In this column I’m asking subscribers to share their knowledge about writing, publishing, and marketing their books. I’m calling it “Ten Questions.” Thank you, James M. LaRossa Jr., for allowing us to share in the excitement about your newly released book, Last of the Gladiators.–Marylee MacDonald
James M. LaRossa’s Author Insight: “Not until I wrote Last of the Gladiators could I remember my father in his youth, when he could pick me up off the floor and hug the guts out of me. Rediscovering those years was one of the greatest gifts of my life.”
“Exceptionally compelling, intriguing, honest, irreverent and insightful. It is an inside view of lives and worlds rarely afforded to the general public. It is also a beautiful biography of the intertwined lives of a giant of a father and a devoted son. I loved it. Clearly written from the heart with a very talented pen.”
James M. LaRossa Jr. is a publisher, journalist, third-generation New Yorker, and the oldest son of legendary trial lawyer Jimmy LaRossa. In 2010, after finding his father near death, the author stole him in secret from the New York Presbyterian Hospital to a waiting Medevac jet. The duo spent the next five years in a place where few would look for two die-hard New Yorkers: a coastal town in the South Bay of Los Angeles, aptly named Manhattan Beach. While the son cooked his father his favorite Italian dishes and kept him alive using the most advanced medical equipment and drugs, father and son documented their notorious and cinematic life together as equal parts biography and memoir. Last of the Gladiators is that story.
MM A book begins as an idea in the writer’s imagination. Eventually, this grain of sand turns into a pearl. What was the grain of sand that fired your imagination?
JLR The idea for this book was more like an avalanche than a grain of sand. Over the many decades watching my father’s incredible life unfold, friends and family had advised me to write a book about him. A year after he died, I wrote a one-page synopsis which would eventually become the preface of the book. I sent the page to a family friend who showed it to producers at Netflix and HBO. Both jumped at the project. Before I could dive into a TV series, however, I wanted to establish the “real” story of my father’s life. The first draft of LOTG was 90,000 words and poured out of me in seven months.
MM How did you approach turning your initial idea into a manuscript and, eventually, a book? Did you take classes, read books, or just plunge in?
JLR I had spent four years in the writing department at Sarah Lawrence College writing fiction. Truth be told, I had never been comfortable writing alone for long periods of time, so the collaborative nature of journalism was attractive to me. I worked as a journalist in Rome and in New York City. Once I began to write Last of the Gladiators, any fear of solitary work was gone. I was off and running.
MM Authors today have many options when it comes to publication. Did you work with an agent, find a publisher through other means, or self-publish your book?
JLR Bruce Bortz, publisher at Bancroft Press, accepted the manuscript before I could even query agents. Bruce is a lawyer and he knew my father. He seized the book very quickly.
MM What is the biggest single lesson you learned during the writing process?
JLR For the first time in my life, it dawned on me that I could make a living writing books.
MM What would you advise others who are still at the idea stage?
JLR Start blocking dialogue—sounding out the way your characters sound. You might even want to talk the dialogue through. By the time you can hear the way your characters sound, you will have discovered many of the other elements of the book.
MM Were there any writing tools you’d recommend? Did you use apps like Grammarly, Scrivener, or another outliner to help you structure your book?
JLR No, I wrote the book in Word. The thing about writing is that you may have a brainstorm, but you can’t find your computer, your phone is off, and it’s just not worth it. I kept stacks of legal pads and pens around my house so I could scribble down thoughts at a moment’s notice.
MM Was it hard to decide on a cover, or did you or your publisher hire a professional designer?
JLR I am a journal publisher and am used to designing covers. The publisher used a professional designer for the interior.
MM Who is your ideal reader? Who would particularly enjoy your book/s?
JLR At first glance, Last of the Gladiators looks like a very masculine book with mob themes. That might help sell books, but it is not a macho mafia book. At its core, Last of the Gladiator is a love story between a father and son in which both find redemption. It’s a story that women would like. I hope that female readers will pass the book on to male friends. Last of the Gladiators is a “sensitive” book that won’t scare men away. The father/son relationship is, as well, very off-beat and comic.
MM How do you connect with readers? Do you like to do live events, such as book fairs or library talks, or have you found readers through social media and online groups, such as Goodreads?
JLR All of the above. I’m a pretty good public speaker. I like social media—I get to keep up with old and new friends—many of whom bought Last of the Gladiators.
MM What has been your greatest reward in undertaking this publishing journey? (This doesn’t have to be a financial reward.)
JLR I was my father’s caregiver the last five years of his life. He was in a wheelchair and on oxygen. His body was broken completely and that’s the way I thought of him. Not until I wrote Last of the Gladiators, however, could I remember my father in his youth, when he could pick me up off the floor and hug the guts out of me. Rediscovering those years was one of the greatest gifts of my life.
Check out the James M. LaRossa Jr.’s Amazon author page at https://www.amazon.com/James-M.-LaRossa-Jr./e/B07X6PC623/