I am constantly fascinated in the NY Times By the Book series, where they interview big name authors with books that are coming out, asking questions like “What books are on your nightstand,” and “the last good book you read,” and “who would you invite to dinner.” Of course, the answers are usually these other huge name authors, most of which I’ve never heard of, or have just never been interested to read (which probably means I’m just unsophisticated in my reading tastes).
Still, I love reading these because I’m looking for a few things. One, if any of them mention lower-class books that I love as one of their guilty pleasures. And two, if there is something they share that I can relate to. Sometimes, I find just such a thing (Amanda Gorman, for one. And Diana Gabaldon whose vague answers hinted that she finds these interviews snooty, too).
I think what I’m mostly looking for is an author who isn’t in all the headlines, but still known to us indie writers. Someone who isn’t quoting Tolstoy or Didion as their most recent read, but Lucy Score or Rebecca Yarros or (dare I say it?) Crissi Langwell.
At any rate, I still love reading this series. And now and then, I even like to answer my own By the Book interview. After all, I might as well make it easy for the New York Times to learn which guilty pleasures are on my TBR list.
By the Book: Romance Novelist Crissi Langwell Wants to Write All the Genres
What books are on your night stand?
I’m a poly-reader, so I am often in the middle of several books. Currently, I’m actively reading Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, Pucked by Helena Hunting, and about to start listening to The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. And I just finished The Guest List by Lucy Foley, which was an excellent, twisty book. So, let’s see. That’s four genres that I’m currently reading. Also on my nightstand, but not yet cracked are Ramayana retold by William Buck and Darling Girl by Liz Michalski, which gives us two more genres. Plus so many more. My problem is that there are just so many great books out there, and I have so many interests, I just want to read all of them.
What’s the last great book you read?
Just like so many other readers, I absolutely fell head over heels for Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros. I’m a huge fan of romantasy, and this checked all the boxes. You have the kickass heroine, the hot and brooding enemy, and a bunch of high action scenarios that are not only filled with the threat of death, but a whole lot of sexual tension. This book deserved all the hype it’s getting.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
At a warm café on a brisk autumn day, something yummy in front of me. Maybe a coffee, or maybe a glass of sparkling wine. A slice of avocado toast, or maybe a bagel and lox. The café has a great playlist, but I’m probably listening to my earpods so that I can be in the crowd but not hear the crowd. There’s a fireplace near me. They probably have a friendly café cat. And in between songs I can hear the clinking of dishes and a low murmur of conversation.
Btw, sometimes at home, I’ll put one of those ambient videos on the TV and pretend I am at one of these cafes. Here’s one of my favorites.
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
Most of them. One of them was The Rake by LJ Shen. I’d read plenty of LJ Shen books before, but this book made me obsessed. It’s the 4th book in her Boston Belles series, so of course I had to go back and read the other three. Then I had to go through her whole enter library and read everything else she’s written. There’s a lot. I’m not done. But it goes to show that one good book can make a loyal reader.
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
Colleen Hoover. And I know that it’s become almost cliche to mention her name. But here’s the thing—I’ve been following Colleen’s career since the beginning. She hit a chord extremely early with readers, since her books are so full of heart and about all these relatable, imperfect characters. Almost always, her books bring me to tears. But what I also love about Colleen is her Cinderella story (she actually has a Cinderella story, but I’m talking about her personal story). When she first started writing, she wasn’t even sure how she’d pay the bills. Now, here she is, all her books taking over the best seller lists, and she does not have to worry about money ever again. And even in all that, she is super humble and completely human. She connects with her fans, even comments on their posts in her Facebook group. She’s funny and weird, and isn’t gimmick. And I love that she was one of the original New Adult indie novelists who paved the way for many of us.
Other writers include Barbara Kingsolver (the way that woman writes prose!), Tim Farrington (I miss you, my talented friend), and Sarah J Maas (if she writes it, I’m reading it).
What book, if any, most influenced your decision to become a writer?
I’m not sure there was any specific book, because I have always wanted to be a writer. I started reading when I was four years old, and have been obsessed with books ever since. But I think the idea fully formulated when I wrote a story in first grade, and my teacher gushed over the expressive way I read it. It planted the seed that I could be a writer. Growing up, I was the family storyteller. I told my sister stories after lights out before we fell asleep. I wrote stories as Christmas and birthday presents every year. English and Creative Writing were my favorite subjects.
