Books

Lang Leav is no sad girl — she just writes about them

It’s easy to peg author Lang Leav as a troubled, boy-obsessed woman, if we’re gonna judge her by her poems. Her pin-sharp articulation of feelings of heartbreak are relatable and as real as it gets. Lang may be the Queen of Hugot, but she’s anything but troubled. In fact, she’s quite the ray of sunshine. In an interview with the author during her trip to promotional tour for her latest book, Sad Girls, in Manila, she shares bits of her real life, her writer life, and her future life with GIST.

GIST: What was going through your mind writing Sad Girls and how was your process different this time?

LANG LEAV: I started writing Sad Girls in 2015 just after the release of my first book. I guess Audrey’s voice, the main protagonist, just came into my mind and I couldn’t help but be drawn into her world. She was telling me the story and I was really fascinated. The process is quite different because writing a poem, you can go in and out, but writing a story is quite immersive. The characters are living and breathing. At home, we talk about the characters all the time and we feel like we knew them. So it was quite sad to say goodbye to that world.

So was it like having withdrawal symptoms? Yeah! I’m still having them!

Do you ever prolong the process just so you can still be with the characters? Absolutely. That’s what I did with Sad Girls. It was a project that I didn’t set a deadline to. Obviously it had taken me a longer time, and I’ve decided that I just had to finish it.

How have your fans responded to Sad Girls? I didn’t know what to expect. You just send your books out into the world and just hope to the best. But I’m really pleasantly surprised that people have taken the characters into their hearts. Audrey is almost like an anti-hero, she’s not perfect. She’s an unreliable, flawed character. So I wrote her to be like that. I didn’t want to write someone with the most amazing moral compass. I know that’s a popular literature device, but there are also lots of books where I just really hated the main character but I love the book because it’s about storytelling.

Your aesthetic, from your Instagram to your illustrations are all very synergized, they go together. Is that something that comes naturally to you or is it imaging? I come from an artistic background so I suppose putting things together has always been something that I’ve naturally done.

Because a lot of young girls and women are adapting your aesthetic! That’s so sweet! I love that. But actually my readers are 17 to women in their 40s. I do have the younger reader, but in general it’s in that age group, which I think it’s quite wonderful. I think Sad Girls was a really hard book to classify. It’s fiction, there’s romance in the book but it’s not really a romance novel. It’s a coming of age novel, but there are also other things. So I just call it a dark coming of age story and it appeals to a diverse age group. I think that time, where you’re just going out in the world, it’s a very intoxicating time in your life, and even if you are older, it’s something that can still resonate.

Do you get stories from your personal experiences? I suppose I get snippets, but I do write fiction. So it’s really strange when some people confuse it for my personal life, which isn’t at all that exciting. It’s very boring in comparison! (Laughs)

Especially your poems! So where do you get your ideas and feelings from? I was writing from when I was really young, 12 or 13. I suppose I’ve just always been an old soul. And I’ve always been about love and heartbreak. I guess I just have this deep emotional well that I needed to express creatively.

Just the title Sad Girls alone, a lot of people would think, ‘Ah this book is me!’ So what is a “sad girl”? I don’t have a definition. I took the title from a line in the book, it’s mentioned in the second title, and again in a pivotal moment. I was thinking of other different titles, but that was the one that stuck.

It’s a really good title. Even the cover is really nice. I usually illustrate my own books, but I wanted a separation between my poetry and fiction. I really love it.

Where did you learn to write? I think the best teachers are your favorite authors. I haven’t read as much in the last few years because it’s been so crazy. But I’m a very avid reader. When you love fiction, you just want to create your own.

Do you remember the first story you’ve ever written? It was about this little girl who was trapped in a bunker with her mom. It was set in the future. I actually wanted to enter it into a competition. It was judged by one of my favorite authors, John Marsden. But I felt embarrassed about my story. But I sent him my manuscript. And I remember getting called to the principal’s office, I thought I was in trouble again! And they said I had a letter from John Marsden, who managed to track me down. It was quite a long letter. It said “I really think you should’ve entered it because it stood a really good chance at winning.” He talked about the characters, and said he found lines that were really powerful and moving. I suppose that gave me the tenacity and confidence to write. That was from when I was a child, in high school.

And you’ve been writing ever since. Absolutely, but I didn’t really publish my work until 2012, and that was when social media came. I was doing fashion, I was doing art. I didn’t think that writing was something that would draw weight. I just thought people were more interested in art. But my first love has always been writing.

What’s your favorite sad book? Norwegian Wood. It’s not just my favorite sad book but my favorite book.

Favorite sad song? There are so many! I like this song called Piano Man by Billy Joel. It’s quite tragic. I think it’s about loneliness. It’s about having this unfulfilled talent, which I think is a great fear of many creatives. It’s just this feeling of getting older and thinking that you’re running out of time.

Any sad birthdays? Yes I have. I have one. It was the year I turned 27, I think. It was just one of those years. Quite a sad year. I just didn’t feel like celebrating.

What makes Lang Leav happy? Just life in general. Being with my partner, hanging out with my family. He has a son named Ollie, and we’re just really happy together. We’re like that movie Up. We just have so much fun. We went to Bali recently, and the three of us just had such a blast.

What would tell readers who would grab a copy of the book and think “Yeah, I’m a ‘sad girl'”? I think it’s in everyone’s right to define what they are. Just have fun with it. It’s not super serious. It’s a story. That’s the beauty of fiction.

Because it sounds cool. Yeah it’s very artistic!

What’s next for you? I have a poetry and prose compilation coming out next year, so I’ve been working on that. I’m thinking of taking 2018 off and just writing my next book.

So ‘taking time off’ means writing? Yeah! (Laughs) But we’ll see. I mean I’ve said that about this year, but here I am!

* * *

Special thanks to National Book Store. Sad Girls by Lang Leav is now available at National Book Store branches nationwide.

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