It's spotlight time again.
Today's guest is Matthew Lang!
SG: You’ve published three short stories and one novel. How do you have to differ your writing to make each one work? Which is harder to write? Why?
ML: I think both art forms present different challenges. For example the challenge in writing a short story is fitting the plot—whatever it is—inside the allotted word count. It’s particularly challenging if you only have three thousand words. In a novel though you need enough plot to justify the extra word length—and not so much plot that it becomes too hard to pack it all into a novel length work. Honestly, I just find the story, and work out whether it’s a novel, a short or something else entirely. I wouldn’t say one’s harder to write than the other—I would say one is faster to write than the other, but that’s about it.
SG: You are from Australia. I know often books are “Americanized” for American audiences. I cut my teeth reading Harlequin romance and I never had a problem understanding what the author meant when left in the British version. How does that affect your work? Should a book be changed because of word usage in different cultures or should the idiom be left as is because it fit’s the context of the story?
ML: My personal experience is that there’s a bit of give and take about it really. There’s a number of very Aussie phrases I put into The Secret of Talmor Manor, and while most of them made it through, there were a few that confused three editors and a proof reader and were dropped. Admittedly I could have kept them, but if a word or phrase can’t be deciphered readily from context there’d need to be a very good reason—beyond cultural flavour—to keep it. But I don’t write with that in mind—that sort of consideration is one I only look to in editing.
SG: Your first published short was Mr. Perfect. I found it quite humorous. You used footnotes in it. How did that occur?
ML: Actually, that started as background for a character in a role playing game—yes I am a massive geek. The footnotes were my attempt to write something reminiscent of Terry Pratchett’s style, which is known for its humorous footnotes. Sorry, the story behind the story isn’t as funny as the story itself. I keep wanting to use more silly footnotes in my writing, but I haven’t managed to make it work in another story just yet.
SG: I found Koan to be philosophical. It was more Eastern in flavor and made me think about the bottle and its content. How did you choose that style?
ML: Koan was very much influenced by Buddhist philosophy—specifically Zen philosophy. The style of the writing was dictated by the form of a Koan and the methods of teaching the Zen Buddhists use. The story is my attempt at showing illogic that is fundamental to the understanding of some Eastern philosophies. Now whether I’ve managed to capture that is something you as a reader would need to tell me!
SG: I enjoyed The Secret of Talmor Manor. It was different. I know it is called paranormal but it was many different genres. There was the m/m romance, paranormal, time travel, contemporary, myths, religion, suspense and probably others I didn’t pick up. How did you choose which elements to include in this book? How did you keep your storylines straight?
ML: They chose themselves. I wanted a story about a man who dreamt about a ghostly manor and the rest just happened naturally. In terms of keeping everything straight well…that’s what several redrafts were for. And working out the logic behind everything-myths, magic, everything. I really don’t know how to answer that question. Everything I incorporated was necessary to tell the story. That’s basically how I operate. If it’s needed, it’s in. If it’s not, it gets cut. Preferably with a scalpel.
It’s funny, I’ve received both praise and condemnation for the wide range of genres I cross and elements I pull into my work. But it comes back to the answer to my first question—I write the story first and work out where it ‘fits’ later. If that means die-hard romance readers are going to be disappointed, well…that’s a risk I’m willing to take. I met a Harlequin publisher this year who was telling me of a massive list being delivered to them of things their readers did not want to read about. Top of the list was redheads. I don’t know why, but personally I think red headed guys can be really hot, and I really ought to put one into my writing soon…
SG: I liked that I could not figure out the secret before the end of The Secret of Talmor Manor. It’s always a letdown when I can figure out what happens on the mystery/suspense before the unveiling at the end of the book. Did you have the ending decided before you began the book or did it develop as you wrote it?
