MM: Did you invent the profession of philosophical practitioner?
LA: I thought I did, but after publication I was contacted by an officer of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association who liked the book and wanted me to review books for them.
MM: In his role as a philosophical practitioner, Eric helps people sort out their problems. But he also tries to get them to accept that some of their problems are caused by mistakes in logic. In other words, thinking about something the wrong way is often the cause of a problem, and that thinking differently is the way to solve it. That makes sense to me. Does there necessarily have to be anything more to problem solving?
LA: Well, after you consider psychological problems, logical errors, evasion, and substituting emotion for thinking, you’ve pretty much covered the ground. You could make a case for including all those under the heading of errors in thinking, but I think it’s helpful to draw attention to these particular categories.
MM: You studied fiction writing with Ayn Rand when she gave a course of lectures in her home in 1958. I’ve read the book, The Art of Fiction, so I’m not going to ask you about the subject matter. I do want to say that it must have been amazing to work closely with her. What were your most important takeaways from the course?
LA: The overriding importance of plot and concretization. Of course she thought characterization was important too, but she saw plot as the superstructure on which everything else rested.
MM: The Philosophical Practitioner is a real treat for a Rand fan to read. I would argue that one of the premises of the novel is a benevolent universe. Eric operates with the assumption that the universe is open to the efficacy of his clients’ efforts to get what they want. Is this correct?
LA: Sure. Whether you want to change yourself or whether you want to change the world, on whatever scale, how successful you are in surmounting the obstacles you encounter will be largely a function of your honesty and persistence. Success is of course not guaranteed, but in this country at least, you are still free to try.
MM: Sheila is a wonderful character, and I loved reading every scene she was in. She is an artist. She is also a wealthy celebrity, and both her wealth and celebrity are earned. She reminds me, in the best way, of Rand’s actresses––Kay Gonda from the play Ideal and Kay Ludlow from Atlas Shrugged. Sheila has a full command of her career and of Hollywood, and that strikes me as progress from Rand’s skepticism about show business.
LA: If I remember correctly, I think the two actresses you mention were meant to be instances of two particular psychologies rather than any blanket skepticism toward show business. She encountered some disappointing people in that business, but I don’t think she thought the business had a greater proportion of them than you’d find in any other business. Of course she was repeatedly disappointed with the great bulk of movies and plays she saw, so in that sense she was certainly skeptical of show business.
MM: The relationship between Eric and Sheila is refreshingly adult and also recognizably Rand-like. They are both accomplished, independent people, and the conflict in the relationship is mostly about the facts of survival rather than character flaws or a love triangle. I especially like that the relationship doesn’t require one of them to be sidelined. Do you consider the conflict resolved in the end?
LA: I consider that they have found a workable solution to their problem, so in that sense, yes.
MM: You must have enjoyed writing about them. Are they characters you could write about again?
LA: I did, and yes. If I get the time to do another book, I might continue with them. But I might do a stand-alone.
MM: The novel also takes place in New York, and the city plays a role. That also strikes me as Rand-like, the view that while not without risk, the city is benevolent and a place to flourish.
LA: The greatest city in the world, IMO. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
MM: There is also a noir element to the novel. Eric has the air of a gumshoe, and there is a femme fatale. Are you a fan of detective fiction and film noir? Who are some of the authors and/or directors who influenced you?
LA: Well, a philosophical gumshoe. Yes, I enjoy detective fiction, but not particularly noir. I've read many mysteries––not limited to detective fiction––over the years, and I'm sure I've been influenced by lots of them on a subconscious level. A few I especially enjoyed that come immediately to mind are Ross Macdonald, Donald Hamilton, Thomas Harris, Harlan Coben, and Robert Crais. Far from an exhaustive list.
MM: Are you writing another novel?
LA: Not at the moment, but I’m noodling around some plot ideas in my non-existent spare time.