Artist Chat: Representing Women in Literature

In today’s artist chat, we have the pleasure of talking to award-winning authors Karen Essex and Gar LaSalle about the importance of representing strong women in literature and why this is crucial to each of their work. Karen has written many books based on hidden stories behind famous women like Kleopatra, and Gar’s historical fiction saga is centered on a main character who must undergo many trials to keep her family together.

Our conversation goes deep quickly, digging into why they each feel it is important to have strong female protagonists, their opinions on Hollywood’s current “Kickass Women” trend, and the hidden history of women’s health and mental health treatment.

As Karen says, “All female history is hidden history. If you try to do research about women’s lives, you will find yourself having to read between the lines of written history because no one has recorded female stories.”

We invite you to learn some of that hidden history from two author dedicated to bringing it into the light.

KAREN ESSEX is an internationally bestselling author of five novels, including Leonardo’s Swans which tells the stories of the rivalries among the powerful women painted by Leonardo da Vinci. The novel was also a runaway bestseller in Italy and won the prestigious Premio Roma for foreign fiction. She has done extensive adaptation work throughout Hollywood, and has had her articles published in many magazines, including Vogue and Playboy. A native of New Orleans, she currently divides her time between Los Angeles and Europe.

Gar LaSalle is an award-winning author and filmmaker, a physician, a sculptor, and a creator who has been honored widely in the fine arts and medical communities for his leadership and creativity. Widow Walk, published in 2014, won multiple awards including the Eric Hoffer Award for Literature, the IndieReaders Award for Best Novel, and the San Francisco Book Festival Grand Jury Prize for General Fiction. Book III of the saga is slated for release in the Fall of 2017 by Seattle’s own Solipsis Publishing.

    Here are a few of the topics and some of the ideas you’ll hear about in the chat:

    • 2:30 - Why they chose to focus their work on strong women: Karen talks about why she has chosen to focus on the women’s experience of history, reminding us that:

      “Women are… hidden from history. All female history is hidden history. If you try to do research about women’s lives, you will find yourself having to read between the lines of written history because no one has recorded female stories. I wanted to illuminate the female historical experience and women’s ability to succeed and influence history in spite of the challenges they faced.”

      We talk about why that is, and what it means for history and how it motivates what she said has become her life’s work. At 5:00 she talks about how finding that the historical Kleopatra was nothing like Hollywood’s version of Elizabeth Taylor as Kleopatra sparked two of her earliest books.

    • 12:00 - How their work is driven by their daughters
    • 15:00 - The hidden history of women’s health and mental health in history, including women being committed to mental institutions for reasons as simple as being emotional or having a sex drive, and about the brutal treatments that amount to torture that were typical at the time.
    • 21:00 - The Dystopian and “Kickass Women” tropes in Hollywood and what they mean for storytelling and how many strengths women bring to the table that are not emulations of violent male traits, like conflict resolution as police officers or de-escalation skills in an emergency room setting.  

      “Even though it’s supposed to be about female empowerment, in a way I think it puts even more pressure on girls. Like, ‘Oh, now we have to be able to beat up men?’… This thing that is supposed to be empowering, I find it quite bothersome.” -- Karen Essex

      “I don’t find [those storylines] necessarily plausible, and the more [Hollywood] pushes on that… it undermines something that is much more significant, it seems to me. I think that the equalities are very real without having to push on that [kick ass female] envelope.” -- Gar LaSalle

    • 36:00 - Future Projects

      Karen is finishing her first contemporary novel dealing with sexual politics inspired by the kinds of shocking sex scandals we see in the headlines today. You can find more of Karen’s work at, and her books on Amazon here:

      Gar is putting the finishing touches on The Fairness of Beasts, the third book in his Widow Walk saga. He is also working on a documentary called “Never Say Die,” that deals with how our society views death, and an article called “Taking the Guns Out,” which looks at our obsession with guns in entertainment media. You can find more on his work at