Getting to Know the Man in the Room: an Interview with Lawrence Weill, Author of “I’m in the Room”

I'm in the Room cover
Cover Design: Corey Parson
Image: “The Out There Chair” by Flabber DeGasky

Paperback editions of I’m in the Room, by Lawrence Weill, Ph.D., released on 11 October 2016 for $19.95 is available through UNG Press’s website and on Amazon. Dr. Weill’s debut novel, Incarnate, came out in March 2013 and his Non-Fiction book, Out in Front, was published in 2009. Since then, his works have appeared in a wide range of local, regional, and national journals. After his past success, Dr. Weill was inspired to write this Fiction novel about finding a purpose in life. Below is our interview with Dr. Weill. We hope you enjoy getting to know him!

Interview Questions:

  • How and when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I have been a writer since I was a child. In the seventh grade, we had a student teacher who assigned writing a short story. I spent hours and hours writing a story about a boy, his mother, and a stranger who comes to the door seeking food. Even then (and in my truly awful penmanship), I revised and edited the story. When I turned in my roughly ten page story, I couldn’t help but notice everyone else had written far less. When a week went by, the student teacher handed back the stories with red comments, but she did not give me mine. She said it would come later. After another week, she pulled me aside and gave me my story. She told me she had read the story multiple times, and that it was one of the best stories she had ever read, and that she cried each time she read it. I was hooked. That I could move someone with a story was humbling and empowering. I have written ever since.

  • What book has influenced you the most?

This is a tough question.  For many years, my response would have been anything written by Hemingway. I still love Hemingway and how he was able to often say so much with such concision, but I have also come to love the skills of other authors.  I love the quirky characters of Ann Tyler and how their oddities make them both believable and interesting.  I love the way Richard Russo uses setting as a character in his works, providing not just a background for the action, but also texture, motivation, even intrigue. And the list goes on.

  • Did you write this specific work based off of your own life or personal interactions?

I think all writers write from their lives. Many of the specifics in setting in this book are taken from places where I have lived, from my hometown in Kentucky to colleges and universities across the south. A character is sometimes based upon people I know or happen to meet, or, more often, a mash-up of people, taking a physical description from one stranger I saw in line at the Piggly Wiggly and having her say something I overheard at the beach. So in that way, I think all my writing is, eventually, autobiographical. But the particulars of this story, with much of it taking place in a college environment, do draw on my many years in academe, although specific actions may be more imaginative. There is a fair amount of philosophy, gently applied, that covers the action as well. I taught philosophy and ethics for decades, so that informs the novel quite a bit.

  • Where is your favorite place to write?

My desk in my cottage in the woods overlooking a beaver pond is where I write.  We have named our little farm Poplar Hill. The place inspires me and also encourages me.  In this idyllic spot, I find the quiet I desire for writing and a sense of place.  I have obviously written many places, from offices to classrooms to airplanes, but on Poplar Hill is my best place to write.

  • What inspired you to write this story?

In some ways, I have been writing this story for years.  As a writer, I am a hoarder, in that I keep everything I write in case I find a use for it. As a result, all of my books can be an amalgam of many different pieces.  But the main impulse to write this story came from watching students over the years, seeing them aspire to something beyond themselves—which can be a noble enterprise, but it can also be a frustration, eventually, as young people sometimes find their dreams are built upon shifting sands. What eventually happens to us all is we find what is truly important to us, rather than what is glamorized as important by family or in society.  Once we find our motivation, the rest is far easier.  I wanted to write that story.

  • How do you develop your characters?

There is a truism in writing that I have heard attributed to many authors, and I think many have said it because it is an important part of the writing process: I invent characters then follow them around in my head and write down what they say and do.  That is a big part of what I do, letting my imagination run with my characters, but there is more. I want my characters to be consistent and to be engaging.  I think it helps many readers if they like the characters, but it isn’t always necessary.  But they must be interesting, believable, and consistent, even when they go through changes. And they need to be in the story for a reason.

  • Which is your favorite character, and why?

I like the father character in this story a lot because he is based upon a number of fathers in my life, including myself, my father, and the fathers of friends and relatives.  I tried to paint him as understanding and sympathetic, wise because he has lived the same perils.

  • What was the inspiration for the protagonist?

Allen Johnson is meant to be as middle of the road as possible, not distinctive in any way other than he is much like almost everyone else.  So the inspiration was more one of pressing down the wrinkles that distinguish him from others until he learns the lessons that have been around him all his life.  As a rule, we don’t learn a whole lot until we are ready to learn it.  Such is the case of the protagonist in I’m in the Room.  So I needed to make Allen susceptible to learning, when he became teachable.

  • Is there a message in your novel that you hope your readers grasp?

As a philosophy and ethics professor for many years, I was often asked my philosophy of life (usually in a setting where it had to be told in 10 words or less.) My response that I finally distilled from years of teaching: Happiness is everything it’s cracked up to be. The issue with that response, of course, is that what makes one person happy might cause great unhappiness in another.  So the key for each of us is, we need to find what it is that will make us happy, and that while sometimes we may make missteps along the way, those steps too lead us to where we are.  That is what I hope readers take away from this book.

  • Are you happy with the way the book ended?

Yes. I wrote the ending to drive home the point of the novel.  I hope it does that.

  • Did you learn anything from writing this book? If so, what was it?

I learn from every book I write.  I learn my own habits, and how to hone those to my best efforts.  I learn ways to nuance my writing through creative story telling. I learn how to take scenes in my stories and bring them to life through specifics and detail.  And I learn what I like and dislike about my own writing.

  • What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

I wanted to apply a gentle philosophical structure on the plot, using a kind of step-by-step dialectical approach.  It sounds far more grandiose than it is, but by using that process, I was able to give Allen Johnson a path towards his future.  But applying that general format was a bit of a struggle, in some ways, because it forced me to put the protagonist in situations that I perhaps would not otherwise have come up with.

  • What are your future projects?

I am working on three other projects right now.  Growing up at Dad’s Table is a series of creative non-fiction stories about living in the sixties and seventies in a single-parent household where the parent was the father. Each story includes a few recipes from my father, who was a creative, adventurous cook.  I am also working on a novella called The Path of Rainwater.  Each of the chapters is a short story based upon the wanderings of the protagonist named Rainwater.  But taken as a whole, it is narrative of his changes as well.  The third piece I am working on is called Silas LaMontaie.  It is the story of a southern man who finds, then loses, then finds again his muse.

  • If you couldn’t be an author, what would be your dream job?

I am also a visual artist working in metals, wood, and other media, as well as painting in oils and acrylics.  In the same way that I love when my stories move people, I am energized when someone wants my art in their lives.