Interview for Books Online – Interviewer – Suzanne Harris
Author Profile – by Stan Finger author of Fallen Trees
His grandchildren loved to tell him what a good story teller he was, so when Larry Weiss retired he decided to give writing a try. To do it, however, he would have to overcome a significant obstacle: he is, in his own words, “a moderate dyslexic.”
“In my entire life, writing has been excruciatingly painful,” Weiss says.
But he wouldn’t let that stop him.
“I said to myself, ‘This is ridiculous. I spent my career coaching kids on how to overcome their difficulties,’” Weiss says. “So I began coaching myself.”
It included taking a variety of courses [in creative writing] and embracing tools such as Grammarly and AutoCrit. Weiss has now written a nonfiction book, Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity, and Contentment and the novel Girl with the Rose Tattoo.
His novel is the first of a trilogy, he says, and he’s already got the plots for the remaining installments mapped out. After writing both nonfiction and fiction, Weiss says he enjoys the latter more.
“I like characters,” he said. “I like developing characters. And I find that I get very mentally involved with my characters, whether it’s the protagonist or the antagonist, or minor characters. It’s sort of fun speaking in different voices.
“I even like editing. I really enjoy the process of ripping my stuff apart and putting it back together.”
One of his favorite quotations, he says, comes from Margaret Atwood, the Canadian poet and author of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
“The waste bin is a writer’s best friend.”
That means to not be afraid of making changes to your work, to try again if something’s not working, to be liberal with the red ink when you’re editing. One of the most common mistakes he sees writers make, he says, is to be unwilling to make changes that will strengthen their story.
Despite relying heavily on technology to help him in his writing, including text to audio, Weiss loves to write scenes or even first drafts in longhand, using a Pelikan Souverän fountain pen.
“I don’t know whether it’s just psychology or whatever it is, but I feel that my ideas go into the pen and flow out on the page through the ink,” he says. “It just flows beautifully. It’s just a joy to write with.”
In fact, he just finished a children’s story titled “The Writer with the Magic Fountain Pen.”
“That’s how I look at my fountain pen,” he said. “It inspired this story about an old man who is gifted with this pen and can’t write. But when his wife dies, somehow the gift which she gave him embodies her spirit, and it calls him and it forces him to write. He becomes kind of a hermit for a year or so, writing sad story after sad story after sad story, because the pen sucks the sadness out of them. And he pours it onto the paper.”
The inspiration for the story came from his own life, he says, as his sadness poured out of him and onto the page.
When people ask Weiss what it’s like to be a writer, he tells them a story about having a boat.
“Are you in love with having a boat? Or are you in love with the idea of having a boat? Because if you’re in love with the idea of having a boat, you might as well come out on the lake with me. But if you’re in love with having a boat, be prepared for big expense, lots of time, and lots of frustration. And if you’re not prepared for that, just come for a ride with me.
“I think that’s the same thing with writing. If you can’t take it, if you can’t take the heat, you get out of the kitchen, because it’s not fun in the classic sense of the word.”
He harkens back to the famous Ernest Hemingway quote, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
But Weiss doesn’t want to leave the impression that writing is misery for him. In fact, it’s just the opposite. His first tattoo, to celebrate his 74th birthday, is of a ceremonial wash basin from a Zen temple in Japan.
His wife brought the token of the basin home from a business trip years ago, and Weiss said the philosophy connected to it impressed him:
“One translation is, ‘Only I know when I’m happy,’” he says. “Another translation is, ‘I have all I need.’ I think that’s what writing does for me.”