts into books.
My latest novel, Hammond, began as my script Dellwood, and Developing Minds: An American Ghost Story began as a TV series.
I'd like to turn all of my novels into a television series, but I probably won't be getting to that anytime soon.
SADYE: How did you get your screenplay Harm for the Holidays optioned, and what’s the project’s status?
JONATHAN: I met the producer who optioned Harm for the Holidays through a mutual friend.
The friend told me that he'd kept seeing me post on Facebook about awards my scripts had won, and that I should get in touch with his friend, who'd produced some big films.
When we got in touch, I asked him if he'd be interested in checking out my scripts. He requested Harm for the Holidays and loved it.
The project hasn't yet been financed, but I'm hoping for good news soon.
SADYE: What has been the most rewarding moment or overarching theme of your writing career?
JONATHAN: Recently, I read a review of my novel The Summer of Crud where someone wrote, "Loved it. One of my favorite books ever. Literally," and that meant a lot to me.
I put so much of myself into my novels with hope that what I have to say will mean something profound to readers, and lately I've been seeing a lot of reviews where readers mention my books being important to them.
One called my latest novel, Hammond, a "masterpiece" and said I was her "favorite underrated author," and another said that The Summer of Crud "really reached a part of my soul that's hard to get to."
When I hear comments like these, it energizes me and makes me want to keep writing new stories.
SADYE: So then, with your rocky introduction to teaching, what has kept you going in the profession?
JONATHAN: I enjoy working with kids, but I'm mainly in it for a paycheck, just like most people working the nine-to-five.
I do give my best to my students and care about them, but my real passion is writing.
It may cause some people to gasp reading that, but I think our society puts too much pressure on teachers to be the saviors of their students.
It's okay to clock in and clock out — and, honestly, I think it's healthier that way.
I used to bring all the troubles from the classroom home with me and they would ruin my nights and weekends, exhausting me emotionally and physically.
But now I've gotten much better at leaving them at school where I can pick them up the next day, because I know they'll be there ready and waiting for me.
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Categories: Author Interview