Matthew Lang: Writing For The Love Of Men

Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to be with us here today, Matthew.

Thanks so much for having me here, it’s nice to take a break and chat a bit. Writing can be a bit of a isolating profession—or hobby for that matter.

Will you tell us a little bit about yourself?

More than likely, yes. What did you want to know? Anything? Well, I’m an Aussie, so hello from down under. I’m twenty six, and I’m about a month shy of my one year anniversary with my boyfriend. I love musical theatre, both to watch and participate in, and I like cheese. What else did you want to know?

How long have you been writing creatively?

Well, I think I tried my first creative writing piece when I started school, so that’s about twenty one years ago. However it wasn’t until I was sixteen that I realized that writing was what I wanted to do with my life, so that would be about ten years?

Tell us a bit about your debut novel, The Secret of Talmor Manor. How long did it take you to write the book and get it published?

It actually started as a little story inside of a computer game, because I find it very difficult to play a game like The Sims without starting to create narratives. It took about six and half years from the start of that that particular game—including two years off for bad behavior—but then NaNoWriMo 2009 rolled around and I realized it would make a fantastic prose novel. So I redrafted it in two months, and it was published in about fifteen months.

The book is a Paranormal Romance: how did you come up with the storyline?

I saw a controllable ghost mod for The Sims 2 and decided it would be fun to play around with, and the story really grew organically from the silly things I did in game while playing. I honestly think that narrative play is a great way to throw up great story ideas.

Did the title of the book come to you before you began writing, or did that come later on in the process?

Because this started out as a bit of fun, I really didn’t know what I was doing half the time, and so the title really did come first. But because I didn’t know exactly how it would work out, the ending and the nature and motivation of the antagonist were unknown to me, so the ‘secret’ part of the title was indicative of that, because it gave me the freedom to let the story go where it would.

Honestly, most of my work tends to get working titles which just end up sticking. Sometimes the character names end up like that as well.

Did you design the book’s cover, or did you work with a graphic artist? How much input did you have in its design?

I worked with the amazing Deana C. Jamroz to create the cover design. The way that MLR Press works is that they give the author a great amount of input into the cover. I sent through a list of ideas, including the one ‘something really awesome that I haven’t thought of’, and Deana came back with twenty odd design suggestions, and sitting very last in the corner was this one—which really fell under the category of ‘something awesome I hadn’t thought of’. Then she sent through font options for the title, for my name, for the blurb of the back and I had input into all of that as well. It was really good.

Do you write full time? If not, how many hours each day to you try to dedicate to writing?

Currently I write full time, although that’s more because my seasonal event work finished than anything else. Depending on how the book sells I may or may not need to look for a day job, but we’ll see. I do quite like working, because it challenges a different side of my brain, but we’ll see how it goes.

On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Sat in front of my computer and tapping away at my keyboard, with a big jug of water nearby, and with a DVD of something I’ve already seen playing in the background for noise. Or some music. I sometimes find the toughest thing about writing to be silence around me.

On an atypical writing day there’ll be a lot of friends around, also writing, and then breaks for food and board games.

Do you outline your plots, or do you find that you write in a more freestyle fashion?

It varies. I tend to have a rough idea of what points I want to hit over the course of a story, and I work my way towards hitting those points. The plot invariably changes as writing actually happens, and before each draft I will typically stop, take stock and if necessary, redo an outline.

Do you find that you revise/edit as you go along, or do you write straight through and leave the revisions for later?

I try to write straight through and leave revisions for later, because otherwise the risk is that you spend so much time redrafting your first chapters to get them perfect and never finish the book—or you finish the book and find out that you’re going to have to cut chapters one to three and start the book at chapter four. That said, it sometimes becomes apparent over the course of a draft that a book needs to be rebooted before I reach the end—because the plot or characters need such radical changes that continuing is a waste of time, as has just happened with my current stand alone work, Prophecy.

When it comes to developing your characters, do you find bits of yourself, your own life experiences, as well as the personalities of your friends and family tend to manifest themselves into your stories and characters?

Sometimes, yes, but I wouldn’t say it’s a tendency. My characters occasionally pick up some of my quirks, although it would be more fair to say that some of them share some of my quirks, and that they really develop their own. I would also say that they don’t tend to mimic my friends, family or acquaintances. Sometimes I might start with a specific individual in mind as a blueprint for a character in some way—a specific way of moving, or a speech pattern for example—but as I have said, the characters always go on and develop their own distinct personalities.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? Do you have any particular exercises you use to get past it?

