Thursday, October 30, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Crissi Langwell, Author

Crissi Langwell, Author
Reviewers describe Crissi Langwell’s books as “those books that have a story that stay with you weeks later.” In her most recent novel, THE ROAD TO HOPE, Langwell’s “believable and real” characters turn grief into hope, in a way that reviewers say “hooked them right from the start.” She also has published two other novels, a book of essays, and a book of poetry.

Langwell sets her books in Sonoma County, California where she lives with her blended family, and says, “Family is what I know, and what we can all relate to.” In 2015 she plans to release a series of more “lighthearted” projects that mix magic with desserts. In addition to writing books, Langwell works for her local newspaper and is editor for her regional writing club newsletter.

Q: Your newest book THE ROAD TO HOPE has been described as turning “grief and affliction” into “beauty that exists when hope prevails.” Why did you write this story? How did you conceive it? Where did it come from?

Crissi Langwell: 12 years ago, I lost my third child to stillbirth. It was such a shocking loss, one I don’t think anyone could be prepared for. There isn’t much that hurts more than to lose your child. For years, this loss defined me. However, with time, I was able to heal. But because of that loss, I’m forever changed.

Fast forward a couple more years, and I witnessed a toddler fall from a Trader Joe’s shopping cart headfirst onto the floor. He ended up being okay, but something about the whole scene stuck with me. Everyone was watching the mother but not helping. And she was just sitting in the middle of the store, soothing her screaming child. It was this event that became the first scene of my book, and the whole story evolved into a love letter to myself and to anyone else who has gone through hardship or trauma.

Q: As in your previous books, reviewers of THE ROAD TO HOPE tout it as “an amazing story. Hooked right from the start” and “I was absolutely RIVETED!” How do you make your story “riveting?” What pulls your readers in and won’t let them go?

Crissi Langwell: I try to keep the boring parts out. ;-) Really, I do my best to keep the story moving forward at all times. Each action that happens, you can bet that it will lead to something pivotal a few scenes later.  And I write about real life, the kinds of things we all are thinking or feeling, even if they’re not the kind of stuff we’ll admit out loud. I try to be authentic when I write.

Q: Reviewers say that you have “a gift for creating believable and real characters.” What makes “real” characters? Why do readers believe them?

Crissi Langwell: I love writing about people and how they affect each other. I draw from real experiences, but I also let the characters tell the story, not me. When I begin writing a novel, I always have a loose plan in place. But as soon as I get to know the characters better, they take over and throw my plans out. I think that’s why readers find my characters believable, because I do my best not to interrupt the story that’s taking place.

Q: Family seems important to you throughout all of your writing—fiction, non-fiction, reporting. What is it about the family that inspires you to write about it?

Crissi Langwell: I started my family a little younger than most, with my first daughter born when I was 20. I got married and divorced in my 20s, raised my kids as a single mother, and I’m now happily married into a blended family. I’ve experienced all sorts of different types of families – from my intact and totally normal family when I grew up, my chaotic family in my 20s, and now in a family of all different personalities under one roof. Family is my life! I was even the family columnist for my local newspaper for a time. So when it came to writing books, I couldn’t think of anything more I wanted to write about. Family is what I know, and what we can all relate to.

Q: Did you write THE ROAD TO HOPE to entertain readers, to deliver a message, and/or to educate? To inspire?

Crissi Langwell: It could be a little of all three. I love writing about the underdogs, and THE ROAD TO HOPE is no different. In this book, I touched on themes of homelessness, poverty, teen pregnancy, and child loss. I offered points of view that many would be too uncomfortable to get close to in real life. But I offered insight as to how easily these situations could happen to anyone. It’s my hope that someone who reads my book will be able to walk away with a new way to look at life.

Q: How relevant is the concept of villains and heroes to your stories?

Crissi Langwell: The concept of villains and heroes is not only relevant, but it can also be a muddy concept as well. Sometimes the heroes can be villains. Sometimes the villains can be heroes. In my novels, I’ve written about bad guys/girls who are cruel, have caused bad things to happen, say mean things, are rude or dismissive… But there’s always a backstory. WHY are they mean? Why do they hurt people around them? I do my best to answer these questions. Sometimes the villains in my stories end up being readers’ favorites, because their bad side is also their human side.

Q: How helpful is setting to telling your stories? Could they occur at any time in any place?

