Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Margaret Langstaff Interview

Hi, everybody! Just by way of introduction, I want to say that I’ve been writing for a living for many years and have written a number of books, feature articles, book reviews etc. for many different publishers, magazines and newspapers.  I write on a contract basis (for a fee) for publishers and individuals/companies and write fiction and poetry under my own name.  Just recently I decided to explore doing my own thing with Amazon (Kindle and CreateSpace) and I’m going to use Lighting Source soon.

1: What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
This is a tricky question and can be a sore subject with my family!  Mornings, after I’ve had my coffee and spent an hour just letting my mind wander and wonder about things, are probably the most productive.  Say 8:00-Noon.  If I am writing for a client, my performance/output starts tapering off after that, but because of the amount of work I have I have to flog myself to keep at it until I’ve done my daily quota of words.  Under a tough deadline I’ve had to write 18 hours or more in a day.  This really annoys my family, but they’ve learned to put up with it.

Writing my own stuff is a totally different story (pardon the pun).  Once I get started on any given day, it is very hard for me to stop.  If I’m working on a story or novel, I do some of my best work late at night and even into the early morning hours. The creative process takes over, the images, scenes and characters just won’t let me go.  When I finally do turn off my computer, I need at least 2-3 hours to unwind before I can go to sleep.

2: Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?
I sometimes make notes on paper, not extensive notes, though.  Just jot things down, a word, a phrase. 

3: What do you draw inspiration from?
If you mean by that, ideas for writing: everything I see, hear, read, feel; what moves me enough to think about it, become intrigued about it enough to satisfy my curiosity in the act of discovery of writing about it.  Writing is an act of discovery.  If by inspiration you mean the craft of writing and what constitutes great writing: the vast and priceless treasure of World Literature.  My study for my degrees in English and Literature have given me so much pleasure and enjoyment and an infinite resource for my own writing.

4: Do you set goals for yourself when you sit down to write such as word count?
Usually.  And always when I’m writing something under contract for someone else.  When the pressure is on (a deadline), I write 3,000-4,000 words a day. Very draining!

5: Are you a published or a self-published author and how do you come up with your cover art?
All of my journalism and books were published by trade or specialty publishers until I started experimenting with Kindle and CreateSpace.  So far I love it!  I have two titles up and plan to do more.  I continue to publish with publishers as well. The covers for my Amazon books were done by a pro at a bargain price.  He used my ideas and we worked them up together, refining them until we got them right.

6: What drives you to choose the career of being a writer?
I knew as a child that I wanted to be a writer.  I loved to write!  People often praised me for my childish scribblings, something kids crave, praise, so I kept at it.  My high school English teacher Barbara Bixby (Vassar educated) validated all of this and I adored her.  I was fated to study English and Literature at the university . . . the rest is just a chronicle of me doing something I’ve always loved.  As for the “career” part of your question . . . that involves a thorny thicket of many factors—income, personal satisfaction.  Being a writer is not like being a doctor or lawyer.  It’s very risky, frustrating, unreliable as a source of income and the hours are terrible.  And the kind of writing you do determines many different things.  If you want security, lots of free-time to do other things, I don’t recommend it!

7: Do you own an ebook reading device?
I have a Kindle.  I’m crazy about it!

8: Who are some of your favorite authors and What are you reading now?
Although most of my own work is aimed at the popular market—and people who like a good belly laugh!!!—my personal taste runs to the classics (I re-read Twain constantly!) and what some people call literary fiction.  I do read my fellow travellers in the mystery genre, but what I like to read the most are great books that have something profound to say about life and say it masterfully, unforgettably and in a fresh, wholly original way.  So off the top of my head some of my favorite contemporary authors are novelists Michael Ondaatje (The English PatientAnil’s Ghost and others), Peter Matthiessen (The Snow LeopardKilling Mr. Watson and many others), and John Banville (The Sea, The Untouchable, The Infinities and more).  As for contemporary mystery-thriller authors whose books are always on my Wish List:  Michael Connelly, Elmore Leonard (I love this guy!  I learn a lot about dialog from him!  So so funny!), Alexander McCall Smith, Scott Turow and of course that nutcase who never fails to make me laugh like a lunatic myself, Carl Hiassen.

