Introducing MAUREEN LANG, author of Look to the East (available now in paperback and on Sept. 1st for your Kindle!). Please read all the way to the bottom for your chance to win a FREE copy of her newest book!
How about a small bio? Tell us a little about yourself.
Trying to recall when I started writing stories is like trying to recall when I started talking, or reading. I was too young to really know writing was something special—it just seemed like the natural thing to do.
But I DO remember how I started pursuing publication. In my early twenties I joined a local chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America). Back then it was in its infancy, but chapters were springing up all over the country because romance was budding into one of the most popular genres on the market. I could be wrong, but I recall mysteries pretty much dominating sales before that—mysteries including gothic romances. But with Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss, romance took off and I wanted in on that. Mind you, these were secular novels but at that time in my life I wasn’t very interested in putting God first, or writing a book that He would want to read. Isn’t that ironic? I was clearly wired by my Creator to write stories, and yet I wasn’t interested in writing anything that reflected Him. Hmmm…
But that’s another story. Through my friends at RWA, I learned about the market, about how to format a manuscript, about the submission process in general. Eventually I entered the Golden Heart contest, and just when I learned I was a finalist (which I went on to win) I received my first contract. It was quite a year! That was the first of three secular historical romances I published—which are now thankfully out of print!
But life took some turns after that. I’d been married but faced divorce; I became a working single parent without enough time in a day. Something had to go, and unfortunately it was writing. The decision seemed simple at the time. Despite what some people believe, having even three books published with the possibility of more on the way did not provide the income needed to support myself and my daughter. That was the practical reason to give up writing. The spiritual reason was just as clear to me: when my life changed so drastically, I examined what I wanted, what I believed, and realized God didn’t want to be an afterthought in my life. He wanted to be involved in every decision I made. When I rededicated my life to my Creator, giving up the kind of writing I’d been involved in was easy.
Unfortunately, I didn’t write for fifteen years. Even something that grows naturally out of a person can wither if it isn’t nurtured.
When life settled down again and God started nudging me to write again, I plunged in with all my energy. Writing was like riding a bike to me: what to do just happens, as easily as finding balance on two wheels. Words flowed out of me, but this time they were connected to a spiritual element I never had before. I was finally writing books I could show my Creator, and His pleasure was obvious. Within a couple of years of writing again, I had another contest win (the Noble Theme Award, forerunner to ACFW’s Genesis) and then about a year later a contract in hand. I’ve been writing ever since, and loving every moment of it.
What is your writing day like?
I’m a morning person and an introvert. That means two things: I write best at the start of the day, and with the fewest interruptions possible. My writing season tends to go with the school year, since I have two boys still living at home and with them summertime brings lots of fun interruptions. But when they’re in school (or summer camp) I get up early (morning person) have breakfast (which includes spending some time with the Bible) then I sit down at the computer. I can’t resist email, at least reading it, but I limit my time there or it proves to be my biggest time thief. Normally I write for four hour stints: from when I get the boys off on their buses to about 12:30 or 1 in the afternoon, at which time I take a walk and then have my lunch. If things were going well that morning, after lunch I try to get a little more writing in before the buses return, bringing my interruptions—er, my boys—home. After that, all attempts at writing are useless.
How do you organize your writing? (outlines/note cards/post-its)
I wish I could say I’m entirely organized, but I’m just not. Over the years I’ve tried using notebooks with a cover identifying which book each notebook accompanies, and in it I would put research references, notes, articles, pictures, etc, anything I might need to recheck something. That’s probably as organized as I’ve ever been. Lately, though, I’ve just used sticky notes. I write the title of a particularly useful research book on one, stick it to my computer and there it is if I need to access it again. I also keep a “Notes” files on my computer desktop, filed within that book’s folder. In there would go any plot ideas I might want to explore, or scenes that I omit along the way but might want to use later. More often than not, however, once a scene is omitted, it stays out.
