By Sara Grace C. Fojas
Portrait by Noel Pabalate
For international bestselling author and poet Lang Leav, love is a really beautiful thing.
“I think love is such a wide spectrum. It’s a subject that’s inexhaustible and you can write about it forever because there so many permutations of love. I think it’s a really beautiful thing and I think it’s the essence of life,” she says.
But Lang also believes that, although love is the essence of life, each one of us has to go through the pain of a broken heart.
“It takes time to deal with a broken heart. It’s something that everyone goes through. It’s a rite of passage when you’re growing up and it’s not the end of the world even if it feels like it,” she shares.
For most of the girls (and boys) that have dealt with such pain, the words of Lang somehow helped them through it, through her books and poems in Love & Misadventure, Lullabies, Memories, and The Universe of Us. I mean, what kind of human wouldn’t remember their first love and their first broken heart when they read “Your first love isn’t the first person you give your heart to—it’s the first one who breaks it,” which is the opening quote of her latest novel, Sad Girls.
Sad Girls is Lang’s much-awaited contemporary novel, a beautifully written and emotionally charged coming-of-age-story. It follows Audrey, a young girl suffering from panic attacks after the death of her classmate, Ana. She soon meets the enigmatic Rad, the boy who could turn it all around. But their ill-timed romance drive may prove to be more dangerous for her than she ever expected.
“The voice of Audrey just popped into my head one night. I couldn’t help but be drawn into her dark atmospheric world. It was like she had a story to tell and I just followed it down the rabbit hole where I discovered this whole new world,” she says. “I started writing it after I published my first poetry book Love & Misadventure in 2013. I started working on it in between my other poetry books, and tours, and publicities, and all of that. It was just my little project that was about three to four years in the making,” she says.
But Audrey’s story is nowhere near the life of Lang Leav. She is not one of the Sad Girls. She admits that her world isn’t that dark and everything is fiction.
“Even though my writing is quite sad and quite melancholy, as a person, I laugh all the time. I’m a very happy and bright person. I love writing comedy but I don’t post it online, maybe on Twitter sometimes. It’s something that I love doing. It’s just, I’m drawn to the whole melancholy, and it’s something that’s always been with me,” she shares.
Her only similarities with Audrey are her love for writing and the seldom occurrence of anxiety and panic attacks.
“I write from my imagination. A lot of people ask me if I am Audrey; I’m definitely not. The things we have in common are the panic attack and anxiety attacks. She loves to write, which is also a similarity. Through my novel, I wanted to show that you can triumph your anxiety attacks, that even though it can be quite paralyzing at times, it’s something that you can overcome,” she shares.
Poems vs. Prose
Lang has been known to write very emotional poems that would hit your heart, whether you’re in love or dealing with a broken heart. It is her first time to publish a different genre other than poetry.
“Writing poetry is pure emotion. It’s very spontaneous whereas writing a novel, there is an element of that as well, that emotion, and at the same time, it’s also mathematical because you’re working with characters and events. It is tying together. Everything has to make sense,” she shares.
She says that she has learned a lot in the last few years of writing a novel and a lot of that are technical things on how to tie it all together through the help of Al Zuckerman, who is also a playwright teacher at Yale University.
“If you’re a good writer, you should be able to interchange between the two quite effortlessly. A lot of writers do that, a lot of writers also write prose that reads like poetry. I’m really fascinated with blurring the lines between prose and poetry. That’s something I often do. You could look at it as piece of prose and, at the same time, you could look at it as a piece of poetry,” she says.
Even though it was a completely different genre from what she usually writes, she shares that she never felt pressure at all. “I knew it was a completely different genre. It’s a much bigger genre than poetry. I had no expectations. I just to send it out to the world and cross my fingers.”
The book is only in the first weeks of its release but it’s already been number one in the Strait Times of Singapore, number one in Malaysia, and number two in the Philippines. It’s also been out for a couple of weeks in America and it is doing fantastically well. “It’s outsold my previous poetry books so it really exceeded my expectations.”
Lang’s favorite poets are Michael Faudet, who is her partner, Emily Dickinson, and Sara Teasdale. She also has love for Robert Frost’s works specially his poem Lodged.
“It just ends with ‘I know how the flower felt.’ It’s just about flowers which are barely alive but they are alive and it was just damaged so it ends with ‘I know how the flowers felt.’ He had a lot of criticism with his work but time has proven his critics wrong. It’s a line that’s always fascinated me,” she shares.
For prose writers, on the other hand, Haruki Murakami and Alice Monroe were a huge influence on her.
“Alice Monroe writes the most stunning prose and I love the women that she writes in a very three-dimensional way that they feel almost real and you can just grab them. My favorite book is Norweigan Wood by Murakami because I found it at a time in my life that was quite formative. I read it quite young. Sometimes, a book finds you at a certain time in your life, and it becomes special to you in some reason. It’s something that I’ve read many times. I remember during grade school that I swap novels with my teachers. There were a lot of things that I don’t understand but I still like reading novels,” she shares.
Dealing with it all
As someone who has produced four poetry books and one novel, Lang gained a lot of followers, especially Millennials whom she interacts with on a daily basis.
“I love interacting with my fans. It’s something that I really love doing. It’s like a synergy between us. In real life, I live in New Zealand so I have complete anonymity there. No one really knows what I do. Here, it’s quite different, I get recognized a lot which is really weird and surreal but kind of cool.
When she arrived in the Philippines, she was recognized by a lady from the immigration who said that she really liked her books. And when she went to Malaysia, there was a Filipino family who came all the way from the airport, luggage and everything, and gave her a knitted beanie, which she uses in New Zealand. But these overwhelming experiences and the negative ones as well, never affected her writing,
“I don’t focus on the negativity. I just focus on the positivity. I read reviews and I think it’s really fantastic. It doesn’t affect my writing. I just keep doing what I do. I love seeing my readers in real life. It’s like having friends that you don’t see very often and when you do, you catch up. I remember, when I first came here, just walking out into the stage and seeing all the people and just being blown away. I always have that memory that my book has sort of reached a pivotal point,” says Lang.
Lang’s book signing in Manila and Cebu has just finished but her words will never stop reaching out to the hearts of her readers and would-be readers. On February, she has another prose and poetry book coming out which is inspired by the sea and she’s hoping to cut some time off and focus on writing another novel.
A special edition of ‘Sad Girls’, which comes with a free bookmark is available exclusively in NBS for P785. You may also order it online on their website (www.nationalbookstore.com). For more updates, follow NBS on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube (@nbsalert), join their public chat on Viber, and visit their blog (blog.nationalbookstore.com).