Right now I’m re-reading Bartram’s Journals, his account of his journey alone, on foot and by canoe, through the wilds of 17th century Florida.  My mysteries are set in Florida, I’m a Florida native, and his Journals of his travels are fascinating and scary!  Also dipping into and re-reading a few gems of Poe’s “detective stories.”  They earned him the moniker “The Father of the Detective Story,” and are still so interesting and original.  For some reason this time, as a writer myself, I’m finding some of them funny!  The many stratagems he used to scare and intrigue the reader!  The pompous stuff, usually quotes from supposed authorities in Latin and French, he used to include to impress the reader with his profound insights and vast education!  Many of them contain grammatical errors, mis-spellings and are fakes.  The average 19th century reader could never possibly pick up on his ruses (few could read French or Latin!).  I can only read a little of each myself. I learned this from reading commentary on the stories. So funny!

9: What do you think of book trailers and do you have any plans to have any?
I really haven’t investigated this and so can’t comment.

10: How did you come up with the title of your latest book?
A good title for a book, in my experience, either occurs to you at the outset of writing a book, or is discovered in the process of writing the book. If I’ve finished a book and I’m still uncertain about the title, then I know something is wrong with the book.  Something about it is unfocused and doesn’t work.  When that happens I go back to the ms. and look for what’s wrong.  When I’ve found it and corrected it, I have the title.  This, actually, is what happened to me with The Dead Goat Scrolls (just pubbed as a Kindle ed.).  The novella went through many revisions—and titles—because I sensed I didn’t have the right title for it.  When I thought I finally got the ms. to really “work,” the title instantly came to me. As an aside:  I knew it would be offensive to some (e.g., Right Wing “Christians”), but I thought, tuff, they’re not they’re not the intended audience.

11: What are you working on now that you can talk about?

I’m working on Diva, #2 in the “Garnet Sullivan Live from Florida” series and also another book for a client.  I hope to have Diva finished in the spring, but it all depends on my income from my existing books and client work.  I have bills to pay. If enough $ isn’t coming in, I have to put Diva aside and load up on paying work from clients. 

This is what I said about it on Kindleboards/Book Bazaar/Writers Café/Florida Mystery Writers:

Diva, the second Garnet Sullivan Live from Florida opus, in the works.  Think hurricane season, stormy women/weather.  Garnet blunders into a job in broadcast journalism and acquires an impossible-to-satisfy ice maiden as a boss. She and her dreamboat public defender Chester are now living together (quite probationally), Best Dog, Irish Setter Ringo discovers a nude and horribly mutilated corpse on the beach one night during a hurricane warning and Garnet is shocked to find it's an old friend and former editor.  Sheriff Lance, having recovered from his Garnet Obsession, and socialite-best friend Allison launch a steamy, reckless affair that gums up the gears of everyone's life as well as vastly compromising the search for the perp.  Dr. Beidermeyer, Garnet's eccentric ancient sage and advisor on all things scientific from UF, develops a genetically enhanced, highly aggressive, rapidly reproducing and supposedly "trainable" squirrel (with enormous teeth) as a possible solution to the out-of-control Florida alligator population with hysterical unintended consequences for the residents of (where else?) Florida. A shady figure from Garnet’s past love life shows up and threatens to torpedo all the progress she and Chester have made in building their relationship.

The madness continues.

Comments? Questions?  Would you like to be featured in the plot? Looking for colorful walk-ons. Email me atmargaret@literarymanagementgroup.com!

Thank you very much for having me here and letting me sound off!  It was really fun for me to talk about the writing process and what I’ve learned over the years—AND my books!  You were really very nice to ask me and I hope loads of authors have the same opportunity.  If you or your readers have any questions or comments, please email me at margaret@literarymanagementgroup.com.  I’d love to hear from you!

Margaret Langstaff
VP Creative
Literary Management Group LLC

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