I’m more likely to suffer from writer’s procrastination than writer’s block. Writer’s block tends to be when you write yourself into a corner and don’t know what to do next—which I find usually either resolves itself with a bit of planning, or going back and analyzing what alternative routes the plot might go down to influence your characters to do what you want them to. I think writer’s procrastination kicks in when a writer is faced with something that’s going to be difficult to write: the start of a new draft, or a scene that appears daunting because a writer lacks confidence in their ability to write it truthfully and compellingly. That’s a psychological block, and I find the best way to do it is do a step a day—write the first word, or the first sentence, and then come back to it in a later writing session (preferably no later than the next day). And then because it’s already been started, it’s easier to continue with. At least, I find that to be the case.

When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they feel, experience, or gain from it?

I hope they enjoy it. I want them to be entertained, and I would like them to be prompted to question their assumptions and their beliefs. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with strong beliefs, as long as a person can justify why they hold those beliefs, and are willing to keep an open mind to new information. Of course, that level of thought might not happen in every book, but it’s something I’d love to happen. But I’ll settle for thought provoking entertainment.

Will you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing now that you’re a published author?

1) It is a business. If you really want to be in the business, make sure you’re willing to treat it as a business. I keep hearing stories of people going “But it’s my writing, I want to be able to write what I want and it’s my artistic vision! No one could ever touch my work!” to which I would say “It’s the consumers money and they can spend it on whatever they like—for example: not your work.” I personally feel that if you want someone to purchase your work—and then tell their friends about it—you need to write something they’re going to want to read. You’re not just writing for your own ego. Not that you can’t have a vision or personality, but it’s not all about you.
2) Use your editor and try to open to their suggestions. An editor’s job is to help you write the best writing you can write. Their job is to critique you and help you improve—and hopefully sell more. If you find yourself lucky enough to be able to work with an editor, make the most of that opportunity. Note that that isn’t saying do everything the editor suggests, but carefully consider the points that he or she makes.
3) Just do it. If you want to get published the first step if finishing the manuscript and the second is submitting submitting submitting. I know some amazing writers who self censor themselves out of publishing. Make those opportunities happen, because unless you’re incredibly lucky, no one’s going to do it for you.

What was the best piece of advice you’ve received with respect to the art of writing? How did you implement it into your work?

It’s very difficult to edit your work if you’re too close to it—for example if you just finished a draft. If you find it difficult to be critical of your own work, put it away for a month or so, and then come back and read it as if you really hate author who wrote it. That can sometimes help.

When it comes to self-promotion, what lengths have you gone to in order to increase awareness of your work?

Well, you’ve caught me at the right time to ask. I don’t know about lengths, but I’ve set up a facebook page for me as an author, and for my book, I’ve been engaging more with Twitter, I’ve been out scouring blogs and places that might want to review my work. I’ve been in touch with literary festivals—I’ll be appearing on the romance genre panel for the Emerging Writers’s Festival—I’m active on forums like Goodreads, and have a page on the GLBT bookshelf. I haven’t yet done a song and dance routine in the middle of the city to promote it, but give me time, give me time…

E-readers have changed the way many of us read books today. How do you see electronic publishing affecting the future of print publishing?

I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to expand the reach of print publishers. It’s offering books a much wider market reach, and it’s a great way to get books that aren’t available in your country for example. I don’t think ebooks—even autographable ebooks—will completely replace the printed word. My boyfriend, for example, really likes owning printed books so he can show off his bookshelf (no, that’s not a euphemism). With things like print-on-demand I think that business models may need to change, but I feel ebooks are a complimentary product to printed books.

If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

I’d be working in marketing, advertising or event management—I’d hope. Or I might try my luck as a performer.

Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing? Do you have any hobbies?

Gaming, and musical theatre. They’re kind of my two other loves. And cooking. Food. Mmm. Food.

What future projects do you have in the works?

I’m working on a book tentatively called Prophecy, where I’m exploring what happens when you drop a modern gay man into a traditional fantasy quest narrative. It’s an interesting ride so far, since the traditional went out the window in the first draft.

How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes laugh?