What’s the most surprising thing a character has “told you”?
I’m happy to say I learn something from every book. With my new release, both of my protagonists told me things I was surprised to hear. I never imagined creating a heroine who had any sort of “extra” gift from God—in this case an insight into Heaven. When this began unfolding as I got to know her, I was surprised at first, but kept it in the story because it seemed so much a part of her, because her faith was so strong. I have to admit, though, that I expected my editor to tell me it had to go. It was on the edge of what most people think of as “miraculous.” When my editor said she liked that about Julitte, I was thrilled that it seemed so much a part of her character that others saw that, too. And for my hero…well, when I first met him he didn’t seem heroic at all. I mean, he was very nearly a coward—although in his defense I have to admit the circumstances into which I thrust him would have brought out the fear in anyone. But it was the best thing for him as a character, because his character arc was one of the clearest journeys to faith and self-confidence I’ve ever written about.
Do you have a list of characters that you’re saving for future use? What kind of information do you keep on these characters?
I have a file that simply says: “My Book Ideas” and in there are not only possible plot ideas, but interesting characters that might be a good fit for a story somewhere down the road. Usually they’re inspired by real people I know, or perhaps a song that strikes me in some way. Or a news story that reveals something unique about a person that could be developed into a quirky or memorable character. I have one in particular who is an older woman driving her husband crazy by saving everything – a real packrat. She’s partially inspired by my own grandmother. Wouldn’t that be a great source of affectionate tension between an older couple – say, the parents of a heroine? Little details make characters come alive.
What does your work space/office look like?
My workspace is one of those things that confirmed to me God really does want me writing. When we moved into this house, it had a study/office just waiting for me to use. But my husband made it even more perfect. He installed an entire wall of bookshelves and cabinets, which I absolutely love. It’s getting a little crowded because I’ve collected more books than the shelves can hold, but it’s still my special place where inspiration is most easily accessed.
What is your go-to snack when writing?
When my writing is going really well, I sometimes look up and am amazed at how much time has gone by since breakfast! I’m in tune only to my story, and it’s easy to ignore any hunger pangs. Those are my favorite days. But there are other days when things are progressing slowly, and I’m more award of my growling stomach. On those days, at least since I joined Weight Watchers last year, I tend to reach for a banana (really sweet and filling!) or, if I’ve planned ahead, sugar free pudding or gelatin. I like things that stick with me a while, so I can stave off more interruptions!
If you could only recommend one NOVEL, what would it be? Why?
One of my favorites is Leif Enger’s Peace Like A River. It’s expertly crafted, with more poetry and simple wisdom than any other book I’ve read. It’s a masterpiece!
If you could only recommend one CRAFT book (writing, no crocheting), what would it be? Why?
Wow, narrowing it down to one is difficult! I guess I would have to say Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. It covers a wide range of topics, and I’ve found it a great tool to read and re-read over the years.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just one thing, and that’s about the joy of writing in general. There are a lot of worthy goals with writing: to explore emotion, to teach or enlighten, to communicate and connect, and of course to entertain (to name just a few). I’m never sure why so many people (myself included) seek publication. There is undoubtedly validation there, knowing someone believes in our work enough to invest in it, to think others will want to invest in it too by paying to buy one of our books or spending their precious time reading it. But I like to remind myself that writing, for me anyway and I suspect many other Christian writers, is a way to connect with God on a deeper level. I’ve heard vocalists say they’re praying when they sing, artists worship when they paint. For me, writing is part of my spiritual life too, because I sense God’s pleasure in it. I believe He gave me the desire to write, so to write books that honor Him is the most natural thing I can do. That why I like to remind myself from time to time that writing is its own reward, and I would be doing it even if my audience is only my Creator.
And one last thing — thanks so much for having me! Your questions were fun.
If you’d like to win a FREE copy of Look to the East, please leave a comment with you email address included. A winner will be chosen on Tues. Sept. 1st (somewhere around 5pm EST).