Interview with Eva Langston
Eva Langston received her MFA in 2009 from the University of New Orleans, and her fiction has been published in many journals and anthologies including Black Fox Literary and Compose Journal, where she later worked as the Features Editor. Her fiction has been recognized by Playboy Magazine and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In 2015, she was the San Miguel Literary Sala Writer-in-Residence for Fiction, and for the past two years she has been an instructor at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. A former high school math teacher, she now tutors part-time and writes novels for teens and tweens. She lives just outside of D.C. with her physicist husband and their nine-month-old daughter. Follow her on Twitter at @eva_langston, or visit her blog at www.evalangston.com.
What genres do you write in?
When I was getting my MFA, I wrote literary short stories because that’s what we were encouraged to write. But my thesis ended up being a collection of modern fairy tales that, when I look back on it, was probably more YA than adult. Almost all the stories featured teenagers and YA themes.
Since getting my MFA, I’ve been trying to perfect my novel-writing skills, and every time I write a novel it comes out as either YA or Middle Grade. I love to read contemporary, suspense, and paranormal stories (magic, ghosts, the unexplained), and so those are the genres I tend to write in as well. I’ve also written some fantasy, although my fantasy is pretty much always tied to fairy tales.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just started working on a YA paranormal suspense novel. I think it’s going to be my biggest challenge yet, and I feel simultaneously overwhelmed and excited about it.
Suspense is hard because you have to drop clues and red herrings. You have to make sure the answer to the mystery isn’t too obvious, but it can’t come out of nowhere either. And, most importantly: pacing! You have to keep your readers turning pages.
I’m in the prewriting stage now. I’m doing plot exercises and getting to know my characters. I’m writing scenes that may not make it into the actual book but are helping me understand the story better. I’m trying to have fun with it!
What’s your process for making sure you’re connecting all the dots when you move from plotting to the actual writing stage?
Oh gosh, I’m not sure that I have one. Often I start with a really loose outline, and I make notes for myself as I go along about things I need to add or change. I also LOVE my beta readers (like you, Bethany!) who point out the dots I haven’t connected.
On average, how long does it take you to write a book (from conception to submission)?
This answer is definitely going to be different now that I have a baby!
In the past, I’ve written the first draft of a novel in as little as two months. I find that once I have a decent outline, I can pound out a few pages every day until it’s done. But then comes the revision process, and that can take YEARS (literally). So I’m going to say at least 18 months from conception to submission. Twice the time it takes to make a human baby!
How many times do you rewrite your books before submitting to agents?
In the past: not enough.
Now: still probably not enough.
I get excited and want to submit to agents before the novel is ready. I actually wrote a blog post about this: the number one mistake writers make when querying agents. Anyway, I’m trying to learn hold off on the submitting until I’m sure the manuscript is the very best it can be. Sometimes a book seems awesome when you’ve just finished it. Then you read it six months later and see its many flaws, or realize what you can do to make it even better.
Where do you get your ideas?
I’ve definitely been inspired by fairy tales! I also take bits and pieces from my own life and use them in stories. The MG contemporary I wrote recently came about because I was reading one of my old diaries, and there was just so much angst and emotion! I was like, oh man, this stuff is gold! I wanted to write a book that captured some of that intense emotion from my own youth.
What is the hardest part of writing?
The hardest part is probably my ego. It definitely gets in the way. I start to worry about getting published. I start to worry that other people are judging me because I’m not a “successful writer”. I think that’s part of the reason why I have submitted to agents too soon. Because I was in a race to prove I was a “real” writer. It’s a problem because I end up wasting too much time and energy on my ego’s needy concerns.
Now I’m trying to worry less about what other people think and more about enjoying the process. I still want a published novel with my name on it, and I still feel insecure sometimes, but I’m learning to accept that this is a marathon and not a sprint.
Also plotting. I find plotting to be really hard!
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
What can I say, I’m a people-pleaser! I want to write books that people enjoy reading. I’m not too worried about the original part. What’s the saying? "There are no new stories.” Or that Tolstoy quote: “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.”
The point is, even if I don’t have the most original premise in the world, I know I’m going to approach my idea in a way that is unique to me. Sometimes writers worry that someone else might steal their idea, or that their story has already been written, but the truth is, no one can write the books you want to write but you.
Do you have a special place you like to go to brainstorm or write?
I’m boring: I like to write at home. By myself. I find that silence, solitude, and a comfortable couch are my best friends when it comes to getting lost in the world of my characters. I have trouble writing fiction when my husband is at home, even if he’s not in the same room as me. Just knowing he’s nearby distracts me from my imagination.
When I’m feeling stuck, I like to take walks, often in the woods of Rock Creek Park near our apartment. Sometimes little snippets of dialogue, or an entire conversation, will come to me while I’m on the trail. Almost like my characters are taking a walk with me.
What’s your favorite writing snack or beverage?
Hot tea. Or M&Ms. Or both together!
You started your own online, critiquing business. What is your favorite part about helping others make their manuscripts better?
It seems like every time I do a manuscript critique for someone, I learn something about my own writing. It’s so much easier to see the flaws in other people’s work than in your own. I’ve given feedback to other writers only to realize that I should be saying the exact same thing to myself, about my own work-in-progress.
I also enjoy looking at a piece of work as a whole and trying to put my finger on what big picture changes would make the novel better. It can be a challenge but also a really interesting exercise.
Do you find it challenging balancing mom-life/writer-life?
It’s challenging, and I’m still figuring out the balance! Now that I’ve gone back to tutoring in the afternoons, I feel like I’m constantly juggling work, baby, chores, and writing. Ahhhh!
It helps that my daughter is now taking two regular, predictable naps a day. They’re each only 45 minutes to an hour long, but I’m learning how to both be more efficient with my time during those naps, and also less hard on myself about what I’m able to accomplish in a day. I’m also learning how to write in less than ideal circumstances. (Can’t always have silence, solitude, a comfy couch, and a cup of tea!)
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Hey, Young Eva, Do more research about MFA programs!! I went with the very first program I read about, and although I met awesome people and had some wonderful professors, in hindsight it might not have been the most helpful program for me.
I wish I’d known there were MFAs specifically for YA and children’s literature. My MFA focused on writing literary adult fiction (mostly short stories), so I feel like I’ve had to spend a lot of time post-graduation teaching myself how to write novels, and specifically how to write novels for young people.
And finally, what are you reading in your spare time?
Since I’m working on a YA paranormal suspense novel, I’m reading lots of suspense (both YA and adult) these days. Plus I’ve heard that if you want to learn how to plot, you should read mystery novels. Doesn’t hurt that they’re super fun!
I recently read Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehig and really enjoyed it. It’s your classic girl’s-gone-missing mystery novel, but with a heartfelt coming-of-age story woven through it. I thought it was really well done. I also liked The Leaving by Tara Altebrando – another YA suspense novel – which has a very unique premise and an interesting multiple-POV structure.
Oh, and Goodnight Moon, the picture book by Margaret Wise Brown. I read Goodnight Moon to the baby at least once a day. But novelist Celeste Ng has a very profound article in The Atlantic about what writers can learn from Goodnight Moon. So I guess I’m balancing the writer life and the mom life right there!