As for books, there are two that stand out to me. First was The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. This book is just so achingly beautiful, marrying death with living. In many ways, it served as an inspiration when I wrote A Symphony of Cicadas, my first novel, that is also told by a dead protagonist who witnesses her family moving on. The other is The Monk Downstairs by Tim Farrington, which has lines in it that are so breathtaking, I’d have to meditate on them for a moment before I could move on. These are the kind of books that made me fall in love with the written word, and made me want to be a part of it.
Why did you decide to write romance?
Because I had to pick one. When I first started writing, I loved romance, but didn’t want to necessarily write only romance. So I didn’t. Along with romance, I wrote women’s fiction, young adult, magical realism, even a little dystopian. But the books I kept picking up were romance. Eventually, I decided to take the plunge and get comfortable in romance.
Will I stay here? For the current series, absolutely. But I’m starting to think about what comes after this series. I’m toying with the idea of Later in Life Romance, which is starting to become more popular as us Gen X-ers start looking for more books about us. But I’m also thinking about going back to Women’s Fiction, which has always been my most natural fit. And a part of me would love to get back to writing magical realism. The options are endless…
But for now, I’m thrilled about Sunset Bay, the romance series I’m currently writing.
What do you read when you’re working on a book? And what kind of reading do you avoid while writing?
My reading habits do not change when I am writing a book. Maybe I read a little less, but I am always reading. As for avoidance, none of them. In fact, I might pick up more books like mine just make sure I’m on the right page. I don’t believe you can’t read romance if you’re writing romance, or thrillers because you’re writing thrillers. Read them all! It’s not just entertainment, it’s also homework. You’re studying to become a better writer when you read. And if any writer is worried about accidentally copying someone else’s book, just know that there are little to no original ideas anymore. Most books you read have some sort of inspiration from another book, whether intentional or not. Not plagiarism, mind you. But common themes? Romance is notorious for it. How many times can a romance lover read an enemies to lovers book? Countless.
What moves you most in a work of literature?
The tough as nails character who is actually a bit broken and has overcome hurdles to get where they are, and the love interest who sees through their hard shell and loves them completely. Ugh! Give me all of that!
How do you organize your books?
Ha! Organize? On my bookshelf, I kind of organize them by genre, but also by what fits together. On my Kindle, there is no organization, which is silly because I bought the newer version of Kindle just for this feature and have yet to use it. So now, I have a bunch of TBR books on my homescreen (and there are a lot), and a bunch that have fallen off that I meant to read but are now forgotten.
I should probably try that whole organizing thing.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
I’ve already admitted to my love of all genres, so I’ve spoiled the surprise. But I will read something spiritual in the morning, then a steamy romance in the evening. Lately I’ve really been into thrillers, probably because my friend, Heather Chavez, is about to come out with her next thriller (Before She Finds Me comes out June 27, and I can’t wait!). I also recently read House on the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, which is a sweet young adult fantasy novel. But romance still always tops my list.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
I was a voracious reader. While my sister was invited to all the parties, I was perfectly content in my room with my nose in a book. I read all the Sweet Valley High books, Ramona books, Babysitters Club… Later, I discovered those scintillating books by VC Andrews… But really, I just loved all books I could get my hands on.
What do you plan to read next?
I’m currently on the library waiting list to read The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth, The Ferryman by Justin Cronin, and Mortal Follies by Alexis Hall. I have a bunch of others on my Kindle that are waiting to be read, but library books take precedence since they have an expiration date. Gotta love the Libby app!
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
I hate this question because dinner parties can feel daunting to this introverted writer. I know that if I did manage to invite over any other writers, I would feel nervous and anti-social, probably drink too much wine to curb my nerves. Afterwards, I’d go over all the ways I probably embarrassed myself by oversharing to authors I look up to, or wonder if they think I’m cute for throwing a literary dinner party like I’m on par with them.
So the people I invite would be HUMAN authors. Writers I love, but also who I think would not believe themselves to be above mere mortal writers like myself.
Which three writers fit the bill? Colleen Hoover, of course. Then Tarryn Fisher, because I discovered Tarryn through Colleen and fell hard for her books. Plus, the two of them together would definitely lighten the mood and make me feel more human. Then Rebecca Yarros, because I love the way she went from being a good author with a decent following to being one that blew up overnight with a great book, and she’s still in that stage where she can’t believe this is happening. Mostly, I would include these three authors because, despite their success, they still connect with their fans on a personal level, which makes all of us love them that much more.
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