ML: Thank you, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone! I hate figuring out the plot and then having to wait twenty chapters for the villain to get his/her/its comeuppance! Admittedly, it can make me a horrible movie date, but that’s just the way I’m wired, I guess. I very deliberately wrote Talmor from Jake or Nate’s perspective to keep the reader guessing, although I left a few hints if you go back and look for them. I had a vague idea of the ending, but the specifics, and exactly how it would all play out…that changed almost constantly.
SG: You had Jake coming from modern Australia and Nate coming from Victorian/Edwardian England in The Secret of Talmor Manor. What difficulties did you encounter when writing from the different perspective of each man? How much research did you have to do for Nate’s time period? I found the two perspectives very interesting as you compared and contrasted them. What difficulties arose as you wrote Jake explaining to Nate what his philosophies on religion and God were as well as the environmental problems facing Australia, and the earth, today? How did you keep Jake from being preachy but yet informative? I learned things I did not know and understood Jake’s philosophies, even agreeing with him most times.
ML: You’ll notice I deliberately mucked up Nate’s time by letting the future infiltrate it, which got me out of a lot of research, although I ended up going back to look at what Nate’s world would have been like—that period just before world war one. I ended up using a lot of history textbooks from school actually—and Wikipedia. I also found BBC TV to be a great help. There was a series about the British High Street recently, with modern shopkeepers living and working through various time periods in history? Seriously, documentaries and shows like that are one of the best ways to get research done while you’re procrastinating.
In terms of Jake being informative and not preachy…I did the best I could. Jake’s a lecturer and an academic so he does tend towards lecturing, and some people would say I didn’t get the balance quite right. If you really want to deconstruct it, I gave him enough to get the point across and often made him shut himself up. Even Jake understands not everyone wants a lecture all the time! I think the biggest way I stopped him being preachy though was by giving Jake the quality I think we all need: the knowledge that for all of our tightly held beliefs and ideas, we could be wrong. When you live with the knowledge that you might just be wrong, it makes it easier to accept other people and their viewpoints—it’s also one of the first thing most organised religion tries to drum out of you! (Personal bias mine).
SG: When you write do you know where you want your stories to end or do your characters decide where they want to go?
ML: A bit of both really. I usually have a number of major plot points I want to hit, but often the characters have their own little tangents and side quests they want to go on. For example, Nate really wanted to experience a hot tub, so I let him. Of course, sometimes they go off in completely the wrong direction, and then I have to either work with it, or go back and reconstruct events so that they naturally choose to go where I want them to. It’s a bit like herding cats really. Or writers.
SG: Thank you for letting me read your newest work, Christmas Memories. It is a sequel to The Secret of Talmor Manor. I found myself laughing out loud when Jake and Nate would coordinate their story and Nate questioned Jake on the answers to the questions. When will it be released? Often authors release a story at Christmas. What made you choose Christmastime for the story and why a sequel? I have to admit I’d have liked to have seen a scene at Obelisk Beach--maybe it’s the voyeur in me. I enjoyed Christmas Memories very much.
ML: Well, this actually started back in July when Laura Baumbach, the owner of MLR Press got on our little mailing list and said “I’m missing people, who wants to write a Christmas story?” and came up with the idea of going with the twelve days of Christmas and releasing a Christmas short a day. Only now I think there’s over forty stories being released from Mid-November. I’ll be putting the schedule up on my website as soon as it’s finalised. There’ll also be three anthologies being released for those who want the compendium version, but Christmas Memories will be released on December 9th. So that’s why it’s a Christmas story, and it’s a sequel because there were a few loose ends in Talmor, most importantly, the fact that Jake and Nate never got to make the Christmas memories that neither of them had. It just all came together really.
And I apologise for not documenting their trip to Obelisk Beach, but the boys locked me in the car…
SG: What else do you have in the works?
ML: Well, I’ve got a short story coming out in banQuet 2012, and there’s a few others that haven’t been confirmed yet, but expect a couple of non-fiction pieces next year. I’m currently doing National Novel Writing Month, writing what I hope will be my next novel, currently titled Prophecy, which is based around the idea of taking a modern gay man and dropping him into a standard fantasy quest narrative—you know, kill the dragon, rescue the princess, marry the princess and rule half the kingdom—and see what happens.
