Why Eriq La Salle Almost Gave Up On His Dream of Writing Novels (Exclusive)

The ER actor says he'd always wanted to be a writer, but was worried there wasn't room for his voice: 'I was like, 'What do you know about writing a book?'

<p>Phylicia J. L. Munn</p> Eriq La Salle in Feb. 2024

Phylicia J. L. Munn

Eriq La Salle in Feb. 2024

Most know him as an accomplished actor, director and producer. But Eriq La Salle, 61, has also added a new line to his impressive resumé: Thriller novelist.

La Salle, who first rose to fame in films like Coming to America and TV shows like ER, says writing was actually a childhood passion of his and something he always thought he'd pursue as an adult. But after landing a role in Raisin in the Sun in high school when he was 14, he got bit by the acting bug.

"That was it for me," he says, of deciding to pursue a career in theater.

He later studied drama at both Juilliard and NYU, and launched his acting career right after college. But about a decade ago, he felt drawn to writing again.

"I had this fantasy of writing a novel," he tells PEOPLE. "But there's certain things in this society that have always been sort of the upper echelon of 'respectable,' like getting PhDs, or writing novels. We think, 'Oh that's just for really smart people,' you know what I mean? And I come from the public school system, and I think I convinced myself I wasn't smart enough to do that. It was like, 'What do you know about writing a book?'"

Related: 'ER' Star Eriq La Salle Speaks Out on Vanessa Marquez's Reported Death

He decided to try his hand at it anyway.

"I believe in pre-destiny," La Salle says. "I believe in people having a path, and I choose to believe in God and the universe. So it's interesting how things have played out."

Early in his acting career, La Salle was cast in a film opposite Michelle Pfeiffer (replacing Denzel Washington, who had exited from the project). He got let go after two weeks because producers thought he looked too young to play Pfeiffer's love interest, the actor explains.

"It was heartbreaking at the time. But I had to move on, so I decided to enroll in a filmmaking class," he explains. "We started directing short films, so basically, getting fired kickstarted my directing career. But we also had to write those short films, so that brought me back to writing. This was in the early '90s. All these years later, I just got to a point where I wanted to expand my storytelling."

La Salle swallowed his fear that he wouldn't be good enough to be a novelist and wrote Laws of Depravity anyway, which follows the story of a detective duo in New York City trying to solve a mass murder at a convent.

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"The movie Seven in greatly influenced the first book," he says. "Two detectives that investigate serial killings, one of them being African American, one of them being white."

Laws of Depravity by Eriq La Salle
Laws of Depravity by Eriq La Salle

However, despite decent feedback from those who read the manuscript, he couldn't get a publisher to pick it up. "I ended up self-publishing at first," he says of his first book, adding that he decided to "double down" on his dreams and self-publish a second one, too.

Eventually he met a literary agent who truly believed in his writing talent, and the books, of which there were now three. "She really just became that person, that angel who believes in you," he says. His agent connected him with Ebony Magazine Publishing, an imprint at Sourcebooks, who greenlit the books that would become the Martyr Maker trilogy.

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"Now I've had these two African American women behind me and pushing me and supporting me and validating me," he says, adding that they supported his career move for him even though he was "an African American writing about a genre that they don't normally write about."

Eriq La Salle Laws of Wrath
Eriq La Salle Laws of Wrath

But La Salle doesn't want to be pigeonholed as an "African American author."

"All I really want it to simply be judged on the merits of my work. I don't want special consideration," he says. "I don't want any of that. I just want the opportunity to work hard to showcase my talent and have it be judged on the level that you judge any other thing."

He also says he doesn't just write from a "Black" point of view.

"My franchise is interesting in several ways, but one thing that I really like about it is you have three protagonists. You have two New York City detectives — one Irish Italian American, one African American and then you have an FBI agent who is a half-Jewish female," he explains. "So each book is from their primary perspectives."

Laws of Annihilation by Eriq La Salle
Laws of Annihilation by Eriq La Salle

He says positive reader responses have really given him added validation.

"I love reading their positive reviews," he says. "It's readers saying, 'Hey, we like this voice. More importantly, there's room for this voice.'"

La Salle also thinks his background serves him well, as an author. “I used to live in Harlem, where there’s a culturally rich environment, there’s certain foods, there’s language, rhythms, things that you do,” he says. “Readers want to know about these things.”

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