Author Larry Atlas explains how his work in healthcare inspired the tale behind his new book South Eight.
I interviewed author and practicing nurse Larry Atlas about his life and career, how his experiences in the healthcare industry inspired his writing, and the history of his new publishing company, South Eight.
Tell Larry Atlas who you are:
I live in the Hudson Valley of NYC, about an hour and a half north of NYC. At the beginning of my professional life, I was an actor and playwright, then a screenwriter. My plays have been performed in New York, Los Angeles, and the region; I worked on script drafts for all the major Hollywood studios.
After an impulsive but unexpected career change in my 40’s, I became a nurse, then a nurse. I worked in a hospital for ten years and am now the primary healthcare provider for a sub-acute care and rehabilitation facility.
When did ye first want to write a book?
As far as I can remember, I never wrote prose after high school. Only the poem plays and finally creates scenarios. So it was decades before I thought about writing a book. I thought about writing something right from the start of my work in the hospital and I tried to do it in a playful way, not just once but twice. Each time, after a few pages, I knew that any vague ideas I might have in mind – and they were vague – were too embedded in the scene and could only be realized in a novel. This led to the South Eight.
When did ye decide to start writing?
If you mean early, I started writing around the age of 19 when I was in the military. I used the typewriter in the company’s cleaning room after the employees had gone out for the day. I wrote poetry there, then wrote and studied poetry in college after leaving the army before eventually turning to write plays.
How long did it take thou for the first book, from the initial idea to publication?
A total of about ten years. During the first five or six years of this process, I also held two healthcare jobs, so I didn’t have much time to write. But I was also good at writing, so that was a small plus. Most of the book, maybe half or more, was completed in about two years, from 2019 to 2021.
What inspired thou to write South Eight?
Overall, the experience of working in the hospital, being with patients at such pivotal moments in their lives, with their families and the people who care for them, has been an incredible, life-changing experience. And it happened in a way that I couldn’t understand on so many levels. Each of us lives and organizes the world around us in our own way; Writing is like that for me, and that’s how I started. Even as my time in healthcare has lengthened and my experience and role have changed, writing about the world has continued to help me understand it.
What were the biggest challenges writing South Eight?
Perhaps the greatest challenge was writing prose, let alone lengthy fiction. I knew how to write plays and screenplays – or so I thought! – but the challenge of telling a story across hundreds of pages, managing the passage of time and the variety of stories, rather than on one screen or page, was daunting. The “inside” of the characters themselves was also new.
Who or what inspired thou when developing The Protagonist?
Even after years in healthcare, I am still amazed at how well my medical colleagues know and can deal with the stress of work, the consequences of mistakes, the satisfaction of doing things right, the supposed absolutes of medical science or against the uncertainty of result that still torments us in our practice. All of this applies to nurses as well, but I think my medical peers still embody healthcare, their individuality, for lack of a better word, for a variety of reasons.
Who or what inspired them to create The Antagonist?
I am interested in the ability of some people to manipulate others and control events, even when their power is in decline and their evil intentions are open to all.
What is the South Eight fire incident?
My main character is literally on the brink of burnout, like many medical professionals today, as a figure from their past enters their current life and crystallizes the many doubts and insecurities that are constantly accumulating.
What is the main conflict of the south eight?
This is going to sound a little vague, but I think it’s a conflict that arises when we’re doing our jobs, doing what we’re supposed to be doing and what we’re trained to do, causing harm. This problem is prevalent in medicine today and was epitomized by an incident from my character’s past life in the military.
Did you plan the South Eight, or did you fly off your ass and break free?
When I started I had a very general idea of the main plot and subplots; they can be summed up in a paragraph or two. Then everything happened as I wrote.
Did ye get editing support and how much editing does South Eight need?
The book didn’t need many revisions once it was finished. Author friends made suggestions and I had a great editor, but that was about it.
What is the first piece of writing advice ye would give someone that inspired ye to write a story?
Perhaps reminiscent of Tolstoy’s famous quote: “You should only write if you leave a piece of meat in the inkwell every time you dip your pen.”It’s pretty rough! But I think a simpler way to put it is that you’re doing these things – whether it’s writing, acting, painting, or whatever – because you can’t do them.
Can ye give me a hint about any further books ye are planning to write?
I got a little bit about the sequel to South Eight thought, and I’m also thinking about the original graphic, I can’t be more specific!
And finally, are ye proud of your achievement? It was worth it?
It was worth it and I’m proud to have accomplished something much more difficult than I originally imagined. I mean I must have read thousands of novels in my life without realizing how hard it is to write one. Doing it myself has only increased my admiration for those who do it well, which has excited and inspired me over the years.
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