By Darlene Donloe
LEIMERT PARK — During a year when a host of celebrities are releasing revealing and shocking memoirs, producer/director and three-time Emmy-nominated actor Eriq La Salle has released his latest tome, and it’s a bloody cop thriller.
La Salle, who has added author to his many creative hyphenates, didn’t go the way of a personal tell-all. Instead, in October, the successful fiction writer who is getting high praise for his storytelling, released “Laws of Annihilation,” the third installment in the Martyr Maker crime fiction series of critically acclaimed thrillers that include “Laws of Depravity” and “Laws of Wrath” (Poisoned Pen Press/An Imprint of Sourcebooks). Each book explores one of the main characters.
La Salle’s love of reading and writing and the release of his latest book prompted officials to name him the ambassador for the 16th Leimert Park Village Book Fair to be held Nov. 11 at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.
La Salle and fellow actor Omar Epps will headline a Writers’ Symposium from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., presented by the Leimert Park Village Book Fair in partnership with Malik Books, a Black-owned, independent bookstore.
The symposium is designed to bring together authors and writers for book signings, panel discussions and writing workshops as well as community standout writing programs including the Black Writers on Tour, UCLA Extension Writers Program, Loyola Marymount University’s Writing Center, Los Angeles City College Writers Program and the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation’s Writer’s Workshop.
“I let my books feed off of each other,” La Salle said. “They are slightly influenced by movies. The franchise is similar to the setup of the movie, “Se7en.” There are three protagonists. Two are New York City’s best closers of cases. One is an Irish-Italian-American cop. One is an African-American cop. They are partners and best friends. They team up with a Jewish FBI agent.”
La Salle, best known for his award-winning role as Dr. Peter Benton on the hit NBC medical drama series, “ER,” said each book affects one of the protagonists more prominently than the others.
“In “Laws of Annihilation,” the FBI agent, who is coming to terms with her Jewish culture, is investigating hate crimes against the Jewish community,” he said. “You have to go through hell to find who you really are. This is her journey.
“To top it off, just as she gets the case, she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. She has to fight through all of that. To her, solving the case is the most important thing. It’s a layered novel, fast-paced with heavy issues going on.”
La Salle was in great spirits recently as he sat down to talk about what will be his first time attending the book fair and his latest book.
“As the ambassador, I am representing literacy,” said La Salle, a Hartford, Connecticut native. “During the symposium, there will be an engagement where we’ll talk about writing books and the importance of reading. It’s a time to make yourself accessible to folks who are coming through. I’m honored to be there.”
“We’re delighted to welcome the creative voices of award-winning actors-turned-authors Eriq La Salle and Omar Epps,” said Cynthia E. Exum, founder and executive producer of the book fair. “Our guests will inspire budding writers by sharing their valuable insights on the writing process. We’re also equally excited to feature programming that will provide resources and contacts to aspiring writers and showcase the outstanding writing organizations within our community.
“Furthermore, after rebounding from the pandemic with two successful back-to-back virtual special events, we are pleased to return to Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza for an in-person format, and look forward to welcoming everyone at this year’s book fair.”
La Salle, who has directed projects for HBO, Showtime, NBC, Fox and CBS, will also lead a special master class on “Developing Your Creative Voice.”
“I like to pride myself on being a student of the game whatever game I’m in,” said La Salle, an executive producer and director on Dick Wolf Entertainment’s “Chicago P.D.,” “Law & Order” and “Law and Order Organized Crime.” “I study it.
“As an actor, I went and got training at Juilliard and NYU’s School of the Arts. As a director, I started following directors. One thing about being an artist, you don’t always get to take time off. When you watch a movie or TV series — you don’t just watch. You are learning and absorbing. For writing, you look at the sentence structure and paragraph length. I developed my voice for writing by reading really good writers, watching movies and studying them. When it comes to books, I read great authors.”
La Salle, who used to write love letters for his brothers when they would get in trouble with their girlfriends, said although he reads other people’s work, he is “Not letting my work be overshadowed or influenced by someone else’s voice.”
“During the master class, what I will love to do is listen to how people ask the questions,” La Salle said. “Sometimes they want to know something very specific. You don’t want to give them a standard response.”
Both reading and writing are important to La Salle.
“When you’re talking about imagination, the type of imagination that manifests itself, the power of belief is not to be underestimated,” said La Salle, whose credits range from Broadway to television and film roles, including “Coming to America,” “One Hour Photo” and “Logan.” “Books are a major conduit. Telling people to believe and imagine worlds.
“The power of books, cinema, and art — the role is to be a mirror to society. Make a statement. Art for me should be transportive. When you can visit other cultures, places and people, that’s the power of books.”
La Salle’s passion for writing began at age 8 when he started writing poetry. At 14, he discovered acting and his “acting bug was born.” Decades later, when he began directing and writing short films, his passion for writing began to pull at his heart again.
“I decided to write again,” La Salle said. “I wrote a book. It wasn’t any good. I gave it to some friends who weren’t too excited about it. It was clear my friends weren’t feeling it so I let it go.”
La Salle said his path to being published was long and “not guaranteed.”
“People think because you have a name or because you’re a celebrity that it guarantees you a certain level of success,” said La Salle, a member of the association Crime Writers of Color. “That is definitely not the case. It took me 11 and nine years, respectively for the first two books. It took me that long to get a publisher. I got turned down multiple times by each publishing house.”
La Salle said he “Kept doubling down.”
“I wrote another book,” he said. “I decided to self-publish. Finally, my agent hooked me up with a publisher after some years. We finally landed with someone who got me.
“All three books have popped up on best-seller lists. One was published in October 2022, the next in May 2023, and this one was released this year in October. These are the same books they said no to. Now all of the books are finding an audience. It took me 11 years to get here.”
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.