Lang Leav’s first novel is a creative departure from past works

The work of Lang Leav can be quite polarizing, but one thing can’t be denied: her writing has the power to amass legions of fans around the world. She’s inspired many a girl and boy of all ages to get into poetry. And with her debut novel Sad Girls, which she is promoting in Manila and Cebu through a National Book Store tour, she might just inspire a new wave of young fiction.

Sad Girls is about Audrey, whose world spins out of control because of a lie. She meets Rad, an enigmatic guy who could turn the tables for her, but the timing is all wrong. This is Lang Leav’s fifth book, but her first novel. “You have to be quite disciplined,” she says about writing a novel. This work has been a long time coming, and after several drafts and countless hours of writing every day, Sad Girls is ready for the world.

This is Lang’s third time in the country, and she says the warmth of Filipinos is what keeps her coming back — that and the pork adobo. We sat down with the bestselling author before her book tour and got to know the process of writing a book.

YOUNG STAR: Aside from your new novel, what’s been keeping you busy these days?

LANG LEAV: Basically I’ve been working on a new poetry and prose compilation, which is due for release in February, so that’s been keeping me busy. I mean, writing all this and that. And just promoting Sad Girls. It’s been a long time coming. It’s out in the world now, it has been for the last couple of weeks. So that’s been super exciting; it’s great to see fans take the book into their hearts. That’s what’s been occupying my mind these days.

What was it like writing Sad Girls?

I read this quote somewhere that said, “There is no such thing as fiction; it’s just non-fiction in a parallel world.” That’s what it felt like writing Sad Girls. It just felt like I was looking into this world and I was just transcribing it in a way. Which was quite a different experience, it was quite magical.

‘When you’re writing a novel, if you stop, it’s hard to get back into the world again,’ Lang says.

How was the experience of writing a novel different from writing poetry?

Well, with poetry, I think it’s just absolute, pure emotion. And there’s a lot of that in Sad Girls as well, but when you’re writing a novel, you’ve got so much more to consider. You have to think about your cast of characters, you have to think about locations, you have to think about all the interaction, all the permutations of the book. It’s quite technical, and in a way almost mathematical in that sense.

You’re creating this entire world. I suppose it’s the same with any creative project, you have to layer it with texture, color, senses, sound. And these are the things you can vividly picture in your mind, and your job is just to translate that into words on paper.

How did you start writing it?

I actually remember writing the first chapter really clearly. I think I was just about to fall asleep, and Audrey’s voice just popped into my head, and it was so compelling. She had a story to tell. I just got up and basically within a few minutes, I had the first chapter of the novel. And the first chapter has been pretty much true to what it was. Compared to what’s printed in the book, it hasn’t changed very much. That was the original inspiration.

What was the most challenging part of writing the novel?

Well, you have to be quite disciplined. And when you’re writing a novel, if you stop, it’s hard to get back into the world again. So what you need to do is you need to find a time in your schedule when you’ve got a number of weeks — preferably months, but I think that’s unrealistic. I remember we went away to Waikiki for summer, my partner and I and his son. I think it was for a while, it stretched out into months during school holiday, so that was really good. I was able to just really focus and set myself (a target of) two to three thousand words per day, and that’s what I did consecutively. By that I managed a large portion of the novel during that trip.

Book it: Lang Leav will embark on a book signing tour to Cebu and Manila on June 24 and 25, respectively.

You’ve inspired a lot of people to begin writing or even rekindle their poetry. What advice would you give to someone who wants to write their first novel?

I suppose it is a different discipline, but you can use what you have in poetry, which is emotion, and in a way the storytelling to write the novel. What you have to do is sit yourself down — maybe just one to three thousand words per day — try to get it out as much as you can. When you’re writing a novel, your characters take you down to strange places, and you get a lot of twists and turns and surprises. But at the same time I think you have to have a plan in mind about where it’s going, otherwise it might just go in lots of different directions. You’ve got to do a lot of research in the beginning. With me, I did lots of charts, just to make sure that all the seasons were correct and relevant. I don’t think you can foolproof everything, but it’s a great deal of planning. It’s always tempting to just jump in — and you can do that, I mean, I wrote the first chapter of Sad Girls before I did any planning. After that I sort of sat down with my agent, and he said I’ve got to write an outline. So what I did was I wrote an outline, and I was pretty true to it, except for the ending.

What are you looking forward to the most?

Well, the school holiday’s coming up, so when I get back I’m looking forward to just hanging out with my family. Pizza, watching movies. Basically that’s it. That’s the most important thing to me, being with my family.

Lang Leav will be at the North Wing Atrium of SM City Cebu on June 24, and at the Activity Center of Glorietta 2 on June 25. Limited slots are available for both events. For more information, follow National Book Store on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @nbsalert.

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