Random. Oh look, shiny.

What’s your favorite fast food?

Food that isn’t that fast. I’m not a fan of fast food. Sushi, if anything.

If you could sit down to dinner with any one famous person, either from the past or the present, who would it be and why?

Joss Whedon, I think. Or possibly Stephen Moffat. They’re both amazing storytellers, and it would be fantastic to pick their brains as to how they do it and structure things.

If you could travel through time, what time period(s) would you most like to visit and why?

One billion years into the future. Just to see what it was like. And back to the cretaceous period to see some real dinosaurs walking around.

Without getting up to look, what’s under your bed?

Dust. And a bed monster named Niggles.

If you could be any animal on earth, what would you choose to be?

Panther. It’s the skulking and pouncing on people apparently.

Who’s on your iPod/MP3 player?

Stephanie J. Block, Wicked, RENT, Legally Blond the Musical and Kate Miller-Heidke.

What’s your favorite dessert?

Banana Fritters and Ice Cream. Or there’s a fantastic Malaysian dessert made with sago, coconut milk and honeydew melon. That’s good too.

Matthew, I admit to having unhealthy obsession with shoes. Do you have any secret obsessions you care to share with us?

Men? Do they count? I’m a bit of a foodie. Actually, I’m a lot of a foodie. I love good food. I love good healthy food. I love cooking and I love creating tasty treats.

Do you like to travel? What’s the most interesting place you’ve ever travelled to?

I love travel! The most interesting place I’ve been was Mauritius for a wedding. They have amazing beaches, and I understand they actually have barriers out at sea to make the waves break out there to give perfectly clear water. Bad for surfing, but beautiful. It was even funnier driving to a hotel at 4PM looking for flambé bananas, only to be told the “bananas had been locked up for the night”.

Matthew, will you please tell us where we can find you on the Internet?

Twitter: @mattlangwrites
Facebook: Matthew Lang on Facebook
Goodreads: Matthew Lang on Goodreads
GLBT Bookshelf: Matthew Lang on the GLBT bookshelf

Thanks again so much for taking the time to be here today. Would you consider sharing your favorite excerpt from The Secret of Talmor Manor with us?

I’d have to give to the entire book! Um. Try this one. This is when Jake, the protagonist gets his first hint that thing in his dreamland might be a bit more complicated then they appear as he steps off the manor grounds with the gardener, Brandon:

“Why is it snowing here and not in the manor?” Jake asked. “Why is it dusk here if it’s noon back there? And why isn’t there a path?”

“I don’t rightly know,” Brandon said as he floated easily through a heavy snowdrift that Jake barely managed to push through. “It used to be summer here, a long time ago. By rights, the sun should have set and risen thousands of times since the first leaf turned from green to gold and fell from the top of the oak. By rights, this winter should have melted into spring, and the snowbells should be blooming. But it ain’t passing and the snowbells are nowhere to be seen.”

“What does this have to do with what happened at the manor?”

“Don’t know if it does, Master Jake,” Brandon said. “But only out here can I ever remember what happened, and even then it’s faint.”

“You can’t usually remember?”

“Oh I can, aye,” Brandon said, courteously showing Jake a path around a thicket he would probably have floated through normally. “But back home it’s muddled, and I can never get the right words out, I think. Or I’m never asked. You did ask me, right?”

“Yes of course,” Jake said, but the ghost’s response got him thinking. “Brandon,” he asked, “have other people done this in the past? Paid attention to you and your family, remembered things, asked questions and had the place to themselves? No other outsiders present?”

“Oh aye,” Brandon said. “More times than I can count really. There were more of us then—servants I mean. Mostly young women came—but they didn’t speak to me much. I don’t remember the details though. They were here, and then they were gone. I don’t know where they went, but after they did, the walkers returned.”

“And I was a walker, was I?”

“Aye,” Brandon said. “You’d ask where you were, and would tell us your name if we asked it, but that was about it. Never really seemed to see us neither.”

“Last time I was here, you said I was the first.”

“You are the…no wait, I know this one. You ain’t the first. It just wants me to be thinking that.”

“What does?”

“The bloody manor. I told you, I can’t think properly when I’m there.”

“You speak of the place as if it’s alive.”

“Perhaps I do.”

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The Secret of Talmor Manor @ Top2Bottom « The Writing of Matthew Lang

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