M Pepper Langlinais is the 17th author to participate in my interview series with independent authors of literary fiction. If you publish independently and wish to participate, please click through the image on the right column of the screen that reads “Call for Survey Respondents: Indie Authors of Literary Fiction”. If you wish to receive email notices when future interviews are published, click the link toward the bottom of this post, just above the bio.
1. What novel (or piece of writing) did you author that inspired you to fill out my survey? Include a link so readers can check it out.
I’ve written a novel called The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller. After talking to a couple editors while at a conference, I discovered it was something called “upmarket espionage.” You can find it in various e-formats here.
2. Was the seed of your story an idea or an image? Are you a visual or a conceptual writer, in other words?
I tend to start with a scene, yes. In my head. And I see it and play it out in my head over and over again until I think I have something worth writing down. Even then, it might change as I’m writing it. The characters come to life in a way and take over.
The first scene for Peter—the first one I daydreamed, that is—was one that never made it to the final book. But it was one that informed me about Peter and Charles so that I was able to go back and trace how they met and that magnetism between them. It was love at first sight for them.
3. Keeping with one survey question, you identified a great theme for your literary work. Did that theme exist at the beginning of the writing, or did it emerge only through the telling of your story?
I never start with theme. One can tell when a writer is writing a theme rather than a story. I don’t like that. It may work for some people, but not for me. Theme, for me, needs to bloom organically. Only after I’ve finished can I usually find one or more threads of theme in the story, and sometimes readers find them for me, things I never intended but yes, there it is.
That said, I think there are recurring themes in my work. I like stories about fate and destiny, about “meant to be.” I’m interested in characters, in testing their relationships and bonds.
4. Did your perspective on this theme change as you wrote the story? Did you find yourself less in control of your narrative than you expected? Or did you find that you knew all along, based on your convictions, how the story would emerge? Were you, in other words, the “alpha” in the emerging narrative?
I never know. I always have a vague notion but I never really know. The characters—and through them the theme(s)—unveil themselves as I write. Sometimes they’re not the people I thought they were when we first “met.”
5. There are as many definitions of “literary fiction” as there are self-identified literary writers. What is your definition of literary fiction?
I’m not sure I have one. It’s like pornography—I know it when I see it. I do think literary fiction is in some ways a style of writing. “Elevated language,” is what I’ve heard. You can apply elevated language to a genre (like spies, which is what I do in Peter) and get what they call “upmarket.” But when you’re writing in this elevated way and not applying it to a genre, I guess that’s plain ol’ “literary fiction.”
6. Within the scope of that definition, how did you hope to impress the reader? Did you hope to evoke emotion with a story about some element of life the reader would connect with? Or was your mission to challenge and thereby expand a reader’s perspective on a subject most others would feel is already “known”?
I’m not sure I hoped to impress anyone. I’m a character person. I don’t know that readers would necessarily identify with being a gay British spy, but I think they could connect to Peter’s aching heart. Here is a man who is in over his head, at least emotionally. Dealing with confusion, and fear, and betrayal… There is something compelling about that, even if you yourself have never dealt with it at the level Peter does.
7. Do you consider yourself a writer of literary fiction? Or a writer of other genre fiction that carries literary elements? Please provide an explanation for your answer.
I write a lot of things. Mysteries, and most recently YA fantasy. But I believe in writing quality work. Not just typo-free (and I’m sure I’ve still made some errors), but I like prose that flows. I want the words to be a kind of music. Word choice is very important to me, as is sentence structure. In that way, I suppose my work leans toward the literary.
8. How would you discuss your book in context of its genre? If you consider it literary, why? If your book falls more closely within another genre, what elements would you say make it literary?
I think The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller is more literary than, say, thriller or suspense. Again, because of the way it’s written. The focus is on character rather than plot. It’s not a fast-moving, heart-pounding story. It’s more like John Le Carré than Ian Fleming.
9. Is the literary community a closed community? Or are there inroads for writers of literary fiction to reach readers other than those reading literary fiction now?
You mean the literary community as in writers or readers? I think literary fiction is a hard sell these days. The readership is limited compared to those eating up romance, fantasy, etc. And I think it takes longer to write and read literary fiction. So those few people who are reading these books are not reading as many of them. They’re mostly looking for their favorite authors, even re-reading favorite books. It’s very difficult to be a new name in lit fic. But that’s because it’s tough to be discovered by readers. I don’t think the writers in this genre are closing ranks and keeping others out, at least not in my experience thus far. Maybe I’m too small for them to notice.
10. Is it realistic that the Kindle Store will one day feature more independent writers of literary fiction? Or will that category always reflect traditionally published writers with traditional marketing budgets? (This question relates to #9, I suppose.)
So far I’m not particularly familiar with many—any—self-published literary fiction authors. I think people writing lit fic are inclined toward the traditional path. They seem more likely to trunk a novel they can’t sell to an agent or publisher than to self-publish it. But I’m generalizing. I’m making an assumption that someone who writes at that “elevated” level also considers self-publishing a “lower” form of publishing. I guess I’m different in that I’ve self-published and been published by small publishers. So maybe I’m being arrogant in thinking I’m unique. Maybe lots of others are self-publishing great literary works and I haven’t found them and they haven’t found me, not because there’s any barrier, but simply because (as I mentioned) it’s so very hard to be discovered in the masses.
I think literary fiction will eventually catch up. It’s never sold in the quantities that genre fiction has, so by “catch up” I mean the readership will eventually start using e-readers more, will start hunting for and finding fresh books and authors. If you look at book blogs, most of them are dedicated to genres. The readers for literary fiction aren’t hanging around on book blogs and fan sites and whatever. They’re browsing actual bookstores. They’re old-fashioned. Again, I’m generalizing, but that’s definitely my overall sense. So if they can’t find your book in a store, they’re probably not going to stumble across it online. That’s how it is at the moment, but I hope that they’ll catch up to the curve and eventually indie lit authors will find readers. Sooner or later even the traditional publishers won’t publish as many literary books because that’s not what sells. They’re not going to sink in the money. And the readers will have to get their fix some other way, and hopefully they’ll find it via indie outlets.
Comment: Questions or observations for M Pepper Langlinais can be left in the comments section below. If you’re an author who wishes to join the ranks of other writers of literary fiction who have participated in the LitFic survey, click here.
M Pepper Langlinais is a produced playwright and screenwriter as well as an author. Best known for her Sherlock Holmes stories, she is also the author of The K-Pro and The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller. Her latest work is the young adult fantasy Manifesting Destiny, released by Evernight Teen in August 2016.