I’m also donating $1 from each sale of Mr. Perfect made through Smashwords or Amazon during the month of November to The Office of Letters and Light, the charity who put NaNoWriMo on each year.
SG: Where can we find you on-line?
ML; The big ones are my website: http://www.matthew-lang.com/
SG: Now to kick back and get to know you:
ML: I’m part writing geek, part gaming geek, and part musical theatre geek, I like long walks on the beach and…oh wait, you meant something else?
Winter or summer?
Summer. I spent nine years in Hong Kong and got used to the heat. I hate being cold. Really hate it. I know people say you can just put more clothes on, but even then, you can be bundled in clothing and still be freezing. Not to mention I suck at typing with mittens on!
Hong Kong’s pretty good, especially if you know where to go for the food and decent shopping. I have some friends there who know where all the funky urban malls are that the tourists miss, and where the little Michelin starred restaurants are where you have to wait two hours for a table but get the best yum cha for less than fifteen dollars a head. Canada was pretty good too though. I’m planning on Japan next, or possibly America for GayRomLit if I can afford it next year. I’m really bad at the ‘favourite’ games, sorry.
Tennis if it’s watching. In terms of actually playing I’m less of a sport person and more of a general exercise person. It’s funny, but once you’re out of university the opportunities to go rowing or sailing at a recreational level diminish markedly. Those were the things I pursued while I was studying anyway.
Coffee or tea?
Tea. Especially green tea, chai blend, oolong, rooibos, peppermint…um, you get the idea.
Beer or wine?
Depends on how I’m feeling. Can I go for cider?
The edible variety! Seriously though, the healthy and tasty variety: I’m a firm believer that just because something is good for you doesn’t mean it can’t taste amazing. I’ve been eating a lot of seafood recently though, namely baby octopus, salmon and prawns. I like cooking up the baby octopus in a lentil curry and serving it over quinoa, although I’m just as likely to pan fry it and serve it over a cous cous salad with a sweet vinegarette.
The past or the future?
To live in? Probably the future. The thing about the past is that we romanticise it—and I’m as guilty of that as anyone else! You’ll notice that Nate is never described as having terrible rotting teeth as would have been quite common in his time! The past is fun to play in, but modern medicine and civil rights aren’t something I’m keen to give up anytime soon. Although the climate change thing is a little worrying. It would be nice if we could fix that one before we kill ourselves. I mean, seriously, forget the feel good stuff about saving the environment and other species—if we don’t sort out our own backyard, it’s us that won’t be around just due to lack of food.
Shop in the store or on-line?
Both. In store for clothes, online for most other things. I tend to get electronics online as well as all the geeky things that cost an arm and a leg down here, or just aren’t available. I love Australia, but we pay far too much for electronics (and video games) down here. It’s got to the point where I order most of my games and such online and get them sent over. I’m actually currently waiting for a new tablet PC to come in to I can have a more convenient (i.e. lighter) PC for writing while out and about.
Something unassuming with a hydrogen combustion engine? I just really like the idea of the car exhaust being steam. I’ll settle for electric though if the technology is rolled out—or rather if the petrol companies lose their grip on our society enough to let it be rolled out. You may have gathered I don’t really care too much about looking flash. I really want something understated that works well, and is good quality. Boring I know, but I’d rather spend the money on other things.
Sandals or bare foot?
I like the idea of bare feet, but my soles don’t like it too much. They have an aversion to being punctured and dislike overly hot surfaces. I’ll toughen up one day—or so I keep telling myself. So…on the beach, I’ll go bare foot. Walking over asphalt to the beach I’ll wear sandals. I don’t know, I’ve had too many horror stories of people cutting their feet open on glass to go barefoot all the time.