Crissi Langwell: One little secret I have is that I like to place my characters in the same place I live – Sonoma County. There are a few books out there that have used Sonoma County (which is north of San Francisco) as their setting, and it’s always a treat to come across my home in a book. I imagine one day I’ll write a book that doesn’t take place here at all. But so far, every one of my stories is set in a nearby town. It’s also helpful to be describing a scene, and be able to completely envision it because it’s based off a real place, even if just loosely. As for the timing, so far all my books take place in the present. I haven’t done any serious writing that takes place in the past or future. But it’s not out of the question.

Q: Er, just to let you know, my next mystery, Hilltop Sunset, is set in Sonoma County. I love it there.

Q: You have also written poetry. When do you prefer writing poetry over prose?

Crissi Langwell: I always prefer prose over poetry. Poetry is hard! But for a time, it served as a way to loosen my pen in preparation for writing a novel. It helped teach me to dive into description and draw the reader into the scene I was painting. Much of my poetry was written years ago during a very confusing time in my life. I never even meant for it to go public! But when all was said and done, I realized that what I wrote wasn’t half bad. My book of poetry, Everything I Am Not Saying, is not one that I publicize a ton, but it is one of my proudest (and most personal) achievements.

Q: What’s next?

Crissi Langwell: After writing three novels that dealt with deep and heavy themes, I am now exploring something more lighthearted. I’m preparing to release a series of 4 books in 2015 that mixes magic with desserts. The first book is titled Come Here, Cupcake, and is about a woman who discovers she has the magical ability to infuse her baking with her feelings. As you can imagine, this leads to some very sticky situations.

Q: Tell us about Crissi Langwell. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Crissi Langwell: I read. A lot. I also can be found at the baseball field or golf course cheering on my son, teaching my daughter to drive (Lord help us all), or just hanging with the family at home. I’m the newsletter editor for my regional writing club, Redwood Writers, I work full-time for the local newspaper, I volunteer for my church, and I help with the year-round planning for the summer camp the kids and I attend every year. I guess you can say I like to stay busy!

About Crissi Langwell

Crissi Langwell is the author of three fiction novels, a book of poetry, and a collection of true stories about single parenting. She lives in Northern California with her husband and blended family of three kids, a whiny cat, and a ridiculous teenage dog.

Jill is a woman who just lost her son. Maddie is a teen mother who has been rejected by her parents. Both are sent reeling at the tragic spin life has taken. And both are on a crash course for changing each other’s lives. This is the story of two mothers, the trauma they experience, and how life’s twists and turns can have an impact on who they think they are, who they’re bound to become, and the lives they touch in between.


Chapter One ~ The Point of Impact
There was no stopping it. In one moment, Toby had been standing in the front of the small shopping cart, grinning at his mom as she filled a bag with green beans. In the next, the cart tipped forward against his weight, sending him head-first toward the checkered linoleum in the middle of Hal’s Market. The look of terror on her toddler’s face was etched in Jill’s mind as she saw him tumble from the cart, falling just far enough away that she knew she’d never reach him in time. But in the eternity that lay in those few seconds, she made a valiant effort, throwing her arms forward to catch nothing but air.

Toby’s forehead hit the slick floor first, the rest of his body crumpling down into his neck, then careening over his body like a rag doll. Jill reached him and, despite everything she had ever learned about not moving accident victims, she turned him over to see if he was okay. She would never forget the look in his eyes. Tearless, they reached into her, grabbing at her guilt with a firm hold while raking over her worst fears. Then they lost all recognition.

“Toby,” she breathed. His olive eyes were fixed on the ceiling, the blank expression frozen on his face. But then his body relaxed into a deep and shuddering breath, followed by a scream of pain and terror. His cries were a sweet sound to Jill’s ears. She scooped her son up and held him tight against her chest.

Jill avoided the stares from the small crowd forming around her and Toby. She could feel the weight of their judgment, their unspoken thoughts screaming at her. How could she? What kind of mother lets that happen? She doesn’t deserve a child. Jill held her sobbing son to her chest, rocking him next to the green beans and zucchini while trying to pretend the growing crowd didn’t exist. The two of them sat until his screams subsided into hiccupped breathing. Then Toby lay his curly blonde head against her shoulder, playing with a lock of her chestnut hair as he breathed into her sweater. Jill couldn’t help but see the irony in this—her injured toddler finding safety in the very person who had let him fall.


Twitter: @crissilangwell


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