Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

“On Writing,” with Michael P. Langelaan of St. Catharines, ON

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Michael P. Langelaan talks to Open Book about his writing process, his sources of inspiration and his novel, A Life Interrupted (Trafford Publishing, 2006), which has been optioned for a film.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, A Life Interrupted.

Michael P. Langelaan:

A Life Interrupted is a novel that explores the sometimes tumultuous and often hidden relationship between parents and their children. The novel underscores the impact that parents' words and behavior have on their children's lives, and demonstrates how some parental decisions can lead to dire consequences. We walk down streets all over this country and the world. We look into houses as we stroll by and see what appears to be happy, drama-free families going about their day. We see children playing, laughing, singing and exploring all with an innocence that only a child dare have. We assume that what we are seeing are portraits of the perfect industrialized family. In many cases, that assumption can be relatively safe. However, when our assumption is wrong, the outcome can be devastating.

A Life Interrupted is the story of Alex Fray, a troubled man who lived a life far from the portrait of perfection we all want to see. Alex is faced with challenge upon challenge throughout the early years of his life, all as a result of the ignorance and negligence of those charged with his care. He is faced with psychological and physical obstacles in his quest to find the love and acceptance he so desperately needs. His journey eventually leads him home, culminating in a bizarre yet realistic twist of fate that reveals his true identity. Although a work of fiction, A Life Interrupted portrays a realistic yet entertaining view into the world of emotional and physical abuse. It is rather dark, but I assure the reader that this character does not get knocked down too easily.


Do you tend to draw on personal experience for inspiration?


Absolutely; I’m not sure I would be able to write without being able to look to personal experience. When I do though, I am always cognizant of the fact that I need to remove those personal experiences from that of the characters. For example, A Life Interrupted touches many times on the subject of religion. I found it very difficult to remove my own feelings on the subject to that of the characters. Fortunately, because of what the character of Alex went through, his feelings on the subject did not differ much from mine.


What is your writing process like?


That all depends on what it is I’m writing. I did not write A Life Interrupted in sequence. The novel goes back to a very young age of the character. Since this novel is written from the first person, I found it difficult to write about Alex’s perspective on those early years as you always have to keep in mind what is and isn’t possible to recall. If you ask anyone to recall memories of when they were three, four or even five years old, their recollection of facts, in most cases, will be distorted and inaccurate. In order to stay true in this novel, I had to be very careful to give the facts of what Alex lived and endured. I wrote about those early years much later into the novel. I also recorded a lot of the novel using a mini voice recorder. Most of his life came to me at the most inopportune times. Driving home late at night, in the middle of a conversation or lying in bed seemed to be when the aspects of his life flowed easily; hence I recorded most of his life. I would recommend a recorder to anyone thinking of writing a novel.

If I’m writing speeches, eulogies or presentations, I always write very directly and to-the-point, using language that is effective and memorable. I do this for a couple of reasons. First, when I write, say, a speech, I put a great deal of work into it and so I want to ensure that the listener(s) will remember the speech for sometime after and be able to share their experience with others. Additionally, I want each listener to take something away from the speech that they didn’t know before. Or, perhaps it was something they knew, but took away a different perspective. The listener need not always agree, but my goal is to make them ponder the subject of the presentation.


Describe your ideal writing environment.


I don’t have one. I have never allowed my environment to dictate my ability to write. My only "must" for being able to write anything is to not have my mind cluttered with a to-do list or with unnecessary stress. If those annoyances find their way into my mind, I can just forget about writing. I will say that in terms of an environment, I tend to write in quiet locations. If I’m writing at home, the T.V. is off. If I’m in my car recording, the radio is off, and my speed is exactly on the speed limit. Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that rarely is my speed within legal limits.


How would you describe the St. Catharines writing community?


I would love to give you a long story on this subject filled with interesting and amusing stories, but I cannot. If St. Catharines has a writing community, I’m not a part of it. I lead a very busy life and as such my ability to mingle with others who share a love for writing is not possible at this time in my life. On top of writing, I’m also the co-founder of mina terra, a company that my wife and I started that focuses on design using natural artifacts of the earth. This is currently in development, so it keeps us very busy. I also work full time for the provincial government; I have children, family and friends, so time is my enemy. On top of all of that, I can’t say that I am an overly social person. Much like the character of Alex, I am more comfortable being around close friends rather than having a large group of acquaintances.


What do you most enjoy about being a writer in St. Catharines?


Other than being close to family and friends who support my writing ability, I can’t say that there is anything that this city offers to enhance my ability to tell a story. Please understand that this is in no way an insult towards the city nor to the people who call it home. It is just that I do not draw inspiration or ideas from this city, or any other for that matter. There does seem to be a lot of churches within St. Catharines though. I’m not sure where on the per capita level St. Catharines sits when it comes to churches, but there does seem to be one on every street corner. I suppose this did help when dealing with this subject with my character. These institutions, or rather, billion-dollar-a-year businesses within this city were able to offer me an insight that in turn I gave to my character, Alex.

St. Catharines is a good place to live, other than the constant construction. But, like I always say to my wife, a city where a person lives is merely geography. In other words, a city is a city. It is how we choose to live our lives within any city, town or village that make that place home.


What Canadian writers do you admire, and why?


I generally do not read much in the way of novels. Again, my time is so drastically limited. While most of the world lies in bed reading before going to sleep, I am normally working on other ideas for writing or with my wife sharing ideas for our business, mina terra. My mind never stops, and so I do find it difficult to read and focus on another’s work. It isn’t that I’m not interested in other writers work, or to engross myself in their story, my mind just does not seem to want to let me. All that said, if I did have to say that the Canadian who inspires me with his words is Neil Peart from RUSH, hands down. For readers who do not know, Neil writes most of the lyrics for the group and he is brilliant. If you have not already done so, sit down and listen to, or read the words he writes. He has a brilliant mind and if I had an opportunity to sit down with one person and talk about writing, it would be Mr. Peart. So, Neil, if you’re reading this, I am in the phone book!


What are you working on right now?


With respect to writing, I am soon to begin the daunting task of finding a larger mainstream publisher who may have an interest in acquiring, A Life Interrupted. Many have told me that since I own the copyright, and the novel is highly marketable, this is the route I should take. Additionally, I am still working with the Independent Film Production Company who acquired the rights to make a feature film, polishing the script. I just completed an article for a sports magazine on the subject of Dragon Boat racing and every day I continue to develop my latest work currently titled, …and then came Elian. It is a dark story of a refugee accused of raping 63 women and killing number 64. It is a story that examines the life of an attorney who decided to take on the case of Elian pro bono, and the catastrophic circumstances in making that decision.

Raised in St. Catharines, Ontario, Michael P. Langelaan showed an interest in the creative arts at an early age, writing, acting and conducting plays for his grade three class. After high school, he served in the Canadian Air Force as an Electronics Technician in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He later returned to St. Catharines to study Psychology at Brock University.

A Life Interrupted (Trafford Publishing, 2006), his first novel, was optioned by an independent production company for a full-length feature film, for which he co-wrote script. While he awaits further progress with the film and works on his next novel, he continues to write speeches, eulogies and legal arguments on behalf of people in need. He recently had an article published with Rev Publishing.

Michael P. lives in St. Catharines with his sixteen-year-old twins and his wife, Tanya Marie.

Buy his book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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